Enough of the National Security State

There have been no shortage of indignities heaped upon us all in the past few years, all in the name of security. The great idol of “Security”, in fact, has been used to steadily dissolve our liberties — liberties we spent centuries bringing to the forefront of Western societies. We are, I believe, at a tipping point: it won’t take much more before liberty itself disappears. Once lost, it will be hard to regain.

Saturday morning’s Daily Telegraph over in the United Kingdom leads with a story about how various airport terminals in the UK will require fingerprints (four of them) from each and every passenger entering and boarding flights. Frankly, I don’t much care what “problem” we are ostensibly solving with this sort of treatment. As Patrick Smith, author of Salon’s“Ask the Pilot” [warning: premium service] notes, flying is an annoying experience on the ground, starting with the alternating “hurry up”, “queue up” and “wait” sequences involved in dealing with the procedures around check-in, security, boarding lounges, boarding and the jetway. Adding facial image verification and the repeated application of four fingerprints simply to make it through these queues and onto the airplane will make a horrid experience even worse.

I really don’t give a care whether, as BAA says, “the biometric information will be tossed away within 24 hours and never given to police” because I don’t believe it for a second. We have spent more than a quarter-century now reciting the mantras of “cops are tops”, “only criminals need to fear”, etc.: what the police want they will get — and, when politicians are concerned, whether they want it or not, it will be forwarded regardless, “in the interests of security and early detection”. British Columbia’s Bill 73 (affectionately nicknamed the “Anti-USA Patriot Act” Law) forbids the storage — for any length of time — of any personal information about BC citizens where it could be subject to the American USA Patriot Act provisions for turning information over to police, security agencies and intelligence services. Laudable, one might think, except that for many of us — Nexus card holders, former INSpass holders, and now flyers to, from and through the UK, fingerprints, faces, etc. will be routinely available. If it is routinely available, it will be made available.

Separately, I am finding my anger rise every time I hear that phrase “police say he was known to them”. (Sometimes, it’s “well-known”, which is worse.) It seems that in just about every incident that makes the news these days the possible suspect(s) are “known to police”. What this phrase is starting to mean to me is that each and every one of us is on file. Our ability to be presumed innocent is gone: almost by definition, those “known to police” are those the general public sees as “up to something”.

So many of the “safety and security” procedures we are subjected to, of course, make us known (and make us feel as though we must have done something, to boot). Putting the fear of sudden arrest into us, of course, is part of the security state’s strategy: if everyone feels slightly guilty all the time, they will go along instead of standing up for their rights. The man who, for instance, protests the plain inefficacy and stupidity of airport security is the man who does not fly — not now, and possibly not ever again. The man who, for instance, questions why those people over there are being beaten with a billy club is not only likely to find himself in the paddy wagon, but probably sporting a lump or two as well. The man who, as happened in North Vancouver, stands on his right not to have his premises searched without a warrant finds his door broken down, himself thrown to the floor, and the search proceeding anyway while he is hauled off on charges of obstruction. So it goes, and so freedoms are lost.

In many cases, now, our laws are in direct conflict with one another: you cannot act without violating one of them. Read your province’s highway traffic or motor vehicle act carefully (often, this represents upward of 25% of all laws applicable in the jurisdiction). One must observe the posted speed limit, yet one must not obstruct traffic: in Halton, Ontario, a driver was charged with obstruction for driving at the speed limit on a road with legal passing zones by a police cruiser (not signalling with lights that there was an emergency) that was driven by an officer who wanted to go faster than the posted limit. When you can be charged with anything at any time, contempt for the law sets in.

This is the problem with the whole “law and order” motif, actually. Politicians love it: it’s a great vote getter. Media personalities love it, too: the boards light up for talk radio. Frothing at the mouth about “wrestling the problems to the ground” is easy to come by. But the rising violence in our streets is correlative to the crackdowns, thus generating even more “security apparatus”, which creates more contempt, and so on in a positive feedback loop.

A minimal set of laws; the sense of obligation to serve rather than to control: these are the tools for a polite, well-behaved society. Everything beyond that eats into liberty, public decency — and destroys a free people.

It is time to stand up and say “enough”, if we can. No special favours for groups. No law-piled-on-law. No constant monitoring. Assume a man in the street is minding his own business, as the presumption of innocence suggests.

It’s that — with all the inefficiencies involved — or the national security state. Leviathan will out if not restrained.

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