There’s a piece in today’s Guardian Online by Michael Wills MP, Minister of State at MiniJust. It’s a very reasonable, well-argued article in favour of a balanced dialogue between the government and other stakeholders about public sector retention of personal data.
Reasonable and well-argued, that is, if you haven’t really taken any notice of this topic over the last seven years or so, and have been too busy chewing small pieces of the Daily Mail and shoving them into your ears.
On the other hand, if you have been watching this topic for a while, the article is more likely to come across as a rather sententious, smug bit of policy-laundering. Mr Wills calls for rational, respectful discourse, and accuses critics of the government’s data retention and data sharing policies of resorting to rhetoric instead of looking at the evidence.
I hope he won’t find me too rhetorical or disrespectful if I offer a counter-example.
On the National Identity Scheme, academics and researchers dug for all the evidence it was possible to uncover (while the government did its utmost to prevent its costings of the scheme from becoming known), published their findings in a dispassionate and constructive way, and for doing so, were personally vilified in parliament by the then Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.
On the National DNA Database, the government resisted attempts to persuade it that its collection and retention policies were disproportionate, and continues to drag its feet towards any grudging change of policy, despite an unequivocal, unanimous and scathing judgement against it by the European Court of Human Rights over a year ago.
On ContactPoint, the government has been able to offer no rational explanation of the risk assessment which leads it to conclude that the interests of vulnerable children are best served by centralising data about them and making it accessible to a population of some 330,000 users – the overwhelming majority of whom will have no reason to access the records of any given child.
Mr Wills – when there is so much evidence in the public domain that the government will not engage in constructive debate about its policies on personal data, why should we believe your promises of a new, rational and respectful dialogue?