David Goodhart, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.

Via NO2ID an article by David Goodhart on the database state. It starts badly and goes downhill from there on in.

We are not living in a police state.

Quite right, we are not. What we have is the apparatus in place waiting for someone to throw the switch (Civil Contingencies (2004) Act).

Not even a remotely authoritarian one. In fact we, all of us, have never enjoyed so much liberty—personal, political and legal.

WTF!?! Where has this man been this past five or six years? Has he tried taking photographs in a public place recently? Presumably he is not one of those unfortunates stopped and subjected to a humiliating search under section 44 of the anti-terrorism act. Presumably, he has not been subjected to surveillance under RIPA for leaving the wrong rubbish in his bin or trying to get his children into the “wrong” school. Presumably he hasn’t had some jumped-up little jobsworth slap him with a fixed penalty notice for accidentally dropping a cigarette end or feeding the birds. Of course it is an authoritarian state and this has become worse, much worse, since the Twin Towers attacks. This much is observably true even if you only look at the obsessive binge legislating carried out by a reactionary and authoritarian executive and not merely the unexpected consequences and the petty little jobsworths empowered by such. If Goodhart believes that liberty has improved he is either a fool, a liar or blind.

When I read the actual litany of complaint against the government, I felt unmoved. Forty-two days detention without charge and control orders (which apply to just 17 people)? True, 42 days (which was rejected by parliament) is a long time but suspects are under constant judicial review—and both measures were a response to a real threat, something that never seems to feature in the liberty lobby discourse. Then there is the surveillance state—CCTV cameras and DNA databases. Nowhere have I heard of innocent people suffering injustice as a result of either technology and, as the father of four children who often travel on their own around central London, I find the cameras reassuring (on some estimates half of all British transport police convictions are won thanks to CCTV evidence).

Unmoved by innocent people being locked up for 42 days without charge? I think we can see which mast this man has nailed his colours to. Maybe he would change his mind if it was he who was held without charge, without access to the evidence and had his life ruined as a consequence. That’s the problem with such people, they always assume that it will be someone else at the wrong end of this legislation. As for the threat, real it may be – so, too, is it over-hyped and over-stated. The response is therefore disproportionate. How many people, exactly, have died as a consequence of terrorist action in this country in recent years? Less than a hundred and for this we are all being treated as suspects. If Goodhart has not heard of innocent people suffering then he is a piss-poor journalist. And if CCTV makes him feel safe, he is an idiot.

These rebels without a cause might, in normal times, be mildly risible. But these are not normal times: the combination of new technology and the ever rising expectations that the public have of state services means that we are unavoidably living in a new era of the database state, and a cool, technocratic debate is required to establish its parameters. The shrill politicisation of the liberty lobby makes this harder.

What is risible is Patsies like Goodhart trotting out government propaganda as if it is true. We are not rebels without a cause; liberty is a cause espoused by humanity throughout history. Someone who thinks that a database is “cool” really is a fool – which, I think, answers my earlier question about this man.

We are moving from a world of privacy by default to one in which privacy must be designed into our systems. The modern social democratic state needs lots of data about us in order to fulfil the demands we make on it; not just trivial things like our bank account details to pay in pensions or tax credits but much more personal things like health records—to make sure we get the right treatment at the right time.

No, it doesn’t. My doctor has my health records. No other person needs to see them unless they are treating me and they can be made available to such people. No one else needs access and no justification can be made for it. I am not interested in making things “easier” for bureaucrats, I am interested in ensuring that only the appropriate people have access to sensitive personal and private information – only those people carrying out treatment.

If there is too much suspicion of the state, and too many data protection rules, the state cannot give us what we want. Equally, if there are no rules or inadequate rules to protect the more sensitive information about citizens then there is the potential for abuse, either accidentally or intentionally. At present we risk getting the worst of both worlds.

What I want is for it to butt out of my life and leave me alone. Where I need to interact with the state, I will give it enough information for the necessary transaction. There is no need for it to have any more. For the most part, I want no interaction with the state and want nothing of its “services”.

Nonetheless, the liberty lobby is unimaginatively one-sided. People want privacy where it matters, but they are also prepared to trade it off for other things—like safety from terrorism, or to stop tragedies like Baby P.

No we are not. And bringing in child abuse is the tactic of a charlatan.

In fact, people happily give up their privacy every day to private or public bodies in return for the smallest convenience. Take Google’s new “latitude” website. It allows you to register your mobile phone. If you do this, and your friends do too, you can see where everyone is on a map, located by the chip in their phone. On a night out in central London, or in downtown New York, this could be very useful: has everyone got to the party or are they already moving on? Latitude has caused a minor storm among the privacy lobby—but you can be sure it will be popular.

