Memorandum submitted by R A Collinge
The submission argues:
For the protection of individual liberty the
powers of the state to gather information on its citizens need
to be restricted, controlled and if possible rolled back. Assumptions
are made that vast data gathering schemes will be more effective
than more conventional approaches which may be both more efficient
and cheaper means of addressing undoubted problems.
There is a fundamental difference between private
information gathering which the citizen can, with adequate information,
choose to join or not and the data gathered compulsorily by the
Particular care also needs to given to the control
of CCTV and other data collected by various bodies without the
individual having the ability to object.
1. One starts from an assumption that the
executive of government has, in this country and elsewhere, understandably
sought to increase its power in order to achieve its objectives.
Reaction to this inevitable pressure has resulted in documents
such as the Magna Carta and much more recently the Human Rights
Act. Politicians will always argue that their proposals are fair
and reasonable and that they would in no way misuse them. Unfortunately
history does not bear this out.
2. The gathering of information is seen
as one of the main ways in which power can be increased. It will
in all cases be for "good reason" but the development
of the national identity data base, amongst others, will fundamentally
change the relationship between the individual and the state.
The state will become the master of its citizens rather than their
servant undertaking solely tasks than can be better done at that
It should not be necessary to argue any further
for restrictions on the capacity of the state to intrude on the
privacy of its citizens but given that the Identity Card Act has
been made law by a Parliament apparently oblivious of its historical
responsibilities to control the executive it is necessary to respond
further to this form of surveillance and others.
3. There is a fundamental difference between
private data bases and the state sponsored ones. The state will
require compulsory ID cards and the consequent entries in the
National Database whilst private ones are voluntary. We can all
choose to opt out of private schemes by avoiding credit, loyalty
and store cards etc.
4. Private Databases
The key guideline here is that the individual
is given the maximum information as to how his or her data are
to be used: that he or she can restrict the use of these data
and that the system is satisfactorily regulated. Warnings should
be given that the data are at risk from criminals and others who
will inevitably find ways to steal data. The more data there are
in any one place the more the incentive to find ways of stealing
There should be an absolute ban on any privately
held data being available to any government department or agency.
5. Government databases
The Human Rights Act allows "interferences"
with the general right to privacy if that "interference":
is "in accordance with
has "legitimate objectives"
such as national security, public safety, economic wellbeing,
the prevention of crime , the protection of health or morals or
the protections of rights or freedoms of others; and
is "necessary in a Democratic
Clearly these wordings are open to very wide
interpretations and will need very close scrutiny. For example
one mans "morals" may well be another's anathema. George
Orwell warned against "Thought police".
Thus there need to be very tight restrictions
on the gathering and use of information which the state will be
gathering compulsorily. Access to law to determine whether the
Act has been complied with will be essential, but appears at risk
because of the restrictions currently being placed on legal aid.
If real access is available then such things as the sharing of
data between government departments and agencies may be controllable.
Government data should never be available to private bodies.
The relevant Registrar may need enhanced powers
to police these records.
Particular areas for concern include the gathering
of information on children, the retention of DNA records by police
even though an individual may not even have been charged , the
practical difficulty of having a record corrected, the fact that
no system of "profiling" has yet been able to cope with
the infinitely variable nature of human beings, the certainty
that the records will be criminally misused and the likelihoodfrom
the evidence of historythat the costs of collecting data
will far exceed all estimates. Has proper thought been given to
the possibility that many of the claimed advantages of the sorts
of record keeping and surveillance being promulgated could be
better achieved by more conventional means such as more police
or even a new body of border police? For example one Home Secretary
accepted that identity cards would not have prevented the London
6. Other surveillance
CCTV is more used in this country than anywhere
else. Tighter controls need to be in place to regulate the circumstances
in which it can be used. Criteria need to be developed to decide
how and when both public and private surveillance of this nature
is essential and has real value. In practice is it avoided by
criminals who are aware of it? How long can or should tapes of
such surveillance be retained and by whom? What controls are there
on the use of such records by persons other than those making
7. Road pricing
It has been suggested that national road pricing
be introduced under a scheme which will require all vehicles to
be monitored at all times. It is impossible to overstate the concern
that this brings in giving a myriad of officials the power to
find out where any vehicle was at any time. Such a level of surveillance
would have been welcomed by the Stasi amongst others.
The costs of such a scheme would be enormous.
Why apparently is so little attention paid to the wide range of
actions which could be undertaken at relatively little cost instead?
Perhaps it is because it is easier and more rewarding to put forward
one big idea whatever its cost in every sense rather than address
such minutiae. These actions could include:
free school busesan enormous
potential reduction in congestion;
extension of the Manchester
Metro which has been talked about for many years but nothing is
slip roads at all possible junctions
to allow traffic to filter to the left; and
And many many others all over the country which
would reduce congestion relatively easily and without the enormous
risks to "our way of life".
This country has been "sleep walking "into
a surveillance society for a number of years. Real efforts now
need to be made to ensure that the very nature of "our way
of life" which the Prime Minister seeks to protect is not
subverted from within.