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Tories stitch up Lib Dems on civil liberties

Sunny at LC reckons he has a copy of the Libservative agreement.

Libertarians, of both left-and right- varieties, have been getting super-excited on Twitter about section 10, which is dedicated to reversing ZaNuLieBore’s Evil Police State, freeing the dissidents from the gulags, etc:

A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.
Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
Further regulation of CCTV.
Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.
A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

What does this mean in real life?

Well, a bit of cash saved. The ID database was never going anywhere (come on, NPFIT is much simpler and failed), and its cancellation is solely bad news for IT consultancies and good news for the Treasury/taxpayer. Something which doesn’t and can’t exist doesn’t threaten civil liberties.

But that’s the only real pledge to do anything substantive (apart from allowing parental opt-out when schools try and use fingerprint authentication for IT access purposes, which is frankly bizarre – if a kid’s laptop is fingerprint-activated rather than password activated, then so bloody what?) – and the only reason the Tories moved towards outright opposition to the ID database in the election run-up is because they’d worked out that it would have been an epic failure. It wouldn’t have happened under Labour either (their manifesto carefully left the possibility of delaying or cancelling the database intact), although more money would likely have been wasted first.

The others are all weasel words that commit to nothing. No data stored “without good reason” means “unless we say so” – the previous government would say “to stop terrorists, pirates and paedophiles” is a good reason for all the retention they mandated. Any agreement that contains such a vague get-out clause is an agreement that means nothing at all.

Similarly, “extension of the scope of the FoIA” is great. But without any concrete details of how it’ll be extended, and with the Tories (who’ve historically opposed FoI far more even than Labour) running the show, it’s hardly likely to mean much.

You can run through the same process for all the others. They can all be implemented in a way that changes precisely nothing from how things are done now, and that’s precisely how they will be implemented.

But the most disturbing thing in section 10 is actually something that it doesn’t say.

The greatest victory for civil liberties over the last 25 years or so – the Human Rights Act – isn’t even mentioned, whereas a Great Repeal Bill is mentioned. Given historic Tory opposition to the HRA, does this make anyone else bloody nervous….?

  1. Jim
    May 13, 2010 at 7:45 am | #1

    'The greatest victory for civil liberties over the last 25 years or so – the Human Rights Act'

    What? All the HRA seems to do is allow foreign criminals to avoid deportation, and let home grown ones watch pornography in jail. Did the HRA do anything to stop the extradition of Gary McKinnon? Did it stop the govt banging up suspected 'terrorists' without charge? Does it stop the police from using the anti-terrorist legislation on people taking pictures of various landmarks, or the police themselves? Has it stopped this country from becoming the most spied-on CCTV nation in the world? Did it stop the govt abusing our rights with regard to DNA retention? Would it have stopped ID cards? How about the Vetting and Barring Scheme whereby you can lose your job on the basis of hearsay evidence from persons unknown, with no right of appeal?

    Has it buggery. Its just made a nice living for the Cherie Blairs of this world, lawyers sucking off the taxpayers teat taking criminals HRA cases to court. The rest of us law abiding citizens get no protection from the HRA from the previous govts Police State.

    I for one will rejoice when it is condemned to the dustbin.

  2. May 13, 2010 at 1:34 pm | #2

    Yes, but yo're a right-wing idiot who wouldn't know a civil liberty if it bit him in the arse. Of course the HRA protects people who the state believes to be criminals from abuse of process, and protects people who've been convicted of crimes from the state breaching their civil liberties in ways beyond those expressly laid down as part of their punishment – that's what "protecting civil liberties" means.

    Should the HRA be abolished, I sincerely hope that you – and every other person who supports its abolition – end up falsely accused and convicted of a crime, locked up in prison, subjected to every abuse of power that the HRA has been used to protect people from, and unable to seek recourse by any means other than the 10-year process of petitioning the ECHR.

