Gordon Brown today fired back at the Conservative Party and, without naming him, David Davis, accusing them of “the politics of complacency” over security, as he defended Labour’s record on freedom.
“It could be said that for too long we have used nineteenth century means to solve twenty first century problems. Instead we must have twenty first century methods to deal with twenty first century challenges,” the Prime Minister explained, speaking at the IPPR Security Commission.
“Put it this way: while the old world was one where we could use only fingerprints, now we have the technology of DNA. While the old world relied on the eyes of a policeman out on patrol, today we also have the back-up of CCTV. While the old world used only photographs to identify people, now we have biometrics.”
Recognising that these “raise new problems,” he said that the “answer is not to reject the new 21st century means of detecting and preventing crime – but to simultaneously adopt the new technologies where they can help – and to strengthen the protection of the individual:
– never subjecting the citizen to arbitrary treatment,
– always respecting basic rights and freedoms,
– and, wherever new action is needed, matching it with stronger safeguards and more transparency and scrutiny.”
He said that “the question is how – at one and the same time – we can ensure we give no quarter to terrorism and organised crime, while still advancing the liberties our society is founded upon.” Saying that the “British way” of meeting this challenge “cannot be a head-in-the-sand approach that ignores the fact that the world has changed with the advent of terrorism which aims for civilian casualties on a massive scale, and which respects not only no law, but also no recognisable moral framework.”
Instead, he said “it must be an approach that is prepared to make the difficult decisions to protect our security – not by ignoring the demands of liberty but always at the same time doing everything we can to protect the individual from unfair or arbitrary treatment.”
Mr Brown claimed that this is “the driving force behind the proposals the Government is bringing forward,” including the proposal to hold terrorist suspects for up to 42 days without charge.
He denied that these changes were being made “to be tough or populist,” but because “they are necessary”.
“To say we should ignore the long-standing claims of liberty when faced with the urgent needs of security is tempting to some, but never to me,” he said. That “would be to embark down an illiberal path that is as unacceptable to the British people as it is to me.”
Defending claims that Labour was anti-freedom, he said that the Government could be measured on the emphasis it places on “advancing the liberties of the individual” and that the Government had in the past year done much to “extend freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of information.”
“We have given people new rights to protest outside Parliament, made it easier for people free of charge to exercise their right to Freedom of Information – and we are now considering a freedom of expression audit for all legislation. We have removed barriers to investigative journalism; introduced new freedoms that guarantee the independence of non-governmental organisations; while at the same time surrendering many powers from the executive to Parliament, and thus to greater public accountability and scrutiny,” he explained.Other news from Labour Matters