Privacy watchdog seeks more powers

Britons are increasingly watched and monitored, and stronger safeguards are needed to stop the spread of a climate of fear and suspicion, the country's official privacy watchdog, quoted by an Associated Press report, said.

The Associated Press report further quoted Richard Thomas, who leads an independent body working to protect privacy, as saying that as technology is developed that would allow ever-more sophisticated monitoring of individuals, the question of control, who watches the watchers, is becoming more important.

The Information Commissioner's Office also has a mandate to help the public gain access to official information, the report added.

The official was further quoted as saying that there was a concern 'that too much surveillance will create a climate of fear and suspicion.'

Thomas has warned that Britain is in danger of 'sleepwalking into a surveillance society.'

In a report released last year, he said there were as many as 4.2 million cameras in Britain, one for every 14 people, and that a single person could be caught on more than 300 cameras a day.

The report also described the spread of other, less obvious, methods of surveillance, including scrutiny of consumer spending patterns, Internet surfing and mobile phone records.

But civil liberties groups have criticized the government's plans to introduce everything from national identity cards to CCTV cameras capable of listening in on conversations.

Thomas told a committee of lawmakers that his office should be given greater powers to inspect organizations that carry out surveillance.

At present, Thomas needs an organization's consent before it can be audited, the Associated Press report further said.

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