Civil Liberties

'They Said My Privacy Wasn't Intruded on Because the Surveillance Was Covert'


After Jenny Paton, a 40-year-old mother of three in Poole, England, tried to enroll her daughter in the neighborhood school, the local education department began spying on her, trying to prove that she had applied under a false address. (She hadn't.) The investigation included an examination of Poole's telephone records and three weeks of secretly following and photographing her and her children—all without court approval. It was perfectly legal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which gives 474 local governments and 318 agencies in the U.K. the unilateral authority to conduct covert surveillance of anyone they choose. According to the country's chief surveillance commissioner, they do so about 10,000 times a year, often for trivial offenses like failing to recycle , putting trash out prematurely, or owning a noisy dog. Usually the targets are unaware of the snooping; Paton found out about it only after school officials showed her the surveillance report. By her account, "They said my privacy wasn't intruded on because the surveillance was covert."

I considered Britain's "surveillance society" in a Reason book review a few months ago. In 2006 I discussed the U.K.'s bad marks from Privacy International.

[Thanks to Tricky Vic for the tip.]

NEXT: A Hard Pill to Swallow

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  1. My jaw literally dropped because of this article.

    1. It’s like in Jurassic Park, when Goldblum says that Science debates whether or not it CAN do something rather than if it SHOULD.

      How can people be so institutionalized to not see how fucked up this is? I have no faith in humanity.

  2. If you’ve got nothing to hide, why do have a problem with government going up your ass with a microscope?

    Your taxes are paying for it, so really, bend over and enjoy the entitlement service.

    1. BOHICA baby!

    2. “If you’ve got nothing to hide, why do have a problem with government going up your ass with a microscope?”

      Be fair now..only if it’s covert!

    3. Legally if anyone goes “up your ass” with anything (including a microscope) without permission it’s a criminal offense of sodomy and rape. If someone is spying on you you still feel violated. For example, voyeurism. This woman feels violated, feels that her children have been violated. Read 1984.

    4. So fist of etiquette , you say you’ve nothing to hide and you don’t mind something jammed up your ass? What are you trying to do, turn this post into a dating service ? Well as you say bend over and enjoy it . Oh yea all kidding aside your attitude is a fine example why this shit happens .

      1. And here I thought I might be insulting everyone’s intelligence by not making my sarcasm subtle.

  3. What’s more alarming than the actual acts mentioned in Sullum’s post is how we can expect the collective voting body over there to respond. See Tocqueville: “The will of man is not shattered but softened, bent and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrial animals, of which government is the shepherd.

    I am not British, but I’ve tried to keep abreast of their loony anti-liberty leanings over the last many years. it seems they are trapped in Paine’s dilemma: the long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it the appearance of being right. Are we (Americans) so very far behind? And why are we collectively OK with that? It’s like some sort of historical experiment that repeats itself every several decades. Maybe there is an intelligent designer and he’s meaner than a Skeksis.

  4. Someone here made a great comment about Britain and 1984.

    It was meant as a warning, not a blueprint.

    1. I came in to post just that.

      1. The exact quote “1984 was a warning, not a blueprint” has 42,400 Google hits. I seriously doubt anyone here invented it.

  5. Also, the Oceanian govt would never have worried about explaining away privacy violations in the first place.

    1. Just the way you would like it, you being all Mr. “law and order” libertarian.

    2. Actually, I suspect that in the beginning they did. You have to convince the masses that it’s good for them so they’ll accept it. In 1984 Big Brother was in his prime and the masses didn’t remember a time before him.

  6. I wasn’t fucking Warty up the ass because I wasn’t enjoying it….. or some such logic.

    1. He was not unresponsive.

  7. We have similar logic here in regards to “hidden” taxes and the passing of bad stealth legislation: because it was covert, it is not unethical, illegal or unconstitutional.

    And it is for your own good.

  8. Mark Styn had a post a few days ago about playgrounds in England where parents are not allowed to go with their children. Only background checked government approved “play rangers” are alowed on the playground with the children. Non-government approved adults are not allowed near children.

    The UK is completely fucked up. The craddle of freedom and democratic government is turning into a totalitarian hell. And make no mistake, the Obamabot progressives want to make the US just like it. I really hate those motherfuckers.

    1. Agreed John, it’s one of the reasons why I read the UK papers. I find it amusing that they have dubbed Obummer “President Pantywaist” and routinely mock him and his administration, yet they implement policies that would make Orwell and Huxley turn over in their graves. Or hear their zombies laughing saying “I told you so!”

      UK is a giant “Nanny 911”.

      BTW, who checks these “government appointed play rangers” (a creepy moniker is of itself)? How does the benevolent government know that these “rangers” are any less dangerous?

