The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 23rd May 2008
Protest in Cambridge
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BIG BROTHER GETTING BIGGER
by Daphne Liddle
THE GOVERNMENT is considering setting up a huge comprehensive
database to store recordings of every electronic communication – every
phone call and email – in Britain, as part of the “war on terror”.
Such a move would require the compliance of telephone companies
and internet service providers, who would be required to pass all their
records to the Government-run database.
The Home Office plans so far are at an early stage but could be
included in the draft Communications Bill to be included in the next
Queen’s Speech in November; Government ministers have yet to see the
The information would be held for at least 12 months and the
police and security services would be able to access it if given
permission from the courts.
About 57 billion text messages were sent in Britain last year,
while an estimated three billion emails are sent every day.
Civil liberties and data protection groups have already expressed
alarm and expressed objections to the increasing “Big Brother”
But the Home Office is claiming that keeping these electronic
information records is essential to protect national security but
claims the information will be subject to rigorous safeguards.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Communications data – the who,
how, when and where of a communication but not the what (content) of
the communication – is a crucial tool for protecting national security,
preventing and detecting crime and protecting the public.”
This will raise many hollow laughs considering the number of
occasions in the last few months when confidential Government records
containing important personal information about hundreds of thousands
of have been lost.
These losses have largely been attributable to huge swathes of
job cuts in the civil service leaving those surviving overstretched and
the privatising of many civil service functions, including confidential
This begs the question as to how, with insufficient civil
servants to carry out existing commitments, the Government expects to
assemble and protect such a large database. And sadly the obvious
answer is that they will get the private sector to do it.
The Government already has an appalling record of disastrous
contracts with various private sector giant information technology
companies. The high-level civil servants who negotiate the contracts
have little understanding of how their own departments operate at grass
roots level and are not competent to instruct the companies’ software
creators in what is needed.
The resulting errors have been catastrophically expensive to taxpayers
– not to mention those citizens whose personal details are lost or
recorded erroneously. But the IT companies have made a fortune from
creating the faulty systems and then putting them right.
Already civil liberties groups and campaigners are concerned at the
database the Government intends to create to back up the proposed
biometric identity card scheme that will records many personal details
about each one of us, including our credit card spending records.
Another giant database is even now being created with all our
personal health details. Electronic travel cards like Oyster and the
pensioner Freedom Pass already record our every journey by public
transport and hundreds of thousands of surveillance cameras watch our
How can so much information on so many people possible be used?
Could there ever be enough human snoopers in either the public or
private sector to have the time to sit through it all and make sense of
any of it?
Unfortunately if they want to focus on any individual or small
group it will be easy for them to do so. But the comings and goings,
lives and deaths of the vast majority who do not come to the attention
of those in authority will pass as anonymously as they do now.
For this reason alone, the huge databases will have little effect
on preventing any kind of terrorism so long as the perpetrators have
never drawn attention to themselves. The system will only notice them
after the event. Real terrorists and big time criminals will already be
well aware that there is no such thing as a truly private phone call,
letter or email.
They will be careful not to use the trigger words that can be found by
electronic searches and draw attention to potential suspects – such
words as “bomb”, “detonation device” and so on. But thousands of
rebellious teenagers will deliberately use these words all the time
just to create chaos in the system.
We have to ask ourselves who will actually benefit from these expensive
and sinister databases?
Access to these will of course be the dream of every marketing
manager who wants to target their advertising at their most likely
customers. And if these databases are being run by the private sector
it is a fair bet that the profit motive will overcome any scruples
about data protection.
The IT companies will probably justify selling information to marketing
agencies on the grounds that it will save the taxpayers a few pounds –
local authorities already do this with electoral registers and have
done for years.
If passed, this will mean that the monitoring of people in Britain is
far in excess of what is happening anywhere else in the world,
including the United States and Europe. But there is no doubt that
western imperialist governments will be watching closely with an eye to
introducing these measures to control their own working classes.
The Home Office is claiming the measure is part of plans to
implement an EU directive developed after the 7th July bombings to
bring uniformity of record-keeping – though it seems Westminster is
volunteering to pioneer the scheme.
We can only say that if the bourgeois state feels the need for
this level of control and monitoring, it is expecting the class
struggle to become a lot more energetic in the near future.
