Reversing the rise of the surveillance state


With badly formed and unprincipled policy forming the majority of what leaks from politicians' pens it was with trepidation that I picked up a copy of Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State. Much to my surprise though, it was clear, practical and thoroughly principled. Provided this paper is acted upon – assuming the Conservatives win the next election – we would see a significant shift of power from the state back to the individual.

Dominic Grieve QC MP and Eleanor Laing MP have set out clear policies:

  1. Scrapping the National Identity Register and ContactPoint database
  2. Establishing clear principles for the use and retention of DNA on the National DNA Database, including ending the permanent or prolonged retention of innocent people's DNA
  3. Restricting and restraining local council access to personal communications data
  4. Reviewing protection of personal privacy from the surveillance state as part of a British Bill of Rights.
  5. Strengthening the audit powers and independence of the Information Commissioner
  6. Requiring Privacy Impact Assessments on any proposals for new legislation or other measures that involve data collection or sharing at the earliest opportunity. Require government to consult the Information Commissioner on the PIA and publish his findings
  7. Immediately submitting the Home Office's plans for the retention of, and access to, communications data to the Information Commissioner for pre-legislative scrutiny
  8. Requiring new powers of data-sharing to be introduced into law by primary legislation, not by order.
  9. Appointing a Minister and senior civil servant (at Director General level) in each Government ministry with responsibility for departmental operational data security
  10. Tasking the Information Commissioner to publish guidelines on best practice in data security in the public sector
  11. Tasking the Information Commissioner to carry out a consultation with the private sector, with a view to establishing guidance on data security, including examining the viability of introducing an industry-wide kite mark system of best practice

There are of course aspects of this that they would be better off ignoring, such as the suggestion that government push for the introduction of an industry-wide kite mark system. And more worryingly is the fact that “A limited exception should be made for those charged with certain crimes of violence and sexual offences. In these cases, DNA on the National DNA Database or the Counter-Terrorism DNA Database may be retained for a period of 3 years, which could be extended to a maximum of 5 years, if approved by a Crown Court Judge", despite the claim that innocent people will no longer have their DNA retained. These people are innocent, until proven guilty.

Yet overall a promising policy paper: a chink of light is visible beneath the smog of oppression.