Is Britain turning into a police state?

The UK is heading down the path of turning into a surveillance state', if the government heads down the route it is taking without any opposition, according to a tech leader.

Phil Zimmermann, founder of data encryption company PGP Inc, said at Infosecurity 2009 that Britain had a "pervasive surveillance culture", which had an increasingly "Orwellian" tone to it.

Zimmermann used the example of the government first attempting to build an internet traffic database, and then after political and public opposition, deciding to make ISPs carry the information for use later.

He said of the change in decision: "In my opinion that's not much of an improvement.

"To think that all of our internet traffic can be examined later, all of our SMS messages, all our electronic communications, can be accessed perhaps years later... It seems that we are moving to an Orwellian future."

Former home secretary David Blunkett also expressed worry over the data that police and other authorities could access in his speech earlier at Infosec.

Zimmermann also criticised the number of video cameras in Britain, which now use technology such as automatic face recognition algorithms.

He said that if the police weren't kept unchecked in their use of surveillance technology, Britain could turn into a "police state" because their job would become "too easy".

Zimmermann also said that the government should not get away with creating a surveillance state in the name of improving policing and fighting terrorism.

Zimmermann noted a conversation he had with Viet Dinh, who wrote the Patriot Act in the US after 9/11, which Zimmerman said eroded civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorist threats like Al Qaeda.

According to Zimmermann, Dinh said: "Look, there's something you have to understand about the Patriot Act... We've been wanting these things for years. And we saw the political opportunity afforded us by 9/11."