With recent police activity, anti-terror adverts and CCTV everywhere no wonder we’re all scared stiff

Do we live in a country where our every move is being watched? Dr Eamonn Butler believes that the huge number of CCTV cameras on our streets have caused a new wave of anxiety amongst the public, as the police can easily target the innocent for insignificant crimes rather than taking care of the real threats to society.

Big Brother state? Britain has more CCTV cameras than the rest of Europe put together.

So it has now become one of the main causes of anxiety. Among all the other worries that people face  –  the recession, crime, hospital superbugs and terrorism  –  a new fear has emerged: that of the Big Brother state.

According to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, we are a pretty fearful lot. In fact, more than seven million of us are living with some sort of anxiety problem.

And the proliferation of surveillance equipment such as CCTV cameras (of which we have more than the rest of Europe put together) only makes people more worried of the very things the cameras are designed to tackle: crime and terrorism.

It is ironic that something which is supposed to put our minds at rest has exactly the opposite effect.

But there is also a darker side to the proliferation of monitoring equipment which should also be a cause of great concern to us all.

The evidence can no longer be ignored that after a decade of New Labour, Britain has become a far worse place for honest citizens to live their lives as they please, away from the eyes and ears of the state.

In the name of ‘efficiency’ and ‘national security’, our civil liberties have been systematically eroded.

We have calmly allowed our rulers to grab enormous and unprecedented power. They claim it is needed to protect us from criminals, but in fact they are using it to bully and enslave us with a litany of regulation and red tape.

Police and other state officials have turned from our servants into our masters.

We have granted these sweeping powers to our rulers on the understanding they would only be used against the most determined and brutal terrorists.

But, in fact, they have been used to browbeat ordinary, honest, tax-paying citizens  –  particularly when they oppose the Government’s point of view.

Now they can be used to check on your rubbish bins, an extension to your home, or even that you do actually live where you claim to live when applying to a local school.

If Taliban extremists ever did bring Britain under their control, you might imagine that the first thing they would abolish would be our right to free speech. But they wouldn’t need to. We’ve already done it for them.

It’s already a crime to demonstrate your views peacefully, or heckle a politician, or even wear a T-shirt making fun of one.

Meanwhile, the Freedom of Information Act, which is meant to allow us access to what is happening, is under threat of being watered down to the point of being pointless.

The 7/7 bombings showed that terrorism is a real threat; so is organised crime.

But as Dame Stella Rimington, head of MI5 from 1992 to 1996, has made clear, it is far better to deal with those risks rather than frighten people into accepting new laws that actually enslave us.

Typically, the Home Office has defended its approach as ‘proportionate’  –  which simply shows that it has no concept of how authoritarian it has become.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is behind the plans for the new ‘super database’ to record all our emails, internet searches and phone calls, just in case one of us might be a wrong ‘un.

If the police do pick us up, she wants to keep us under interrogation for up to six weeks without trial.

That’s worrying, because now the police can arrest us, not just for serious crimes, but for even the most trivial reasons. And with the hundreds of sweeping laws New Labour has brought in, or the 3,609 new offences that it has created since 1997, there’s quite a choice.

The police  –  plus 1,407 other official bodies  –  can now impose on-the-spot fines for things as trivial as dropping an apple core. Refuse to pay up and you’ll be arrested and tried.

Now, even photographing a policeman could land you with a ten-year jail sentence.

Under Section 76 of the 2008 Counter-Terrorism Act, any picture ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’ is strictly banned.

A new series of ominous TV adverts certainly does nothing to allay people’s fears, but rather increases them. The sound of a normal street scene is described as ‘the sound of a bomb not going off’ because someone had reported some suspicious activity.

While being alert to threat is commendable, there is the danger of making people afraid of just about anything.

And if you do fall foul of these sweeping new powers, once arrested, your DNA will be swabbed and added to the largest DNA database in the world, with 4.8 million samples.

Youth is no defence. Of the 722,464 swabs taken in 2006-7, some 350,000 were taken from children under 15.

It took a six-month legal battle to get the DNA of one 13-year-old boy, falsely accused of writing graffiti, removed from the database.

In fact, the police are incentivised to make criminals of us, rather than prevent crime.

In London last year, three officers wasted half the night by holding a 19-year-old student for five hours before cautioning him for holding open the door of a lift in an Underground station.

