How to spy on British motorists

May 9, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

The British motorist is under threat. Not from another British motorist sidelining a car, although that may indeed happen. Nope, the British motorist, happily exploring the back roads of the British countryside on a Sunday afternoon, is threatened by US enforcement agencies keen to spy on them. I’m sure Mum and Dad cruising down the country roads of the UK will be a fascinating subject for the snoops in our surveillance society.

Images of private cars captured by public/street cams and personal data that can be gleaned from these images (such as licence plate number, driver details and so on) are to be exported to the US under a secret squirrel proposal by the Home Secretary (Jacqui Smith). Under the guise of the usual “anti-terrorism” mantra, the Home Secretary seemed to forget to mention, when saying the police could access “real time” images from cameras, that she was also proposing to ship the data offshore to the US (and other enforcement agencies around the world). A spokesperson for the Home Secretary has declined to say how many images have already been sent to the US. But the spokesperson said that: “We would like to reassure the public that robust controls have been put in place to control and safeguard access to, and use of, the information.” Yeah? Like what?

This is the pattern of the future: huge databases stuffed full of private information about YOU and ME, being data mined by powerful computers looking for patterns and profiling behaviours. This is insidious enough but when we find that personal data is being “exported” to the US through “forgetting to mention” or keeping plans secret from the UK Parliament, then this just an abuse of civil liberties.

What’s up with the UK? They seem to be hell-bent on snooping and surveilling their citizens and sharing this data with the US. Homeland Security in the US is busy with its plans to collect all 10 fingerprints from international visitors rushing through American airports and the UK is following suit with its proposal to collect the 10 fingerprints of its citizens and residents for a massive central database. This will be achieved through the controversial national ID card scheme. Interesting to see that the UK Govt is currently proposing that biometric data be collected by the private sector (let’s not get our hands dirty they’re thinking) – further evidence of the strong alliance between the State and Big Business when it comes to snooping and tagging its citizens. So criminals and citizens get the same treatment. Collection of DNA will follow no doubt.

And who will be the first UK politician to get their paws printed in ink I wonder? Perhaps the UK Prime Minister or Home Secretary? I had to laugh when I saw this Wanted poster from Privacy International:
Privacy International are offering a reward for the first person to collect and submit the fingerprints of Brown or Smith.

Although I find the collection of biometric data offensive in itself, I could live with it if I had confidence that the data would be used responsibly and for the purposes it’s said to be collected for (which is the usual War on Terror drivel that I simply don’t believe). But I have no confidence that it will be safeguarded or used responsibly. Consider the recent publication (not a leakage, publication!) of Italian citizens’ tax details and incomes on the website of the Italian National Tax Office recently. I’m sure that finding out what your neighbour earns would be fascinating but it’s PRIVATE and we look to the State and its agencies to safeguard our private details. Not the poor Italians though: a list arranged alphabetically and by region was freely available until outraged citizens demanded its removal from the website (smart people those Italians!). The idiot (and now former) Tax Minister who authorised the publication defended his actions by saying: “This is an act of transparency, of democracy, similar to what happens elsewhere in the world”. Hello? Mr Tax Minister, democracy is supposed to protect privacy and not smack citizens in the face by publishing private details! This private right is of course tempered by the public’s right to security – I don’t see how publishing citizens’ private tax details aided the general public’s security. Even Australia hasn’t gone this far!

Well, the evolving form of democracy IMHO is the surveillance society. I met yet another person the other day who said he could care less whether he’s fingerprinted because he “has nothing to hide”. Sure, the usual response. That’s true, if you have nothing to hide why not get fingerprinted. But we need to look beyond this simple response and ask some serious questions:

  • is a monitored and surveilled society in which our behaviours and actions are closely scrutinised really the world we wish to live in? Do we really want our biometric data, including DNA, stored in huge central databases (remember the film Gattaca?)
  • can we be confident that our private data will not be abused by the State in cahoots with private companies?
  • why are we standing back like submissive sheep and allowing monitoring technologies the control?
  • even if we go down at the barricades, why aren’t we putting up a fight?

My answer to this last question I guess is because we are too busy living the good life in the selfish society – we are not noticing the gradual (actually, rapid) erosion of our basic right to privacy and our loss of civil liberties.

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Entry filed under: Biometric identification, Privacy, Surveillance society.

How do you feel today? CCTV cameras: useless?

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