MPs must thwart the dark plans of the state

Parliament has never been less vigilant about the many measures to increase Home Office power. In the name of the great democrats of the past, act now

Henry Porter

Following the convictions of Steve Wright for the murder of five women in Ipswich and of Mark Dixie for the murder of Sally Anne Bowman it was inevitable that one or two MPs would seek to defy the obscurity of their careers with public calls for a full compulsory DNA collection from every living soul in Britain.

Martin Salter for Labour said a mandatory database was a logical extension of biometric passports, and a Tory foot soldier, Philip Davies, declared that he was not averse to a national database if it would help police clear up crime. With that kind of mental process it is astonishing that this pair can dress themselves in the morning let alone find their way to Parliament.

The point which must be evident to anyone who looks at the Wright and Dixie convictions for more than a few minutes is that both men had form. In Wright’s case, DNA had been collected and retained by police because of a conviction for theft. In the case of Dixie, DNA was removed after his part in a pub brawl and quickly matched with the sample he left on the body of his victim. If his previous sexual offences had been committed during the operation of the database he would have been found more quickly.

But does this support the argument for a mandatory database? Clearly not, because the damage done to the liberty and privacy of 60 million people would be out of proportion to any gain, to say nothing of the administrative nightmare of collecting everyone’s DNA and the flaws already in the system, which are obscured by the police and the Home Office.

The DNA database is not a perfect weapon. Last year 1,500 administrative mistakes were discovered and at least 100 inaccuracies pertaining to individuals. That means there is a real possibility of people being convicted of crimes they did not commit. Given the chaotic state of government databases, it must be obvious even to Salter and Davies that administrative errors would be vastly increased if the database were to be expanded by a factor of about 13, from 4.5m to 60m.

What the Wright and Dixie cases do is undermine Liberty’s argument that DNA should only be taken and retained from those who have committed sexual and violent crimes. Admirable though it is, that position is now untenable. Those that see the dangers of the database should withdraw to fight the principle that innocent people, which includes more than 100,000 children, must be allowed to have their DNA removed from the database. This issue is due to come before the European Court of Human Rights and there is real hope that Britain will be ordered to remove some 565,700 individuals on privacy grounds. At this news another Tory nincompoop, Richard Ottaway, piped up on Friday to say that we need a national database.

Maybe he was doing no more than addressing the anger of his constituency, where Dixie’s victim lived, yet his comment is evidence that the first principles of a truly free state are little understood by the run-of-the-mill MPs on both sides of the house.

We have an incorrigible, corrupt and incompetent government which – as with so much of the apparatus of the database state – has never even sought to place the DNA database on statutory basis. The principles of DNA collection have never been debated or put to the vote. How can that be? The answer is that the database state is part of a long-term project devised by the civil service and the high command of New Labour. It is far easier to allow a stealthy expansion of surveillance and data collection than bring the issues to parliament and alert us all to the profound threat to our liberty and privacy. That is why our gravest contempt must be reserved for opposition MPs such as Davies and Ottaway, whose duty must be to publicise and fight the drastic changes being wrought by New Labour on British democracy. Instead, they dance to the tune of the Murdoch press and lift their skirts to the sinister forces in the Home Office. Pathetic.

An absence of two months from these pages has made me step back and see the changes to our society with even greater anxiety. Only yesterday it was revealed in our sister paper, the Guardian, that the British government, alone among 27 members of the EU, wants the system of data collection – including mobile phone numbers and credit card details – affecting travellers in Europe to include sea and rail travel, all domestic flights and those between EU countries. The crucial point is that Britain wants this information not just for fighting terror and organised crime but for general surveillance. The phrase used by our government in the questionnaire circulated to all member states is ‘more general public policy purposes’.

I have always sought to make the distinction between the controlled state being brought about by New Labour and ideas of a police state. But the thought of these ‘general public policy purposes’ causes a shiver to pass up my spine and makes me wonder if I have mistaken the urges that lurk in the dark heart of the political establishment. So let’s be quite clear. This phrase predicates a police state.

In the name of the great democrats who have occupied the benches in the House of Commons down the ages, what right has the government to know my credit card number, my cell phone number, my destination, or even when I take a trip abroad, or catch the plane to Inverness? Has this been debated in Parliament? No. Are there plans to drag ministers and civil servants in front of the select committees to examine and expose them. Not as far as I can discover, and that is what gives me these dreadful intimations of the future. Parliament has never been less vigilant or more feckless in the face of these numerous unsanctioned measures that steadily accumulate to increase state power.

If you want to know how Britain will be in 20 years’ time, the best place to look is the legislation affecting children. An excellent report produced by, among others, Action on Rights for Children, Liberty, the Open Rights Group and No2ID, paints a horrific picture of the intensive surveillance of our children who are being conditioned to tolerate the collection of biometric data (fingerprints for library use) and the endless attention of these faceless monitors.

A new database is planned which will contain the details of every 14-year-old child in England and Wales, his or her exam results, difficulties within and outside the family – literally everything. And by the time they all reach adulthood, the databases will have merged to give the state complete access to their most personal information. No child will be able to escape his past, or the judgment and watchfulness of the bureaucrats who may decide their destiny. Little wonder that in his dim way the Martin Salter concluded that DNA ought to be added to this great pool of information. The state will know everything about us so why not allow it dominion over our biological essence too?

I estimate that we have just one chance to turn the tide on these trends – the next general election. We can rely on the Liberal Democrats but it will be important to know where the Conservatives stand. Let’s hope that real democrats in their number, such as David Davis and Dominic Grieve, will persuade the likes of Ottaway and Philip Davies to think before they speak, or at least shut the hell up.