#MyTramExperience – Grounds for arrest?

[Warning- Video contains swearing and racist, abusive language]

A woman has been arrested and charged after a video entitled ‘My Tram Experience’ went viral, sparking off widespread outrage across the internet.

If you haven’t seen the video, I’ve linked it above. Less than a day old, the video has already gathered over 2,500,000 views, due, in part, to it being spread around social media websites like wildfire. In the video, the woman in question launches a tirade of abuse and racist comments at fellow passengers, ranting about how Britain is “no longer British” and focusing her attention on passengers of ‘ethnic’ origin who she claims are not actually British. Such inflammatory quotes from the woman include:

“You’re black; you ain’t British. Go back to where you came from.”

“None of you are f**king English. Get back to your own country. Sort your own countries, don’t come and do mine.

“What has this country come to? … with loads of black people and a load of fucking Polish. You ain’t English either. None of you are fucking English. Get back to your own fucking, d’you know what?”
The video was posted online and was quickly spread around, with internet users quick to demonise her and assert their own moral standpoints. I was glad that there was such a public outrage to such blatant, harrowing racist abuse against docile passengers on public transport, and I actually thought it was a good thing that the video was made publicly available for people to criticise and discuss. It is encouraging to see the heightened level of public outcry at such racism.
And then I began to feel uneasy… The public outcry and the condemnation, I felt, was a good thing. Racism should not be tolerated. But I was uneasy about the extent of the backlash and the calls from members of the public for her to be arrested.
Piers Morgan even got involved, commenting on the video via Twitter and calling for the woman to be named and shamed, and deported – quite where she would be deported to remains a mystery:
“Most disgusting thing I’ve watched in years. I want this woman arrested, and deported. Makes me ashamed to be British”
“That video’s all over Twitter now. Someone must know the repulsive racist wretch. Name and shame her.”

The problem is, many of the tabloids will report this and shame the woman, despite the fact that many of her ill-informed, racist views regarding ethnicity and immigration will no doubt be fuelled by the right-wing media. Tabloids won’t ever pause and reflect on whether their biased reporting and twisted use of statistics has contributed to such examples of racist rants.

Also, the woman in the video seems a bit ‘odd’, to use a term. I don’t know her background or anything, but it seemed to me as if she was drunk, on drugs, or even mentally ill. Not because of the racism, but because of her demeanour and speech… But this is precisely it: we don’t know her, or her background, and neither do we know what led up to the video. The video begins when she is already ranting, we don’t know what set her off or what happened prior to the beginning of the recording. Now, racism is never justified and her ranting is disgraceful and shameful, but the moral outcry has negative as well as positive aspects.

The internet outcry reminded me of the backlash to the London riots this summer, which at the time shocked me, to be honest. There were calls for the rioters/looters to have their benefits removed (after being imprisoned), for them to be evicted from council housing (whole families, even if their son/daughter was the only one who was involved in the riots)… there were calls for martial law, for live ammunition- for protestors to be shot on sight, for the military to be drafted in alongside the police… calls for water cannons, tear gas… calls for social media websites to be shut down in a bid to censor the internet, and much more. Essentially, the public outcry was almost as shocking as the actual riots themselves. Thankfully, the rioting stopped without any draconian measures, backed by public calls, to be implemented, though the outcry (I believe) contributed to the harsh sentences passed on convicted rioters – designed to send a “message” rather than to dole out justice.

The issue with the woman on the tram is complicated. On the one hand, she has a right to freedom of speech. This is an important right that people often ignore; freedom of speech, it seems, is fine unless someone says something you do not agree with, or they say something inflammatory. On the other hand, she clearly was being abusive and there are laws against hate speech and the like. What is worrying is just the extent and the lengths of the public outcry at such ‘events’ – it is often reactionary, ill-informed and short-sighted, I feel.

