Eroded liberties 9


It used to be the case that people enjoyed an area of privacy into which the law could not intrude. The saying “an Englishman’s home is his castle" reflected the view that the law had no business to enter or spy there unless it obtained appropriate warrants by showing good cause before a magistrate.

The state has recently equipped itself with vast powers to invade our privacy without showing good cause. It now monitors our movements and our conversations and intercepts our mailings on a large scale. Powers to which parliament assented on the assurance they would be used to combat terrorism are now used to monitor the way we dispose of garbage, the toilet habits of our dogs, and whether we are using the addresses of relatives to qualify for admission to a chosen school.

Britain has a CCTV camera for every 14 citizens. Some are equipped with microphones, and on others both face and number-plate recognition technology can track our movements through cities and cross country. That private space in which a person felt secure from the prying eyes of an intrusive authority is much diminished. The balance between a responsible citizenry and state power has been shifted sharply in favour of the latter.