      1. That is what I thought. If I were a pedophile, that would be the first job I would want. You would get access to a huge number of kids without their parents around to screw things up.

        But liberals honestly believe that anyone who works for the government would never do anything wrong. Pathetic.

        1. But liberals honestly believe that anyone liberals who work for the government would never do anything wrong.

          Fixed that for you.

      2. not defending the policies but they do have criminal record checks on those “play rangers”
        i think there is a big problem in schools because of all the false accusations by pupils and their parents. All they have to do is claim abuse and they are believed and the teachers seems to be automatically suspended. There was a recent case whrn the “abuse” involved a teacher dragging a 15yr old boy out of the classroom afer he was threatening to stab him to death.

      3. >How does the benevolent government know that these “rangers” are any less dangerous?

        Surveillance, of course 🙂

  9. Brits didn’t used to be pussies. Kinda makes you think.

    1. I think most who loved liberty and had initiative died on the Somme and in Normandy. All that was left were the shirkers and the idiots.

      1. They willingly traded their liberty for security after WWII circa 1948 with the creation of the NHS. And the rise of the Labour Party, especially in the 1970’s.

      2. you are abig friend of the generalisation aren’t you?

        i don’t really undertand your logic. Since 1944 no one has been born in the UK? margaret thatcher was a shirker and an idiot?
        you seem to have no “filter”
        When i read a story about obese americans suing burger king for making them fat i don’t immediately think that every single american is an adiot.

        1. To “monolith” – your name says it all, as in “monolithic”. You don’t sense your loss of freedoms because you completely lack individuality. You fit right in and feel most comfortable when you conform to the masses. You’re a cog in a wheel and love it that way. I can just see you now raising your freak flag in protest against my characterization. Don’t bother. Your psuedo-individualism does not impress me.

  10. John, you have every right to exclaim that you “really hate those motherfucikers.” Would you grant that if you openly used those words on say Fox, CNN, CNBC, PBS, etc. to describe Obama and his posse, that you would be villified by some as a “right wing extremist” and a “wingnut” and a “nutcase” as well as “a voice of hate?”

    Would you also grant that there would be those who went “racist” on you? They would brand you as a “racist.” Of course, any such assertion would be utter balderdash. Those hurling such accusations would be rightly branded as race hustlers or a few fries short of a happy meal, intellectually speaking. At best, one would have to conclude that the accusers of such claptrap had to be counted amongst the politically correct sheeple.

    Yet, in Tulpa’s world, if one accurately describes obama as a “negro communist,” one is a racist. Yes, whether blueprint or warning, we can observe shades of 1984 in the thinking of those who profess to call themselves libertarian.

    1. Of course they would call me a racist. And they would be wrong. But that is all they can do is scream racist.

    2. “Yet, in Tulpa’s world, if one accurately describes obama as a “negro communist,” one is a racist”

      If you weren’t a racist, you would have described the president as a mulatto communist. You’re either implicitly absolving his white half of involvement in anti-american activities, which is racist, or tacitly endorsing the “one-drop rule”, which only a racist or someone from the past would do. And everyone from the past is racist, so that won’t help you either. Racist.

      “You see, unfortunately, I am not black. There are lots of different kinds of blood in our family. But here in the United States, the word ‘Negro’ is used to mean anyone who has any Negro blood at all in his veins. In Africa, the word is more pure. It means all Negro, therefore black. I am brown.” – Langston Hughes, homosexual negro communist

      1. Negro refers to a color, just so you understand that, in spanish black is negro. I imagine that any Spaniard or Mexican who uses that word is racist, correct?

    3. The word “racist” has been used like a bludgeon for the last 40 years by statists (on both sides of the aisle) to silence any opposition to their socially destructive policies.

      The very word has lost any real meaning. And I for one decided to get off that little merry-go-round long ago.

      Quite frankly, if you DON’T prefer your family, community, culture, or “group” (however you choose to define it)…then you are committing cultural suicide.

      Would you disadvantage your own child in favor of someone else’s simply to assuage whatever false sense of guilt you feel over what you’ve been shoveled out of state sponsored history books?

      There is a great deal right with preferring your own.

  11. John, a racist is a proponent of racism, right? Racism being a government policy based on race, i.e., affirmative action, quotas, statistical computation and disclosure and jim crow laws.

    If an escort advertises that she does not service negros, that does not, in and of itself, make her a racist. If one suggests that it does, it only confirms that one is a few fries short of a happy meal, intellectually speaking.

    1. Racism refers not only to government policy, but to any method of selection where race is used as a criteria.

      Thus your hypothetical escort is a racist.

      There are liberals who would suggest that racism is only possible from a position of power; thus negroes persons of color black people historically disadvantaged peoples cannot be racist, you cracker. Thus, only by self-disenfranchisement can we free ourselves from the possibility of being tarred as a racist.

