id cards

    Con/Dem Nation?


    My initial reaction to the Liberal Democrats' decision to form a coalition with the Tories was a combination of disappointment and a sense of betrayal (with a side order of impending doom, of course).

    I was, perhaps, naive. I said that I was voting LibDem, and that I actively wanted Labour to lose (while stressing that I wanted the Tories to lose even more). I was, I think, hoping for a hung parliament, which of course is what we got. But I was labouring (heh!) under the delusion that the LibDems were ideologically relatively close to Labour, and far enough away from the Tories that siding with them would be unthinkable.

    Clearly I was wrong.

    I had convinced myself that the only reaction of the LibDems to a hung parliament would be to join with Labour; and that seemed like the best possible solution.


    On election day my friend Tony Facebooked to the effect that he had wasted his vote (and it’s really annoying that, as far as I know, there’s no way to link to an update or a comment in Facebook). I answered:

    I don't agree. The only way you can waste a vote is to not use it. For example I voted LibDem in a safe Labour seat, but that isn't "wasted". In fact, it would have been more of a waste to vote Labour.

    My son made the same point when I told him about that discussion. Diane Abbott got 54% of the vote in Hackney North and Stoke Newington. (That’s a proper majority.) My vote wouldn’t have made any difference, though, would it?

    But in the days immediately after the election, as Clegg took his party into talks with the hated Tories, I began to regret my decision. It really felt like I had “wasted” my vote; or maybe misused is the better word.

    Things Can Maybe Get Better?

    However the coalition document that they published today is remarkable. If you’ve read any of my political posts over the years, you’ll know that the biggest thing going on for me for some time has been ID cards, and all the associated post-9/11 terror-panic fallout. So to read this, from the wordprocessor of the Tories (and LibDems) is remarkable:

    • A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
    • The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.

    • Outlawing the fingerprinting of children at school without parental permission.

    • The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

    • Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.

    • The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

    • The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.

    • The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

    • Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

    • Further regulation of CCTV.

    • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.

    • A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

    I mean, that's pretty much everything we could want on civil liberties, right there.

    And a few other points are good. As my friend Stuart said:

    Most important line of the agreement? - We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes. #ge10Wed May 12 14:23:57 via TweetDeck

    (Gotta keep embedding those tweets, you know.)

    Dismal Science?

    On the other hand, I’m no economist; but as I said before, I don’t trust right-wingers to run the economy. And right now, I have a gut feeling that cutting back on public spending during a recession is exactly the wrong thing to do (cutting back on most public spending is nearly always the wrong thing to do, of course).

    Keep On Keeping On

    In conclusion, I agree with Charlie, pretty much. I don’t trust the Tories, but let’s see whether Clegg & co can keep this thing on track. And let’s keep a close eye on them all, and keep that list above in mind.

    You never know: maybe this really is “The New Politics”.

    Guardian: "Straw signals rethink on ID cards"

    Well, well, well. Maybe things will get better after all:

    Jack Straw, widely expected to replace John Reid as the home secretary, today clearly signalled that the future of the national identity card scheme would be in the melting pot when Gordon Brown becomes prime minister next month.

    Mr Straw - who is Mr Brown’s leadership campaign manager and has a long record of cabinet opposition to a compulsory ID card system - indicated that the future of the £5.75bn project would be under review in the new government

    The future’s bright; the future’s Brown, maybe?

    Hackers crack new biometric passports

    Guardian Unlimited Technology | Technology | Hackers crack new biometric passports
    "The whole passport design is totally brain damaged," Mr Grunwald told "From my point of view all of these [biometric] passports are a huge waste of money - they're not increasing security at all."

    No surprises there, then. Except maybe how quickly it’s happened. Single point of failure, anyone?

    That about wraps it up for freedom

    Start saying goodbye, then, to civil liberties in this country. Oh, maybe not now, and maybe not even that soon; but when the identity cards bill is passed, and the database has been built 1 then the infrastructure will be in place for the world’s largest ever experiment in social control.

    We already have near-ubiquitous surveillance, with constantly-improving automatic recognition: of faces and of vehicle number plates. Add to that the national identity database with its biometrics, and the growing collection of DNA data, and I foresee the potential for a future that even Orwell in his worst nightmare wouldn’t have believed possible.

    Pessimistic? Yes, certainly. It may be that the public will rebel against it when they realise how much it will cost, for example. I gather that that is what happened in Australia. But even if they do, once the legislation is in place, how can it be stopped?  It seems likely that the best we can hope for there is a change of government. And realistically, that means the Tories.

    After all this time there’s no way on this Earth that I’m going to put my faith in that lot. No matter that they might have voted against the government on the bill, if they get into power and the act is in force, there isn’t a chance — not a chance in all the worlds of the putative multiverse — that they’ll repeal the legislation.

    In fact, that is the true nightmare scenario: it’s possible that Blair and Brown are not actually malicious about this, just stupid and corrosively misguided. Imagine, though, what it would have been like if Thatcher’s government had had ubiquitous, mandatory ID and surveillance. Imagine (as I’ve suggested before) if that had been the situation during the miners’ strike. Or when MI5 were undermining the Callaghan government, for that matter, although that’s a slightly different nightmare.

    And it just goes on and on: the Metropolitan Police are now going to drug-test their own officers. Now, you can safely argue that police officers shouldn’t be under the influence while on duty: but it is a clear violation of their personal liberty, and it just adds to the way in which our national culture is becoming more and more authoritarian. Even totalitarian.

    1. I realise that that requires success in the biggest-ever government IT project, but bear with me.

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