Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Go back to bed, Britain...

...your government is in control. Last week's considered advice from a grand fromage in our judicial system that every resident of Britain should be included in the national DNA database should set alarm bells ringing in everyone's years. I'm not sure it has though. The UK's database - already the largest in the world - currently includes only those who've had direct dealings with the police. According to this top judge, that is a problem because fledgling criminals can go free and undetected for longer than if they were already on file. This kind of talk is music to any government's ears. (That's two mentions of ears now: I seem to have developed a bit of an ear theme so far. No doubt in the knowledge that, if I was on the DNA database, the government would be able to clone my lobe or something.)

I find it astonishing that so many people appear to be apathetic when it comes to civil liberties. Especially when so many people, from all across the political spectrum, are so quick to state their distrust of the government: "Eeee, I don't trust any of that lot me." I think this general distrust must be centred on relatively inconsequential things like sleaze and the extra-marital affairs of our politicians, because from what I can see the majority of people just shrug their shoulders when it comes to the idea of handing over our identities for 'security' measures. Why, if we don't trust governments, do so many people support identity cards and other identification measures? It Makes. No. Sense.

The lack of media opposition to suggestions like these is also worrying. Whenever identity cards were discussed, the main reasons for concern cited were usually surrounding the scheme's cost to the treasury rather than the more prescient, general principle of resisting a slide towards a police state. Completely disproportionate responses to crime and terrorism (the latter always being the most powerful tool for scaring a populace into compliance) like this aren't being opposed enough. Rule One of operating a functional democracy is that you don't grant your government total biometric information about ordinary citizens who are yet to commit a crime. It can only go one way. Even if we think a particular government wouldn't abuse a database of its citizens for undemocractic purposes, who's to say a future one wouldn't? The civil liberties record of our current government, and the one before it, has been increasingly authoritarian and our true vigilance is required to resist that trend being furthered. As George Orwell said (couldn't leave him out, really), "to see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." Wake up.

26 Comments:

Blogger Dan said...

Perhaps it's the paranoid lefty in me (in me? Actually, that's all of me) typing, but I can genuinely see a day when this information is coupled with genetic data that can predict future illnesses (not far off according to a report last week), and used by life insurance companies, employers etc. in a discriminatory manner.

Governments in thrall to the private sector will not balk at selling this information on, or, at least, 'contracting it out to a service provider'.

Or have I watched 'Gattaca' too many times?

September 13, 2007 9:26 am  
Blogger Dan said...

That report was actually on Monday. The new technology will allow rare genetic disorders to be diagnosed early (obviously, this is brilliant). But will it always be used in this way?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/sep/10/2

This is also interesting:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/sep/09/genetics.theobserversuknewspages

Anyway, I am meddling in something I know nothing about, and await Geneticist Gez's angry corrections (which is a brilliant name for a band).

September 13, 2007 9:59 am  
Blogger Paddy said...

Is Gez really a geneticist? Always useful to have one on board. If I had a penny for every time I've been travelling down the GNER east coast mainline and heard PA announcements of 'do we have any geneticists on board?' go unanswered, I'd have, erm, tuppence or so. And you've reminded me of the Nick Cave lyric "We are scientists/We do genetics/We leave religion to the psychos and fanatics" from the Grinderman album, which I've just quoted, mainly because I can.

You make a good point about private sector involvement. For some crashingly bizarre reason I think most people are even less suspicious of big business than they are of governments, and so the potential for abuse of such personal information is even greater. But then again, the private sector can't arrest and incarcerate you on grounds of political dissidence and stuff. Or can they? Come to think of it, if I had a penny for every time I've been on the GNER east coast mainline and seen people kept in cages between carriages after being found with a Virgin Trains membership card upon their person, I'd have.. etc etc.

September 13, 2007 3:21 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

Is it any coincidence that GNER recently lost their franchise to a LOWER bid? Clearly, their thought-prisoner retention rates have not been high enough for pre-set government quotas.

Well, Gez has a degree in genetics but works in a very different sphere. Does that count, or is it like me and you calling ourselves politicians?

September 13, 2007 4:30 pm  
Blogger Paddy said...

You mean we're not?

"Pull down the blinds. I'm closing the blog... for an hour."

September 13, 2007 4:32 pm  
Anonymous Toby said...

As always Ben Franklin's quote is pertinent.

Any one who will trade freedom for security deserves neither

It's a pity that not only do we take Americas stance on this for granted it looks like we're going the same way.

Then again if they bungle it like they did the NHS computer restructuring.

With regard to the above, they've already worked out some software to automatically recognize the face of someone up to no good (in airports etc). It would seem tracking individuals faces would be simple.

Oh to be able to track Paddy on his walk to sainsburys.

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