LibDems would scrap ID cards, biometric passports and child database

Nick Clegg writes in Computer Weekly:

High price of government snooping

So new technology can help deliver fairness. But if we have learnt anything from Gordon Brown’s Labour government, it is that it can also be used to limit freedom. Britain has 1% of the world’s population, but 20% of its CCTV cameras. Every minute, some bureaucrat gets access to information about our personal communications, and now the government wants companies to store information about our internet and e-mail use too.

Labour’s passion for intrusive technology has cost us billions. Huge IT commissioning disasters, which go over time and over budget, are a familiar story, like Connecting for Health and C-Nomis. The government’s attempt to hide the details of ongoing public sector IT disasters by shredding Gateway reviews was nothing short of scandalous.

Full review of government IT procurement

We will take a totally different approach. We will end the disasters with a full review of government IT procurement, looking, for example, at the potential for cloud computing to save money, and at more use of open source software too. By reducing the size of public sector contracts we can limit the damage if mistakes are made, and by making it easier for smaller IT companies to bid for contracts we can give the industry a boost.

Crucially, we won’t push through mammoth IT projects that curb people’s freedom. Pointless ID cards are a prime example. We will scrap them to put 3,000 extra police officers on the street – a much better way to catch criminals. We will halt plans for second-generation biometric passports – we don’t need them. We will stop children having their fingerprints taken in school without their parents’ consent – it isn’t right. And we will scrap ContactPoint, the children’s database – it won’t make children safer.

Liberal Democrats won’t use technology to limit freedom. But we will use it to promote fairness. It’s a different approach – one based on our values, and one I hope the readers of Computer Weekly will support.