Big brother could be standing next to you
The extension of police powers to other agencies and the extent to which members of the public are being used and encouraged to report fellow citizens is an alarming trend.
WE are familiar with reports from totalitarian regimes of citizens being used to spy on each other; but it doesn't happen here. Or does it?
At a major bus 'hub' in central scotland, one of the bus shelters (which was just some bits of perspex and open to the four winds) carried to the following notice:
If you see someone smoking
Governance and Scrutiny Officer
[A telephone number and e-mail address was given.]
Ostensibly 'Governance and Scrutiny' facilities have been established to make service delivery by statutory agencies more transparent and measurable. But it seems that these are being used to encourage one citizen to report another.
Recently reports have stated that the police are now using teenagers to 'check out' local stores who might be selling alcohol to under-age drinking, whilst civilians are being adopted as para-police to investigate crimes - up to and including murder enquiries.
This is in addition to the Police Community Support Officers which were introduced in 2002 and their powers extended in 2005.
Press and amateur photographers are now finding an increasing level of harassment from the police and others when attempting to take pictures in public places. Austin Mitchell MP – a keen amateur photographer – is standing against the arbitrary use of these new controls which are being introduced under new legislation. This legislation has been introduced ostensibly to protect members of the police and security services from those planning acts of terrorism and to protect children from paedophiles. It is however being used as a further tool to erode civil liberties and police accountability.
A woman driver was recently reported - she suspects by a council worker - because someone in her car threw an apple core into the street. Whilst dropping litter is a bad habit and should be actioned upon, the manner in which the incident was observed, reported and handled gives real cause for concern; with the local authority in question stating that fixed-penatly notices can be handed out by 'authorised officers of the council'.
We are familiar with the concept of a 'citizens arrest' - but even that is a very grey area. Once we get into the scenario of statutory agencies like local authorities and the police employing citizens to report on others we are getting into very murky waters indeed.
At the other end of the spectrum the police forces in five European countries agreed in 2004 to the establishment of a European Gendarmerie Force (EGF). The five EU member states being France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. This sits alongside Europol.
These developments represent a signficant shift in terms of a free and open democracy; and are redolent of what we have only previously seen operating in repressive regimes.