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Dominic Grieve: Reversing the rise of the surveillance state

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to this launch of the Conservative Party report, Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State. I must also thank Microsoft for generously offering to host this event.

You will see from the reports available in the room that we propose 11 measures to protect personal privacy and hold government to account. After Friday's announcement by the Government of the details of its Vetting and Barring scheme, requiring millions of parents and volunteers to prove their innocence, on pain of paying a £5,000 fine, you'd better make that 12 measures.

A Conservative government will review this arbitrary scheme to ensure a better, common sense, balance between privacy and the presumption of innocence on the one hand, and child protection on the other. This new Safeguarding Authority is symptomatic of a much broader sea-change in the relationship between the citizen and the state over recent years.

It may not have started in 1997. But it has certainly gathered enormous momentum since then. Let me be clear from the outset. No-one is suggesting we should not harness IT or surveillance technology to strengthen public protection. I am not amongst those who nostalgically yearn for some luddite return to a pre-technological age. But, the Government's approach to databases and surveillance powers is the worst of all worlds. Intrusive. Ineffective. And enormously expensive.

We have the most CCTV cameras in the world, but for 1,000 cameras in London just one crime is solved per year. We have a DNA database with a million citizens swabbed and stored on it, but not all the convicted criminals. We have ID cards that can't stop terrorists, illegal immigration or benefit fraud. We have a series of IT systems that hoard personal data on us, but the butter fingers of the database state lost the entire nation's child benefit records in the post. And we have intrusive surveillance powers now used to monitor children walking home from school, check the permits of paper boys, and even follow dog-walkers to check where their canines poop.

Are we safer as a result? I doubt it. Violent crime has nearly doubled. The terrorist threat has risen to an all time high. And anti-social behaviour remains a scourge across our towns and cities. The vulnerability of public sector database's coupled with incompetent management has undermined public confidence. Little wonder that 9 out of 10 people do not trust the Government with their personal data.

Let's also remember the costs involved. ID cards have been independently estimated to cost £19 billion. And time and time again, public sector databases have run over their estimated costs, and that's before taking into account the costs of clearing up when things go wrong. These have proved to be enormously wasteful and inefficient investments of taxpayers' money as we struggle through a recession.

The money would have yielded a far greater security dividend if it had been focused on practical measures, like visible policing, a border police force, and building enough prison places, so we didn't have to release sixty-thousand criminals from jail early.

But there is a deeper lesson here about governance, delivery of public services, and public protection. We cannot run government robotically. We cannot protect the public through automated systems. We cannot eliminate the need for human judgment calls on risk, whether to children, or from criminal and terrorist threats. And we can never eliminate all risk, it is part and parcel of ordinary life.

So my fear about the new vetting scheme for volunteers is not just the reversal of the presumption of innocence, but also the false sense of security it risks creating. Just remember the stinging criticism of the Soham inquiry for the basic failure to check Ian Huntley's references when he applied to be a school caretaker. For all the soul-searching that followed the Baby P case a similar point can be made about failings that meant health and social workers did not pick up the signs of abuse.

Over-reliance on the database state has proved a woefully poor substitute for human judgment and care on the frontline of public service delivery. The state has encroached on the privacy of the innocent citizen, but delivered precious little in return.

So today, Eleanor Laing and I are launching the Conservative response to the rise of a surveillance society in Britain. It is based on five central principles:

Fewer mammoth databases, that are better run.

Fewer personal details held by the state, stored accurately and on a need-to-know basis.

Greater checks and personal control over the sharing of our data by government.

And stronger duties on government to keep our private information safe.

These are followed by a series of practical measures from scrapping ID cards and Contact Point to strengthening the role of the Information Commissioner.

We are not looking to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But we do want to re-calibrate the relationship between the citizen and the state. This government has undermined public trust in that relationship. A Conservative government is committed to restoring it. This report provides a blueprint of how we will go about it."

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