Fears that the UK would “sleep-walk into a surveillance society” have become a reality, the government’s information commissioner has said.
Richard Thomas, who said he raised concerns two years ago, spoke after research found people’s actions were increasingly being monitored.
Researchers highlight “dataveillance”, the use of credit card, mobile phone and loyalty card information, and CCTV.
Monitoring of work rates, travel and telecommunications is also rising.
There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people.
But surveillance ranges from US security agencies monitoring telecommunications traffic passing through Britain, to key stroke information used to gauge work rates and GPS information tracking company vehicles, the Report on the Surveillance Society says.
It predicts that by 2016 shoppers could be scanned as they enter stores, schools could bring in cards allowing parents to monitor what their children eat, and jobs may be refused to applicants who are seen as a health risk.
Produced by a group of academics called the Surveillance Studies Network, the report was presented to the 28th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners’ Conference in London, hosted by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The office is an independent body established to promote access to official data and to protect personal details.
The report’s co-writer Dr David Murakami-Wood told BBC News that, compared to other industrialised Western states, the UK was “the most surveilled country”.
“We have more CCTV cameras and we have looser laws on privacy and data protection,” he said.
“We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us.”
The report coincides with the publication by the human rights group Privacy International of figures that suggest Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy.
The two worst countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China, and Britain is one of the bottom five with “endemic surveillance”.
Mr Thomas called for a debate about the risks if information gathered is wrong or falls into the wrong hands.
“We’ve got to say where do we want the lines to be drawn? How much do we want to have surveillance changing the nature of society in a democratic nation?” he told the BBC.
The Smell of Data fragrance bottle releases a metallic scent when a user encounters an unprotected website or Wi-Fi network on their devices.
Leanne Wijnsma and filmmaker Froukje Tan created the product in response to concerns about data security on the internet. The project aims to educate users about what is going on with their data.
Wijnsma and Tan evolved the concept by researching the human response to gas leaks.
“Compare the Smell of Data with the smell of gas,” said Wijnsma. “We were taught to find this smell dangerous – and we know exactly how to act when we smell it.”
The designers were particularly inspired by a 1937 explosion in the US state of Texas that was caused by an unnoticed gas leak. The incident prompted the government to artificially add scent to odourless gases, making them more readily detectable.
Wijnsma and Tan received an e-culture grant from the Dutch Cultural Media Fund to develop Smell of Data in 2014 and launched it in September 2016 at the Science Museum in London.
Stockholm Design Week: Swedish designers Per Emanuelsson and Bastian Bischoff exhibited the Surveillance Light lamp at Stockholm Furniture Fair earlier this month.
The floor-light is modelled on surveillance cameras.
“Recent discussion about surveillance in society inspired the creation of a piece of furniture with an Orwellian ‘1984’ feel to it,” the designers say.
“Blending the typical appearance of a surveillance camera with a standing lamp is an ambiguous refection of our thoughts about the political future. Using cold metal strengthens the relationship of our lamp to the character of surveillance cameras.”
The piece was exhibited as part of an exhibition of work in progress from masters design students from the School of Design and Crafts at the University of Gothenburgin Sweden. See the exhibition catalogue here.
This jacket by Seoul design studio Shinseungback Kimyonghun is covered with camera lenses that can record assailants and broadcast the images on the internet (+ movie).
Shinseungback Kimyonghun placed the different-sized lenses all over the tailored Aposematic Jacket to serve as a warning to potential attackers that their actions might be recorded.
“Aposematic Jacket is a wearable computer for self-defence,” said studio co-founder Yong Hun Kim. “The lenses on the jacket give off the warning signal, ‘I can record you’, to prevent possible attack.”
The wearer pushes a hidden button to record images of their environment, which are automatically published on a designated web page via a wireless network.
“Cameras make people act ‘properly’,” said Kim. “It’s because once someone’s behaviour is recorded, it will exist beyond time and space so that it can be ‘judged’ by others anytime and anywhere.”
Although the lenses are positioned all over the garment, only four are actually hooked up to camera modules. Located on each of the four sides, the cameras create a 360-degree panoramic snapshot of the surroundings.
Instead of surveillance, which implies a group watching an individual, the designers describe the concept as souveillance – where an individual is watching others.
“The jacket is a kind of sousveillance camera that protects its wearer like surveillance cameras are used to protect goods in shops,” said Kim.
The Aposematic Jacket is named after the colouration displayed by organisms to alert predators that eating them will bring consequences. For example, poisonous frogs often have brightly coloured skin.
“The camera lenses on the jacket broadcast the possibility of being recorded to repel attackers,” said Kim. “The ones who ignore the warning will taste toxicity of the recorded images.”
The project is a response to the increasing amount of cameras in our lives, including CCTV around buildings and public spaces, Google Street View’s incessant capturing of the environment and drones that can photograph scenes from the skies.
“How will people act when everything is recorded all the time? How is the ethics of humanity going to be in the age of ubiquitous veillance?” asked the designers. “Having these questions in mind, we wanted to spark discussions about this new environment.”
This range of anti-drone clothing was created by New York designer Adam Harvey to hide the wearer from heat detection technologies.
Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, can be equipped with thermal imaging cameras and deployed by the military or police to locate individuals using heat signatures. The metallic fibres in Harvey‘s lightweight garments reflect heat, masking the wearer’s thermal signature and rendering them undetectable.
Three pieces make up the collection including a zip up cape with a peaked hat, which almost completely cloaks the body, and a scarf that can be draped where needed. “Conceptually, these garments align themselves with the rationale behind the traditional hijab and burqa: to act as ‘the veil which separates man or the world from God,’ replacing God with drone,” says Harvey.
The cropped hoodie is designed to cover the head and shoulders, areas that would be exposed to drones overhead. Pieces were designed in collaboration with New York fashion designer Johanna Bloomfield. All images are copyright Adam Harvery/ahprojects.com.
In his lastest opinion column, Sam Jacob discusses how US surveillance programme PRISM and the impact of digital culture are influencing design thinking.
Our other stories about design based on surveillance include eavesdropping devices that were presented at an exhibition in Israel and lights modelled on security cameras.