The Conservatives and the Surveillance Society

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, writes:

Good Government is about achieving a sensible balance. We need to protect our society against those who would destroy it. But if we throw away the founding principles of a democratic state to do so, then we are doing the terrorists work for them. So I think that whenever we look at security issues, and potential new weapons for the fight against terror, we should ask one simple question – will this improve the protection of our citizens without undermining our core freedoms? Too often this Government has failed to find the right balance. Indeed, they seem to have lost any sense of proportion about the things that they are doing. The terrorist threat has become an excuse for introducing draconian new powers, and those powers have developed mission creep which means that the intrusion of the state seems to be spreading across our society.

We will seek to restore that balance.

So we will continue with the introduction of biometric passports – but we will scrap the compulsory ID cards that this Government seems to determined to pursue.

We will retain the electronic systems that will record who enters and leaves our country – but we will end the situation where the Government plans to store full details of the holidays, companions and payment details of every citizen for a decade.

We will end the mission creep for anti-terror laws, and limit the use of surveillance powers to the investigation of serious crimes. There is no place for the use of intercept evidence in council tax enforcement.

And there will be no giant big brother databases established under a Conservative Government.

It really is time for a change.

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40 Comments

  1. Ian Jones
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    It rather sounds like you will do exactly the same as Labour but just call it something different.

    so this data you get from people leaving and arriving in the country, how long will you store it for if not 10 years?

    Biometric passports, doesnt take much for this to become much smaller and to become an ID card.

    Let see if you follow through with removing innocent people from the DNA database as well.

    Things look very different once elected….

  2. Obnoxio The Clown
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    And there will be no giant big brother databases established under a Conservative Government.

    So you’re not going to get rid of any that are already there, then? How inspiring.

  3. Mike Spilligan
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I’d like the Tories to have a review of all the 3,600 laws introduced since the beginning of the New Labour Era – all with terrifyingly ignorant Home Secretaries behind them, who may well have been bamboozled by civil servants trying to prove that they’ve got jobs to do.
    Many of those laws are unworkable, counter-productive and impossible to monitor, and the only “advantage” – to the NewLab mind – is that it keeps down the numbers of unemployed, while at the same time irritating the population in general, all of whom the Government considers to be its enemies.

  4. Sue
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    You don’t sound as though you will be doing anything different than the Labour Party!

    I don’t want a biometric anything thank you! I have enough forms of identification to tell anyone who I am already.

    What about all the databases/surveillance already established, Spine, emails/texts, contactpoint, CCTV cameras in pubs, smoking police, fat police, bin police, dog poo police, etc..

    It would be more cost efficient to concentrate on actually fighting terrorism than cataloguing the whole British Population!

    I’ve always been a Conservative voter but I’m slowly changing my mind.. The Libertarians are the only viable alternative to this Big Brother State and if the Conservatives continue along the labour path, they’ve lost my vote for good!

  5. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I would have hoped for something more robust from the Shadow Home Secretary. There are too many conditional sounding clauses such as: “we shall seek to restore the balance” rather than plain “we will restore the balance”; “the intrusion of the state seems to be spreading across our society” instead of “the intrusion of the state is spreading across our society and we are determined to stop it and reduce it”. In addition, he focused on anti-terror laws. Other laws can have equally intrusive consequences. Is David Davis considered too libertarian in his views following his resignation and subsequent re-election on this issue? Why was Dominic Grieve who initially replaced Davis and was said by Davis to share his views moved from that position? I think the Conservatives will need to try harder if they are to convince a sceptical public that they will really make a difference to the surveillance state.

  6. AndyC
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Ending the mission creep won’t do. Vast swathes of existing government legislation in this area need an axe taking to them. Again I fear the Conservative Party is being far too timid.

  7. Mark M
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    How about being radical, scrapping all benefits and replacing income tax with the Friedman negative tax model?

    You would save billions in benefit fraud surveillance costs (as you wouldn’t need that army of thousands to trace benefits cheats), you would improve social mobility by removing the poverty trap and you would make the whole tax system fairer and simpler (and thus save yet more billions in man hours that the complication of the current tax system brings).

