Coalition pledges to cut Big Brother state down to size

An extensive database containing millions of photographs of private homes is to be cut back as part of an attempt to rein in the Big Brother state, the Coalition Government will announce today.

A full review will take place into the operation of the database, amid concerns from Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, that the information it holds has become intrusive and "disproportionate".

Gardens, garages, kitchen refits and other home improvements are all featured in the database, compiled by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) in order to value properties for council tax, according to officials.

Both the Tories and Liberal Democrats went into the general election promising to dismantle far-reaching government databases holding private information. Plans have already been announced to axe Labour's ID card scheme, which has already cost taxpayers £292m, and the ContactPoint database of children.

Under the council tax database, known in Whitehall as the Geographical Information System (GIS), inspectors have the power to enter homes to take pictures if required. Seemingly minor details about shared garages and having a scenic view were also recorded.

Other "value significant codes" log other aspects of each neighbourhood, including noise levels, government sources said. Details are added to basic details about England's 21.7m homes already held by the VOA and used to update council tax bands.

"The new government will protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens from intrusive spies-in-the-sky and halt state inspectors from barging into England's bedrooms and gardens," said Mr Pickles. "We are standing up for the people who have pride in their home, and calling time on Labour's state snoopers and surveillance state."

Further measures to champion civil liberties have also been promised as part of the Freedom Bill, agreed by the coalition partners. It pledged to reform of libel laws to protect freedom of speech, cut the number of criminal offences and rein in the use of CCTV.

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