Gwynn Price-Evans is a school friend of Whitley Strieber’s from Wales. He is also a privacy advocate and deeply concerned about the terrifying speed with which a police state appears to be getting set up Britain. He is an actor, and has appeared in many roles, including appearances in the Dr. Who television series, the film Vanity Fair and a stage production of Our Town, to name just a few.
“No Private Place” gives fair warning from a country that appears all too willing to trade its God-given freedom for the dubious security of state surveillance.
No Private Place by Gwynn Price-Evans
As a child, I often read the framed message over the bed in the house we rented. It said Thou Lord seest Me (Gen 16:13). Yes, the Almighty watched over me then, as He watches over me today. A different watcher has usurped this divine Good Shepherd in the hearts and minds of the citizens of Britain: the state.
Contracts have been awarded to companies for development of the National Identity Register (NIR) through an identity card scheme. If completed, the NIR would be the worlds biggest biometric database, holding fifty two pieces of information on every adult who remains in the UK for longer than three months. As well as being a tremendous waste of public money, the scheme will cost Britons personally, both financially and in terms of privacy and relationship with the state. Opposition will continue to grow as more people understand these costs and doubt the accuracy and security of such a huge government-run database. They will change our society and the way we live, forever.
Registration on the NIR and possession of an identity card will be obligatory for any Briton who requires a driving licence or passport. If they are not on the Register, Britons will not be able to benefit from any state-administered service such as health or education at a higher level. UK passports are being changed so they will have a chip holding biometric details. Chip readers for passports began field testing in UK airports in August 2008 . The scheme is already advanced.
The watching by the state is real as the UK is the world leader in video surveillance. Britain is monitored by 4 million Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras, making us the most watched nation in the world. There are more CCTV cameras in Britain than in the whole of the rest of Europe combined. There is one CCTV camera for every 14 people in the UK. If you live in London you are likely to be on cameras 300 times a day. In the past decade the Home Office has spent 78% of its crime prevention budget on CCTV, before assessing its effectiveness in deterring or detecting crime. The technology is becoming more sophisticated. Cameras are combined with databases using ‘facial recognition technology’ to scan and automatically identify people’s faces in crowds. ‘Smart CCTV’ is used in tube stations to identify patterns of behaviour that suggest a crime or suicide attempt is about to occur.
The watching is extended to our cars where ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras enable police and other authorities to identify the registered owners of vehicles on the highway. More sophisticated cameras are being introduced that enable police and others to identify the driver through facial recognition technology. Now they know what road were on, which direction were driving and the time we spend on the road .
The surveillance doesnt end there because mobile phones are tracked using GPS. The records provided by our mobile phone network providers, show where phone owners have been.
Plans are afoot to establish road pricing. This means that motorists will be forced to have an electronic spy in the car that relays where the driver has been by GPS in order to monitor road usage. The state will able to monitor the motorist as never before .
Britons are not safe from state snooping when they get online. The UK government is formulating plans to force our ISPs to log our emails and submit the logs to the Government on request. Our network of friends will be known and then misused.
As you surf the net, the sites you visit are logged. Google, for example, keeps records for 18 months . The state will soon be able to identify not only our interests but anything embarrassing about us. The way lies open for state blackmail to force people to betray and spy. The populations of the former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe know all about state blackmail because theyve experienced it. Why should it not happen in Britain The benevolence of a state is never guaranteed.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) legislates for using methods of surveillance and information gathering to help the prevention of crime, including terrorism . RIPA makes provision for: the interception of communications the acquisition and disclosure of data relating to communications the carrying out of surveillance the use of covert human intelligence sources access to electronic data protected by encryption or passwords the appointment of Commissioners and the establishment of a tribunal with jurisdiction to oversee these issues
RIPA makes provision for local authorities, central and local government, well over 200 different bodies, to carry out surveillance of individuals and businesses. Recent cases of abuse have been local Councils watching households in order to ensure that they do not overfill their garbage bin, people recycle waste according to local regulations and that parents are in the catchment area for the school they intend their child to attend. Snooping of this nature usually results in a fine for non-compliance with local petty regulations
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is an automatic identification system. An RFID tag transmits identification or location information, or specifics about the item tagged, (i.e. price, colour, date of purchase when used in a shop). They are used in some travel cards such as the Oyster card used on London Transport. There are plans to put them on EURO banknotes and a Singaporean Hospital used them to track patients during the SARs scare. On the high street, stores and manufacturers have put them into everyday products. Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Gillette and others have come under criticism for using RFID technology. Tagged garments will enable authorities to track individuals even as they move around their home or workplace. In Britain, we have yet to demand that tags are deactivated outside a store and that only packaging should be tagged .
