Individual liberty is stolen by the State
Will they ever give up? Sir David Pepper who spent 5 years running the GCHQ listening centre told the BBC that lives would be at risk if the state could not track communications. It is people like him and politicians unwilling or incapable of asking questions that have allowed us to be one of the top three countries in the world for spying on its citizens. It has got to stop! In 2007, Privacy International an NGO that monitors privacy stated that Britain was an “endemic surveillance society”. In fact it ranked Britain’s privacy protections joint 43rd out of 47 countries, the worst in Europe and on a par with Singapore. Only Russia and china were worst.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), was designed to equip the police and security services for their fight against terrorism and crime. However, RIPA was drafted in such a way that now, hundreds of public bodies can use this act to pry into our personal lives. By 2008, there were more than 1,000 interception operations initiated under RIPA every single day, in excess of 360,000 per annum. How on earth can this be justified in a so called law abiding society? Under RIPA laws, over 600 public bodies are entitled to monitor intercepted communications records, of which, more than 75% are local authorities. Why does our local council need such wide and intrusive powers?
Well some cases have been publicised, such as the family based in Poole who were spied on for 3 weeks because council officials felt that they were attempting to get their children into a particular school whilst living outside the catchment area. Then, once again in Poole, RIPA powers are used to spy on fishermen to see if they are complying with shellfish regulations. It is reported that councils in Hartlepool, Gateshead, Bolton and Derby regularly use these powers to investigate dog-fouling. A London council has used RIPA to mount covert surveillance on the use of disabled parking bays. The list goes on, but could any ‘reasonable’ person describe any of these acts as ‘serious crime’? The answer is no. I accept that in each of these cases, there are people breaking the law, but surely the monitoring, as the punishment, should be proportional in a fair-minded society? But this action only scratches the surface, these are the ones we know about, yet as stated earlier, there are more than 1,000 new ’interceptions’ every day and between 2005 and 2008, there were reported to be between 32,000 and 36,000 uses of ‘directed surveillance’, Big Brother speak for spying!
We need to face facts, we are no longer in a free society, we have allowed successive governments, but this one in particular, to destroy our fundamental right to individual liberty and privacy and we are all the poorer for it. We don’t feel safer, violent crime has risen by 70% since 1997, the risk of terrorism remains high. We have been forced to give up much for no perceptible gain. The state now spies on virtually everything we do or say and they are not even satisfied with that, they want the powers to go even further.
I am reminded ofMrs Thatcher stating that the primary objective of the Child Support Agency (CSA) was to make “errant fathers” accept the financial responsibilities fortheir children. Instead, the CSA targeted those that were already paying child support under existing court orders, why? Because they were easier targets. It is the same with all of these news laws. For example, those involved in serious crime and terrorism can easily cover their tracks, gain access to false identities or documents and, are surveillance savvy. Meanwhile, other, generally law-abiding citizens are easily traced and prosecuted for relatively minor “crimes” such as dog-fouling, placing the wrong refuse in the bin, parking offences, and so on. Take speeding cameras, there are estimated to be over 1m people driving uninsured cars in this country, therefore many of them do not bother to register their vehicles to a legitimate address, as a consequence, they can get away with tickets issued via speed cameras, parking and other driving offences. Not so for those that are generally law-abiding. Many criminal don’t answer bail or pay their fines, not so generally law-abiding citizens. In other words, a disproportionate amount of effort is employed by the state to target those that rarely break the law, whilst career criminals are allowed to get away with it with virtual impunity. No wonder we are all feeling the pressure of the state without necessarily being able to put our finger on it.
I firmly believe that whilst people are indeed fed up with self-serving MPs’ maximising their expense claims, the truth is that this is just a conduit for a general dissatisfaction with the Government and state interference. More and more people are starting to feel the effects of Big Brothers’ hand on their shoulder. We are all being treated as if we were on bail, subject to a control order or as a potential suspect. In many of the punishments handed out by officials, Habeas Corpus has been thrown out of the window. Far from mission creep, we have woken up to a society that has allowed the state to intefere in everything we do or say. We are starting to feel suffocated by it. The state can overspend our money then simply help themselves to more by borrowing in our name or increasing taxes. Local authorities can reduce our bin collections and yet still increase our council tax and if you refuse to pay, you go to jail. We can no longer protest within 1m of Parliament Square without permission lest we get arrested. If we do protest, then the police come armed not to manage a protest, but to police a riot. The police are allowed to pick and choose which crimes are investigated. My local police authority bragged that it had sifted out 14% of reported crimes on the first report, on the basis that they were not worth investigating, a disproportionate number of these were crimes against business…the same people that employ us!
State interference doesn’t stop at spying on us, it also attempts to determine how we act or what we do, take all of the health and safety rules for example. Instead of using commonsense, we are now supposed to adhere to ridiculous health and safety rules. Don’t get me wrong, some are necessary, but many are not and they are very heavily enforced. Take the PCSO’s that were not allowed to jump into a pond to save a drowning child because they had not been trained. Or firemen, charged with saving lives, who are now told by health and safety officials when it is safe to use a ladder, enter a building or jump in the water. Who are the experts here? Are we a richer society for the introduction of these rules or a poorer one?
It may be too late, but it is high time we started to kick back and insist that many of these new laws are repealed and replaced with commonsense. None of us can claim to feel safer with all of the new powers ceded to the state. Many of us went through 30 years of terrorism with the IRA, the state did not need such intrusive laws to investigate and prosecute, the state is using fear to sell their version of increased safety and protection against serious crime. But the bottom line is there is NO evidence to back-up their claims, instead we are seeing more on the spot fines being issued, prosecutions of otherwise law abiding citizens for very minor offences and a disproportionate use of force against the law-abiding majority. It has got to stop.