Who Watches Big Brother?

In George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984, government propaganda constantly says: Big Brother is watching you.

In Britain today, he certainly is. Britain has 1% of the world’s population but about 20% of the world’s CCTV cameras; there is at least one camera for every 14 people in the country (and that’s an old statistic). Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) does exactly as the name suggests — logs the registration of vehicles on motorways via a series of cameras, so the state can recognise, log and retain information on the trips we undertake.

Recently, a friend of mine stopped his car in a deserted street to drop off his girlfriend. He was there long enough to open the door, get out and close the door — perhaps 30 seconds. He was in a designated parking bay, but the car’s rear tyre was about eight inches over the line. It posed no danger to anyone, nor any inconvenience. Still, he received a letter with a photograph of the car and a close-up of the offending tyre and a demand from the state for £60. I asked him why he paid. “It’s not worth the hassle,” he replied.

One sympathises with those who don’t want to deal with such nonsense for a moment longer than they have to, but the result is success in the dual aims of this surveillance — not safety or protection, of course, but revenue raising and state control.

Another acquaintance left his car in a parking bay, which he’d often used previously, for two days. On the first day, a notice apparently went up stating that the bay’s use was to change. The second day, his car was towed. He was then sent an SMS telling him where he could collect his car, and the £260 he would be expected to pay for it. How was his mobile telephone number obtained? If the bureaucrats responsible for the towing had the number, why didn’t they use it beforehand to notify him of what was happening instead?

He, too, paid up.

The point about these anecdotes isn’t their rarity — it’s their ubiquity. Nobody in the UK would be surprised by these tales, and will have many of their own to match them. I haven’t stored gems over time, either — these both crossed my desk this week.

And it’s not just motorists. Britain’s government has contemplated monitoring all e-mails. And phone calls. And internet use. The infringement of the liberty of a few, specifically identified and targeted (unconvicted) individuals through closely monitored Control Orders is bad enough — but the government now openly considers infringing the privacy and freedom of all of us.

Smoking is banned in public buildings, including private members’ clubs (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one), with all the threatening slogans and public signs that go with it. That such puritanical attitudes kill off communal activity from one end of society (bingo halls and working men’s clubs) to the other (Pall Mall clubs), wiping out hundreds of pubs on the way, troubles the bureaucrats not one jot.

The TV Licensing agency (yes, such a thing exists) not only requires people to pay to watch TV, but also makes a habit of automatically sending the most ghastly threatening letters to many law-abiding citizens, and constantly boasts of its comprehensive surveillance with the gloriously Orwellian slogan, “It’s all in the database”.

Garbage bins are having data chips installed in the lids to allow the state to monitor people’s “disposal habits”. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s not — it’s our future.

Plans to introduce identity cards continue, despite promises that the cards will be “voluntary” (whilst plainly in fact having one’s details on the database will be compulsory, as made clear by NO2ID).

Avoiding the standard of proof required in criminal law, the government has introduced Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, Dispersal Orders, Controlled Drinking Zones (of which there are more than 700, so far)… and so it goes on.

A Member of Parliament, Greg Hands MP, tells me that a 17 year old constituent of his was caught up in dispersal exercises by police at Hammersmith bus station (one of the biggest public transport interchanges in London) using their new dispersal powers, a number of times, between 4 and 5pm each time. The powers were introduced to clamp down on anti-social behaviour in the station, but the constituent wasn’t doing anything wrong — he was simply coming back from school and was of the “right” age. Each time, he was issued with a ticket banning him from the bus station for a day, even though he had committed no offence. On the last occasion, he was arrested (even though the ubiquitous CCTV coverage suggests that he once again committed no offence), was handcuffed and taken to the police station. As it happened, he was quite badly injured by the handcuffs, as he had recently had a hand operation. He now has a low-level criminal record, which threatens potential employment with children or vulnerable adults.

Multiply these examples by the thousand every day and you start to see what’s happening to my country.

The result, of course, is that the law falls into disrepute, taking respect for the state with it.
As the Director of The TaxPayers’ Alliance announced in an article this week in London’s Sunday Times, we are launching Big Brother Watch, to fight all of this, to protect civil liberties and protect personal freedoms. When an arthritic man is fined £50 for dropping a £10 note in the street, when a father of four has to pay £225 and gets a criminal record for leaving the lid of his garbage bin open four inches, when a father is arrested and held in a cell for playing football in the park with his children, it’s time for someone to act.

In the last decade Britain’s government has become increasingly overbearing, creating a nation of criminals out of good British citizens. The movement of power over our lives between the bureaucracy and individuals has all been in one direction. It’s time to push back.