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3 January, 2009

Don't let the 'hellhouse' open

NØ2IDIf one was seeking a good day to release contentious news without people noticing, 31 December would have to be an obvious choice.  And the UK Government had a really good one saved up:

The private sector will be asked to manage and run a communications database that will keep track of everyone's calls, emails, texts and internet use under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published next month by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.

In his strongest criticism yet of the superdatabase, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, who has firsthand experience of working with intelligence and law enforcement agencies, told the Guardian assurances [of safeguards] would prove worthless in the long run and warned it would prove a "hellhouse" of personal private information.

And remember, that's from the former DPP, not exactly someone the Government could dismiss as a libertarian activist. He goes on:
"The tendency of the state to seek ever more powers of surveillance over its citizens may be driven by protective zeal. But the notion of total security is a paranoid fantasy which would destroy everything that makes living worthwhile. We must avoid surrendering our freedom as autonomous human beings to such an ugly future. We should make judgments that are compatible with our status as free people."
Bizarrely, whilst loathing the idea that the state could know anything about me and condemning the very concept of a unified 'superdatabase' in the strongest terms, I'd be infinitesimally happier if it was directly held and operated by publicly-accountable state agencies, rather than delegated to private firms as a cost-cutting measure.
One might as well devolve responsibility for heart surgery to plumbers in order to save a bit of money: security of personal information, about every aspect of people's lives, really is that important.

I'd love to know how the Home Secretary reconciles her rhetoric on this issue with a recent statement by her own boss, the Prime Minister, that "it's important to recognise that we can't promise that every single item of information will always be safe, because mistakes are made by human beings."

Then don't hold the data in the first place.

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