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Don't trust Tories on surveillance, say LibDems

Cleggs & co promise to give the database state a kicking

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The Conservatives do not go far enough in opposing government surveillance and databases, Liberal Democrat shadow ministers have argued at their annual conference.

The party's home affairs spokesperson Chris Huhne said the Tories were inconsistent. "If the Conservatives are really against the surveillance state, why don't they promise to remove the current checks on police surveillance?" he asked the conference in Brighton on 22 September 2009.

The same day saw the party conference vote in favour of A Fresh Start for Britain, a mini-manifesto including a commitment to "remove the bureaucracy of Labour's centralised command-and-control state, and proliferating quangos and databases".

In a more detailed speech on 20 September, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson David Howarth said that the Conservatives "only support civil liberties for respectable people".

"It is not enough to campaign about the popular issues: ID cards, the DNA database, the ContactPoint database of all children or even the unfair extradition treaty under which Gary Mackinnon is being extradited to the USA," he said of the Tories. "Real Liberals also campaign for the rights of unpopular people such as the subjects of control orders and those arrested for terrorism offences."

"Questioning authority forms no part of the Conservatives' political DNA. They are fake civil libertarians, and David Cameron is as much a phoney about this issue as about all the others," Howarth added.

He was more critical of Labour's performance, however. "Labour's failure on civil liberties is abject. They have given in time after time to the politics of fear and control," he said.

"Labour belongs to the nothing to hide, nothing to fear school," Howarth added. "We emphatically do not. Information about someone is power over that person. That is why database state apologists are wrong to say that handing personal information over to the state is like paying taxes. It isn't. Tax once paid doesn't hang over people forever. Information handed over does."

In a speech on 21 September, Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor Vince Cable repeated the party's pledge to abolish several IT systems. "There is no need for the vast central government databases, like the ID card, the so called 'super database' and the NHS scheme," he told the conference, as part of a list of economy measures he would take.

This article was originally published at Kable.

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