Information Commissioner Richard Thomas warns of surveillance culture

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Alexi Mostrous and Richard Ford
Times Online
February 27, 2009

Laws that allow officials to monitor the behaviour of millions of Britons risk “hardwiring surveillance” into the British way of life, the country’s privacy watchdog has warned.

Richard Thomas told The Times that “creeping surveillance” in the public and private sectors had gone “too far, too fast” and risked undermining democracy.

The Information Commissioner warned that proposals to allow widespread data sharing between Whitehall and the private sector were too far-reaching and that plans to create a giant database of every telephone call, e-mail and text message risked turning everyone into a suspect. “In the last 10 or 15 years a great deal of surveillance in public and private places has been extended without sufficient thought to the risks and consequences,” said Mr Thomas, 59. “Our society is based on liberty and democracy. I do not want to see excessive surveillance hardwired into British society.”

He criticised proposals going through Parliament to allow mass data sharing between government departments and the private sector. Campaigners have claimed that Section 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill would enable the transfer of health and tax records to private companies such as insurance firms and medical researchers.

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