The police already have laws in place to deal with this sort of thing, and should we be so quick to call for a woman to be arrested or even deported because of an argument? It is a touchy subject, and I in no way endorse her racism. I think it is disgusting, and like I stated I am actually happy that so many have come out to decry racism in this country, but we have to be very careful we do not set a precedent with this matter. Should all people who hold racist views be imprisoned? Should we prevent people with inflammatory or ill-informed views from speaking their mind, infringing on their right to freedom of speech? The benefit, and problem, of social media and the internet today is that such videos, events, etc., can spread virally within seconds. Public ‘campaigns’ can be created and disseminated within minutes; the first UK government e-petition to reach the 100,000 mark needed for parliamentary debate was the petition for convicted London rioters to lose any benefits that they were receiving, which I felt would do nothing to deter future looting nor would it help ‘rehabilitate’ convicted rioters back into society. As Sunny Hundal wrote:

“…to criminalise simply being offensive or swearing in public would have half of Britain in jail.”

I agree with Sunny, who also said:

“I would much prefer such racism to be open and visible because there are still far too many Westminster commentators who think racism is a thing of the past”

It is very encouraging that the video was disseminated online and in the public domain. It opens it to public debate, and does help to show that racism is very much still alive, especially in ‘tolerant’ Britain. My issue arises with the way the online discussion is conducted, and the way some people seem more keen to assert their moral standpoint than actually denouncing racism. Calls for the woman to be deported, for example, are ridiculous, and should we be so keen for the police to arrest people? To imprison people we do not agree with? You cannot consistently lock people up because you feel insulted, or because you disagree with their comments… So I feel uneasy about the whole affair. On the one hand, perhaps she should be arrested for hate speech. On the other hand, perhaps she should be entitled to freedom of speech, to speak her mind, whether her views are ill-informed or shameful. Is it not enough that this woman is publicly shamed online? Is it not enough that fellow passengers stood up to her and disagreed with her comments?

It is a difficult issue, no doubt.

Congress announces that frozen pizza is a vegetable….?!

Seward Co-op Organic Frozen Pizza

Image by Aaron Landry via Flickr

In a bizarre move, Congress announced last Tuesday that frozen pizza was a vegetable, rebuking new USDA guidelines for school lunches that would have led to an increase in fresh fruit and vegetables in school cafeterias.

Bowing to large food companies, and ignoring science (and simple logic), US Congress announced that the tomato paste on frozen pizza qualified it as a vegetable. American politicians seemed to either miss or disregard the fact that tomatoes are actually a fruit and not a vegetable, not to mention the fact that the tomato paste on frozen pizza is full of sugar, chemicals and other NON-VEGETABLE, UNHEALTHY ingredients.

Still, it’s hard to act surprised at this move. After all, big  food companies have spent $5.6 million lobbying against new rules. How much pocket-money have kids spent on lobbying? Exactly.

Many conservative US politicians also believe that the government shouldn’t tell people what to eat, even in school cafeterias. But these same conservatives don’t seem to mind big food companies telling people what to eat…

As the Huffington Post reports:

“Herein lies the brilliance of the food industry — not only has it created a myriad of products but it also created the idea that children want industrial food products above all else. While most Americans have bought into this notion, it’s simply not true. Children 100 years ago couldn’t have possibly eaten the industrial foods they are eating today…

…The food industry literally shapes and changes the palates of our children. Constantly eating sugary, salty and fatty food products adjusts taste preference to the point that simple, real foods taste bland and unappealing. While the food industry insists that it only advertises to children “to influence brand preference,” a study published in the journal Appetite found that the food industry works to, “fundamentally change children’s taste palates to increase their liking of highly processed and less nutritious foods.”

But while Congress is happy to cater for the food corporations, the rising obesity problem in the US is getting worse. Big companies are making big money from people’s ill health, from children’s poor diets, while Congress blocks new guidelines that could actually help improve kids’ diets.

CNN reported that nearly 1 in 5 four-year-olds are obese in America, and the problem is getting so bad that even military figures are starting to worry; the Associated Press reports that: “a group of retired generals advocating for healthier school lunches also criticized the spending bill.”

