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Wednesday, April 04, 2007 

6079 Smith W.! Yes, you! Bend lower, please!

The most frightening thing about Britain's descent into authoritarianism isn't that it hasn't been widely predicted (it has) or how the public is prepared to accept it when crime has been falling for over a decade, but the speed with which its progressed.

When Labour came to power in 1997, the eternal soundbite "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" still ringing in the ears, you would have been laughed at if you'd been told that within 10 short years that very same Labour government would have introduced 3,000 new criminal offences, in effect suspended habeas corpus when it came to foreigners, built the largest DNA database in the world, attempted to ram through 90 day detention without charge for "terrorist suspects", settling instead for 28, introduced legislation designed to implement a national ID card program, with those refusing to join threatened with jail, acquiesced or actively encouraged the building of a CCTV system that can identify every "citizen" through their car, and is now proposing that the police be allowed to take the fingerprints and DNA of absolutely anyone for any reason.

Nothing though sums up the general contempt the government has for its own population like the latest scheme, announced by the thug in a suit John Reid. CCTV cameras with speakers, voiced by children(!) are to be deployed into 20 more areas across the country, having apparently been a "success" in Middlesbrough. It's so nakedly Orwellian that it's almost as if the government has been reading Nineteen Eighty-Four with the intention of using its most chilling methods of surveillance as a base to work on. The cameras and microphones in 1984 at least aren't voiced by children -- children in the novel are so indoctrinated by Ingsoc propaganda that they denounce their own parents -- instead what Orwell describes as a iron voice informs Winston and Julia as they are arrested that they are the dead.

While the scheme may well work in embarrassing litter droppers into putting their rubbish in a bin, one of Reid's chief justifications was that it would help counter "gangs from congregating", which last time I checked wasn't a crime. We've already had machines installed across the country which emit a low-frequency which only annoys those under 25 in a bid to stop groups of youths from getting together outside shops and the like, now cameras are going to shout at them to go home and stop frightening old people. As intimidating as a group of hooded youths can be, making life as difficult as possible for them to meet is not going to stop them from doing it where there aren't cameras, or solve the initial problem of why they're on the streets in the first place. One week we're concerned that we're the worst place in the West to bring up children, the next ever more crackdowns on the slightest sign of "anti-social behaviour" are announced.

As others have noted, it's a fitting metaphor for the Blair years. An all-seeing eye that shouts at you, telling you what to do and is always right, but is completely deaf itself, both to criticism and dissent. If this doesn't galvanize the mounting concern over the ten years of attacks on civil liberties into something approaching an opposition movement, then who knows what will.

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