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.

  • As linked by Brian, there is a Belfast end to the Convention, organised by Amnesty International and the School of Law at Queen’s. We’ll be taking the main plenary sessions from London via live video link and having our own, more locally relevant, workshop/discussion sessions hosted by a range of organisations. There will be a range of expert contributors, but we are just as interested in debate and discussion and this event should be of interest to politicos, activists, journalists, students, academics and anyone else who cares about rights and civil liberties.

    Full details and registration will go live for the Belfast event in about another week – keep an eye on

    Meanwhile, I’d like to make an appeal to locally-based bloggers…

    In London, there will be a lumchtime ‘bloggers’ summit’ hosted by Comment is Free and Liberal Conspiracy. Anyone fancy organising a linked event here?

    More details from Sunny Hundal for anyone who is interested. Leave your details here or email me (patrick dot corrigan at for more information.

  • Gregory

    Let us not knock print scanners, they have their uses.

    “I’d been planning the go the US for six months,” he told the Guardian yesterday. “I had got to the airport in full dandy regalia – top hat, long velvet coat, velvet scarf. One concession to their Ivy League sensibilities was that I had taken off my nail polish. When I put my finger in the scanner, they took me aside and interrogated me for eight hours.”

    If he’d been going to gay pride San Diego, he might have got through. The conservatives would have liked that very much.

    It is politics, what he was doing was no particular use to anybody. There was no working politics to it.