Saturday, February 09, 2008

Police State UK Coming Up To Speed

The Telegraph's revelations about the routine bugging of Lawyers conversations has genuinely shocked the chattering classes. "Is nothing sacred?" They're learning...

One of the Comments on the story reads

"Why not bug prisoners? We might learn something to help prevent yet another crime being commited."

The touching naivete of readers like that (who seems to represent a little under 25% of the responses - but, I suspect, a higher proportion of the wider population) is typical of those who grasp neither the basic concepts of Liberty, Justice and Accountability nor the basic concepts of security.

With regard to the latter, any chance we may have had of gathering intelligence in such circumstances is now completely blown. Not only will no one on government-run premises be stupid enough to continue to act as though they are unmonitored, drying up the sources of information instantly, but, from now on, all lawyers can reasonably insist either on being allowed to "sweep" for bugs, to interview their clients on their own territory, or to take in masking devices to ensure their privacy.

There is one legitimate scenario and one only, in which such breach of privacy while awaiting trial can be justified. It is certainly not with regard to gathering evidence on a crime which has already been committed. That essentially constitutes a breach of the globally recognised human right not to be forced to incriminate ourselves.

Only when a future - and, crucially, lethal - attack is genuinely anticipated can we reasonably argue that the inmate's rights are outweighed by the Social interest in preventing deaths.

However, the real question does not revolve around what is really a "common sense" assessment of whether or not we should keep an eye on poisonous snakes we believe are about to strike, but whether it is reasonable in the circumstances to suspect a particular snake of being that poisonous or being that likely to strike. It is the oversight of that assessment where we have got it badly wrong.

In case it has escaped anyone's attention, the scales have fallen from our eyes. We no longer live in the Edwardian era when it was still unthinkable that Politicians or Policemen could be anything but paragons of virtue. For a raft of entirely legitimate reasons, it is now completely rational NOT to trust politicians, police or even Judges with the kind of authority we need to oversee something as dangerous as spying on our own citizens.

Spying on your own citizens is a major step - probably THE major step - on the road to Totalitarianism. There is only one way to allow such behaviour on the very rare occasions where it may be justified, whilst ensuring that we do not pave the way to such a hell with good intentions.

We must insist that no such serious measures are ever taken without the permission of a Jury of citizens, duly vetted and sworn to secrecy - though entitled to breach that secrecy if they witness abuse of power by the executive or its employees.

We like to believe that we live in a Democracy. We're wrong to believe it, but that's a different issue. One way, however, we can begin to make it true, is to establish Democratic control over our Justice and Security system. Juries of our fellow citizens are the only people we can or should trust with such dangerous authority.

This is the fundamental constitutional basis which lies at the heart of the "Trusted Surveillance" I keep bleating on about. I seem to be a lone voice. You should know the chorus by now, so please feel free to join in...

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