From a Counter-Terrorism Bill debate in the Lords last week:
I have been concerned at the tone of this debate. I apologise to the noble Baroness that I did not hear her opening remarks, but I have listened to the responses, and there seems automatically to be an assumption that holding this material in databases is necessarily damaging to liberty. I should like to remind the Committee of the substantial number of instances in which cold cases have been solved because of data that can now be accessed through DNA databases and fingerprints.
It is damaging to liberty to hold personal information in databases. It’s pretty obvious, if you think about it – there are risks associated with storing personal information in databases: it can be ‘lost’, stolen, or left on trains; it can be misused by those with access to it; there might be mistakes by humans or errors and faults in the system that negatively impact on your life.
What we should consider with any proposal – it doesn’t matter whether it’s in law, in business, whatever – is how the benefits stack up against the costs, and also how a specific proposal fits into the current overall picture. Costs aren’t just easy to quantify financial considerations – there will always be risks relating to the use of a particular system, there are costs in terms of intangibles such as civil liberties, and how it changes the relationship between the state and the individual.
I’ll give you an example: getting rid of cars would greatly increase the safety of pedestrians and undoubtedly save the lives of many children and adults. Yet no-one seriously proposes it. Why not? Because people’s lives aren’t the only consideration? Of course.
So we shouldn’t just assume that storing information is good – there is good and bad. If the ‘bad’ outweighs the ‘good’, you probably wouldn’t want to store it, would you?
That’s what we have to weigh up.
Unfortunately some people don’t seem to understand that there is any bad side at all, and that is also damaging, particularly when they are legislators.