Sunday, July 11, 2010

Being watched constantly is too high a price for safety

Eminent Leftist lawyer JULIAN BURNSIDE below on CCTV cameras. He has a point and admits that the problem is where to draw the line but I can't say I am as bothered with existing practice as he seems to be. Burnside is Australian born but British-based

The human instinct for privacy runs deep. All people have a need to be private, but privacy is not coherently protected in Australia, except in Victoria and the ACT.

Like most human needs, the desire for privacy has to yield to competing interests. Traders need our names and contact details; banks need our financial details; doctors need a lot of personal information; governments expect us to tell them our income and, of course, law enforcement agencies need all manner of information when investigating crime.

But just as a reasonable expectation of privacy has its limits, so also does the right of others to acquire information about us. Balancing legitimate rights to information against legitimate expectations of privacy is a difficult and delicate task. The difficulty increases as techniques for surveillance become more sophisticated.

The first CCTV surveillance camera in a city was installed at Olean, New York, in 1968. In 1981, a CCTV camera was installed in a major road leading into Melbourne. Its purpose was to help with traffic during a forthcoming Commonwealth heads of government meeting. It was a novelty that many did not welcome. It caused a high degree of anxiety - and not just among civil libertarians. The Victorian government assured the public that the camera would be removed after the meeting was over. It wasn't.

All major cities now have thousands of CCTV cameras watching public spaces. They are so pervasive that most people have stopped thinking about them. In most cities in Australia, the average citizen is likely to be captured on film about 15 times a day. Like most civil liberties, the right to privacy is hard to regain when it has been lost. All we can do is preserve what little privacy is left to us. So beware the beguiling arguments of governments intent on knowing everything about you.

In Britain, there are more than 6 million CCTV cameras. Not many people seem to care, but it is worth reflecting that most of the cameras we see around town are monitored all the time. If the cameras were replaced by spies, we might react differently. Imagine a society in which the citizens were regularly watched by 6 million human observers. It sounds like East Germany under the Stasi, or the system of surveillance foreshadowed by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Few governments would survive politically if they put an army of informers on the streets. CCTV cameras watch us all the time, but they do not cause the same fuss. When questions of privacy are raised, there are two standard answers. First: if you've nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. And second: it is necessary to fight crime. Both arguments are wrong.

The argument that "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" goes to the heart of what the need for privacy is about. Privacy is not about hiding wickedness. It is an expression of the basic need to be left alone. Most people draw the curtains at night. It's not because they have something to hide, but because they need to feel that they are not being watched. They are not trying to hide guilty secrets: they need to feel private.

Governments in Australia have never tried to justify the argument that CCTV cameras are necessary, or even effective, in reducing crime. It is as if the matter is too obvious to need proof. But in Britain, figures released last year showed that just one crime per year was solved for every 1000 CCTV cameras in use. Some local authorities in Britain have justified the cost of installing CCTV cameras by saying that surveillance drives prospective criminals into other areas. In other words, they do not prevent crime, they simply move it elsewhere.

But let us suppose that the use of CCTV surveillance is effective to some extent in reducing crime. Let's be more extravagant and assume, against the evidence, that CCTV surveillance is highly effective in reducing crime. Would that justify increased use of CCTV surveillance? Try this little thought-experiment: a great deal of criminal activity happens at home - child abuse, spouse abuse, sexual assault and so on. We could reduce those forms of criminal conduct by a simple device. Let every room of every house in the land be equipped with a CCTV camera.

Let the cameras all be connected to a large database, so that anything that happens anywhere in any house will be recorded. If a crime is committed, video evidence of it will be available.

The effect on crime figures is likely to be dramatic. But how many of us would support such an idea? We would all spend our lives knowing that some nightmare ministry was watching every detail.

This might reduce crime, but most people, I suspect, would think the price was too great. Because our privacy matters very much, even when we have nothing to hide.


Reinstated, the British foster parent struck off for allowing Muslim girl to convert to Christianity

A foster parent struck off after a Muslim girl in her care converted to Christianity has won the right to be reinstated.

Gateshead Council’s decision to remove the carer from the register provoked a storm of controversy after it was highlighted by The Mail on Sunday last year. The carer, who had looked after children for ten years and had a perfect record, was blamed for failing to ‘protect and preserve’ the girl’s Muslim faith when she was baptised, even though she was over 16 and had made up her own mind to change her religion.

