Report: Pervasive surveillance undermines trust in government

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Increases in surveillance can negatively impact the way individuals feel about government and even cause hostility among citizenry normally not likely to commit crimes, says the U.K. government's Foresight project.

In a recent report (.pdf) commissioned by the Government Office for Science, the project says the United Kingdom plans to increasingly use surveillance for pre-emptive purposes but warns that surveillance may cause individuals to act compliant but that, historically, high levels of state surveillance has led many young citizens to become angry and subversive.  This can occur whether or not the surveillance has beneficial effects on crime rates and public safety.

It notes increasingly hostile reactions to speeding cameras by citizens who demand officials instead target more serious criminals, despite widespread evidence that the cameras have improved road safety and reduced traffic deaths across the country. It says that such broader uses of surveillance does damage to the "public acceptance central to the UK notion of 'policing by consent.'"

It also warns that law enforcement's use of non-roadside surveillance has had little impact in deterring crime. The report says this is because many are unaware of the surveillance and "most claim it makes no difference as to whether or not they would commit a crime." Despite the lack of success, this surveillance still leads to some domestic hostility.

The report recommends further study on the relationship between law enforcement and citizens because the use of cameras and "small aerial surveillance drones that can roam freely" is likely to increase because of improvements in computing capacity, scale and performance.

It also warns of unintended consequences. Britain's MI5 is against some Internet regulation that mandates service providers monitor customer traffic for copyright infringement because that law would lead to increased encryption usage by more serious criminals.

For more:
- download the report (.pdf)

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