openDemocracyUK

Where do the parties stand on liberty, privacy and freedom?

Dylan Sharpe
15 April 2010

The three major parties have all released their manifestos. What do they have to say on liberty?

Labour

For the party that tried to bring in ID cards, 90 days detention without trial and a scheme to monitor every email and phone call in the UK; it is both galling and laughable for Labour to write in their manifesto “We are proud of our record on civil liberties”.

Elsewhere in their manifesto the Labour Party reaffirms its commitment to the “full use of CCTV and DNA technology” and pledges to offer the “new biometric ID scheme…to an increasing number of British citizens.”

Conservatives

The Conservatives make much more of civil liberties in their manifesto, devoting a full section to the topic. They pledge to “scale back Labour’s database state and protect the privacy of the public’s information.”

Their key pledges on liberty include scrapping the National Identity Register, curtailing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) and “cutting back intrusive powers of entry into homes”.

Liberal Democrats

Like the Tories, the Lib Dems devote a portion of their manifesto to “restoring your freedoms” stating that Britain has been turned into a “surveillance state”.

Arguably the most exciting part of their proposition is the introduction of a “Freedom Bill”, with plans to regulate CCTV, Ripa and stop the fingerprinting of children without their parents’ permission.

What do the manifestos mean for liberty, privacy and freedom?

It’s more of the same from the Labour Party, but some encouraging signs from the two major opposition parties who have clearly singled out liberty as a fruitful ‘wedge issue’ against the government in their campaigns. The Conservatives and Lib Dems are both committed to rather basic changes like taking innocent people off the DNA database, curtailing council surveillance and scrapping ID cards and ContactPoint. Some extra kudos should be given to the Tories for their curbing powers of entry pledge and the Lib Dems for their opposition to the next generation of biometric passports.

However...

It is a common theme in the fight for liberty, privacy and freedom; but strong words spoken outside Whitehall often get muffled once the party in question finds itself in government with the bread-and-butter issues of economy, schools and health to deal with. The general opposition from the Tories and Lib Dems to large state databases should be praised; but neither party makes any effort to put forward a timetable for their removal or explain, where necessary, what form the replacement system will take.   

After the National Identity Register and DNA database, the most intrusive elements of surveillance faced by the British public come from the intercept modernisation programme – the plan to store and monitor our phone calls and emails – and the automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) camera network – which tracks around 14 million drivers each day. The opposition parties only make fleeting references to the former and no reference to the latter in their manifestos.

At Big Brother Watch we have drafted a manifesto (click this link to see more) featuring 30 achievable legislative pledges that would go some way to rolling-back the surveillance state and give the British people greater freedom to live their lives without state interference. If the government loses on 6th May, the worry would be that a new administration more receptive to civil liberties will look to implement the ‘showpiece’ reforms – taking innocent people off the DNA database, scrapping ID cards – ignoring the very real threats to our freedom that don’t attract the same level of media interest and public protest.

Regardless of who is in power of 7th May, Big Brother Watch will continue to campaign to re-establish the balance of power between the state and individuals and families. Visit www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk for more information.

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