Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Big Brother database threatens to 'break the back of freedom.'

The British government's plans to build a database of information on every call, email and web page visited by each British citizen was dealt a severe blow last night as Sir Ken Macdonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, issued a warning of the dangers posed by a "Big Brother" security state.

Sir Ken's intervention in the debate over the controversial new database is the latest and most serious among a growing number of senior public figures from across the political spectrum who have raised concerns about the potential misuse of information collected in the name of national security.

Last week, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, the Government's independent reviewer of terrorism laws, described the "raw idea" for handing over millions of pieces of private information to the state as "awful".

Under the proposal, internet service providers and telecoms companies would surrender phone and internet records to the Home Office, which would store them for at least 12 months so that police and security services could access them.

But Sir Ken, giving the Crown Prosecution Service lecture in London, said: "We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom's back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security state.

"Technology gives the state enormous powers of access to knowledge and information about each of us, and the ability to collect and store it at will. Of course, modern technology is of critical importance to the struggle against serious crime. Used wisely, it can protect us."

But he added that "we need to understand that it is in the nature of state power that decisions taken in the next few months and years about how the state may use these powers, and to what extent, are likely to be irreversible. They will be with us forever. And they, in turn, will be built upon. So we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can't bear".

Much has been made of the need for security in an age of terrorism but our fundamental right to privacy has been largely ignored on the grounds that "if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear".

The world really is no longer being defined by the concepts of left and right and is now categorised by those willing to surrender freedoms for increased security and those who are not.

Living in London I happen to think that we take risks every time we enter a tube station but those are risks that we calculate and accept. I am firmly in Benjamin Franklin's camp; "Those who would sacrifice a little liberty for a perceived increase in security, deserve neither - and will eventually lose both."

I am always being told that bin Laden and others threaten our very way of life, but the people who seem most willing to trade the freedoms that we find important are politicians who tell me that I must give up my freedoms in order to save them.

I simply don't accept that premise. And I don't accept that I would be any safer by surrendering every aspect of my life to government scrutiny.

We could cut crime completely if we simply locked up every single citizen, but no-one's insane enough to back that proposal, so why should we allow them to do what's equivalent with our data? As Sir Keith states, our response to terror should not "include surrender". And that includes the surrender of our right to privacy.

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Will Conley said...

Well said, my man, well said. Aside from the moral implications, I'm surprised there's that big of a data storage facility anywhere in the world. I think it's a scare tactic. A bluff. Keep the people in fear, and the status quo--i.e., politically vulnerable public figures--can be preserved. Like a deer in headlights, the public freezes up. They vote the status quo: despotism.

Kel said...

It's horrendous that they can even put forward the proposal and worse that some members of the public would be scared enough to see this as reasonable.