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Observations On the Contrary

Cry freedom

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 11 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b982

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor, BMJ
  1. tdelamothe{at}

    Britain is in the midst of a massive consolidation of personal information held by government departments. But will its use be restricted to the purposes for which it is collected?

    The British Library’s recent exhibition Taking Liberties ( was good as far as it went. For some reason, however, the exhibition’s timeline, which began at 1215 with the Magna Carta, petered out at 2000. Did the organisers believe that the Freedom of Information Act marked the final word in “the struggle for Britain’s freedoms and rights” (the exhibition’s subtitle)?

    A quotation from America’s favourite revolutionary, Thomas Paine, ushered the visitor out of the exhibition: “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must . . . undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” So it was that the day after seeing the exhibition I joined what the Economist dubbed “a mob of Britain’s finest eccentrics” to attend a convention on modern liberty, which brought the exhibition up to date.

    The convention’s theme was the unprecedented attack on Britain’s fundamental rights and freedoms over the past decade. Its call to action was clear: in the words of one of the convention’s organisers, the Observer columnist Henry Porter, “unless we involve ourselves …

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