How does Labour deal with its record on civil liberties?


11:10 am - August 18th 2011

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contribution by Emma Burnell

Labour is neither a liberal nor an authoritarian party. That’s not to say that all members of the Party don’t have views on these issues. They do, and some are held very strongly.

Because Labour exists fundamentally to deal with issues on the left/right axis and not the Liberal/Authoritarian axis, we have an extremely broad range of viewpoints within the Party, all held firmly, with conviction, that theirs is the view that truly matches the Party’s Socialist ideals.

What I want to do is protect communities through using methods that work. Sometimes that will be by taking a strong line on deterrent measures. Sometimes by investing more in rehabilitation rather than punitive punishment.

But what I think Labour has to stop trying to do, is tie itself in knots trying to please extreme ends of an ideological spectrum that makes no sense to our core values. Because Lib/Auth values don’t always have a natural place in a Party with Left/Right values, we often have a failure in our politics.

Too often we try to be bold with initiatives that have little or no chance of succeeding in their stated aim and then get surprised when people accuse of of having other motives.

Once established that Labour cannot and should not have a fixed view on liberal and authoritarian issues, for me, the key questions are a. Is there really a problem that needs fixing? Does this solution work?

Will it keep working or will it eventually exacerbate the problem? What are the real drawbacks when you remove the ideological objections? Are these negatives a price worth paying? If they are not, what do we do instead? Does that work better or have worse impacts?

Much of the problems we have in deciding on liberties and our outlook to them is the fast way in which technologies which either give us new liberties or new ways to express them are developing and the corollary of new technologies for curbing liberties.

For example registering a citizen’s DNA could be seen as simple an extension of other items keeping account of our citizenry, such as the census, electoral roll and the registration of births marriages and death. It is only scary and new because it is a new item that will be counted and registered.

Ideologically, the retention of DNA from citizens accused and acquitted of a crime is a strike against an innocent person’s liberty. Taking ideology out of the equation, the retention of the DNA has literally no effect on that citizen. Unless they happen to later commit a crime that this retention later helps to solve. This seems to be to be luddism dressed up as civil liberties.

The state is entitled to keep certain records. The keeping of the records is not – from a non-ideological perspective – an abuse of liberty. It’s what you do with the information that counts.

Equally, ID cards were proved before the idea had got out of the Home Office door to be utterly useless at dealing with the crime of identity theft. The technology used by the criminals was much more agile than any Government system could ever be. The Government got caught up in its excitement over a technology and ignore the fact that the answer to question one was no, it won’t work.

If Labour can move to a properly understood middle ground on Civil Liberties, we could undo a lot of the damage that is done when our factions cry “woolly liberal” or “fascist” at each other and at our Governments when they try to act in the interests of society. But equally we can have a strong line to take on doing the right, not the expedient, thing.


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For example registering a citizen’s DNA could be seen as simple an extension of other items keeping account of our citizenry, such as the census, electoral roll and the registration of births marriages and death. It is only scary and new because it is a new item that will be counted and registered.

Ideologically, the retention of DNA from citizens accused and acquitted of a crime is a strike against an innocent person’s liberty. Taking ideology out of the equation, the retention of the DNA has literally no effect on that citizen. Unless they happen to later commit a crime that this retention later helps to solve. This seems to be to be luddism dressed up as civil liberties.

Rubbish.

My guess is that you have not spent one second researching non-knee-jerk objections to retaining DNA profiles. Am I right?

The labour party has been neoliberal in outlook for the past 17 years although there are still many party members who have socialist views. And if such you practice free for all economics, then you need to be more authoritarian to deal with the negative outcomes of the winner/loser system. Hence, Blunkett and Jack Straw being two of the most reactionary home secretaries in living memory. In short free market economics are ultimately incompatible with real democracy and this is the real challenge that labour will have to confront if it is progress civil liberties in the future.

And if such you practice free for all economics, then you need to be more authoritarian to deal with the negative outcomes of the winner/loser system. Hence, Blunkett and Jack Straw being two of the most reactionary home secretaries in living memory. In short free market economics are ultimately incompatible with real democracy and this is the real challenge that labour will have to confront if it is progress civil liberties in the future.

As if “free for all economics” has anything at all to do with detention without charge and other such stains on Labour’s record… what a load of nonsense.

3 – No, it’s true. If you look at the countries that don’t follow free market economics you’ll find they have (or had) a much better record on authoritarianism. The appalling decline in civil liberties in East Germany since they shackled themselves to the neoliberal west is truly terrible.

