The Director of Public Prosecutions warns against an intolerable security state
In one of his last speeches in office, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, has criticised the use of ever more surveillance techniques as an irreversible intrusion into human rights. "We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom's back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security state," he said. He will be leaving office this month. "We need to understand that it is in the nature of state power", he is quoted as saying, that additional powers given to investigators and technical tools provided to prosecutors "will be with us forever". They would not be withdrawn, he said, but would in turn be built up on.
In a talk in London, he described surveillance techniques as a double-edged sword in the struggle against crime and terrorism. They were crucial in the struggle against serious crime and could protect society if used in a well-considered way. At the same time, however, they gave the state "enormous powers to access knowledge and information about each one of us." And, in principle, the ability to record and store "every second" of individuals' lives. It was necessary, he is quoted as saying, that in the decisions imminently to be made in the UK too about the expansion of surveillance capacities, this should be kept in mind and "we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can't bear."
He did not refer to any specific surveillance plans, but Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith plans to set up a central database to store telecommunications data. The government's plan to introduce identity cards for the first time is also controversial. The UK is generally regarded as a leader in extending the surveillance state: according to recent estimates, almost four and a half million video cameras are keeping track of the daily life of the country's residents. Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, has long since described the country as unquestionably a surveillance society, and frequently criticises such individual measures as "Big Brother" video monitoring and the proposed super database for holding telecommunications data.
The DPP did at least express his pleasure that the UK had resisted calls for special courts, vetted judges and "all the other paraphernalia of paranoia" in the fight against terrorism. He said the "Guantanamo model" that robbed suspects of their basic rights should not be copied. In the current situation, however, he felt it was difficult to make out who was still keeping a cool head and protecting the constitution, when it was coming under fire from the government side. Members of the opposition welcomed his warning. The Conservatives said the Labour government had all too often granted unwarranted powers, set up "comprehensive databases", and simply looked on as excessive use was made of surveillance capabilities. The Liberals welcomed his warning of a "Leviathan state" that wanted to know and control everything. The Home Secretary spoke of ongoing consultation about the latest surveillance move.