We realise we’ve been banging on about the Freedom Bill a lot over the past couple of weeks. When a bill arrives with such fanfare, however, and such an influence on our lives, it tends to catch our attention. Especially so, since the more we look at it, the more the bill reveals about the character of our current government — and the more questions it begs.
A couple of articles we’ve come across today have given us considerable pause for thought. Firstly, this one from The Guardian, which reveals that some ministers appear to be more concerned with ensuring that CCTV functions optimally than with preventing a landslide of new cameras and ever-more-intrusive applications. CCTV in the back of a taxi, anyone? Unmanned drones designed to look like birds? Secondly, this post at the Liberty website highlights the fact that control orders — which basically place people who are ‘suspected of terrorism’ under indefinite house arrest’ — are still in force and that the coalition has no apparent plans to abolish them.
In a supposedly civilised society, how can we possibly justify imprisoning people in their own homes on the basis of little more than a hunch? Even more crazily, imagine yourself in the shoes of someone who is subjected to a control order. Now, are you more or less likely to feel well-disposed to the system that keeps you under constant surveillance and limits your movements so dramatically? If control orders are having any impact whatsoever, it seems more likely that they are breeding terrorism than quelling it.
All of which has us wondering whether any senior members of the coalition have a coherent vision of a truly free and open society. They pledge to regulate CCTV, then crime prevention minister James Brokenshire says: “CCTV and ANPR systems play a vital role in the prevention and detection of crime”. They repeal Section 44 and 28-day detention without charge, yet they seem perfectly willing for control orders to persist.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the bill is an attempt to tackle a few pesky concerns rather than a genuine statement of intent. Or perhaps an expression of a government whose Liberal Democratic component is too neutered to make a real impact upon policy. The Freedom Bill is certainly a step in the right direction. We must keep reiterating that. In an environment where fresh threats to civil liberties arise like the heads of the hydra, however, chopping off one or two is an insufficient response. We need a fundamental reassessment of what it means to protect civil liberties in the 21st century, and how we plan to go about doing that.
***Join Liberty’s campaign against control orders here.***