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Special Reports Last Updated: Sep 29th, 2009 - 00:30:16

The UK is now a surveillance society
By Ken Craggs
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 29, 2009, 00:20

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Since 1996, the United Kingdom Audit Commission has run the National Fraud Initiative (NFI), an exercise that matches electronic data within and between audited bodies, apparently to prevent and detect fraud.

Next month, local authorities (councils) in the UK will again be giving details about citizens to the Audit Commission. Personal details are handed over if a citizen pays Council Tax, claims Housing Benefit, lives in a council�s property, is disabled and has a travel pass, residents� parking permit, or a blue badge; has a licence for market trading, market operating, taxi driving or a personal licence to sell alcohol.

The Audit Commission then crosschecks the information with information that other public bodies have about citizens. These public bodies include the National Health Service, other local authorities, government departments, Age Concern, Council of Mortgage Lenders, National Association of Pension Funds, Trades Union Congress (TUC), UNISON, Passenger Transport Authorities, Police Authorities, Fire and Rescue Authorities, National Park Authorities, Waste Authorities, and non-government organisations, such as pension schemes and housing associations.

The use of data by the Audit Commission in a data matching exercise is carried out with statutory authority under its powers in Part 2A of the Audit Commission Act 1998 and does not require the consent of the individuals concerned under the Data Protection Act 1998.

The national Customer Relationship Management project (CRM), which was launched by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2003, has led to councils integrating personal data such as council tax, housing and electoral register information on one system.

The Database State report warns that the development of integrated databases and the joining-up of existing data �raises the possibility of information being available in new ways, without the citizen being properly informed about them, and to council and other staff to whom it was previously not available.� The authors added that two-thirds of the population no longer trust the government with their personal data. The report also claims that 11 databases, including the National DNA Database, the National Identity Register and the Department for Work and Pensions cross departmental data sharing programme are illegal under human rights or data protection rules.

During the investigation of minor offences, UK local authorities are continuing to illegally spy on individuals, said the chief surveillance commissioner in a report published in July 2009. Sir Christopher Rose said it was of �significant concern� that councils conducted covert surveillance of individuals for non-criminal offences -- an action banned under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

According to a report by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy, also published in July 2009, requests by the police and other officials for information on people�s phone calls and e-mails averaged 1,381 a day between 01 January 2008 and 31 December 2008. A total of 504,073 surveillance requests to telephone and Internet companies were made in 2008. The report states that most requests came from the police and that there were also requests from the intelligence services and local authorities.

Local authorities in the UK have used RIPA laws to investigate dog-fouling, spy on workers who claimed to be sick, monitor the misuse of disabled parking badges, investigate fly-tipping, and to check if residents were putting their rubbish out on the wrong day.

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