But then police chiefs can get up to £15,000 in annual performance bonuses depending on how many people they spot-fine, caution or charge.

So be careful near the end of the month when they are trying to fill their monthly quotas.

The whole system encourages the police to go after the easy targets  –  the peaceful, unthreatening, decent majority  –  rather than the criminals and terrorists they should focus on.

The TV licensing advertisements sum up this nightmare as eloquently as anything.

We’re told in no uncertain terms: ‘Your town, your street, your home. It’s all in our database. It’s impossible to hide.’

Well, I agree that people should pay their taxes. But these bullyboy tactics wouldn’t look out of place in Stalin’s Russia.

It is impossible to hide. Britain has more CCTV cameras than any other country. The number of speed cameras alone has trebled in the past six years.

Some 800 organisations can have our phones tapped, including, of course, all those local councils who suspect you might be leaving your wheeliebins out too early.

There is something dark in New Labour’s psychology that makes it regard such oppression as ‘proportionate’. Its need to keep control of a perpetually wayward party mutated into a desire to control a bloodyminded public.

And New Labour really believed it knew what was best for us. If our traditional rights and institutions  –  trial by jury, habeas corpus, Parliament and the judiciary  –  got in the way, they could quite legitimately be swept aside.

This week, more than 100 climate change protesters were arrested before they protested about anything, but just because of what they might do.

So now we are defenceless against even more oppression. And that’s not just my view.

In a speech at Exeter University recently, David Blunkett  –  the former Home Secretary  –  warned that a planned government ‘super-database’, storing people’s emails, internet traffic and other personal data, would be a threat to individual rights.

And Sir David Ormand  –  Whitehall’s former security and intelligence co-ordinator  –  has warned that the Government’s plans to gather ever-increasing amounts of data on citizens ‘will involve breaking everyday moral rules’.

The International Commission of Jurists has suggested that countries like Britain were doing the terrorists’ jobs for them, enacting laws that undermine the very values and freedoms they claim to be protecting. Even at the highest levels, there is clearly unease at the extent of ‘Big Brother Britain’. Let’s hope these alarms are loud enough to wake us up to the full horror of what we’ve created. No wonder we’re all so worried.

Eamonn Butler is Director of the Adam Smith Institute and author of The Rotten State Of Britain published by Gibson Square Books.

Published in the Daily Mail here

Blog Review 935

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As Mencken pointed out, there´s a time when every man feels the need to raise the Jolly Roger and begin slitting throats. As is done here: we build military equipment to fight wars, not to provide jobs.

This politicians and new technology thing doesn´t work very well, does it? If they cannot handle a simple .pdf file then what are they doing with hte NHS Spine, the ID card system, the National Database.....

As we´re so often told, there are no solutions in economics, only trade offs. But what if, with pensions, we don´t really like any of the possible trade offs?

The publicly subsidised arts make philistinism look ever more attractive really.

It´s well known that womens breasts turn men into fools but it appears that the primary use of them in childcare also turns some women into said fools.

No, sadly, this is not a joke. Now that we all have to smoke outside (or rather, in order to smoke one must egress) there is a move to charge for smoking licences for places where people might egress in order to smoke.

A vital question: does God believe in Jeffrey Sachs?

And finally, it would appear that graduate education does indeed inform and educate.

 

 

And now let us praise the police

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Yes, I know, in the wake of Ian Tomlinson´s death praising the police is not all that fashionable an occupation. However, just as we should and must point to the failures and perversions of what policing should be, so must we point to those instances where the very highest standards are indeed maintained.

John Vidal doesn´t seem to see this the same way that I do but then he writes for The Guardian:

It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny morning in April 2005. At 6.30am the environmental group was just minutes away from its target – a Land Rover factory in the Midlands. The meticulously planned action involved people bursting through the perimeter gate, past drowsy guards and occupying the factory line. Little did they know that almost 50 policemen were already there, drinking cups of tea and waiting for them.

Fortunately for the activists, an advance guard spotted the helmets and the bus carrying the climate change protesters was turned round. It was obvious that someone had tipped off the police. There was simply no other explanation.

