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Surveillance leads to foundation of privacy centre

Law Society president Robert Heslett has announced his support for a unique initiative which involves developing a co-ordination centre for pro bono privacy advice, advocacy and legal action to uphold the rule of law and the rights of the individual against injustices caused by the use of oppressive surveillance technologies in the UK and abroad.

The initiative is being developed to strengthen privacy rights law in the UK and abroad and influence public policy debates. It was put forward by Privacy International (PI) in response to the Law Society president’s Surveillance and the rule of law initiative.

He welcomed the speech by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg speech in which he recognised the need to restore hard-won liberties and to “…end the culture of spying on citizens”.

Robert Heslett said: “My support for this project reflects the legal profession’s desire to take practical action to reverse the erosion of civil liberties and clearly signals solicitors’ commitment to human rights and the public interest. The law and lawyers can work in the public interest to make a difference in this area.

"The project builds on my on-going Rule of law seminar programme and reflects the Law Society’s intention to be a key player in a coalition of individuals and organisations concerned with the legal and human implications of surveillance in the UK and internationally. We are calling on the new Government to abandon mechanisms which reduce civil liberties and to focus on their duty to keep the private information it gathers safe.”

An advisory group involving the Law Society, PI and law firms will, over the coming weeks, develop a prospectus for the centre, which will identify founder members and sponsors. It will outline how the centre will operate and will call for further expressions of support, members and sponsorship, including development of the longer-term financial plan to ensure its continuing viability. The project is to be funded by direct support from founder members in the first year with further support via foundation grant funding for subsequent years.

Privacy International and the Law Society are calling for lawyers and activists to become involved in the centre, whose work will include dealing with cutting-edge issues and seeking redress to discourage routine privacy violations.