Jacqui Smith has revealed that the government is considering creating a single, centralized database containing records of all telephone numbers called, time and location of calls, websites visited and e-mail addresses used by UK citizens. If this goes ahead, it will be yet another incursion by the state into the private sphere of the individual.
The reactions from Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have been swift and correct. Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: "The Government must justify the case for any such massive increase in state acquisition, sharing and retention of data, spell out the safeguards to prevent abuse and – given its appalling record – explain how it will protect the integrity of any database holding sensitive personal data." Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Ministers simply can't be trusted with confidential data of this sort, as it has shown again and again."
These disagreements are focussed on concerns for the practicality of the scheme. In fact, most of the arguments I have heard and read on this scheme ignore the disturbing ideology behind it. It would be nice to hear politicians refer to the principles of freedom and liberty, instead of simply banging on about the propensity the government seems to have for losing things (relevant as that is). Even if the scheme could catch more criminals and the government was able to protect the information, the essential point still stands that a centralized database of this sort gives powers to the state that they should simply never be allowed to have.
There is a great appetite for greater freedom in the UK, but no major party that is offering to give it to us to any meaningful degree. One reason for this is the ubiquitous demand for politicians to solve all problems and the delusion that leads them to claim that they can. When power is finally taken from Gordon Brown's Stalinist hands, there will be a real opportunity to roll back the frontiers of the state. However, the very real risk is that there will be no one in government with the will or gumption to do it.