In a free society, it is not for citizens to prove why the state doesn’t need their DNA but for the state to prove why it needs to retain any person’s DNA. It’s illogical executive over-reaching and an unnecessary infringement on a citizen’s right to privacy.

The state is entitled to keep certain records. The keeping of the records is not – from a non-ideological perspective – an abuse of liberty. It’s what you do with the information that counts.

Equally, ID cards were proved before the idea had got out of the Home Office door to be utterly useless at dealing with the crime of identity theft. The technology used by the criminals was much more agile than any Government system could ever be. The Government got caught up in its excitement over a technology and ignore the fact that the answer to question one was no, it won’t work.

This seems ‘odd’…?

Of course the mere fact of keeping a record about a person is not in itself an abuse of the person’s liberty and it is what can be done (and inevitably will be done) with the record that counts – how it can be misused or abused.

But what are we to make of a government that intended to record so much about a person’s life? His every transaction with the state and with other entities that required evidence of identity, his every movement, his DNA, his fingerprints, various details about his every telecommunication (and undoubtedly if the technology existed the content of every telecommunication) and so on?

http://ukliberty.wordpress.com/surveillance-society/

The issue is of consent. I do not consent to the state taking my DNA when I have not committed any crime. The logical and efficient outcome of the state assuming consent is that DNA should be taken from all new born babies.

Tim J
I don’t think anyone is saying that authoritarianism cannot happen under other systems – just that it is a 100% certain and necessary requirement to preserve order under the extreme inequality and social breakdown that are the inevitable consequences of end-game neoliberalism, without fail. Of course, for many of its proponents, living in an authoritarian police state will look like a small price to pay for the removal of any effective brakes on their pursuit of unbridled material wealth and power. But for most, they will be wrong about the price they will pay.
Germany has a long way to go before it becomes fully ‘neoliberal’. We are a lot closer, and we are already reaping a foreshadow of that coming whirlwind.

Of course the mere fact of keeping a record about a person is not in itself an abuse of the person’s liberty and it is what can be done (and inevitably will be done) with the record that counts – how it can be misused or abused.

Forgot to say, how it can be misused is the point.

Labour is neither a liberal nor an authoritarian party.

What does the rest of the post say?

I keep trying to read it but every time I start with that sentence I get an uncontrollable laughing fit that leaves me in tears.

In a free society, it is not for citizens to prove why the state doesn’t need their DNA but for the state to prove why it needs to retain any person’s DNA.

I have to say that I think a DNA database is one of the most difficult areas for libertarians.

On the one hand, every instinct tells us that it is authoritarian for the state, without consent, to record your genetic fingerprint and put it on a database. The fact that a physical specimen is taken makes it feel a greater intrusion somehow.

On the other, libertarians believe that one of the few legitimate roles of the state is to preserve the rule of law and bring criminals to justice and there is no doubt that a DNA database is a highly efficient tool in both solving and deterring crime.

Not to mention preventing wrongful conviction.

The logical and efficient outcome of the state assuming consent is that DNA should be taken from all new born babies.

That is probably the way to do it. In fact, I see no great difference in principle between the right of the state to record your existence and it’s right to record your genetic make up and I would have thought that a DNA database is inherently no more open to abuse than any other type of centrally held database.

Probably less so.

12. paul barker

As the Party of ID cards, Lord Glasman & Phil Woolas I think we can definitely say that Labour is an Authoritarian Party.

“How does Labour deal with its record on civil liberties?”

By admitting that pretty much everything it did post-9/11, was wrong

Taking ideology out of the equation, the retention of the DNA has literally no effect on that citizen.

Given that our processes for DNA checking are comparatively crude, I suggest you look up the concept of a “false positive”—just for starters.

DK

socialist ideals, the Labour Party?????

“On the other, libertarians believe that one of the few legitimate roles of the state is to preserve the rule of law and bring criminals to justice and there is no doubt that a DNA database is a highly efficient tool in both solving and deterring crime.”

Is that proven? DNA evidence is really useful. You have a suspect, you have a sample from a crime scene. You take another sample from the subject and if its a match thats good evidence that you have your offender.

But what happens when you have a DNA database? You grab everything from a crime scene with DNA on it. You get hundreds of samples that could be matched against thousands of people and you start questioning everyone the DNA points to, requiring that they explain how their DNA ended up at the crime scene (it might not even be there’s). You waste time and resources, and eventually you try your luck with someone who will look a bit dodgy in front of the jury. More convictions maybe, but not always safe.

17. Shatterface

‘On the other, libertarians believe that one of the few legitimate roles of the state is to preserve the rule of law and bring criminals to justice and there is no doubt that a DNA database is a highly efficient tool in both solving and deterring crime.’

