Security and surveillance

The Coalition Government sees international terrorism as the greatest security threat to the UK. There is also a growing risk of online security attacks at the national, commercial and personal level.

Back in 2006 the then information commissioner suggested that the UK was "sleepwalking into a surveillance society". Since then a number of factors have driven this issue, most notably the proliferation in the urban CCTV presence (driven partly by an increased public perception of threat); the mainstream introduction of a range of more sophisticated surveillance, monitoring and tracking technologies and – at the same time – the greater domestic politicisation of the issue. On the other hand, the previous Labour Government plans for identity cards and biometric passports have now been scrapped as part of cost-cutting exercises. With people increasingly sharing information about themselves online (see online trust and identity) and with technological advancements, there are more opportunities for surveillance to be conducted.

Over the decade ahead we anticipate a brace of themes will also come to prominence: what role the private sector can or should be allowed to play in surveillance and data handling governance and legislation (privacy, merging databases, length of retention). Increased public protest in the light of public spending cuts will also lead to continued marginalisation of dissent.

What are the implications?

  • High visibility measures may reassure citizens who perceive there is a high level of threat (see perception of threat).
  • Public spaces are increasingly policed and monitored not only by the state, but by private security companies.
  • Privacy concerns as more information is held on individuals and some object to what they see as a ‘big brother’ state.
  • As more people have access to the internet and broadband, covert surveillance such as Spyware may become more widespread.
  • Civil liberties concerns around aspects of a number of security policies.

Moving forward

Given the increasing opportunity for surveillance, identity-conscious individuals may be less willing to take part in public demonstrations or online campaigns which require them to reveal their identity to the government.

  • How can you assure people taking part in campaigns that they will not be 'blacklisted' for taking part in campaigns?

Developing social cohesion and building social capital is a key part of creating ‘safer’ feeling communities.  VCOs are often able to reach and help give a voice to sectors of society, such as those responsible for ‘anti-social behaviour’ that others find ‘hard-to-reach’.

  • Does your organisation have a role in tackling the causes of anti-social behaviour?
  • Can you help facilitate dialogue between those seen as responsible for anti-social behaviour and the wider community?

Has your organisation taken appropriate security measures?

  • Are you aware of any specific risks that terrorism poses to your organisation? 
  • What measures have you taken to manage these risks?
  • Have you ensured adequate software to tackle viruses and spyware is in operation on your computers?

International terrorism is perceived to be the biggest threat to the UK.

  • Does your organisation work with communities which the Government consider likely to have links to terrorist organisations? How can you protect the privacy of your beneficiaries among those communities? How can you exercise due diligence among the people you work with to ascertain whether there is a credible threat?
  • How can your organisation shift the UK public's view of ethnic minorities from Islamic backgrounds to remove the association between Islam and terrorism? (See Responses to violent extremism)

Want to know more?

UK Surveillance 

Published by: The Guardian 

Date: Ongoing

Format: Web

What is it? A specialised section of the Guardian website focussing on surveillance issues within the UK.  It consists of articles, videos, blogs and public discussions. 

How useful is this? While not focussed primarily on the future this large and detailed section provides a very useful focal point for UK surveillance related information.  The main theme is that of government surveillance of citizens; how data is collected, what happens to that data and issues arising from this (including CCTV surveillance, DNA collection, police activity and response etc).

UK Security & Terrorism 

Published by: The Guardian 

Date: Ongoing

Format: Web

What is it? A specialised section of the Guardian website focussing on security issues within the UK with a focus on crime and terrorism. It consists of articles, videos, audio, interactive guides, blogs and public discussions. 

How useful is this? While not primarily focussed on the future this large and detailed section provides a very useful focal point for UK security related information.  The main theme is that of crime and terrorism; how the government is responding to changing security risks (including cyber attack and terrorism), what more needs to be done, as well as issues around civil liberties with links to surveillance.

Other comments: A further list of useful and relevant links can be found on the left hand side of the page.

A Report on the Surveillance Society 

Published by: The Surveillance Studies Network (SSN)

Date: 2006

Format: PDF (517KB)

What is it? A report and scenarios published for the UK Information Commissioner by the Surveillance Studies Network examining the pervasiveness of surveillance within our society and the many issues that arise from this. 

How useful is this? This report essentially looks in detail at the history of surveillance, how increasing pervasiveness and integration – much at a subtle level – has led to the surveillance society we have today, and the major issues and consequences that result from this.  Section C is especially useful for anyone wanting an original, creative but also realistic overview of how surveillance may look in the future.  It examines two case studies of an average easy to relate to family, firstly based in the contemporary (2006) surveillance society, and then again 10 years after that.  This future scenario focuses on increasingly intelligent CCTV and monitoring technology, national ID cards, as well as debates on access to and use of personal information.  The report ends by looking at regulation, what’s wrong with current regulation and suggestions and opinions on what is needed in the future.

Other comments: The Scotland Herald wrote an informative piece summarising the future scenario envisaged within the report. It can be found here.

A smaller summary of the report, the appendices, as well as a public discussion document can be found on the SSN website.

The Surveillance Studies Network also publish a quarterly peer reviewed journal. It is very academic and may be difficult to quickly engage with provide a wealth of in depth approaches to surveillance on very specific and particular subjects.

Last updated at 11:45 Thu 10/Feb/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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