House of Lords warning on Orwellian Britain

House of Lords issuing vital warning to curb the excesses of Orwellian state surveillance in the UK
House of Lords issuing vital warning to curb the excesses of Orwellian state surveillance in the UK

The UK is the world leader in surveillance technologies such as CCTV and DNA profiling, with the House of Lords issuing warnings this week over the 'Orwellian' developments that are turning Britain into a 1984-style 'Big Brother' Surveillance State.

A recent House of Lords constitution committee said that the rapid growth and extensive use of such surveillance tech in the UK was 'pervasive' and that compensation should be offered to those subjected to unlawful surveillance.

The House of Lords committee also recommended that the entire strategy on DNA retention by the police should be re-thought.

Essential crime fighting tools?

In turn, the Home Office defends the use of CCTV and DNA as "essential crime fighting tools".

Plans for a database to store people's phone calls and e-mails were shelved last year after they were branded "Orwellian" by civil liberties groups, even though Ministers are still looking at the plan which some see as a necessary evil in the so-called 'War on Terror'.

The House of Lords committee reminds government that people's right to privacy is "an essential pre-requisite to the exercise of individual freedom".

"There can be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards every detail about us being recorded and pored over by the state," committee chairman and Tory peer Lord Goodlad said.

There are over four million CCTV cameras in the UK and over 7 per cent of the UK's population are already on a central DNA database, compared with around 0.5 per cent in the US.

Much more openness

"The huge rise in surveillance and data collection by the state and other organisations risks undermining the long-standing tradition of privacy and individual freedom which are vital for democracy," Lord Goodlad warns.

"If the public are to trust that information about them is not being improperly used, there should be much more openness about what data is collected, by whom and how it is used."

If anybody should ever question the role of the House of Lords in the UK's (sometimes seemingly-archaic) parliamentary structure, then this is a classic example of why they continue to play a vital role in preventing the excesses of whichever government is in power destroying the freedoms we often take too easily for granted.

The fact that the police can currently take a DNA sample of anybody arrested on suspicion of a crime and then withhold that data, whether or not the suspect is then found guilty of that crime is simply wrong and should be scrapped immediately, as the House of Lords recommended this week.

True democracy is something we must always fight for.

Adam Hartley