Governments have a duty to take steps to protect citizens from terrorism, but this does not justify side-stepping democratic values. Since the Prevention of Terrorism Acts of the 1970s terrorism laws have done little to ensure that we are safe from terrorist attack, but much to infringe the human rights and civil liberties of those living in the UK. A number of laws have been enacted to curtail free speech and assembly:
Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Terrorism Act 2006
– After 9/11 the Government introduced indefinite detention without charge of foreign nationals. This was replaced by the control order regime that allows government ministers to impose sweeping restrictions on individual freedoms on the basis of secret intelligence and suspicion. – Pre-charge detention has been increased from 14 days to 42 days in the House of Commons. An attempt by the Government to increase pre-charge detention to 90 days has so far not been successful. The House of Lords (Britains Upper House) may still reject this legislation. – Broad new speech offences impact on free speech rights and non-violent groups have been outlawed. Recently people have been arrested and charged for a peaceful demonstration about the war in Iraq. – Our right to protest has been seriously curtailed, including by the misuse of police powers. It is now against the law to protest within one mile of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) without Police permission. The human right to protest has been sacrificed. The very values we should be fighting to protect have been undermined by the Government.
The United Kingdom National DNA Database (NDNAD); officially the UK National Criminal Intelligence DNA Database, is a national DNA Database that was set up in 1995. As of the end of 2005, it carried the profiles of around 3.1 million people, over 585,000 of them taken from children aged under 16. At the end of 2006, this figure had risen to more than four million records, making it the world’s biggest DNA database at the time. The database, which grows by 30,000 samples each month, is populated by samples recovered from crime scenes and taken from police suspects and (in England and Wales) anyone arrested and detained at a police station, even if they are not subsequently charged with an offence . The Home Office states that the national DNA database is a key police intelligence tool that helps to quickly identify offenders make earlier arrests secure more convictions provide critical investigative leads for police investigations
DNA samples obtained for analysis from the collection of DNA at crime scenes and from samples taken from individuals in police custody can be held in the National DNA database.
The UKs database is the largest of any country: 5.2% of the UK population is on the database compared with 0.5% in the USA. The database has expanded significantly over the last five years. By the end of 2005 over 3.4 million DNA profiles were held on the database the profiles of the majority of the known active offender population.
This expansion and investment is being closely followed by Europe and America who are keen to emulate the crime-solving successes of the database.
Maintaining and developing the database is one of the governments top priorities, with government and police investment of over 300 million over the last five years. However, there are no plans to introduce a universal compulsory or voluntary, DNA database. A Home Office unit is responsible for regulating the database. This work is overseen by a board composed of the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities. The Human Genetics Commission is also represented on the board, and there are plans to establish an ethics group to contribute and offer advice . Note that it is the authorities that regulate themselves. An independent regulator might disrupt the plan for total surveillance. The collection of DNA samples from offenders is understandable but collection of samples from children is a cause for concern. Further, the retention of DNA samples taken from those arrested and not charged is unjust. Samples of people found not guilty after a court appearance are also retained. This is also unjust. Police work is being made easier. When police work is made easier, the approach of a police state in Britain is hastened. Volunteers doing charitable work with children or vulnerable people have to undergo a Criminal Records Bureau Check in order to verify whether they are a danger to those they help. An examination is made of the Criminal Records Computer Database in each case. Volunteering is now subject to state snooping, bureaucratic interference and cost. Volunteers are presumed guilty before they can start helping. The number of volunteers in Britain is falling for these reasons.
Britain is sleep-walking into the surveillance state; a state paid for by the ordinary citizen and expanded without public consent. Our freedom of expression is being restricted. British citizens are shackled by regulation and surveillance to a degree not encountered since wartime. The disturbing thing is that this has come about gradually so the population does not realise what is going on. Britain did not become like this until after 1997 when the Blair régime took power. This state of affairs makes thinking people fearful of our future in these islands. Were the sacrifices of 1914-18, 1939-45, Iraq and Afghanistan in vain Terrorists can still hide and commit their crimes even when they have ID cards and appear on CCTV. We have come to a terrible pass as our privacy is lost to the snooping state. In 21st century Britain, having somebody watch over me has taken a sinister and disturbing meaning because the watcher is not the benevolent and just Good Shepherd but the state.
GWYN PRICE EVANS
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