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Gordon Brown on liberty

While this great tradition can be traced back to the Magna Carta, it was the rise of the modern state with all the new powers at its disposal that made the 17th century the pivotal period in the struggle against arbitrary and unaccountable government —— as Britain led the way in the battle for freedom from hierarchical rule, for human rights and for the rule of law.

And tracing Coke’s defence of common law, the work of John Locke and the Bill of Rights of 1689 right through to the first of the Reform Acts, Macaulay concluded that ‘the authority of law and the security of property were found to be compatible with a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known’. (“Speech on Liberty,” Gordon Brown)

It’s a fascinating speech for the depth of understanding it goes through before proposing national ID cards and a DNA database. In today’s United States, I can hardly imagine the President giving a speech this deep or nuanced.

Well worth the read on Guy Fawkes day.

Via the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

[Update: As Nicko suggested in comments, I read too much into this, and in the Queen’s Speech, Brown made no clear mention of ID cards or DNA databases.]

3 comments on "Gordon Brown on liberty"

  • Colin McKay says:

    Thanks for noticing. Brown’s speech has had its detractors in the days since, but you’re right in noting that not many politicians in any country would spend that much time talking about basic philosophical principles.
    Colin McKay
    Director of Communications
    Office of the Privacy Commissioner

  • Nicko says:

    It’s a fascinating speech for the depth of understanding it goes through before proposing national ID cards and a DNA database.
    While not a huge fan of Gordon Brown, I’m hard-pressed to find anything in the speech “proposing national ID cards and a DNA database”, and as such I think your comment is more than a little disingenuous.
    On ID cards he suggests that they have legislated to require “proper accountability to Parliament” (though to date the executive hasn’t been very accountable in terms of budgeting or reporting of progress) but other than that there seems to be nothing in the speech promoting the concept. On DNA (and other biometrics) he merely states that new technology is an important tool in solving crimes, but I don’t see a word suggesting that there should be a national register.
    Did I miss something, or was the attack merely there to promote an editorial agenda?

  • Adam says:

    Am I reading too much into these three quotes?

    And on those occasions where we already have to identify ourselves – when we open a bank account or withdraw money, pay for something, cross borders or register with a GP – citizens themselves are recognising that it is in their interests to have a modern and secure means of identification which better protects against crime, fraud and illegal immigration and also protects each of them as individuals, their property but also their privacy.


    depends not just on natural wealth or on walls or fences but on our ability to use information – in industry, in our schools and universities, at our borders, in our police forces and intelligence services. And it is clear that we can use DNA to help solve crimes


    Today we have the benefit not just of the fingerprint technology of the last century but advances in biometric technology in this, that can protect individuals and society against crime, fraud, illegal immigration and terrorism – and protect for each and every individual our own identity.

    the last, with the juxtapositioning of biometrics to protect each indivduals’ ‘identity,’ seems to me to be an implicit call for some form of national biometric database.

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