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Terrorism update

Last year the Home Secretary wrote to the NUJ that it was acceptable and legal for the police to restrict photography. The disgraceful media storm over the past week has shown this to be entirely justified. Thanks to unscrupulous activists with cameraphones and irresponsible media cameramen, what would otherwise have been a perfectly routine random police attack on a civilian, subsequent cover-up and forged postmortem, forgotten about in mere moments, has suddenly become front-page news and now no-one believes a word the police say.[1] Right now the terrorists must be laughing at our disunity.

And let’s not forget that it’s because of the terrorists that we are in our current mess. If it had not been for terrorists and evildoers distracting us all, Gordon Brown would have noticed even while Chancellor that the economy was dangerously overheating. He would have been able to pay attention to those who were warning that our national debt levels were dangerously high, instead of ignoring them all at the time and being forced now to make inane and unconvincing denials that he ever knew anything was amiss.

Asked about this late last year, Tony Blair employed his favoured technique of incredulous outright dismissal: if we had said at the height of the boom that something was wrong and we would have to dampen the economy, he stated, people would have thought we were mad. This seems an odd response for a man so prone at the time to boasting about making tough and unpopular choices, but we can probably somehow chalk that inconsistency up to the terrorists as well.

Who but the terrorists could revel in the spectacle of our representatives’ financial arrangements being exposed for all to see? If, for example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer chooses to creatively exploit the parliamentary expenses system, that can be no-one’s business but his own.

MPs’ salaries are around £60,000. Therefore, the argument runs, if they’re not allowed to make extra money as a result of their position—from, say, consultancies with firms they are well-placed to assist or housing allowance scams—then how can they possibly be paid what they are actually worth? This may sound superficially similar to the rationale for the bonus system in the City that they have all recently been queuing up to criticise, but obviously the two things must be very different or they would be reserving judgment.

The leak of such financial information constitutes an outrageous breach of MPs’ privacy, and they are rightly appalled that it has been misused after falling into the wrong hands. Liberal critics of increased powers of surveillance for the state will, predictably, try to draw a comparison between the current plight of MPs and the similar concerns of ordinary people. There are those, for instance, who would urge Jacqui Smith to reflect on her vigorous opposition to citizens’ privacy in the wake of her recent experience of having her own privacy invaded, but no-one is appointed Home Secretary because they are prone to being introspective or weak. Indeed, as a government you might be tempted to think your plans for surveilling your population had gone too far when they were criticised for being too heavy-handed by former heads of your own security services, the European court of human rights and the man who invented the internet but, thankfully, our ministers are resolute.

Simply put, ordinary people may be spied on while MPs may not. The government must have unprecedented access to our details and evidence of our actions, while we must have ever less access to theirs. Only some kind of imbecile—or terrorist—could perceive that as an unhealthy imbalance.

Opponents of increased surveillance and the national ID system always make noises about “the thin end of the wedge”, but what part of a story like “Staff at 30 local authorities have made ‘serious security breaches’ of a government database that will form a key part of the National Identity Scheme” looks even remotely wedge-shaped? Time and again the authorities have shown themselves to be careful and able in their handling of our confidential information. Why would they be otherwise? After all, they are only trying to protect us from the terrorists.

It’s for that reason—notwithstanding former MI5 chief Stella Rimington’s outlandish claims that the government use the fear of the terrorists as a smokescreen for their own ever more repressive and intrusive measures, which Home Office minister Tony McNulty has rightly labelled “abject nonsense”—that they have been assembling, piece by piece, a comprehensive database system that will allow them a complete overview of their subjects’ lives. What harm could possibly result from the scenario described recently by the British Computer Society, where “once an individual has been assigned a unique index number, it is possible to accurately retrieve data across numerous databases and build a picture of that individual's life that was not authorised in the original consent for data collection”? [2]

Again, competence, impartiality and benign intent are what mark out this government and the security forces that they preside over, and we must be grateful that they are working so hard to document us while trying to prevent us from documenting them. Together we can prevail against the terrorists.[3]

[1] My favourite part of the story: when a policeman came forward and said he thought he might be the officer who, having masked his face and removed his police number from his shoulder, attacked Tomlinson from behind with a baton and shoved him to the ground. You can understand why he might not be sure, what with all the terrorists.

[2] The BCS said this in its evidence to the constitution select committee in January, although the Guardian’s Henry Porter erroneously attributed the quote to David Omand’s national security report, an attribution that has since wormed its way through a lot of online sources that clearly rely a little too heavily on the Guardian alone for their information.

[3] It’s true that the government have withdrawn from the current Coroners and Justice Bill a clause that would have allowed unlimited and unsupervised data-sharing, but this is only a temporary setback; they have done so merely because they could see that if there were a vote on it in the Commons they would lose, something they can’t risk at present. The faithful should not be downhearted, as there should be other ways to ease this kind of measure into legislation without too much inconvenient scrutiny.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 14th, 2009 11:39 am (UTC)
Are we still meeting on April 18th?
Apr. 14th, 2009 11:39 am (UTC)
NO. You will never come out. It will be just waste of time for me.
Apr. 14th, 2009 11:53 am (UTC)
< Attenborough> Here we see a beautiful specimen of spammus iaponicus. It’s hard to know how many of the little critters there are—indeed, whether there is even more than one—as these messages emanate from exactly the same IP address*. But if we keep very still and wait, we may yet see more emerging from the undergrowth. < /Attenborough>

*, for the dedicated fans among you
Apr. 14th, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
I just assumed it was K until I ran a traceroute. Good impression, I was fooled.
Apr. 14th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)

I keep writing to Mr Darling (my MP) about data sharing, who forwards it on to Ms Smith, who sends me photocopies of Bills I'm writing to her about. Its a fun game.
Apr. 14th, 2009 12:24 pm (UTC)
I'm just teasing you.
YOu are evil.

Apr. 15th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
Threat level awesome is the only response.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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