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State of surveillance

London Telegraph | December 23 2005

Many people do not seem to worry that the Government is spending more and more of our money to monitor us.

To the civil libertarians who protest at the erosion of the liberties of free-born Britons, they reply: "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear." That was the response of many when CCTV cameras began springing up in high streets; when the national road system was first punctuated with speed cameras; and when the Government announced its plans for an "entitlement card", which suddenly mutated into a multi-billion-pound compulsory ID card scheme.

Now we learn that public funds are being set aside for a vast new surveillance database as Britain becomes the first country in the world in which all car movements are to be monitored by a seamless network of cameras, and then centrally stored for two years.

We find this idea disproportionate to any possible policing benefit, and repugnant in itself. Most of us would feel much safer with more police on the beat, offering a visible deterrent to criminals, rather than having technicians scouring hundreds of millions of our car journeys. Those who see no objection in principle to this enormously expensive scheme might ponder some of the practical drawbacks.

As the state takes more and more information from us - from where we drive to scans of our irises - we become commensurately weaker and more vulnerable. Scores of relatively junior and poorly paid clerical staff will henceforth have access to how all of us live our lives. What power over us this gives the computer operator; how intriguing it might be, at the end of a long boring shift, to check up, say, on the movements of an old girlfriend.

The Government will say the system will be secure and foolproof, but the recent history of public sector computer programs hardly inspires confidence. As the state grows ever more insistent in its demand to monitor us, and preach to us as to how we live our lives, there is much a law-abiding citizen might choose to hide, and a great deal more to fear.

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