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British House of Lords is useful on occasion

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It doesn't happen often, but in this case they are making a valid case. CCTV has been helpful to police but at the same time, how much surveillance is enough? And when is there too much information to digest, anyway? Neither party in the UK seems interested in personal liberties though it has been under New Labour that the surveillance society has expanded right down to tracking cars.

The steady expansion of the "surveillance society" risks undermining fundamental freedoms including the right to privacy, according to a House of Lords report published today.

The peers say Britain has constructed one of the most extensive and technologically advanced surveillance systems in the world in the name of combating terrorism and crime and improving administrative efficiency.

The report, Surveillance: Citizens and the State, by the Lords' constitution committee, says Britain leads the world in the use of CCTV, with an estimated 4m cameras, and in building a national DNA database, with more than 7% of the population already logged compared with 0.5% in the America.

The cross-party committee which includes Lord Woolf, a former lord chief justice, and two former attorneys general, Lord Morris and Lord Lyell, warns that "pervasive and routine" electronic surveillance and the collection and processing of personal information is almost taken for granted.

Although many surveillance practices and data collection processes are unknown to most people, the expansion in their use represents "one of the most significant changes in the life of the nation since the end of the second world war", the report says. The committee warns that the national DNA database could be used for "malign purposes", challenges whether CCTV cuts crime and questions whether local authorities should be allowed to use surveillance powers at all.

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