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  1. Politics
8 May 2009

A perpetually benevolent state

By Paul Evans

Don’t know much biology

DNA, according to top boffins and Joe Strummer, is “all coded in the initial phase”. There’s no escaping it. And nor should there be according to Harriet Harman, a former legal officer for Liberty, who claims that those who set themselves in opposition to the government retaining our biological essence are “putting themselves against justice”.

The government’s almost mockingly modest plans to slim down their retention of innocent people’s DNA data following a recent European Court of Human Rights’ ruling, will allow the Home Office to continue to hold DNA samples for either 6 or 12 years – and prompted no small degree of unrest among Britain’s keyboard warriors. The aptly named Glyn Moody regarded the announcement as reprehensible, remarking: “Yet again this government shows its deep contempt for international courts, and demonstrates its profoundly cynical belief that the innocent simply haven’t been proved guilty yet”.

Many felt this way. But rushing to the Harman’s side came blogging backbencher Kerry McCarthy, who defended the proposals on the basis of their potential to help solve sex crimes, concluding:

“Are your ‘civil liberties’ really so precious that you’d be prepared to have these crimes on your conscience?”

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Her rather provocative use of condescending inverted commas drew an admirably measured response from fellow Bristolian Steve Loughran, who wrote:

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“Yes. Because the alternative: ubiquitous police state based on 7×24 monitoring of all communications, activities and movement is based on the assumption that the police are there for your benefit,” noting that Labour’s plans rest on the presumption of a perpetually benevolent state.

A speaker at Lib Dem conference once argued that his colleagues must be vigilent in pressing for limits on the powers of the state, because if in government his party would be “just as bad”. Loughran makes the point that the alternatives may be considerably worse.

And it was a Liberal Democrat, in the form of Welsh Assembly Member Peter Black, who asserted that “The Home Office really are just trying to get away with doing as little as possible when they should be focusing resources and their energy on catching criminals, rather than persecuting the innocent. Meanwhile, a hop across the pond, our cousins on The Huffington Post were equally unimpressed with the Home Office. “Britain has truly become the home of Big Brother,” was the consensus.

Not everyone was so wound up though. Driver Rob was quite enamoured by the prospect, soothingly explaining: “There would be no need for any other data except some unique identifier like your N.I. number. What harm can it do you?”

For those who are interested: Rob was born in 1946, married in 1973 and teaches physics. For further details, give it six months and ask a vaguely competent hacker.

What have we learned this week?

That if Virago Press appointed Jim Davidson as chief commissioning editor, it would end more happily than Derek Draper’s editorship of Labour List. In his resignation statement Draper reminded beleaguered readers that due to email infiltration “what was a silly idea ultimately destined for the trash can became a national scandal,” and handed the chalice to deputy Alex Smith. “Sounds like shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic”, despaired leading Labour blogger Kerron Cross.

Around the World

In cheerless Reykjavík, the Iceland Weather Report‘s Alda finds a story to warm the cockles. Japsy Jacob, a young Indian living in the east of the country is currently threatened with deportation and in consequence, forced marriage. But residents are rallying to her side, in a campaign reminiscent of the heroic Shetland effort to keep Sakchai Makao from being deported from their islands.

Video of the Week

“Relevant” and “funny” aren’t terms often applied to Dire Straits, but Mark Knopfler’s observations on the state of the British economy in the early 1980s now have a renewed resonance. “History boils over, there’s an economics freeze/ Sociologists invent words that mean Industrial Disease,” he sagely opined.

Quotes of the Week

“When they are reduced to accusing people who believe those cleared of crimes should not have their DNA stored on a database of being ‘against justice’ you know they have lost the debate. Role on the General Election, it’s clear we need rid of them now.”

‘Davidee2’ on Labour Home

“The Tridents are not weapons of mass destruction.”

Nadine Dorries on the nuclear warheads carried by Britain’s ballistic missile submarines.