Database State: two months after the Freedom Bill, are civil liberties violations back on the agenda?

It all started so promisingly. Amid promises to ‘end the storage of email and internet records without good reason’, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition apparently undertook the arduous task of restoring to the British populace the civil liberties that Labour eroded during 13 years in power. The scrapping of the costly, invasive, and pointless ID card scheme was their first, most prominent, and most unambiguously positive move.

The Freedom Bill, a piecemeal collection of reforms that offered some improvements without establishing a coherent philosophy of civil liberty, and certainly didn’t live up the hype surrounding it, took us some steps further in the right direction. Now, barely a year after the formation of the coalition, and only a few months after the grand announcement of the Freedom Bill, the Government has quietly begun to create a new national identity database.

As yet, further information about the scheme is fairly sketchy. The prototype, it appears, will be used to identify people logging in to government websites, with further uses in the pipeline. It’s being sold to us as a way of cutting costs and preventing inconvenience in the use of public service websites — and it’s possible that it will indeed have that consequence.

Given the track record of various governments when it comes to collecting data, however, it’s easy to be skeptical about the true motivations and/or the potential for ‘mission creep’. Once our personal details are stored in a government database, how do we know what they are being used for? More pertinently, how can we trust that they are being used only for benign purposes?

As Guy Herbert of NO2ID comments:

Whatever the good intentions at the outset, the fear will always be that the bureaucratic imperative to collect and share more data about the public will take over.

While we’re resisting the urge to condemn the scheme outright — at least, for the moment — we’ll be keeping a very close eye on developments.

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