Friday, 17 October 2008

This is what we were afraid of

There is a reason I have opposed the majority of the anti-terror legislation passed in Britain in recent years. In fact, there is more than one.

Firstly and not to be overlooked is the simple ideological opposition to the erosion of civil liberties. I don't actually care if someone is suspected of terrorism - that does not, and should not, negate their rights.

Secondly, in regards to the legislation seeking to introduce databases of information on the public at large (such as the ID cards database and the NHS patient information database), there is the concern that the data would be misplaced. It has happened so regularly in the last year or two that it hardly seems to be newsworthy any more. Even if we think the system is necessary, how can we trust the government to keep our information suitably protected?

Finally, and most seriously, is the point that so few seem to grasp. When I raise the subject of anti-terror legislation, I'm sometimes met by the argument that these things are necessary and the only people who should be afraid are the terrorists; the only people who lose liberties are those who arguably don't deserve them in the first place. This misses the point entirely.

It is now unnecessary for someone to be charged if the police want to hold them for up to 28 days. A month, without charge. All they need to do is say "terrorism", and, like magic, superpowers are unlocked. Already we have had examples of so-called anti-terror legislation being used against people not even suspected of being terrorists. A heckler at a Labour party conference, for instance; and, most recently and shockingly, the state of Iceland.

This is the real danger of anti-terror legislation. Whenever it proves expedient, it will be used against those not under suspicion of the crimes it was created to fight.

Which is why I am less than pleased by the proposed Communications Data Bill. "Orwellian" barely does it justice. If you are resident in the UK, I urge you to review the proposed new measures (which are well summarised by the Skeptobot here) and write to your MP. Consent by silence is an awful, awful thing.

"...while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense."
V, V For Vendetta

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