Magazine article The Spectator

Brown's Security Strategy Is the Worst of All Worlds

Magazine article The Spectator

Brown's Security Strategy Is the Worst of All Worlds

Article excerpt

As shadow home secretary for five years, it became an office joke that, faced with difficult policy questions, I would demand 'get me the evidence!' I am a scientist by training and, while 69 per cent of the public believe I took a principled stance in resigning from Parliament, that decision was also based on a rigorous empirical assessment of the evidence. The reality is that the relentless stream of repressive measures taken by this government over the last eleven years -- whether 42 days pre-charge detention or any other -- has not made us any safer. In many cases, they have jeopardised our security. In other cases, they are an irrelevant distraction -- of time, resources and energy -- from the real job at hand, namely protecting the public.

Terrified of the electorate, Gordon Brown decided that Labour would not contest the by-election occasioned by my resignation, even gagging ministers from debating the government's record. Yet he could not resist responding to my resignation in a speech he gave on 17 June in the cosy confines of his favourite think-tank. That speech made two things crystal clear. First, he stands behind the sustained assault on British liberty, so expect more to come. Second, he has no idea about the effectiveness of his security policies.

Take 42 days. Mr Brown said it was difficult to claim that the change in the terrorist threat was not 'serious enough to justify change in our laws'. Yet he offered no evidence to justify yet another extension -- the limit quadrupled between 2003 and 2005 -- which explains why the Director of Public Prosecutions concluded that the 42 days proposal was 'unnecessary' and 'irrelevant'.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner conceded there was no evidence. Others who support 42 days, like Ken Jones (president of ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers), quietly confessed they had not scrutinised the evidence. Nor had ministers. Jacqui Smith pointed to the alleged Heathrow 2006 plot to blow ten airliners out of the sky. Five cases had gone to 28 days, so surely Ken Jones was right to say police were 'up against the buffers'? In fact, the evidence showed that all the main players in the conspiracy were charged within 21 days. Of the five held for 28 days, three were innocent (released without any further suspicion).

The other two were charged with less serious offences based on evidence obtained after 4 and 12 days, not up against the wire. They were both subsequently bailed -- hardly high risk cases. So, the DPP was right. They had coped 'comfortably' within the 28-day limit.

If 42 days is unnecessary, it will also jeopardise security. Colonel Tim Collins, the hero from Iraq who has fought terrorists from the IRA to Al-Qa'eda, is the latest to warn that 42 days is a draconian response that plays straight into the hands of the terrorists. It will also harm intelligence. The government's own impact assessment points out that 42 days risks cutting off local community intelligence. Mr Brown lectures that 42 days 'ensures both our tradition of liberty and our need for security'. But the evidence roundly refutes him on both counts.

Next up, ID cards. Mr Brown claimed that biometric technology offers 'one of the best examples of how we can confront the modern criminal while respecting liberties'.

Experts say just the reverse. By clustering masses of personal data on one vulnerable database, ID cards create what Microsoft's national technology officer calls a 'honeypot' for hackers and terrorists -- not least since the biometric technology can be cloned with a gadget costing £100. …

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