Many a word said in jest
you have to see it [PNR] in the wider context. We tend to focus very much on what is right in front of us and that is the PNR proposals but, if you look at the wider context, let us start with anything to do with travel and passenger movements. We are talking about the collection of fingerprints, not one but ten. We are talking about an entry/exit system. We are talking about an electronic travel authorisation scheme, and for all modes of travel, not just air travel. People are beginning to look at train travel, boats, car. I do not know about the UK but in the Netherlands we are introducing a kind of congestion charge system which will register cars.
We have a public transport system which will work with a chip card which will register your movements as well.
Is it like Oyster?
Then, if you look at all the other sectors, it is not only about PNR because then you will say, “Oh, okay, if it is used for the right purposes —“, but there are telecommunications data, including the contents of our communications, postal data, medical data, bank data, credit card data, there are smart cameras, smart microphones, satellite surveillance, you name it.
– National identity card and National Register scheme –
They are literally working on cameras which can look through walls, so basically they know everything about us. And then you go to back to PNR then and you ask yourself, “Is it actually going to make our lives safer?”, because that is the stated purpose. I do not know.
Frankly, I am getting the feeling that citizens are increasingly under surveillance and the right to hold the executive to account is being eroded rapidly.
Maybe I should conclude on a more philosophical remark, which seems a bit exaggerated but still it makes me think. Everybody is looking at China now. The government of China, as we know, is obliging companies such as Google and Yahoo to submit their customer records to the authorities for national security purposes. We say, “That is outrageous. They are a dictatorship”. Western governments are obliging Google and Yahoo to submit their customer records for national security purposes and we can no more hold our governments to account than the Chinese can. We still live in a democracy and I would like to keep it that way.
Why is that exaggerated or outrageous? I don’t understand why it is evil that China keeps its citizens under surveillance but it is good that the UK keeps us under surveillance. The only difference seems to be the purported system of government and the outcomes of surveillance.
Well, ok, I’m not going to claim that we are in an equivalent situation to the Chinese. But we’re relying on goodwill / faith / trust that today’s (or a future) government is benign.