It’s reported today that more than half a million requests for personal communications
data such as records of private telephone calls and e-mails, were
lodged by councils and law enforcement agencies last year.
Most people would agree that some of these requests were over-zealous, but where do you draw the line of acceptability? David Walker, Editor of the Guardian’s Public magazine, has written a piece today exploring some of the benefits of information sharing. He notes a tension between different attitudes amongst Conservatives:
"Westminster council has uniformed "city guardians" patrolling
alongside the police, with ubiquitous CCTV and Wi-Fi cameras as back
up, and its 24-hour noise team guarantees a response to complaints
within 45 minutes. The borough also operates dispersal zones to tackle
aggressive begging and youth disorder. Sir Simon Milton, the former
Tory leader of the borough, adds: "We have some of the toughest
licensing policies in the country, and an effective enforcement regime
that targets problem premises." So far, he says, so traditionally
But what to some Tories is pragmatic municipal
action is seen by others as state intrusion and a chance to bash the
Labour government. Milton himself, as chair of the Local Government
Association, remonstrated with councils that use their surveillance
powers to snoop on litter louts. Fly tippers, rogue traders and
fraudsters were a different matter – set the cameras on them, he said.
That’s proportionality, Milton argued, but where to draw the line is infinitely contestable."
Walker goes on to criticise "information fundamentalists" who are too purist about privacy.
Regarding CCTV it’s worth noting that according to his biography David Cameron backed a plan to hasten the spread of the cameras when he was Michael Howard’s Home Office SpAd. Danny Finkelstein has today paid handsome tribute to the long-term effects of Howard’s successful reforms to crime-fighting, reforms which Cameron probably doesn’t get enough credit for.