[A-List] Big Brother is Real This Time

Bill Totten shimogamo at attglobal.net
Tue Jan 24 01:06:16 MST 2006


by Richard Reeves

Yahoo.com (December 30 2005)


In democratic countries, what war leads to is not peace but radical reform 
at home. That is one conclusion of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
(Penguin, 2005) by Tony Judt, one of the most important books of this troubled
year.

"World War I had precipitated legislation and social provisions in its wake - if
only to deal with the widows, orphans, invalids and unemployed of the immediate
postwar years", he writes. "The Second World War transformed both the role of
the modern state and the expectations placed upon it ...

"The post-1945 European welfare states varied considerably in the resources 
they provided and the way they financed them. But certain general points can 
be made. The provision of social services chiefly concerned education, housing
and medical care, as well as urban recreation areas, subsidized public transport,
publicly financed art and culture and other indirect benefits of the
interventionary state. Social security consisted chiefly of the state provision
of insurance - against illness, unemployment, accident and the perils of old age."

So, the great wars created the beginnings and the culmination of modern welfare
states, growing from aid to individuals, the alone, the broken and the
traumatized, to systems available to all citizens.

What will the war on terrorism produce at home?

The answer to that question seems to be unfolding in Judt's home country, Great
Britain, and in the United States, where he teaches at New York University: The
great English-speaking democracies are almost inevitably remaking themselves as
police states. Changing or ignoring the laws of liberty and instituting more and
more invasive technological monitoring of citizens are the new passions of the
interventionary state - all in the name of spreading freedom.

While the US government, supported by majorities in national polls, is ignoring
laws on oversight of homeland spying, the British are developing systems to
literally follow, photographically, every citizen on his or her daily rounds.
Big Brother, the fictional invention of a British writer, George Orwell, will be
real and functional within a year. The first step, scheduled to be operational
next March, will use thousands of cameras linked to government databases to
photograph every vehicle entering or leaving London, driving on major highways
or stopping for gasoline - and checking those movements against driver's
licenses and other government information over two- and five-year periods.

"The new national surveillance network for tracking car journeys", said 
Steve Conner, science editor of The Independent, "... is already working 
on ways of automatically recognizing human faces by computer ... every 
move recorded and stored by machines". Police also project a need for 
more complicated surveillance systems, schemes aided by hidden computer 
chips in new cars and trucks.

The system, originally planned as a crime-prevention and detection system, has
been in development for 25 years. In Britain, as well as in the United States,
police quickly realized that such innovations as automatic cash machines and
EZ-pass readers provided a rough map of many people's lives - and led to
thousands upon thousands of criminal arrests. But there is no doubt that
terrorism incidents and threats will speed development and make what were 
once considered unacceptable invasions of privacy more acceptable to the 
British - and, one day, to Americans as well.

"Terrorism" is mentioned in every conversation and report about such innovations,
but fear is less critical to such systems than are advances in technology that
simply make it simpler to track humans, as if computer chips were also secretly
hidden in our own bodies. On hearing of the British plans, I thought that it was
a spectacular update to what they did in the bad old days in Moscow: Police
stood on little bridges over roadways in and out of the city to record the
comings and goings of citizens and foreigners alike. Now they won't even have 
to wear coats in the cold weather. Technological policing is cheaper, too, and
machines don't get pensions.

In interviews, the British police are not particularly secretive about their
plans, and digital eyes will certainly make them more effective. But, no matter
how well intentioned, this stuff is scary as hell. To quote an American who once
lived in London, Benjamin Franklin: "They that would give up essential liberty
to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety".

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Bill Totten     http://billtotten.blogspot.com/
                   





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