Letters: 'Big Brother' database

'Big Brother' database targets the innocent
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The Independent Online

The proposed Big Brother database (report, 15 October) will increase the workload for thousands of people – information analysts, surveillance teams, police officers, lawyers and prison officers – to such an extent that they won't be able to see the wood for the trees.

Eventually, millions of innocent people will have their names flagged up by government computers on fishing expeditions, simply because they looked at an extremist website or typed the word "terrorist" in an email.

Any future terrorists stupid enough to use mobiles more than once, or to use their own landline phones and computers to organise bomb attacks, will probably be 10 years old and more of a threat to themselves than the public.

The billions of pounds Labour intends spending on a "Big Brother" database and ID cards will do next to nothing to prevent terrorism, because terrorists are already moving the goalposts. And while security services are snowed under investigating everybody and their dogs, the real bombers will slip through the oversized net.

However, Labour will consider Big Brother a success if it clamps down on free speech and any criticism of the party. There could easily come a time when it may be wise to start each email with praise of our glorious government and to avoid words and phrases that could trigger a soulless surveillance computer into labelling the sender as an enemy of the state. With coded messages making a big return, it'll be a bit like Allo, allo! – without the laughs.

Alan Aitchison

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

If the Government is to store all e-mail traffic, what are they going to with all those we receive advertising medication, sex aids, university degrees without study, bank security alerts etc? These are far in excess of genuine mail. Perhaps we could all help by forwarding the Government all the stuff we do not bother to read.

Paul Shipman

Broughton Astley, Leicestershire

The Government plans to delve into our private affairs and risk our liberty. You delved into the affairs of the BBC and now their staff will have no biscuits ("Beeb bans champers", 15 October). Where will it all end?

Alex Palmer

Epsom, Surrey

Now, let's get back to proper work

The problem was caused when we stopped making things and growing things and started to sit in offices fiddling with paper. We must start making and growing again. All the big rich countries farmed, mined and manufactured their way to wealth. We cannot continue to rest on the achievements of our grandparents by shuffling paper to revalue the property they left us to raise loans to pay other countries to do our work for us.

Government, progressively since the Second World War, skewed the economy towards "the City", and made value-adding activity increasingly impossible and even disreputable. Our farms and factories have been pretty much destroyed, and the present crisis is the consequence.

To pay our way we have sold off the family silver, mortgaged the property and written IOUs beyond plausibility. Now it is time to start work again and actually have something tangible to show for the day's work. No one is going to lend us money simply so that we can pay them to work for us – why would they do that?

And get used to the fact that it will take us 20 years to work ourselves out of this mess; it will not be over by Christmas this year, or next.

Mike Bell


The Government has belatedly come to the rescue of the banking industry and I suspect will now have to do so for the real economy via a further increase in borrowing to carry out public works, much in the way that the Japanese government did in the 1990s.

However unlike in Japan, where unnecessary roads, bridges etc were built, I would hope that the UK government is considering its options, particularly in the climate change field. With some forethought it ought to be able to be able to kill two birds with one stone by reducing the impact of the looming recession and funding vital long-term environmental projects .

Andrew Foster

Bradninch, Devon

We were all taught that if you owe the bank one pound, it's your problem, but if you owe the bank a million pounds, it's the bank's problem. Now we know that if that bank owes another bank a billion pounds, it's everybody's problem.

Dr Andrew Duncombe


High salaries and bonuses are necessary to make key jobs attractive to the best people, who are able to take and explain the difficult developmental decisions required to promote progress in a changing and challenging world.

Thus, for example, we have been blessed with George Bush, Jeremy Clarkson, Nick Leeson, Rupert Murdoch, Carol Vorderman, Jose Mourinho and Ian Blair; thus we successfully cope with the destabilising effects of climate change, ensure that wealth sensibly circulates and eradicate politically generated wars based on the dissemination of inaccurate information.

Punitive rates of taxation penalising those who deserve the highest possible short-term remuneration could not in any way improve the calibre of the decisions made at the "top" of society.

Roger Sell

Forfar, Angus

I have a mortgage with the Halifax. Now that I have lent them money through my taxes, can I claim it against that mortgage? If not, I'd quite like it back.

Andrew Gilbert

Cockermouth, Cumbria

Drugs a waste of police time

Two jaw-dropping sets of statistics about UK drug law enforcement emerged at the start of October, though neither got much press attention.

The first statistic may have been overlooked because it requires putting together statistical information released by all three UK countries, namely that the number of UK drug offenders reached a record 271,000 in 2007/08.

Second, drug-related stops and searches by the police in England and Wales rose to an unprecedented 405,000 in 2006-07 (and this figure excludes the growing number of legally questionable "sniffer dog" trawls). Add to this relevant figures for the rest of the UK, and we now have an annual national toll of almost half a million drug-related stops and searches.

