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U.K. Lords: Too much spying on Brit citizens

A report from the House of Lords decries the "gradual but incessant creep" toward pervasive surveillance via Web monitoring and 4 million CCTV cameras.

New powers are needed to combat a culture of "pervasive" surveillance that has seen the U.K. become the most spied-upon country in the world, the Lords said Friday.

The U.K. is now watched by more about 4 million CCTV cameras and details of 7 percent of the population is held in the National DNA Database (NDNAD)--more than any other country, according to chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, Lord Goodlad.

U.K. surveillance photo gallery

At the same time national databases designed to hold personal information on nearly every U.K. citizen are being set up across Whitehall, from the NHS Care Records Service to the ID cards National Identity Register, according to a report by the committee released Friday.

Meanwhile businesses and banks are gathering data on the public from CCTV, Web browsing behavior, CRM systems and tracking the use of loyalty cards, the report says, adding that the government also wants access to this data.

"Every time we make a telephone call, send an email, browse the internet, or even walk down our local high street, our actions may be monitored and recorded," the report said.

Goodlad said in a statement: "There can be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards every detail about us being recorded and pored over by the state."

Citing instances where councils have spied on citizens when investigating littering, the report says that any victims of "unlawful surveillance" by a local authority should receive compensation and that local authority snooping under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act should be monitored by the courts.

Any future surveillance or data processing scheme suggested by Whitehall should be closely scrutinized by a dedicated parliamentary body and the information commissioner before it goes ahead, the report said.

This should be paired with legally binding guidelines on the operation of all CCTV systems it added.

The report also said the government should act swiftly to comply with last December's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that innocent people's DNA should be removed from the NDNAD, a decision that could see about 850,000 people's details deleted.

The information commissioner should also be able to carry out unannounced spot checks on private sector organizations to check they are complying with the data protection act, the report recommended.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The government has been clear that where surveillance or data collection will impact on privacy they should only be used where it is necessary and proportionate.

"This provides law enforcement agencies with the tools to protect the public as well as ensuring Government has the ability to provide effective public services while ensuring there are effective safeguards and a solid legal framework that protects civil liberties."

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said: "This report reflects a sea change in public opinion. The language is robust and unequivocal about the need to address surveillance as a matter of urgency.

"Hopefully this will pave the way to overturn the parts of the Coroners and Justice Bill that will give government ministers the ability to demand data sharing between organizations."

Nick Heath of reported from London.