It seems to be the age of the Blairs. Over in the UK, Tony Blair is in 10 Downing Street and Sir Ian Blair is Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Here in Toronto our Chief of Police is Bill . . . yes you guessed it . . . Blair.
The age of Blairs in high places has seen an increase in surveillance and police control. Some on the left in the UK are even using the term “police state". I don't think we have reached that point yet, but we do appear to be veering in that direction with the speed of a freight train on the loose.
Speaking of Blairs - the latest innovation being added to the omnipresent CCTV cameras in the UK are microphones to “blare" at people deemed to be misbehaving. This audio enhancement is pretty sophisticated. The equipment for example can detect aggressive tones of voice relative to decibel level and velocity of speech. In other words if you yell at a motorist who has nearly run you over, it's possible your speech patterns will make you, rather than the motorist, a source of interest. When control room operators detect behaviors they designate delinquent . . . boisterous arguments, pending altercations and such . . . chances are the evil doers will have warnings barked at them from on high.
There are some 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the UK. It is the most monitored society in the Western world. In addition to these physical intrusions, we are all seeing an increase across the board in so-called “dataveillance" - mobile phones, credit cards, GPS tracking, cell site data, key stroke info, login/logout records - to name just some of the ways in which data is being harvested.
The interface between authority and civil society is becoming increasingly polarized. This is happening moreover in a British society that has long championed the rights of the individual, including privacy rights. The public order act in the UK has been used to limit freedom of expression and rein in activities that used to amount to the simple exercise of our democratic right-to-protest. Provisions slipped into SOCPA - the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act - make even indulgence in off-color humor in public a potentially risky activity.
The terror threat is used as the pretext for much of this. Given the disaster that is present day Iraq, it seems fairly clear that elements in the Blair government are keen to hype terror concerns at home as a way of distracting from foreign policy initiatives that are increasingly being seen as a disaster.
I'm not suggesting that the terror threat isn't a matter for concern, or that a level of rational of preparedness isn't called for. I am suggesting however that freedoms are being needlessly jeopardized by people with political motivations who are engaged in a wrong headed effort to make themselves look good, rather than offer a balanced solution to security concerns.
I'm fairly sure most Britons have no desire to be pawns in a game, the premise of which, most of them opposed in the first place.
Aidan Maconachy is a freelance writer and artist based in Ontario. You can visit his blog at http://aidanmaconachyblog.blogspot.com/