Yet just 8 per cent of recent stops and searches resulted in arrests. Similarly, just 6 per cent of the 65 "intimate searches" for Class-A drugs resulted in "positive finds". Recent research has also revealed that a highly disproportionate rate of stops and searches single out blacks and Asians. Moreover, most of these cases involved simple possession of small amounts of cannabis (and sometimes other drugs).

Police priorities such as these make a mockery of our criminal justice system, especially when just 1 per cent of reported rapes result in the conviction of a rapist. The resources required to make almost half a million drug-related stops and searches and to process more than a quarter of a million drug offences are a dreadful waste of taxpayers' money, and the whole operation has become a gross infringement of democratic rights.

Dr Russell Newcombe


UK takes soft line on car emissions

Over the next few days European governments will meet to agree their position on emissions from new cars. Smarter cars that use less fuel will make a significant contribution to tackling climate change, slash fuel bills for drivers and reduce our dependence on unsustainable biofuels.

However, rather than calling for tough action, the UK Government is supporting delayed targets and weaker penalties for companies that do not cut emissions. Ministers are putting the interests of the manufacturers of inefficient and polluting cars ahead of tackling climate change, rewarding clean technology and creating new jobs.

Recent opinion polls show that people in the UK overwhelmingly want more fuel-efficient cars – over three-quarters want the average fuel use of new cars to be halved by 2020, but the Government seems happy to accept a weaker target.

The UK Government must put the interests of the planet and its people first, and ensure that the EU sets tough standards for new car emissions that make the car industry play a full part in tackling climate change, while also taking practical steps to cut car dependency.

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth

John Sauven, Greenpeace

Mark Avery, RSPB

Stephen Joseph, Campaign for Better Transport

Malcolm Shepherd, Sustrans

Blake Ludwig, Alliance Against Urban 4x4s, London N1

Children will read if they are read to

As a children's book reviewer, I would give qualified support to Jonathan Douglas's call for a revitalised comic culture. Many children who class themselves as poor readers enjoy the samizdat feel of Japanese manga comics, but where are the British authors for this market?

Some publishers have taken to issuing bestsellers by Eoin Colfer, Anthony Horowitz and Charlie Higson as graphic novels; Classical Comics have a brilliant new venture giving Shakespeare the manga treatment. But I believe that the fall-off in reading books at secondary school is due above all to parents' reluctance to read aloud to their children at bed-time.

Children are unlikely to read for pleasure unless their parents read too, with gusto and passion. Blaming computer technology is a cop-out, akin to blaming obesity on ready meals. It isn't up to schools, or publishers to make readers of your children: it's up to you.

Amanda Craig

London NW1


Let SATs die quietly

A good general knows when a battle is lost. Ed Balls should recognise that any attempt to breathe life into the corpse that is the SATs regime will be treated with dismay and disbelief by the teaching profession. The tests for seven-year-olds lost the will to live some time ago. Now the tests for 14-year-olds have given up the ghost. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are all SAT-free. Can there be any logic or merit in trying to keep the Key Stage 2 tests staggering on?

Alan Gibbons


A Tory-ruled England

Edward Smith, in his plea for an English parliament (letter, 13 October), cites laws introduced by the devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, such as abolition of prescription charges and tuition fees for higher education. Does he really believe that an English parliament, situated in Birmingham or Manchester, with almost certainly a permanent Tory majority, would introduce such sensible, socialist measures? I think not. No, the answer is to lobby our United Kingdom parliament for these measures, and vote for any party who promises them in their manifesto.

Tom Derbyshire

Wigan, Greater Manchester

Unequal relationship

Sandra Simkin (letter, 15 October) bemoans the quantity of American programmes on our television. What of the other side of the coin? British broadcasters happily buy US programmes and show them just as they come, but it doesn't work in the other direction. US broadcasters buy our programme formats, and invariably remake them in an American setting, with characters called Al Schwartz and Gloria Plotnick, because heaven forbid that US viewers should be exposed to other cultures. There has to be a middle way.

John Smurthwaite


Attack on libraries

To witness some of the consequences of Andy Burnham's proposal to destroy public libraries (letters, 15 October) it is necessary to undergo the depressing experience of visiting some of those libraries, even in leading universities, that have become in effect internet cafes and coffee shops. Gone is the inducement to read, cogitate, daydream, sleep, ponder. The consequence must be the exponential dumbing-down of a population already under unprecedented surveillance and state control, and which will become increasingly politically illiterate and apathetic. Which is probably the point of the proposals.

Michael Rosenthal

Banbury, Oxfordshire

Clear for take-off

Although Thursday 16 October has been designated for celebration of the impressive performance of Team GB at the Beijing Olympics, it would be a pity if this distracted attention from an even more significant event connected with that date. Exactly one hundred years ago, on 16 October 1908 on Farnborough Common, Samuel Franklin Cody revved up the engine of Army Aircraft 1 and in the course of the next 27 seconds made the first successful powered flight in this country.

Jim Russell

Church Crookham, Hampshire