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Britain is a country rightly known around the world as a cradle of liberty and freedom. But most people now feel that our freedoms are being eroded.

This is hardly surprising, given the recent discovery that the police have a series of databases recording the personal details of thousands of people who attend protests or rallies. The databases are searchable by a number of officers and come complete with colour photographs assembled and printed onto “spotter cards” which are then distributed to enable agencies to monitor attendees at events.


Polling conducted by Big Brother Watch and PoliticsHome this week suggests that the British public is strongly opposed to big brother creep. Four in five people believe that our freedoms are being eroded. No wonder, with the biggest DNA database in the world, the most CCTV and a set of rules in the ether that aspires to regulate every aspect of, inter alia, the contact that any adult can have with any child.

The CCTV point is worth dwelling on for a moment since we’ve gone further down this path than any other country. Technology certainly has a part to play in law enforcement, but there needs to be a balance struck Cameras are often turned off or not working, as happened in an unpleasant beating in Somerset, or the recent case in Delhi (where all 27 cameras supposedly watching the site in question were non-functioning) - which is much worse than them simply not being there, as law enforcement becomes dependent on an unreliable resource. The quality of footage is often such that courts cannot use it. 

Research indicates that crime is not driven down by the presence of CCTV as confirmed by London’s Metropolitan Police report this year, which stated that one crime per year was solved per thousand cameras. And yet we continue to put ever more money, and ever more trust, in the cameras. Given that the public purse offers finite resources, the options we choose for law enforcement are mutually exclusive - money spent in this way is money that cannot be spent on other forms of policing, such as officers on the street.

There are also obvious privacy issues which usually go ignored, but shouldn’t. And not just with the permanently retained images of innocent people either. 86% of people think that the government can’t be trusted to keep our personal information safe – a fair conclusion, one might think, after the loss of (for example) the Child Benefit Database by Revenue & Customs at the end of 2007. 

82% of people disagreed that placing microchips in refuse bins to monitor the waste thrown away by households was an acceptable measure to encourage recycling – despite 42 local authorities currently monitoring the habits of over 2 million households up and down the country.

People think that the ID cards issue has gone away, but it really hasn’t. First, the more important thing is the database behind the card, which hasn’t gone away. But furthermore, the cards themselves are still with us; they’re just arriving in a more piecemeal way than originally planned. Immigrants are already receiving cards when they come here. The Identity Card Act 2006 provides for the indefinite retention of information about holders - specifically, the date and time that they were used, with whom you used it and what the transaction was – seeing your GP, say, or (as they become more commonplace) what you got at the shops. That’s not science fiction, it’s the law in this country today and the only thing stopping such massive accumulation is technology lag in the places in which cards might be used, rather than any ethical qualm.

Regardless of what we want or try to do about it, we continue to be the victims of ever more intrusive policies, with the Government pushing more and more into the details of our lives. Our masters don’t seem to care that Big Brother Britain has been rejected by the vast majority of people who live here. They continue to pursue expensive and invasive surveillance methods that serve only to create “criminals” out of otherwise law-abiding people.

Alex Deane is Director of Big Brother Watch. He was David Cameron's first chief of staff.


Bramshill delenda est.
ron_broxted wrote:
Thursday, 29 October 2009 at 05:05 pm (UTC)
Dear Alex, I would reply that it is not a "feeling" of "rights being eroded". Internment without trial, extrajudicial killings (de Menezes, Tomlinson) and suspension of habeus corpus are hallmarks of a de facto police state. Next time an M.P or journalist are arrested they won't "feel" their DNA illegally held.
Lack of Freedom
drg40 wrote:
Thursday, 29 October 2009 at 05:48 pm (UTC)
Did you know that if the Home Secretary signs an order under Section 5 of the anti-terrorism act you can be required to carry your passport with you at ALL times, and he doesn't need to tell you he has signed this order?
That if you fail to obey this order (whether or not you know is irrelevant) you can be arrested (and the armed metropolitan thuggery will take much delight in this, wherever in the UK you live for they look after armed policing unders the terrorism acts) and, if you're very, very lucky you MIGHT find that after the order has been withdrawn and the thugs have gone home, that your local constabulary will come round from door to door telling you you now have to carry your passport with you at ALL times. Too late.
That's down to David Blunkett.
Re: Lack of Freedom
climatewarrior wrote:
Thursday, 29 October 2009 at 06:16 pm (UTC)
URL please.

Statutes are all on-line these days, for example http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/ukpga_20000011_en_1

The Labour Party has introduced so many anti-terrorism acts that it is impossible to keep up. They have not made us safer, they are just to allow the Home Secretary to preen him/herself in front of the Daily Mail.
Re: Lack of Freedom
drg40 wrote:
Thursday, 29 October 2009 at 08:38 pm (UTC)
Look up Fairford, Terrorism, Identity.

You will get a number of references, including a record in Hansard where an MP asked Blunkett question and gets some very dubious replies. Why, for example, was the Police Sergeant who boarded the bus in Lechlade and demanded it return to London from the Metropolitan Police? Under what authority was he acting?
Why was the purported Glos expenditure reported to the Home Sec and not to the Local Police Committee/Authority where it would have been more than merely questioned - it would have been laughed at.
It is admitted that the police believed they were empowered to demand identity by virtue of Section 44 of the terrorism act. As a resident at the time I can tell you they demanded passports and got up to some exceptionally unpleasant stunts if you didn't have one, especially if you were a woman.
Re: Lack of Freedom
drg40 wrote:
Thursday, 29 October 2009 at 08:45 pm (UTC)
That's interesting!

My original post to which you asked a question has been censored, but not your question.

Re: Lack of Freedom
drg40 wrote:
Thursday, 29 October 2009 at 08:46 pm (UTC)
And now it's re-appeared!

Senator Syvret
pol_o_duibhir wrote:
Thursday, 29 October 2009 at 06:40 pm (UTC)
Orwellian system creeping deeper
marph45 wrote:
Friday, 30 October 2009 at 12:40 am (UTC)

If we allow our nation to be shot through with overloading monitoring systems, we’ll be monitored forever, because people and institutions that have been granted power seldom give it up, as we all know. They even fall prey to the temptation to abuse those powers. You see, if we assume that most of us are law-abiding citizens, the need for unrestricted monitoring is obliterated by the logic of focused pursuit of known and suspected bad guys based on established legal procedures. Warrants before monitoring is more efficient and faster.
Protection of freedom
dolgoth wrote:
Friday, 30 October 2009 at 10:23 am (UTC)
All to often you hear the phrase "To protect your freedom, you have to give some of your freedoms up." Surely there is no point in fighting for freedom if you have to give it up? Definitely something wrong with the logic there.

How the heck is an ID card going to stop terrorism? Does it happen that if someone comes to the country they won't commit terrorism because they got an ID card at home?

These are just a hand full of questions we should be asking.....


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