Home Office urged for transparency on spyware industry

The UK’s government has been criticised by privacy groups over a lack of transparency about its involvement in the surveillance industry.

A report released yesterday showed that government agencies around the world are attending events and trade shows with the latest in surveillance technology.

From large scale organisations to the small, attendees at ISS World can buy up the latest surveillance and monitoring technology.  A joint report from the Wall Street Journal and Privacy International showed that even some rather surprising attendees, such as the Strathclyde Police and The US Fish and Wildlife Service, also turn up – paying over a thousand dollars per head for the privilege.

The Home Office has attended ISS World events in the past.  TechEye asked the Home Office to explain the purpose for the visits but were told that, for “operational reasons”, it could not comment.

The Home Office says that such visits are a matter of course, saying that “officials attend meetings like this and others as routine”.

Privacy advocates at Big Brother Watch questioned the necessity for the UK government to attend such events, and called for more transparency over attendance.

Deputy director of the group Emma Carr said, speaking to TechEye: “Questions need to be asked as to why individual police forces, such as Strathclyde Police, would need to attend a conference that features training sessions on ‘online social media and internet investigations’ and ‘exploiting computer and mobile vulnerabilities for electronic surveillance’”.

Carr continued: “In the past ten years there have been millions of interceptions of communications, but only a tiny fraction are ever authorised by a court.”

Carr believes that with technology advancing at such a rate, the government needs to be clear about its surveillance powers. Big Brother Watch suggests the UK needs a “proper regulatory system in place to protect privacy and civil liberties”.

“The public can’t have faith that these powers are being used properly if the government fails to be transparent in its attendance at such events,” Carr told us.

“The number of people attending these conferences demonstrates the enthusiasm for using more intrusive technology,” she said. “It is far from certain that Britain has suitable regulation in place to ensure it is used proportionately and in appropriate situations.”