You could make the same (untrue) claim about CCTV cameras on every street or tagging the entire population with GPS.

The only way to make society entirely crime free would to turn the whole country into a panopticon. I’d rather be dead.

As to this: ‘Labour is neither a liberal nor an authoritarian party.’

Its pretty obvious that they’re currently authoritarian through and through. There might be a few liberals in there with delusions they can change the party from the inside but they are hopelessly outnumbered.

Taking ideology out of the equation, the retention of the DNA has literally no effect on that citizen.

It’s the “literally” that makes this sentence so special.

Labour is neither a liberal nor an authoritarian party?

No, it’s both. The split within the party between the traditional working class base (whose social values are frequently what one could call ‘small-c conservative’) and the squishier social democratic/socialist elements of the leadership manifests itself in the record of the last government on protecting and advancing the rights of the British people. Whilst we got some pretty bold or at least innovative steps forwards – the Human Rights Act, the Supreme Court and civil unions – there are huge strides backwards. No government that breaches international law as fragrantly as the last one over Iraq, no government that is complicit in the torture of its own citizens, no government that proposes to imprison people for three months without trial or even knowledge of what they’re accused of – and no party that, upon leaving office, has not demanded that every MP who voted for these measures bring full account of their illiberal actions to the public – can be really called “liberal”.

On balance, I’d say Labour is more authoritarian than liberal, and that this poster’s thinly disguised attempt to wash away this thorny fact with a stream of weak reasoning and glib dismissals of liberty as being “ideological” rather than making any proper account to understand it, stands as a brilliant testament to that.

Labour is an authoritarian party (to the masses), it has taken a stance over many years now that states that if you want wealth redistribution (ignoring the very wealthy, of course) you must succumb to the state in a myriad of ways. To be secure, you must succumb to the state’s wishes.

This is a party that tried to pass legislation that would allow it pass on data from ANY of it’s departments to third parties including private companies AND allow them the rights to sell it on as they wish (hence why the notion that collecting data is perfectly liberal is such nonsense, as data is eternal but policy is fickle). It’s a party that decided that actually charging someone wasn’t necessary to keep them locked up for a quarter of a year.

Of course there are members, and MPs, that don’t follow this route and manage to keep a liberal line with their leftist outlook, but they are not the ones pulling the strings at the top, nor the ones guiding policy. Labour aren’t liberal because the core of the party, the decision makers, don’t make any liberal choices unless it is politically expedient to do so as a member of the opposition trying to oppose the Tories in whatever way possible.

It’s also not to say that the Tories aren’t or won’t be as bad…but that’s besides the point.

Accidentally being liberal on a few issues doesn’t stop them from being absolutely authoritarian in their approach.

For many, many years Labour tended towards a civil libertarian policy. Government control was to be exercised through economic manipulation and the public sector. The freedoms of day-to-day life were defended in other aspects.

The natural belief in the Labour Party is that the government is a vital aspect of society and therefore must be large enough to play the dominant role in the shaping of the nation.

Under “New Labour”, the economic State control was withered (although Labour still managed to create an unhealthily large government, even though economic constraints were unloosed). With the primary purpose of government no longer being economic control, Labour had to find a purpose to their ideology and the events of 9/11 and subsequent events gave a good opportunity to bring in the “New Labour” policy: detailed, extensive and intrusive data-gathering and monitoring of the poor “proles”. Hence Labour moved thoroughly away from the left/right system and chose instead to become firmly authoritarian.

Yes, Labour shouldn’t be about liberal/authoritarian, yet at present it is. Labour is a dangerous authoritarian nightmare, and there needs to be serious soul-searching on this – this article may be part of that, but denying the problem doesn’t make tackling it any easier.

Paul Barker: And James Purnell, Jacqui Smith, Caroline Flint… The list goes on..

@21 That is and was a consequence of New Labour’s move toward neo-liberalism, it’s not for nothing that neo-liberalism’s first birth pangs begin in the military Juntas of South America. It’s also why in response to widespread civil disorder the ConDems have chosen brutal authoritarianism to engender fear of the state, as opposed to respect for.

@3

I think Robert Adamson was making a fair point. Namely that when a society becomes more unequal and “winner takes all”, then generally it also becomes more authoritarian and drachonian on crime to control the “have nots”. Think of America today or Britain in the 19th century.

So the growing authoritarianism of the last few decades is intimately linked to the growing inequality of our “neo-liberal” economic system.

