Overblown fears of CCTV and snooping are undermining confidence in the system, says former home secretary
A proper review of privacy and security could end over-blown “myths” about the level of surveillance in the UK, and make citizens comfortable with the authorities having reasonable access to personal information, said David Blunkett today.
“The RIPA review should take place quickly,” the former home secretary said, referring to a consultation about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, announced by the current home secretary, Jacqui Smith. Councils and other public bodies have been accused of using RIPA as a licence to snoop on the public, over trivial matters, and Blunkett said “we should be tough in terms of who should access data.”
Some public servants may over-reach their powers, out of a “well meaning belief” that personal data should be kept “because it might come in handy”, he said. Instead, they should determine what they actually need, and how long they need it for.
Fears of a surveillance state are overblown, he said: “Some of this is data that has been made up and recycled, and is now part of an urban myth.” Praising Times columnist for debunking stories, such as claims that UK residents are captured on camera 300 times a day , he called for a more rational assessment of the risks of surveillance, and those that it is designed to counter. “If we can kill the urban myth, in the end will have a much safer Britain and a much more comfortable Britain.” People would know how to handle themselves and Britain would be ” a really good place to do business.”
If these fears are allowed to spread, by scare-mongers or councils over-reaching themselves, he said, ” they will undermine what is completely legitimate data sharing. Undermining confidence in the whole system is what worries me most.”
He poured cold water on criticism of the ID card which he introduced, which is currently under threat as an expensive project that could be cut to help balance the Government’s books. The ID card would function as a universal passport, and would not cost the government very much, he said – because citizens would pay for it when they bought them.