Letters: Databases

Databases are here to stay, but who owns the data?

Related Topics

In the debate on identity cards, none of your correspondents have denied the need for passports, driving licences or National Insurance numbers, so there is a general acceptance that databases will exist and a realist will have to accept that they will proliferate.

Realists also have to accept that searching such databases to "join the dots" is going to be a valuable tool for the police, the security services, health research etc. The key issue is what will constitute abuse of the personal information they hold and how should that be prevented.

Technology will not prevent abuse because the human involvement will always be open to carelessness or corruption. Technology can though provide very clear audit trails on accesses to databases and deter snooping by the more officious official, tawdry journalist or insecure politician, because the abuse will be evident after the event.

However the databases need to be managed by an independent body responsible solely to the people whose data they hold. Each individual must have the right to know and correct the data held on them and to know who has accessed it, without any exceptions, even for "security".

Criminals and terrorists will not in practice draw attention to themselves by making inquiries, but if they do they should be told; it might tie the hands of the authorities but such compromises lie at the heart of the correct balance between the state and civil liberties. Sure, your identity will be closely documented – it already is – at least it will be in your ownership.

Jon Hawksley

London EC1

Doug Wilde's letter pointing out the requirement of supermarkets for proof of persons being over 25 (letter, 8 July) raises concerns not just about ID cards being introduced by stealth but also who actually makes the laws in this country.

In a Lake District pub I recently saw a notice requiring people to prove they were over 21 before buying alcohol. When I inquired of the landlord as to how the drinking age had gone up from 18 without me hearing about it, he advised that the local licensing authority and the police were insisting on it. I thought our elected representatives in Parliament, or, even worse, Brussels, made the law in this country rather than local bureaucrats and bobbies.

Colin Burke


Hope for a quick and painless death

Dominic Lawson conjures up a vision of Britain teeming with potential granny-murderers ("Death, dignity and the darker side of family dynamics", 7 July)

I have never met anyone who has not expressed a wish to have a quick and painless death, or who has expressed a wish to live on to the bitter end, regardless of quality of life. Furthermore, in my experience families do indeed love their "loved ones" and find standing by while a "loved one" slowly dies one of the most distressing experiences possible.

Having seen my father slowly die from cancer and my mother's wit, intellect, memory and spirit shredded by a massive stroke, I know that I should do all that I could to avoid a similar fate. Given that most of the population know when enough is enough, it seems daft that our law is so opposed to the majority view.

Dan Kantorowich

Brigstock, Northamptonshire

Dominic Lawson asserts that it is "absolutely standard" for doctors to prescribe very powerful painkillers, such as diamorphine (heroin) when death is "imminent".

Unfortunately doctors often have very little or no contact with many "routinely" dying patients, such as nursing home residents, and even if they do are often reluctant to prescribe adequate pain relief (and sedation ). Let us hope that Mr Lawson and his family – whatever their particular dynamics – never end up in this situation.

Don Aston

Solihull, West Midlands

I hope that euthanasia will be available on the National Health by the time I come to need it. My only fear is that I shall be told there is a six-month waiting list, though "you could go to tomorrow if you went privately".

Christopher Pearce

London W5

Quangos and the safety culture

David Cameron advocates a bonfire of the quangos and earlier this week on the Today programme, he suggested that only those with a technical function like the inspection of nuclear installations might be kept. He particularly poured scorn on those that make policy and endlessly lobby through their press departments.

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is part of the Health and Safety Executive and one can only assume he has it in for the latter in his bonfire party. He is in good company with Max Hastings who recently raised a round of applause on Any Questions by saying he would abolish the HSE. Much of the nonsense aimed at the HSE should be directed to local authorities and schools who don't understand risk or are frightened of being sued by you and me if we cut our thumb at a village fete or trip on a pavement.

The HSE is there to protect people at work. In 2007/08, there were 229 people killed in the workplace and 6 million days lost to workplace injury. Goodness knows what these figures would be like in a Cameron and Hastings fantasy world.

Nigel Fox

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

I have spent the last fortnight in Canada. During that time I photographed policemen in the street without being challenged or shot. We ate several products with no advisory "sell by" dates on the packaging – and lived. At Ottawa airport I observed many plane-spotters pursuing their harmless hobby observing or photographing aircraft, both inside the terminal building and around the perimeter fence. At Gatwick this morning we entered the baggage reclaim area, and saw a sign saying "No photography" in a room full of . . . . luggage carousels.

Colin Hayward

Fareham, Hampshire

Still a loophole for war criminals

Following the announcement of a proposed change in UK law to enable prosecution of those who may have committed war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, Gordon Brown declared that such suspects can no longer hide from justice. Actually it would appear that many of them can, because of loopholes within this law ("New powers to prosecute war criminals living in UK", 8 July).

