Friday, February 13, 2009

Brits show Yanks how a police state is done

In years to come, those of us mourning the erosion of liberty in America will probably turn to each other from time to time and sigh, "It could be worse; we could be British." Actually, we can do that right now. Maybe it's something in the water over there, but the government of the UK seems to have watched the former Bush administration's abuses of due process and privacy (and the Obama administration's "nothing to see here" attitude toward maintaining much of the same), sneered "pikers," and set about to show the world how a democracy is really turned into a police state.

Things like this rarely happen over night, and sure enough, Britain's descent into the world of V for Vendetta has been building for a long time. There have been creeping restrictions on free speech, closed-circuit TV cameras on every corner, national ID cards on the way, and the like for many years.

But over the past two weeks ... Well, let's just look, shall we?

The Daily Mail reports:

A secret police intelligence unit has been set up to spy on Left-wing and Right-wing political groups.

The Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU) has the power to operate across the UK and will mount surveillance and run informers on ‘domestic extremists’.

Its job is to build up a detailed picture of radical campaigners.

Targets will include environmental groups involved in direct action such as Plane Stupid, whose supporters invaded the runway at Stansted Airport in December.

The unit also aims to identify the ring-leaders behind violent demonstrations such as the recent anti-Israel protests in London, and to infiltrate neo-Nazi groups, animal liberation groups and organisations behind unlawful industrial action such as secondary picketing.

The paper based its report on "[a]n internal police job advertisement," and it didn't take that much effort to find an expired (but still cached) relevant job listing at

Head of Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU) National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU
City London
Career Level Senior Manager / Head of Department
Industry Public Sector/Public Authority, Local Government, State/Internal Security, National Security

Job Description Organisation: ACPO Business Area: Terrorism and Allied Matters Job Title: Head of Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU) National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) Rank: Detective Chief Inspector Reports to: D/Supt Head of NPOIU Salary: Chief Inspector range + allowances Type: Full time police officer Location: London Main purpose of Role: To manage the covert intelligence function for domestic extremism, and the confidential intelligence unit. The post carries membership of NPOIU Senior Management Team and you will be expected to make a significant contribution to the overall performance of the police service of England and Wales and the

Rather chillingly, The Daily Mail reports,"The CIU will also use legal proceedings to prevent details of its operations being made public."

Britain, like the U.S. has a history of such domestic spying, and it always ends badly. Intelligence units tasked with watching terrorists inevitably include mere radicals among their targets, then simple political protesters and, ultimately, pretty much anybody who says something critical about the government. Among the past targets in the UK of domestic surveillance were Ewan MacColl, a Pete Seeger-ish folk singer with communist sympathies, John Lennon, and the band UB40.

The new British unit actually appears to be starting out with that far-reaching mission.

Then there's The Daily Telegraph's report that pending legislation would allow just about every governing body in the UK to see who is communicating with whom, and how often.

Towns halls, along with police, security services and other public bodies will be able to view "communications" details of any one suspected of crime.

But critics fear the move will simply pave the way for authorities to spy on millions of citizens and taxpayers. ...

Bodies will not be allowed to see the content of communications but will have access to data such as who was called or texted and when or which websites were visited. ...

Since 2007, phone companies have had to retain data about calls for 12 months and hand it over to more than 650 public bodies.

Parliament approved the powers, described as a vital tool against terrorism, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

But under the latest order that is to be extended to all communications, including the internet.

The move appears to be a revival of an effort to extend electronic surveillance powers that was shelved amidst public fury back in 2002. At the time, press reports described the retreat as "a humiliating climbdown," but the state is nothing if not patient.

Speculation at the time was that the government was dissuaded as much by technical hurdles as by widespread resistance. The new bill suggests that technology has advanced enough in seven years to make the surveillance scheme more feasible.

And electronic surveillance is at least as popular with British authorities as with their American counterparts. The European Court of Human Rights ruled last summer that the UK government went too far with its years-long wiretapping of civil rights groups.

If you were planning to keep tabs on the domestic snoops and wiretappers in Britain, don't plan on including photographs in your files. Taking snapshots of police officers is about to become a serious crime. According to the British Journal of Photography:

Set to become law on 16 February, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 amends the Terrorism Act 2000 regarding offences relating to information about members of armed forces, a member of the intelligence services, or a police officer.

