Richard Thomas is no longer a lone voice in the top echelons of the British state against the growing culture of surveillance, but he remains the most persistent and hard-hitting critic, not least because of he makes the best possible use of his position as UK Information Commissioner when most government watchdogs are largely toothless.
Now in an interview in The Times newspaper, he has renewed his attack on the government’s data-sharing and surveillance proposals,arguing that we risk “hardwiring surveillance” into the British way of life. He has clearly fully absorbed the report we wrote for him back in 2006, in which we warned of the possibility of a ‘technological lock-in’ and is building on it in a serious and creative way.
Thomas is clear in the interview that government plans are ‘excessive’ and so much so that they ‘risked undermining democracy’. With Thomas now joined in his stance by eminent critics like the House of Lords Constitution Committee, former MI5 chief, Stella Rimington and most recently, former far-from-liberal Home Secretary, David Blunkett, as well as just about all media and academic opinion, it seems difficult to see how the government can continue to claim that its plans are in any way credible. Labour is now obviously isolated, unpopular and wrong on surveillance. This needs more than token gestures like the resignation of the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith (she has other reasons why she should resign anyway), it needs some real soul-searching and a complete reconsideration of the direction in which the government is heading. Labour simply needs to admit that it has been wrong on this and to develop some more credible plans which recognise that real security protects liberties rather than undermining them in the name of security.