The group has stated that poor nutrition in schools is a ‘national security issue’ because obesity is a leading medical disqualifier for military service.

Amy Dawson Taggart, the director of the group, said in a letter to members of Congress: “We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace.”

State Enforced Silence: The Met is issuing arrest threats to those who disturb the 2 minute silence

This morning, the Metropolitan Police have been issuing threats via twitter. More specifically from their CO11, The Public Order Branch of the Metropolitan Police, twitter account: @CO11MetPolice.

Here are their (current) tweets in chronological order:

There is a policing operation in place to preserve the dignity of the 2 minute silence #Armistice Day #remember

Individuals seeking to disrupt the 2 minute silence will be dealt with robustly #Armistice Day #remember

Any police action will be considered & proportionate, respecting those who hold the 2 min silence as a sign of respect #Armistice#remember

If the memory of dead soldiers is insulted where people have gathered to honour those soldiers there is clearly a threat to public order.

Deliberately using abusive or insulting words or behaviour is an offence under Section 4 of the Public Order Act #Armistice Day #remember

Last year during the 2 min silence a group burnt poppies and a counter protest was also held. This caused considerable upset to the public.

Arrests were made in 2010 & 2 people were later convicted. Intelligence and info suggested a similar incident may occur this year.

The tweets sent out from this account this morning were intended to warn against any similar protests taking place.

Is the Met over-stepping their bounds by issuing such threats? Leave your comments below.

14 Signs of Fascism (Laurence W. Britt)

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council Logo (Image via Wikipedia)

I saw a post on Latent Existence‘s blog which detailed a list of the “warning signs of fascism”, written by Laurence W. Britt in 2003 and published in Free Inquiry Magazine.

Analysing the regimes of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia, Britt extracted a list of 14 common threads that linked them all together. He wrote that “they all followed the fascist or protofascist model in obtaining, expanding, and maintaining power,” each containing these 14 common characteristics. It is a quick, interesting read, and it is worth correlating such characteristics with Western democracies today, such as in the US or the UK, and noting if you find any characteristics below that you can relate to our democracies, surely far removed from the threads of fascism?


1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.

From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights

The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause

The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.” Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.

4. Supremacy of the military/avid militarism

Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.

5. Rampant sexism

Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.

6. A controlled mass media

Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.

7. Obsession with national security

Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together

Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.” A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.

9. Power of corporations protected

Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of “have-not” citizens.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated

Since organized labor was seen as the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts

Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment

Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. “Normal” and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption

Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.

14. Fraudulent elections

Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections wit

h candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.

You can read the full article here.

US planning to arm UAE with thousands of bombs to counter Iran ‘threat’

The Obama administration has drawn up plans to build a regional coalition to counter Iran by selling munitions to the United Arab Emirates. The US is proposing to quietly sell thousands of advanced “bunker-buster” bombs and other munitions as it steps up its mission to counter the perceived threat from Iran.

With US sanctions already in place, and UN security council members Russia and China opposed to introducing new sanctions on Iran, the Obama administration has instead decided to try to “build up the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, U.A.E. and Kuwait, as a unified counterweight to Iran,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

The US is no stranger to supplying arms to the region, and the Obama administration seems to believe that arming the region is the best way to counter the threat of, and apply pressure to, Iran.

“Recent arms deals include a record $60 billion plan to sell Saudi Arabia advanced F-15 aircraft, some to be equipped 2,000-pound JDAMs and other powerful munitions. The Pentagon recently notified Congress of plans to sell Stinger missiles and medium-range, air-to-air missiles to Oman,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “The U.S. has also sought to build up missile-defense systems across the region, with the goal of building an integrated network to defend against short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles from Iran.”

It remains unclear whether the “bunker-buster” bombs would be effective at breaching Iranian fortifications, as it is believed some are deep enough to withstand such strikes. Just to be sure, the Pentagon has been developing larger guided bombs.