The new set of rules, under section 76 of the 2008 Act and section 58A of the 2000 Act, will target anyone who 'elicits or attempts to elicit information about [members of armed forces] … which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'.

A person found guilty of this offence could be liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years, and to a fine.

The law is expected to increase the anti-terrorism powers used today by police officers to stop photographers, including press photographers, from taking pictures in public places. 'Who is to say that police officers won’t abuse these powers,' asks freelance photographer Justin Tallis, who was threatened by an officer last week.

The Home Office doesn't deny the possible application of the new law to photographers, saying that interpretation will be up to police and the courts.

Even before the new law, photographers have been challenged in Britain (as in America) by police officers unhappy about being the target of a lens. Last year, photographer Lawrence Looi was forced to delete images from his memory card by a police sergeant, and Andrew Carter was actually dragged off to jail for a similar "offense." Such incidents are bound to increase when police officers can point to new legal authority.

I'd like to say that's it, but it's not. There's the small matter os the creeping national ID program in the UK. And then Dutch rabble-rousing politician Geert Wilders was detained at Heathrow airport before being ejected from the country for his political views.

After years of depressing civil liberties violations here in the United States, it's astonishing to be able to say that the UK makes America look good.

Just what kind of country is the British government trying to create?

And is it time to break out those Guy Fawkes masks?

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Blogger Socialism Sucks said...

The British government is an absolute disgrace.

Most laws in the UK are decided in Brussels and the representatives of the people can do absolutely nothing about them.

So like the appalling 'home secretary' Jacqui Smith they mostly focus on troughing as much public cash as they can. This bovine, unbelievably stupid woman would not even get on a city council in the USA. In the UK, her job involves reading press releases nobody believes prepared by her civil servants, who are in line to pocket large amounts of money from the consultancy firms building the next generation surveillance infrastructure being deployed in the UK.

Virtually to a man, British politicians are interested solely in using their position to make money and line up a lucrative career in the event they are thrown out of 'power'. There are supposedly three parties but all they do is occasionally put on a 'show' of opposition in the House of Commons - on the rare occasions when Parliament sits - in reality their you could not get a cigarette paper between their views.

The British voter has a choice between three big government socialist parties.

Unfortunately, the utter failure of the state education system since the 1970s has (luckily for Smith and her ilk) produced a population who virtually all think big government socialism is a good thing.

February 13, 2009 5:41 PM  
Blogger BobG said...

"And is it time to break out those Guy Fawkes masks?"

Past time. And what mask will we use over here in the US?

February 14, 2009 2:16 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Good question. How about Nat Turner?

February 14, 2009 2:30 PM  
Blogger Johnny said...

For the UK the decline into a catastrophic state change could be long and painful but it's clearly well under way.

IMHO the only thing that has been keeping Britain afloat, economically and politically, is North Sea oil and gas revenue. That is now drying up.

The political classes understand the fragility of British society - having the instructive example of the "troubles" in Northern Ireland as a practical example.

The political classes (Academia, Mainstream Media and Government/Civil Service/Judiciary) are simply doing what it takes to ensure the political and social structures that support the richest ten percent or so (the Nomenklatura) in the society can continue.

Ultimately it won't - can't work - as shown by the collapse of numerous economically failed states that resort to printing money and living on ever-increasing debt. The resulting collapse of "civil society" will be messy and sudden. How far away that is though is another question, since it depends on just how much mileage the UK government gets out of printing money in a world where real wealth in the terms of efficient production of goods and services is available, thanks to technology, providing the problems of regulation and taxation can be efficiently circumvented.

Perhaps the European Union will step in as a superstate and rule over a dismembered former UK. That seems rather implausible given European history though, in spite of the enthusiasm of the political classes for the idea.

February 15, 2009 6:00 AM  
Blogger BobG said...

"Good question. How about Nat Turner?"

The sad thing is, very few people these days have the slightest idea who he was. But they can tell you who won the latest American Idol.

February 15, 2009 10:05 AM  

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