Wednesday, November 09, 2005

90 Days?

I originally had this tacked to the bottom of the previous post. On reflection, I thought it'd make more sense to cut it out of there and put a slightly edited version in a new one.

The fact that the police want a 90 days detention period has been repeated ad nauseum by Blair and Blair. As regular readers may know, this doesn't cut much mustard with me. I suspect I've never explicitly stated why that is. Well, it's just become Wednesday, the day of the vote on the proposal. Now would seem as good a time as any.

The police are charged with protecting us against terrorists. Their focus is, as it should be, on preventing terrorist acts and capturing terrorists. For understandable reasons they have a very narrow focus on the problem. In practice, they are not charged with protecting us from terrorism.* Their focus is not on the causes of terrorism except in so far as it helps with their investigations. To deal with that much deeper, longer term problem you need to consider the bigger picture, not just the terrorists themselves. The security services are too close to be able to properly understand that bigger picture.

This is bog standard counter-terrorism theory. Democratic government's absolutely should not allow the security services to set their strategy for counter-terrorism. The security services should be listened to, supported as far as is possible, and be given the powers thought necessary by the democratically elected government. In particular, any requests to extend police powers should be carefully considered. Only if the case is compelling *and* it can be demonstrated that the benefits to society outweigh the disadvantages, should a democratic government consider granting the request. The fact that the police have requested a power should never be reason enough to grant it to them. In a situation where this occurs, the politicians are failing the country and damaging democracy.

It's easy to brush this aside as typical leftie distrust of the security services but that really isn't what it is. There's no need to believe that the security services are not genuine in their actions, no need to accept that all security services are facist control systems, and no need to accept any of the many odd conspiracy theories which get attached to the police, MI5, or the SIS (I know I'm a pedant but it really isn't called MI6). In fact, you can believe that every single person working in the security services is a decent, honourable, well intentioned individual (hardly likely but I'm sure most of them are) but it doesn't matter; democracies should still look very very carefully before granting their requests for more power, especially if it means compromising long held and important principles. These principles are in place to protect our society.

To understand this, all you need is a basic understanding of human nature. It's not that the security services can't be trusted as such, it's just that they're human beings with a specific and very important job to do. They have one goal; to stop terrorists. In such a circumstance, the temptation to use extreme methods, and to seek to aquire new powers over and above those actually needed, is enormous. "Better to be safe than sorry", they'll say. They will see any democratic limits to their investigations, no matter how crucial those limits might be, as an obstacle. So, saying that "the police want more power", well, it's hardly news.

On some occassions, after proper scrutiny, it could be that their requests are justified. After. Proper. Scrutiny.
It is hugely important. The case cannot be made simply by saying that it's what the police want. Police opinion must be considered but the case for the change must stand on it's own merits. I'm sure this one does not.

That's why Blair's endless tedious repetitions of "it's what the police want" are so pathetic. He must know this. If nothing else, advisors must have explained it to him. I guess he just wasn't listening. Either that or he really is an idiot.

* Yes pedants, I'm sure they are officially charged with protecting us from terrorism. In practical terms, that's neither here nor there.

No comments: