Thursday, November 02, 2006

 

Should I Worry More About Civil Liberties?

Having read all the appropriate texts- 1984, Brave New World, The Gulag Archipelago, Hannah Arendt On Totalitarianism etc, I'm very aware of how unscrupulous governments can exploit information on citizens it may wish to manipulate, intimidate or even destroy. Yet somehow I can't get as indignant on the subject of eroding civil liberties as the likes of the estimable Henry Porter who blows this trumpet in The Observer or even Liberty's hugely impressive Shami Chakrabati.

Reading the piece in The Guardian today about Spy Planes, Clothes Scanners and Secret Cameras: Britain's Surveillance Future, I wondered why this particular spectre did not arouse in me the sort of Guardian reader's angst which other subjects invariably manage. The answers are I think that:

i) I have not so far in my life suffered as a result of an oppressive government seeking to stifle my voice on anything of which I can think.

ii) I find it hard to believe- perhaps(no, make that a 'probably') naively-that our British government is ever going to become anything like the regimes of Stalin, Hitler or Kim Jong-il.

iii) I am a middle aged, very law abiding citizen regularly worried by the threats to safety and well-being posed by loutish behaviour and possible terrorist action to myself and millions like me. If we are being constantly surveyed by CCTV (or even spy planes for goodness sake), my reaction is, if it helps make us more secure: 'who cares?'

So that's my personal analysis of why I'm 'not (especially) bovvered' by such stories. And yet... why do I feel a bit guilty for not being so?

Comments:
I do get a bit concened by those who think they are being set up by paranoics.
 
It's that well-worn civil liberties cliche - the 'slippery slope' argument. And like most cliche it's rooted in truth.

Just look at some of the phrases you've used to explain your lack of angst:

"I have not so far", "..of which I can think", "I find it hard to believe", "if it helps makes us more secure"

When I think about these issues I find myself using the same language - it's all supposition and conditional acceptance which means it's not a right-wrong debate but one in which you're trying to get as close as you can to, but not actually reach, that tipping point where governments can abuse the information they have.
 
Thanks for that thoughful comment Cassilis. Suppose my position is also based on a bit of wishful thinking as well.
 
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