The former chief of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, has warned that the UK risks becoming a police state (The Daily Telegraph, "Spy chief: We risk a police state"). In the interview, she accuses ministers of interfering with people’s privacy and playing straight into the hands of terrorists.
This is a theme that I’ve returned to on numerous occasions over the last few months: that the UK Government has used (and, I believe, mainipulated) the terrorist "threat" to force through draconian measures that threaten out civil liberties and right to privacy. From extended detention periods, to the increased databases held about (and following the Coroners bill, increasingly joined together), the general drift is to a situation where the state has uprecedented access to out communications and other aspects of out private life.Rimmington says
"It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state"
As the article points out, Dame Stella has previously weighted in with statements on Government plans for further control:
In 2005, she said the Government’s plans for ID cards were "absolutely useless" and would not make the public any safer. Last year she criticised attempts to extend the period of detention without charge for terrorism suspects to 42 days as excessive, shortly before the plan was rejected by Parliament.
Her latest remarks were made as the Home Office prepares to publish plans for a significant expansion of state surveillance, with powers for the police and security services to monitor every email, as well as telephone and internet activity.
The Government response is as follows:
A Home Office spokesman said: "The Government has been clear that where surveillance or data collection will impact on privacy they should only be used where it is necessary and proportionate. The key is to strike the right balance between privacy, protection and sharing of personal data.
"This provides law enforcement agencies with the tools to protect the public as well as ensuring government has the ability to provide effective public services while ensuring there are effective safeguards and a solid legal framework that protects civil liberties."
But the problem here is who decides what the proper balance between privacy, protection and sharing of data should be? My own view is that the dangers from terrorism are vastly overstated and don’r merit the institutionalised trawl through data generated during our everyday lives. And who sets up the supposedly effective safeguards? A state systme which an appalling record of IT mismanagement and data protection blunders.
The UK Government really needs to take stock of these criticisms – they are valid concerns, held by individuals and organisation who know what they are talking about. And this only touches the UK Government machinery. The private sector data intrusion industry seems to be officially sactioned to run pretty close to the wind as regards legality – witness the entire Phorm saga, and the EU’s opinion of the Government’s management of that situation.