UK Liberty

The surveillance society is for your own good

Posted in database state, law and order, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on September 10, 2008

I wrote in a previous post,

We – and our beloved leaders and the media – need to get a grip. Our leaders must stop politicising terror (”the Opposition will get you killed”) and the media should stop buying into the Climate of Fear.

Particularly because these headline grabbing Hollywood terror plots are used to infringe on our liberties.

Peter Clarke wrote in a misleading article for the Times:

So was there or was there not a plot to bring down airliners? I know what I think. The jury agreed that some of those on trial wanted to commit murder, but couldn’t agree, despite strong evidence, that the targets were airliners.

Note that neither he nor the Times have said what this ‘strong evidence’ is.  It seems to amount to a list of flight times and notes about airport security.  If that’s all there is, no wonder it failed to convince the jury beyond reasonable doubt that the targets were aircraft rather than bombs in the airport.

(To be honest, other than planes being a symbol and their vulnerability, I can’t see the difference between intending to blow up hundreds of people at an airport and hundreds of people on a ‘plane.)

…We have what is probably the most effective counter-terrorist machinery in the world. The organisations involved have been at full stretch for years, and despite the gainsayers, the legal and ethical standards of the counter-terrorist effort are incredibly high – the British public demands and deserves no less.

They also deserve a better quality debate about the relationship between individual liberties and collective security.


Take this case. To save the lives of the innocent and convict the would-be killers we used all the tools in the security armoury. Deeply intrusive surveillance, informants, CCTV, DNA, telephone call data and so on. This was not about collecting information for its own sake – it was to secure evidence to put before a court.

That’s not the same thing as a surveillance society.  A surveillance society relates to when a significant proportion of the population is under surveillance as a matter of course, not when a specific group of suspects is being watched as part of a criminal investigation.

Perhaps he is trying to get us to make a leap of logic from the former to the latter – to the world of automated profiling and watchlists and database mining.

Some critics fail to understand that sophisticated, modern evidence gathering has allowed the most complex terrorist conspiracies to be tried in our criminal courts in front of a jury. No need for military commissions

A dig at Guantanamo Bay?

or the juryless Diplock courts of Northern Ireland.

In fact some critics do understand that but recognise that measures must be proportionate.

The series of terrorist convictions in recent years has been a victory for the rule of law and sends out a strong, positive signal to all communities. But it couldn’t have happened if things that used to be buried deep in the world of intelligence were not now brought blinking into the light of the courtroom.

And what if we had failed? What if the prosecution case was right, and half a dozen American airliners were to be brought down by British terrorists, operating from Britain and in effect using the UK as a launch pad for an attack on the United States? What would have happened to the UK and indeed the global economy? What would the impact have been on UK/US relations?

What if what if what if?

What if, as appears to be the case, we were not in any imminent danger of being blown up on holiday, yet we were all made to feel frightened of brown people carrying bottles of orange drinks on to aeroplanes?

What about the pressure it would have placed on Muslims in the UK? A very senior politician, at the time of the arrests, told me he thought it could have led to a breakdown in the community cohesion that had survived the attacks in 2005.

So let’s remember the benefits of the “surveillance society”. We should draw satisfaction that due to terrorist convictions in our courts, thousands of people are alive today because those who wanted to kill them could be bugged and burgled

It’s not burglary if it’s lawful entry – I hope Peter Clarke isn’t alleging his team committed a crime.

– within the Rule of Law and for the common good.

Peter Clarke should stop claiming the surveillance society is equivalent to surveillance as part of a targeted investigation.


3 Responses

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  1. UK Voter said, on September 10, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    I agree completely. The surveillance society we now live in has gone way beyond the bounds of what is reasonable, justifiable and acceptable. And yet, whilst many “people” as we are so disparagingly described are, for the for the most part, against this affront to our civil liberties, politicians of all parties and the press say very little. We are moving closer and closer to a police state.

    It is worth noting that in 2006, a ‘world league table’ was published for the first time placing the UK at the bottom of the western democratic world and ranked alongside Russia for the poor protection of individual privacy, this did not take into account data losses. Interestingly the two worst-ranking countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China.

  2. ukliberty said, on September 10, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    That’s a very good point. I believe you are referring to Privacy International’s map of surveillance societies around the world. Yes, we keep lovely company.

  3. Lords reject 42 days « UK Liberty said, on October 14, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    […] recall the liquid bombing plot, where the authorities and some journalists (see also this and this) were upset that no-one was convicted of planning to blow up aircraft.  However, three suspects […]

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