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Spying on Citizens

Summary:
Sir, Your leading article (“Digital Danger”, Jan 2) warns of the use of Chinese-made surveillance systems to track people in the UK. But neither your editorial nor the surveillance watchdog, Fraser Sampson, seems to have any qualms about British-made equipment being used for the same purpose. In 1786 Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon, in which a central prison watchtower could shine a light on all the encircling prison cells without the inmates being able to tell that they were being watched. This, he thought, would motivate them to behave legally. Bentham thought his contrivance was equally applicable to hospitals, schools and factories. In Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, one-way TV systems are installed in every flat. Big Brother would always be watching you.

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Sir, Your leading article (“Digital Danger”, Jan 2) warns of the use of Chinese-made surveillance systems to track people in the UK. But neither your editorial nor the surveillance watchdog, Fraser Sampson, seems to have any qualms about British-made equipment being used for the same purpose. In 1786 Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon, in which a central prison watchtower could shine a light on all the encircling prison cells without the inmates being able to tell that they were being watched. This, he thought, would motivate them to behave legally. Bentham thought his contrivance was equally applicable to hospitals, schools and factories. In Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, one-way TV systems are installed in every flat. Big Brother would always be watching you.

The danger of where a surveillance system is made seems of minor importance compared with our acceptance of the right of democratic governments to spy on their citizens whenever and wherever they please in the name of national security.

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Robert Skidelsky
Keynesian economist, crossbench peer in the House of Lords, author of Keynes: the Return of the Master and co-author of How Much Is Enough?

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