6 November 2003
So Blunkett has finally gotten his way and persuaded his cabinet cohorts that the good citizens of the ‘mother of democracy’ must have a ‘biometric’ ID card. The card, that by the way, loyal citizens will have to pay forty quid for the privilege of owning, will contain your photo, finger and thumbprint and for the first time, a shot of your iris. All the information will be held in a national database, so that your identity can be checked by anyone with access anywhere in our former democracy.
The entire, Orwellian programme is designed to thwart according to Ober Gruppen Führer Blunkett, illegal immigrants, social benefits fraud and get this one, organised crime. Now how they hope to contain organised crime through an ID card is a mystery to me, but of course, it depends on what you mean by ‘organised crime’. The key word is ‘organised’ as that can mean anyone who gets together with other people, for example to organise opposition to government policies. They’ve already got the ‘crime’ bit sowed up with the ‘anti-terrorism’ laws.
The depressing thing about the entire affair is the generally sheep-like behaviour of your average Brit, who doesn’t seem to have a problem with literally millions of video cameras tracking their movements on foot and now in their cars with the use of number plate recognition technology. When asked about the proposed ID card, most respond by saying that the only reason one can have to objecting to such 24/7 surveillance is if you have something to hide. The principle, that the state has no right to pry into the behaviour of its citizens without due cause seems to have escaped us. Step-by- ominous step the nanny-state is turning into the police state.
The irony of the situation is that for decades the government lambasted the Soviet Union and the other ‘authoritarian regimes’ for spying on its citizens and keeping files on everyone. But of course, we’re not like that, are we? Or are we? For the past two years, around 10 foreign nationals have been incarcerated in high security prisons under the anti-terrorism laws without being charged or even being informed of the reasons for their detention beyond the vague, ‘threat to national security’ and being connected in some way to Al-Qu-eda. The accusations are based on anonymous information supplied by the intelligence services (not the most reliable source of information) and the ‘evidence’ is not available to either the defendants or their lawyers.
And recently, people on their way to protest an international arms fair were detained and questioned under the same anti-terrorism laws and, it emerged that Blunkett had been renewing these laws continuously (they last for I think, 28 days) ever since they were passed following 9/11.
The process of the state’s social control programme is not confined to the above, it also extends to what the government calls ‘anti-social behaviour’. This will include youngsters gathering together in groups of more than three, making too much noise, or even the vague charge of pissing off your neighbour.
And of course, as with the Patriot Act, the ‘war on terror’ as well as the flood of ‘illegal aliens’ – two ‘threats’ that have been conveniently conflated – is being used as the pretext to control us, our movements, and ultimately of course, our behaviour.
The Labour government has an ignominious record on social control extending back to the 1960s through its attempts to curb black resistance to racism (see “An Institutional State of Denial“).
And aside from the occasional bleat of protest about the threat to our civil rights, opposition is minimal. Most seem to have bought the idea that such measures are necessary in order to ‘protect our democratic way of life’. Another example of destroying something in order to protect it?
Blunkett argues that we need the ‘public’ debate about his authoritarian proposal and justifies it by saying that it will be some time before it will be possible to realise it. But the reality is simply that the government is merely waiting for the technology to catch up with his desire to control the population and protect the corporate state the Labour government is laboriously constructing on behalf of big capital.
If anything does kill the proposal, it will be the cost, estimated at anywhere between £1.5 and £3 billion, which if previous government computerisation projects are anything to go by, will triple and the time taken to implement it will no doubt extend by several years. And Blunkett admits that the project is so enormous it would have to be implemented in stages. No doubt it will be ‘aliens’ who get the ‘benefit’ of it first, but will they be forced to pay for their own surveillance and what if they refuse or are unable to pay? And the rest of us? What will the government do if/when I refuse to buy my own biometric big brother?
The idea that Brits will actually have to pay for their own surveillance might seem weird to some, what is even weirder, that if and when an incompetent bureaucracy gets it working, the good citizens of this fair and pleasant land will no doubt cough up the dough without a squawk.