Ultimately an unequal society becomes a very squalid, divided and fearful place to live for everyone. As the “haves” become scared of the “have nots” and demand stronger measures to keep them under control, and the “have nots” become ever more resentful and prone to violent outbursts, like, say, rioting.

It is all linked if you look at the connections.

Let’s be clear why the Labour Party is irretrievably authoritarian- it is because it is led and dominated by an educated middle class elite that believes in its own moral and political rectitude.

C.S Lewis put it best.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive……..those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

ukliberty says I talk nonsense. Have you ever read any literature on ideologies and their outcomes. I will not lower myself to make a derogatory comment about your contributions becasue it is a waste of my energy

New Labour = keep the proles in the dark under a jackbooted heel, reduce their living standards, increase their cost of living, get your snout in the trough and fill your trousers.
An ex-member of the Labour party, ex trade unionist and ex Labour voter for ever.

You seem to be saying that the Labour movement couldn’t and shouldn’t give a monkey’s about liberty. This negligent position is the reason I hope they never win power again.

“I will not lower myself to make a derogatory comment about your contributions becasue it is a waste of my energy”

Passive aggressive hypocrisy BOOOOOM

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive……..those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Haha. Bit much coming from a religious apologist like Lewis. Was he suffering from an irony deficit?

Robert Anderson,

ukliberty says I talk nonsense. Have you ever read any literature on ideologies and their outcomes. I will not lower myself to make a derogatory comment about your contributions becasue it is a waste of my energy

ISTM the reason for Labour’s authoritarianism was its desperate populism, not “free for all economics” (whatever that is); outflanking the Tories on law and order was a great way to win three general elections, particularly while the public were kept afraid of crime and terrorism (risk of the latter ironically increased by Blair’s overseas adventures). Despite the public’s general distrust of politicians, there was enough faith and fear to get rid of habeas corpus and fair trials for brown people.

But do point me to the literature on how “free market economics” entails removal of fundamental civil liberties, I’m sure it will be fascinating…

Another thought on the Lewis quote (which I notice has been bandied about endlessly across the squalid reaches of the libertarian looninet, despite his only claim to fame being the writer of – rather good – fairy stories that attempt – rather unsuccessfully if I’m anything to go by – to surreptitiously brainwash children into believing an older generation of fairy stories) –
He seems to think that tyrannies of any kind have a conscience, as opposed to being upheld by a state of induced sociopathy that develop by necessity in the brains of its oppressive elite? Just because the likes of Stalin or Pol Pot claimed they were doing what they were doing for the good of the masses, doesn’t mean they believed it, or any other word coming out of their mouths. They were psychopaths.
Lewis was silly.

‘But do point me to the literature on how “free market economics” entails removal of fundamental civil liberties, I’m sure it will be fascinating…’

Doesn’t take a thesis – a) vast, highly visible wealth inequality, lack of anything but a dwindling pool of menial, unskilled jobs with no security, no social cohesion, firesale & destruction of all public goods and safety nets that mitigate these factors = b) chronic build-up of deep-rooted discontent leading to massive civil unrest = need for an authoritarian police state.

Pretty straightforward, unless you are mad enough to think that a) doesn’t lead inexorably to b), i.e. unless you are a denier of basic human nature, and that a) are the inevitable results, if not actual core goals of neoliberalism, the sick, twisted, inhuman conduit for greed at the heart of all UK governments for three decades, whichever wing of the tories has been in power.

I believe this article shows one side of the gulf that exists between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Believing that the liberal/authoritarian axis is so unimportant as to be disregarded is not at all the same as not having a position on liberal/authoritarian matters. It is very much a position, and one that is strongly at odds with strongly liberal positions. In this sense, Emma Burnell’s position is authoritarian by default – at least from a liberal perspective.

Burnell might like to look at the sort of political maps found at http://www.politicalcompass.org/ and consider the question: what’s the difference between where you are along the vertical axis, and how important or unimportant you believe that axis to be? This distinction could be graphically portrayed by stretching the axes in proportion to their perceived importance. The more important someone regards an axis as being, the greater the distances between points along that axis as they’d measure them.

Being strongly liberal, I happen to believe the liberal/authoritarian axis to be very important. I regard myself as centre-left, and regard the left-right economic axis as being less important – but still so important as to have it as one of the two most important axes. So, for me, the political map is somewhat taller than it is wide. And last time I took that Political Compass test, it put me at:-

Economic Left/Right: -4.38 (further left than usual)
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.05

http://politicalcompass.org/printablegraph?ec=-4.38&soc=-6.05

In contrast, Burnell clearly regards the liberal/authoritarian axis as very unimportant, with the economic axis being important. For her, the graph would be much wider than tall, with the graph squashed vertically into little more than a one-dimensional, left-right spectrum. Wherever she plots herself vertically (I’m interested to see where the Political Compass test would plot her), she seems likely, from this article, to see herself as being politically close to all those who are nearby economically.

