Leading article: Blair delivers less than justice

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The Independent Online

No one thinks that Mr Blair wants to spy on his political opponents, but the very idea of parliamentary privilege is a vital bulwark against undemocratic temptations that might be felt by leaders as yet unknown.

They take this sort of thing more seriously in the United States, where the furore over George Bush's secret authorisation of eavesdropping on telephone conversations has yet to die down. In the US, the constitution is held to prohibit government spying on citizens. In this country, the protection of privacy in the Human Rights Act does not command such universal respect, not least because of a vicious right-wing campaign against legal protections for the human rights of unpopular minorities.

Hence there is little resistance against which the certainties of Mr Blair can push. Last Monday, he was quite explicit about the reversal of the burden of proof in laws against antisocial behaviour. Recipients of on-the-spot fines for graffiti, for example, are guilty unless they challenge the fine and prove their innocence. That may be a compromise worth making in minor cases, but alarm bells should ring when he speaks of people found with large amounts of cash being required to prove that they did not obtain it by selling drugs. These powers could be misused by persons of less saintly purpose. As Andrew Mackinlay, defender of parliamentary democracy, puts it: "Governments can never be trusted on their own not to confuse national interest with what is in their political interest."

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