George Orwell, 1984
It seems appropriate that the author of 1984 was a British citizen. George Orwell must have seen how easily the great British public's lamb-like disposition toward its leaders could be exploited to create a police state. Say what you will about Americans, but one thing they are not is passive. The Bush administration may have pushed through the Patriot Act weeks after 11 September, but, as the American public got to grips with how the law was affecting their individual rights, their protests grew loud and angry.
Yesterday saw the publication of the Government's latest Anti-terror Bill that would give police even more power. The House of Lords, meanwhile, is debating the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, and Whitehall is investigating ways to ban former civil servants from publishing their accounts of what happens in the corridors of power.
There are already nearly 200 pieces of anti-terrorism legislation. What else can be left except thought-crime? The police and politicians have scented power and they want to run it to ground. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair shamelessly demands more laws even while his department is under investigation for shooting dead an innocent Brazilian.
But never underestimate the British public's lack of interest in serious issues. They may moan and gripe, but the most they are likely to do is to write a letter to the editor, "Yours outraged, Tunbridge Wells". Soon enough, they will be back gobbling up their junk diet of celebrity piffle. One can almost hear the powers that be issuing their proclamation to the masses: "Let them read Heat".
Meanwhile, the public is being banned from protesting within 1km of Parliament. The Serious Crime and Police Powers Act makes it a criminal offence to trespass on a "designated site" for "national security" reasons. It is likely we'll see the law used against protesters. Police can also store a person's details, fingerprints and DNA when that person is arrested. You don't have to be found guilty for the police to swab your mouth and keep records on you; simply looking suspicious or being in the wrong place at the wrong time is reason enough.
I hopped on a London bus recently and found my face broadcast on both decks. The cameras are to make us feel safer. They make me feel violated. I'd feel safer if the police were more accountable and told me, for example, how many officers patrol my neighbourhood or the number of times police fail to show up when called.
Across government, institutional privacy is protected at all costs, while individual privacy is under assault. Yet the passive faces of my bus companions shows a society so dulled into submission they resemble stunned cows lined up for slaughter. I can't help thinking that in America there would be petitions, leaflets, protests, maybe even armed violence.
Constant surveillance, files on innocent people, secret trials - these are the hallmarks of a police state, one that is being erected with the meek acceptance of the British public.
Where are the fighters in the UK? Where is the concern that the state is invading every single nook of our privacy? That the police are becoming more politicised and more powerful? That politicians are cloaking themselves in secrecy under the guise of national security for the most ridiculous of reasons.
What should happen is this - we should give no more power to the state without the state giving something to us. If the Government wants to keep a database of our identities, then it should publish its entire staff directory so we can see who is doing what at taxpayers' expense. If the police want to detain people for longer periods, they must tell us who these people are and what they are accused of doing; they must provide enough evidence to a judge to warrant such internment.
Here's what you can do: write to your MP or send a fax or an email to them via www.writetothem.com. See what they say on anti-terror laws or ID cards at www.theyworkforyou.com, attend a local council meeting, start asking questions and demand accountability from all those public bodies who take your money. You could even form a citizens' group or donate money to an existing pro-democracy campaign such as Liberty, Justice, Inquest, www.Mysociety.org. The alternative is real life Big Brother with all the grainy grimness of a CCTV photo shoot.Reuse content