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The surveillance state we’re in

hackney-event2Are we sliding towards a surveillance state? That was the question being asked at a meeting on Wednesday night.

By Angela Hinds

This week the Hackney Liberal Democrats hosted an event called ‘Secret and Spies.’ On the panel were Lester Holloway,  MP Lembit Opik, Carl Reynolds from the HackneyNO2ID campaign, and James Welch, legal director of Liberty which campaigns to protect civil liberties.

There was heated debate from the audience on issues such as surveillance and monitoring, ID cards, the DNA and centralised databases, stop and search and the protection of civil liberties in the UK for all citizens.

Holloway noted that we are ‘entering a surveillance state, a society where we are being watched and monitored, whereby it is almost like they are waiting for us to do something wrong before it is even done.’

He added: ‘This is focused disproportionately on the BME communities. Black people in this country are still seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.’

Hackney residents spoke about concerns that laws often implemented for one thing were being misused for purposes that they were not created for by some institutions and agencies. There was also concern about the use of centralised databases.

Audience member Mary Soames was worried that private confidential information she has given to a GP could be used by social services to have her kids taken away.

This highlights the confusion felt by many about exactly what their private and confidential information is being used for and by whom.

Dr Carl Reynolds on NO2ID added that a report that analysed 46 databases, reported that “of the 46 databases assessed in this report only six are given the green light. That is, only six are found to have a proper legal basis for any privacy intrusions and are proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.”

The DNA database currently holds DNA samples of over one million innocent people who have not been convicted of any crime, despite a human rights ruling that this practice was illegal.

James Welch from Liberty spoke about the Human Rights Act and although frequently under fire this bill holds to right many fundamental policies such as not returning individuals to countries where they are subjected to torture.

This meeting shows that although people are very conscious of wanting to tackle major crime including terrorism they are also aware that laws and practices focused on these areas are open to massive abuse when used for the wrong reasons.

James Welch concluded ‘liberties we have fought hard for and take for granted should not be allowed to be eroded and misused and we must all be vigilant of this.’

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