Police must win public support during the debate for data privacy if they hope to protect the UK digital economy, according to National Crime Agency Cyber Crime Unit director Jamie Saunders.
Saunders argued during a debate at the Innotech Summit that law enforcement must be more transparent about surveillance to quell concerns about data privacy following the PRISM revelations.
"The government is committed to a review of the [surveillance] powers that exist. This is a difficult conversation, there are so many difficult balances to be struck," he said.
"The key is how lawful access to personal data by the state can be done within a human rights framework.
"[Law enforcement] must explain the powers we need, why we need them and how rights will be protected in the process. It is hard to justify our actions if the public don't know what we do."
Concerns about the use of personal data peaked in 2013 when whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked documents to the press proving that the US National Security Agency (NSA) collects information from numerous technology companies.
Saunders warned that law enforcement agencies must win public support, as a loss of trust would harm the UK's growing digital economy.
"The power of the police to fulfill their duties is dependent on public approval and the police ability to secure and maintain public respect. To fulfill this function we need some powers, but those powers are given to us by the public," he said.
"The most important characteristic [of this debate] comes back to the police ability to secure public respect.
"Consent is dependent on public consciousness. Continued growth in the digital economy depends on public support and knowledge by people that they are safe."
House of Lords member Jim Knight mirrored Saunders' sentiment, highlighting many UK legislators' lack of technology awareness as likely to increase public concern.
"My view is that when I was in government I thought all this libertarian stuff was overplayed. I'm more sceptical now," he said.
"It's harder to trust the criminal justice system and that everything is benign. By and large, my colleagues are a well meaning bunch of people, but they're not well informed about technology. Our legislators are behind the curve on this."
The UK is one of many nations debating the collection of citizens' personal data by companies and government agencies.
Former NSA director general Keith Alexander argued during a keynote in Washington attended by V3 earlier in October that the PRISM leaks must not hamper the fight against cyber terrorists and criminals.
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