  8. Rob Atkins
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Ian Jones and Obnoxio sound exactly like tedious Labour apologists, trying to devalue what is essentially a very important step forward, for two good reasons.

    Firstly, there has been a massive increase in powers and technology investment, sold in the name of ‘terror’ but actually a profound curtailment of our historic liberties. The price, in terms of our privacy and freedom is much too high.

    Secondly, all this this comes, literally, at a price. The cost to taxpayers is also much too high.

    I applaud Chris Grayling and the Conservative Party for taking these first steps. The decision to disinvest in ID Cards, in particular, is a huge step forward. I do, however, agree with Mike Spilligan (a Soonerism, spurely ..?) that there is much more to do to roll back these insidious and invidious laws to a much smaller, and more acceptable level.

  9. Want to support you
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    John,

    I want to believe that things would be different under a Conservative government, but the culture in the UK has swung so far away from what I thought was a traditional British approach to liberty and respect for personal privacy that I fear many aspects of today’s surveillance society will survive untouched.

    Will we remain the country with the most CCTV cameras, that don’t seem to have given us the lowest rates of crime? Will number-plate recognition cameras continue to proliferate, monitoring all our motorway journeys? Will people who are arrested but never charged with any crime continue to have their DNA records stored indefinitely? Will thousands of people be given access to the computerised records of every child in the country?

    Of course Britain hasn’t turned into some kind of totalitarian police state, but so many of the mechanisms are in place that we should be fearful of how a less-benign state could abuse its powers.

    I would like to see the Conservatives commit to intelligent counter-terror measures, regardless of their political correctness (and even though people will accuse you of racism if you use profiling techniques), and not just repeal some of the surveillance methods that have been put in place since 1997 but introduce clear, unambiguous legislation that actively enshrines our rights to go about our lives without the government keeping track of our actions, communications and movements.

    We say that our freedoms are hard won, and worth fighting to preserve. They must surely be worth statutory protection. But I am not optimistic that the Conservatives will be any better than Labour once you return to power.

  10. [[NAME EDITED]]
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Passports: will the Conservatives scrap the new interrogation centres? I bet they won’t.

  11. Cliff.
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    John,

    I agree with what you say however, I suspect Mr Cameron, like all other recent PMs, will do what the EUSSR tells him to!!

    So many of these diktats come from the EUSSR, I accept that Labour have embraced them with great glee, but will our party under Mr Cameron really be any different? Will we get the referendum so many of us crave?
    How did we blindly go from a sensible policy of a free trading block, as sold to us by Mr Heath, to what we have now viz, a political union and for all intents and purposes, a giant Socialist Superstate?
    John, I know what you’re views on the EUSSR are, as you are my MP and you have often made those views clear but, what are the views of the majority of the Nu Conservatives?

    • alan jutson
      Posted April 21, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      Cliff
      Agree with your view.
      JR also my MP as well.
      Good to have one who is not frightened to speak his mind, and will put his thoughts up for comment every day.

  12. Steve Tierney
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Very poor and very sad.

    If we (Conservatives) don’t get behind the cause of freedom and liberty we will lose support to other parties who do.

    The ‘authoritarian’ Conservatives wouldn’t leave the party if we did away with biometrics and the like. But the ‘Libertarian’ Conservatives are at the end of their tether.

    Right now, a ‘freedom’ war within the Conservatives would as damaging as the bubbling European question. It really doesn’t take much to address this, but this didn’t do the trick.

  13. Number 6
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood and anyone in the Conservative Party who reads this blog. Don’t just tinker around the edges of current EU/NuLabour impostions on our liberties pledge to remove them and the party will hoover up the votes of liberterian/concerned/ liberal Brits. Better still (but I am dreaming now) vow to leave the super socialist EU and annihlate all before you including ‘protest’ BNP votes and bring back all those (myself included) natural Conservative voters who have joined UKIP.

  14. chris southern
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    So the existing databases will remain, nothing new being offered by the concervatives then (not having a go at you John.)
    This is just political nudging, making people feel like they are choosing something for the better when it is realy stil a step towards what the goverment wants.

    That’s just lost my vote for the concervatives, sorry John, but if the party wants to make real changes, it will have to be on the side of the people and not the EU/big state.

