In 2010, as with every General Election, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Labour made a series of manifesto commitments to strengthen the freedoms and privacy of the British public. As a result of its negotiations the Coalition promised a wide ranging programme of reforms and protections. Although some of these promises were kept, many were ignored. At the same time, whilst in opposition, Labour has failed to properly position itself as an authentic or even consistent voice on civil liberties.
Initially steps were taken to curb the excesses of the previous Government. In line with the Coalition Agreement ID cards were scrapped, pre-charge detention was reduced to 14 days and around 1.7million DNA profiles were deleted. It was encouraging to see the introduction of fairer libel laws, the removal of "insulting" from Section 5 of the Public Order Act, the reform of Stop and Search and the creation of the Protection of Freedoms Act which, amongst other things, reformed the way biometric technology can be used in schools.
Unfortunately the past four years have also seen a number of backwards steps. The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act was passed with the bare minimum of debate and in a matter of days under emergency legislation. It was followed by the fast tracked Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. The 'snoopers charter', despite being shelved for now, continues to loom large over any civil liberties debate. These examples show that the Government can and will trade individual liberties for a perceived sense of collective security.
Looking forward the development of the 'Internet of Things' means that vast amounts of our personal data will be shared with an ever increasing number of individuals and companies. The Conservatives' renewed plans for sweeping new powers for the intelligence agencies to access communications data in the event of an election victory mean that the debate around civil liberties and security will continue indefinitely.
To help inform this debate Big Brother Watch this week launch our Manifesto. It proposes ten key areas that deserve consideration in the run-up to the next General Election.
The document focuses on a variety of proposals, such as the strengthening of oversight around the intelligence agencies as well as increasing the amount of evidence they can rely on in courts to secure convictions. Additionally we suggest simplifying the operation of the UK's Counter-Terrorism Strategy by transferring control of it from the Metropolitan Police to the National Crime Agency.
It also re-states our long held concerns over the prevalence of CCTV in our current society. This is an issue that will continue to grow with the development of new technologies such as body worn cameras and drones. In a similar vein the manifesto calls for curbs to the ability of Local Authorities to infringe on personal privacy.
Schemes such as care.data have shown that protecting the personal information of citizens is now more difficult and more important than ever. Big Brother Watch believe that ensuring the proper deterrents are in place to punish those who misuse data is a key step towards giving people peace of mind over how their data is safeguarded.
Looking at the online world it is increasingly vital that the laws that govern our social media activity are updated to suit the ways in which we now communicate with one another. Legislation drafted before the launch of Facebook and in some cases before the creation of the Internet simply cannot provide a proper framework for today's communications. At the same time it is vital that there is clarity and transparency over how the Government's plans to block extremist websites and content are functioning.
We believe that these policy proposals and others contained within the manifesto will not only strengthen and defend civil liberties in the UK but will also enhance the debate around how we can be protected from the threats we face.