Browne warns of the ‘database state’

Desmond Browne QC addresses Tory conference fringe meeting

The Chairman of the Bar, Desmond Browne QC, today warned of the erosion of individual privacy at the hands of the state at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in manchester.

Desmond Browne QC, joint head of chambers at 5RB addressed the question of how the rights of the media and individual citizens may be reconciled with the creeping surveillance powers of the state, provided by legislation in the last decade. Mr Browne reminded the meeting of the then Information Commissioner’s concern aired in 2004 that the United Kingdom was ‘sleepwalking towards a ‘surveillance society.’ In the decade to 2006 some half a billion pounds had been spent on CCTV, he said.
In support of his contention that Government information-sharing and surveillance powers ought to be used conservatively and proportionately, Mr Browne used the example of the Coroners and Justice Bill, currently progressing through Parliament, which originally sought to insert amendments to the Data Protection Act allowing personal information about individuals held by any organisation to be shared with government departments or others without any of the protections contained in the 1998 Act but on the ground that it was ‘necessary to secure a relevant policy objective.’
Mr Browne went on to question whether legislation to safeguard individual privacy such as the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 had been wholly successful. On the issue of how competing interests may be reconciled, Mr Browne set store by the capacity of the common law developed by Judges to achieve flexible results affording no presumption to either individual privacy or competing interests such as security or freedom of expression.