And this expectation is probably based on the growing economic
storm that could, if the organised workers of the world get their
strategy right, bring an end to the dangerous and destructive system of
Meanwhile the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights last week
attacked Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s plans to extend the time that a
terror suspect can be held from 28 days to 42 days.
The cross-party committee, which includes MPs and peers, said
this extension was “wholly unnecessary” and proposed a series of
reforms which it says are a viable alternative to increasing the
current 28-day limit.
They include ending the ban on granting bail in terror cases, and
allowing post-charge questioning of suspects.
MPs are expected to vote on reforms to the Counter Terrorism Bill
next month and opposition to Brown’s proposals is growing steadily,
leaving Brown facing the prospect of defeat on the same issue that saw
Tony Blair suffer his first Commons defeat.
The JCHR said “no clear evidence” has emerged of any likely need
to extend the pre-charge detention period. And it describes the
proposed safeguard against wrongful detention – a parliamentary vote
after the 42-day power has been triggered – as “virtually meaningless”.
The committee’s chair, Labour MP Andrew Dismore, said: “We are
astonished – and extremely disappointed – that the Government have
failed even to consider our proposed alternative, in the meagre four
paragraphs of official response we have received so far.”
He said the alternative package would better protect the public
and comply with human rights principles, “whilst also reducing the risk
of alienating minority communities”.
Murder on the
THE INCREASE in the numbers of
young people being shot or stabbed to death by other young people is
dominating newspaper headlines and was a major issue in the recent
London Mayoral elections. The immediate proposals from the new Mayor,
Boris Johnson, are for more powers for police to stop and search young
people and for metal detector scanners at strategic points such as rail
and Tube stations. Various right-wing tabloids are screaming for longer
sentences for those found carrying lethal weapons. These methods only
scratch the surface of the problem because they do not deal with the
root cause of why young people carry weapons and band together into
Confiscating knives or holding amnesties are useless because knives are
so very easily replaceable and always will be as long as people need
something to cut up their food.
The Independent recently published the results of a survey that asked
youngsters why they carry knives. The response was almost unanimous –
for protection. Almost all those questioned cited some event that they
or a close family member or friend had experienced where they had been
attacked and afterwards decided to carry a knife for protection.
As for joining gangs, human beings are social animals, they will always
form groups of friends who go about together and adolescence is the
major stage in life for developing independent social skills and
forming long-lasting friendships. And it only takes one or two
seriously anti-social groups for all the rest to be convinced they need
knives for protection and suddenly the town is full of dangerous rival
gangs. Many gangs entrust their youngest members to carry weapons
because they know, if caught, the underage youths will incur much
lighter sentences from the law.
Once the weapons are in the hands of children, who may have been
“taught right from wrong” but are still not old enough to understand
just how wrong it is to kill another human being, casualties become
What is lacking in these young people’s lives is adult attention,
interest and intervention. It is no good blaming parents or teachers.
The parents love their children deeply but are busy and exhausted
earning a living, working long hours, juggling rising debts, housing
costs and all the stresses that modern low-paid workers are subject to.
The teachers are also stressed and under enormous pressure to improve
their school standing in league tables. They and their pupils face
endless testing and judgement – enough to alienate many, leaving them
jaded and cynical. They have no time for teaching the humanities, music
or the arts – which are not tested. Nor do they have time or attention
enough for pupils who are struggling – they must prioritise those who
will do well in exams are raise the standing of the school.
Local government cuts over nearly three decades have wiped out most
youths clubs, hobby activities and other constructive activities for
young people. So thousands of youngsters are left entirely to their own
devices, to support each other socially, emotionally and morally. And a
few discover that associating with adult criminals and drug dealers can
bring them instant wealth and material goods that their low-paid wage
slave parents could never provide.
The children who get involved in illegal, anti-social gang activity are
the victims of social neglect. But a capitalist society that promotes
individualism, greed and selfishness can have no answers. Wherever
these children look to the higher levels of society they see greed,
corruption and crime and capitalism teaches them this is the only way
Most capitalists bend or break the rules a bit – it improves profits
and increases the chances of survival in business. Criminal gang bosses
simply take this a bit further and ignore the rules.
We have only to look at the vast contrast with the status of children
in socialist societies, where they are cherished, encouraged and
respected, to see there is a far better, happier way to raise children.
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