Britain must build trust in anti-terrorism steps: Official
Saturday, 17 April 2010
LONDON: Britain should address civil liberties concerns about counter-terrorism surveillance technology before they deepen into broad-based public opposition to its use, a member of the homeland security industry said.
In a Reuters interview, Mike Shaw, key account leader for national security and resilience for the UK arm of Thales, said municipal authorities with counter-terrorism capabilities should not use them for other purposes such as uncovering misdemeanours as this undermined public trust. "If everything you do takes away freedom, at some stage you are going to get the general public saying 'enough, we will not tolerate the threat scenario inhibiting our lives in certain ways'," Shaw said on the sidelines of the industry's annual Counter Terror Expo gathering in London.
His comments reflect the industry's growing sensitivity to public opinion amid heightened concern among rights groups and media commentators about the apparent growth of a potentially oppressive surveillance state.
Some local authorities in Britain have drawn criticism from civil liberties campaigners for using closed circuit television to track down people suspected of minor offences such as dumping household rubbish in unauthorised locations. "There are a number of publicly quoted examples where local authorities have used capabilities to prosecute/fine citizens on misdemeanour offences when these capabilities were initially introduced under the banner of improving security," Shaw said. "If you're going to put a system in for security purpose then you have to ensure that information gained from the capability will not be used in any other circumstances."
Some 4.2 million closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras operate throughout Britain, and Britain's surveillance practice is often emulated by countries who see Britain as a leader in using technology to snoop on its own people. Some security experts say the state will increasingly need the power to trawl through personal information held on computers because Britain is more vulnerable to disruption as it becomes more networked and IT-dependent. Sacrificing some privacy, they argue, is preferable to other ways of boosting security such as altering the criminal law to make it easier to convict. This possibility has met objections from several quarters. Ken MacDonald, a former director of public prosecutions, has said that if spies trawled the data of people suspected of no crime they "would become, in peoples' eyes, essentially objectionable and oppressive. They would be viewed with hostility." Shaw suggested that tighter security would be workable only if the government built popular trust in its policies. It could do this by being open as possible with people about how it was protecting them, he said, although the covert aspects of the effort might make this challenging.
"We have to find out how to get the public to increase their trust in what government is saying about security. This means what government is saying about security has to be absolutely true. It can't be 'spun'," he said.
"It must be supported by evidence. How you achieve that evidence is the real difficulty, because a lot of that evidence is in the covert domain."