Jesus Christ! This man has all the intellectual capacity of the average Labour drone. People choose to sign up with such services. They are denied choice with government databases. See the difference there? If people wish to trade their privacy for some perceived convenience, then that is up to them. However, others of us can choose not to. There is no law making us sign up to Google.

It might be useful if we started to see our data as similar to tax, something we willingly surrender to the authorities in return for various benefits, but over which there is also a political negotiation about how much to surrender. The liberty lobby, in this analogy, becomes the Thatcherite Taxpayers’ Alliance of the database state—wanting individuals to hoard their data and leaving the state powerless to serve citizens as it could.

Moreover, by turning these complex, technical debates into a story of noble defenders of liberty versus cynical, power-grabbing tyrants (whether politicians or officials) the liberty lobby reinforce the lazy anti-politics of the age—a sort of Ukip for the chattering classes.

Personal data is not like tax. Not remotely and there is no justification for us giving it to the government where it is not absolutely necessary for them to interact with us. I do not willingly surrender it and will not. I do not owe the state anything beyond tax due. Nothing. Nada. Nil. There is nothing to negotiate. I will allow the HMRC enough information for them to deal with my tax affairs. They do not need any more information than that. Unless I choose to pay by direct debit, they do not need my bank details for example. They do not need my email address unless I choose to interact with them online. They most certainly do not need access to other information such as telephone number, mobile number or anything else. Therefore, they will not have it.

Finally, the only laziness going on here is a poorly researched article that is more befitting a students’ union debate – although I suspect that the students might just make a better fist of it. D minus.


Update: Oops, I misread “cool technocratic debate” – consequently my remark on that makes no sense whatsoever. My bad.


  1. The phrase “cool, technocratic debate” is very revealing, even if it wasn’t for the tone of the whole piece – Goodhart’s debate would be between ‘experts’ and wouldn’t involve the sweaty masses. He wants a state and society where ‘benevolent’ experts decide what is good for you, and to make the best decisions they need to know everything.

    Goodhart makes a classic error here. Technocratic societies are never benevolent, they are oppressive and serve their own agenda, not that of the people. Governments always abuse their powers, and the more power you give them, the more you will be abused. Goodhart’s position is that the people should bend over and hope that the state wears a condom when it f*cks them up the arse.

  2. To summarise, Mr ‘good’hart is a CUNT of the highest order. And frankly should be fistal stimulised to death.

  3. LR

    Goodhart’s opinions shouldn’t come as a surprise. He is a fully paid-up member of the political class and was, after all, a senior reporter at the Financial Times (the “pink-un” in colour and politics). As well as being a complete prat (as evidenced by the article you’ve torn to pieces) he sees the financial crisis as a fantastic opportunity for the Islington tendency to rule the world. It’s a shame Goodhart doesn’t listen to his wife who – even though she is an FT columnist – is generally a fund of common sense.

  4. Gah. I posted this the other day:

    “If we choose to trust people to have children, rather than the state producing and raising our future generations in test tubes, all children cannot and will not be prevented from falling through the net, no matter how much we might prefer this to be otherwise – unless we are also prepared to live in a totalitarian society and give up our precious liberties, one by one.

    It is an uncomfortable question, and one which the government relies on no-one daring to answer honestly – but is the theoretical possibility of the continued existence of child abuse a price to pay for us all – children and adults – to live in a more cohesive, sustainable and naturally protective society?

    I’m going to be brave, and say that yes, it is. Anyone else?”

    He can put that in his Baby P pipe and smoke it.

  5. I’m going to be brave, and say that yes, it is. Anyone else?”

    Yes. Unequivocally, yes. For the same reason that I do not want the state to “protect me from terrorists”. I’ll take my chances in the jungle thank you rather than live in the totalitarian’s gilded cage.

  6. Anyone else?

    Yes, absolutely. Count me in.

    Fools cry “This must never happen again!”

    Fools believe that child abuse can be rooted out.

    Fools think that the state can stop parents torturing and killing their children.

    But only fools.

    Emotionally, these are very attractive slogans. But this is the real world, and these things will happen. If you try to ensure that they never happen again, you will get a totalitarian state.

    And no matter how nice it looks at first, it will end up torturing and killing adults and children by the thousand.

  7. Goodhart’s contemptible nonsense certainly draws up the battle lines, let us hope people have the sense to boot his ilk out of the governmental process altogether.

    Since the Saatchification of politics in the awful 1979 election, Government has built a formidable marketing department desperate to sell meddlesome interference to the private citizen in order to fill the enormous gap between requirement and delivery on the huge matters which are important – warfare, finance and foreign policy. Thus we get the disastrous (to the pub industry) smoking ban whilst the spivs in the city are busy gambling away the next generation’s cash unnoticed by the loathsome nannies who are in office.

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