Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Spy vs Spy?

Privacy International monitors the extent to which personal privacy is vulnerable in different countries around the world. The UK is right up there in the superleague of “endemic surveillance societies.Lagging far behind are countries like Germany, Belgium, and Italy. Greece and Romania hardly score anything. We just manage to beat the French, which will be a comfort to some. The UK has the lowest ratings in the world, alongside Singapore, Russia, China, Malaysia and the US.

Governments photograph and snoop on individual people, of course, to keep everyone safe from crime and terrorism. This is obviously sometimes necessary. But hang on; It is simply not significantly more dangerous out on the streets of Luxembourg, Greece or Portugal, than those of Russia, the US or, come to that, the UK. We experience far higher rates of crime and terrorism, along with our superleague companions. Of course there’s an element of chicken and egg about this. We experience crime that has to be fought, so we tighten up on everyone. But I wonder:
  1. Where and how does this process of progressively spying on everybody end? At what point could we break into the cycle of fear inducing more intrusive security measures that inspire more fear, and how? Or is the whole process just inexorable, until we all really end up in a kind of 1984 state?
  2. Security strategies aimed at containment can work well in short term and immediate ways. But what are the positive factors that enable many other countries to protect personal privacy better, whilst at the same time enjoying a higher underlying level of public safety?
Answers, on a postcard?

13 comments:

rosie said...

Not sure I go for this. Firstly, if the worst 'they' can spot me doing is picking my nose in a traffic jam -I can live with that. Secondly, there are millions of surveillance hours out there and nobody looks unless there is a pressing reason. Thirdly I have firmly printed on my alter-ego that God keeps an eye on what I'm up to-other folk come further down the pecking order. Paranoia might be the order of 2008 and we don't need to buy it.
There's a good counter to this at:http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/4216/
where a humanist agrees with the Pope about the value we place on our fellow humans -there has to be something going right there!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Hmmm... Like you, and most people I suspect, I lead a fairly boring life, and I strongly agree we do well to live as consciously as we can manage in the sight of God. Pragmatically, I don't think I've got anything much personal to hide; but of course there are things (picking my nose in the car) which I'd rather not advertise!

I'm not being a doom and gloom merchant for the sake of being pessimistic. Why does this trend concern me, not as much as it may concern some others, but enough to note it?

Adam got into trouble not because he ate a fruit, but because he lost his innocence by acquiring more knowledge than he could handle — the kind of knowledge that defiles. Where do trust and innocence figure in our society? If there isn't a private space in which I can get it wrong, how do I get it right? Where's the space God and I share, and where's free will?

Also what about the cycle of fear? Fear and mistrust do have social implications. A society that always treats everybody as though they were up to no good makes an interesting contrast to one where people trust and respect each other a bit more.

Then, as I asked, what are the positive forces that make for low crime low surveillance societies? Is this something to do with the ways we relate to each other? Could we do better?

Finally, as the statute book balloons, and every UK government exponentially multiplies complicated statutes, we don't get much happier, and we don't feel any safer. Is it time to ask why not, and whether there might not be some other way to build a decent society?

I don't know simple answers to any of this, and suppose we're probably stuck with a continuing trend away from innocence and trust

Free to think, free to believe said...

There is no reason for a state to protect our privacy from itself. To get to what I'm referring to here a couple of ideas like 'group-think' and 'hive-mind' could be useful for an example - Thatcher sent Leon Brittan to Europe as a well known euro-sceptic but as he said in an interview once sat behind his desk with his new name plate and powers he immediately started to think 'What can I do with my new found authority?'

The idea that we still talk about sleep walking into 1984 shows how much we have already missed - Alan Moore [writer of the graphic novel 'V for Vendetta' which was the base for the film] in an interview on Radio 4 'thanked' Mr Blunket for making his interpretation of 1984 a reality...

The wider problem is how the state uses its influence - largely infantasizing the population - never tackle a robber, never intervene and so on whilst never mentioning taking courses on self defence except to cope with rapists in extremis (ie when you can't run)as it argues that The State will look after us so we don't need to worry our little heads...

