Britain's freedoms under threat from 'Big Brother security state', warns Director of Public Prosecutions By Steve Doughty
Last updated at 10:11 AM on 21st October 2008
The chief prosecutor has warned the surveillance society is threatening to 'break the back of freedom'.
Sir Ken Macdonald, Director of Public Prosecutions, said the state was poised to take powers to keep information on everyone and 'we might end up living with something we can't bear.'
His message - delivered ten days before he steps down as head of the Crown Prosecution Service - was a parting shot at ministers who aim to make every phone call, email, test message and internet visit available to police and security services.
Sir Ken said: 'We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom's back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security state.'
The warning comes amid growing public concern over state snooping.
Some 4.4million people - many of them non-criminals - are on a DNA database, CCTV cameras routinely film pedestrians and motorists and the Government continues to plan an ID card system.
Last week Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was accused of planning surveillance on a Big Brother scale when she announced moves to give police and security services access to all private electronic communications.
Sir Ken attacked the spread of surveillance in a CPS lecture. He said: 'Let me in my final public speech as DPP repeat my call for levelheadedness and for legislative restraint in an age of dangerous movements.'
While technology had brought immeasurable benefits, Sir Ken added, it 'also gives the state enormous powers of access to knowledge and information about each one of us and the ability to collect and store it at will. Every second of every day in everything we do.'
The DPP said: 'Of course modern technology is of critical importance to the struggle against serious crime. Used wisely, it can protect us.
'But we need to understand that decisions taken in the next few months and years about how the state may use these powers, and to what extent, are likely to be irreversible.
'We should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can't bear.'
Sir Ken said the best way to face down terrorist threats was to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law.
His period as DPP had seen a relentless struggle against terrorism and a conviction rate 'unmatched in the fair trial world.' It had been done 'with full respect for our historical norms and our liberal constitution'.
He added: 'It is difficult to see who will maintain a cool head if governments do not. Or who will protect our constitution if governments unwittingly disarm it.'
Tories praised the speech. Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'Sir Ken has been at the forefront of our counterterrorism effort for several years, so he knows the security challenges we face.
'This Government's approach has all too often proved cavalier - unjustified powers, sprawling databases and excessive use of surveillance powers risk undermining both our security and our way of life.'
The Home Office said last night: 'The Government agrees with the DPP that technology and communications data is critically important in tackling all forms of serious crime as well as in the fight against terrorism.
'The Government also agrees that care is needed to agree what safeguards are needed, in addition to the many we have in place already, to provide a solid legal framework which protects civil liberties.
'The Home Secretary made it very clear last week that the Government will consult widely with the public and all interested parties to set out emerging problems with technology, the important capability gaps that we need to address in collecting data and to look at the possible solutions.'
Sir Ken will be succeeded next month by human rights lawyer Keir Starmer.
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