British leader vows to scale back surveillance of citizenry
LONDON — Britain’s new deputy prime minister pledged yesterday to lead a sweeping drive to protect civil liberties by curbing official surveillance and data collection, scrapping an unpopular national identity card program, limiting the retention of DNA profiles, and regulating the spread of closed-circuit TV cameras.
Nick Clegg said 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. “It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding people are regularly treated as if they have something to hide. It has to stop.’’
He also promised to institute changes in the country’s political system — including the right to recall errant lawmakers.
“It is time for a wholesale, big-bang approach to political reform,’’ Clegg said. “And that’s what this government will deliver.’’
Clegg, 43, who is 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.
Some aspects of British surveillance have served as a model for officials in other nations, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He visited London recently to see centers where a vast network of security cameras are monitored.
Under Clegg, a $7.3 billion plan for national identity cards and a linked database will be halted. The credit-card-size documents were planned to include biographical data and biometric details like fingerprints and a facial image.
Plans to issue new passports that could store biometric data also will be scrapped.
Clegg pledged to restrict the use of CCTV cameras by local authorities and businesses.
Dylan Sharpe of Big Brother Watch, an advocacy group, said many of the plans appeared sketchy.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the campaign group Liberty, said many of Clegg’s plans were “music to the ears of human rights campaigners.’’