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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there