If she’s around -4 to -5 economically, and on the positive, authoritarian side of the liberal/authoritarian axis, she would probably regard me as being close politically, while I’d regard her as being quite far from me. With my stretched vertical axis, I’d measure a much greater vertical distance than she would with her squashed vertical axis.

I wish to suggest that this kind of difference is much of the very real gulf that exists between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Those who contend that the liberal/authoritarian axis is unimportant could consider moving the short distance along that short, squashed, unimportant axis to meet liberals who, instead, regard it as an important axis. For people like Emma Burnell, it should be a short journey, whereas for those who are strongly liberal it’s too long a journey to make.

If, instead, they suddenly find various reasons why they really should not make that journey, then perhaps they don’t really regard that axis as being so unimportant after all? And, caring so little for liberty, what are they then if not authoritarians?

‘are’NT the inevitable results’ I mean. hehe.

“Doesn’t take a thesis – a) vast, highly visible wealth inequality, lack of anything but a dwindling pool of menial, unskilled jobs with no security, no social cohesion, firesale & destruction of all public goods and safety nets that mitigate these factors = b) chronic build-up of deep-rooted discontent leading to massive civil unrest = need for an authoritarian police state.”

Free market economics does not mean destruction of welfare, Labour chose to help that along all on their own. If they went down the authoritarian root it is because they were authoritarian enough to begin with (to be corrupted by wealth rather than follow core values) and/or spineless enough to resort to tactics to repress those that they’ve wronged rather than resolve the underlying issues (which, obviously, is what the Tories are aiming at right now too)

Just because the likes of Stalin or Pol Pot claimed they were doing what they were doing for the good of the masses, doesn’t mean they believed it, or any other word coming out of their mouths.

What about Blair, Harman, Balls and Milliband?

Don’t you think they think they know what is good for us?

Lewis was spot on.

39. Shatterface

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive……..those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

‘Haha. Bit much coming from a religious apologist like Lewis. Was he suffering from an irony deficit?’

I think he nicked the observation from Bakunin’s prediction about the direction the ‘scientific savants’ would take a Marxist State.

40. the a&e charge nurse

[37] Blair may not know what is good for us – be he certainly knows what is good for Blair.

Blair is definitely a psychopath. The others may have been neoliberal idiot-wolves in woolly liberal clothing but I’d rather have grown up under their ‘tyranny’ than Stalin’s.

42. Robert the crip

It’s going to take a long time before the world or the country forgets Blair and Brown, never mind the DNA, the state of the country is enough.
90 day detention down to 42 day detention, DNA, ID cards, placing children into detention camps, four MP’s in jail for expenses, Purnells welfare reforms.

I think like a lot of time in the past Labour are better in opposition then actually in power..

To think I spent 46 years in the dam party

43. Charlieman

@14. Devil’s Kitchen: “Given that our processes for DNA checking are comparatively crude, I suggest you look up the concept of a “false positive”—just for starters.”

Not quite, DK. DNA processing is extraordinarily clever, but we have to be careful how we use the results.

Let’s say that a house is robbed and the thief leaves a blood smear on a window frame. There’ll be enough DNA in that blood sample to reliably test against DNA fingerprints (collected via a mouth swab) from convicted criminals. The fingerprint match will provide one in millions probability that it is true. But still, any court worthy of the name will require further evidence before a case is heard. UK courts do not convict on the basis of DNA evidence alone.

Where DNA analysis gets really smart is when the sample is minute (eg a drop of sweat). The sample is effectively multiplied, replicated in a dish, until there is enough to create a fingerprint. The quality of this new sample is subject to laboratory procedures and the absence of contamination. And this evidence should be treated as indicative, useful to a criminal investigation but not for a prosecution. And it is probably useless where the suspects or victims are members of the same family owing to false positives.

44. Charlieman

The argument that the Labour Party has no position on the liberal/authoritarian axis ignores the history of the party and its composition as a broad alliance.

There are some components (eg the Fabian Society) that in the past would have been considered to be authoritarian but which have grown increasingly liberal. There are others (eg the Tribune group) which are conservative in nature but have backed liberal causes for strategic reasons. And there are genuinely liberal affiliated societies (eg LGBT Labour).

