Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Little More Detail would be nice..

I've got in a bit of a scrap defending Jill Saward over at Libcon, although the discussion has led me to raise a point about one of the pro Liberty arguments currently being bandied about.

A major argument against state databases, CCTV and the like is that it creates an infrastructure of repression, a set of tools that might allow a future government to do certain sinister things. The other major argument, applying specifically to databases is that the data might be stolen and used once again for sinister things.

My problem is that I don't think that this argument is always valid. In order to make their case against the database state, the liberty lobby need to demonstrate situations where a future government might be able to abuse government data. It needs to demonstrate that if the data held by the state is stolen that it could be put to dangerous use.

A big problem here is that while we are told that we are sleepwalking into an Orwellian nightmare, few people ever take the time to demonstrate how it might happen. Simply put, we need fewer speeches about the Magna Carta and grand notions of Liberty and more clear demonstrations of what the clear and present dangers actually are.


Toby said...

First of all your link is malformed - way too many http:// and www's!

Second, whilst you specifically argued about DNA retention, your post here goes much wider than that. Let's get the DNA stuff out of the way first though.

Davis' argument is that the state should not hold DNA evidence from the innocent. You appear to be arguing that it should because it's harmless (and that it's hyperbole to suggest otherwise).

England and Wales are the only places in the World where DNA is retained on a computer database even if the subject has not committed a crime. The only argument in favour of this is that future crimes are detected as a result. There is no dispute that this is the case, but the validity of the argument falls down on the method of obtaining the DNA in the first place. Obtaining DNA by stealth is disingenuous and a future government could very easily argue that it would be valid if the practice be ended in favour of universal DNA sampling and retention. Is that Orwellian enough for you?

Read more about DNA from GeneWatchUK via Hansard:

On a wider note, although related, the introduction of the national database and ID cards offers a future government the ability to retain the DNA of every citizen.

The ID card is already a step too far in my opinion. It too is being introduced by stealth, with the Labour Party advocating cards "for foreigners" in public, with the knowledge that ID cards are intended for all and can only work if compulsory. Once that becomes apparent, watch all hell break lose! A card which provides nothing but costs real money, even if not linked to voting rights (and who's to say that it won't in the future) is a poll tax!

But what of Orwell in this scenario? Well, besides the poll tax argument, how about mission creep (where the original intentions for the use of the card are expanded to encompass new reasons for it's use)?

The last time Britain had an ID card there was massive mission creep. So how's this for Orwellian: only those with their ID card can be treated by the NHS. The argument would be an easy one for a Conservative government to make (there's no need for Communists or fascists to take the reins of power at all). Preventing 'health scroungers' could easily be a populist refrain, but the results would mean that people die (and not just foreigners either!). Is it starting to sound like a price not worth paying yet?

Of course, we don't really know what a future government might use the national database, DNA samples, or even enhanced CCTV for, and it's a bogus argument that those opposed to the increasing power and control of the state need to demonstrate what would be done in the future.

The point is that the national database, ID cards, and DNA retained from the innocent (as well as being surveilled 24/7) are fundamentally un-British.

That is why we do not have ID cards, unlike the rest of Europe, because we dumped them in the 1950's. That is why people keep banging on about ancient freedoms such as the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. And that is why, at some point in the future, the 'freedom agenda' (a term I coined way before that scumbag Davis appropriated it!) will come back to haunt the Labour Party.

Quite how we came to be on the side of the state and not champions of individual freedom, I don't know, but we're on the wrong side! Gordon argues that security always trumps freedom. It doesn't.

I suggest that those who follow that path talk to a few people from Central or Eastern Europe who lived with security trumping freedom, while they are still able. I live in one such country at present and I can tell you that the air of freedom is palpable. Crime is lower here of course, even whilst the police is both corrupt and inept, but that's because my neighbour watches my property, not the state. It's also why the tower block lifts don't smell of urine (or worse). Strangers even routinely say "good morning" and "good day" too. It reminds me of Britain in my youth to be honest. I wonder whether we've forgotten all that and replaced it with an all-powerful state by way of compensation. Anyway, do yourself a favour and take your next holiday in Central Europe, it's an eye-opener!

Anonymous said...

"So how's this for Orwellian: only those with their ID card can be treated by the NHS."

Actually that's an argument already made _for_ the scheme by the present Government.'entitlement'_cards

Roger Thornhill said...

Frankly, I am not prepared to risk you not being proved right.

We have lived without a database of this nature (state run monopoly) yet have had a plurality of sources to prove ID for years.

As for no ID = No NHS, fine, as long as the State stops taxing me for it. You could suddenly find many takers amongst those who are forced to be the "givers".

Guthrum said...

I cannot believe what I am reading, 1984 was a warning not an instruction manual

Andreas Paterson said...

toby - Link is duly fixed, as for the rest of my arguments, yes I am widening the net a little because I think that a similar argument applies quite specifically to each example of the government widening it's information net. I've also read a hell of a lot posturing and heard a hell of a lot of accusations pointed at the government but little to back it up.

I believe that claims should be backed up with a little proof, a demonstration of how government information infrastructure may be used for more sinister purposes.

On DNA databases I'm not really convinced that a universal DNA database would be all that a great threat to our liberty.

Ditto for no card, no NHS if everyone has a card, everyone get's the NHS.

guthrum - I think that Orwell would like to see the claims that "the government is stealing our liberties" tested and evaluated and proved either right or wrong rather than just casually believed.

Anonymous said...

But everyone *won't* have an ID card -- because thousands and thousands of people are going to refuse them!

You NuLab Statist sycophants disgust me!

Oh, and you're 20 points behind, recession is looming and you just lost one of your safest seats.

-- Oliver