Big brother comes in the back door

The Coroners and Justice Bill may not be the most exciting sounding bit of legislation in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech. But it could be one of the most far-reaching.

There’d been plans for a major Communications Bill that would allow the Government to track all your webuse, emails, phone calls, texts etc. That was highly controversial and has thankfullly been dropped – for now.

And the Government has had a rebuff on keeping DNA details of people who’ve never been charged nor convicted of any crime. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that keeping DNA of innocent people on file “failed to strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests“.

But now they are at it again. Coming in under the Coroners and Justice Bill is another move towards a super-database state: remove barriers to effective data sharing to support improved public services and the fight against crime and terrorism. It may sound harmless, but it isn’t.

As the Independent reports today, that means ‘thousands of unaccountable civil servants given access to our most intimate personal information‘. Now I’ve nothing against civil servants. I used to be one. Some of my best friends still are. But as we’ve all learned over recent years, the more personal data is out there freely, the more at risk we all are of it being lost.

There’s a tradeoff between convenience and safety, in data acccess just as in a factory. We expect the Government to protect our safety, not undermine it.

Bits of the Bill are good – like abolishing the partial defence of provocation, and stopping villains selling their stories. But the data sharing bit is bad. I’m glad that Lib Dem MPs have already spoken up against this aspect of the Bill. Labour will try and rush it through, but if other opposition MPs and decent Labour backbenchers vote together with the Lib Dems, we still have a chance to stop it.

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