The Sunday Times is yet again alleging that it has had sight of supposedly secret correspondence between the Home Secretary David Blunkett and the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, the chairman of the cabinet?s domestic affairs committee i.e. just like the leaks on the cabinet splits on Identity Cards.
This time, David Blunkett seems to be planning to:
"The home secretary?s legislation would allow probation officers to submit convicted paedophiles to US-style polygraph tests, measuring breathing, heart rate and sweat, to help assess whether they are safe to remain in the community.
In a letter to cabinet colleagues, Blunkett admits that the proposals ?are not without controversy? and is seeking legal clearance from Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general."
David Blunkett seems to revel in controversy, especially when he keeps proposing unproven technological fixes to social or political problems, with no understanding of the technicalities or any clue about the actual costs and practicalities of such projects..
"His letter has already provoked one cabinet minister, Patricia Hewitt, the trade secretary and former head of the National Council for Civil Liberties, into demanding further evidence before a decision is reached. Government sources believe other civil libertarians in the cabinet, such as Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, and Alistair Darling, the transport secretary, are likely to back Hewitt"
Hold on a second, Jack Straw is a "civil libertarian" ???
This will come as news to those of people who opposed his repressive policies when he was Home Secretary, responsible for overly complicated and unworkable legislation such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, part III of which regarding the seizure of private cryptographic keys, has still not been brought into force, and the hugely repressive Terrorism Act 2000 and the massive Government subsidies to install thousands of CCTV surveillance cameras, without providing any privacy regulations.
Since when did Alistair Darling, the transport secretary become a "civil libertarian" either ? He is planning a "GPS satellite technology" and Automatic Number Plate Recognition road pricing scheme for the whole country, which will by definition also be a massive "Big Brother" surveillance system. He is also responsible, together with David Blunkett, for the betrayal of excessively detailed airline passenger name records to foreign governments. His time in charge of the Department for Work and Pensions was hardly characterised by an increase in civil liberties in that vast and complicated bureaucracy.
It is very strange how Patricia Hewitt and Fiona Mactaggart, both of whom have been involved in civil liberties before they became Labour Ministers, seem to have virtually no influence on the surveillance technology mad "soundbite policies" of the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Who still believes their slogan of "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" ?
"The new powers will be included in a correctional services bill in the Queen?s speech this autumn"
Some obvious questions:
- So where is the 12 week statutory Consultation on these measures ?
- Where is the evidence that this approach would be any better than just locking up a sample of those out on bail at random ?
- If there is any effect on recidivism in countries which use this technology, how can anyone be sure that it is due to the lie detector tests themselves, rather than the fact that somebody actually cares enough to bother to provide sufficient budget to arrange follow up interviews with the offenders ? In the UK, most of these offenders and mental patients seem to be dumped into the community with little or no follow up.
- Is the plan to use some sort of sphygnomanometer or even a device like the RigiScan which "measures penile tumescence and rigidity" ?
- Is this "lie detector" to be used only on "paedophiles" or on the whole range of the 60,000 or so sexual offenders on the ViSOR (Violent and Sexual Offender Register), with different rates of recidivism, ranging from murderers and rapists to those who have been convicted of possesion of internet pornography or sex whilst they were just under the age of consent ?
- How many "lie detectors" are going to be used, how frequently (weekly ? monthly ? annually ?) and how much will it all cost (including extra staff costs) ?
- A "lie detector" is not as simple to operate reliably and accurately as a breathalyser test device. Are there actually enough skilled "lie detector" operators available to deal with the expected number of tests ? How are professional training and standards to be supervised ? Who pays for this ? Local government police budgets or central government ?
- Will the Home Office, in its usual "let's try and grab infinite powers from Parliament" style of legislation word the Bill so that "lie detectors" can be used for other offences, perhaps for every offence ?
- What is to prevent attempts to use "lie detectors" before convictions are obtained ?
- Is the real reason for the "lie detector" tests a plan to release even more "convicted paedophiles" into the community rather than to build more prisons, given the Home Office and Treasury's arbitrary plan to "stabilise" the currently overcrowded 75,000 or so prison population at no more than 85,000, regardless of the actual number of convicts ?
- Is this new plan by David Blunkett actually an admission that his previous brainwave of "satellite electronic tags" on cannot actually enforce "no go zones" accurately enough to protect potential victims from "paedophiles" or violent offenders ?
- Should "lie detectors" be used on politicians ?