30th Sep 2023

Britons are the most spied on in Europe

  • The average Briton is captured about 300 times a day on film (Photo: European Commission)

Britain has emerged as surveillance society number one, while Germany is the only EU country offering significant privacy protection, according to a study by civil liberties group Privacy International.

It estimates that there are now over four million cameras in Britain, one for every 14 residents, a 300 percent increase in just three years.

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The average Briton is captured about 300 times a day on film.

The study, called The Privacy and Human Rights Report, assesses the state of technology, surveillance and privacy protection in all EU countries together with eleven benchmark countries.

Britain ranks as the worst western democracy at protecting individual privacy, at the level of Russia, China, Malaysia and Singapore.

Only slightly better were the US, Thailand and the Philippines, described as "extensive surveillance societies."

The report runs to almost 1,200 pages and holds a chapter for each of the countries ranked.

The aim of the study was not to humiliate the worst ranking nations, according to its foreword "but to demonstrate that it is possible to maintain a healthy respect for privacy within a secure and fully functional democracy".

Britain in the black box

Germany comes out as the only EU country offering significant privacy protection, followed by Belgium, Austria and Greece offering "adequate safeguards against abuse," while citizens in nine EU countries are exposed to "systemic failure to uphold safeguards." These are Denmark, Czech Republic, Ireland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Spain, Slovenia, Netherlands and Sweden.

Only the UK ranks in the black box of "endemic surveillance societies."

Richard Thomas, the UK's independent information commissioner, said clear lines needed to be drawn for the monitoring of people.

"Two years ago I warned that we were in danger of sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Today I fear that we are in fact waking up to a surveillance society that is already all around us," Mr Thomas said, according to Reuters.

And it is not only cameras on the streets that are watching over Europeans.

The internet will hold so much digital data in the future that it will be possible to find out what an individual was doing at a specific time and place, according to Nigel Gilbert, a professor heading a Royal Academy of Engineering study into surveillance.

He said, according to UK daily the Guardian, that people would be able to sit down and type into search engine Google "what was a particular individual doing at 2.30 yesterday and would get an answer."

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