Monday, January 02, 2006

Big Brother Britain is losing control

Maybe it’s in preparation for the economic melt-down and its subsequent unrest – whatever the reason, Britain is wanting to play Big Brother big time. By this I mean the Orwellian variety, but as a result we might just as well all feel like playing part in a gigantic reality TV show, except that the people watching will be at the other end of monitors and in the employ of the government.

The police have just been given new powers to arrest anybody anytime for any (or no) reason. They are bound to make use of it, and the brunt of the arrests is likely to be borne by minority communities who already are disproportionately targeted by existing stop and search powers. Give the police powers they don’t need to justify and they gradually become a force above the law. The abuse of powers does not always have to be due to racism or some political or sinister motive: imagine two bobbies walking the street on a freezing cold winter’s day coming across a tramp taking shelter near a shopping window. An arrest will ensure that the officers can spend the next couple of hours snugly in the warmth of the police custody suite, and even the tramp might welcome the change of environment. This would be infinitely better than  the practice of London police some years ago where they picked up tramps from inside London in order to keep them out of sight for cash-spending shoppers and dumped them without care on the outskirts of London from where they had to make their own way back.

As another new year present we have been given the announcement that Britain will be the first country to track every car journey. Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years. This is sure going to be profitable business for hardware and software suppliers and great fun for government agents tired of playing with train sets or X-boxes, and now and then they might even be able to check up on their partners. All in secret, of course.

Secrecy is at the heart of the government’s desire to monitor and control its people, and after the deluge of requests made under the freedom of information act introduced a few years back we are seeing the first demands to tighten up the right of access to information, initially described as a need to check frivolous applications. Secrecy, however, creates a subculture amongst the authorities in the know, and in turn drives their targets underground. Ultimately the control-society fails due to the arrogant overconfidence of its protagonists.

Before moving further in this direction the UK government would be well advised to look at the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany) as a case study. They had a file on each and every citizen. If you stopped your car in the wrong place you were surrounded by police within minutes. In spite of all the information they gathered, the authorities totally failed to understand, never mind prevent, what was really going on in their country. When the signs unrest became apparent the structure collapsed rapidly.

In the UK, too, representatives of the government and its agencies are so full of themselves that they fail to take the pulse of the country. The mood is not in their favour and the trust between them and the people is lost. A change of leadership is not going to change this fact. Whilst they are busy playing with their new surveillance toys and powers of arrest, real control is more and more slipping through their fingers.

1 Comments:

At 17 November 2008 at 10:59, Anonymous Stop it Now! said...

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