Anti-alcohol ankle tags: They didn't work for Lindsay Lohan and they won't work for us

The big problem is where it all might lead


Bar-room brawlers and drink-drivers beware. Lindsay Lohan is coming to get you – or, to be more accurate, the anti-alcohol device for which she became the pin-up girl is headed for one of your ankles.

Lohan is the alky-tag trailblazer: seven years ago she was fitted with a SCRAM bracelet – it stands for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring – and immediately turned it into a fashion item by posing in it next to a surfboard. Not that is seems to have done her much good, given that she’s been in and out of rehab ever since and is currently undergoing enforced psychotherapy as part of a sentence imposed following a car crash in 2012.

But whether it works or not, as part of the Alcohol Abstinence and Monitoring Scheme four south London boroughs – Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Sutton – will shortly be attaching transdermal ankle tags, which measure the alcohol content of perspiration, to around 150 offenders for a four-month trial

The Americans swear by them – in South Dakota, according to a former White House adviser on drugs, Professor Keith Humphreys, repeat drink-driving offences have dropped by 12 per cent and domestic violence arrests have gone down by nine per cent. And if they help reduce alcohol-fuelled recidivism – even save lives, perhaps, if levels of drink-driving go down – what possible objection can any sane, reasonable person have?

In fact they raise one of the biggest questions facing us today – the question of how much we want to be governed, how much control over our lives we are willing to concede to any government (particularly a government that gets itself elected with just over a third of the popular vote, like our current lot). The tags highlight the huge contradiction at the heart of most right-wing politics: the Tories, like their foaming-at-the-mouth counterparts in the United States, want less government, not more. But this is more government, not less.

I appreciate that the tags will only be slapped on those who’ve broken the law: those involved in drunken fights or over-the-limit driving are the targets, not those of us in the habit of having a glass of wine or two – or even three – after a long, hard day at work (even if we are riding roughshod through government guidelines as we do it).

The big problem is where it all might lead. Pretty soon, I’m sure, ankle tags will be over, taken to the Antiques Roadshow or Flog It! to be valued as curios. They’ll be superseded by chips in the skin or skull implants, or health-police nanobots cruising round our bloodstream monitoring our daily intake of food and drink and anything else we might choose to imbibe. Those chips or implants will become increasingly sophisticated, until they’re sending alarm signals to the police whenever a subversive thought is detected. This might seem absurdly far-fetched, way beyond anything the government presently intends. Ever heard of mission creep?

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