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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 March 2007, 16:35 GMT
MPs probe 'surveillance society'
CCTV cameras
There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain
An inquiry into the growing use of surveillance in society is to be held by an influential committee of MPs.

The Commons Home Affairs committee is about to announce the inquiry, leader of the Commons Jack Straw told MPs.

The Information Commissioner last year warned the UK risked "sleep-walking into a surveillance society".

It is thought the inquiry will include the impact of identity cards, the expansion of the DNA database and the large rise in the use of CCTV cameras.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said the move was welcome, adding: "Under Labour we have progressively moved towards a surveillance society with the government's obsession with ID cards and the DNA database being just two examples.

'Extremely sinister'

"What is extremely sinister however is that Labour refuses to be straight about their intentions."

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

The UK also holds 3.6 million DNA samples - the world's biggest database.

We've got to say where do we want the lines to be drawn?
Information Commissioner Richard Thomas

But research published in November revealed other types of surveillance, from "dataveillance" - the use of information from credit cards, mobile phones and loyalty cards - to US security agencies monitoring telecommunications.

An author of the report, by a group of academics called the Surveillance Studies network, said the UK was "the most surveilled country" of all the industrialised Western states.

It coincided with a publication by the human rights group Privacy International suggesting Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said concerns he had raised two years previously, had become a reality.

"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.

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

He added Britain had to "rise to the challenges" of the "massive social and technological advances" of the previous few decades.

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