Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Talking back to the cameras 

The Talking CCTV cameras set to lecture delinquent passers-by have been appropriately ridiculed by several LibDems. It all sounds like an automated version of the Russian Babushkas stern public social policing of anything they consider ‘Nekulturny’.

A pity that John Reid (The alleged Home Secretary) has apparently not taken time to read the March 2007 report of the Royal College of Engineers on ‘Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance’ (.pdf) – or if he has, he has already binned it.

Contrast Reid’s dismissal of possible opposition – that there will be some

"....in the minority who will be more concerned about what they claim are civil liberties intrusions".

With the measured introduction to the report of the chair of the RAE group …

Advances in technology have the potential to do great good, but they also carry the risk of doing damage if they are introduced without proper care and forethought.

One of The Royal Academy of Engineering's priorities is to lead debate on matters of engineering by guiding thinking, influencing
public policy making and providing a forum for the exchange of ideas. This report is a contribution to the public debate on information technology and its possible impacts on our privacy.
The report argues that the collection, storage and processing of personal data can be of great benefit to citizens, but that users' privacy must be protected. Engineers have some responsibility for
designing systems that enhance data protection. The report outlines some of the critical points where technology could be used for unreasonable or unnecessary surveillance, where technical failures can lead to loss of data and diminished trust, and where computer processing of personal data can have unwarranted consequences for fair treatment and human rights……………..

Privacy is a topic that we all feel strongly about. We all also resent the emergence of the 'surveillance society', yet demand that wrong-doers and terrorists are identified and apprehended before they can do mischief. We see the growing numbers of TV cameras in the streets and hear about biometric passports and identity fraud. Engineers' knowledge and experience can help to inform the debates that surround these contentious issues. The Royal Academy of Engineering
offers this report as a contribution to these debates.

I am finding this report extremely helpful and very accessible. I hope that we LibDems take its points seriously into our debates and initiatives on these matters.

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