It is early days yet but I am beginning to hear that the various civil liberties lobbying organisations and activists are questioning whether the Coalition’s commitment to their agenda is quite as strong as they were led to believe before the General Election.
Even though the Coalition Government in its document “Our Programme for Government” trumpets that:
“We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.”
and Nick Clegg has made bizarre statements about the greatest reforms since 1832, those who are picking over the details are clearly not impressed.
For example, Ross Anderson at Cambridge University is already talking of “A very rapid betrayal“, saying:
“The coalition Government plans to keep the Summary Care Record, despite pre-election pledges by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to rip up the system – which is not compliant with the I v Finland judgement of the European Court of Human Rights.”
And Hawktalk says:
“Ah! The reality of power! For all the Opposition talk about strengthening the protection of privacy, in the first weeks of Government, the pro-privacy proposition has become more difficult to implement. The inevitable result is that gears are being put into neutral or reverse (as quietly as possible, mind you!).
So it is with the repeal of the ID Card Act and the abolition of the National Identity Register by the “Identity Documents Bill 2010-11” whose Second Reading is today. We all know that from their respective manifestos, both Lib-Con coalition partners wanted to scrap ID Cards and strengthen the penalties in the Data Protection Act. We know that the previous Government had draft legislation on the stocks which provided for custodial penalties for misuse of personal data under the Data Protection Act.
With apparent political unity about the weak data protection offences associated with the deliberate misuse of personal data, one would have thought that an stronger penalty could have been introduced quite quickly. Alas, this is not the case. The Identity Documents Bill has used a contorted definition of “personal information” in order to avoid strengthening the offences in the Data Protection Act.”
I always thought that the Tories were cynical and opportunist in their attacks on the last Government’s record on civil liberties and human rights, but I suspect the LibDems believed their own rhetoric. I suspect that faultline is going to get increasingly strained as the Coalition comes to grips with the realities of being in Government.