Guy Adams: Big brother: a part of the American DNA

LA Notebook
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The Independent Online

The next time a blue flashing light appears in my rear-view mirror and a gun-toting police officer strolls up to ask for my particulars, I may be able to escape further censure without having to 'umbly claim, in a cut-glass English accent, to be awfully, awfully sorry.

Prosecutors in Orange County, LA's version of Surrey, have just unveiled an innovative new method for dealing with speeding motorists and other naughty people accused of minor crimes: give a DNA sample and they will drop all charges against you.

The scheme has several aims: to ease the state of California's legal bills, free-up its court system, and reduce pressure on appallingly overcrowded jails. It will also allow cops to create a vast DNA registry of petty crooks, which will help solve really big crimes.

Now, I know what you're thinking: DNA database, eh? Smacks of Orwell, right? And, of course, it does. But if you thought LA's natives might be up in arms at this new infringement on civil liberties, you'd be wrong: when the policy was announced this week, controversy was practically non-existent.

The concept of liberty travels strangely, though. Visitors to the US often observe the incongruity of the "land of the free" fingerprinting you at border control. They are also frequently baffled by America's comically draconian drinking laws, which often see pensioners asked to present identification papers to prove they are old enough to buy alcohol.

But who are we to sneer? Americans, for their part, sometimes dub Britain a "big brother" society: where there are more CCTV cameras, per capita, than anywhere on the planet, and people subscribe to a healthcare system that puts government in charge of your hip replacement.

The point, of course, is that every country, has its own definition of civil liberties. No one gets it absolutely right but, in many ways, that definition defines a nation. Right now, I suppose that makes the Orange County a definitively nice place to be a petty criminal.

Arnie's plane crazy scheme

Speaking of liberties, Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration is now to intrude into our private lives by banning inefficient plasma screen televisions from California, on the grounds that they're bad for the environment. Last I checked, the Governor is still commuting to work each day, from LA to Sacramento, via private jet.

Subway catching arch rivals

Zeitgeist alert! The sandwich retailer Subway says it will have more locations than McDonald's by the year's end. At present, it boasts 31,771 to its rival's 32,158, but is catching up fast. A "Sub" boasts roughly half the calories of your average Big Mac. Read into that what you will.