The road to Dystopia
Appropriately supine populace with proper fear of 'terror' - check
Invasive communications surveillance - check
Suitably draconian laws with little effective oversight - check
Automated visual ID of miscreants - In progress
Not entirely unconnected to the sentiment of this story was a BBC news piece on a complaint to the IPCC against Lancashire police for Tasering two blokes who refused to remove their boxer shorts during a strip search in a police cell, apparently after being on the end of 'inappropriate language'. The IPCC found that the use of the Taser was justified in this case, in spite of the fact the blokes in question were probably somewhat outnumbered in a small room very much under police control.
When the UK fuzz first got their hands on the taser, they were gushing with assurances that it was a tool of last resort for use against violent, out of control suspects who represented a danger to the public, the police officers and potentially themselves. A tasering would be the 'safest' option in extreme circumstances. It didn't take long for the police to go far beyond the stated remit, and a couple of thousand reported uses and half a dozen deaths that may-or-may-not-be-connected later, the 'last resort' appears to now extend to refusing to get yer kit off for the lads on demand.
What really struck me about the story though was the overall image it presents to the disinterested observer; of officially sanctioned casual pacification delivered with seemingly disproportionate force and little regard for the IPCCs 'exceptional circumstances', of a kind that might look familiar to anyone used to the behaviour of police in the developing world or who reads dystopian fiction. To me, it's an ugly picture of law enforcement more interested in what can be validated with a rubber stamp than what's actually proportionate.
We may not live in a totalitarian regime, but between technology and laws that increasingly seem to be employed more for the purposes of easy wins than the ends of genuine justice, and an official mindset that seems to view any dissent as a challenge to authority and the population as potential threats or enemies rather than employers, we are certainly assembling an attractive toolkit for anyone less than democratically minded who either ends up in charge, or who contrives to control those who are.
A close friend comes from the part of Germany that gave Hitler his first real political backing, propelling him as a player onto the national political stage. You'd never guess to look at the place now, but the largely legitimate political concerns and aspirations the local population had at the time were picked up and used in a way quite other than what they had in mind when they voted, as were many laws and institutions in the years that followed. Hitler may be an extreme and perhaps over cited example, but it happened, and history is full of people who didn't see that what they were building would prove to be their downfall. I wonder what chance we really have of doing any better.