Here is a brief essay I wrote concerning the growth of Big Brother in the UK. Of course, this is just scratching the surface, and one could go
in-depth in many directions. However, it's a start and may contain some information that you have not been exposed to. Any
corrections/elaborations/additions are appreciated.
Internal security has always been a central feature of building and maintaining a state. A state’s required internal security and stability
have come from the compliance of its citizens and it has perennially used force to acquire it. In modern times, due to the expanded rights of
citizenship and human rights in general, the state has not been able to use its force in such an indiscriminate and blatant manor as it has in the
past, it is now turning to alternative measures for maintaining order and security. The trend towards individual liberties and rights in the U.K. is
facing a turnaround as the technocratic security state blossoms. The events of September 11th 2001 in the U.S. and July 7th 2005 in the U.K. prompted
a unified response from these governments in combating terrorism that has received widespread criticism. Citizens require security to lead productive
lives and preserve the state, but at what point is this security overstepping legitimate grounds resulting in the relinquishing of rights and privacy?
The U.K. has been at the forefront of data collection from, and surveillance of, its inhabitants. It has pushed the boundaries of what many feel is
acceptable in a liberal democracy, adopting policies that propel its evolution into a Big Brother state mimicking George Orwell’s 1984 in many
respects. The collection of children’s DNA without consent is unacceptable and evidence supports the claim that CCTV cameras have done nothing to
reduce crime. The United Kingdom has overstepped the legitimate use of its powers to usher in the supposed new norm of public and private life that
future generations will curse and blame us for doing nothing to reverse.
The U.K. has prided itself in the rights and freedoms of its citizens, but in recent years these have been eroding at a steady rate of decay.
Many types of information are being amassed on citizens from all aspects of their lives regardless of whether or not they have committed a crime and
they may be subjected to a “28-day detention without trial.” (Croft) These laws supposedly intended to protect people from terrorism are actually
imposing people with more insecurity and exposing them to the enormous potential for abuse within these legislations. There have been cases that have
far exceeded the detention without charge timeframe. Babar Ahmad’s detention has lasted for six years which makes him “the longest-serving
prisoner held without charge or trial in the UK.” (The Independent) He was born in the U.K. and spent his whole life living in south London. He
was detained because of his involvement with news websites “in nearly 20 languages on Chechen resistance fighters who were defending their land
against the Russian Army's invasion of Chechnya in the 1990s,” (Ibid) but had never been charged or convicted of a criminal offense in his life.
The Home Office has accused him of providing material support for terrorists even though the Chechen resistance fighters are not considered a
terrorist organization and “the leader of the Chechen resistance has been living in the UK for several years, having been granted asylum.” (Ibid)
In 2004, the U.K.’s Information Commissioner Richard Thomas warned that the country risked “sleepwalking into a surveillance society” and
“that there is a growing danger of East German Stasi-style snooping.” (Ford) A report from The Guardian in 2007 stated that the U.K. had become
“an endemic surveillance society,” (Ward) citing a survey of 47 countries preformed by Privacy International. The writer Timothy Garton Ash, who
formerly lived in East Germany and wrote a book about the Stasi, pointed out that “Britain is an even more developed surveillance state.” (Mail
Online) In his final speech as Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, Kenneth Macdonald warned that “[w]e need to take very great
care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom’s back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security State.” (Hope) People of
intelligence and influence are becoming more concerned and voicing their disproval of these security state measures, and so should every citizen
concerned with the future of their children and humanity as a whole. There will come a point when these measures are so entrenched in our societies
that they will be near irreversible. It is important that citizens are secure, but it does not take much of a history lesson to realize that states
have used and abused their power to stifle legitimate dissent—dissent of the non-violent variety which is quite possibly many times more bothersome
for the long-term maintenance of the status quo. A state may easily justify the combat of violent dissenters and generally sees no need in such
justification because of its self-evidence. However, there is a disturbing recent trend in justifying the suppression of non-violent, lawful civil
disobedience by criminalizing it. The Public Order Act of 1986, section 14, “allows senior police officers to impose conditions on public
assemblies, specifically to do with the numbers taking part, and the location and duration of the protest.” (BBC) The Criminal Justice Public Order
Act of 1994 “brought trespass under the auspices of criminal, rather than civil law, with the introduction of a new offence: aggravated trespass.
