Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Social malignancy

When a healthy body is struck by cancer, the taint can grow uncontrollably, intrude upon and destroy the host area and spread beyond. Totalitarianism is a social cancer that also might begin in a confined spot but spread uncontrollably until it becomes disabling and, if not addressed, ultimately lethal.

In the 21st century, nations that prized personal freedoms gained in the preceding years have become infected by the cancer of authoritarianism. Examples abound but one that astounds occurred a few years ago in West Midlands, England. the Daily Mail reported:
"To the 12-year-old friends planning to build themselves a den, the cherry tree seemed an inviting source of material.

"But the afternoon adventure turned into a frightening ordeal for Sam Cannon, Amy Higgins and Katy Smith after they climbed into the 20ft tree - then found themselves hauled into a police station and locked in cells for up to two hours.

"Their shoes were removed and mugshots, DNA samples and mouth swabs were taken."
Writing at Counterpunch.org a few year earlier, Anis Shivani provided this:
"The New York Times wrote recently about Russia getting a new "Western-style" legal code: "The code enshrines the fundamental concept of presumption of innocence and gives new responsibilities–and, in theory, independence–to judges, while it will gradually strip prosecutors of the enormous powers they have wielded over almost every step of any prosecution, from arrest to trial. Defense lawyers will have the right to challenge the admissibility of evidence, throwing out, among other things, evidence collected by wiretaps without a warrant."

"The Times writes without a sense of irony. None of these constitutional protections exist anymore in the U.S.

"The Times goes on to describe Russia, but unwittingly provides a perfect description of the new Aschroftian fascist state in America: "…is…a country where suspects can be detained indefinitely, where arbitrary, politically…motivated prosecutions are common, where coercion of suspects is rampant, where the police can stop anyone on the street without any reasonable cause."
Political commentator Peter Hitchens examined the avalanche of security legislation affecting civil liberties of people in Britain. Hitchens claims the nation is "sleepwalking into a Big Brother state." He asks if today's democracies need unprecedented laws that certainly restrict personal freedoms but arguably do not make people any more secure against risks.

You can watch Hitchen's entire Channel 4 documentary "Stealing Your Freedoms" HERE. I recommend it but it is somewhat frightening if you value civil liberties.

It is not only Britain that is attacking civil rights and liberties. This week the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police decided to urge the federal government to allow police, without a court issued warrant, easier access to online, email and cellphone conversations as well as detailed information about customers from telephone and Internet service providers.

In the USA, this story is receiving wide notice:
MATT APUZZO and ADAM GOLDMAN, Huffington Post, August 24, 2011,
NYPD CIA Anti-Terror Operations Conducted In Secret For Years:
"NEW YORK — In New Brunswick, N.J., a building superintendent opened the door to apartment No. 1076 one balmy Tuesday and discovered an alarming scene: terrorist literature strewn about the table and computer and surveillance equipment set up in the next room.

"The panicked superintendent dialed 911, sending police and the FBI rushing to the building near Rutgers University on the afternoon of June 2, 2009. What they found in that first-floor apartment, however, was not a terrorist hideout but a command center set up by a secret team of New York Police Department intelligence officers.

"From that apartment, about an hour outside the department's jurisdiction, the NYPD had been staging undercover operations and conducting surveillance throughout New Jersey. Neither the FBI nor the local police had any idea.

"Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the NYPD has become one of the country's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies. A months-long investigation by The Associated Press has revealed that the NYPD operates far outside its borders and targets ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government. And it does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying..."
As noted at the beginning, the cancer analogy seems to me appropriate. In the last decade, our right to political rights and freedom became infected. Sometimes, it was in the name of protecting human rights or protecting individuals from simple embarrassments; other times, it was to prevent or control serious crime or threats to national security.

The measures individually may have been defensible but taken together, new political powers of police have become a threat to everyone. Like cancer, the measures pose danger to body politic. Government says they don't need restraints. "Trust us, they say." Police fight against effective oversight and civilian control. Spy services and agencies guaranteed secrecy operate in the shadows doing we know not what.

Our human rights and fundamental measures of justice are threatened by those who claim to be our defenders.
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