Tories pledge to roll back ‘surveillance state'

The Conservative party has vowed to scale down large surveillance databases if it wins the next general election.

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The Conservative party has vowed to scale down large surveillance databases if it wins the next general election.

In order to curtail what it calls the “surveillance state”, the party would also boost the powers of the information commissioner, according to a policy document it will publish today.

The Tories reiterated they would scrap the ID cards database as well as ContactPoint, a list of 11 million children. They would also conduct an immediate review of government plans to store records of all email and phone communication, data that is set to be gathered by the communications companies themselves.

Additionally, DNA records for anyone not convicted of a crime should be scrapped, unless it is for a serious or sexual crime, the document states.

The proposed cuts come a day after prime minister Gordon Brown said public spending cuts were imminent. The government will “cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets”, he said, without detailing if any of the multibillion pound databases would be affected.

The new Conservative document, to be issued today by shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve, states that the use of databases is based on the “untested presumption that the state has the right to intrude in the private life of its citizens” in order to improve national security and facilitate services.

The information commissioner should be appointed by parliament rather than the Ministry of Justice, as is currently the case, the document says. The role must involve regular audits of government departments’ use of surveillance powers, as well as checking any new data laws do not require excessive monitoring of citizens, it states.

Additionally, the commissioner should be able to carry out ad hoc inspections and issue on-the-spot fines, the Conservatives said. But, according to the Financial Times, the party made no offer of the additional funds that the office has said it needs.

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