Big Brother: What it really means in Britain today
By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent
Published: 15 January 2007
Moves to share people’s personal details across Whitehall have provoked a civil liberties uproar and accusations that the Government has taken another step towards "a Big Brother state".
Ministers say the scheme – which will be endorsed by Tony Blair today – is aimed at improving public service delivery. But it faced protests that it was dealing another blow to personal privacy by creating a "snooper’s charter" and enabling thousands of civil servants to access sensitive information with ease.
Two months ago Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, warned that Britain was "waking up to a surveillance society that is already all around us". But ministers dismiss such fears and are pressing ahead with the world’s most ambitious identity scheme, as well as a rapid expansion of the DNA database. Details of all children will be held in a single register to be launched next year, medical records are being transferred to a central NHS database and plans are being examined to track motorists’ movements by satellite.
The idea of sharing personal details between departments follows a review of public services designed to make them more efficient. Ministers reached the conclusion that data protection rules limiting access to information about adults were too tight.
John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, cited an incident yesterday where a bereaved family were contacted 44 times in a six-month period by different parts of his department to confirm details of an accident. Mr Hutton said: "The Government already stores vast amounts of data about individual citizens, but actually doesn’t share it terribly intelligently. There is room for improvement."
The Government intends to legislate later this year to ease the curbs on data-sharing between departments. It is also refusing to rule out the idea of a single "super-database", where everything from benefits and pensions records to information on motorists and TV licence payments are stored. More details are expected to be announced by the Prime Minister today.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: "This is an accumulation of our Government’s contempt for our privacy. This half-baked proposal would allow an information free-for-all within government – ripe for disastrous errors and ripe for corruption and fraud."
Phil Booth, the national co-ordinator of the anti-ID group No2ID, warned of the danger posed by "the development of government surveillance of the population through computer records". He added: "It can be stopped, if only people stand up and say they have had enough."
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "Blair’s Britain now has the most intrusive government in our history. It’s time we put a halt to this."
The Tories ridiculed the proposal in the light of the Government’s record on managing databases, citing failures in the Sex Offenders Register, the Criminal Records Bureau, and recent problems tracking criminal records from overseas.
David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said the ID cards database was likely to be a "white elephant" costing £20bn, and the money could be better spent on policing or border controls.
Oliver Heald, the shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary, told the BBC that ministers were "moving one step closer to a Big Brother state". He warned against the Government being able to "set up a database from the cradle to the grave".
He asked: "Are they going to have enough security with this massive new database to ensure it isn’t hacked into and that identity theft doesn’t occur?"
Ministers are convinced the proposal will win widespread public support, and Mr Blair will announce today that so-called "citizens’ panels" will be used to gauge reaction to relaxing privacy procedures. The consultation is due to finish in March with ministers prepared to move swiftly after that to legislate.
The Government has repeatedly argued that the public is prepared to sacrifice small measures of personal liberty in return for improving safeguards against terrorism, crime and identity theft.
Critics say the cumulative effect of such initiatives, as well as the spread of store loyalty cards and Oyster travel cards, is to undermine privacy.
Tony Blair is expected to announce today that sensitive personal data could be swapped by Whitehall departments. Ministers believe restrictions on data-sharing between civil servants are too strict. A ‘super-database’ or ‘super-computer’ holding everyone’s records would be similar to a planned children’s database.
The Prime Minister has suggested that the DNA of every British adult should be stored by the state. The national database already holds 3.7 million samples, 6 per cent of the population, far higher than any other country. More than one million have been taken from people never convicted of an offence.
The British are among the world’s most observed people. Some 4.2 million closed-circuit television cameras record our every move – one for every 14 people and more per head than any other country in Europe or North America. The average Londoner can be caught on camera 300 times a day.
Millions of medical records are to be transferred to a central NHS database, allowing staff anywhere to access patients’ information. People who object will not be able to opt out. The most personal information will be available to hospital managers, IT departments, high street pharmacists and civil servants.
The first identity cards will be issued next year to foreign nationals and from 2009 to UK citizens. Anyone who renews a passport will be forced to register and the Government aims to make ID cards compulsory within six years. Fifty-two pieces of information, including fingerprints and iris scans, will be held.
SPY IN THE SKY
Motorists are already monitored through the soaring number of road cameras. In an effort to cut congestion, the Department of Transport is examining plans to use satellite technology to keep tabs on every vehicle’s exact movements. Motorists, forced to have a black box fitted in their cars, would be billedfor every journey they make.
Bueno, pues este blog en realidad no estaba planeado, cuates. Pero es que tengo la "mala costumbre" de cada vez que enciendo la compu fisgar los portales de aquí y allá para dizque actualizarme, y ¡bolas! me encuentro con esto. Vaya, vaya. Y yo que pensé que sólo el Baby Bush necesitaba esto de estar "trackeando" gente, entre otras cosas para legitimarse. Debe ser una pin pón obsesión cañona (rayando en el voyerismo) estar checando lo que hacen los demás.
!Ah! Que dizque para dar confianza mi tocayo el Blair entrega una muestra de su propio DNA. !Qué chiste! Ojalá todos tuvieramos un asiento en el consejo de administración de una de las grandes transnacionales como asté. ¿Qué no se rumora que el Murdoch ya nomás está esperando a que termine para recibirlo con los brazos abiertos? ¿No tuvo usted Tony una reunión privada con el Rupert en Cancún? A lo mejor y hasta hablaron de la "tercera vía" que algunos compatriotas se tragaron redondita. Weno, weno, a lo mejor el único ingenuote aquí soy yo. ¿O mal pensado?
En todo caso, luego resulta que de poco sirve todo eso cuando se enfrentan a mentes verdaderamente lúcidas, ya lo verán compas.
P.D. Que por ser Dominguera está muy floja.