New Labour’s 1997 election victory was achieved by creating a rainbow coalition (remember that expression?) that attracted liberal minded members of non-aligned organisations. Mondeo man may have delivered the votes that elected New Labour, but small L liberals provided the kick start.

Even David Cameron knows this. The Conservatives would have been even further away from overall victory at the last general election without the appeal to liberals.

As @5 seems to be the only person to say, the DNA issue is one of privacy. Many people, myself included, believe you need a good reason to infringe somebody’s privacy. I would equate the keeping of a person’s DNA to keeping an intimate picture of that person. Sure, the fact of having such a picture does not in itself cause any harm to the person, but it is an unnecessary intrusion.

Secondary to that is the potential for misuse of the data.

46. paul barker

Can I point out that the C S Lewis quote was specifically talking about what a modern Dictatorship might look like in a Western country with Democratic traditions. Even Pol Pot wasnt simply a Psychopath, a lot of his worst abuses came precisely from his “Ideals”.

Incidentally while Lewis is mostly remembered for Narnia he wrote a lot of interesting Essays & 2 Great SF Novels – “Out of The Silent Planet” & “Perelandra”.

Good article Emma. There is more sense here about Labour and liberty than Henry Porter managed in 4 years writing in Guardian.

I was merely mentioning pol pot and stalin to show how vacuous and pointless the quote was, after all what tyrannies are ended by conscience, they exist because of the absence of conscience, they are only ended by destruction from without or below. Which renders his whole thesis meaningless really

@44
The comparison between an intimate picture of you and DNA is crazy. DNA is a benign set of numbers, essentially, that mean absolutely nothing except to a computer system.

Also what ‘potential misuse’? I hear this thrown around all the time but people never explain what the ‘potential misuse’ of such a system is.

The major question about a DNA database is whether it would be effective in fighting crime, not knee-jerk concerns of ‘privacy invasion’ (basic DNA sampling is not intrusive). The benefit would have to outweigh the cost, and it would need to be thoroughly assessed, not judged on paranoid concerns of a surveillance state.

@ Joe,

I don’t think you understand what the quote is saying. The full quote is:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

The point is quite clear – to anyone whose brain isn’t addled with marxoid claptrap (this may be your problem, and you have my sympathies)

This article is ridiculous – you acknowledge that “The keeping of the records is not – from a non-ideological perspective – an abuse of liberty. It’s what you do with the information that counts”, whilst simultaneously drawing a parallel between census data and the DNA database.

Do you understand that the uses of the two sets of data are utterly, dramatically different? One seeks to assign government funding and analyse shifts in households at a collective level – the other seeks to make it easier to lock people up at an individual level.

Further, while talking about ‘whether something works’ you apprently miss any reference to the fact that things can, and do, go wrong on an extremely regular basis with this sort of volume and type of information. What happens when people’s DNA is filed under the wrong name? Or when a corrupt copper – of which there are literally tens of thousands, decides he wants to frame you for something? Your inability to even address the need for checks and balances rather highlights how little you know about, or have thought about, this issue.

Finally, by having your DNA stored on a selective basis you make people who are targetted by the police vulnerable to substantially more risk of prosecution than people not on the database. Given the proclivity of the police to target certain groups of people – black men, Muslims, Gypsies and Irish Travellers – the DNA database serves as a way to further criminalise and alienate certain groups of people.

Imagine getting called into the station because your local KFC was busted into, and they’d found your DNA there because that’s where you eat on a weekly basis? They aren’t going to be calling your white neighbour in, who also eats there weekly, because they didn’t previously stop and search him, or take him to the station for routine inquiries about a fight in the area. The DNA database is a pernicious and discriminatory tool in the hands of the police. Opposition to it is practical, as well as ideological. That you don’t understand the practical differences highlights your privilege – and that of Labour MPs who don’t know why anyone wouldn’t trust the police.

“Also what ‘potential misuse’? I hear this thrown around all the time but people never explain what the ‘potential misuse’ of such a system is.”

It was explained above. Police are driven these days by targets, and the CPS by conviction rates for certain crimes. If there is no apparent suspect by any means other than DNA, then there is too much possibility for abuse as the authorities try link the crime to the person rather than the person to the crime. DNA is a great tool, as a way of helping to validate a case against a person because you have a sample of DNA at the scene and can swab a suspect.

“basic DNA sampling is not intrusive”

Do you believe it would be intrusive for companies to know, without your consent, your religious preference? When you go to the shops, what you buy? What you watch and read?