The proposal to further arm UAE is perceived to be a move to support the UAE in expanding its ‘security role’ in the region and beyond, and to deter Iran.

Once the arms deal proposal is announced, a congressional challenge could block the deal, although this is unlikely to happen as officials have said the U.A.E. package is seen as less controversial because the country is viewed as less hostile toward Israel.

US arms deals to the Middle East have slowed in pace in recent months due to the outbreak of pro-democracy protests. For example, the Wall Street Journal writes that: “Last month, the State Department put a proposed $53 million arms sale to Bahrain on hold after some lawmakers and human-rights groups protested the monarchy’s violent crackdown on protesters earlier this year.”

However, it is back to ‘business as usual’ with the Obama administration as arms sales to the Middle East are once again being fast-tracked by the administration.

“We in the military are poised to get back to normalcy,” the U.S. military official said of sales to ‘key allies’.

Fracking industry insiders admit to using Military ‘Psy Ops’ tactics against American citizens

Last week, there was an oil industry conference held in Houston. Industry insiders filled the conference, listening to speakers lecturing openly on how they dealt with the American pubic in communities were they drilled. Inside, environmental activist Sharon Wilson, director of the Oil & Gas Accountability Project, managed to record speakers lecturing on the tactics used against the American people. She then handed recordings to CNBC.

Inside the conference, speakers publicly admitted that they used military ‘psychological operations’ (psy ops) against the American public in communities where opposition to fracking was growing.

Companies engaging in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have been accused of causing tremors and other harmful side-effects. On November 5, Oklahoma was hit by its largest earthquake on record, a 5.6-magnitude tremor that struck 44 miles (71 km) east of Oklahoma City, and earlier this year, fracking was said to be a “highly probable cause” behind the tremors and after-shocks that occurred in North-West England. Besides the tremors which fracking may cause, opponents are also worried about other side-effects from the contentious drilling procedure, including possible “water contamination, the industrialization of the countryside, [and] additional carbon emissions.”

Homeowners in America, opposed to such practices and concerned of their own welfare, have formed movements against the industries responsible, and it was this growing opposition that led to the speakers at the oil conference in Houston sharing strategies and advice on how to combat the “insurgents”.

Yes, that’s right; Speakers at the conference described the opponents of fracking as insurgents, and explained how they found the use of military ‘psy ops’ tactics against the American public to be very helpful.

Matt Carmichael, Anadarko Petroleum’s manager of external affairs, gave a forum on “Understanding How Unconventional Oil & Gas Operators are Developing a Comprehensive Media Relations Strategy to Engage Stakeholders and Educate the Public”. He suggested that his colleagues in the oil and gas industry download a copy of the Army’s ‘Counterinsurgency Manual’, to utilise against the homeowner “insurgency”. Carmichael said:

“Download the U.S. Army-slash-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, because we are dealing with an insurgency. There’s a lot of good lessons in there and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable.

“With that said there’s a course provided by Harvard and MIT, twice a year, it’s called “Dealing with an angry public.” Take that course, and tie that to the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual.”

Business Insider obtained a copy of the FM 3-24, the final edition of the 2006 Counterinsurgency manual provided to psy ops soldiers, and had a look at what it advised. They substituted the word ‘government’ for ‘corporation’, and published an extract that highlighted Carmichael’s points:

” … insurgency has been a common approach used by the weak to combat the strong. At the beginning of a conflict, insurgents have the strategic initiative … the insurgents generally initiate the war. They may strive to disguise their intentions, and the potential counter-insurgent will be at a great disadvantage until [corporate] leaders recognize that an insurgency exists and are able to determine its makeup and characteristics to facilitate a coordinated reaction.

While the [corporation] prepares to respond, the insurgent is gaining strength and creating increasing disruptions throughout the state. The existing [corporation] normally has an initial advantage in resources, but that edge is counterbalanced by the requirement to maintain order. The insurgent succeeds by sowing chaos and disorder anywhere; the [corporation] fails unless it maintains order everywhere.”

