For those who fear that our civil liberties are under threat, there is plenty of ammunition. Pre-trial detention has been stretched to 28 days. Britain is home to millions of surveillance cameras. Labour is still planning ID cards. Protests are restricted. Government agencies can intercept email without seeking court permission, and have access to all phone records. Centralised databases of personal information such as DNA are growing. Terror laws, control orders, Asbos and the criminal justice act have all run counter to the traditional idea of an open trial by jury.
Are new laws a necessary trade-off for security in an era of terrorism? And should we worry? Is it true that if you’ve nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide?
Throughout this week on Comment is Free we’ll be looking at liberty and the state. Natasha Walter will open the debate, with AC Grayling, Jack Straw, Madeleine Bunting, Philippe Sands, Mark Thomas, Gareth Peirce, Conor Gearty and others to follow.
With a government weighing up the conflicting arguments of liberty and security, considering on one hand a bill of rights, on the other extending detention without charge, it’s a timely and critical debate.
Meanwhile, to whet the appetite, why not revisit these articles: Timothy Garton Ash on liberty and terrorism. A dissection of the “nothing to hide” defence. Or a wealth of work from Henry Porter, who has consistently and vigilantly monitored what he describes as the shaving away of liberty.