Monday, February 05, 2007

Making liberty history

On top of the fact that the 2012 Olympics project is resembling a typical New Labour disaster, which Londoners in particular will have to pay for, comes more sinister news about how the state plans to use the cover of the Games to further erode citizens’ rights. Officials want to make wider use of the police's DNA database to identify suspects through their relatives. The plan is also to give police the powers to scan postal packages to find drugs and to monitor an individual's progress in even greater detail than they can today. This will be achieved by using CCTV technology as well as electronic travel passes such as the Oyster cards used by millions of Londoners. The memo debates how public opinion could be won over and concludes: "Increasing [public] support could be possible through the piloting of certain approaches in high-profile ways such as the London Olympics." Three million people already have their DNA stored on a national database, and the state is aiming for comprehensive coverage whether people have been convicted or not. Home Office officials want to make much greater use of a technique known as "familial DNA" where a suspect whose details are not on the database can be traced through a family member whose details are already recorded. The memo states: "Records could be trawled more routinely to identify familial connections to crime scenes, providing a starting point to investigations through a family member that is on the database to a suspect that is not, for example."

The Home Office plans for the DNA database are surely only the tip of the iceberg. Millions of visitors are expected to attend the 2012 Olympics and the "security" issues are no doubt uppermost in the minds of the police and MI5 as they contemplate another phase of their "war on terror". A ring of steel will be thrown around the Olympics, undoubtedly involving the army as well as the police. Surveillance will be increased on a massive scale, involving new techniques. Once the Games are over, they will remain in place and become part of the authoritarian state that has emerged in the last decades. The leaked DNA memo makes clear the official attitude to basic rights, referring to the "expectation of liberty" that people have rather than anything permanent. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, accused Home Secretary John Reid of manipulating the London Olympics for political ends as part of what she called his "make liberty history" campaign. Add in the spiralling cost of the Games, and it is increasingly doubtful whether anyone, apart from the state and a few corporate sponsors, will benefit from the 2012 Games the way things stand.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

No comments: