It could never happen here
It could never happen here
It may not have not escaped the notice of some, the irony of the police response to the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common. There were scenes of big burly policemen man-handling women, peacefully gathered to mourn the death of Sarah a 33-year-old woman snatched from the street and murdered, allegedly by an off-duty police officer. Women not only came to mourn but to express their anger over domestic violence, street harassment and sexual assault, mainly perpetrated by men against women and girls. The protest had been ruled unlawful due to the restrictions of the 2020 Coronavirus legislation, but women obviously felt that this was too important to adhere to the rules. Also in March a 61-year old nurse was issued with a £10,000 fine for organising a demonstration of about 40 people protesting against the government’s paltry 1 percent pay increase for NHS workers.
Governments need to keep control, even if this means quashing dissent and stifling anti-establishment ideas. States are passing ever more draconian laws, whittling away perceived freedoms workers think they have. Laws that are rushed through in response to calamities like the attack on the USA Twin Towers and the Coronavirus pandemic were and are supposed to be temporary, however, these laws so often never get repealed.
The USA Patriot Act, designed to counteract terrorism, was signed into law by George Bush in October 2001 six weeks after the attack on the towers. The Act expanded the abilities of law enforcement for surveillance, including the tapping of domestic and international phones, and abuses of the Act led to government spying on innocent individuals. It had to be periodically reviewed because of concerns that certain provisions could be used to violate privacy rights. Most of the Act, however, been written into permanent law.
In 2020 the UK Coronavirus Act over-rode Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act which refer to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. The Guardian (3 November) commented:
‘Protections for protestors are set to be removed from the Coronavirus rules under the second national lockdown. An exemption that permits demonstrations to take place with additional conditions to mitigate the spread of the virus is expected to be omitted from fresh regulations being drawn up from this Thursday. The police had allowed and facilitated some demonstrations, however there have been questions as to whether the prohibitions on demonstrations were impartially and proportionately policed’.
Once the pandemic has subsided and we go back to no restrictions as promised, one wonders whether these laws will be repealed or will they be dragged out every time there is a demo or protest, citing health concerns.
Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, currently going through parliament, protestors causing ‘annoyance’ could theoretically be jailed for up to 10 years. The government has passed almost 400 new laws and regulations in the past year, only a few of which have been approved by parliament.
Online social media groups are now being censored. The Department for Education has instructed schools not to use materials from organisations working to overthrow capitalism. There have been state shut-downs of the internet all over the world. Protestors have been using the internet to organise online and to assemble and protest offline. Governments are increasingly resorting to shutdowns in times of crisis, arguing they are necessary for public safety or curbing the spread of misinformation. Misinformation potentially meaning information contrary to what the government wants you to have. The worst offender is not some openly authoritarian state but India, the so-called ‘largest democracy in the world’. In Germany Netz GD is a network enforcement law which compels social media companies to remove ‘hate speech’ and other illegal content, illegal content as defined in the 22 provisions of the criminal code. This has been criticised by the Human Rights Watch saying ‘this law sets a dangerous precedent for other governments to restrict speech online by forcing companies to censor on the government’s behalf’.
In China the citizen identification number system or ID card is the only acceptable document used for everything from opening a bank account to registering for a mobile phone. It is used to buy train tickets and pass through security checkpoints and can be inspected by police for any reason; these cards also state the holder’s ethnic identity. Boris Johnson had at one time scoffed at the idea of ID cards and referring to China said it would never happen in Britain. At the moment we have to have special permission by way of a form or permit to travel out of the country, reminding one of the old USSR. There is the ongoing debate in parliament regarding the introduction of health passports which seem highly likely now despite murmurings to the contrary.
How long before these ‘ID’ cards carry more information than our supposedly private health status?
At the moment surveillance technology is mostly used for law enforcement and selling us stuff but information could theoretically be shared with companies or departments without our permission and used to monitor us.
An article in the South China Post (18 November) tells us:
‘Facial recognition technology has been increasingly deployed by countries to secure access and improve surveillance especially during the pandemic. The technology is controversial not just because data leaks are common but because of its potential to exacerbate racial or gender biases’ (bit.ly/30VRHeD).
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, several companies including IBM, Microsoft and Amazon announced they would either pause selling their facial recognition technology or stop producing it entirely.
We are now encouraged to snitch on our neighbours for not following the rules, snitching on those in receipt of ‘undeserving’ benefits or lately on Covid ‘non conformers’. Workers turning on workers leaving the establishment unfettered.
The Socialist Party does not advocate reforms but we do denounce the worst excesses the state can dish out. What we cannot afford is complacency and the conviction that it could never happen here.