  3. May 13, 2010 at 8:15 pm | #3

    Jim,

    and let home grown ones watch pornography in jail.

    Wrong – Denis Nilsen's case failed.

  4. May 14, 2010 at 3:31 am | #4

    re: fingerprints "IT access purposes"

    The libservative agreement doesn't mention IT access purposes. The anti-'kiddyprinting' movement is against fingerprints being required for school libraries and meals.

  5. dsquared
    May 14, 2010 at 3:37 am | #5

    Did the HRA do anything to stop the extradition of Gary McKinnon?

    If someone commits a crime overseas and is definitely guilty of it, it's very difficult for any sort of Human Rights Act to stop him being extradited. Since Gary McKinnon's entire case consisted of "I messed around with CIA computers but I don't want to go to jail in America", the real surprise is that it lasted as long as it did.

    Did it stop the govt banging up suspected ‘terrorists’ without charge?

    Yes.

  6. May 14, 2010 at 4:58 am | #6

    Unlike Daniel, I think there's an unwritten codicil to all basic human decency "should anyone be sent to jail in the US ever? Not unless they've personally locked someone in a box full of rapists who hate them on the grounds of their ethnicity for approximately the same amount of time, because otherwise said punishment would be disproportionate"

    I also think that the UK government should take a more French attitude on "whether or not to suck up to America" – ie "no, unless there's a big principle at stake which benefits our country", rather than "yes, unless there's a big principle at stake which benefits our country".

    Unless I'm missing something, the UK would have lost nothing by telling the US to fuck off re McKinnon, and it would have been a delightful moment for all Brits to celebrate – 9/11 killed American appeasement of the IRA, irrespective of how we treat idiots who hack computers.

    Dan, you're one of the smartest people I know. Where are you at here?

    As far as I can see, GMcK was certainly guilty; that's true. But he also did no harm (and yes, the Americans are fond of punishing the shit of people who did no harm, and if he wasn't a silly sod then he wouldn't have done the harmless things that he did, etc. See: Howard Marks).

    But why should anyone who the UK government can avoid subjecting to US concepts of "justice" be subjected to such a thing; and why should we not follow the French example of telling the Americans to fuck off unless we need them?

  7. Falco
    May 14, 2010 at 12:18 pm | #7

    I don't think there is any great need to worry. The Conservative plan, (so far as I understand it which I may / may not be failing at), is to get rid of the HRA, (which is based very much on the Anglo Saxon model of liberties) and replace it with something very different, (a document based on Anglo Saxon liberties).

    I suspect that the only differences will be some tinkering with the wording and some slightly different emphasis here and there. Certainly the idea that the Tories wish to do away with the HRA and not replace it with something equivalent seems more paranoia than serious worry at this stage.

  8. Jim
    May 14, 2010 at 8:10 pm | #8

    @John B

    Nice bit of ad hominem there John B. How about addressing my main point which was the HRA didn't stop the last (hopefully the very last) Labour govt from destroying more civil liberties than any Tory one could have dreamt of? As a normal, taxpaying, law abiding citizen, my rights have been severely curtailed over the last 13 years, and the HRA did nothing to prevent that.

  9. dsquared
    May 14, 2010 at 8:48 pm | #9

    The guy was guilty. It's not unreasonable for the Americans to have a law against messing about with CIA computers. They even offered him a plea bargain for a 1 year sentence, but he rejected it because (being very poorly advised by a bunch of people who wanted to have a go at the extradition treaty for political reasons) he thought he could stay out of jail entirely. Just randomly refusing to extradite people who are clearly guilty of committing crimes overseas isn't a sensible way for any country to behave. I am not a big fan of the specific UK/US extradition treaty, but am totally bemused at the fact that the campaign against it has chosen such ludicrously inappropriate test cases (actually, I'm surprised by McKinnon, but not at all surprised at the (guilty) NatWest Three, where it was just simply a case of being fooled by a PR firm).

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