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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Every DNA strand is sacred!

No, I don't believe that, but I liked the allusion to Monty Python's 'The Meaning of Life' so I indulged myself. I could happily fill this blog with pieces endorsing every word written by the Observer's Henry Porter. It is rare for me to disagree with him and today is no exception.

Mr. Porter is rapidly becoming the conscience of the nation, weighing up each infringement against civil liberties on the part of the government and measuring it against a carefully crafted set of criteria to see if it stacks up, or if it is yet another unjustified intrusion by the state into our private affairs. Today, he draws an inevitable conclusion and one that some of us are also coming to: 'Britain is on the way to becoming a police state.'

He does not reach this position lightly. Writing about the crisis of liberty in Britain, I have been careful not to use these words, but today I see no other conclusion to draw. Taken in the context of the ID card database, the national surveillance of vehicles and retention of information about every individual motorway journey, the huge number of new criminal offences, the half million intercepts of private communications every year, the proposed measures to take 53 pieces of information from everyone wishing to go abroad, which will include powers to prevent travel, this widening of the DNA database for minor misdemeanours confirms the pattern of attack on us all. It is time to pay attention to what the government under Labour has done to British society and what may be awaiting us just a short distance down the road.

Some will say I am being alarmist, but they should consider what we have lost since the mid-Nineties. The inventory of freedoms is eroded every week with measures and laws that individually seem just about acceptable but which accrue to alter the nature of a society where rights and liberty were believed to be as natural as summer rain. People might be reassured by Gordon Brown's talk of a constitutional settlement and a new Bill of Rights, but they should look at his statist views and what is happening in the Home Office, surely one of the most incompetent of the ministries, yet, with its vision for a totally controlled society, also one of the most malign?

Our liberal society is threatened because we don't think it is. This crisis is a crisis because we have not yet acknowledged it.

What has prompted this conclusion is the government's decision to extend the DNA database:

Let me explain why extension of the database should worry us all. The taking of a swab from a person's mouth - by force when necessary - and retaining that sample indefinitely, whether that person has committed a crime or not, is a very serious intrusion. The state owns and has access to the essence of that individual's being. In the future, it may share the information with whom it likes, investigate the as yet unknown secrets of that sample and make deductions which are prejudicial to that individual or the individual's blood relations. Once on the DNA database, a person is regarded as being in a pool of potential criminals and in an oblique way likely to be guilty of something or other.

DNA is a very useful tool in solving serious crime, but to force people to give a sample because they are not wearing a seatbelt, have littered or let their dog foul a pavement is wrong because it is a measure designed to increase the database, driven by a bureaucratic rather than judicial imperative. In the words of Alex Marshall, deputy chief constable of Thames Valley Police: 'Extending the taking of samples to all offences may be perceived as indicative of the increasing criminalisation of the generally law-abiding citizen.

That is exactly right. Any democratic society with a respect for rights must strike a balance between the needs of crime detection and the principle that a person's privacy is inviolate and their basic innocence unaffected even when they have committed a minor misdemeanour. To compel the sampling of DNA from someone who has driven past a stop sign is a greater offence to society than driving past the stop sign.

This is the latest in a number of measures whose cumulative effect is to take power over the individual citizen. The more power the state has the more likely it is to be abused. Elsewhere I have seen a cartoon in which it is mooted that the government is protecting us from the loss of liberty to terrorists by taking away our rights first. It is a clumsy argument but it is essentially right. We need security measures to protect us from those who would seek to harm us but we need to ensure that those changes are effective and do not go over the top.

Identity cards are a good example of such a measure. They seem an attractive way of combating terrorism and crime but in fact even Government Ministers have admitted that they would not work in achieving such an objective.

Earlier this week in answer to a Parliamentary Question by Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg MP, the Government admitted that 722,464 profiles were added to the DNA database in 2006-07, the equivalent of one every 45 seconds. DNA is a vital tool in the fight against crime, but such a massive database must be subjected to proper scrutiny - especially when it contains details of nearly 150,000 people who were never charged, let alone convicted of an offence. This trend must be reversed and the database purged so that it is put to work doing what it was created for: the detection of crime.


I am about to have my CRB check done again and I notice on the current form that questions 48/49 ask for my Bank/Building Society sort code and account number. Now what possible reason could the CRB have for wanting to have the personal bank account details of volunteers working with a charity involved in seeking to prevent re-offending among young people? Needless to say I am refusing to answer this question.
the threats we face are constant, the difference is that its easier to talk in broad brush strokes about 'international terrorism' than actually face down the political arguments and deal with people and their beliefs.

We seem to swallow things whole these days as opposed to actually thinking about the consequences of becoming a borderline police state.

How quickly we forget about the Chartists, Suffragettes and others who fought, died and were imprisoned for us to have a whole range of rights we take for granted and seem so willing to give up.
In every police station in the UK there are posters telling officers that SOC, (Serious Organisation Crime) 2005 provisions allows them to exercise powers of arrest for a wide range of offences, e.g. shoplifting, insulting behaviour, affray, etc. As a result, no-one "helps the police with their enquiries" these days but are instead "arrested and released without charge". The amount of paperwork is the same AND it allows the police to take photographs, fingerprints and DNA swabs without the need for permission. These are retained regardless of any susbequent action.
Thanks Peter - this is vital stuff (and a good answer to those who ask what the LDs are 'for'.)

Another intrusion - if you transfer funds to a bank account in Spain (or anywhere else) you have to agree that the US got can have sight of your transaction, even if the States don't figure otherwise. The EU is unhappy about this but if you don't agree to waive your rights, the funds don't got through. How can this be?

We must all wake up - Gordon Brown's Labour isn't the fluffy nice progressive thing we all want it to be.
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