Monday, July 23, 2012

The driving force behind the encroaching police state is political ambition

The future will not be this cool

"We've now discovered that within the next year or so the US department of homeland security plans to deploy a new laser-based molecular scanner fired from 50 metres away which will instantly reveal an astonishing level of detail not only about your body, clothes and luggage but also about the contents of your wallet and even of your intestines. It's claimed that the technology can identify traces of drugs on banknotes, gunpowder on your clothes and even what you had for breakfast, the adrenaline level in your body and substances in your urine. And all of this information can be collected without even touching you – and without your knowledge....although the first deployments of the technology will be in airports, it will only be a matter of time until it is in police cars" Read more from

"You will be sent to jail for refusing to give up encryption keys, regardless of whether you have them or not. Five years of jail if it’s a terrorism investigation (or child porn, apparently), two years otherwise. It’s fascinating – there are four excuses that keep coming back for every single dismantling of democracy. It’s terrorism, child porn, file sharing, and organized crime. You cannot fight these by dismantling civil liberties – they’re just used as convenient excuses. But it’s worse than that. Much worse. You’re not juzt going to be sent to jail for refusal to give up encryption keys. You’re going to be sent to jail for an inability to unlock something that the police think is encrypted. Yes, this is where the hairs rise on our arms: if you have a recorded file with radio noise from the local telescope that you use for generation of random numbers, and the police asks you to produce the decryption key to show them the three documents inside the encrypted container that your radio noise looks like, you will be sent to jail for up to five years for your inability to produce the imagined documents." Read more from

Another day, another erosion of civil liberties. This is not the hysterical reaction of an uptight libertarian. It is reality. The perceived threat of terrorism is used to defend any kind of new law. How far should we go to make people safe from danger? If we want to make a person completely safe, we can lock them in a heavily fortified nuclear bunker with enough food, water, oxygen and medical supplies to last a lifetime. They will be completely safe from the dangers posed by others. But they will not be safe from the madness of cabin fever and the humiliation of constraint. They will have no meaningful existence. This little thought experiment obviously shows us that safety must somehow be balanced with liberty. But governments don't care for philosophical arguments. The real reason that they exploit every possible technology and pass every law that proposes to make us safe from terrorism is not primarily because they want to make us safe. They don't sit there weighing the benefits of safety against the erosion of civil liberties. Their chief consideration is safeguarding their own public image. Governments are paranoid about being accused of failing to defend the public against a terrorist attack. They are not paranoid about being accused of failing to protect our civil liberties, because only a small minority of people make any noise about this. So the march towards a police state goes on, powered by political ambition, self-preservation and moral cowardice.

I applauded David Davis for resigning from the shadow cabinet in 2008 in order to force a by-election in his seat, for which he won re-election ostensibly by mounting a specific campaign designed to provoke wider public debate about the erosion of civil liberties. Whether he was re-elected by people who care about civil liberties or simply by Tory voters in a safe Tory seat is unknown. Cynics argue that this was a stunt to increase public exposure, Davis playing the long game, an eye on the Tory crown. There is a similar question of whether the proposed ID cards scheme was jettisoned as a requirement of the Lib Dems coalition pact with the Tories, or just because it was proving to be too costly. But I'm inclined to believe Davis. He is a Right-wing Tory with whom I share few political convictions but there has always been a strain of consistent libertarians in the Tory party who care about big government snooping and civil liberties as much as they do about free trade and low taxes, and Davis belongs in this tradition. It's a remote but precious patch of common ground that those of us on the libertarian Left share with the libertarian Right. We castigate them for failing to recognise the oppresive nature of buccaneer capitalism (although avowedly conservative commentators Peter Oborne, Charles Moore and others have recently made surprisingly sympathetic noises in this regard) but we must applaud them for their willingness to confront the encroaching police state. We are the most surveilled people in the world, with more CCTV cameras per person than any other country. The right to peaceful protest, the right to remain silent, the right to free expression -these and many others have been stamped on over the last two decades, and there seems to be nothing we can do about it. Now that the right to protest has been curtailed -all in the name of security- we can't even protest against it. My fears for the future of my country are not dystopian pipe dreams. They are plausible outcomes of processes that are already in action. The political class has a systemic fear of accusations of failing to protect the public from terrorism. Such accusations can lose them elections. Being perceived to have lost control of the streets is a definitive vote loser. They will do absolutely anything to safeguard against this. They are not protecting us, they are protecting themselves.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Populist Incoherence Ltd: "I'm a working class solid boy, me"

Why is John Lydon still given air time? The same tired soapbox of yore, the same drivel, the same pseudo-anarchy, the same lack of point. On a recent BBC Four documentary he trotted out the received line on New Wave, pouring stock ready-mix scorn on The Police, accusing Sting of being interested in money, of being less than a gentle Buddhist “...when there's a dollar in it!”, nudging, winking, nodding, grinning, eyes bulging, pantomime Dame played by tedious pub boor. Yes, we got the clever-stupid act when you did it the first time. You're not nineteen any more man, grow up. PIL made some good records, and to be fair, musicians generally make more sense on record than they do in person, but he does insist on being a social commentator so he should be judged with the same degree of rigour as any other pundit. The man's an embarrassment.

On Question Time he scored easy brownie points by railing against the political class as a whole then lost them by ranting over members of the audience. He hopes to be seen as impish but he's merely rude and incoherent. He likes the idea of being an agent provocateur, a malcontent, a mischief maker, an eternal stick in the craw of the establishment. His responses are always framed to show how he's a bit different, you see. Bit of an individual.
“I'm not speaking as a middle class twat from Tring here, I'm from Finsbury Park, I'm a working class solid boy, me”. And there it is, it had to come out at some point. Kept in the back pocket for ready access like a schoolboy with a catapult: populist class-war dick-sizing . It just made him seem desperately old fashioned. Which he always was. Recall that this is the man who described Human League as 'trendy hippies'. This great revolutionary was a reactionary, brandishing the establishment musician's tool of choice, the guitar, against the innovation and limitless potential of the synthesizer.

Unbelievably, and it makes me almost physically sick to admit it, it was a relief to listen to the odious Louise Mensch. At least she waits her turn.