“They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security” – Benjamin Franklin

The Imp’s had an interesting week, driven much by new thoughts (and maybe understandings) about personal liberty. The Imp’s moniker was carefully chosen: we all need time to chase, hunt, challenge, tickle, and ideally, smash a few gods.

clayton-eley-ray-of-light9-04.jpgNow, come with me. Think back to the last time that an accidental, perhaps small shift in your life, let fall a new chink of light on a normally dusty corner of your world. You saw it – this old thing, this commonplace, or person, you saw it afresh. And yet on the outside, nothing had changed. Perhaps the change was in you. Well, all the things I knew about personal liberty, responsibility to ourselves and to the society around us – they haven’t changed, but my understanding, my perception of them, has. I hope indefinitely, permanently.

There are two parts to this:

1. what we allow ourselves and
2. what we allow others to do to us.

The Guardian reported yesterday that the UK Government wants to collect and hold massive amounts of information on its citizens. Not just in the name of security, but for “more general public policy purposes”. They would keep it for 13 years. Just for booking an internal UK flight, you would be required to surrender your mobile ‘phone number, your credit card details. This is far more than any other EU Member State is suggesting. As Henry Porter points out in today’s Observer , there has never been any Parliamentary debate, any legislation, any overt yay-saying to the practices of data collection (such as the DNA database). More worrying is the sketch he provides of the future: our children are growing up used to this:

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. [my emphasis]

Readers, do you have kids? How does that make you feel? Stop and think. Is that the world you want for them?

Can our Parliamentarians escape the accusation that they are deliberately proving blind, dumb and unthinking when the challengblind_leading_the_blind.jpges to this are so hard to spot? Can they in all good conscience think that this is honestly for the future good of our country? And if they do, how can they be qualified to represent us? The population is certainly divided – it depends what research you read. One report says we’re split roughly 60-40% in favour, according to the latest research – but this was carried out before Customs & Excise lost CDs with the details of 25 million people earlier this year. Another and more recent poll (ICM for the Joseph Rowntree Trust, Feb 2008) reports that opposition has risen to 50%.

We heard last week that airport staff will be the first in the UK to have ID cards. Airport staff are already reasonably security-checked, so this could be a simple extension of existing procedures while being a useful way of introducing ID cards by means of salami slicing tactics (“one small bit; another small bit; another…Ooo, look: I ate the whole sausage!”) Coincidental, I’m sure, is the fact that the Heathrow staff population is very ethnically diverse, and that winning the ID card argument with BAME communities must be central to its success across London as a whole.

Remember, these measures that invade our privacy, that make us feel that we ought to be afraid, that we need them – they are done in the name of security. Because – don’t forget – we are in a war. More than one war, in fact, with British troops on the frontline in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as the latest papers show, this information on you, on me, is not being sought purely for reasons of state security (for all the good it will do); remember, it is for “general public policy purposes.”

I can just hear Sir Humphrey now: “Well, Minister, if we were able to gather all kinds of information, it would prove terribly useful….”