Congratulations, dear brother of mine, on your recent ‘swearing in’ as a Police Constable. You are now officially an agent of the state, and we have given you power over us so you may act as our protector, an enforcer of our laws.
It is natural that you will wish to do the job with which you have been tasked in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Without doubt, it is this noble sentiment that has led some of your colleagues to call for more powers: To detain suspects for longer without charge; and to retain our DNA on a database. It must be frustrating when we prevaricate over such requests.
Remember that there are two kinds of freedom that we strive for. The first of these is freedom from the harrassment of other individuals. By enforcing laws and catching crimminals, you are ideally placed to offer protection against the people who would do me harm and steal my laptop. However, we also require freedom from harassment from the machinery of state, a machinery of which you are now a part. It is therefore much more difficult for you to protect us against this threat, and you may only be able to do so through inaction, rather than the more proactive approach that you will be trained in.
In the week that you take up your duties, you might find it offensive for me to talk about state harassment and abuse of powers. Please remember that when we make laws, set bench-marks and draw moral lines on the pavement, we must do so for all time, and all situations, for all citizens. I know I can trust you, and I hope I can trust the men and women you will be working with next week. But we already know that not all those who join your service are worthy of that trust… and to trust all politicians would be foolhardy!
Read Matthew Parris on ID Cards:
I just don’t want to give government — any government — that much control … I oppose them because evasion, deceit, even crime, and the irregular organisation of one’s own affairs, are part of a citizen’s weaponry of last resort against State oppression. They are weapons I may never need, but I need to know they are there.
Read David Eastman on Anonymity:
Its when computers talk to other computers that liberty disappears. Because a computer can correlate countless bits of data and create new records that would take many humans exponentially longer to do. And that gap, or grace period, is actually where anonymity lies, or did.
… or, for that matter, on civil liberties:
The outgoing Mr Blair bemoans how hard it is for the authorities to fight terrorism and maintain civil liberties. That to me seems a reasonable balance. Terrorism and road accidents are comparable; they are bad and sometimes preventable, but are a result of modern urban life.
Civil liberties on the other hand are the glue that allows trust between those who govern and everybody else. Without that trust, modern life is impossible. There is little point in being protected from one set of arbitrary beliefs only to be subject to another.
I’m afraid the obstacles we place in your way, and the high-standards of proof we set, are all necessary. Yes – it is a problem that the two types of freedom, the two types of protection, are often antagonistic. It is a paradox that giving you more powers to protect us in one way, will actually end up harming us in another. It is a paradox that your occasional failures might demonstrate the success of our system. In striking the balance between the two, we are in effect asking you to do a job, and then willfully hampering you in your efforts! Its a devil of a task… which is precisely why we respect you for taking on the challenge.