One Very Splintered and Paranoid Nation Under CCTV

Posted: March 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

Knowledge is power; power tends to corrupt.

As the General Election approaches you might do worse than to ask where your preferred party or candidate stands in relation to the ubiquitous surveillance that now pervades UK society – a lot worse in my view. Indeed, perhaps you should ask yourself where you stand on the subject of surveillance and Big Brother. There are more CCTV cameras per square mile in the UK than any other nation on earth. And evidence is mounting sky-high that the comforting notion that ‘If you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve nothing to fear’ is and has been for some time a fanciful fiction. Today, the extensive powers of surveillance (enabled through cutting-edge sophisticated technology) at the disposal of the police and security agencies, are – as the near continual stream of stories in the news media indicate – being routinely abused, or at least being used for purposes other than those many would like to believe. There may be legislation in place which is supposed to curb the abuse of these powers, but it’s clearly not being enforced properly. There should be stringent and effective checks and controls on the use of surveillance powers – for example the surveillance of individuals’ internet usage – but there aren’t quite simply. Legislation is fine, but what if there’s an agenda that you and I are not supposed to know about to allow certain individuals to operate in breach of that legislation with impunity? I do believe that this is the case, and I can assure you I am not a rabid conspiracy theory enthusiast.

In truth, what is happening – and it’s pretty much what Orwell feared and prognosticated – is that these powers are being routinely employed to keep tabs on and stymie the activities and aspirations of individuals and groups exercising their lawful and perfectly legitimate rights and freedoms, but who happen to be regarded as ‘a problem’ for the vested controlling interests of other members of society who want to protect their privileges, power and influence. Usually, what it boils down to is that the interests of those invested with social authority and power, who are either extremely wealthy or in the pay of the very wealthy, trump the interests of people like me – the hoi polloi, the great unwashed. The police are paid first and foremost to serve a wealthy controlling elite and their state apparatus (see The Socialist Worker ‘Police serve the state and the rich’), some would say. Unruly, that is to say enlightened, members of the hoi polloi are smeared as ‘subversive’ and surveillance in its now manifold forms is being used as a weapon to quell the possibility of widespread social consciousness breaking out. You are really in danger today of being pigeonholed as subversive for simply being involved in honest social activism. But the freedom to protest and be involved in such activities is what people died and fought for in two world wars.

People are being spied on for wholly the wrong reasons. Three examples, off the top of my head,  come to mind. The family of Stephen Lawrence, the murdered black teenager, were spied on for years because the police were obsessed with finding reasons to discredit the family so as to deflect attention away from the inadequacy of the original investigation into Stephen’s murder. Sukhdev Reel, mother of Ricky Reel, who died in mysterious circumstances on October 15, 1997, was shocked to discover that she had been spied on by undercover police for years, simply because she had campaigned for a proper investigation into her son’s death and was vocal in her criticism of the original investigation. Seventeen other families running ‘justice campaigns’, including the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, were also monitored by undercover police. And it’s routine for undercover police to try and infiltrate and sabotage activist/protest groups regarded as ‘subversive’ (see for example The Guardian (Jan 20, 2012) ‘Disclosure likely to intensify controversy over long-running police operation to infiltrate and sabotage protest group’s’). The fact that a number of these undercover police proceeded to have long-term intimate relationships with – even having children with, female activists involved in these groups before disappearing from their lives, reveals the base mentality and appalling lack of moral probity of the individuals involved in these operations. These few examples I’ve provided here only scratch the surface of what is going on today, right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the use of all surveillance powers per se – of course, when used properly and responsibly they can be a great aid in crime prevention and in bringing the perpetrators of crime to justice. I’m just acutely aware (unfortunately I’m drawing on personal experience here in part) that unless there are very rigorous checks and controls, these powers are going to be misused in a society in which all too often ‘might is right’ prevails. Just two Sundays ago I noted the presence of an individual (who I very much suspect was an undercover cop) standing and watching intently from across the road, for at least an hour, whilst three 38 Degrees activists sought signatures from members of the public for an anti-TTIP petition. Was he trying to intimidate? Perhaps he was watching closely for an excuse to move them on? I can only conjecture. And I cannot say that he was an undercover policeman (I would have asked him, but I don’t think he would have appreciated that). But for me, he might as well have been wearing a badge saying TTIP policeman. That’s kind of the point of here, because once the police begin privileging the interests of certain individuals and groups over others, it is no longer a truly public service – it has become a mercenary, purchasable ancillary for the socially powerful. Such is the path to tyranny. Here are some sobering and scary surveillance related facts worth reflecting on*:

  • Of the nearly 3 million surveillance decisions taken by public bodies under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act since 2000, fewer than 0.5% were approved by a judge.
  • The scale of CCTV use in Britain is so unclear estimates of the number of cameras range from 1.8 million to 4.2 million.
  • “The CCTV schemes that have been assessed had little overall effect on crime levels.” Home Office research, 2005.
  • During the 1990s the Home Office spent 78% of its crime prevention budget on installing CCTV.
  • Since 1998 the surveillance of communications in the UK has more than trebled.
  • At least 243 Police Officers and staff received criminal convictions for breaching the Data Protection Act between 2007 and 2010.
  • 19, 551 people have successfully challenged the information disclosed by a CRB check since 2003.
  • 370,000 records from the Police National Computer, Prison records and Drug Interventions programme were lost on a single memory stick by Home Office consultants in 2008.
  • “There is information on the Consulting Association files that I believe could only be supplied by the police or security services.” David Clancy, investigations manager at the ICO, speaking about an alleged construction industry ‘blacklist’, March 2012.
  • The Data Retention and Investigative Powers Act (DRIP) was rushed through Parliament in 2014 and grants broad surveillance powers ruled unlawful by the European Court of Justice (ECO).

* Most of these stats are now a little dated, but I can assure you things have worsened since 2012.

Main source for factual data:

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