Nick Pickles: The security industry has politicians in its thrall

Security shows have become as glitzy as Formula One events

Share
Related Topics

The security company in the headlines this weekend may be G4S, but the wider question of whether the military-security establishment has sought to benefit from exploiting the public's fears about their safety has been brushed under the carpet by politicians who have been equally culpable of the same manipulation.

After 9/11, New Labour subjected the public to regular warnings that an attack was imminent and that we had to trust the Government to make decisions about how our liberty should be protected.

Every decision, every argument, was framed in the context of national security and terror. Ian Huntley and Osama bin Laden became poster boys for a generation of operatives who saw fear as their most successful lobbying tool. Those who opposed increasingly authoritarian policies – from 90-day detention to ID cards – were caricatured as appeasers, not to be trusted or taken seriously.

The invasion of Iraq was pursued on the pretext of protecting British and American national security. Weapons of mass destruction, capable of being launched in 45 minutes, may have turned out to be a work of fiction, but the political advantages and commercial benefits enjoyed by those involved were all too real.

The Blair government may be long gone, but read Home Office press releases and you'd struggle to tell the difference. Even the modest proposal to require local authority officials to seek a court warrant before they enter your home – as contained in the Conservative manifesto – was casually punted into the long grass by way of a two-year review.

From the watering down of proposals to destroy innocent people's DNA held by the police to the devolution of police powers to civilians, including private security contractors, the impression given is that it is officials schooled by New Labour, not ministers, who are making decisions about which liberties are expendable.

Where does this demand for security come from? Why is it that the people offering services to protect the public are often lobbying publicly and privately about the need for greater investment in security infrastructure. The security industry has managed to co-opt the political class as both their main proponent and their biggest customer.

Fear breeds invention, as the saying goes. And the security industry has been busy inventing – and selling. Walk round any security conference and you'll be greeted by the kind of glitzy marketing and promotion you might expect at a Formula One event. If marketing is about finding potential customers and then creating demand for your product, the security industry is rapidly becoming a textbook example of how to get rich quick without ever having to test your assumptions.

Since 9/11 an entire industry has sprung up offering services for screening passengers; thousands of body scanners have been installed worldwide; and governments have called for more security staff on planes. These vested interests are not only a commercial force. Civil servants are more than ever using the fear of terrorism and the need to "secure" our borders/children/property/energy to further their own interests.

When David Davis MP coined the term "securocrat", he illustrated the ability of Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister to hide empire-building behind warnings of the sky falling in. Present events neatly demonstrate how effective this can be. At a time of swingeing government spending cuts, the Home Office has secured £1.8bn for its Communications Capabilities Directorate, the 120-strong team responsible for the draft Communications Data Bill.

Those expecting to know how this money will be spent will be disappointed. Question accountability, feasibility or budgets and you will be told all is in hand, as we once were with the NHS IT project, countless Ministry of Defence sagas and the cost of the Olympics. The Communications Capabilities Development Programme is set to become the first democratic government policy to force communications providers to monitor their customers, and also the first government IT project to come in on budget and work exactly as planned.

Yes, we need to be vigilant, but if we pursue policies that inhibit civil liberties in the short term, we put at risk the same freedoms we are seeking to defend. Not only have we created a climate of fear, we have allowed those with a vested interest to control the debate. Now is the time to challenge those who seek to profit from fear.

Hysterical arguments about paedophiles and terrorists demean both the public and the institutions we trust to keep us safe. Defending the realm means defending the values that have made this country not just a prosperous one but a beacon of liberty that has, and must, shine brightly.

The achievements of the future will not be made possible by more sacrifices of freedoms, but by a willingness to act proportionately in the face of risk. Freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction, Ronald Reagan once said. Let us not be the generation that fails to speak up.

Nick Pickles is director of the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Primary Teacher Jobs in Blackpool

Negotiable: Randstad Education Preston: Primary Teacher Jobs in BlackpoolWe ar...

Health & Social Teacher

Competitive & Flexible : Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobRandstad Educati...

***SEN British Sign Language Teacher***

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Successful candidate should hav...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album