UN Privacy Chief Lambastes Orwellian UK

Sometimes life imitates art, and sometimes fiction becomes fact. The newly appointed UN privacy officer, Joseph Cannataci, seems to agree with that statement. Cannataci was the second choice after the UN committee felt the first choice would be too soft on the USA. Cannataci has a different concern though,  stating the weakest oversight in surveillance comes not from the US, but from the UK. In speaking with the Guardian, he said the world needed a Geneva convention for surveillance and he drew parallels to the famous dystopian society book by George Orwell, 1984.

1984

Speaking specifically about the UK, he also stated “At least Winston [a character in Orwell’s 1984] was able to go out in the countryside and go under a tree and expect there wouldn’t be any screen, as it was called. Whereas today there are many parts of the English countryside where there are more cameras than George Orwell could ever have imagined.”

If you look at the raw numbers, it is not hard to see why he feels this way. There are 5.9 million closed circuit television cameras throughout the UK, and as early as October of 2015, police forces are going to start trials of a new software that will analyze the footage quickly for them. Also, the UK Prime Minister spoke in favor of UK’s communications bill, also called the snooper’s charter. That means the UK could potentially go back to monitoring communications in the name of national security. We dare not go any further and suggest the thought police are next.

Without some sort of oversight, governments will continue to push the barriers of privacy for their residents. They will tell them they are only trying to keep them safe. Let’s have a look at some of the points of the privacy chief wants to see enacted for his mandate.

  • Systematically review government policies and laws on interception of digital communications and collection of personal data.
  • Identify actions that intrude on privacy without compelling justification.
    Assist governments in developing best practices to bring global surveillance under the rule of law.
  • Further articulate private sector responsibilities to respect human rights.
  • Help ensure national procedures and laws are consistent with international human rights obligations.

Though he knows this could not realistically be completed in three years, or even six years if the government tried to do too much, he would like to make a long term impact. As with anything, you have to start somewhere. Will we see a worldwide reversal of the current policy? That is something that only time will answer. Until then, we are apparently living in a world that could have only been imagined when George Orwell published his book in 1949.