So what are we, liberal or tyrannical? At first the obvious shout is Britain is by no means a tyrannical dictatorship. Yet lets look at some facts. We do not have the freedom to peaceful protest. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 created a new offence which restricted the right to demonstrate within a kilometer of Parliament Square. The area itself is defined by a Statutory Instrument rather than the Act itself. Would-be protesters are required to give the police at least 24 hours notice in writing and if 'reasonably practicable', six days' notice in order to demonstrate outside their own Parliament.
Failure to give this notice can result in protests being forbidden. Furthermore, the police may impose conditions on demonstrations and since there is no statutory definition of "demonstration", it is entirely at the police's discretion. The Government removed one of our most fundamental rights – the right to protest against those who rule us. Just three years earlier, Tony Blair had said 'when I pass protestors every day at Downing Street … I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That's called freedom.
" It is called freedom and it has been all too easily forsaken by the Government. On the day the Act became law, Stop the War Coalition members stood silently in Parliament Square with their mouths bandaged so that they could not speak. They were arrested. Maya Evans was arrested for reading out the names of all the British soldiers killed in Iraq at the Cenotaph. She was convicted and ordered to pay a i?? 300 fine. In 2007, Milan Rai was sentenced to 14 days in prison after refusing to pay a i?? 600 fine for organising an unauthorised protest opposite Downing Street.
He read out the names of Iraqi civilians who had been killed. The government can make laws without parliament. This one seems incredible. But look it up under Reform Act 2006 (c. 51) sec. 1. The law can be changed on any ministers say so, the minister need only be changing it to 'reduce a burden'. I could argue that our police force is a burden as it costs money. Thus if I were a minister I could remove the police force without telling parliament. Can you think of anything that is not a 'burden' at some point? Didn't think so. We also cannot hold our government accountable.
Indeed, they do not have to tell us anything if they do not wish to. Thanks to Jack Straws ministerial veto anything can be withheld. Jack Straw's recent refusal to publish the minutes of crucial Cabinet meetings relating to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was nothing short of a disgrace. The controversial decision to go to war was disastrous, particularly for Britain's reputation as an upholder of international law. Yet there has never been a public inquiry into this momentous decision to go to war in Iraq. Let me turn now to our surveillance culture.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, commonly known as RIPA, regulated invasive surveillance activities through a framework of warrants and authorisations. The level of authorisation required differs. The Secretary of State has to issue a warrant for the interception of communications but directed surveillance (such as bugging), covert human intelligence (such as informants and undercover officers), and access to communications data (electronic records) can all be authorised by a senior figure within the organisation carrying out the surveillance.
The bodies which can apply for each of these activities are set out through secondary legislation in 'RIPA orders'. When the Act was first past, only nine organisations (such as the police and security services) were allowed to invoke it but that number is now nearly 800 public bodies, including all councils. RIPA was an improvement on previous legislation as it did take a more rights-conscious approach to surveillance but it has frequently been badly used.
When it was first introduced we were assured that it would be used for the investigation of serious crimes only but it has been routinely used to investigate minor offences. Classic examples include councils spying on people to see if they are lying about where they live for school catchment areas and to check people are cleaning up after their dogs. As a result, it has been criticized for being a snoopers' charter. It is not limited to serious crime. It is not hard to get a court issued warrant. This is not freedom. Britain is the most watched society in the world.
We have less than one per cent of the world's population but a fifth of the earth's CCTV cameras. In the Big Brother state that Labour has created, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is all pervasive. There are over four million CCTV cameras in Britain – one for every fourteen people and you can be captured on camera over three hundred times every day. In the 1990s, the Home Office spent 78 per cent of its crime prevention budget on installing CCTV and an estimated i?? 500 million of public money was invested in the CCTV infrastructure in the last decade.
CCTV is not the panacea for crime many would have us believe. Outside of CCTV being used to catch speeding drivers; in car parks and to deter other property crime, there is little hard evidence to demonstrate that CCTV works to prevent crime or to bring offenders to justice. A Home Office study concluded that "the CCTV schemes that have been assessed had little overall effect on crime levels. " And a lot of CCTV evidence is unusable in court. Yet CCTV cameras are increasingly prevalent across the country and the technology is becoming more advanced all the time.
More and more cameras, for example, are now incorporating automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) software. It is staggering; therefore, that CCTV is essentially unregulated. We are all criminals to the government, who must be watched at all times. The Children Act 2004 allows for the creation of databases holding information on all children and young people, accessible to a wide range of public bodies. ContactPoint itself was created by a statutory instrument in 2007. It is estimated that it will cost i?? 224 million to set up and i??
41 million a year to run. It will be accessible to at least 330,000 users, though the Government recently estimated that 480,000 people may have access. Every person under 18 in England will be given an identifying number and will have their name, address, gender, date of birth, parental details, health and education records, and any areas of concern about them stored on the database. It also allows the Secretary of State to specify further details to be stored as they wish. So are we still a liberally free nation? No.
We are controlled and watched, mistrusted by our own government. The main problem is that we will get used to it. We will begin to think it has allways been like this. Then more freedoms will be lost, and then more. Eventually we will not even be a democratic nation, we already lack freedom of the press and freedom of speech. We lose more every year. Already this year we have lost the ability to photograph police officers (One professional photographer arrested for taking a photograph or Brighton pier while a police officer stood on the pier). Whats next? I dread to think.