I’m writing this blog as a rant, partly because I missed the point: Tony Blair unveils his latest assault civil liberties yesterday’s Independent announces in typically outraged and scandalized fashion. The latest advance of the state will take the form of a super-computer (dash added for effect).
But let’s be clear what this super-computer mean; all the details the government have on us will be centralised. No new data about us will be collected. What data the government does have on us pales in comparison to the information held by supermarkets. This will undoubtedly make the bureaucratic and inefficient business of government more effective. The Tories have been quick to ‘announce’ that it will cost £20 billion, a hugely over inflated sum. However, the government can realistically expect to make efficiency savings as different departments will not have to hold files containing duplicate data on the same individual. My attitude to the DNA database and ID cards is the same. I do not break the law, I have nothing to hide, what do I have to fear? Quite simply this is an irrational fear of government. I understand if people don’t trust a politician or party yet I can’t help but feel the notion of a society based on fear has permeated. Today on ‘The Wright Stuff’ on Channel 5 one brainless panelist in panic pointed out he didn’t even know what information the government had on him. For starters as he is a Tory I very much doubt at any stage he collaborated with the KGB. Secondly under the Data Protection Act, a citizen can write to any government department requesting to see what information the department holds on that citizen. The department is legally obliged to do this. I suggest the panelist picks up a pen.
I am however saddened by the constant evocation of George Orwell’s 1949 work: 1984. In this perceptive novel Winston Smith is a free thinker in an authoritarian world. This is a highly emotive and saddening work, partly because by the end Winston Smith has ‘lost.’ Following torture and interrogation at the hands of the party he is turned into a brainless drone that will unquestioningly follow the party. He didn’t lose because the government constantly had him under surveillance. He lost because by the end did not have the capability to think for himself. In this modern age of mass media, I think this is a very important lesson for us to remember.
Posted by Tom Marley, BULS Vice-chair and Treasurer