      1. Race is such an idiot’s concept to begin with. The Brits used to refer to the “Irish Race”. It was (and is still) nothing but shorthand for some ethnic/cultural/religious characteristics best expressed as a stereotype.

        Maybe it is a good thing that it is getting such vigorous usage right now, like a star that has gone nova and about to use the last of it’s fuel in a spectacular final

        1. That’s what I’ve been trying to do as much as I can lately: use “That’s racist” as a retort to innocuous comments in an effort to wear it out.

      2. You don’t know her. She might not be racist at all. Maybe she’s married to a white guy and one of the conditions of his being OK with her working in that field is that she not service black guys because she’s afraid she’ll never come back to his pasty ass.

        1. he’s afraid.


      3. Anyone who would suggest that people of color, or any historically disadvantaged people cannot be racist are wrong.

        I have crossed paths with many who are. Racism is not defined by one particular color. I have actually met people who believe if you disagree with them then you are racist.

        Bless their hearts they don’t realize that you cannot change the meaning of the word.. you either know it or you don’t.

  12. If one suggests that it does, it only confirms that one is a few fries short of a happy meal, intellectually speaking.

    That reminds me of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s SCOTUS nomination hearing. IIRC, and I don’t remember the senator querying, basically asked her if racism could be proven by the absence of minorities in hiring at a law firm. She replied “yes, it could be inferred that racism exists.” The senator then informed her that her own law firm where she was employed was guilty of the same thing. But he let her off the hook because the senator believed her not to be one.

    Kinda like assuming there are pedophiles in a given population of parents who want to watch their children at play in a park, but even without proof of pedophiles, it is assumed to be one behind every tree.

    1. You can’t prove there aren’t pedophiles behind every tree. Therefore, there are, and we urgently need legislation to prevent them from preying upon our helpless children!

  13. Soyuz nerushimy respublik Britannia…

  14. So if the English say that covert surveillance doesn’t infringe privacy, and we do, does that mean that we understand English better than the English? Maybe we should take over the language. We can give them our Constitution in exchange. We’re not using it properly, anymore than they seem to be using Engl … er … American.

  15. Her privacy wasn’t violated because she didn’t know it was?

    If you have cancer but your doctor hasn’t diagnosed it yet or told you yet, you still have cancer.

    1. I suppose that means that being a peeping tom in Britain is OK as long as the object of your peeping is unaware? Probably not.

    2. This is a perfect teaching tool for explaining the concept of Shrodinger’s cat!

  16. Most of you seem to think that everyone in the UK thinks this is reasonable.
    If that was so it wouldn’t even be a story.
    The vast majority of people think that councils using these “anti terroism” powers is ridiculous.

    1. They’re certainly not voting that way. Britain needs a “throw the bums out” election as much as the US does.

      1. you do know how unpopular the labout party is?

        The consevatives are now against ID cards but that is probably mostly about the expense.

        1. Like the Real ID act in the US. Very few governors opposed it for any reason other than expense.

    2. I don’t agree that the vast majority think it’s ridiculous, if by some chance they do, it’s tempered with the desire to be safe.

      There’s been a general acceptance by our society that liberty is not in jepordy when the government starts collecting geospatial data on the citizenry. The prevailing attitude is the government isn’t interfering with our liberty if they are just taking notes. What the hell does one think they are going to do with those notes? They will use them in every way possible when they feel the need.

      I thought this article is a great example of how the expanded powers and abilities in domestic intel can be used in areas far beyond their intent, and possibly beyond our belief.

      1. I would argue that the vast majority in the UK do think that Surveillance on people to check where they live for school admittance and also requiring criminal records checks for parents who want to look out for their children in parks is ridiculous. At least the tone of tv reports and newspaper articles suggest that.
        However massive Surveillance in general is popular with lots of people.

        1. Yeah, but either the state has the power or not. The citizenry doesn’t get to nitpick the state on how it operates once the state has the authority. Any support for the surveillance laws is support for this type of bullshit by proxy. It’s an extention of approved government behavior.

  17. Okay, while I think the local education department overreacted, does following a person and thier kids around really constitute an invasion of privacy? I mean, they are walking around in public, aren’t they?

    Cops in America don’t need a warrant to follow a person’s travels in public. It’s not a search when you’re out in the open.

    1. It also included an “examination of her telephone records”.

    2. Technically it’s (now) not an invasion of privacy to film someone in public. That ship sailed with all the “crime” cameras in some major cities that were justified by saying… “But they’re out in public!”. Still doesn’t make it right. Creeping lunacy.

    3. There is a huge difference in “being seen” in public and “being followed” in public. The later constitutes stalking and is illegal most places.

