The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

The more Big brother watches us, the less he seems to see

Posted by rantingkraut on July 29, 2009

The title of this post comes straight from Ross Clark’s book on the surveillance society: “The Road to Southend Pier”. In many ways, this is a worthwhile book, showing how the surveillance state –frighteningly omnipresent in theory- is in reality breathtakingly inefficient at takling crime in the conventional sense while creating new, spurious offences.

One passage seems ill thought through though: “For those who flippantly describe Britain as a ‘police state’, an admission by the Home Office in 2007 must have come as something of a shock: Britain’s police forces, it was revealed, have lost contact with 322 registered sex offenders.” (The Road to Southend Pier p.61)

The argument, in short, is that Britain can’t be a police state because the police is laughably inefficient, being tangled up with red-tape and politically driven initiatives. How then should we define a police state?

I would think of a state in which the police has almost unlimited powers over citizens, may not be accountable even within the exercise of those generous powers and may be deployed as an instrument of political opression. It is easily conceivable though that the police in a police state may be amazngly inefficient at fighting crime, while concentrating on political targets or plain self-interested corruption instead.

In Britain, the police certainly have very far reaching powers, even if some restraint in using them is still exercised, relative to what would be theoretically possible. Within the exercise of their powers, the police still seems to be accountable, by and large, but they have been known to harass people who dared to express political dissent in public –and not only in the usual context of organized protests.

It is not immediately clear if Britain is a police state or how fast she is heading in that direction. Being concerned about the increasing power of the police and its political consequences is hardly flippant though.

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