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civil liberties - The Villages

hutch0
Date: 2008-02-25 22:47
Subject: civil liberties
Security: Public
Location:the utility room in the sky
Mood:contemplativecontemplative
Music:the waterboys
In tomorrow's Times (well, the article's got tomorrow's date on it) David Aaronovitch comments on Britain's surveillance culture, and in particular the DNA database, and he does it by making at least one inarguable point: it has helped catch some very bad people.

I think we're coming to a bit of a crossroads in this country, if we aren't there already. Do we, as Aaronovitch does, take the position that CCTV and DNA databasing are valuable tools which help the police? Or do we take the position of Tim Garton Ash, which Aaronovitch quotes, that we'd rather be a bit freer, even if it means being a bit less safe?

I dunno. I really don't. In my heart, all these cameras and DNA swabs are really a bit scary. My head, though, does respond to Aaronovitch's argument.

What I fear is that these issues are going to become political footballs and we will never have a proper discussion about their pros and cons. Each side will assume the position depending on their political affiliation, and the issues will be kicked around as part of a game of political points-scoring. The goods and bads, the rights and wrongs, will get forgotten and all that will matter is who buries whom in the arguments. And this is something which really matters, something we should be having a nonpartisan debate about.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2008-02-26 03:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I completely relate to your quandry. It comes down to the trustworthiness of those running the surveillance and creating the policies of surveillance. How can/will we assess that? It may also depend on how scary one finds "1984." So what if G. Orwell was off by 20+ years.

Your last paragraph is your first prognostication with which I agree and fear will be correct. These issues need to be debated in a real and useful way. Each point is difficult and nuanced.

Still, I think I prefer not to be observed and recorded in spite of the drop in policing abilities. Maybe it's just because I've become a bit of a neo-luddite as my children will attest. I'm not sure. I used to carry many security clearances and had the attitude that "well, if I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear from a background check." I don't think I feel that way anymore (and not because I had something to hide now).

Mind you, within my circle of acquaintances are several of the original inventors of the CCTV technology, who are, btw, very religious -- and deliberately non-partisan -- people.

-- the ojm

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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-02-26 21:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That is one of the big problems, isn't it? Who watches the watchmen? The policies of surveillance are going to change with political expediency - and there are always going to be those who abuse them. Which brings us back to my problem: is that abuse acceptable, if the system prevents one murder by bringing someone to justice before they can kill again?
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User: peake
Date: 2008-02-26 09:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The problem with all this is the political narrative being used.

Crime is falling, but we are more afraid of crime than ever. There is less chance of being injured in a terrorist attack in this country now than tyhere was during the IRA campaign, but we are told that terrorism is the biggest threat we have ever faced.

My worry about the DNA database is that it is not accurate, there are cases of people being misidentified with DNA, and the bigger the database the more chance there is of that happening.

But the other worry is the same as the worry about ID cards is the same as the worry about extending detention without charge is the same as the worry about all the other knee-jerk measures being proposed by this government in the holy name of 'security': it actually makes us less secure. Because it increasingly opens us up to the powers of a police state. And it's no good the government saying of course you can trust us, of course we wouldn't do such a thing, because a) they have given us no reason to trust them, and b) another election could very easily bring in a different government that would use all these powers indiscriminately.
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calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2008-02-26 19:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Are people really all that more scared of crime?
And I have yet to meet anyone who is afraid of terrorist attacks, like I have yet to meet anyone who thinks Edinburghs trams are a good idea.

Peake has effectively laid out my issues with the gvt's proposals.

When I was filling in some sort of phsychiatry questionaire at university, for the biscuits I think, I had a small epiphany. One of the questions was along the lines of "how afraid are you of crime". I instinctively moved to tick the "Quite afraid" box, (I was after all young and impressionable, and read the newspapers every day) then stopped to think about it. I then realised I was hardly afraid of crime at all. So ticked that box instead.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-02-26 22:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't actually think this `panopticon society,' as I think Charlie Stross calls it, was deliberate. Back when CCTV was first installed - and it wasn't all that long ago - it was trumpeted as a policing aid. Over the years, it's come to replace police. It costs a fortune to train and equip one beat bobby - and he can't work all the time. But a few dozen cameras, tied into a central control room and watched by someone outsourced from a private security firm, are cost-effective and they run day and night, rain and shine.

This means that local authorities can look tough on crime, even as police budgets are tightened and recruitment falls. It gets a high approval rating. So the local authorities keep doing it. And suddenly we're among the most surveilled people on Earth.

I think you're right. We're not, in general, afraid of crime or terrorism. We're told we are, the way we were told we were angry about asylum seekers back in the 90s or dole cheats in the 80s. And we're told that for the very good reason that it sells papers. `Nation Not Too Bothered About Crime' won't boost your circulation.
The way something like this works is that a paper will find some survey or think-tank study - doesn't matter how barking mad it is - and splash it on page one. Then for the next week the commentators can have free rein to pick and poke at it. If a news story pops up that seems to support their position during that week, all the better. Eventually, some rent-a-quote MP might even table a question about it in the House. It becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. We're told we're afraid, and Parliament seems to be taking it seriously, so we must be afraid. Let's have some more CCTV, before it's too late.

On the other hand, now we have this thing riddling our cities, I don't doubt it's being used on occasion for less than democratic ends, which is why we need a reasoned debate over its use, which is not what we're going to get if everyone just hunkers down in their respective corners and uses it for political point-scoring. Nothing's going to get done that way.

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calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2008-02-27 22:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, I don't htink it was completely deliberate. However I am not aware of evidence showing that CCTV reduces crime, rather that it moves elsewhere and you can get better convictions on those you do see. You still need the police, and the problem here is that the gvt is intent on destroying professionalism in order to, depending on your viewpoiint, bolster profits for companies/ reduce the final few areas in which people can oppose the gvt/ run everything on the cheap/ etc.

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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-02-27 23:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, I don't recall ever seeing evidence that CCTV reduces crime, either. It was just presented as this marvellous crime-fighting tool, which would be so effective in helping police get convictions that people would think twice before committing crimes. Which has obviously happened in a big way in Britain.
I'm not sure the government is intent on destroying professionalism, but I agree that's the effect their policies are having. And I think it's just in order to bolster profits for companies and run stuff on the cheap. And it's starting to come back and bite us.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2008-02-26 22:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is why we need a proper debate about these things, and proper legislation to govern how they're used. CCTV and DNA testing aren't going to go away. But it needs to be a sensible, grown-up debate, not something that's gone into with the express purpose of winning political scalps. And that's not what's going to happen.
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