Restraining the Database State

It was launched on Facebook , the blogsphere is being mobilised, the libertarian Observer’s Henry Porter sets out the agenda in th e Observer, expert support comes from Unlock Democracy, a development from the serious constitutional reformers Charter 88. The Convention on Modern Liberty is a great first strike. There’s even a Belfast angle. Three big themes will indicate its worth. One, a wide constituency including government participation in the sessions. yes, box ticked, good; chiming agreement can harden into a self-satisfied silo mentality. Two, the complexity of digital age threats needs to be addressed. It’s fine to slate ID cards, big brother data access etc., but how can we protect ourselves from identity theft? Where is the line drawn between individual freedom and protection from terrorism? We need international, intergovernmental systems for all that, no use burying our heads in the sand. And three, what’s the follow-up? Anthony Barnett poses a big question about “The Database State.” “This may describe it. But where is the motivation? What’s the driver pushing it onwards?”
Henry Porter declares: “The Convention is a challenge to a parliament

“For a brief moment, we will be airing the issues that haven’t been heard in the Commons this past decade, because Labour has all but anaesthetised the business of the chamber to push through its laws. Last week, I wrote a story for my blog on Comment is free that showed how statutory instruments other words, unscrutinised, undebated ministerial decrees – had doubled in the last 20 years, while the number of bills laid before parliament for scrutiny and debate had declined.”

For a great example of this, look no further than last week when Jack Straw presented a statutory instrument to allow MPs’ expenses details to be summarised and not fully disclosed, as required under a Freedom Of Information ruling. Now, part of the FOI act itself is under threat.

Protecting these paltry MPs’ privileges in this sneaky manner is truly pathetic, a drastic failure to rise to the level of events. A bad sign too that so many MPs are resigned to losing their seats and have ceased to give a damn for Parliament’s reputation. On the wider front, The Database State need to be restrained and subject to much tighter scrutiny. But so do the fraudsters who are turning the internet into a lottery of larceny.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London