From the Peelian Principles about how the police should act and react:

The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

The presence of the police at that factory that day did indeed precent crime and disorder. How wonderful. Back to Vidal:

This week it was almost certain that the 114 people arrested outside Nottingham were also shopped by an informer. Nearly a week before the action, police warned all power companies in the Midlands and the north that a major action against a coal-fired power station was likely and told them to increase security.

Peel again:

The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

I agree that not all of the nine principles are observed in each and every police action, but as I say, we should celebrate and point to those times when they are. Here we have two incidents where the police were able and willing to prevent crime and disorder, without the use of physical force, with nothing in fact more than simple information about what the potential criminals intended to do and being there to stop them doing it.

Now to work on principles 2 through 8 perhaps....number 6 seems to be being breached regularly enough.

Society of snoopers

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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.

What to expect in the Budget

Dr Eamonn Butler looks in to what may come from the Budget 2009 and what effect it will have for the country and party in power in the long run. 

After a decade of reckless spending, the government’s kitty is bare and its debts are mounting. In November, Alastair Darling said the economy would shrink just 2%, but predicted, Micawber-style, that it would turn up in mid-2009. Well, the economists’ consensus is that it actually shrank 3.7%, and that it’s hardly going to turn up this year at all.

Unemployment’s already 2 million, heading for 3.2 million. That’s a lot more people drawing benefits and not paying taxes. And there’s those expensive bank bailouts to pay for. So the Chancellor is borrowing wildly. Again, the economists’ consensus is that he borrowed £160 billion in 2008-09 and will need another £167 billion this year. That’s a whopping £100 billion more than he anticipated in November. It’s borrowing on a scale not seen since World War II. Then, we were fighting a war. Now, we’re just borrowing to pay off our debts.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the national debt could climb to 73% of GDP – 84% if you add the bank bailouts. That’s scary (scarier still if you include the future costs of nuclear decommissioning, PFI schools and hospitals, and civil servants’ gold-plated pensions).

Getting out of debt like that will take years – even if spending is cut back. But with places like Derbyshire putting their council tax up 8.7% and Whitehall’s generous budgets being set until 2011, there’s scant chance of that.

Still, after June 2010 it will be the Tories’ problem, so expect Darling to announce giveaways and gimmicks (like electric cars) now, and large tax rises that bite after the election. But what we really need is to slash regulation and tax on the people who, unlike politicians, can really create jobs – investors and employers.

Dr Eamonn Butler is Director of the Adam Smith Institute and author of The Rotten State of Britain.

Published in the Spectator here

Blog Review 934

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But what if we did leagliase drugs? What calamities might befall us? Erm, it looks like HIV infections would fall, overdoses would fall, crime would fall....can´t allow that to happen now, can we?

Why is it that being a poltician equates to an inability to speak the English language?

Heresy I know, but a cunning plan that might actually make the BBC´s licence fee worth the money.

This is how the lobbying for our money as laundered through government game works.

And this is how the game of that government taking ever more power over our lives game works.

It´s not just Dolly Draper and the emails you know. The lefty side of the blogosphere seems to lack some basic reading comprehension skills too.

And finally, yes, this would work in the US.

Privacy and the state

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David Goodhart's article in the Sunday Times makes me want to throw up. His basic argument is: Let's face it, we don't live in a police state – this isn't Nazi Germany or Stalin's USSR, you know – and giving up a bit of your privacy in return for all the benefits that the state provides you isn't so terrible.

Yeah, right. Well, in the first place, I don't actually want to be part of this 'privacy for state services' exchange. The TV Licensing bunch advertise brazenly that our details are 'all in the database'. Oh, great, so I'm giving them all my details for the privilege of paying £142.50 per year to the government so I can watch the State Broadcaster? They should be paying me. Sure, I hand over my address and my cash to Sky, but I had a choice about that. If I want to watch Sky, or any non- BBC broadcaster, I still have to pay and hand over my info, whether I want Auntie's pompous, skewed, dumbed-down 'news' and 'entertainment' or not.

And there are plenty of other bits of the state services 'bargain' that I'd prefer to opt out of, and keep my privacy. Like the local authority which now only collects my rubbish every two weeks, and if I sort it into some arcane categories. Frankly, I'd prefer to hire a private firm. But of course I'd get thrown in jail if I refused to pay the state for its 'services'. As a liberal, I believe people should have choices, and that sort of coercion sickens me. I have the choice of telling Sky to get stuffed, I'm not going to give them my address and bank details. I can't do that with the BBC or my council refuse department.

