Surveillance and Privacy

An article written back in 2007 by Liberty that gives an overview of surveillance in Britain.

  • Britain’s Privacy – Casualty in the War on Terror?

13th September 2007

  • In a report released today, Liberty catalogues the numerous ways in which ordinary Britons have increasingly become “suspects” subject to intense surveillance since the advent of the war on terror and calls for stronger privacy protections.
  • A YouGov poll commissioned by the human rights group found that only 17 percent of Britons trust the authorities to keep their personal details completely confidential while 57 percent believe the UK has become a ‘surveillance society.’Liberty’s 145-page report, “Overlooked: Surveillance and personal privacy in Britain,” explores the increase in surveillance including the mass retention of personal information in government-run databases and the growth of the national DNA database. The report finds that the authorities are increasingly using mass surveillance to profile rather than targeting individual criminal suspects using intelligence-led policing, with disastrous implications for the privacy of law-abiding Britons.

    Liberty’s Policy Director and principal author of the report, Gareth Crossman, said: “In times of heightened insecurity we quite rightly compromise some of our privacy for public protection, but if we don’t pause for thought right now, our children will grow up without any sense of the value of privacy.”

    Last week Liberty won a six-month battle with the Avon and Somerset Constabulary to have the DNA of an innocent 13-year old boy removed from the National DNA Database (NDNAD). The boy had been falsely accused of writing graffiti. [ATTN: Father available for interview] The DNA of approximately 100,000 innocent children has been retained on the NDNAD.

    Key findings of the report include:

    ● An increase in the use of databases, such as the National Identity Cards Database (National Identity Register) which becomes compulsory in 2010, allow the Government to retain and share unprecedented amounts of individual personal information. Authorities use the information for “data matching” in which computers sift data to identify potential criminal behaviour instead of developing intelligence-led investigations.

    ● Nearly 440,000 personal communications surveillance authorisations were recorded between June 2005 and March 2006.

    ● CCTV is not a proven crime deterrent and is poorly regulated, yet the UK is the world leader in CCTV use with approximately 4.2 million cameras.

    ● The National DNA database is the largest in the world with 3.9 million samples. Expansion of the NDNAD by taking samples upon arrest rather than conviction has disproportionately affected black men with nearly 40% of black men represented, versus 13% of Asian men and 9% of white men.

    Liberty’s recommendations include:

    ● New legislation must be introduced to regulate the use of CCTV and to offer greater protection for every individual’s personal details being held on Government-run databases.

    ● The Information Commissioner, Britain’s privacy watchdog, must be given sufficient resources and powers to effectively regulate privacy and data protection.

    ● Judges must be allowed to review authorisations for access to personal communications such as email, mobile and phone calls and the role of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal should be extended.

    ● There must be no new powers for police to take DNA samples and removing an innocent person’s DNA from the database must be made simpler.

    Notes to Editors

    1. For an executive summary and Liberty’s 145-page report, “Overlooked: Surveillance and personal privacy in modern Britain,” contact

    2. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,510 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7th – 11th September 2007. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). The questions were as follows:

    Thinking about the Government and public sector authorities, such as the police, NHS, etc

    ● ‘The Government and public sector authorities can be trusted to keep my personal information COMPLETELY confidential’

    Agree 17%
    Disagree 54%

    ● ‘The government and public sector authorities hold too MUCH personal information about me’

    Agree 48%
    Disagree 18%

    ● ‘The UK has become a SURVEILLANCE society’

    Agree 57%
    Disagree 19%

    3.Gareth Crossman is the Policy Director of Liberty and the author of the four-year study into surveillance and privacy rights in Britain. He formerly worked as a solicitor specialising in criminal defence litigation. After leaving private practice he briefly worked in journalism before joining Liberty’s legal department. Gareth has written for Parliamentary and general audiences on a wide range of issues. He has particular expertise in UK Government anti terrorism policy, privacy and data protection, and criminal justice issues. He regularly gives evidence to Parliamentary Committees including the Home Affairs and Constitutional Affairs Select Committees as well as the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the United Nations Committee against Torture and the European Parliament’s Committee on the Transport and Illegal Detention of Prisoners.