The Freedom Bill: does it live up to the promises?

As you’ll no doubt have noticed by now, our Coalition government has recently released details of a long-anticipated bill supposed to restore freedom and prevent abuses of civil liberties. Reports are easy to find: here’s one from The Telegraph, employing dubious grammar to make an apt point by describing the bill as ‘a step back to sanity’.

More importantly, is it a large enough step? How many further steps are needed before we’re truly free from illegitimate and authoritarian interference in our lives?

It’s being touted as ‘the biggest reform of civil liberties since the 1689 Bill of Rights’. Er … yeah. A touch hyperbolic, that claim. There’s definitely some good news, though. Police will no longer be able to store the DNA records of people not convicted of any crime, a welcome and long overdue development. The next step is for the records of the 1.1 million people who have had their records stored in these circumstances to be deleted. Apparently, these include a 14-year-old girl arrested for pinging another girl’s bra. I hope the Government know what they’re doing by allowing criminal masterminds of such low cunning to walk freely on our streets.

Staggeringly, as reported at www.politics.co.uk, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, clung  doggedly to the fiction that the reforms were unnecessary and that they would ‘put the public at risk’. At a time when we desperately need a credible left-wing opposition to the Coalition on so many issues, the Labour party seems hell-bent on committing political suicide.

Some limits on CCTV usage are being introduced: we, the public, will be able to instigate a judicial review if we believe that cameras are being used ‘inappropriately’. It’s a start, and applies equally to ANPR. A statutory code of conduct will be drawn up and applied, presumably to provide some framework for determining what constitutes ‘inappropriate’ usage.

Reforms won’t touch the private sector, though, a particular concern given that the Conservatives seem determined to decimate the public sector. The bill also lacks any intent to curb the vastly excessive numbers of cameras already in operation.

Overall, the bill is a mixed bag. It is, as opined in The Telegraph, ‘a step back to[ward] sanity’. Yet, there is still so much to do. The Interception Modernisation Programme is still on the path to resurrection. The e-Borders contract is due to be re-awarded this year. Most menacingly of all, the spectre of unmanned drones still hovers in our skies. A few more steps required before grand comparisons can be made with any justification.

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