Tuesday, December 20, 2005

the innocent have nothing to fear

Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat on our streets
- Tony Blair, Labour Party conference 1995

Of course, extra coppers and ID cards are actually part of the same thing. Seeing the energy crisis looming, the government is putting in place the necessary provisions for dealing with civil unrest.

Once we no longer have the comfort of an energy surplus and affordable food, the have-nots will resent the haves and so the haves will use whatever force it takes to protect themselves.

Why else are we getting all the new 'anti-terrorism' laws? They were being put in place before 9-11, with the Terrorism Act 2000 (under which wearing the wrong T-shirt is punishable with 12 months in jail).

As I've said elsewhere, if you fly a plane into a building, blow up a barracks or shoot a politician you are already seriously breaking the law. If you help or encourage such people, you are already breaking the law. There is no need for any new legislation on this stuff, so we should be automatically suspicious of new ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation.

Similarly, the peaceful protest of Brian Haw is the supposed target of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Can a bloke sat on the pavement asking for peace really be 'serious organised crime'?

When Foreign Secretary Jack Straw asserted to his party conference that the invasion of Iraq was about liberation, Party member Walter Wolfgang was ejected for saying 'nonsense'.

Thing is, Wolfgang was questioned under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Had he dared to say 'nonsense' twice, he could have been prosecuted under the Protection From Harassment Act 1997.

Section 1 (1):
A person must not pursue a course of conduct-
(a) which amounts to harassment of another, and
(b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.

Section 7:
(3) a "course of conduct" must involve conduct on at least two occasions.
(4) "Conduct" includes speech.

That law was brought in supposedly to protect women from nutter ex-boyfriends, yet has been primarily used to prosecute politicial dissent.

And so to ID cards. The innocent have nothing to fear, we're told. Which would be a great excuse for any surveillance measure you can think of. CCTV in your bedroom? Full online publishing of transcripts of your phone calls? A guy in black suit and shades following you everywhere mumbling into a radio about everything you do?

In 1994, in an attempt to discover the problems caused by ID cards, Privacy International compiled a survey containing reports from correspondents in forty countries.

Slightly strangely, it was cited by anti-ID Republicans in congressional testimony when Clinton tried to introduce ID cards in the USA.

Amongst the gravest of problems reported was the over zealous use or misuse of ID cards by police - even where the cards were supposed to be voluntary. One respondent wrote :

On one occasion I was stopped in Switzerland when walking at night near Lake Geneva. I was living in Switzerland at the time and had a Swiss foreigner's ID card. The police were wondering why I should want to walk at night to look at the Chateau de Chillon. Really suspicious I suppose, to walk at night on the banks of the lake to look at an illuminated chateau (I am white and dress conservatively). I had to wait for 20 minutes whilst they radioed my ID number to their central computer to check on its validity.

Correspondents in most countries reported that police had powers to demand the ID card. A correspondent in Greece reported:

In my country the Cards are compulsory. If police for example stop you and ask for identification you must present them the ID or you are taken to the police department for identification research.

Police were granted these powers in the late 1980s, despite some public misgivings. Non European countries reported more serious transgressions, In Brazil, for example:

They are compulsory, you're in big trouble with the police if they request it and you don't have one or left home without it. The police can ask for my identity card with or without a valid motive, it's an intimidation act that happens in Brazil very, very often. The problem is not confined to the police. Everybody asks for your id when you are for example shopping, and this is after you have shown your cheque guarantee card. We also other similar cards. Nobody trusts anybody basically.

Predictably, political hot-spots have seen widescale abuse of the card system:

One problem that Afghans encountered carrying these "tazkiras" (ID cards) was during the rule of the communist regime in Afghanistan where people were stopped in odd hours and in odd places by the government's Soviet advisors and their KHALQI and PARCHAMI agents and asked for their "tazkiras". Showing or not showing the "tazkira" to the enquiring person at that time was followed by grave consequences. By showing it, the bearer would have revealed his age upon which, if it fell between 16-45, he would have been immediately taken to the nearest army post and drafted into the communist army, and if he refused to show, he would have been taken to the nearest secret service (KHAD) station and interrogated as a member of the resistance (Mujahideen), imprisoned, drafted in the army or possibly killed.

Many countries reported that their ID card had become an internal passport, being required for every dealing with people or institutions. In Argentina, according to this correspondent, the loss of the ID card would result in grave consequences:

I got my first personal ID when I turned seven. It was the Provincial Identity Card. It looked like the hardcover of a little book with just two pages in it. It had my name, my photograph, the fingerprint of my right thumb, and some other personal data. I never questioned what was the logic about fingerprinting a seven-year old boy. It was suggested that identification was one of the major purposes for the existence of the Police of the Province which issued the card. It was required for enroling in the Provincial School I attended. Attending the primary school is compulsory, hence everybody under twelve is indirectly forced to have the Card.

Well, this Book was required for any sort of proceedings that the person wanted to initiate, e.g. enrol at school, buy a car, get his driving license, get married. Nobody could do anything without it. In addition, it became a prerogative of the police to request it at any time and place. Whoever was caught without it was customarily taken to jail and kept there for several hours (or overnight if it happened in the evening) while they "checked his personal record". In effect, Argentine citizens have never been much better off than South-African negroes during the Apartheid, the only difference is that we Argentinians did not have to suffer lashings if caught without the pass card. As for daily life without the ID, it was impossible.

Of greater significance is the information that ID cards are commonly used as a means of tracking citizens to ensure compliance with such laws as military service. Again, in Argentina:

The outrage of the military service was something that many people was not ready to put up with. Nevertheless, something forced the people to present themselves to be drafted. It was nothing more or less than the ID. In fact, if somebody did not show up, the army never bothered to look for them. They just waited for them to fall by themselves, because the ID card showed the boy to be on military age and not having the necessary discharge records by the army. Provided that in the country you could not even go for a walk without risking to be detained by the police, being a no-show for military duty amounted to a civil death.

Another respondent in Singapore noted that many people in his country were aware that the card was used for purposes of tracking their movements, but that most did not see any harm in this:

If that question is put to Singaporeans, they are unlikely to say that the cards have been abused. However, I find certain aspects of the NRIC (ID card) system disconcerting. When I finish military service (part of National service), I was placed in the army reserve. When I was recalled for reserve service, I found that the army actually knew about my occupation and salary! I interpreted this as an intrusion into my privacy. It might not be obvious but the NRIC system has made it possible to link fragmented information together.

The consequences of losing ones card were frequently mentioned:

A holiday in Rio was ruined for me when I was robbed on the beach and had to spend the rest of the brief holiday going through the bureaucracy to get a duplicate issued. One way round this (of dubious legality) is to walk around with a notarized xerox copy instead of the original.

The Brazilian experience shows that the card is often misused by police:

Of course violent police in metropolitan areas of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro love to beat and arrest people (especially black/poor) on the pretext that they don't have their ID card with them.

Phew. At least our coppers are all fine upstanding guardians of justice and would never sink to the harrassment, intimadation and abuse of power shown by their colleagues elsewhere. The innocent have nothing to fear.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Merrick Wristmas.