The proposed change applies only to UK residents and ignores the numerous people living in the UK on student or spousal visas, work permits or those simply visiting. It would be a dismal failing on the part of the Government to let suspects slip through their fingers on account of a residency technicality.

Decisive action must now be taken to ensure that the UK can seek to prosecute anyone suspected of committing these horrid crimes as soon as they step foot on UK soil. Only then will such suspects no longer be able to hide from justice.

Kate Allen

UK Director, Amnesty International, London EC2

Batteries not quite included

Your feature (29 June) on electric vehicles (EVs) carries the headline "Batteries included", which is misleading.

It is expected that for mainstream electric cars and vans to be competitive against their petrol- or diesel-engined counterparts, they will have to be offered at a similar up-front price. But in most cases that price will not include the battery pack. Because the hi-tech traction batteries are so costly and will have a shorter life than the rest of the vehicle, most buyers will be able to enter into a separate leasing agreement for the supply and replacement of the batteries.

That is expected to be a deterrent to many otherwise enthusiastic buyers, who see a leasing deal as an undesirable financial commitment which could hinder disposal of the vehicle should it not live up to the manufacturer's promises.

Alan Bunting

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

The trouble with voting reform

Alan Johnson makes a vigorous case in favour of electoral reform ("Labour must embrace voting reform", 8 July.) The imposition of a hurdle of 11 per cent support would certainly prevent extremist parties from gaining parliamentary representation.

However on the other key objection to proportional representation – that under such a system the leaders of the main minority parties could make or break governments by wheeling and dealing in smoke-filled rooms – he is strangely silent.

Ivor Morgan


I might have found myself better disposed towards accepting some of Alan Johnson's points had he put greater effort into discussing the pros and cons of our present voting system and that which he advocates, and less into rubbishing the opposition. Will our politicians ever get the message that we have had enough of their attacks on each other and that we are capable of rational thought about well-argued options?

Colin Robinson

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Alan Johnson rounds off his cogent argument with the statement, "I work for a leader who accepts the need for [constitutional] renewal, with electoral reform as an essential element."

Funny, I thought Gordon Brown was his leader. But reading it more closely I realised that you can accept the need for something, like the dentist or mowing the lawn, without in any way committing yourself to it.

Colin V Smith

St Helens, Merseyside

No Sharia courts in this country

Considerable confusion seems to have arisen. There are no "Sharia Courts" in Britain (The Big Question, 30 June). An arbitration tribunal is not a court. It derives its jurisdiction form the contract between the parties to submit their dispute to arbitration.

The tribunal applies the appropriate substantive law, which may be Sharia. This does not make the tribunal a "Sharia court". An award issued by such a tribunal would be enforced by the English court to the extent that it did not contain elements contrary to English public policy.

In his speech in February 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury did not advocate the creation of Sharia courts or a parallel system of law. In his answer to questions, he expressly denied any such concept.

William Morris Ballantyne

Professor of Arab Laws

School of Oriental & African Studies, London EC4


Turn for the better

Philip Mottram (letter, 7 July) asks for a suitably positive alternative to the term "U-turn". Should we not rather rehabilitate the U-turn? The feature of a U is that the pen, starting on a downward trajectory, ends on an upward one. A fine symbol of improved thinking.

Robert Simpson

Prestonpans, East Lothian

Mainstream bishop

There is nothing dramatic or surprising about the Bishop of Rochester's call for homosexuals to repent. The Bible consistently speaks of homosexuality as sin and offers people the chance to change. This has always been the mainstream view of the church and remains the view of the vast majority of Christians worldwide today. A better subject for your editorial (6 July) would be to ask what will happen to churches that cut out large chunks of the Bible. History shows that they usually disappear.

The Rev Simon Falshaw

Lye, West Midlands

Leadership in schools

Contrary to John McHale's implication (letter, 6 July) most head teachers do not spend their time looking for teachers to dismiss. We were all class teachers once and understand the pressures. If there are "nods", "hints"and "veiled threats" towards dismissal without due process, this is workplace bullying. It should be challenged by courageous teachers with the support of their unions and all right-thinking members of the school leadership team.

Jean Gallafent

London NW1

Fear of heights

I'm sorry that Tom Sutcliffe (7 July) thought it was far-fetched when his friend suffered vertigo when viewing the Eiffel Tower from ground level. Some years ago I almost threw up when I drove round a corner and saw for the first time the church with the crooked spire in Chesterfield. I have never dared look at it again. I can't go up a ladder without feeling faint, yet the odd thing is, I've stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon and not been affected at all.

Jill Buss

Gundleton, Hampshire

Religious elders

Heard the one about the old man, the old man and the old man? I refer to your article on 6 July about "the rabbi, the imam and the Buddhist monk" at the gathering of world religious leaders. Good article until you look at the picture. Not one woman. Not a young face. The modern image of religion? You must be joking.

The Rev Professor Graham Everest

Wymondham, Norfolk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game