“This is your freedom. This is the freedom of the British. And to you, it’s gold. And you don’t get it. Because to give freedom to you is just throwing it away. Freedom is for closers.”
In the Queen’s speech this autumn Gordon Brown’s government will announce a scheme to institute a database of every telephone call, email, and act of online usage by every resident of the UK. It will propose that this information will be gathered, stored, and “made accessible” to the security and law enforcement agencies, local councils, and “other public bodies”.
This fact should be in equal parts incredible and nauseating. It is certainly enraging and despicable. Not even George Orwell in his most febrile moments could have envisaged a world in which every citizen could be so thoroughly monitored every moment of the day, spied upon, eavesdropped, watched, tracked, followed by CCTV cameras, recorded and scrutinised. Our words and web searches, our messages and intimacies, are to be stored and made available to the police, the spooks, the local council – the local council! – and “other public bodies”.
This Orwellian nightmare, additionally, is proposed for a world in which leading soi-disant liberal democracies run, and/or permit rendition flights to, Guantanamo Bay. How many steps separate an innocent British citizen from some misinterpretation or interference or error in the collected and ‘made accessible’ data of text messages and emails, and a forthcoming home-grown version of Guantanamo Bay for people whose pattern of phone calls does not fit the police definition of acceptable?
Two things have made this ghastly development possible: the technology, and politicians. The technology is way ahead of the game: Siemens of Germany are already supplying 60 countries with a device that monitors and integrates data from phone, email and internet activity; its software establishes patterns of uses and alerts monitoring staff to deviations from the patterns. As New Scientist reports, the system is already known to throw up huge numbers of false positives; that could have been predicted by a rudimentary acquaintance with human nature and human life. But it is a fact that has to be added to the brilliance and reliability of government and law enforcement agencies in keeping data secure, unhackable and unlosable.
The second point concerns the quality of our politicians. They say they are putting us all under suspicion for our own good. They wish to protect us against terrorists and criminals, and to make bureaucracy more efficient. The efficiency of bureaucracy has one of its finest moments in the neat and sorted piles of false teeth, hair and spectacles at the gas chamber doors. Oh no: better the milling crowd than the police-disciplined queues of bureaucratic efficiency; better the irritation of dealing with human fallibility than the fear of dealing with jack-booted gendarmes whose grip on one’s arms follows stepping out of the queue.
But as to the first matter: protecting us – by making us all suspects, all potential criminals and terrorists – from terrorism and criminality. Well: the first duty of our politicians should be to protect our liberties, and to encourage us to see that liberty carries risks, which we should be trusted to understand and accept so that we can make our own lives our own way. But no: these politicians – Brown and Labour, once the party of the people – are going to keep us safe by not keeping our liberties safe; they are going to keep us safe by making us unfree. Yet the putative benefit of protecting us from terrorism and crime is unattainable. They themselves say ‘there is no 100% guarantee of safety’: but they are going to spy on us all anyway! In fact they are going to create crime: a huge new criminal industry awaits for stealing, copying, falsely creating and manipulating that newly-created precious commodity, “identity”. A huge new impetus awaits for techno-crime to disrupt the monitoring and data storage systems on which the government intends to spend billions of our tax money, creating its unblinking eye in our bedrooms. As surely as night follows day, the new surveillance society will do more harm than good.
We are far ahead of AC Grayling and all the others who write in these newspapers, and have been for many years.
What none of these people want to face is the fact that government will NEVER bestow (or in this case, return) freedom on its citizens. If AC Grayling wants his civil liberties back, he is going to have to become uncivil to a very distasteful degree.
The potential for profoundly negative uses of technology has escaped us. It is with despair that I conclude that we have to start all over again with the demos and resistance, the campaigns and arguments, to roll back this huge and ultimately destructive assault on our civil liberties.
That is not going to cut it. The police are armed like Japanese manga characters, and have powers to lock you up indefinitely should you dare to riot. Once again, BLOGDIAL is way ahead of you. Rioting and demonstrating do not work. They did not work to save the Iraquis (who were murdered to the tune of one million people), and they will not work to restore your liberties. Do you really think that people who are capable of mass murder (Gordon Brown) will be in any way moved by a demonstration or a riot?
Are you really that Naïve?
In any case, how are you going to organize a resistance when they can know your every move in advance? This is assuming that you will not seek permission for your demonstration or gathering of more than 99 people in advance. You will not be able to surprise the police state with a demonstration or a riot, which in any case, even if you managed to organize it flash mob style, would not produce the result you require; the restoration of your liberties.
We need to stop this assault on civil liberties going further, we need to roll back the attritions they have already suffered, and we need a rock solid written constitution to protect us from those who aim to make us all suspects in the gaze of the unblinking universal eye.
Wow, you really ARE that Naïve!
The United States of America has a written constitution, and it has been summarily torn to shreds by the legislature in the last seven years.
A written Constitution is useless against this sort of onslaught. That should be plainly obvious to everyone by now.
If you have even a shred of common sense, you should be coming to the conclusion that all bets are off, that something VERY UNCIVIL has to happen if you are going to ever be free again.
Thankfully freedom returning to this beautiful island is not impossible. It will take some clear thinking, some twenty first century thinking (combined with some eighteenth) to make this happen.
If you are not prepared to face these facts, if you are not prepared to stare this problem in the face as you would a leaking roof, then all is lost, and all you and Henry Porter will have are your columns.
Oh…have I got your attention now?