James Elsdon-Baker is the Local Groups co-ordinator for the NO2ID Campaign
Responding to Clegg’s speech on the “power revolution” that seeks to restore our civil liberties, Alan Johnson the now former Home Secretary accused Clegg of “rampant hyperbole”. Sadly this demonstrates that some within Labour are yet to realize the extent to which their abuses of Liberty has caused public outcry.
Central to Labour’s denial over their own misuse of power is the
assumption that the power of the state is synonymous with that which is good for the electorate. Their conviction that the power they wielded was a force for good blinded them to its ills. So far in terms of recognition with where Labour went wrong, the only hope comes from Ed Milliband who at least recognised there had been a “casual” attitude towards Labour’s relationship to Liberty and the State. It’s clear in opposition Labour will have to now face up to its faults.
Perhaps one of the most visible infringements to our Liberty was
manifest in attempts to control and govern our Identity through the
National Identity Scheme. Power for individuals to define their own
identity through their relationships with others was to be replaced by a
central database that created the definitive record of our legal
identity. Yet the abuse of power didn’t stop there: collection of
personal data and its subsequent sharing around Whitehall is now
engrained as a dominant administrative culture. The ContactPoint
database which is now to be scrapped sought to collect details on the
nation’s children, including hearsay, in the name of protection. The
assumption being that only though collecting more and more private data
could the state ensure our own safety. The result was a culture of
suspicion and fear, in which every law-abiding citizen was a potential
criminal suspect. The mantra that accompanies this unpleasant era will
surely have to be “nothing to hide, nothing to fear”.
This tendency of data collection and sharing has been termed the
Database State. Sadly it will not just vanish overnight, no matter how
determined Clegg and Cameron are with the agenda. Still we have reasons
to be cheerful, and NO2ID is not packing up shop, so we will continue to
work towards ensuring people have proper control over their data.
Schemes including E-Borders that appear to remain within the full
coalition agreement must now be tackled; If Holiday makers wish to be
able to travel without being placed under undue surveillance. We also
have a battle ahead with Connecting for Health as they continue to
hover-up people’s NHS medical records with a model of assumed consent.
Where opt-out is only possible, with considerable administrative effort
from an individual to obtain an opt-out form, let alone understand the
implications enough to make an informed decision.
Looking forward, and assuming the Coalition manages to successfully
scrap ID cards and the worse aspects of the Database State the future
still holds massive challenges for how we as a society manage our
personal information and protect privacy. There is now an opening for
models of identity verification and handling that respect privacy, and
don’t remove power from individuals to emerge. It will require a large
amount of effort to educate legislators and ensure that proper legal and
institutional protections are in place for future generations. I, plus my colleagues and fellow campaigners at NO2ID, am relishing that
opportunity to secure our freedoms for future generations.