Prior to the start of the economic downturn there was significant concern that the UK was drifting inevitably toward a nightmarish dystopian future made up of CCTV, detention without charge and Big Brother style databases. Outraged editorials asserted this was an assault on our civil liberties whilst official sources claimed it would make us all safer in the long run and simply a case of sacrificing a little liberty for additional security.
While the furore over 90/42/28 day detention periods eventually subsided, databases have continued to be controversial. However, the news this week suggests that, for a while at least, two Government databases will be significantly scaled back. Plans to store details of every phone call and email have been ‘kicked into the long grass’ while ministers are expected to announce that, rather than holding information indefinitely, the DNA records of innocent people arrested in England and Wales should be held for no longer than six years.
We have all been complaining about sub-prime mortgages, short selling and bankers for over a year now, but I wonder if we’ve at last found something to thank the recession for. The proposed communications database was predicted to cost up to £2bn over ten years, while the DNA database would need hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money, pretty steep when you consider it has helped to solve only 0.7% of all crimes and most investigations don't use DNA at all.
With an election coming up and the bank bailouts still fresh in people’s minds, it would surely be political suicide for the Government to spend such vast sums on already unpopular projects. One thing I'm sure of is that it will have been economics and politics, rather than any genuine concern for public opinion, which have been the primary factors in these decisions.