I used to listen to my grandparents and my parents bewailing how society had changed and it seems I am now doing exactly the same thing. The fact is that during my lifetime we have become more fearful, constantly monitored and watched and judging by some of the tragic crimes reported (like people being killed over a parking space) many people are so stressed out they are wound up like tightly coiled springs. It’s sad that we let things continue in this way.
Recent months have seen increasing moves by the Government to bring in new laws ostensibly to “protect the public”, these have included ensuring that people disclose the contents of packages through the mail to destinations within the UK, proposed internet censorship, immigration officials on the streets of cities stopping people to ask about their movements, and proposing new legislation to increase police powers to the point where even getting annoyed will see you in the dock. Very interesting article giving more detail about this can be found here. The attitude of “well, if you are doing nothing wrong you have no need to worry” seems to be to be missing the point somewhat. I am not doing anything wrong, therefore it does bother me that whilst I am going about my legitimate day to day activities I suddenly have to answer to the state police. This sounds uncomfortably familiar to me from studies of European and World history.
As things are, I can’t even go and have an ice cream on Glastonbury High Street now without being filmed on CCTV. I’m not doing anything wrong. I just find it irritating that every aspect of my daily life seems to be either captured on film or traced in other ways. For example, I shop in a supermarket somewhere, I pay by card and maybe scan in a loyalty card. Suddenly my entire shopping history is a matter of public record. The store, and whoever they go on to sell this information to, knows if I like marmite, what cereal I buy for breakfast and even if I use tampons or towels. If I buy a TV there is a whole hoo-hah if I wont give over my full name and address even though it may well be a gift and is going to live somewhere other than my own front room. And if you do give it over “because you aren’t doing anything wrong”, 2 weeks later you are being hassled by the TV License enforcers. You have purchased a TV ergo you must be watching TV. By that logic if I have milk in my fridge, I must own a cow.
Why are there so many CCTV cameras? Apparently they help prevent crime. Really? I seem to remember that “back in the day” there was far less crime, and we had never seen a CCTV. The College of Policing has indicated that CCTV has caused a slight reduction in car related crime but has had no noticeable effect on violent crime, which is the type of crime the majority of people are most worried about. Maybe we should be looking at the type of societal attitudes that seem to have prevailed since the Thatcher years where it is just a case of every man for himself and screw the effects on other people. Call me old fashioned, but maybe there should be more focus on creating a society where consideration and respect for others is not seen as weak and pathetic, but as a positive quality. Or maybe a society where it is not demonstrated by our own Government’s policy that is is OK to attack the vulnerable, the disabled, elderly or unemployed people because after all they are are fair game, because they are just being a drain on everyone else.
And all the time we are constantly bomarded with awful stories of muggings, abductions, robberies and so on by the news channels and other media, as if this is all a new phenomenon. Everyone feels they are much more likely to be a victim of violent crime and yes crime rates have increased. But then again, so has the population, alongside better ways of recording data. The key factor in generating a disproportionate fear of violent attack is, in my opinion, the way telecommunications are now compared to in the past. We now know much more of what is going on much more quickly than we did previously. You are still more likely to be raped or murdered by someone you know than as the result of attack by a stranger but we are made to be fearful, we avoid engaging with each other because we assume we are surrounded by psychotic, violent weirdos at all times, and and then we agree to being constantly filmed “just to be on the safe side”. How long until your webcam switches on automatically to watch all your activities in your own home, and it becomes illegal to turn it off? Far-fetched? I used to think so, now I am not so sure. Pretty soon, there will be a record somewhere that you picked your nose whilst watching an online movie! And you had 3 glasses of wine and not the 2 you said you had!
Of course you may not have the option of watching an online movie for much longer, especially if it is of an “adult nature”. We are being told that in a few months time that we will have to “opt out” of being prevented from accessing certain perfectly legal websites. Apparently this will protect children from pornography and paedophiles. Firstly, sites depicting obscene images of children are already illegal. Judging by the type and number of police stings it would seem that Paedophiles are are actually much more fond of using forums to liaise and to distribute obscene materials, and accessing social networking sites where they can hide behind fake profiles and groom children and young teens. Censoring legal porn sites will not stop any paedophile from getting into these forums or social networking sites. The internet is constantly blamed for people’s behaviour, yet there were plenty of mass murderers, serial killers, paedophiles and child murderers long before Tim Berners-Lee was even a glint in his dad’s eye. Albert Fish was one of the vilest child murderers and sex offenders that ever lived. He was born in 1870 and I am pretty sure he didn’t have access to vast quantities of porn, snuff movies or violent computer games.
Of course no one wants kids to have access to pornography or other disturbing images online. But surely this is the responsibility of the parents? If they want to opt-in to an internet block then fine by me. It’s their choice. Since their children’s internet habits are not my responsibility I should have to do precisely nothing for my internet to remain the same. If, as a consenting adult I want to access the legal pornography available online it is no one’s business but my own. It is certainly nothing to do with my internet service provider or the Government of the United Kingdom.
In cities up and down the UK we saw random people being stopped and asked to account for their movements. This was apparently a crack down on illegal immigrants, even though official figures confirmed that the majority of arrests from these activities actually came about through intelligence ie, the police already knew about the individuals, and through raids on sweatshops employing illegal workers. Only 21 out of 160 arrests took place at the spot checks. So what was the real point of this? Maybe there will be new moves to bring in an identity card which you will be required to show on request regardless of whether or not you are actually doing anything wrong. Maybe it is just a way of getting us used to being stopped by the police and asked for our papers. Whatever the reason, it is not protecting us from anything as far as I can see. But it is making people fearful. Again, people were shrugging and saying “oh well I wasnt doing anything wrong”. Surely that is the point, why should we get stopped for doing nothing wrong? Would I be happy about it? No not really, I just want to be left alone to get on with my day!
So the state continues to monitor our lives in almost unnoticeable ways, so much so that a lot of the surveillance is now just seen as normal. On a recent trip to the Post Office I was informed that I had to divulge what was in a parcel I was sending within the UK. I asked why they had to have this information and was told the law had been changed and that they had to be aware of what was being sent in the mail. Obviously any international terrorist is going to happily report the contents of his dodgy package to the guy behind the desk in the post office. I still can’t see how this is any real use in the fight against terror but it does serve to make you worry about the risk of some madman sending anthrax through the post. After all if the Government have had to bring in yet another law, there has to be something to worry about, right?
In all of this the thing I find most disturbing is the public’s complete apathy, or just ignorance, as to what is going on right in front of them. They seem to think people living within a dictatorships just woke up one morning to find everything clamped down. The reality is that most of the draconian measures are brought in piecemeal, aided and abetted by people who think that if you aren’t doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear. Right up until the point they are marched off to an internment camp somewhere.