In a talk at the same conference, entitled “Designing a Media Relations Strategy To Overcome Concerns Surrounding Hydraulic Fracturing,”  Range Resources communications director Matt Pitzarella explains how to “overcome stakeholder concerns” surrounding fracking using military ‘psy ops’ tactics. Pitzarella explained how:

We have several former psy ops folks that work for us at Range because they’re very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments. Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of psy ops in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania.”

Recordings of the conference and the PDF of the FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency Manual can be found on Business Insider’s article.



The Metropolitan Police: Ushering in a covert UK police state?

Earlier this year I reported on the Metropolitan Police’s purchase of the digital tracking software Geotime. The security program, used by the US military, collates digital data and then can generate a three-dimensional graphic showing an individual’s movements and communications with other people. It can collect the information from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions.

The purchase led to an outcry from civil rights campaigners. At the time, there were reports of the undercover police who infiltrated green activist groups, sometimes sleeping with activists to gain their trust. There was also the report of John Catt, an 86 year old man, who has had his presence at peaceful protests and demos logged in secret by police units over four years, despite never having been convicted or accused of illegal activity. Rightly so, people were worried about the implications of the Met Police having such advanced surveillance technology. Could they be trusted to use it conservatively? Legally?

Now the Met has purchased more covert surveillance technology, this time in the form of technology that allows them to directly control and intercept mobile phones within a 10 sq km radius. The technology masquerades “as a mobile phone network, transmitting a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, intercept communications and gather data about thousands of users in a targeted area.”

Strictly classified as “Listed X” under government protocol, “it can emit a signal over an area of up to an estimated 10 sq km, forcing hundreds of mobile phones per minute to release their unique IMSI and IMEI identity codes, which can be used to track a person’s movements in real time,” the Guardian reports.

So far, The Met has refused to confirm whether the system is used in public order situations, such as during large protests or demonstrations. The Met would not comment on its use of the technology or give details of where or when it had been used.

The use of the technology by The Met raises serious concerns. Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, warned the technology could give police the ability to conduct “blanket and indiscriminate” monitoring: “It raises a number of serious civil liberties concerns and clarification is urgently needed on when and where this technology has been deployed, and what data has been gathered,” he said.

“Such invasive surveillance must be tightly regulated, authorised at the highest level and only used in the most serious of investigations. It should be absolutely clear that only data directly relating to targets of investigations is monitored or stored,” he said.

Such technology, coupled with the Geotime software, could allow The Met to gather highly sensitive data about innocent people without their knowledge, for example with large numbers of protestors at a peaceful demonstration. The technology could not only track their movements, but also record and intercept any SMS messages sent or phone calls made. It could also transmit a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, leading to a scenario such as in Egypt when mobile phone networks were shut down at the behest of the government during a time of civil unrest.

This is also coming after the UK riots, when Cameron is stated to have wanted to shut down the internet. There were fears that the riots were largely organised through the use of mobile phones and social networking sites. As a result, the government was considering options that included shutting down internet access, and closing or monitoring the Blackberry network. Although Cameron was persuaded against such measures, it is still worrying that such measures were considered. As technology improves, it will become easier to enact such control measures with ease. Future rioting, and further pressure from the media and the British public, could lead to such proposals becoming a reality.

Although the government did not enact these proposals, The Met has the technology to enact such policies, with the ability to shut down mobile phone networks within a large radius [10 sq km]. The transmitters can be about the size of a suitcase, and can be placed in a vehicle or at another static location and operated remotely by officers wirelessly. This could possibly lead to several such transmitters, covering a radius over several kilometres. Even if The Met does not shut down mobile phones, they have the ability to monitor and collate information covertly from thousands of users in a targeted area.

Index on Censorship, a British free speech organization, warned that the right to freedom of expression in the country was at risk after the UK riots saw the government announcing potential plans to censor and restrict internet access. Their letter to William Hague is still relevant:

“The government’s record on freedom of expression and privacy is less than ideal. Britain’s desire to promote these ideals internationally are being hampered by domestic policy,” the group said.