Meanwhile, under a new EU ruling (which the UK supported and promoted, of course) internet carriers now have to keep all our emails and internet visits in case the authorities demand them. And, of course, they will. They just have to run a search program on our data log and it's an easy cop. They won't be able to resist. They'll pick you up for dropping an apple core, and – just in case this is a sign of much more malicious intent – take a fishing trip through your electronic records. That's the sort of 'privacy must be sacrificed for utility' arrangement I find terrifying.

Eamonn Butler's latest book, The Rotten State of Britain, is available to buy here.

The “revenue stream” of alcohol

Email sent to the Treasury

I am writing to express my extreme concern that you wish to raise the price of drinks in the Budget, by increasing tax on alcohol.

During these economic times an extra tax on those who are dealing with increased prices, from basic necessities to those nonessential items, is the wrong answer.

Furthermore, given the potential jobs which can be targeted by an alcohol tax hike, it is appalling to think that the government wishes to place nearly 75,000 jobs at risk for a profit from this particular tax. In fact, your own Angela Eagle has stated that the government sees this tax increase as a "revenue stream", however there are more wise approaches to the budget which should be addressed. These approaches can include, but are certainly not limited to: public workers and government taking pay cuts, as many citizens have been forced to do; or correcting the unfair welfare state and requiring individuals work for part of their welfare - saving Britain money whilst preventing the loss of jobs to foreign workers. Following the smoking ban, which has already hurt the British pub institution, increasing taxes on alcohol will further drive the knife into the local pubs and lead to more closing on a daily basis.

I ask you to protect ordinary people like myself, who are already struggling with rising prices in this downturn. Also, I would ask for your support in protecting businesses in Britain, many of which may suffer unnecessarily if drink prices are raised further.

All of us are aware that there are a small minority who misuse alcohol but it is not fair if all of us are punished.

I ask you to put pressure on other Government departments to ensure that existing laws to crack down on problem drinkers are enforced. This is far better than pushing through a blanket measure that will only sting ordinary drinkers and do nothing to tackle alcohol misuse.

I look forward to your reply.

Thank you.

Generated Response

Thank you for your email.

The alcohol duty increases announced at Budget 2008 and in the Pre-Budget Report were not designed to tackle problem drinking but they will play their part in ensuring we can continue to fund the Government’s spending priorities.

Alcohol duty is an important revenue stream for the Government and there are currently no plans to change what was announced in the Budget and Pre-Budget Report 2008, though as with all taxes, alcohol duty rates will be kept under review.

Your email also mentions enforcement of current policies to deal with irresponsible drinkers. Whilst the vast majority of people consume alcohol responsibly there are undoubtedly some individuals who cause problems. The Government takes the problems associated with alcohol misuse seriously and has an important role to play: in making sure people are able to make informed choices, and encouraging drinkers to drink responsibly; in making sure businesses sell alcohol responsibly; and in making clear that individual choice is never an excuse for causing harm and distress to others, and that the police, local authorities, and others have the powers to stop this and are encouraged to use them.

regards

Enquiry Unit

H M Treasury

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This week, I was sent an email from Drinker’s Alliance, reminding me of the upcoming Budget which Mr. Darling will release on 22 April. In the past, Drinker’s Alliance encouraged people to write to their MPs in favour of scrapping an increased alcohol tax, sign petitions, spread the word, and more. This time, however, they included direct links to both a pre-drafted email to the office of Alistair Darling, (which you can modify if you wish) as well as the phone number to the office (with a form to report back the office’s retort).

As I am opposed to this rise in taxes, I sent an email (highly modified from the form), and the next day received a generated response from the ‘enquiry unit’. I was told the alcohol duty increases “were not designed to tackle problem drinking" and instead were “an important revenue stream" for the government. Finally they finished off their response with “the police, local authorities, and others have the powers to stop [those abusing the right to drink] and are encouraged to use them." What exactly they mean by ‘powers’ for ‘others’ I am quite unsure of, and am inclined to ask for further clarification. The justification for their increase the alcohol duty is tenuous, rude, and most of all – unfair. The government should be looking for ways to decrease wasteful spending and stop punishing the citizens of Britain for the government’s mistakes. [Click 'Read More' to view the email exchange]