Peers discuss civil liberties and electronic surveillance

April 27, 2009 at 1:44 am Leave a comment

A member of the House of Lords has raised the possibility of tagging human beings in the coming decades.

Lord Craig of Radley, a former Chief of the Defence Staff and crossbench peer, introduced a debate “to call attention to any effect on civil liberties from electronic surveillance and the collection, monitoring, storage and loss of digital information about individual members of the public.”

He said it was unrealistic to attempt, “Canute-like, to reverse the tide of digital development.

“At best, it is more sensible to attempt to control what we now have more carefully, and to consider closely the overall implications of new proposals and ways of exploiting digital developments.”

Lord Craig, who was Chief of the Air Staff from 1985 to 1988, said that tagging, already used against some criminals, could have wider implications.

“We know that cats and dogs are routinely fitted with an embedded chip programmed to give details of the owner’s name and address,” he told peers.

“Now the EU wants all sheep to be tagged.

“Tagging humans would be unacceptable today, but after another decade or more, I wonder.

“If all people were to be chipped at birth, the information could be used for a variety of applications favoured by the state, such as national identity cards, periodic censuses, medical and educational records and so on.

“Even now, there may be some enthusiasts who claim that it would be better to embrace all these new extreme digital capabilities, rather than to stem the tide of their advance.

“But if stemming the tide is to be successful, it has to be based on sound rational argument about rights and civil liberties, not merely on emotion and nimbyism.”

He added: “Curtailing civil rights is playing the game by terrorists’ rules. We owe it to not only ourselves but to future generations to do our utmost to uphold and safeguard our civil rights. Creeping irreversible curtailment is the danger today.”

Click here to read the debate.

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