  15. no one
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    john

    this is i am afraid complete cop out

    speaking as someone who has seen detailed spec level info on national id card systems nbis and a & e i can tell you for free that repurposing them to only support biometric passports will not stop the inbuilt giant big brother database aspect and the intrusion into law abiding brits and their foreign relatives

    you need to can the nbis and a & e projects and replace them with a much scaled down proper passport only system, and save money into the bargain

    dont be conned by the bs merchants that tend to advise politicians listen to someone who has spent his entire life looking at such systems and knows the reality in great detail

    • alan jutson
      Posted April 21, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      No One

      We all suspected this was the case, good to hear from someone within the industry that it is the case, because it makes the argument now very real about big brother.
      Can only suggest you contact David Davis with your information and see what response he gives you, you really would find out if he really is the champion of freedoms he claims to be.

      • no one
        Posted April 23, 2009 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        well i have security clearance and its under official secrets act etc, i and others cannot just wander around making details public

        BUT most of what the political folk need to know is in their own legislation, have a read of the Acts which allow ID cards and look at the wide array of information on citizens they are allowed to collect

        pull the plug, we cannot afford it anyway

        there are much better uses for national resources

        and much more effective ways of tackling real hard core criminals and terror and by this I do not mean my dad doing 33 mph in a 30 limit!

  16. Peter Turner
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Simplify, simplify, simplify. We need to investigate and simplify our Health Service, our Legal System, our Education System, our System of Government (Local and National) and anything or everything else of import. It is a massive task but we can do it.

  17. KC
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I too share the sentiment of John, I want to believe that things would be different under a Conservative government, but! It is unfortunate that the Conservative Party has moved so far to the left that even these reforms resemble something that would spin out of number 10 in time for an election.
    What makes it less credible is David Cameron and other Conservative MPs appear on the UAF website in support of anti democratic values.
    This cannot be the Party that I worked so hard for throughout the Thatcher years. I have since left the Party for another and could not possibly return until the Party moves back to traditional British values, freedom of thought and expression and a move away from a European Superstate.

    • mikestallard
      Posted April 21, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      So what is the other party?
      Do tell!

  18. Neil G
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m a historic floating voter who’s teetering towards not just supporting but actually joining the Conservatives because of your economic, schools and European policies, but the big problem I have is this – one of your big themes is supposed to be giving power to the people, making the state smaller, leaving people to go about their lives unmolested by the state so far as reasonably possible. I like that theme, it’s what turns me off Labour and the Lib Dems and towards the Conservatives.

    But my cynical friends say that I am a fool. They say that the ridiculous stop and search powers which were supposed to be temporary and targetted to specific locations but which are effectively permenant and apply to the whole of London, the idiocy of Police officers and PCSOs intimidating tourists and amateur photographers simply for taking a photograph in a public place, the daft permit system for protesting anywhere near Parliament, the seemingly unstoppable rise of the Surveillance Society and the pathetic use of the Terrorism card to frighten people into agreeing to any number of excessive police powers – all of that will not change under the Conservatives, they say. You will make some warm noises, but if you get into office you will suddenly find lots of reasons to row back on any vague promises and to continue the process that Labour has started.

    Having read this statement from Chris Grayling, I am beginning to think that my cynical friends are right. Which makes me think that the theme of small state and leaving people to live their lives in peace is actually not a Conservative ideal. Perhaps some individuals believe it, but it’s not a party policy. Which makes me wonder whether joining the Conservatives is really the right thing to do.

    I’m open to persuasion on this – but if the best the Conservatives can do is this statement, then I can’t reach any conclusion other than that you intent to retain all the intrusions on civil liberties that Labour have introduced and perhaps introduce a few more. In the name of protecting us from terrorism, you understand.

    • APL
      Posted April 21, 2009 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      Neil G: “.. but actually joining the Conservatives because of your economic, schools and European policies, .. ”

      Neil, please let me know exactly what the Conservative policy on Europe is?

      The policy as I see it at the moment is to subcontract the government of the UK to the European Union while the people who should be governing the country swan around Westminster wining about being over worked and under paid.

      That is what’s stopping me from giving my support to the Tories.

