Ethical issues on UKs digital surveillance around its citizens

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Surveillance is to put an observation and monitor a person. The term comprises both visual observation and scrutiny of individual behaviors, speech and actions. Example of surveillance in done through use of surveillance cameras, wiretaps,GPS tracking and internet surveillance (Tarleton, Alice, pp.191).While some people will view the process as a measure towards ensuring high levels of security, some take it as a way of expression of control similar like having a stranger staring at you for long period of time. This could be uncomfortable and hostile as it has no difference like being under constant observation only that surveillance is being conducted surreptitiously and through recognized government authorities. The current technology in the world has enabled surveillance to advance to new levels .The government today’s has variety of ways to observe all the behaviors and actions of persons without using a spy to physical appear on scenes(Tarleton, Alice, pp.192). These advanced technologies have huge impacts with regards to ethics of putting a person under surveillance and observation in our modern society where many of the activities conducted by people could be observed, recorded, searched and traced making the current surveillance much more intrusive than the one used in the past. According to the UN’s privacy chief, the UK has become one of the global foremost surveillance states that allow police and intelligence agencies to spy on the people to levels that are unprecedented for a democracy (Tarleton, Alice, pp.191). UK is described as to have the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. The UK has more digital cameras per square inch than any other place in the world .This essay discusses and critical evaluates the ethical issues surrounding the UKs digital surveillance around its citizens through observing both the advantages and cons of excess digital surveillance.


In establishing a starting point of discussion in the issue, it is important to mention that though research cannot confirm for fact, it is argued that U.K has more digital surveillance than any other developed city of its similar size globally. It taxes paid by citizens in the country are used to purchase the CCTV cameras, run the agencies and maintain the facilities thus they sure belong to the public. The U.K data and statistics on the government use of digital camera from both independent and government sources has shown that large percentages of data acquired in these footages is used to prevent and solve crimes and social orders that the government claims and the public could have access to the footages obtained in if they are in it and not breaking any law (Priks, & Mikael, pp.1165). For example, there was a musical group that filmed the band for one of their singles all over the town and later requested for the footage under fair and public applications. There are proper and legal ways that could be followed to obtain such films from the authorities of course after they have edited the area that are not supposed to be included in public footages for security purposes. Another example to serve in this case is a research on popularity of surveillance camera in the Great Britain where from the study, great number of murders investigated by detectives from the Scotland Yard has been solved successfully through use of camera footages as evidence. In 2009, a report indicated that out of 90 murder cases recorder during the year,   86 of the cases were solved because the crimes were captured before or after the criminal act. According to the Commander of Scotland Yard’s Homicide Department by then Simon Foy, CCTV cameras are vital as other forensic evidence such as DNA samples and fingerprints in investigating crimes (Priks, & Mikael, pp.1171). In the United States, the popularity and effectiveness of surveillance through CCTV systems is higher due to crimes solved using the aid of cameras. For example  in the case of a lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee in 2017, the Attorney Grove Collins claims that his client immediately activated the alarm system for audible security after watching two men attempting a breaking in through his Smartphone. This footage was submitted by the system automatic to the police to aid them in investigation (Priks, & Mikael, pp. 1178).

The arguments against the use of surveillance in the UK include discrimination, unlawful use of the footages recorded and racial and religious profiling. Some individuals have recorded statements where CCTV surveillance are used to identify certain group of individuals and prevent them from accessing areas or services on bases of ethnic groups. In some offices,  recordings of staff activities and behaviors has been used to prosecute and charge staff who were recorded by hidden security cameras either involved in prohibited activities or unprofessional conducts. Other cameras are placed in private areas that could capture private activities of persons which is unlawful use of this surveillance. Finally, racial and religious profiling occasions have been observed where some suspects identified in the footages are hunted down by police in public and gunned down without clarity. Some of the profiling results in mistaken killings of individuals who are not criminals. For example the case of Jean Charles da Silva e de Menezes, a Brazilian man who was killed by police officers from the London Metropolitan Police Service in Stock well station. The individual was attacked by the officers on the London Underground after they wrongly suspect him to be a fugitive involved in a previous failed terrorist attack. Another Brazilian tourist was shot in the U.K by police officers who utilized footage to track him down and execute him in broad view of the general public on a crowded area that traumatized everyone who saw the scene. The police could only really see the back of his head of the individual in the footage thus it was not enough proof for them to take such an action especially in front of other civilians who witnessed the scene

The arguments for the use of surveillance footage are majorly based on the use of the films for prevention of crimes, and applying the footages in cases to obtain justice in court for victims. While these two uses are important, individuals should understand and weight when the use of surveillance would be most appropriate. A vital viewpoint for the arguments for the use should be on basis of means, data collecting context and application (Dunn, & Matthew et al, pp. 635-641). In the means, the agency should check if the technique has unwarranted physical or psychological harm. This creates the boundaries of use, the trust from citizens, and validity of the films. The data collected context should address public awareness on presence of surveillance, equality regarding application and availability and most importantly identify the negative effects of surveillance on third parties. Though most agencies insist on using surveillance for security improvements, there are other countries in the world that have less or moderate surveillance and have significant lower crime rates. In the current world of Information technology, the rates of cyber attacks are high and real. Improper monitored and poor secured surveillance servers could be hacked and information stolen by cyber thieves for their advantages (Dunn, & Matthew et al, pp.637). Excess surveillance in the U.K has created an environment where access to a surveillance cameras are everywhere thus hackers with intentions of misusing these recording devices could easily get physical access to control kits and install malwares for their hacking process. In a recent example, the U.K governments now stores yearly records of every website visited by its citizens with data including the apps on their phones and metadata of their calls. It has the ability to know where a user visited during online sessions, how long the user did the activity, the IP addresses and information about the computer. This information if hacked could be used by criminals to attack specific persons in the country (Dunn, & Matthew et al, pp.640).


The government and agencies argue that if a person has not done anything wrong, then he or she should not be afraid of surveillance. However, for effective use of these technologies, surveillance should; be deployed to cover real, pressing and substantial problems, and be applied as an exceptional step in the absence of a less privacy-invasive way. In addition to that, the use of the technique should involve public consultation to precede any action on a film, the process has to be consistent with applicable laws and the whole activity should be monitored to prevent breach of privacy and avoid cases of misinterpretations of footages. All the above solutions can be achieved through creation of a body with the sole function of overseeing the surveillance process and reporting to the public in all matters of concern.

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  1. Dunn, Matthew et al. “Effectiveness Of and Challenges Faced By Surveillance Systems.” Drug Testing and Analysis, vol 3, no. 9, 2011, pp. 635-641. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1002/dta.333.
  2. Priks, Mikael. “Do Surveillance Cameras Affect Unruly Behavior? A Close Look At Grandstands.” The Scandinavian Journal of Economics, vol 116, no. 4, 2014, pp. 1160-1179. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/sjoe.12075.
  3. Tarleton, Alice. “Factcheck: How Many CCTV Cameras?.” Significance, vol 6, no. 4, 2009, pp. 191-192. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/j.1740-9713.2009.00400.x.
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