lime

Published in the Sunday Times Magazine of the 15th of April 2001.

Bryan Appleyard: NO HIDING PLACE

Privacy is dead. We are watched by 1.5m closed-circuit television cameras, more per head of population than any country on Earth. Our government, police and intelligence services have more legal powers to poke around in our private lives than those of communist China. And thanks to new technologies from mobile phones to the internet, they can use those powers to find out where we are, whom we talk or send e-mails to, and what websites we click on. According to most experts in the field, a police state with powers of control and surveillance beyond the wildest dreams of Hitler or Stalin could now be established in Britain within 24 hours. And guess what: MI5 probably read this article before you did. It was delivered by e-mail, a hopelessly insecure system. It is full of the sort of security-sensitive words the spooks look out for, and, as I shall explain, I seem to be an MI5 target.

But the weirdest thing of all is that we really don't care. To take an example that may sound trivial but isn't, the Television Licensing Authority is currently running an advertising campaign boasting of its ability to invade our privacy. Hoardings show a local street sign with the caption that declares, four people in this street don't have a TV licence and the TLA knows who they are.

Duncan Bennett, a systems administrator with the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, knows exactly what this means. He hasn't had a TV in 10 years and yet, annually, he gets threatening letters from the TLA. He has now discovered that, with no evidence against him whatsoever, they can get a warrant - always automatically granted - to break into and search his house. He is assumed to be guilty until proven innocent, a terrible inversion of ancient common-law tradition. He has struggled to find anybody willing to take up his campaign on the issue. Bennett is not suspected of drug-trafficking, terrorism or subversion. He is suspected of having a TV without a licence. Only in Britain would such an abuse of power - or even such advertisements - be tolerated.

We seem to have such fear of crime, and such a mute acceptance of the seizure of power by the authorities, that we are actually comforted by the thought that we are being watched all the time. This, in the current climate of paranoia and high technology, is dangerous. Our right to live a law-abiding life without interference is now utterly compromised. The Englishman's home is no longer his castle, it is his virtual interrogation cell.

... the remainder of this article is about invasion of privacy and makes no further mention TV Licensing™ ...

Return to main page...

lime