I have a friend who was an historian before he became a health service manager, and he wrote a paper (which has never been put online, as far as I can see) which argued that the NHS had been trapped in its moment of birth. By that he meant that it never escaped the contradictions that had to be resolved to create it. We can see the same thing in the current Labour Party split over Syria.
Now that the PRISM cat has been let out of the bag, the spies and former spies are coming out of the cupboards to do damage management. (I wrote a post about some of this last week). What’s interesting is that they give us an insight into how these discussions go on behind closed doors. For one of the saddest aspect of security services work is that smart people are diverted into work that is essentially self-generating and recursive; in that respect it’s like investment banking. Think what might be achieved if those resources and intellect were turned instead to solving, say, problems of hunger or poverty. But I digress.
Anyway, when it comes to damage control, there is a couple of contrasting approaches. But both sidestep the main issue: that public secrecy is a form of political corruption. (more…)
Even if you’re not doing anything wrong you’re being watched and recorded. … You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody even by a wrong call. And then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis to sort to derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.
It pulled me up short because it reminded me of The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s play set against the backdrop of the 1692 Salem witch trials. Of course, The Crucible was an allegory about America’s domestic Cold War politics, of McCarthy, HUAC and “Are you now or have you ever been…?”.
So, suddenly the whole thing laid itself out for me. Let me try to explain. (more…)
The emergence of the “database state” has been one of the more insidious effects of the falling cost of technology, especially in Britain, with its centralising tendencies. Evidence includes: The growth of CCTV cameras (more than 4 million, making the UK the world leader), the rise of the national DNA database; and intended legislation to let the state access emails and phone call records. Now it has run up against another strong trend – the increased concern over human rights.
I posted a couple of weeks ago on a paper by a couple of economists which argued in brief, that globalisation – taking a historical view – tended to fail for political reasons: effectivedly, those who lose from it put the brakes on. Cross-posting this to Shaping Tomorrow’s Foresight Network prompted a long and considered response by the futurist Stephen Aguilar-Millan of the European Futures Observatory (his blog here), who has done recent work on questions of globalisation. He argued that if you approach it from a geopolitical perspective you get a rather different perspective.
I’ve written here from time to time on the evolution of Britain as a surveillance society, and the trends embedded in it. Now the journalist Henry Porter, in a submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, has produced a list of the ways in which surveillance has been increased in the UK since the 1997 election.
There’s an interesting discussion going on in the economics world about the impact of the cost of the Iraq war and on the US, following the publication of The Three Trillion Dollar War, by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes. Economic theory says it should have stimulated the US economy, but it doesn’t seem to have. The impact of the war on oil prices is also disputed. Finally, Stoglitz and Bilmes suggest that the financing of the war has accelerated the transition of global power away from the US.
The current scandals around surveillance in the UK reminds me that I meant to post about Privacy International’s most recent international league table. (Thanks to Our Kingdom for the prompt). England and Wales are in the bottom category – “endemic surveillance societies” – while Scotland, split out for the first time, is a little higher, in category 5 (‘systemic failure to uphold safeguards’) of the 7. England is the only EU country to make the bottom grade; the US is also down there. A note of caution; very few states make the top three categories.