Finally and belatedly the Home Office is to investigate the use of surveillance by local authorities for trivial offences. The thinking is that there has to be “proportionality,” and that approval for surveillance must be attained at “a sufficiently high level.” As we have repeatedly pointed out, if these people are given powers, they will use them. Even if surveillance is approved for high crimes and misdemeanors, it will be used to check that people are clearing up dog dirt and closing the lids of their garbage bins.
The first step is to deny surveillance powers to any authority except police and security services. It is all right for private firms to use CCTV to guard against burglary, but it is not OK for non-police officials to use them to ensure compliance with their regulations. Even this is only a first step, given the major and chronic abuse of police powers revealed in recent cases.
The second step is to pass an act limiting the use of anti-terrorist powers to cases of suspected terrorism. It is fine to use them to stop people blowing themselves up in shopping malls, but not to stifle legitimate protest or free speech. It sounds so obvious, in that this is why these powers were originally given, but it needs to be spelled out. If they have these powers without limited use, they will use them in unlimited ways.
After the first and second steps, we need to examine the case for a consolidated repeal bill that can restore en masse the liberties lost by 12 years of erosion by governments that have shown no understanding, feeling or sympathy with the principles that have helped define our national identity. The Prime Minister talks of “Britishness,” without grasping the most basic essential that it has been and ought to be a free country.