Saturday, 17 April 2010

Conservative Party manifesto 2010: What inspiration for the data protectors?

I’ve tried to find commitments in the Conservative Party’s manifesto to supporting the work of the Information Commissioner’s Office. It’s 120 pages long, so I may have missed some. In a nutshell, I detect a degree of respect between those who have issued the invitation, as pictured in the image on the left, to join the Government of Britain, and those who regulate from the People’s Republic of Wilmslow.

Anyways, let’s have a quick look at anything that appears in the document that could be of interest to a data protection/surveillance geek.

On national security:

Labour have failed to tackle the extremism which drives terrorism. The terrorist threat remains serious in scale and duration, and continues to be both home grown and international in scope. To restore trust and improve the working of Government we will:
• Introduce a National Security Council to bring together the work of different Government Departments;
• Review and consolidate the reams of counter-terrorism and security laws introduced by Labour;
• Conduct a review of the Government's Preventing Violent Extremism Strategy, which is supposed to stop vulnerable people from becoming terrorists but which has been accused of spying on innocent Muslims.

On Crime:

There are a million violent crimes a year; a hundred serious knife crimes every day. Yet police officers spend more time on paperwork than they do out on patrol. We can't go on with the police filling in forms instead of fighting crime.

On civil liberties:

To protect and strengthen our civil liberties, we will:
• Replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights;
• Roll back Labour's surveillance state, curtail powers of entry for state officials, and introduce new protections over the use of personal data;
• Scrap ID cards immediately;
• Reform Labour’s DNA system with the slimmer and more efficient Scottish system as our model;
• Change the rules on the DNA database to allow a large number of innocent people to reclaim their DNA immediately.

The policies are described in greater detail in the document:

Restore our civil liberties

We will scale back Labour’s database state and protect the privacy of the public’s information. We will introduce a balanced approach to the retention of people’s DNA and reform the criminal records system so it protects children without destroying trust. Labour have subjected Britain’s historic freedoms to unprecedented attack. They have trampled on liberties and, in their place, compiled huge databases to track the activities of millions of perfectly innocent people, giving public bodies extraordinary powers to intervene in the way we live our lives. The impact of this has been profound and far reaching. Trust has been replaced by suspicion.

The database state is a poor substitute for the human judgement essential to the delivery of public services. Worse than that, it gives people false comfort that an infallible central state is looking after their best interests. But the many scandals of lost data, leaked documents and database failures have put millions at risk. It is time for a new approach to protecting our liberty.

Protect our freedoms

Labour’s approach to our personal privacy is the worst of all worlds – intrusive, ineffective and enormously expensive. We will scrap ID cards, the National Identity Register and the Contactpoint database. To protect our freedoms from state encroachment and encourage greater social responsibility, we will replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights. We will review and reform libel laws to protect freedom of speech, reduce costs and discourage libel tourism.

Wherever possible, we believe that personal data should be controlled by individual citizens themselves. We will strengthen the powers of the Information Commissioner to penalise any public body found guilty of mismanaging data. We will take further steps to protect people from unwarranted intrusion by the state, including: cutting back intrusive powers
• of entry into homes, which have been massively extended under Labour;
• curtailing the surveillance powers that allow some councils to use anti-terrorism laws to spy on people making trivial mistakes or minor breaches of the rules;
• requiring Privacy Impact Assessments of any proposal that involves data collection or sharing; and,
• ensuring proper Parliamentary scrutiny of any new powers of data-sharing.

The indefinite retention of innocent people’s DNA is unacceptable, yet DNA data provides a useful tool for solving crimes. We will legislate to make sure that our DNA database is used primarily to store information about those who are guilty of committing crimes rather than those who are innocent. We will collect the DNA of all existing prisoners, those under state supervision who have been convicted of an offence, and anyone convicted of a serious recordable offence. We pushed the Government to end the permanent retention of innocent people’s DNA , and we will change the guidance to give people on the database who have been wrongly accused of a minor crime an automatic right to have their DNA withdrawn. We believe that people working in positions of trust with children should go through a proper criminal record check. But Labour’s new system goes too far. So we will review the criminal records and ‘vetting and barring’ regime and scale it back to common sense levels.

Defend our security

We will establish a National Security Council to co-ordinate responses to the dangers we face, which will be chaired by the Prime Minister. In addition, we will:
• create a National Security Adviser and a new National Resilience Team for Homeland Security;
• develop a National Security Strategy and oversee a Strategic Defence and Security Review that implements that strategy; and,
• establish a new Permanent Military Command for Homeland Defence and Security to provide a more structured military contribution to homeland security.

Terrorism remains a major threat to our country and some of the biggest threats to our security do not come from abroad – they are home grown. A Conservative government will ban any organisations which advocate hate or the violent overthrow of our society, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and close down organisations which attempt to fund terrorism from the UK. In Northern Ireland, we will continue to give our fullest support to the police and other agencies in their efforts to combat the threat from dissident republican and other terrorist organisations.

More details are available at

So, there's quite a bit here. Lets see what happens next ...