It seems to be a cast iron rule of politics that our leaders will become more authoritarian when they take office. The standard explanation for this is that they simply become drunk on power. But at the Time for A Digital Bill of Rights? parliamentary meeting yesterday, Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron gave a more nuanced explanation:
No-one will assent to rules that imply that they may abuse their power.
There is a tendency in the debate around mass surveillance to attribute malign motives to everyone in government and the security services. This in turn alienates those in power, and promotes the belief that civil liberties campaigners are shrill, paranoid exaggerators! So this alternative formulation, which avoids the cod-psychological explanations about power, corruption, and malign motives, is very welcome.
Farron went on to point out that this does not absolve those politicians of blame for neglecting civil liberties. What they forget, he said, is that our laws need to be constructed so as to protect citizens from future corrupt governments. This rather obvious point is often lost on Ministers who are concerned with the here-and-now.