CIVIL LIBERTIES IN BRITAIN BEING ENCROACHED IN NAME OF SECURITY Many Americans who feel that their civil liberties

are being curtailed – and law enforcement excesses perpetrated – in the name of homeland security, may derive a certain measure of comfort from knowing they are not alone. Britain, the country that gave the world the Magna Carta – and whose name, for centuries, has been synonymous with fair play and citizens’ rights – now seems to have joined the club. Just as 9/11 changed the United States forever, the July 2005 train bombings in London woke Britain up to the new reality that they are no longer invulnerable. And just as in America, government and law enforcement agencies seem to be infused with a sense of near paranoia. It does not take a great deal to arouse suspicion these days. Any behavior that does not fit the established norm is regarded as having potential for terrorist activities. US airports make passengers take off their shoes before boarding an airplane. In Britain, some local councils are going one better by making use of surveillance cameras to trap and fine folks for failing to pick up dog poop. According to a report published in a British newspaper, the Telegraph, more than 1000 covert surveillance operations are being launched each month by local authorities to investigate offences that can be only described as petty. Examples include underage smoking and breaches of planning regulations. Big Brother seems to be getting bigger every month. In Britain, the weapon of choice is Regulation of Investigative Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). The primary function of RIPA is ostensibly legal surveillance of terrorism-related activities. However, it is being increasingly misused to investigate anything that can be described as a criminal offence. One city council admits that it has used RIPA to investigate illegal building works; other city councils have used spy cameras installed in tins and bundles of twigs to catch fly tippers. Some schools have installed surveillance cameras in exam rooms to keep tabs on potential cheating activities – like using cell phones to cheat on tests. A Dorset city council admitted it had spied for more than two weeks on a family it suspected of lying on a school application form. Figures available from the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner reveal that councils and other government departments put in almost 12,500 applications for ‘directed surveillance’ last year – almost double the number in the previous year. Not surprisingly, the newspaper expose has been greeted with outrage by privacy campaigners. Some complained that Britain was becoming a ‘surveillance society’ and was applying tactics similar to those employed by Stasi secret police in former East Germany. Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affair Committee, says “I am astonished that this very serious legislation is being misused in this way in cases which

seem to be petty and vindictive.” And he is not an opposition politician trying to embarrass the government, but a member of the ruling Labor Party. Fear is a powerful motivator. It also has great potential for misuse – a fact utilized with devastating impact by dictators and totalitarian regimes down the ages. Fear clouds our sense of judgment. Under its influence, we allow those who govern us liberties we would otherwise hold sacred. But is this fear justified? Yes, we live in dangerous times; but most of it is outside our control. A determined terrorist – especially one who is prepared to sacrifice his life – will usually succeed in causing carnage. Even Israel, which has arguably the best security apparatus in the world, has been unable to prevent suicide bombings within its borders. Spying on ordinary citizens rarely achieves anything except a heightened sense of paranoia. (Many Americans who feel that their civil liberties are being curtailed in the name of homeland security, may derive a certain measure of comfort from knowing they are not alone. Britain now seems to have joined the club. Britain, Big Brother, security, surveillance