Thursday, 25 July 2013

Big Brother is Blindfolded

The UK's data watchdog has ruled that a system of cameras that observed the comings and goings of people living and working in the small Hertfordshire town of Royston has been found to be "unlawful" and "excessive." The surveillance system had been dubbed "the ring of steel" because the cameras "made it impossible for anyone to drive their car in and out of Royston without a record being kept of the journey.

The Information Commissioner's Office said "It has issued an enforcement notice to the Hertfordshire Constabulary. The ICO took action following a joint complaint from No CCTV, Big Brother Watch and Privacy International. Its investigators examined whether use of the cameras was justified and compliant with the Data Protection Act. The regulator concluded that the scheme was "disproportionate." The ICO said that the force had breached two of the data protection principles, with its surveillance being "unlawful" and "excessive".

Campaign group No CCTV spokesman Charles Farrier described the watchdog's action as "A landmark decision. The ICO has validated our view that blanket tracking should have no place in a democratic society. The camera network is the stuff of totalitarianism."

ICO head of enforcement Stephen Exkersley said: "It is difficult to see why a small rural town such as Royston requires cameras monitoring everyone going in and out of the town 24 hours a day. The use of cameras and other forms of surveillance must be proportionate to the problem it is trying to address. After detailed enquiries, including consideration of the information Hertfordshire Constabulary provided, we found that this simply wasn't the case in Royston. We hope that this enforcement notice sends a clear message to all police forces: that the use of cameras needs to be fully justified before they are installed. This includes carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the impact on the privacy of the public."

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