A report on surveillance is being presented today to the 28th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners' Conference in London.

It reveals the UK is the most surveilled country in the world, with up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in operation, or one for every 14 people, and has led the UK government’s Information Commissioner to warn against sleep-walking into a surveillance society.

The Surveillance Study Network report said methods of tracking citizen habits and behaviours need to be properly policed as they become more sophisticated, and are predicted to increase yet further.

"We've got to say where do we want the lines to be drawn? How much do we want to have surveillance changing the nature of society in a democratic nation?" Thomas told the BBC.

As head of the independent body established to promote access to official data and protect personal details, Thomas called for greater debate about security of such data and the consequences of letting it fall into the wrong hands.

"We are saying not least don't forget the fundamental importance of data protection, which I'm responsible for. When data protection puts those fundamental safeguards in place, we must make sure that some of these lines are not crossed," Thomas said.

The report covered all types of surveillance from US security monitoring of all telecommunications traffic passing through Britain, to key strokes information used to gauge work rates and global positioning satellite information tracking company vehicles.

It also highlighted the growing prevalence of 'dataveillance', where credit card, mobile phone and loyalty card information are used for marketing purposes.

Clive Longbottom, senior director of analyst Quocirca told CIO pragmatism must win through, where data gathering and intelligence are needed to meet national security demands in a rapidly changing political world.

He did, however, call for more understanding of the complexity of the technical issues from government. “Technology can in fact be the balancing factor in this debate, where a completely self-auditing environment that ensures balances and checks are in place could prevent data falling into the wrong hands or an audit trail on where evidence comes from is needed.

“Unfortunately understanding technology is a completely different thing entirely to usage, and we have greater expectations of its usage nowadays without necessarily understanding its consequences, said Longbottom.”