11.25.2009

"If you've done nothing wrong, you have everything to worry about"

http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print.html?id=2250766&sponsor=
http://www.apfn.org/apfn/policebrutality01.gif
by Pete McMartin
Whenever someone frets about the erosion of personal freedoms in our modern society, such as in the steady proliferation of surveillance cameras in public places, the stock answer, which is one I read all too often in my e-mail, is:
"If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."
People who say this are fools, not to be too blunt about it. Not only are they willing to trade away my rights, since they haven't a basic appreciation of theirs, but their understanding of the relationship between government and the governed is one of subservience based on fear, and the idea that their fear is not only natural, but justifiably permanent given the state of the world.
Thus, we should all be fearful, all of the time. We should empower government to do whatever it feels necessary to protect us. The unquestioning nature of this logic not only institutionalizes fear, it makes it a patriotic duty. And the good citizen, the one who has done nothing wrong, will have nothing to worry about.
Oh, yeah?
Out of Britain comes the case recently of 40-year-old Jenny Paton, mother of three and, in the eyes of the state, a security hazard. Her crime? She was suspected of falsifying her address to enrol her daughter in a neighbouring school.
A covert surveillance operation was begun on her in 2008, when -- and I am not making this up -- an officer from the local education department followed her for three weeks. He noted her movements in a log. The department obtained her telephone records.
Paton had done nothing wrong. And the local council where Paton lives maintained it had nothing wrong, either. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, local governments have the power to use surveillance to investigate such picayune matters as reports of people not cleaning up after their dogs, or whose dogs bark too loudly, of people who don't recycle or who put out their trash early, of people who operate unlicensed taxicabs. Some 474 local governments and 318 agencies have availed themselves of these powers (including, hilariously, the Charity Commission), and they can, and do, use hidden cameras, examine phone records, track website visits and hire people to go undercover.
[...]
Sociologist David Lyons of Queen's University has a good line on this. He said surveillance efforts are no longer being based on "insurable risks" -- where risk was assessed on historical precedent -- but have shifted to "incalculable risks" -- those unimaginable acts of terrorism like 9-11 that government maintains can be countered only by increased security and surveillance.
In that sense, to allude to that hoary Bush-ism, the terrorists have won.
We not only fear the terrorists, but our governments, too.
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