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UK information commissioner warns of 'surveillance society' threatening privacy

[JURIST] UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas [official website] on Thursday warned that Britain is becoming a "surveillance society" [press release], where the daily lives of citizens are increasingly monitored and privacy is being gradually - if often imperceptibly - eroded. He said governmental, commercial and even private surveillance activities, however ostensibly benign, may have serious social side-effects:

[U]nseen, uncontrolled or excessive surveillance can foster a climate of suspicion and undermine trust...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
Thomas spoke at the 28th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners' Conference, marking the release of a new report [text, PDF] by the Surveillance Studies Network.

The report describes the "surveillance society" Britain could become in 10 years, with monitoring of retail stores, schools and automobiles, and cameras installed in most public places. Thomas said he wants politicians and civil servants to set limits on surveillance by law enforcement agencies. Reuters has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

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