It’s sadly predictable that one of the first comments on NO2ID’s pledge-style petition is the old, ‘There is nothing to be scared of unless you have something to hide…’ nonsense. But fortunately there are enough people with a healthy distrust of authority to make sure this pledge to refuse an ID card and donate £10 to a fighting fund (provided 10,000 others do the same) is well on the way to hitting its target. And it’s a great way to go about mobilising people who might otherwise fear being left alone.
But back to that nonsense. A ‘healthy distrust of authority’ does sound a little paranoid, but the sad truth is that you don’t have to stray that far to provoke the authorities’ interest. My personal experiences are a little dated, but they’re relevant nevertheless. Everyone knows the Thatcher government actively supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq on the world stage, but few realise that those of us who joined vigil-style protests to mark the chemical attack that wiped out the city of Halabja were filmed and photographed by police (at a time when CCTV was unusual). All the more sinister, when you consider we were a bunch of harmless, soft-arsed students.
On the domestic front, while on my way to protest against fox hunting, our minibus was pulled over for a supposedly random roadside check. Once again the police filmed everyone who was on the minibus and then asked for names and addresses. I asked if we were obliged to offer our details, the suddenly sheepish officer said we weren’t and so nobody did. The officer failed to convince us with his argument that this intelligence would help the police to become more efficient… charmingly naïve, he was just doing his job.
In both these cases, government’s view has changed. Halabja is no longer embarrassing and the most worrying protestors are pro-hunting. But both show how the police quickly and easily slip into a role where they work not just to uphold law and order, but to support the policy goals of the government of the day. ID cards will do nothing to combat crime (including terrorism), but much to stifle dissent.