[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 15:40 GMT
Britain is 'surveillance society'
CCTV cameras
There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain
Fears that the UK would "sleep-walk into a surveillance society" have become a reality, the government's information commissioner has said.

Richard Thomas, who said he raised concerns two years ago, spoke after research found people's actions were increasingly being monitored.

Researchers highlight "dataveillance", the use of credit card, mobile phone and loyalty card information, and CCTV.

Monitoring of work rates, travel and telecommunications is also rising.

Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain - about one for every 14 people.

But surveillance ranges from US security agencies monitoring telecommunications traffic passing through Britain, to key stroke information used to gauge work rates and GPS information tracking company vehicles, the Report on the Surveillance Society says.

It predicts that by 2016 shoppers could be scanned as they enter stores, schools could bring in cards allowing parents to monitor what their children eat, and jobs may be refused to applicants who are seen as a health risk.

Produced by a group of academics called the Surveillance Studies Network, the report was presented to the 28th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners' Conference in London, hosted by the Information Commissioner's Office.

The office is an independent body established to promote access to official data and to protect personal details.

4.2m CCTV cameras
300 CCTV appearances a day
Reg plate recognition cameras
Shop RFID tags
Mobile phone triangulation
Store loyalty cards
Credit card transactions
London Oyster cards
Electoral roll
NHS patient records
Personal video recorders
Hidden cameras/bugs
Worker call monitoring
Worker clocking-in
Mobile phone cameras
Internet cookies
Keystroke programmes

The report's co-writer Dr David Murakami-Wood told BBC News that, compared to other industrialised Western states, the UK was "the most surveilled country".

"We have more CCTV cameras and we have looser laws on privacy and data protection," he said.

"We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us."

The report coincides with the publication by the human rights group Privacy International of figures that suggest Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy.

The two worst countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China, and Britain is one of the bottom five with "endemic surveillance".

Mr Thomas called for a debate about the risks if information gathered is wrong or falls into the wrong hands.

If it prevents criminal behaviour or improves its detection I'm all for it.
Mark Jones, Plymouth

"We've got to say where do we want the lines to be drawn? How much do we want to have surveillance changing the nature of society in a democratic nation?" he told the BBC.

"We're not luddites, we're not technophobes, but we are saying not least don't forget the fundamental importance of data protection, which I'm responsible for.

"Sometimes it gets dismissed as something which is rather bureaucratic, it stops you sorting out your granny's electricity bills. People grumble about data protection, but boy is it important in this new age.

"When data protection puts those fundamental safeguards in place, we must make sure that some of these lines are not crossed."

'Balance needed'

The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) said there needed to be a balance between sharing information responsibly and respecting the citizen's rights.

A spokesman said: "Massive social and technological advances have occurred in the last few decades and will continue in the years to come.

"We must rise to the challenges and seize the opportunities it provides for individual citizens and society as a whole."

Graham Gerrard from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said there were safeguards against the abuse of surveillance by officers.

"The police use of surveillance is probably the most regulated of any group in society," he told the BBC.

"Richard Thomas was particularly concerned about unseen, uncontrolled or excessive surveillance. Well, any of the police surveillance that is unseen is in fact controlled and has to be proportionate otherwise it would never get authorised."

How we leave an 'electronic footprint'

How to hide in a connected world
02 Nov 06 |  Technology
Taking control of your digital ID
01 Nov 06 |  Technology
Trust warning over personal data
13 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Big Brother thrives in cyberspace
09 Jun 06 |  Technology
Is business the real Big Brother?
25 May 06 |  Business
Cannes director urges CCTV debate
20 May 06 |  Entertainment
Watchdog's Big Brother UK warning
16 Aug 04 |  UK Politics

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific