People Worried About Big Brother Surveillance In Britain

Due to its heavy reliance on public surveillance cameras, growing public databases and intrusive government power over its citizens daily lives, Britain has become a poster nation for the modern “surveillance society”.

Britain was recently ranked as one of the five worst nations for its record on privacy and surveillance.

However the surveillance of citizen Jenny Paton, a mother of three, by local officials seems especially egregious.

When officials suspected Ms. Paton of lying about her residence to get her daughter enrolled in a neighborhood school, they started a secret surveillance of Ms Paton that included accessing her phone records.

In addition, a local education department official secretly followed Ms. Paton, recording her movements in a log that identified her and her kids as a “female and three children” and her car as the “target vehicle”.

Ms. Paton broke no laws and her daughter has been admitted into the school. However, the case is scheduled to be reviewed by a regulatory tribunal at her request.

The Poole Borough Council maintains that it has done nothing wrong.

A law enacted in 2000 that regulates surveillance by government departments states that it is lawful for local governments to follow citizens secretly. Local governments often use these surveillance powers without oversight from any judges or law enforcement officials to investigate people.

The law is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act ( RIPA ) and it also gives 474 local governments and 318 agencies surveillance powers that were once reserved for only a few law enforcement and security organizations.

RIPA gives local governments and agencies the power to record people with hidden cameras, access communication information such as telephone calls and internet activity as well as using undercover investigators to spy on people.

Sir Christopher Rose, Britain’s chief surveillance commissioner, reported that local governments conducted 5,000 “directed surveillance missions” during the year ending in March 2009 and other public authorities conducted an additional 5,000 surveillance jobs.

Citizens like Ms. Paton wonder if privacy has any meaning in the Orwellian “Big Brother” system that has been created by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

One of the major criticisms of RIPA is that the people being spied on are usually not aware that they are being tracked and followed.

Indeed, Ms. Paton only discovered what had been done to her when local officials met with her to review her daughter’s school application and showed her the surveillance report and a copy of her telephone records.

Source: NY Times