The idea that DNA is nothing to your own privacy is naive to the extreme. Testing on the DNA could determine your predication to violence, to heart disease, male pattern baldness, even potentially sexuality. This is all information that can be used, and information that can be sold, lost, stolen.

Don’t be so naive as to say that mass collection of DNA is not a privacy issue. As I said above, a store of information is forever, policy is fickle.

DaveW,

Also what ‘potential misuse’? I hear this thrown around all the time but people never explain what the ‘potential misuse’ of such a system is.

Er… framing someone by planting their DNA at the scene? Or in the lab? A forensic scientist makes a mistake leading to someone wrongly being punished (see Shirley McKie – fingerprints, but the principle is the same)? Genetic research done without consent or oversight? Too much weight being placed on prediction of ethnicity despite low success rate?

The major question about a DNA database is whether it would be effective in fighting crime, not knee-jerk concerns of ‘privacy invasion’ (basic DNA sampling is not intrusive). The benefit would have to outweigh the cost, and it would need to be thoroughly assessed,

Privacy invasion is a cost. Risk of misuse is a cost. We might end up thinking the benefit outweighs such costs, but they nevertheless deserve consideration just like the economic cost.

A DNA database makes it easier for police to identify suspects correctly. I’m not sure there is even a balancing act to be carried out here. There appears literally no downside to it.

@49 How on earth do you come to the conclusion that the details of your genetic code are meaningless? They contain a hell of a lot more information than an intimate picture would. Knowing your genetic code could reveal any congenital diseases you may have and in the future could tell a great deal about various characteristics of yours.

To use the same logic as you use with DNA, I could easily defend the police holding a naked picture of all arrested persons. For example, in a rape case the victim could identify any distinguishing marks on the perpetrator’s body. By analysing the photos the police are holding, they may be able to find the perpetrator quicker.

To use another analogy, one may be able to tell from samples at a crime scene if the perpetrator had an illness or disorder. Do you think the police should have access to everyone’s medical records? That way they could whittle down the population to those with the disorder in question. I think that would be highly unethical, but with your logic I don’t see how you could reasonably argue against it.

The idea that DNA is nothing to your own privacy is naive to the extreme. Testing on the DNA could determine your predication to violence, to heart disease, male pattern baldness, even potentially sexuality. This is all information that can be used, and information that can be sold, lost, stolen.

Nope, it couldn’t.
The DNA that is stored is what is known as junk DNA, it basically does fuck all and tells you even less about a person, as such it is able to vary wildly from person to person, creating the ‘genetic fingerprint’ that actually would be useful. Storing each and every persons total DNA profile, aside from this small section, would be an absolutely huge and nigh impossible undertaking.

@53
“Er… framing someone by planting their DNA at the scene? Or in the lab? A forensic scientist makes a mistake leading to someone wrongly being punished (see Shirley McKie – fingerprints, but the principle is the same)? Genetic research done without consent or oversight? Too much weight being placed on prediction of ethnicity despite low success rate?”

Firstly, framing ‘at the scene’ isn’t possible from a computerized database (you would, obviously, need a physical sample). In the lab, perhaps. But the problem is that every potential misuse you’ve listed could happen without such a database – there’s always the potential for mistake with DNA – database or not. That is exactly why DNA evidence does not in and of itself convict a person – it is mostly used to lead the police ‘in the right direction’ rather than provide the sole evidence in a trial.

@50 if the point is quite clear I’d quite like you to tell me what it is. Seriously. Because to me it sounds like one of those quotes that sounds quite profound until you actually try and work out what it is actually saying and realise that the answer is ‘nothing’

I’m broadly a libertarian socialist; I should disclaim that I feel strongly enough to have helped found the anti-ID cards movement in the UK. Broadly, I’d like to agree with the bulk of this article: Socialism doesn’t intrinsically have a set locus on the authoritarian/libertarian axis except on issues that are of obvious import to organised labour — freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and trades union rights.

The Labour party definitely has some way to go to assure some of its grassroots that the authoritarian policies brought in over that last 14 years were a measure of the thoughts of the *people* in government, rather than the party in government, but I don’t think that should be too difficult to achieve, provided that is actually the case. There are policies that the coalition government are looking to change or repeal that demonstrably do not achieve the original aims (increased detention without habeas corpus, control orders, ASBOs etc) where it should be possible to create a broad enough consensus within the Parliamentary Party to make it clear to the electorate that, just because a Labour government introduced these policies, it doesn’t mean that the Party itself is ideologically bound to them. Of course, that requires that the Party is *not* ideologically bound to them, of which I’m not yet entirely convinced. Keeping Jack Straw away from any kind of policy announcements would be an important start in this regard.

