Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Further evidence of privacy and surveillance debate moving up the agenda in the UK

The British Royal Academy of Engineering (self description: "we bring together the country’s most eminent engineers from all disciplines to promote excellence in the science, art and practice of engineering") has just published an extensive report on "Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance" (available as a pdf file here).

The 64 page report, drawn up by 12 strong working group over the course of the last year (which included my colleague Bill Dutton from the Oxford Internet Institute), puts the focus on the ambiguities of the technological developments rather than predicting either Utopia or Dystopia. But rather than having to choose between liberty and security, the report argues "that, with the right engineering solutions, we can have both increased privacy and more security." And, of course: "Engineers have a key role in achieving the right balance." Who would have thought that, coming from this source ;-)

But more seriously again, the report gives a serious and balanced discussion, and lots of information on topics such as CCTV, loyalty cards, mobile phones, but also technology to protect privacy. Concluding with 10 recommendations (which include a call for increased powers for the Information Commissioner and for technology to be designed with privacy protection in mind), it is well placed to inform public debate on the topic in the UK.

As I argued previously in this blog (see here and here), we can see a broadening of the political and societal debate around privacy and surveillance in the United Kingdom in the last months, and this report is further evidence of it.

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