UK Liberty

Where are our MPs?

Posted in database state, law and order, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on October 29, 2008

Henry Porter in the Guardian:

Where is parliament? When will MPs step up to defend the liberties that are seized from the British public every day in what has now become the most serious attack on constitutional rights that this country has ever suffered?

Last week GCHQ and the Home Office were arguing that £12bn of taxpayers’ money should be spent to collect data from every internet connection, phone call and email made in this country. This week we learn that police will be issued with mobile fingerprint scanners to allow offices to carry out identity checks on people in the street.

Neither has been debated in parliament and it seems certain this latest measure – like the creation of the Police National DNA database and the new Automatic Number Plate Recognition system – never will be, even though it must be obvious that the deployment of this device on the streets profoundly affects the rights of citizens to go about their business without being forced to prove who they are and what they are doing. …

I think it’s worth looking in detail at portions of a particular comment on this article:

speedkermit Oct 28 08, 12:49am

Where is parliament? When will MPs step up to defend the liberties that are seized from the British public every day in what has now become the most serious attack on constitutional rights that this country has ever suffered?

Nothing like starting with a gross exaggeration. More serious than ‘shoot to kill’ or WWII internment or attacks on picketing miners or the criminalisation of homosexuality? Get a grip.

I think this is important in that we need to look at the attacks on liberty in their totality as well as individually.  There was never a golden age of liberty in this country (well, not since we have lived together in towns and cities, I suspect) but it is certainly the case that the last eleven years have seen a sustained assault on our liberties.  In that sense, while attacking miners is very serious, I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that the totality of these proposals are a serious attack on our constitutional rights. 

The police argue that fingerprint data will not be kept. But how are we to know?

You are suggesting that the government will be requiring the police to conspire with them to subvert the clear will of Parliament as enacted under PACE. Do you seriously believe that this technology has been approved for use without anyone at the Home Office thinking to confirm whether it complies with statute law?

Well, until s82 Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 came into effect, retention of fingerprint and sample evidence was unlawful (under s64(3) Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984), yet the police retained the evidence.  I make no claim about the merits or otherwise of the retention of such evidence (it has certainly proved useful but its proportionality is disputed) – what I think is interesting is the assumption that neither the government nor the police would ever do anything unlawful, and not something found unlawful after the fact (e.g. after a court case) but something plainly unlawful according to the very clear law at the time.

(As an aside, the case of LS & Marper may be of interest, and it’s worth noting that it is being appealed before the European Court on Human Rights (although it is called S & Marper), the judgement to be handed down in November, if I recall correctly.)

There is no statutory basis for the ANPR – how on earth can it be reasonable to set up such a mass surveillance system with no debate or consultation with the public?  It might be of obvious value to speedkermit, but I think we should have at least a discussion about it.

And anyway that is not the point. In a free society, every individual has the right to move about without being asked to prove him or herself to the state.

Those suspected of offences have no such right. Failure to provide a name and address in such circumstances can and does result in arrest. Continued non-compliance can result in remand for the next available court, where a magistrate or judge will not hesitate to order you to be kept in custody until you provide the required details. Bail cannot be granted to the anonymous offender.

But people aren’t only stopped on the basis of reasonable suspicion – there is, for example, a rolling authorisation granted every 28 days to make the entire London metropolitan police district an area where people may be stopped and searched under s44 Terrorism Act 2000. (Andy Hayman, a senior counter-terrorism officer at the time, questioned the value of it.)

Now and again someone proposes that we should be obliged to give our names and addresses in such circumstances.  So what Mr Porter is suggesting is wholly conceivable.

It is the sine qua non of a functioning democratic society yet we are letting this principle slip without a single voice being raised in parliament. I repeat: where the hell are our elected representatives? Why do they not defend us?

Has it ever occurred to you that Parliament has remained silent because it has done its homework and realises that mobile scanning is a damn good idea that will save the police no end of time?

I think that even if Parliament ‘agrees’* on a proposal , it would be good to have a debate and a statutory basis for these things.  And, after all, isn’t that a purpose of our elected representatives, to not just blindly agree with everything the Government proposes, but rather to discuss, refine, and reject? Not to mention that many Government proposals are things that have been tried (and deemed to fail) elsewhere.

My only problem with Mr Porter’s article is that it is very easy to characterise the whole of Parliament as being supine, but it is really the Government’s majority (and occasional deals with, for example, the DUP) that allows it to win the day: it seems to have a number of mindless drones who vote Aye to any Labour proposal and idiots who think saving Gordon Brown is more important than, say, detention without charge, even if they disagree with him.

I would refine Mr Porter’s questions: I would ask, where are the Labour MPs and candidates who genuinely care about civil liberties?   When will Labour MPs stand  up to defend our liberties?

There are only about 20-30 of Labour MPs who do care.  They are, sadly, not nearly enough.  


* scare quotes around ‘agrees’ because divisions can be won with only a majority of one.)

2 Responses

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  1. UK Voter said, on November 1, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I think we should write to every MP and ask them to let us know where they stand on the issue of Big Brother Britain and the attack on our civil liberties. Perhaps there will be more than a handful, they could then be out in touch with each other and we could have a non-pertican movement acting for people, like us, that care about the erosion of our civil liberties.

  2. Hang on « UK Liberty said, on November 30, 2009 at 1:10 am

    […] In fact, because the police themselves do break the law from time to time.  In relation to DNA samples, I wrote last year that, […]

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