  18. I’m not sure why I keep letting stories like this shock me, but they do.

    Things like this show me that my low opinion of humanity it still to high. I know that there are evil people, but the people perpetrating this kind of shit aren’t normally what we’d consider evil. Likely they think they’re doing something good. It’s like their moral compass has been flipped upside down for some random issues. I bet they’d still lend a neighbor a cup of sugar, if asked. It’s crazy.

  19. I’m convinced this all reached critical mass on the day that private citizens lost their gun ownership rights. Once the population is defenseless, all else follows.

  20. Perhaps not a problem if the citizens have the same right to investigate, record and reveiw phone and bank records of the politicians, without prior approval but just because of a suspicion. If it is good for the Goose it is good for the Gander.

    1. Since it is the people who are the Gov.than those doing the spying would be legally justified.Those Getting a pay check from the Gov.for any reason I consider the taxpayer employee. Since when did the employee have the right to spy on the employer and tell them what to do? Use the rules against the individuals in the Gov. They wont enjoy the camer lights as much as the sheep they are herding to slaughter

  21. Unbelievable—this is scary, scary stuff.
    Check out a great article and video dealing with GM, ON-Star, and the problems with the right to privacy and government abuse of this product at

  22. That is not just outrageous, it is very, very scary. Who gave the School authorities the right to spy on a mother, and more importantly, what was their motive?

    1. Power and their job performance eval. Dont want to lose that Gov. check.Lose their status at the next social function.

  23. I’m a hispanic guy living in the USA, and of course by principle, I agree with you that spying on people is wrong, but here in USA this is going to become absolutly necesary, everyday, more and more people are taking advantage of the system in prejudice of people like me, that everyday have to pay more for everything (insurance, hospital, taxes)and I’ll give you an example, I know somebody that even though is an illegal allien, had an expensive surgery the other day, when I asked him if he was going to pay the bill, he told me of course no, this guy just bought a brand new car, and a time share; so he has money for leisure, but no to pay his fair share, in this case I’m absolutly for spying him and then forcing him to pay his bills, otherwise, in the long run people like me will end on paying other people’s bills, I know I would have to give up some of my privacy, but I dont care, I do nothing wrong, but this people abusing the system are going to send this society to hell.

    1. I don’t think we have to be spying on people with camera’s, and recording devices, or other constitutionally questionable activities to protect ourselves from unlawful behavior. It seems to me that it has long been the responsibility of citizens to report unlawful behavior to authorities. If you witness a crime, you have a responsibility to come forward and report it. You say that you know that this man is an illegal alien. Did you report him, and his activities? If our laws were currently being enforced, we wouldn’t need the government to be empowered to violate constitutional rights. Just responsible citizens, and law enforcement agencies, and courts doing their jobs.

  24. Socialism/Marxism.Communism… slow moving, invasive, cancers that eat away at one’s dignity & respect for others as well as themselves.
    The question is, can we excise them in time???? The radiation & Chemo in these instances, is exposure via a free press & the truth.
    How I wish all school children in America would be able to sit down & listen to an hour long speech by Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic.
    He lived under socialism as the communists ruled that region for decades. He knows how it wastes away at ambition, dignity, and the will of all to do for themselves since the government takes charge & tells all what they may & may not do And, if they can do anything at all.
    The camera systems in Great Britain are already in place in many paces in America. Yes, in a number of cases one suspects they are also already being abused by even the government bodies that had them installed. It seems one can adjust the timing of the amber light of a traffic signal. If one adjusts it just so, one can make it appear a driver has run a red light. Just one or two seconds, camera pictures taken at increments, & suddenly one appears to have gassed it to run the light. Then again, once the timing is adjusted just so, it can be set up that one has run the red light. Seems a number of communities have increased their revenues from traffic tickets issued by cameras @ intersections/ camera’s.
    A few organizations are now looking into this & lawsuits should follow. So if you get a camera ticket, you might want to go on line, look for those checking these camera lights out & find out if ‘your’ intersection camera system is one suspected of timing adjustment to increase municipal red light ticket revenues which judges always seem to believe are absolutely correct & unquestionable.

  25. Across the pond in the States if you are found following a mother and her children in the South- you might be shot. You don’t mess with women and children in these parts.

  26. Hey, that’s what I said when some chick found the camera I hid in her shower! It’s her fault for finding out about it.

  27. The Brits have never been free!
    Why do you think the American Revolution happened?
    It happened to create a free place to live.
    Now the American Liberals are trying their best to destroy the little bit of freedom left on earth!

  28. Blog is such a nice one..i really enjoyed it reading the whole paragraph.

  29. Thanks for sharing the application of surveillance

    We have to take educated decision by selecting the right and good telephone surveillance equipment for monitor the behavior of people.

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