"Civil liberties" includes the word "civil".

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The term Orwellian gets overused as a description for government behaviour, but it's his writings on political language that I find more interesting. George Orwell would certainly recognise what Geoff Hoon and his friends do when they say:

"The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist."

No, no, no. I have no more desire to be killed by a terrorist than Geoff does, but the word "civil" in there means "relating to the state". It's no more a direct matter of civil liberties to be killed by a terrorist (and I suspect I'm more likely to have a coconut land on my head) than it is to be run over on your way to work.

I try not to quote the endless monkeys of Wikipedia, but their first line really is it:

"Civil liberties are freedoms that protect the individual from the government."

Civil liberties, therefore, cannot protect you from terrorists, not unless the terrorists actually become the government. Geoff's line is pure spin, and a way of glossing over the real balance that needs to be struck between those civil liberties that prevent the state from (say) detaining you without charge for three months, and on the other hand those law enforcement measures which deter and catch criminals, say, the power of courts to issue search warrants where there are reasonable grounds. 

Anyway, there's no way it can help to try and keep track of 57 billion text messages a year, more than a trillion emails a year, and everyone's web history - which includes, just for starters, 2.5bn web searches per month.

The authoritarians normally say "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear", yet people often have to do searches they have a right to expect privacy about, such as those for divorce lawyers, embarassing medical conditions, or Abba's back catalogue, to say nothing of commercial confidentiality. Until Geoff Hoon is personally prepared to let his every email, text, phone call and web page visit be made public, I will not take him seriously.

Almost whatever the problem, Labour's solution seems to be to throw a massively expensive and complex computer system at it. And their success rate remains close to zero with these projects, which get promoted simply to allow Labour politicians to slur the civilised majority like this:

"If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don't have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people."

Doesn't that make your blood boil?

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This page was published on October 17, 2008 7:51 AM.

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