People, 1. -  3. October 1998
Simon Davies

The burgeoning information and communications sectors have much to offer the citizen. They are also creating vast intrusions into the rights of the citizen. The internet, once heralded as a new horizon for free speech, is being rapidly tamed and controlled. Both Europe and the United States have moved to establish infrastructure controls on content ranging from hate speech to pornography. And while these efforts should be supported in principle, the long term effect on free speech is substantial. For example, the development of "voluntary" access and interception arrangements between police and ISP's - the conduits for internet traffic - has contributed to a widespread sense that on crucial aspects of internet freedom, authorities have little regard for fair play. Any voluntary system of censorship involves little due process, transparency or redress. The second key area of concern to civil rights advocates is that of privacy. Rapid advances in the development of powerful technology, in conjunction with the demand for greater bureaucratic efficiency, are promoting a seamless web of surveillance from cradle to grave, from bankbook to bedroom. New technologies developed by the defence industry are spreading into law enforcement, civilian agencies, and private companies. At the same time, outdated laws and regulations are failing to check an expanding pattern of abuses.

The inevitable result of this process is that privacy is endangered. New developments in medical research and care, advanced transportation systems and financial transfers have dramatically increased the level of information generated by each individual. Computers linked together by high speed networks with advanced processing systems can create comprehensive dossiers on any person without the need for a single central computer system. More important, surveillance has become a fixed design component in virtually all information technology.

The next ten years will be interesting. The current mania for establishing surveillance schemes will spawn a resiliant and dynamic privacy movement. I also believe that citizens will start to use their rights under data protection law. If Big Brother persists, he is likely to have a fight on his hands.

Biography: Simon Davies has worked as a privacy advocaye and IT specialist for more than fifteen years. He is founder and director of the civil rights watchdog organisation Privacy International, which monitors invasions of privacy across the world. Privacy International has campaigned on issues ranging from military surveillance and police systems, through to worlplace monitoring and identity cards. Simon is also a Visiting Fellow in the Computer Security Research Centre of the London School of Economics, and writes regularly for more than twenty publications including The London Independent, The Times and Wired.
Institution: London School of Economics
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