Saturday, 27 December 2008

Big Brother Wants To Watch You More

The man who wants to bring you loud libraries and was threatened with legal action by Shami Chakrabarti for base(less)ly insinuating she was, er, canoodling with Dave Davis is back! Andy Burnham,  handed the oxymoronic (or just 'moronic'?) title of 'Culture Secretary', now wants to introduce cinema-style internet age ratings. All very well and good, you say. Until you begin to wonder how the hell he can achieve it.

The ex-Fitz English grad who seems to have lost the ability to string together words to form what we call a 'sentence' since he came down (sample: "The real priorities I have got in my mind" and "the change of administration is a big moment. We have got a real opportunity to make common cause" - in today's DT) also sneakily mentioned that there would be an opportunity for those who believed their characters to have been defamed online to seek cheap legal redress.

While images of beheadings should certainly not be viewed, ISPs already offer decent parental controls to stop little darlings inadvertently stumbling on to smut. Police routinely trawl the web for paedophilia and terrorist activity; ISPs have rigid terms of use, in some cases too rigid (see Google's no-kids policy, for example) and will shut down sites and/or ban users which violate said terms. Burnham's plans are yet another - another - instance of State interference. He's implying that parents can't do a good enough job of watching their kids, so Big Brother will have to do it instead. But in the end, everyone will be watched: it's the only way to make the scheme work.

Indeed, the only way to enforce Burnham's proposals would be to use an ID card, fingerprint or iris scanner, or similar chipped device that proves the individual is of a suitable age to access certain websites that had been carefully vetted to meet government "standards" and contained no libellous material. (Does anyone else smell lucrative technological contracts in the offing?) The costs alone could be spectacularly prohibitive; yet again, the taxpayer would undoubtedly be required to pick up the bill for all these 'legally-required' add-ons. The government will know where you are and what you're looking at at all times. One wonders whether they'll sell the information to marketing firms in order to pay the salaries of all those in the new department set up to administrate this garbage.

Burnham's announcements come at a time when Labour is ready to sneak through Jacqui Smith's highly unpopular proposals to retain information of every website you've ever visited. Are they touting for public support for their snooping? One thing is clear: despite Burnham's claims to the contrary, this is an end to free speech, because free speech invariably entails saying things about certain people that they may not like to hear. Labour'll read your emails to make sure you haven't been nasty to or about anyone. And should defamation laws be applied to the Internet the highly enjoyable English pastime of being satirical about others - or merely taking the piss - comes under threat. The dearly beloved Daily Mash certainly would be for the high jump. And, of course, because the Internet is one of the few under-regulated entities left, and many laws don't apply to it, new clamp-downs on freedom of speech and expression will be whipped through Parliament as part of some (probably unrelated) Bill. 

In a country which has hidden proposed legislation to allow customs officers to demand to check your papers at any time just in case you're an Illegal in the draft 'Immigration and Citizenship Bill', mere criticism of the State and its methodology could, in future, be enough to get you shut down or investigated by the authorities. We can look forward to an endlessly-regurgitated diet of Z-list celebrities attempting to dance on ice and pre-fab girl groups miming to popular songs: that is what apparently comprises 'culture' these days. Meanwhile, no matter where you go, you won't be able to find peace, quiet, or privacy: whether you're in a library full of bawling troglodytes, or a smoke-free pub that Uses CCTV For Your Protection or taking a walk along heavily-surveilled streets or attempting to do a little light reading on the Net, Big Brother will be watching you. Go back to letter-writing, I say: the State hasn't stooped (yet) to opening your post.

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Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat -Ralph Ellison