Anyway, I think I've said enough before I go off on one or more tangents... interesting piece...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for this, the Alan Moore, and the Leon Brittan thing — "A dog's obeyed in office" (King Lear)

The point you make about infantilising people really struck a chord for me. The OT, with its stress on sacred history and law, says that we partly make ourselves by the choices we make. If we end up living in a place where there aren't any choices, what are we?

It's not the last word, it's the first word, and we always need to remember how important grace is to redeem all this, but there's something that gives dignity at the heart of any moral choice — what would you do in these circumstances if nobody but you and God ever knew you were doing it? Jesus talks about this private zone as a good place to pray and give alms — not even to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

When everybody knows what everyone's doing, and we're all 5 year olds, what kind of people will we be?

Sarah Brush said...

It always worries me that people think that it's ok to be watched if we're not doing anything illegal. Would we REALLY like to be observed to be "caught out" God watching with us at all times to encourage is one thing but the presence of those monitoring us is quite another.

There is a film I was recommended yesterday which springs to mind... It is based on the premise that everyone has become very unintelligent because of this kind of government control. It's called Idiocracy and, according to two teenagers, is very good. I've not seen it but may well be inflicting it on someone soon!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I'm very much with you on this one, Sarah. It's part of the point FTTFTB made yesterday about infantilising people... I will look out for idiocracy... watch this space.

Free to think free to believe said...

Somewhat sheepishly I feel I have to return to the subject like a dog to his bone... but enough of mixed...

The idea that if we have nothing to hide then we have nothing to fear is a serious error as folk with an alibi that could be buried have discovered in some high profile cases and if we are being watched and aren't canny enough to try to get camera records (note the police taking the discs from the tube station cameras after shooting Goerge de Menezes (however you spell that) so even if you are that canny it might do you no good...) then you may wind up on the sharp end of a police investigation.

Do we want the police to be able to find out 'Who doesn't have an alibi?' or to have to work out 'Who is the likeliest to be guilty?' Which is the system we are supposed to have.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I can see a surveillance society, backed by scientific evidence will find it almost impossible to understand, let alone admit, if it gets makes serious mistakes. People won't want to question seemingly infallible circumtantial indications of guilt...

But I think I'm going to follow up Sarah's hint about Idiocracy with a post soon — treat people like idiots and you end up with a bunch of idiots!

rosie said...

Fancy a blog changing someone's mind!-Mine.
I am indeed in need of a space to make some of my mistakes in private -specially as clergy make most of their professional ones in public. I also see the point about treating people like idiots. I still put in a plea for not buying in to the '2008 The year of paranoia' theme. -but then I might be worrying unnecessarily!

Free to think, free to believe said...

Sadly, I think we are already half way there - William Gibson [the 'cyberpunk' sci-fi author] used the idea of someone hacking into a security/police satellite to get somebody into trouble as a plot idea in one of his books but as he pointed out in an interview - it had happened and the US police force couldn't admit it had been hacked so a poor sap was indeed caught in the middle...

On the other point I sometimes argue for folk to take more responsibility for themselves and am continually asked 'why' would they want to be more responsible when they can just have fun and not worry about the consequences... or have to start thinking things through.

Sarah Brush said...

Well, if you want a film about a society that uses science to solve crime and is then incapable of admitting it has made a mistake, try Minority Report. For a society where we repress our emotions it's got to be Equilibrium. These two I have actually seen!

Well done Rosie for being prepared to BE CHANGED by something.

Robert Easter said...

Bishop, I will have to agree. Through contact with the prisons and police training in the States I have seen that the old motto, "To Serve and to Protect" has been pretty-well replaced with that of Corrections: "Security, Custody, and Control." The police are gaining power to stop anyone for any reason, and the safeties of "reasonable cause" for search or, apparently, detention may be found in a diminishing number of cases. The most frightening part of it all is that the prisons which the "free world" police are copying have the highest crime rates and the lowest regard for a life.

Dr. Schaeffer had something when he said that the abandonment of the Christian standard would lead to arbitrary law, with Government scrambling to get in the lead of a direction-less society.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Interested in the Francis Schaeffer quote — I can see in politics and other places a kind of ethic of "instrumentalism" replacing any agreed norms of right and wrong, as though anything you can get away with is somehow OK. Many thanks for the comment and the quote.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...