Page last updated at 21:05 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 22:05 UK

Q&A: Loss of freedoms?

Surveillance screens
Who's watching you?

Shadow home secretary David Davis has dramatically quit Parliament the day after the government narrowly won the vote on 42-days detention for terrorism suspects.

Standing on the steps of Westminster, the Tory MP said he would fight a by-election in his own constituency against the "insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms".

The BBC's Dominic Casciani looks at the key issues raised by Mr Davis.


What did David Davis say?

"Up until yesterday, I took the view that what we did in the House of Commons, representing our constituents, was a noble endeavour because we defended the freedoms of the British people.

"Well we did up until yesterday. Yesterday this house decided to allow the state to lock up potentially innocent British citizens for up to six weeks without charge."

What's the issue?

David Davis led the Tory opposition to the government's plans to hold terrorism suspects for up to 42 days without charge. He and other critics say 42-day detention breaches a fundamental right not to be unlawfully detained, enshrined in the Magna Carta.

What does the government say?

Prime Minister Gordon Brown says the move to 42 days is a measured preparation for a time when police may need extra powers in an exceptional situation. He says the public supports it and the safeguards are strong.


One CCTV camera for every 14 citizens

What did David Davis say?

"A CCTV camera for every 14 citizens."

What's the issue?

Millions have been spent on CCTV cameras, rolled out to deter city centre crime.

The figure quoted by David Davis comes from a guess contained in a fairly old study of cameras in two London streets and is probably an under-estimate of the number of cameras in the UK.

One police officer recently told the BBC CCTV played a part in solving only 3% of crime.

Many cameras play little law and order role because they were not installed for the police's benefit or are not capable of capturing pictures clear enough to be used in evidence.

However, thanks to software that can read number plates and text and isolate specific human behaviour, their importance is increasing.

Controversial "Talking CCTV" has been installed in some areas, whereby control centre staff can speak to people they are watching, asking them to pick up litter or move on.

What does the government say?

Ministers believe CCTV helps people feel safe but Home Office research casts doubt on whether they genuinely cut crime.


What did David Davis say?

"A DNA database bigger than any dictatorship has, with thousands of innocent children and a million innocent citizens on it."

What's the issue?

The national DNA database is extremely controversial, partly because of how easy it is to be added to it and how difficult it can be to get removed.

When it was launched in 1995, only the DNA of convicted criminals could be kept but from 2004 it began holding the DNA of anyone arrested for a recordable offence and detained at a police station.

DNA test
DNA testing can help solve crimes

As of this spring, the database held 4.5m samples - a greater proportion of the population than any other DNA database in the world.

This includes disproportionate numbers of samples from black men, prompting one senior judge to argue that the only way the system can be made fair is to hold everybody's DNA.

What does the government say?

DNA is a key element of the modern crime-fighting toolkit but there are no plans to cover the entire population.

Of the 200,000 samples from people neither charged nor convicted, which would have in the past been removed, the Home Office says 8,500 had been subsequently matched to crime scenes, involving some 14,000 offences including 114 murders, 55 attempted murders and 116 rapes.


What did David Davis say?

"We will have shortly, the most intrusive identity card system in the world.... The creation of a database state opening up our private lives to the prying eyes of official snoopers and exposing our personal data to careless civil servants and criminal hackers."

What's the issue?

The government's apparent determination to press ahead with a national ID card is one of the most controversial issues in national policy and politics.

ID card
ID cards will be gradually phased in

In short, the government wants ID cards as part of plans to fight crime, modernise the state and tackle illegal immigration.

Foreign nationals will soon need to carry a card, followed probably by students, and then others will be encouraged to get a card as a means of making their life easier.

In theory, at some point after 2012 there will be critical mass and Parliament will be asked to make them compulsory.

There are huge concerns over the costs, the practicality of the cards and whether the databases will work and remain secure.

What does the government say? Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told the BBC in March there were "big advantages" to making ID cards as widespread as possible but there needed to be public acceptance.

There have been repeated claims that the government is contemplating a U-turn on ID cards, none of which has been substantiated.

What did David Davis say?

"We have witnessed an assault on jury trials - that bulwark against bad law and its arbitrary use by the state. Short cuts with our justice system that make our system neither firm not fair."

What's the issue?

There have been several moves to limit the right to a trial by jury over the years, two since 1997.

These include attempts to reform how serious fraud trials are heard, because of the complexity of the evidence. Each attempt has failed in Parliament. Legal observers expect another attempt to reform juries in the near future.

What does the government say?

The government has always denied that it is trying to erode defendants' rights - but argues that reforms and modernisation are necessary in the name of effective justice.

Only this week, one of the country's top judges said the jury system "simply cannot survive" if terrorism cases last as long as 14 months.

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