      • Neil G
        Posted April 22, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        At the risk of sounding glib, there are some policies here:
        http://www.conservatives.com/Policy/Where_we_stand/Europe.aspx

        – Referendum on Lisbon, if it’s not already too late, and legislation to require a referendum on all future such treaties.

        – Unequivocal ‘no’ to joining the Euro.

        – Claw back social and employment policymaking

        – Remain in Europe, but oppose the relentless ratchetting of centralisation to Brussels.

        They are broadly my own views and the Conseravatives are the only party offering them. I voted UKIP at the last Euros as a protest against an apparently euro-loving Conservative party, but I’m not a Ukipper.

        In addition, I think the attempt to break away from the federalist EPP-ED and create a mainstream centre-right non-federalist group in the EU parliament is excellent. Not only does it remove a hypocricy within the Conservative party, I hope it will generally encourage the idea that anti-federalism is not a loony fringe idea, which is bizarrely how it’s often portrayed.

        That’s why I had something of a head-in-hands moment when, having won my support, they push me away by glossing over the whole problem of excess police powers stemming from the government-by-fear and “let’s give them loads of powers and hope they don’t misuse them” approach of Labour, by giving me the impression that they’d merely offer more of the same. If the Conservative electoral strategy is “we’re not Labour”, it doesn’t help to sound like them.

        Going back to my cynical friends, they would suggest that the Conservatives are just itching to get their hands on these powers for themselves. My view is that Grayling’s statement acknowledges the public opinion on this, which is good, but the lack of substance and certainly the lack of unequivocal opposition to the biggest problems (The equivalent of “no to the euro”, “yes to a referendum on which we’ll campaign ‘no'”) won’t do anything to convince the cynics. That said, there is plenty of time for a rethink and for a clearer position to be spelled out before the election. Here’s hoping.

        Apologies for a long and often off-topic comment 🙂

  19. Sue
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I also want a referendum on the EU! I personally don’t want to be in the EU but I will concede to just taking most of our power back instead!

  20. no one
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    neil G is correct

    and the conservatives need to come up with a radical cutback on speed cameras too, they aint working, they dont help road safety, and the only people to suffer are the more genuine hard working members of society

    policies of association of british drivers http://www.abd.org.uk are pretty much ready for immediate takeup of conservative party if it had any sense

    • Adrian Peirson
      Posted April 21, 2009 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      I think 3000 people die on the roads, but 100,000 people die as a result of medical error, in one, there is someone to fine, in the other, there is not,
      We are being farmed.

  21. mikestallard
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    When I went to Thailand recently, I was photographed when I entered the country and then my photo was checked again as I left. I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I was impressed.
    Australia (there is a TV programme on this) takes terrific care about who it lets in. I am impressed.
    The USA immigration, as we all know, is rude and impersonal, but the checks do seem to be fair, however off hand and revolting the people in uniforms are.
    Face it, the days when middle class accents got you round the world have gone long ago. I can remember when they really did open all sorts of doors. Today, they do not.
    Get used to it.
    And, let’s face it, the next government, even if it is the Revolutionary Socialists, will take time to bed in and get going. It is only New Labour that “hits the ground running”.

    • adam
      Posted April 22, 2009 at 2:34 am | Permalink

      seems pointless in the lovey, idealistic, post nation state, citizen of the world age though.
      Will their be ID card checkpoints to enter different EU federal regions

  22. Mike Cunningham
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    If there had been the slightest remark on the total removal of all bogus asylum seekers anywhere in Chris Grayling’s statement, I would have taken notice!

    If there had been an acceptance that just about all the restrictive and semi-totalitarian laws introduced over the past twelve years by ZaNULabour, I would again have taken notice!

    If there had been an acceptance of the abhorrence felt in the wider country regarding the stupidity of the Immigration Laws, the useless Tribunals and the endless Human Rights actions by the ever-richer lawyers and solicitors, I would have taken notice!

    As it stands, Mr. Grayling’s statement seems to have merely brushed the surface, and no more; and I, and many more, have taken due notice!

  23. APL
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    JR: “So we will continue with the introduction of biometric passports – but we will scrap the compulsory ID cards that this Government seems to determined to pursue.”

    My first reaction was similar to many on this thread. However with second thoughts biometric passports are required (or will be) for entry into the USA.

