Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Westminster… we have a problem…

The entire UK population and every visitor to Britain should be put on the national DNA database, a top judge said today. Today, Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human rights organisation Liberty, warned against potential changes to how and when British authorities collected DNA data. "The DNA debate reveals just how casual some people have become about the value of personal privacy," she said. "A database of those convicted of sexual and violent crime is a perfectly sensible crimefighting measure."A database of every man, woman and child in the country is a chilling proposal, ripe for indignity, error and abuse."

Aided by insufficiently robust political and media opposition, the agenda has been fully re-set. The onus is now on the civil libertarians to explain why we shouldn’t have a government with total knowledge of our identities, rather than why we should. What is absolutely extraordinary is that while the public constantly state that they do not trust the government, that they believe them to be dishonest and corrupt; that scandals over dodgy dossiers, donations for peerages, and the I.T. shambles at the Child Support Agency have eroded public confidence in the government’s integrity and competence, they are still willing to grant them total information awareness of the biometric identities and behaviours of people who have yet to commit any crimes.

Leftists constantly complain how private corporations are able to track our spending habits and check our financial status without our knowledge or permission, but when it comes to handing massive powers to governments, many shrug their shoulders. These stats make shocking reading. We don’t like private corporations holding private information about us. We get all hot under the collar about it. We think they brainwash us with marketing, and make us buy things we don’t need or want. We think corporations are evil and exploitative. But private corporations cannot arrest people. They do not have armies. They cannot put people in prison. They cannot invade sovereign states without UN mandates. Contrary to what appears to have now become received knowledge, governments are more powerful and thereby more dangerous than any corporation on the planet. Clearly, Paternalism has been massively successful. We have learned to love Big Brother, but to be suspicious of anyone trying to sell us frozen food.

Biometric identity information will be inherited by each successive government. If you don’t trust this government, what the hell makes you feel you can trust a future one? How would you feel if the British National Party got into power? They have already won seats in local government. What makes you think governments won’t sell your DNA profile to private corporations? What makes you think the database would never be hacked? What makes you think the database would never become corrupted and that everyone with access to it will be both 100% trustworthy and never make a single mistake?

I don’t like to employ slippery slope arguments. They only work when it can be shown that the slope in question is slippery, and for the average Daily Mail editorial, slipperiness is usually assumed without argument. But it seems to me crashingly obvious that given the behavior of this government, past governments, and the likely behaviour of any future government, this slope is about as slippery as it bloody well gets.

The Liberal Democrats have shown themselves to be toothless. I wrote to my MP about a scheme in Yeovil, Somerset whereby bars and pubs would only allow entry to punters if they allowed their fingerprints to be placed on a shared database. This was a system set up in partnership with the local police in order to deter known troublemakers. The government plans to roll it out nationwide. Naturally, the scheme is enforced on the door by bomber-jacket wearing bouncers, who presumably know the intricacies of the Data Protection Act inside out. The Right Honourable Member for Yeovil, David Laws, and my Bristol West MP Stephen Williams, are both Liberals and oppose government plans for ID cards along party lines; but they assured me that this fingerprinting system was voluntary. What defeatist, Pollyannaish drivel. Pubs and clubs will obviously come under police pressure to join and they will do so. I’ve worked in bars, I know how important it is to keep good relations with the decent, hard working coppers who have a difficult job to do. Few bar managers in the country will be so awkward as to refuse to join the scheme. How can a voluntary scheme be anything more than a de facto compulsory scheme when the resulting situation is absolutely identical? This is how the police state comes in: by the back door, through creeping measures rushed through parliament under cover of alleged terror threats, resulting in ad hoc legislation that is quickly accepted as the norm and used as precedent for further intrusion.

This documentary by Henry Porter is useful. If nothing else, watch the disturbing last ten minutes. As a demonstration, a security analyst bugs and spies on Porter via his own mobile phone, intercepts his wireless internet connection and duplicates an electronic data chip he had implanted in his arm. The security analyst then goes on to very quickly crack the security code on the digital information chip on a new passport (the technology that will be used on the proposed ID cards), and reads all the information off it. Terrorists take note: here comes the gold standard for identity theft.

But most importantly, watch Adam Curtis’s The Power Of Nightmares. And try to remember that you are more likely to die in a car accident than by being blown up by a terrorist.


Tom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nick Talbot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
St. Anthony said...

We are sleepwalking into a police state. The sad thing is the complacency demonstrated by so many: we're a nice, liberal, decent little democracy ... it couldn't happen here. You don't need jackbooted, black-shirted thugs on every street corner to run a police state, you just need the majority of the population to sit back and let it happen.

Anonymous said...

The intentions of the state were obvious a while ago when they insisted on retaining dna for adults and juveniles who had been arrested but NOT charged for any offences.

'Top judges' have an entrenched reputation for being hopelessly out of touch with popular opinion and common sense as it is. They too often deliver bizarre and derisory judgements nuanced by their own neuroses.

This government is obsessed with micro management of British people. It demands control and unthinking loyalty under the auspices of being the party of the people. It has ballooned into such an unwieldy cliche that it is both beyond satire and contempt.

The saddest thing of all is that the poor and vulnerable are

Anonymous said...

let down time and time again. The same judge probably thinks his lenient sentences necessarily reflect an admission that society has fostered and is responsible for offender behaviour. Whilst the rest of us watch communities being ravaged by people who have .no deterrent to amorality

Chakrabarti looks like she would be frightened of her own shadow. A far cry from the sort of zealous firebrand we need at the moment.

There could be trouble ahead.