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Former British Spy Boss Accuses Government of Exploiting Terrorism Fear

The former head of Britain's domestic intelligence agency accuses the British government of exploiting the fear of terrorism and of restricting civil liberties. Former MI5 chief Stella Rimington says the current government has not struck the right balance between security and personal privacy.

Following the September 11 terror attacks in the United States in 2001, Britain, first under Prime Minister Tony Blair and now under Gordon Brown, has taken away long-fought-for civil liberties in the name of security. And the government, Stella Rimington says, has not struck a correct balance.

Interviewed in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, the former chief of Britain's domestic intelligence agency in the mid '90s says, it would be better that the government recognized that there are risks, rather than frighten people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties. That is precisely, she adds, one of the objectives of terrorism - to get people to live in fear, under a police state.'

The director of policy at the London-based human-rights organization Liberty, Isabella Sankey, says with people like Rimington, and other key figures now going public on the balance question, it shows that for many, enough is enough.

"We have seen a number of measures that have been passed in the name of countering terror, which are then used and misapplied in other areas. And that is really what we are talking about when we say there is a creeping encroachment on our fundamental rights and our liberties," she said.

As a case in point, Sankey points to British government plans for a computer database to record all e-mail, text and phone call traffic in Britain. The country already has the largest DNA database per head of population in the world and the highest per capita use of CCTV surveillance cameras in the West. It also wants to eventually make ID cards mandatory for all people in Britain.

Rimington has long said those cards will not make the public any safer.

Britain's Home Office replies such data collection provides law enforcement agencies with the tools to protect the public.

But many British citizens believe existing laws and well established police techniques are adequate, and the government is increasingly seen as out of step.

A new MORI poll indicates the ruling Labor Party is 20 percentage points behind the main opposition party, the Conservatives, in public popularity.