Britain's new deputy prime minister has pledged to curb the country's extensive system of official surveillance and data collection by scrapping an unpopular national identity card program, limiting the retention of DNA samples and regulating the spread of closed-circuit television cameras (CCTVs).
Nick Clegg said Wednesday the coalition government was rolling back government monitoring after years of complaints from rights groups that personal freedoms have been sacrificed in the name of national security.
"This government will end the culture of spying on its citizens," Clegg said during a speech in north London. "It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding people are regularly treated as if they have something to hide. It has to stop."
The 43-year-old deputy chief, also leader of the Liberal Democrat party, is regarded as having driven a hard bargain on civil liberties in a coalition deal with Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives.
An agreement between the new partners — following an inconclusive election that denied any party a majority — includes almost all of Clegg's party's election pledges on personal freedoms.
Biometric ID halted
Under Clegg's plans, a $7.8-billion plan for national identity cards and a linked database will be halted.
The credit-card sized documents were supposed to include biographical data and biometric details like fingerprints and a facial image, and intended to help prevent terrorism and identity fraud.
Plans to issue sophisticated new passports that will also store biometric data will also be scrapped, Clegg said.
He pledged to impose new regulations aimed at restricting the increasing use of CCTV cameras by local authorities and private businesses. Clegg's office said no specifics have yet been drawn up on how the new regulations will work, but insisted the plans will halt the unwanted creep of cameras into offices, malls and on transit networks.
No figure on the total number of CCTV cameras in Britain is known, though applications under Freedom of Information laws in 2009 disclosed that town halls operate about 60,000 — up from 21,000 in 1999.
Dylan Sharpe, of Big Brother Watch, a campaign group that carried out the 2009 research, said many plans in Clegg's speech appeared sketchy.
"It's brilliant on big ideas, all of which we are in agreement with — but it's not so strong on the detail," Sharpe said.
Clegg vowed to ditch a database that stores biographical, health and educational details of British children. He also promised to ban schools from taking a child's fingerprints without their parent's authorization.
He also promised new restrictions — though didn't offer details — on the retention of DNA profiles of innocent people.