The World Trade
Centre was still smoking when US lawmakers hastily passed the PATRIOT Act, and in
the UK, it wasn't much longer before Parliament enacted the
comparable Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act). Objections to the PATRIOT
Act are legion, and they have been well documented.
documented – until now – is how the PATRIOT Act and the mindset accompanying it
have played themselves out in the lives of real people. A book review in the Register
highlights a book by author Maureen Webb and her book Illusions of Security:
Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post-9/11 World
A visitor to the US can now expect to be fingerprinted (all
ten digits), registered, and monitored. More than 80,000 people were registered
in the first year of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System
(NSEERS), which requires registrants to report changes of address, employment
and other details.
At the same time
the US government ethnically profiled and rounded up Arab
and South Asian men, often for trivial reasons. More than 13,000 people were
detained and put into deportation hearings in NSEERS' first year. In one case
Webb notes, a man was arrested after casually saying he'd like to learn to fly
These tales are
the tip of the iceberg. Many countries, including the UK, are shifting to biometric passports (if
not ID cards) and putting in the infrastructure for a global surveillance
system. The much-maligned Total Information Awareness programme
that proposed to mine commercial and government databases never really went
away, instead its spirit lives on in programmes such as the National
Intelligence Program and Secure Flight. In the UK the National Identification Register and the NHS Spine, and in Europe the eID programme and projects such as IDABC are aligned
to the TIA programme.
The key to
understanding all this a major shift in thinking to “pre-emption of
risk”. Instead of waiting for a crime to be committed and suspects to be
investigated, prosecuted, and convicted, the US government adopted the idea of pre-empting
and disrupting terrorism. Such a profound policy shift justifies any amount of
surveillance or guilt by association. And it isn't just the US.
suspects, intelligence operation, and policing, and are willing to jettison
democracy in return.
model means our liberty and lives can be removed at any time on the most
uncertain evidence, denied any right to face our accusers, and presumed guilty.
Is that greater security?