I’m very concerned about the suggestion that a National DNA Database is neutral in this regard, however. Certainly the European Court of Human Rights would disagree, having told the UK we have to stop storing the DNA of individuals not convicted of any crime. Part of the complication with DNA, though is that it is not merely an indicator of identity but also can provide inferences on consanguinity and health, let alone casting doubt on the right to avoid self-incrimination.

Anyone who is not a self-described authoritarian should contemplate the unintended potential consequences of such a Database before perceiving it as neutral on the Lib/Auto spectrum, as it most certainly is not.

12 ,I can’t compare Lord Glasman saying he’d like a 6 month freeze on immigration and that labour should listen to the concerns of ex laobur voters who like the EDL are worried about radical Isalm withphil Woolas disgraceful election campaign that said that the Libdems agreed with some Muslims homophobia
remember Jack straw was heckeld at the police federation confernece for saying there were more police and it was a like job and standards were high, he introduced the Mcpherson report the FOI act and the HR act, and david Blunkett had to apologise to thr police fed the next year

As for saying that Caroline flint is like Blunkett and Straws time at the home office, what did she have to do with anything Admittadly she did want to namke and shame people who have ONLY been arrested on suspicion of rape, not those found guilty,

uk liberry point 1 well said

my gripe, 46, Is that the tories talked liberty, then got rid of stop and account forms issued after the Mcpherson report, scapped section 44 stops which the police still had to have a belief that possible terrorsim could happen and replaced them with section 60 stops, that before were only for people going into football grounds and now can apply to everyone, plus the tories want majistrates to be able to send people away for longer (more trials without juries), let alone all the ideas they’ve been spouting last week

@59
Even if we imagined that the DNA collected can easily be used to determine health traits of the individual with reliability, how does that make a national DNA database different to a national medical records database? The two serve different purposes but both, according to you, can suggest similar information.

Firstly, framing ‘at the scene’ isn’t possible from a computerized database (you would, obviously, need a physical sample).

Eh? What are you talking about? The physical sample is placed at the scene.

Impossible? It’s been done.

Still don’t see the argument here. I wonder if those who are so adamant about keeping health records out of the hands of public servants have ever heard of something called the NHS?

Eh? What are you talking about? The physical sample is placed at the scene.

Impossible? It’s been done.

I’m also pretty sure that anyone who plants evidence at the scene is also going to help the rozzers find good cause to obtain a DNA sample from the one they’re implicating. DNA database or not.

@62
You would need a physical sample of the person you want to implicate, which wouldn’t be readily available in a mostly computerized database.

Anyone going to that much trouble would surely be able to get DNA from somewhere else, anyway. And then there’s the fact that DNA is not enough on it’s own to convict someone of a serious crime – so even if you somehow planted credible DNA evidence you would need a lot more to lead to a conviction.

DaveW, I’m afraid you’ve lost me.

If it helps, I am not against any old DNA database – I actually support, very broadly speaking, ‘a DNA database’ – I was objecting to the idea that any criticism is “knee-jerk” or “paranoid” and that there are no “potential misuses”.

“framing someone by planting their DNA at the scene?” would require a physical sample of DNA. A DNA database would be mostly digital, meaning physical samples would be hard if not impossible to obtain. Aside from a well designed DNA database would be independent from the police.

I’m not saying any criticism is knee-jerk and paranoid – just that every argument here is. Maybe there is some potential mis-use for such a database. But nothing posted here has been a possible mis-use of a DNA database any more than a mis-use of DNA in general (evidence planting, wrongful suspicion). The other argument is about personal information, but the DNA stored provides very little information even if people were to try and look for it, and nothing compared to a quick check of your medical records.

DaveW,

“framing someone by planting their DNA at the scene?” would require a physical sample of DNA. A DNA database would be mostly digital, meaning physical samples would be hard if not impossible to obtain.

I can obtain physical samples from the bin bags left outside the local barbers.

67. DaveW: “The other argument is about personal information, but the DNA stored provides very little information even if people were to try and look for it, and nothing compared to a quick check of your medical records.”

The DNA isn’t stored. What’s stored is a DNA profile, not DNA. Referring to DNA profiles as DNA is misleading, causes confusion, and gives the impression that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. That’s not really helpful.

Perhaps the concern is that a corrupt police officer will hack the database and in a quiet moment in the station lab use that information in order to reverse engineer an incriminating sample?

Jimmy,

Perhaps the concern is that a corrupt police officer will hack the database and in a quiet moment in the station lab use that information in order to reverse engineer an incriminating sample?

Um, no.


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