The bill will have significant implications for civil liberties, although some of the changes, such as those relating to the retention of DNA, the reduction of child protection police checks, and police stop and search, have arisen from court rulings rather than a proactive attempt to roll back the state.
The Parliamentary debate can be watched here (it begins at around 17:38 with a statement by Home Secretary Teresa May) and the transcript is here. To whet your appetites, this is part of May’s opening speech:
Today we have a rare opportunity. The Bill gives us a chance to roll back the creeping intrusion of the state into our everyday lives, and to return individual freedoms to the heart of our legislation. Under the last Government, we saw a steady erosion of traditional British liberties and a slow march towards authoritarian government. They presented us with a false choice between our future security and our historic liberties, disregarding any notion of balance between the two.
Updated | The Coalition Government’s Programme for Government, launched on 20th May 2010, made a number of commitments relating to information law, including issues about privacy and data protection. It also stated that the Government would introduce a Freedom Bill.
On Friday last week (11th February) the Protection of Freedoms Bill was duly published, with lengthy explanatory notes stating that it implemented 12 specific commitments in the Programme for Government.
It’s no Magna Carta. Those of us who teach public law in British universities will certainly have to grapple with the Protection of Freedoms Bill. But will it, like the that earlier constitutional text, echo through the centuries into the classrooms of 2311? I doubt it.
Although the Bill’s 107 sections will give Messrs Cameron and Clegg a long list of reforms to rattle off at party conferences it does little to coherently explain the coalition’s view of the appropriate relationship between the state and the citizen. The Government does not know what freedom is, but it knows freedom isn’t having your car immobilised without lawful authority (see section 54). In many respects, the Protection of Freedoms Bill seems to fit exactly with the coalition government’s attitude towards ‘freedom’, ‘liberty’ or – perish the thought – ‘human rights’. It is broadly libertarian but with no real coherent vision for fundamental rights. As a result the Protection of Freedoms Bill is a list of legislative pet hates, many introduced by New Labour, that the coalition wants to do away with.
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