Since my mother died ten years ago, there's been very little daylight between thinking about doing and doing for my father. Thus, as I've gotten older and more curmudgeonly myself, and he's therefore grown more inclined to listen to my opinions, I've increasingly had occasion to pose questions to him regarding judgment calls. "Dad, where would you even put another antique Japanese screen in this house if you drove up to San Francisco to buy it?" "Dad, are you sure you really want to say that about the trial judge in this appellate brief?" "Dad, if you know the 14-year-old dachshund is incontinent, why did you let it on the couch in the first place?" And so on.
Though diplomacy is not my long suit, I make every effort to pose such questions in a diplomatic matter. After all, what I owe to my father is deep and incalculable, as is my respect and affection for him. I don't want to start hollering and berating him and shaking him and breaking his toys in front of him, like I do with my kids. He's entitled to better.
In the same vein, because of the historical, social, and cultural debt America owes England, we ought to restrain ourselves from grabbing it by its unfashionably wide and shiny lapels and shaking it while shouting "WHAT THE FUCK, ENGLAND, WHAT THE FUCK? DOES THE MAGNA GODDAMN CARTA RING A BELL? DON'T YOU REMEMBER SIR THOMAS' MOORE'S SPEECH ABOUT THE LAWS FROM 'A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS?'"
Instead, we ought to sit down and find respectful, supportive, and constructive ways to probe England's bizarre behavior. We ought to ask France and Spain about whether they've noticed anything odd, and perhaps see if Belgium will nip over and check in on England when we are away for the weekend to make sure it hasn't fallen in the tub or something.
Because England seems, in an apparent rush of dotage, to be plunging into a society ripped from a derivative graphic novel.
Specifically, England seems to have successfully terrified itself into piling on some of the trappings, if not the reality, of a police state.
Now, I know what you are thinking. An American, in the wake of 9/11, ought not be criticizing another nation's security excesses. And I acknowledge the translucence of our Windex-ready house, thank you. We've blogged about post-9/11 excesses plenty. But a lot of America's ineffectual, hysterical, and rights-trammeling overreactions have been as a result of executive action as opposed to legislation. The USA PATRIOT Act gets a lot of bad press, but many of the horrors attributed to it have actually been about aggressive implementations of previously existing laws, as I have argued. When the nation elected President Obama rather than a team that scorned and ridiculed the notion that anyone should care about the civil liberties of someone accused of being a terrorist, perhaps it was a signal that we are not quite on the headlong rush over the totalitarian cliffs that Kos denziens would have us believe.
What's happening in England seems to be qualitatively different, as well as different in tone and style.
First, there's the fetishistic devotion to public surveillance through CCTV:
Britain is officially the most watched country in the world. We’re now monitored by some four million CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras, one for every 14 citizens. If you live in London, the chances are you are caught on CCTV about 300 times a day.
This surveillance state thrives despite reasons to doubt whether they achieve their ostensible goals. As Coyote Blog recently pointed out, it has reached the point where the state is imposing CCTV on private spaces, in this case by refusing to renew pub licenses unless publicans install CCTV:
Nick Gibson is attempting to re-open The Draper’s Arms on Barnsbury Street, a former Evening Standard pub of the year winner that shut its doors last August. But to regain a licence, he’s been told he must fit CCTV cameras that capture the head and shoulders of everyone entering the pub, and be willing to hand over footage whenever the police ask for it.
But the enthusiasm for surveillance runs strictly in one direction. Across the world, the Rodney King incident ushered in a revolution in citizen surveillance of government action and police misconduct, with the increasingly portable video camera its weapon. This is not a popular trend in law enforcement circles, in England or elsewhere. And in England, it's suddenly become more dangerous. Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act of 2008 went into effect last week. Briefly, it makes it a crime to elicit or publish information about English police or military if that information "is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism." In other words, taking pictures of police movements during demonstrations can be a crime. It's an affirmative defense if you have a "reasonable excuse" — which means God knows what.
Now, need the photogs fear? Would the government abuse a law intended to protect against genuine terrorists in order to attack photographers, journalists, and citizens agitated about entirely unrelated civil issues? Of course it would. Local governments — where, worldwide, the most mean, needy, and petty personalities are conferred with the most inappropriately extensive powers — have already shown an eagerness in England to abuse terrorism-inspired surveillance powers to address Mrs. Grundy's picayune concerns about dog shit, littering, disabled parking violations, and school attendance issues:
Some councils have used the sweeping powers granted by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) more than 100 times in the last year to follow and watch residents or monitor their calls – often while dealing with the most minor of suspected offences.
Their activities emerged weeks after the Daily Mail revealed Poole council in Dorset had spied on a family because it wrongly suspected the parents of abusing rules on school catchment areas.
Computer programmer Tim Joyce, 37, Jenny Paton, 39, and their three daughters were subject to an extraordinary operation which saw them tailed round the clock by officials who described the family car as a "target vehicle".
And then there's the information surveillance. In England, doctors, social workers, police, and other officials will soon have access to ContactPoint, a vast database containing private information about all England's children. But rest assured it's for the chiiiildruuun. England's National Health Service is well on its way to having everyone's medical records in a central database, and the government would like that database accessible to other government agencies, thank you very much. Britain's attempt at a comprehensive DNA database has run afoul of the questionable European "Court of Human Rights" [scare quotes intentional] for retaining the DNA of everyone arrested or charged with an offense, whether or not they are exonerated. And the Home Secretary is campaigning for a government database that would maintain, for two years, all records of the time, duration, and parties to all mobile phone calls, the senders and recipients of all emails, and all web sites visited. Better yet, she's managed to spin it as necessary to avoid even more surveillance:
Without increasing their capacity to store data, the police and security services would have to consider a "massive expansion of surveillance," Ms Smith said in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research earlier.
So, perhaps the time has come for England's loved ones to have a hushed, uncomfortable discussion about What Is To Be Done. Even the House of Lords, hardly a revolutionary institution, has taken notice. In a thorough and thoughtful report, that august body recently confronted the surveillance-and-security-driven changes in English society and was moved to ask whether the price in liberty should be paid. It's good that somebody is asking.
What the Hell is up, England?
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Hate Speech Debate on More Perfect Live - September 5th, 2017
- Popehat Goes To The Opera: Un ballo in maschera - August 19th, 2017
- Department of Justice Uses Search Warrant To Get Data On Visitors to Anti-Trump Site - August 14th, 2017
- America At The End of All Hypotheticals - August 14th, 2017
- Lawsplainer: Why John Oliver Is Anti-Diversity Now - August 11th, 2017