CIVIL rights campaigners demanded an end to Britain’s “surveillance society” on Friday after the Lords issued a damning attack on the “incessant creep” of CCTV snooping and a mounting DNA database.
Members of the House of Lords constitution committee warned that Britain has more CCTV cameras and a bigger DNA database per person than anywhere else in the world.
In a highly critical report, the peers called on ministers and Parliament to exercise much greater restraint in authorising more surveillance and data collection.
Ministers were urged to “act quickly” to comply with the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the DNA database, which said that police should destroy the DNA data of innocent people. Anyone who voluntarily gives their DNA to police during an investigation but is not a suspect should have it removed automatically, peers said.
Committee chairman Lord Goodlad called for “much more openness” about what data is collected and how it is used.
“The huge rise in surveillance and data collection by the state and other organisations risks undermining the long-standing traditions of privacy and individual freedom which are vital for democracy,” the Tory peer added.
A spokesman for the Home Office and Ministry of Justice defended the surveillance measures, insisting that CCTV and DNA collection are “essential crime-fighting tools” and help protect the public from terrorism.
But anti-surveillance group NO2ID co-ordinator Phil Booth rejected government justification as “a fallacy,” accusing ministers of “treating everyone as suspects – guilty before proven innocent.”
He insisted that ministers “stop now before things get even worse. The reality is that, the more data they gather, the higher is the risk of losing or misusing the information.
“What they should be doing is focus resources on serious criminals and terrorist activities and get out of the private lives of law-abiding citizens.”
Civil rights group Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said that the report suggested that the Lords are more in touch with public concerns than our elected government.
“Over the past seven years, we’ve been told: ‘Nothing to hide, nothing to fear,’ but a stream of data bungles and abuses of power suggest that even the innocent have a lot to fear,” she added.