23rd January 2015
It’s a staggering fact that the UK represents 1% of the world’s population and has 20% of all CCTV cameras! Totalitarian regimes throughout the world do not come anywhere near our ratio of one camera to every 14 people. The average Londoner can be monitored by up to 300 cameras in a day. Recently, the Government’s Privacy Watchdog, the Information Commissioner, warned that the UK was becoming a “surveillance society”.
Despite all this monitoring, local authorities are allowed to use directed surveillance to investigate offences, which attract sentences of six months or more or relate to the underage sale of alcohol or tobacco, but only if they have obtained the approval of a Magistrate. The Magistrate can give approval to use any one of three covert investigatory techniques namely: Directed Surveillance, Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) and Accessing Communications Data. This control by Magistrates was the result of a law change on 1st November 2012 to prevent local authorities from utilising their surveillance capabilities in a disproportionate manner. For example, before the law change an internal local authority authorisation could allow covert surveillance to be used for minor offences such as dog fouling and littering!
In 2012 the law was changed for the better and, in addition, in all cases, decisions by local authorities to grant or renew the authorisation of covert techniques will take effect only when an order approving the authorisation has been granted by a Justice of the Peace. So, despite all this surveillance of the UK population, there are at least some controls being applied in the interests of basic human rights.
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