Wednesday, May 02, 2007

House of Commons and House of Lords launch inquiries into the "surveillance society"

The subject of privacy and surveillance has been moving up the United Kingdom's political agenda since last autumn, as I have argued in this blog on various occasions (see here, here, here and here). Now, it seems, the debate has reached the Houses of Parliament, after various reports and many newspaper stories (as well as some recent accidents) have drawn substantial attention to it.

Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have recently launched inquiries into questions of surveillance and data collection. The House of Commons does it under the auspices of its Select Committee on Home Affairs, and its inquiry will be concerned with the question "A Surveillance Society?" The inquiry (the oral evidence phase of which started yesterday, 1 May, with evidence being given by the Information Commissioner) will

"focus on Home Office responsibilities such as identity cards, the National DNA Database and CCTV, but where relevant will look also at other departments’ responsibilities in this area, for instance the implications of databases being developed by the Department of Health and the DfES for use in the fight against crime."

The Lords inquiry "to investigate the impact of surveillance and data collection" takes place through the Constitution Committee and will focus

"on the constitutional implications of the collection and use of surveillance and other personal data by the State and (insofar as they can be used by the State) private companies, particularly with regard to the impact on the relationship between citizen and state."

A "call for evidence" has been issued, and anybody who has something to offer can write to the House of Lords by Friday, 8 June 2007. Twelve Lords will conduct the inquiry, and my colleague Charles Raab from the University of Edinburgh has been appointed as Specialist Adviser for the duration of the inquiry.

The transparency of the procedures and the breadth of (especially the Lords') inquiry is certainly laudable, and it will be very interesting to observe the deliberations of the committees and read (and compare!) their respective results.

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