So, you are a law abiding citizen going about your daily business. You pay your taxes and make your contribution to society. You have (at least) some faith in the government, thinking they are acting in the best interests of the country.
You have heard about the surveillance programmes through the mainstream media and don’t really understand what the fuss is all about. You see CCTV cameras everywhere, and don’t care if whoever is watching sees you or not.
You use the internet, and don’t use it for any illegal stuff – just keeping up to date with friends, sending emails, paying bills, and finding information about the subjects you are interested in, and perhaps booking tickets or finding nice cheap holidays so you can take a break and relax.
When you shop for something you like to use your debit or credit card because it saves having to carry cash with you – so is safer and much more convenient. You can even use online banking to check your account or to make transfers and pay bills.
You find your mobile phone really handy, because with modern technology you can keep up to date with those friends while you are on the move, watch movies and television programmes when you want, as well as making calls.
The only thing you know about terrorism is what is in the news, other than that you associate in your own circle of family and friends and have little to do with anyone else. So you don’t care if you can be tracked by your mobile phone because you never do anything wrong.
You have nothing to worry about – there are more important things to do in life, like earn money, buy stuff, and make sure the bins are ready for the local council to collect on the same day each week.
And so your life carries on, mostly ignoring the stuff that doesn’t matter to you, and concentrating on your own problems of living in modern society.
The problem really is that these things should matter to you because they affect you, both directly and indirectly.
Since the supposed ‘war on terror’ a lot has changed in the day to day lives of law abiding citizens, much of which has been ignored or goes unnoticed by the general public, who are distracted by the effect of the current economic changes on their lives, on employment, on prices, and on public services.
Many people remain totally unaware of the raft of legislation that has been introduced, or that is being proposed, which will have significant effects on their liberty – especially in the future.
You may well be a law abiding citizen with no intention of committing crime or terrorists acts in the future. Unfortunately for you, that does not preclude you from coming under the Big Brother eye of the state.
The extension of government surveillance and power are fast moving towards a total police state, far more reaching than anything that happened under socialist communism in the days of the former Soviet Union.
Let’s take an example of something that any reasonable, law-abiding citizen may become involved in.
As a result of government spending your local hospital has become severely understaffed, and is facing closure, but it is an essential service to the community. You feel strongly enough to join in a peaceful protest outside the hospital. You go along to the protest to show your support, and join 200 other people who feel the same way.
The protest is peaceful, the police are in attendance to ‘keep the peace’. They have CCTV units there to record the demonstrations, and officers walking around with video camcorders to record the demonstrators. There may be a police helicopter which appears in the sky every now and then.
The protest finishes and you go home.
A couple of months later you take part in another peaceful protest against government cuts in spending. The protest goes ahead and remains peaceful, as the protest you attended before did. Again, the police are there recording the protest and the protesters.
You go home and carry on your normal day to day life.
What you don’t know is that the police and security services have created a profile of you. They will use the information obtained at the demonstrations to identify you, then ‘pull-in’ (most of which is done automatically) all the surveillance data they have, much of which will have been collected over months and possibly years.
This information will include all of the personal information about you held by government departments, employment information, travel information (in particular when you have left and returned to the country, and the countries you have visited), health information, social security information, telephone calls, internet activity, vehicle information, financial history, membership of trade unions and political parties, minor legal infringements such as parking tickets and fines, and information about your family and known associates. All this with minimal effort.
Do you think this is fantasy or sensationalism?
If so, then you need to pay more attention to what is happening around you!
John Catt is an 88 year-old pensioner who has no criminal record, and who has never been in any trouble with authorities. He and his daughter Linda would attend protests, where John would take out his sketch pad and draw the scene –that was the extent of their involvement in the protests.
Over the period of four years, John and Linda attended about 80 protests around their local area in the county of Sussex. They were aware that police were gathering information about the protests and protesters. The protests were lawful and peaceful, so John and Linda thought nothing of it, thinking that the police were just monitoring the protest just in case something happened for which they may later need evidence.
What John and Linda didn’t know at the time was that the secretive ‘National Public Order Intelligence Unit’ (NPOIU) were recording their every move at each of the protests and recording them on a clandestine database of ‘domestic extremists’.