    If a passport is to be useful then it needs to be usable.

    What we need here is some sort of legal safeguards.

    How about a clause in the regulations along the lines:

    The government of the United Kingdom recognizes the right to self determination of law abiding citizens/subjects and his or her right to disclose or withhold aspects of personal data at his or her discretion.

    Personal data including biometric data provided to the United Kingdom government for the specific purpose herein prescribed, shall be used by the United Kingdom government or its agents only for the agreed purpose unless express permission of the subject /citizen is obtained.

    Reply: NOT JR – Chris Grayling.

    • APL
      Posted April 22, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      “Reply: NOT JR – Chris Grayling.”

      Yes, my apologies.

      Regards

  24. Graham Taylor
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    If I had written the post above, and then read the comments underneath it, do you know what I would do? I would rip it up, throw it away and start again. Because it is clearly not what people want to hear.

    We have had over a decade of New Labour dictating to us, our freedoms have been taken from us one by one, and we have never been consulted. We want a political party that will restore those freedoms to us, all of them, and introduce legislation that will enshrine them in law.

    We don’t want another government that will dictate to us from above. That is not democracy. We want a government that will LISTEN to us, and act on our behalf.

    Are you listening now? Will you please write your post again, in such a way that it will raise resounding cheers from us, rather than the present cynical complaints?

    Will you show that you are listening to us now, and please write it again?

    I am serious.

  25. Mike
    Posted April 22, 2009 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    This simply does not go anywhere near far enough, as others have pointed out. I don’t want a “biometric” anything thank you very much. Nor data sharing, cctv,fingerprinting of schoolkids, retina scanning or any form of surveillance state. At present the LibDems “Freedom Bill” looks the best bet for the present. Until the authoritarian streak is flushed out of the Tory party, they should not be trusted with office.

    What about the “handgun ban”, the “smoking ban” and other futile rubbish Nulab have inflicted on the country ? When will the Tories realise the absurdity of persisting with drug prohibition and proceed to follow Dutch thinking towards a better society ?

    These questions need answering, there are votes in throwing away the anti-freedom lobbyists.

  26. Chris
    Posted April 22, 2009 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    So John Redwood has admitted that the tories will carry on with the thoroughly objectionable system of recording every time we enter or leave the country. It’s none of the government’s business whether I’m in the country or not. We should be in Schengen and get the freedom of movement that the rest of Europe takes for granted. Yet all we can expect under the tories is more surveillance and more databases.

  27. Blueplanet
    Posted April 22, 2009 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I am reassured by some of what you say. However you make no metion of repealing so much of the badly drafted authoritarian legislation this insidious govt. have passed through the law books. And what of all those CCTV cameras? Why not take them down and give them to China?

  28. Charlie
    Posted April 22, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    DO NOT ask me for my biometric data because you won’t get it! If the Americans don’t fingerprint their people for passports why the heck should the British?

    Get real, ‘Tories’ you don’t need our fingerprints or the associatied database.

    Sounds like I will have to vote UKIP.

  29. Jeremy
    Posted April 22, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    It is the biometric indexation and creation of state owned profiles that I am concerned with. ContactPoint, NIR, DNA database, travel database, CCTV inter alia. The illusory promise of more security if we just give up a bit more privacy that Labour are famous for.

    Will the Tories be revoking these kind of policies? If not then don’t count on a vote. Give us a reason to vote for you by rolling back the surveillance society. Regulation on all surveillance systems and a beefed up data protection act for the 21st Century would be a good start.

  30. no one
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I’m hoping somewhere the conservatives have a set of policies lined up which will be much more radical than dave and mates are talking about at the moment

    really ask yourself would you be happy to have your parents DNA taken just because theyve been arrested on some trumpted up nonsense like 22 mph in a 20 limit or obstruction, cos thats perfectly ok currently, and its only getting worse

    do you really really really think getting camera’d while doing a few mph over the limits on a clear dry empty motorway while driving safely a few times should result in a ban and you loosing your job? unable to pay the rent ? while the real unsafe drivers are left unpushised with their false plates and worse?

    nobody on any part of the political spectrum believes in this yet its modern day britain, why its not obvious policies for any sensible government in waiting is beyond me

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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