Page last updated at 22:29 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

Clegg says only the Lib Dems will curb 'snooping state'

CCTV cameras
The UK has the most cameras in Europe, the Lib Dems say

The Lib Dems would restore people's right to privacy which has been "trampled" on by the government, party leader Nick Clegg has said.

In a speech in London, Mr Clegg claimed the state had intruded more and more into peoples' lives under Labour.

He highlighted the growth of CCTV cameras, the retention of innocent people's DNA and ID cards as evidence of "endless snooping" by government.

Ministers say such measures are needed to help tackle crime and terrorism.

Addressing the civil liberties group Privacy International, Mr Clegg said the forthcoming general election - expected to be on 6 May - was an opportunity for people "to take their privacy back".

He cited the ID cards scheme, the fact the UK had become a "world leader" in surveillance cameras, and the growth of databases holding personal information as signs that the government risked sacrificing liberty in the pursuit of security.

Under Labour, he said, the DNA of more than a million people never charged with an offence or convicted was stored on a national database while 4,300 new criminal offences had been introduced since 1997.

'Flagrant disregard'

The number of cases in which government departments and officials had lost people's personal data was "staggering", he added.

"Labour has spent 13 years trampling over people's privacy," he said.

"Labour's flagrant disregard for our privacy flies in the face of hard-won British liberty. It betrays a deep distrust of the British people, as well as an obsession with controlling every aspect of everyday life from Whitehall."

Only the Liberal Democrats will bring an end to the endless snooping on innocent people
Nick Clegg

If they win power, the Lib Dems have pledged to introduce legislation to safeguard basic liberties, strengthen data protection laws, "restore" the right to peaceful protest and abolish ID cards.

The Conservatives have also said they will abolish ID cards and introduce a new Bill of Rights to stop the "erosion" of civil liberties but Mr Clegg argued that the Tories' commitment to the issue was skin-deep.

"The Conservatives talk a good game on privacy but scratch beneath the surface and it is clear they cannot be trusted to roll back Labour's surveillance state," he said.

"Only the Liberal Democrats will bring an end to the endless snooping on innocent people."

Last year a Lords Committee warned that electronic surveillance and collection of personal data were "pervasive" in society and threatened to undermine democracy.

Ministers say the DNA database, which is the largest in the world, is vital for tackling crime and it has given the police possible leads on an offender's identity in nearly half a million cases over the last decade.

In the face of widespread criticism, the government has proceeded with ID cards, saying they will tackle illegal working and immigration abuse and disrupt the use of false identities by criminals and terrorists.

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