Sunday, 16 December 2007

What Will It Take?

Even though I am generally up with current affairs, the contents of Henry Porter's Comment is Free article of December 12th served as a timely reminder of just how shocking New Labour's record on civil liberties since they came to power has been.

The article listed twenty-nine ways in which Labour has failed to 'deepen and extend civil liberties for all', as Jack Straw had previously claimed in a widely-derided article on the same site.

Porter's list1 included restrictions on the right to protest; eavesdropping legislation; ID cards & the 'database state'; new laws restricting freedom of speech; ASBOs; control orders; and detention without charge.

Commenters added to the list the Legislative & Regulatory Reform Bill2, the Civil Contingencies Act3, the NHS Spine (centralised database of medical records)4, the shoot-to-kill policy4, restriction of public inquiries5, the 'Dangerous Pictures Act'6. The smoking ban and hunting ban7 arguably also belong in the list.

Labour and their apologists have avoided anything that could remotely be construed as honest public discussion of the most clearly authoritarian and/or unnecessary of these. Given the unprecedented nature of the centralised database state (even if past authoritarian regimes had wanted to set up an NIR or NHS Spine, the technology did not exist for them to do so), this is an absolute travesty.

Instead, copious quantities of untruth and misdirection have been employed by Ministers and those in charge of these projects. The invocation of the abuse and neglect of Victoria Climbie to justify the introduction of the ContactPoint children's database8,9 was one particularly distasteful example. Another, perhaps out of ignorance, is the reference by Chancellor Darling to data on the National Identity Register being "biometrically secured"
and therefore invulnerable to loss or theft10. For sheer contempt for the voter, though, it's hard to beat the director general of NHS Connecting for Health, Richard Granger, for his statement on the difficulties in setting up the centralised patient records system11:

“The main problem we are facing are two extremities – waiting patients and privacy fascists and we are trying to find a pathway for the middle of the two.”

I don't think it really needs to be explained what is wrong with the above statement, and it is a particularly outrageous example of the genre. However, this sort of attitude to privacy and individual liberty is everywhere in the Government. People with genuine concerns; concerns that are backed by security experts such as Ross Anderson12 - are dismissed as paranoid and worse13
by apologists.

The Government claims regarding the security benefits of biometrics (following the HMRC data loss scandal) were demolished by Ben Goldacre14 so well three weeks ago that even Polly Toynbee15 admitted that the article is "devastating" to the case for the cards, and they will be an "expensive failure". However, this doesn't stop her reiterating her paranoia slur and calling civil liberties campaigners 'unduly obsessed' in the same Guardian column.

All this leaves me wondering: What will it take for Polly Toynbee to concede that the concerns of civil liberties campaigners are valid? It seems to me that there is nothing New Labour can do that would cause the likes of her to desert them. No matter what new illiberal legislation they bring in, how many lies they tell in support of it, how long they are willing to lock people up without trial for, and how much personal data they are going to store centrally and risk losing just like the HMRC data, we're still told that the alternative is worse.

I hope against hope that Polly will prove me wrong, and say enough is enough, but I'd bet any amount of money against it.
I fully expect come the next election we'll still be advised to don that nose-peg16.


1 comment:

NO2ID said...

Paranoid or worse?

I don't know that save in the fantasy world of Ms Toynbee (where only authentic proles and their bountiful aristocratic benefactors morally upright) that being a middle class meliorist is actually worse than being paranoid.