Big Brother Britain

The UK has become a surveillance society that uses the advances in technology to increasingly monitor our day-to-day activities and intrude into our private lives, a report warns today.

In the study, A Surveillance Society, Information Commissioner Richard Thomas envisages a world in 2016 where technology is extensively and routinely used to track and record people's activities and movements.

He predicts that in ten years the buying habits of UK citizens will be secretly managed with data sold on to companies for marketing purposes, RFID tags will be embedded in people's clothes, movements will be followed by unmanned surveillance aircraft and facial recognition systems implanted in lampposts.

The report states surveillance includes the tapping and screening of telephone, email and internet use for key words or phrases by British and American intelligence services. Plus, biometric ID cards and passports, which include data such as iris scans and fingerprints on computer chips, are soon to be introduced in the UK.

According to the research there are up to 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the UK - around one for every 14 people - making it the most surveilled country in the Western world. Moreover, the report predicts that surveillance will increase in the next decade, which could lead to people being excluded from society and discriminated against.

Thomas said: "Two years ago I warned that we were in danger of sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Today I fear that we are in fact waking up to a surveillance society that is already all around us."

He added that with more and more personal information being collected, both by government agencies and commercial organisations, people need to be aware of the dangers. He warned that excessive surveillance could create a "climate of suspicion" and the loss of anonymity and privacy.

He said: "As ever-more information is collected, shared and used, it intrudes into our private space and leads to decisions, which directly influence people's lives.

"Mistakes can also easily be made with serious consequences - false matches and other cases of mistaken identity, inaccurate facts or inferences, suspicions taken as reality, and breaches of security.

"I am keen to start a debate about where the lines should be drawn. What is acceptable and what is not?"

The report will be presented to the 28th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners' Conference in London today.

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