Lords criticise surveillance plans

Peers have called for more checks and balances, as well as stronger enforcement powers, to police both public and private sectors surveillance and data collection practices.

The Surveillance: Citizen and State report published today by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution warned of the dangers to individual privacy inherent in any new surveillance or personal data collection systems.

"Many of these surveillance practices are unknown to most people, and their potential consequences are not fully appreciated," the report stated.

Jonathan Bamford, Assistant Commissioner at the Information Commissioner's Office, (ICO) welcomed the report's calls for more consultation, planning, enforcement and security measures.

"For sometime we have warned about the dangers of sleepwalking into a surveillance society and the risks to the privacy of individuals," he said. "We welcome the report, which recognises the inherent risks in increasing levels of surveillance and data collection."

The report said that powers the ICO had long lobbied for to carry out spot data security checks in public organisations, and which were granted late last year, should be extended to the private sector given the growing rate of public/private data exchange.

Bamfield agreed: "We would have preferred to have this power to undertake audits extended to private sector organisations as well and we are pleased the Committee agrees."

He added that the ICO had made representations to the government that it needs access to the private sector even where it does not secure consent.

"Organisations which refuse to allow the Commissioner to carry out inspections are likely to be those with something to hide," the report added.

The report also recommended that all personal data should be encrypted as standard, while Bamfield added that: "Organisations should minimise the amount of information collected and only share this with others in well justified precisely defined circumstances."

And he welcomed the report's focus on the need to build in adequate safeguards in the development stages of information systems referring to the likes of the national ID, DNA and planned communications databases.

"We support calls for government departments to produce a publicly available Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) prior to the adoption of any new data collection or processing scheme," he said.

The Lords report also echoed many of the findings of a Home Affairs Committee report published last June.

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Miya Knights

A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.

Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.