Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Column, June 24, 2008

I SAW a film last week called ‘The Lives of Others.’
It was set in Cold War East Germany and depicted the terrifying extent to which the secret police, the Stasi, spied upon their fellow citizens.
Mere suspicion resulted in surveillance, arrest, interrogation, imprisonment and the ruination of countless lives. Worse still, friends and family were forced to betray one another by the state.
But, evil though it undoubtedly was, at least the secret police were spying on those they believed to be enemies of the state, no matter how spurious their grounds for believing so might have been.
The Stasi did not, to my knowledge, deploy their considerable talents of surveillance to track down those guilty of dog fouling. The clearly missed a trick there which our own municipal watchdogs could have taught them.
This week every council has had a letter telling them to stop snooping so much. Well, it’s worded a bit more delicately than that, but basically they’ve been told they’re overstepping the mark in using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
This was an act that was intended to give guidance and restrainto to the like of the police and security services when they use covert surveillance like phone tapping and so on to tackle terrorist threats.
How some nameless, faceless bureaucrat decided it should be used to snoop on people suspected of cheating school catchment rules is anyone’s guess, but that’s what some ingenious little nosey parker has used it for.
It is like a sort of municipal Murphy’s Law. No matter how much you assure us that middle-ranking pen-pushers will not be able to authorise the tapping of our phones, if they are given that power, they will use it.
That’s why the Local Government Association has written to councils reminding them that they ought not to use these draconian powers on trivial matters.
Unfortunately when I said ‘every council’ earlier, I should have qualified that by adding ‘in England.’ Wales is apparently not getting this warning.
It would be nice to think that is because our authorities are blameless in this and have left their RIPA powers gathering dust.
Sadly not. Conwy Council, it has been revealed, felt that the security of the state was sufficiently threatened by someone working when they were off sick that they deployed their RIPA powers.
If they’re doing that when someone fakes a sickie, it rather makes you wonder what they would do for a really serious offence, like fly-tipping – deploy the nuclear option no doubt.
There may be some who say that if you are doing nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to fear from a bit of surveillance by your local authority.
But it’s all a matter of proportion isn’t it? Sure, if someone is plotting the downfall of the state, I rather hope someone from MI5 is listening in on their plans. If all they are planning is to get their child into a good school, then I’m thinking spying on them is a tad excessive.
The ability to spy upon citizens is an extreme one and ought only to be undertaken by those who we consent to police us, not some jumped-up council officer with a power complex.
I do hope that someone at the Welsh Local Government Association is penning a similar warning to councils here as that sent to authorities over the border.

I TAKE a hefty pinch of salt with ministerial suggestions that we should all tighten our belts.
Those who enjoy hefty Cabinet salaries and ridiculously generouls allowances, all funded by the taxpayer, ought not to give us advice on how restrained we should be in our salary ambitions.
With fuel and food on the rise, it’s understandable that people might like to see their wages go that way too. But no, no, the government doesn’t like that, it’s inflationary.
So the public sector gets to feel Alistair Darling’s icy hand exercising restraint and the private sector follows suit.
The thing is that people who see their fuel bills rocketing are going to twig sooner or later that that has an inflationary effect, but what exactly are Messrs Darling and Brown doing to curb that? Precisely nowt. See above, my advice on pinches of salt, ministerial advice for the use of.
What I’m slightly puzzled by is Gordon Brown’s seeming belief that somehow people are not going to vote him out of power at the next election because of the ruination their finances are in.
He is like the Mr Micawber of British politics, adamant in the belief that ‘something will come up.’ He had better hope so, because the electorate are not going to sit thetre being reposessed and paying through the nose for food and fuel without some hapless politician being strapped into the backside-kicking machine come election time.
Micawber was saved by Dickens’ deus ex machina, and Brown, son of the manse that he likes to remind us he is, is apparently hoping for similar divine intervention.
I reckon they’ve got about 12 months to get something sorted, and by that I mean something more competent than messing about with the 10p tax band. If they don’t come up with the goods then I don’t think it will make a blind bit of difference what the economy is doing come election day, people have long memories for this sort of pain, and Labour will be out on their ears.

WELL, my record of sporting tipping maintained its consistent record of being, well, rubbish, with the departure of Italy from Euro 2008.
Admittedly it was a choice based purely on the kit my son was given, but hey, better than my usual selection method involving a pin.
The one prediction I will make is more Grand Slams for Wales, and I base this purely on Charlotte Church and Gavin Henson’s fertility. Congratulations to the pair on the impending arrival of another baby. Charlotte reportedly said she’s happy to have a baby whenever Wales win the Grand Slam.
Marvellous, I look forward to Charlotte and Gavin producing a whole choir.

1 comment:

Mei said...

This is the logical conclusion (aor at least it's on the way there) to the rights that the government has to snoop on us.

The rights that we lost with the recent anti-terrorist legislation were judged as necessary by some, I wonder what their comments would be about these kinds of uses?