Examination of Witnesses (Questions 278
TUESDAY 26 JUNE 2007
Q278 Chairman: Good morning. Thank
you very much indeed. I know that you have largely, most of you,
been able to hear the previous session, or most of it. Thank you
very much indeed for coming to this session on "A Surveillance
Society?". I think you have all given evidence to the Select
Committee in the past, but if each of you could introduce yourselves
for the record.
Mr Russell: I am Jago Russell,
policy officer at Liberty.
Ms Chakrabarti: Shami Chakrabarti,
Director of Liberty.
Dr Metcalfe: Eric Metcalfe, Director
of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE.
Dr Pounder: Dr Chris Pounder,
Editor, Data Protection and Privacy Practice.
Q279 Chairman: Can I start by asking
perhaps Liberty and JUSTICE to be as precise as you can about
what you see from a civil libertarian point of view as the real
practical risks for individuals of the sort of surveillance society
that has been conjured up by the Information Commissioner and
which was responsible for us having this inquiry?
Ms Chakrabarti: It is a wonderful
phrase, is it not, "surveillance society"? If it has
got us all talking about the issue, and it has got your Committee
engaged, then that is a really good thing, because our concern
would be that, alongside other very important societal concerns,
like security, like public health, as we have heard, sometimes
the value of personal privacy can be lost. There are very good
reasons why that value can be lost and forgotten on occasion.
Of course, by definition, privacy is a qualified right, unlike
some of the rights that Liberty and JUSTICE defend sometimesthe
right not to be tortured, the right not to be arbitrarily detained.
Privacy, by definition, is a qualified right. We know that we
are social creatures. The moment we come together, even in very
primitive societies, or when we come together in families, let
alone complex modern societies, we do give up a little bit of
varying degrees of personal privacy, sometimes voluntarily and
sometimes not voluntarily, but in a way that is, of course, necessary
and proportionate in that society. The danger is that, because
it is a qualified right for the individual, but also, I would
argue, some of it is very important to society more generally,
to the flavour of democratic society, if we are not quite rigorous
enough about the defence of something that is about balancing
that right against other great concerns like security, health
and so on, we can, without really noticing and without having
proper public debate perhaps, lose very important things from
democratic society. For example, without really quite a significant
degree of value paid to personal privacy, there would be a society
where the dignity of the individual has been compromised; intimacy
between people, confidence between people and trust in big institutions,
whether it is the Health Service or the Government, would be lost.
Where we are, I would argue (and I think Mr Thomas would agree),
perhaps Britain in 2007 is at a place where there are great technological
opportunities to interfere with privacy, often for very good reasons,
and we just need to make sure that the ethical, political and
legal debate keeps apace with all of this technological development.