I watched a brilliant and at times darkly funny British documentary film called ‘Taking Liberties’. It was shocking, absorbing and and gave me a clear picture of the erosion of our civil liberties in the UK since 9/11 and 7/7: I have always heard about civil liberties and nodded sagely that we should protect them, but was not entirely sure what they were! Well now I know, our civil liberties are as follows:
- Innocent until proven guilty
- No detention without trial
- The right to protest
- Freedom of speech
- Ban on torture
- The right to privacy
Apparently our freedoms have been enshrined in such documents as the Magna Carta 1215 and the European convention on Human Rights 1950, but since 9/11 and 7/7 our government has greatly eroded all of these rights. For example, we cannot now protest within 1 km of parliament, we have to ‘ask permission’ from the police to protest, and with the SOCPA law, the Home Secretary has the power to make anywhere in Britain a protest free zone! Some of the acts that have helped bring in the attack on our freedoms is the Serious Organised Crime and Police act and the Terrorism Act.
The Right to Protest – Under the new terrorism act over 100,000 people have been stopped and searched, however not one of those people were terrorists. Indeed the film suggests there seems to be little distinction between protesting and terrorism. For example two women in their late teens took part in a peaceful protest, headed by a priest, where they went into a disused airfield and held a protest quietly praying. The police arrested the two young women and they were kept in solitary confinement for 36 hours. Meanwhile five police broke into their parents home at 2.45am and searched it.
It is true, the film argues, that we are in a better position than many countries around the world, however we must see the small steps between when we had civil liberties to where we have none.
There is now something called the forward intelligence team. If you have ever been on a protest in Britain, they are the very intimidating ‘police’ pointing cameras in your face. They can even show up filming you outside your home. This is in case you commit a crime in the future! It sounds like intimidation to me, and perhaps the arrival of Orwell’s ‘thought police’.
Another very worrying trend is around the CCTV cameras. Britain is the most watched country in Europe. Now they are going to bring in voice recognition and facial recognition technology into the CCTV cameras. Orwell’s nightmarish vision is truly upon us.
The right to privacy and the ID card – the ID card may sound innocuous but it will contain all your biometric data such as your fingerprints and DNA plus it will be linked to a databases that registers every time you interact with the state – an audit trail of your life’s history will be established ie the address of your school, your trade union membership, the drugs you purchase, where you are HIV positive etc etc. The info will be accessible to any government official. The film put it this way – if you have done something to annoy someone in power, they can look through your records, see your medical records, your wife’s social security records, your uncle’s prison records, and if there is anything in your family that is questionable then that group or person could threaten you and your family using such information. The worrying trend is that whereas the government should be justifying itself to us, now we are going to have to justify our identity to them. And just like with mobile phones, we will be tracked physically via the ID card in the same way that phones are now tracked. One expert also argued that if DNA and fingerprints are in the public domain on ID cards/databases, then anyone could set you up for a crime.
Innocent until proven guilty – this is known as Habeas Corpus. The government has been trying to seriously erode this civil liberty by increasing their right to detain a person in the UK without charge to 90 days. Luckily the Lords fought this and the number of days was reduced to 28 days. Other examples of the erosion of Habeas Corpus was the ‘Ricin’ affair. This was a case against a Maloud Sihali, another trumped up ‘justification’ used by Bush and Blair for the war against Iraq. There was no Ricin found and Maloud was eventually found not guilty after being locked up for two years. The jury were so horrified by the non-existent case against him that they befriended him afterwards. Even more worryingly Maloud was rearrested 2 months after 7/7, tagged and put under house arrest, for no reason and with no charge! He has now been released.
Extradition law – we have now become the 51st state of America with regard to justice. Only basic information necessary for an arrest is now required for the extradition of British subjects to the US. However it does not work both ways, Britain would struggle to extradite an American to Britain, and would have to provide a full case for justification.
Ban on Torture – the UK is using information obtained from what is called extraordinary rendition. That is where detained personnel are sent to countries that use torture in order to extract information. So basically anyone in Britain could be sent to Guantanamo, held without charge and then rendered abroad for torture. Apart from its contravention of the European Convention of Human Rights the film argued that you cannot say you want to spread democracy by using the method of torture.
I thoroughly recommend watching this film, it gives a shocking overview of the clear and present danger to our civil liberties. One expert on the program summed up the worrying recent changes by asking ‘what ultimately will be the forces that push back our government’s desire to know everything about everybody?’ As they say on the film, its OK until you face injustice yourself, and plenty of people in Britain and around the world are, and if we do not speak out now then we may lost the right in the future to do so.