[Sir John Butterfill in the Chair] — A Surveillance Society?

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:24 pm on 19th March 2009.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Minister (Olympics and London), Shadow Minister (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Olympics and London) 3:24 pm, 19th March 2009

It has been a pleasure to serve on the Select Committee, particularly on the inquiry on a surveillance society. It is a very topical inquiry, and the work has been very detailed, with evidence taken from many different sources. I want briefly to set out some of the ways in which we are currently being watched or catalogued, or in which our personal data are being captured. I do not suggest that all the things I am about to mention are things to be concerned about—some of them are not—but some of them may be.

We have already heard about the 4 million or more CCTV cameras—one for every 14 people, apparently—and that people make 300 CCTV appearances a day in London. There are registration plate recognition cameras and mobile phone triangulation, which allows firms—or the police, when necessary—to work out where people are. Store loyalty cards are of huge value politically, in that we all rely on the data that they provide to fill our canvassing gaps. I imagine that all political parties use data from loyalty cards to help us to identify our supporters. In addition, there are credit card transactions, the London Oyster card, the electoral roll, NHS patient records, personal video recorders, phone tapping, hidden cameras, worker call monitoring, mobile phone cameras and internet cookies. I could go on and on. The list is getting longer almost daily.

The Government are clearly not directly responsible for all those examples of either a growing surveillance society or a society that is very much data-driven. However, they must take responsibility for curtailing the intrusion into our privacy that, increasingly, is being made from public sector and, potentially, private sector projects. We know that the Select Committee report and the Information Commissioner support the view that the Government should move to curb the drive to collect more personal information and establish larger databases.

Perhaps I should respond now to the point that the Minister made in a Delegated Legislation Committee a couple of days ago, when he expressed surprise that a Liberal Democrat supports the concept of databases. I should perhaps have declared an interest; having worked in the computer industry for 13 years before I was elected, I am not unfamiliar with databases. I was responsible for constructing many a large database. It is not the database that is the issue, but access to the data and the security of and controls over that data.