“The government is currently considering greater controls over what legal material people are allowed to access on the Internet. This is clear from recent public support by the Prime Minister, and through Claire Perry MP’s ongoing inquiry, for plans to filter adult and other legal material on UK Internet connections by default. The new PREVENT counter-terrorism strategy contains similar proposals for the filtering of material that is legal but deemed undesirable. Earlier this year the Prime Minister suggested there should be more powers to block access to social media, a policy that drew praise from China and which the government swiftly backed away from. There are also plans for more pervasive powers to surveil and access people’s personal information online.”

The group concluded: “We call for the UK government to seize this opportunity to reject censorship and surveillance that undermines people’s rights to express themselves, organize or communicate freely. That is the only way to both enshrine the rights of citizens in the UK and to support these principles internationally.”

Walking into a Police State?

The procurement of such technology in the hands of the UK’s biggest police force is potentially worrying. There is nothing to ensure that innocent people, in their hundreds or even thousands, are not covertly spied upon. The technology now allows vast amounts of data to effortlessly be collected on thousands of people simultaneously. Such data would include movements through time and space, SMS messages sent, recorded phone calls, IP logs, social networking info, and much more. Such technology also allows for the police to wirelessly shut down mobile phones within a very large radius, leading to a mobile phone blackout in a specific, controlled area.

Next time a riot occurs in London, I would find it difficult to imagine The Met not utilising such technology.

During the last riots, the media and the British public were frenetic, calling for draconian measures to stop the looting. Such reactions have led to harsh prison sentences designed to “send a message” rather than enact proper justice, calls for the internet to be shut down, measures to ensure that the police have access to water cannons for the first time, and more. There were even calls from some members of the public to enact martial law.

If another riot broke out in the future, which is not implausible, I would find it difficult to believe that The Met would not utilise their Datong mobile surveillance technology, in conjunction with Geotime. Such technology would allow them to track and monitor, covertly, the movements and communications of thousands of people simultaneously.

Initially, thousands would be monitored covertly but, after calls from the public and the government, The Met would (undoubtedly) shut down mobile phone communications across specific areas.

But this is not all.

Now it has been revealed that The Met has a fleet of spy planes, each costing around £3m each.

The planes have been in use since 1997, though their existence has never been publicly disclosed. The planes cost around £3m each, and many hundreds of thousands more to operate. Despite the vast cuts (around 20% of their budget) the police face, the spy planes are still in use, flying regular sorties.

As The Independant reports: “The planes have apparently been fitted with secret surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile phone calls or eavesdropping on conversations.”

So now we have secret spy planes, military-grade digital tracking software and technology that fits in a suitcase, intercepting and controlling thousands of mobile phone technology. Yes, it reads like a dystopian, science fiction text, along the lines of Ghost In The Shell, Blade Runner or even 1984.

My question is, are we walking into a covert police state? Is it, perhaps, becoming an electronic police state? Wikipedia defines such a state as:

Electronic police states are characterized by government surveillance of telephone traffic, cellular telephone traffic, emails, Internet surfing, video surveillance and other forms of electronic (including fiber optic) tracking. A crucial characteristic of this process is that the data is gathered universally and silently, and only later organized for use in prosecutions in legal proceedings.

The inhabitants of an electronic police state may be almost fully unaware that their communications and activities are being recorded by the state, or that these records are usable as evidence against them in courts of law.

It also goes on to say:

The United Kingdom is often seen as an advanced electronic police state, with mass surveillance and detention without trial having been introduced by the government, followed by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s MTI program, which aims to intercept and monitor all e-mails, website visits and social networking sessions in Britain, and to track telephone calls made over the internet as well as all phone calls to land lines and mobiles.

Do we trust The Met to hold such technology, and to use it appropriately and legally? Is technology developing too quickly, outpacing civil liberties we once took for granted?