John Stuart Mill's seminal 'On Liberty' was published 150 years ago.
Mill asserted the sovereignty of the individual over 'majority tyranny' on condition an individual's actions caused 'no harm' to others.
It is the definition of what constitutes harm that has concerned liberals ever since and it led Mill to some very anti-democratic conclusions.
No principle or ideology is uncontentious and when libertarian fundamentalists hold a principle as sancrosanct, this is where they stray into dangerous territory. Neither ID cards, DNA databases or CCTV is all bad (or all good). In essence these technological advances are neutral - they can be used for good or bad - as I have been trying to point out, it is access and control that are important.
I think the recent video of a policeman assaulting Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protest demonstrates how universality of control can make video surveillance a very good social tool for good - as this CIF article argues. My motto on this is 'safety in numbers' - when information is available to all it is more likely to protect than harm. Common sense dictates that no one piece of information is seen as conclusive but in conjunction with a range of information it is more likely to prove innocence than guilt (think DNA, CCTV, mobile phone, internet records combined -just one could prove that someone was not present at the scene of a crime, and yet several are needed pointing to guilt and this strengthens the likelyhood that the evidence is correct).
It is right to say that the slogan 'if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear' is a poor defence of surveillance. But not for the reasons opponents of CCTV, ID cards etc try to make out. We all have something to hide and maybe even fear however minor the indiscretion, but this does not mean that bringing these indiscretions out into the open is a bad thing.
At the moment, punishment for lawbreaking tends to be overly severe in an attempt to 'deter' and haphazard targeting leads to the usual disadvantaged groups unfairly bearing the brunt of society's ire. If detection were much more likely, punishments could be much more realistic for the lesser crimes that most commit. The middle class would not like being treated like everyone else which explains the hostility of the Daily Mail, Express et all, and also the hostility of middle class bloggers, but we should not fall for that distortion of big brother that Orwell inadvertantly made seem overly threatening. Human rights should mean protection for all, not just for the powerful.