The law can be applied to public or common land.” (Ibid) In the case of a private party or gathering, police have the authority to order people to
vacate if damage has occurred and “the Edinburgh Freedom Network's website reports that courts have already ruled that walking across a field
constitutes ‘damage to land’.” (Ibid) The Editor of the Journal of Civil Liberties, Alan Davenport, who was a senior lecturer in law at the
University of Northumbria in Newcastle, has stated that “the decision to ban or place restrictions on a particular gathering or protest was almost
entirely in the hands of the police… That decision can be exercised at any time - so even if a protest march, for example, is going peacefully and
according to plan, the police can decide half way through that everyone has to go home, and if they don't, they could be breaking the law.” (Ibid)
As of August 1st 2005, there has been a ban on protesting within one square mile of parliament without explicit permission from the Metropolitan
If one assumed that the collection of DNA by U.K. authorities was only occurring in crime scenes or other special circumstances, they would be
gravely mistaken. The U.K. now has the largest genetic database on its citizens, more so than any other country, and it continues to grow. At the
latest available count, the number of people with their DNA in the government database has reached “5.1 million people, close to one in 10 of the
population.” (Morris) The database has been successful in convicting those who have committed crimes and on average produces “over 3,500 matches
each month.” (Slack) However, “one in five of them does not have a current criminal record” (BBC) and DNA is being collected for things as
frivolous as speeding and not wearing a seatbelt. Things of this nature should not require the submission of genetic material and represent one of
the excesses of this collection. Another unsettling excess is that as of August 2009, “412,671 youngsters under 15 [had] their genetic profiles
stored” with “more than 300 children a day” (Slack) being added to the database. The police have come under the criticism that they are
arresting whole groups of children just to have their DNA compared with evidence from future crime scenes.
With only 1% of the world’s population, the U.K. has 20% of the worlds Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTVs). (Mail Online) In 2006,
there was a staggering “4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain - about one for every 14 people.” (BBC) Privacy International has stated that Britain is the
worst Western democracy for protecting individual privacy and it’s not hard to see why. Everywhere one goes, they will be under the watchful eye of
CCTV cameras. A report written by The Royal Academy of Engineering voiced many concerns over the use of this technology. Some of these concerns
included the potential for the recorded digital information to be “stored indefinitely, searched digitally, analyzed, reproduced and manipulated
with increasing ease.” (Gilbert/R.A.E.) Another of the many distressful matters “was the addition of microphones to many cameras, so that they
can eavesdrop on the conversations of people as they are filmed.” (Ibid) The report also points out that the term ‘CCTV’ is actually a misnomer
because the modern systems are no longer ‘closed-circuit’ but are increasingly networked “and disguises the kinds of purposes, dangers and
possibilities of current technologies.” (Ibid) There is therefore a lack of understanding in the character of modern surveillance. With the
development of increasingly accurate and applicable facial recognition, the capacity to track someone at any given time will be utilized. It is
already estimated that “the average Londoner may be monitored up to 300 times each day.” (Mail Online) In light of all this, just how effective
are these cameras at preventing crime? A meta-analysis preformed by the British Home Office found that “CCTV had no effect on violent crimes” and
that “in the city center and public housing setting, there was evidence that CCTV led to a negligible reduction in crime of about two per cent in
experimental areas compared with control areas.” (B.H.O.) Not encouraging findings for those who lobby for and profit from these camera systems.
All of these factors, coupled with the governments consideration to store all data from social networking sites for longer than a year, paint a
clear picture of the direction The United Kingdom is headed in if it does not receive considerable backlash from its citizens. The potential to
combat crime with these systems is just as enormous as its potential for misuse and should garner the attention of any concerned individual. Citizens
should exercise their rights to demonstrate peacefully to demand security of individual privacy and sanctity of their genetic information. If the
U.K. government is not held to a high standard of accountability in the maintenance of the rights of its populous, its citizens will witness all the
freedoms their ancestors fought for whisked away in less than a generation with a greatly diminished chance of redeeming them.
1. BBC, U.K., When does protest become illegal? Oct. 20 1999.
2. BBC, U.K., DNA database ‘breach of rights’ Dec. 4 2008.
3. British Home Office, Home Office Research Study 252, Crime Prevention Effects of Closed Circuit Television: A systematic review. Welsh,
Farrington. Aug. 2002
4. Croft, Adrian. Reuters. U.K. extends 28-day pre-charge detention. June 24 2010.
5. Ford, Richard. The Times. Beware rise of Big Brother state, warns data watchdog. Aug 16 2004. <
6. Gilbert, Nigel. The Royal Academy of Engineering. Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance, Challenges of Technological Change. Mar. 2007 <
7. Hope, Christopher. Telegraph. Centuries of British freedoms being ‘broken’ by security state, says Sir Ken MacDonald. Oct. 20 2008. <
8. The Independent. Six years in jail, no charge: the war on terror’s forgotten victim speaks. July 8 2010. <
9. Mail Online. How did we allow Britain to become a Stasi state? Feb 2008
10. Mail Online. UK has 1% of world’s population but 20% of its CCTV cameras. Mar 2007
11. Morris, Bigel. The Independent. The Big Question: Why is Britain’s DNA database the biggest in the world, and is it effective? Nov. 12 2009 <
12. Slack, James. Mail Online. 300 children a day added to DNA database: 400,000 under-15s on Big Brother roll. Aug. 12 2009 <
13. Ward, David. Britain rated worst in Europe for protecting privacy. Dec. 31 2007.
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