THE BLOG
08/06/2015 10:14 BST | Updated 07/06/2016 10:59 BST

We Should Be Very Careful When Giving Up Our Freedoms

The starting place for any democratic decisions about how we balance our rights to freedom against the need to compromise that freedom for the safety and security of the wider community should be that we should be free to do anything we want except if there is a compelling case why we should not.

Some such decisions are easier than others to make. Most of us accept that we should not go around harming other people or stealing their property or bullying and intimidating other people - in exchange we benefit by living in a reasonably safe community. Other issues are harder to clarify because they involve matters of secrecy and matters that have to be taken on trust.

The Government is proposing a Communication Data Bill that will include laws compelling internet service providers to retain huge amounts of data on their customers and to make it available to the security services if required. David Cameron also want to make it impossible for anyone to use totally secure encrypted communications so that there would be no form of communication that the Governments can't read.

This new law is being pushed as a means of fighting terrorism - by stopping the would-be terrorists from planning attacks. On the face of it this all sounds convincing - this new law will stop people being killed on our streets - who can argue with that?

When this is discussed - such as on an LBC phone in program last week - a good number of people say they are entirely happy to have the Government and security services being able to hear or read whatever they say or write because they have nothing to hide and that it will save lives.

The problem is that this argument would also support having a camera and microphone in everyone's front rooms - and any other room in the house come to that - which could be monitored by the security services. What would anyone have to hide after all?

The bar for when our freedoms should be given up or compromised should be set as high as possible and we should give up such freedoms grudgingly - the polar opposite of the 'nothing to hide' argument.

We should also consider that these powers will not just be used to combat terrorism - they are likely to be aimed at other serious crimes and other, more vague, matters associated with national security. We need to see beyond the sensationalist headlines.

In any case, the view that we should hide nothing because we have nothing to hide assumes many things. It assumes that everything the security services do is beyond reproach and the information gathered will be used properly and kept secured and all of this will occur under almost total secrecy.

But we have some evidence that our security services will push the boundaries of what we expect them to be doing - such as the massive, and covert, data gathering operations GCHQ and the NSA carried out under the so called 'Prism' program.

We have evidence that British security services took part in an operation to kidnap and deliver to Colonel Gaddiffi's regime, the family of Libyan dissident Abdul-Hakim Belhadj, so that they could be tortured by a regime we later went to war against.

There are unresolved allegations that the material the intelligence services produce can be misused by Governments to justify going to war - as is the case with the Iraq War and the so called 'Dodgy Dossier'.

There were also allegations that Special Branch kept spying on Labour politicians - even after they had been elected as MPs in the 1990's. The police were spying on democratically elected politicians.

These are just the things we have heard about - there will be other matters that may never see the light of day.

In reality the police and security services - and politicians in Government come to that - do their duty as best they can and with some success. But no system is perfect because nobody is perfect. Powers given to anybody or any agency should be limited to what is necessary and essential.

Even greater care should be taken with matters surrounding the secret work of the security services.They should be given the powers to do the job - but it does us all a dis-service if politicians sell these new laws purely on the sensationalist headlines surrounding terrorism. Equally it is dangerous if we give up our freedoms without question simply because we think we have nothing to hide.

Most of can rest easy thinking that the intelligence services are not interested in us - but what about when our Country goes to war on dubious intelligence or when the people that represent us are spied upon and what about our reputation as a country that promotes democracy and freedom around the world if we give up our freedoms so easily?