Top Tory resigns over 'database state'

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, has resigned over a multitude of personal liberty issues, including the 42-day detention limit, ID cards, DNA databases and CCTV
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Shadow home secretary David Davis has resigned over what he called "the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government".

Following a vote by the House of Commons on Wednesday to extend the length of time terrorist suspects can be held without charge from 28 days to 42 days, Davis made his resignation speech outside Parliament on Thursday. He said he intends to force a by-election at his constituency in Haltemprice and Howden (in Yorkshire), to bring to the attention of the British public the "relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms" such as habeas corpus. He also railed against the proposed identity cards system, the DNA database of schoolchildren, and the proliferation of CCTV.

"In truth, 42 days is just one, perhaps the most salient example, of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms," said Davis in his speech. "We will have, shortly, the most intrusive identity card system in the world; a CCTV camera for every 14 citizens; [and] a DNA database bigger than any dictatorship has, with thousands of innocent children and millions of innocent citizens on it."

Davis said British citizens had witnessed the creation of a "database state", which had opened up our private lives to "the prying eyes of official snoopers, and exposing our personal data to careless civil servants and criminal hackers".

"This cannot go on, it must be stopped," said Davis. "And for that reason I feel it is incumbent on me to take a stand. I will be resigning my membership of this House, and I intend to force a by-election in Haltemprice and Howden. I will fight it, I will argue this by-election, against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government."

"Now that may mean I've made my last speech to the house. It is possible, and of course would be a cause of deep regret to me, but at least my electorate, and the nation as a whole, would have had the opportunity to debate and consider one of the most fundamental issues of our day: the ever intrusive power of the state into our lives, the loss of privacy, the loss of freedom, and the steady attrition undermining the rule of law," Davis added.

In response to the news of Davis's resignation, Phil Booth, one of the co-ordinators of the No2ID campaign, said on Thursday: "No2ID applauds David Davis's extraordinary decision to put his career on the line in denouncing the destruction of our basic liberties." Booth continued: "This principled move by such a serious and respected politician clearly acknowledges the database state as one of the principle threats to our freedoms. We knew he was very robust in his opposition to ID cards and the database state, but I'm not sure anyone expected something like this."

The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, appeared to suggest there might be an ulterior motive behind Davis's resignation. "Faced with a crucial decision on the safety and protection of the British public, the Conservatives have collapsed into total disarray on what is their first big policy test since they have come under greater scrutiny," she said on Thursday. "David Cameron must come clean on what has really happened and why David Davis has really resigned."

The Liberal Democrats have agreed not to contest the triggered by-election, in a show of solidarity with the Conservative MP. Davis will be replaced as shadow home secretary by Dominic Grieve, the member of parliament for Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.

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