Entries on the database included the clothing they wore, including slogans on their t-shirts, physical descriptions, pictures and videos of them, and vehicle information. Details of John’s sketches were also included in the database entries. This information had been transferred to the Police National Computer.
As well as surveillance at protests, the Catts were to learn that they had been placed under police surveillance at other times.
When they were on their way to help a member of their family move house in East London they were stopped by police who said they were acting under the Terrorism Act, and later learned that their car registration number had been ‘flagged’ by an automatic number plate recognition camera and triggered an alert. There was an entry next to the flag which said ‘Of interest to public order unit. Sussex police’.
In another entry, the police had placed the Catts under surveillance for two days during a trip to Manchester in 2008. At the time, the Labour Party conference was taking place in the city and there was a demonstration taking place. The Catts were not part of the demonstration and the police entry read “At 1020 hours … seen at Lobby point on Peter Street were two anti-war protesters from Brighton, John Catt and Linda Catt”. The police could only have known of the Catt’s trip to Manchester through intelligence gathering and surveillance monitoring of the pair.
The extent of the surveillance against the couple came when they made a Data Protection Act application requesting information Sussex police held on them. Both say they were extremely shocked by the detail and extent of intelligence on them and their activities.
John and Linda then started legal action to have the information removed from the database – a case they won in March 2013.
In their judgement, Lord Dyson and two appeal court judges ordered the commissioner of the Metropolitan police to delete the Catt’s file with immediate effect. The judges dismissed the argument of the police that they regularly attended protests and associated with ‘violent’ protesters, stating that the police failed to adequately explain why such detailed surveillance on the couple was necessary.
John and Linda Catt’s case is one of many that have been brought against the secret surveillance and intelligence gathering activities of the police against ordinary citizens with no criminal record, or any real suspicion of being involved in criminal activities.
With the recent exposure of sweeping surveillance by GCHQ and through the American Prism network, the public are becoming more aware of the extent authorities are willing to go to in order to spy on citizens.
No official surveillance unit works in isolation, and many are directly linked to each other, or are available to each other through a network of intermediaries. And their use is spreading as technology makes analysing vast amounts of data easier than it has ever been.
As the government seek even more power to snoop on everything we do we need to be concerned.
The inherent trust that the public place in authorities to act in their best interest has been abused time and time again so those authorities can pursue their own agendas.
When something is presented as protecting the public, you can be sure the real reason for introducing it is provide the authority with more information with which it will attempt to control the population at some point in time.
In the case of Linda and John Catt, there was no reason whatsoever to continue monitoring them (over years) once it had been established they were not involved in criminal activity.
These vast surveillance and control operations are for one purpose – to protect the government in the event that the people start to revolt against the government’s oppressive and criminal activities.
If we think about just some of the things government have attempted to bring in through legislation, the picture becomes clear.
In recent times the government has attempted to, or been successful in:
- Recording the DNA and biometrics of every citizen through the use of ID cards.
- Attempted to maintain a DNA database of every citizen through various initiatives.
- Attempted to increase their powers to control and snoop on the internet.
- Attempted to increase their powers to snoop on all telecommunications traffic.
- Implemented restrictions on the press and other media.
- Implemented (possibly illegal) mass surveillance programmes.
- Attempted to share medical records with private companies.
- Councils have circumnavigated CCTV legislation to spy on citizens.
- Implemented legislation for secret courts.
- Implemented ‘stop and search’ legislation.
- Implemented extended detention regulations.
- And so on….
With the increased use of profiling software, we will soon be in a position where every one of us is on some list in some government department because we ‘may’ pose a threat to some aspect of government.
Inch by inch the government want to control you – and if they can’t control you they want to know everything about you so they can neutralise you. They want everyone to be compliant and not ask too many questions.
Any form of democracy is a nuisance to them – something they would much rather didn’t exist, and they are making headway at a worrying pace to make sure it will be gone in the not too distant future.
We are given the illusion of living in a democracy when we live in nothing of the kind. We are given the illusion of freedom – when we are nothing more than financial drones. We are only free within the limits of what we are allowed to perceive as freedom.
So the next time you are stopped by the police, recorded by a CCTV camera, or buy something with a debit or credit card, just think about how free you are to criticise those who are in power without there being ramifications at some point in the future.