Gateshead’s decision was quashed by a court in Leeds last week, prompting criticism of the former head of its children’s services, Maggie Atkinson, who is now Children’s Commissioner for England.

The foster carer, who cannot be named to preserve the anonymity of the girl, said last night that her loss of income had been ‘devastating’. She added: ‘In addition to losing the Muslim teenager, another girl I was looking after was taken back into care. And I lost the farmhouse I rented to look after vulnerable teenagers.’ She said she was seeking damages from the council.

She added: ‘Despite my experiences, I still hope to foster again in the future. I simply enjoy helping young people.’

The carer, a devout Christian in her 50s, was asked to look after the Muslim teenager after the girl was threatened with an arranged marriage and faced violence from her family. She said she never pressurised the girl to convert to Christianity and the council was aware that she was attending a Christian church, but her foster manager became ‘incandescent with rage’ when she was baptised.

Council officials advised the girl to reconsider her decision, and struck the carer off in November 2008.

Ms Atkinson said: ‘The decision to remove a carer would only be made if it were in the best interests of the children. 'I am sorry it had such an effect. I hope that the ruling and Gateshead’s move to reassess the situation will go some way to reversing this.’ [Nasty b*tch!]


Catholics angry as celebrities hijack rosary beads as a fashion statement

It's lucky Catholics are more tolerant than Muslims or the fashion shops selling them would be burnt down. Muslims use prayer beads too. I wonder if any "celebrities" will be seen wearing them?

CATHOLICS are outraged after discovering rosary beads - sacred jewellery used in prayer - are being flaunted as a fashion statement. The strings of beads with a cross are now as likely to be found in cheap jewellery stores as they are in a church, with fashion franchise Diva selling three styles of a rosary necklace with a silver cross pendant for $14.99 each.

The beads are a hit with teenagers, but national president for the Catholic Women's League Australia, Madge Fahy, said it was inappropriate for people to wear them as jewellery. "It is totally disrespectful to the religious beliefs of Catholics" she said. "I believe it's an abuse of our religious object. Rosary beads are solely used for prayer."

Ms Fahy said non-religious followers of fashion should have more regard for a sacred symbol of the Catholic Church. "Don't wear them unless you're prepared to use them for what they are made for. They are not a fashion item, they are for prayer and for rosary - don't wear them."

Variations of the rosary bead necklaces are being sold by fashion chain Sportsgirl for $19.95 and also by Dolce & Gabbana.

The craze has been driven by celebrities such as Madonna, David Beckham and Britney Spears, who have adopted the beads as a necklace. In pop star Lady Gaga's latest film clip, she controversially lies on a bed swallowing a set of black rosary beads while dressed in a red leather nun's outfit.

Rosary beads fan Jennifer Holmes admits she bought them for fashion reasons. "I bought them because I liked the colour and the length of the necklace, plus crosses are such a beautiful and peaceful symbol" she said.

"I do not wear them as a religious symbol even though I am a Catholic - I bought it as a fashion accessory. "Subconsciously religion may have played some influence, but to me it's just another necklace with a beautiful piece added."


Government stopping charities from feeding the homeless

The National Coalition for the Homeless has issued a report detailing laws and ordinances in a couple of dozen localities across the nation that prohibit charities – churches, civic organizations, charities, etc. – from feeding the homeless. Or, at least, inhibit their ability to do so with burdensome regulation.

You can read the full report here. Some examples:
– Gainesville, Florida began enforcing a rule limiting the number of meals that soup kitchens may serve to 130 people in one day.

– Phoenix, Arizona used zoning laws to stop a local church from serving breakfast to community members, including many homeless people, outside a local church.

– Myrtle Beach, South Carolina adopted an ordinance that restricts food sharing with homeless people in public parks. …

– In Orlando, Florida the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the City of Orlando on behalf of local organizations, challenging a 2006 law requiring a groups sharing food with 25 or more people to obtain a permit that was only available twice a year per park. A federal district court found the law to be unconstitutional and in violation of Free Exercise of Religion and Freedom of Speech in October of 2008. The city has appealed the decision and the appeal is pending.

– In San Diego, California the zoning department attempted to prohibit a local church from serving a weekly meal to community members, many of them homeless.7 In 2008, attorney Scott Dreher successfully defended the church’s First Amendment right to practice its religion. The weekly meal continues to take place on church property and serves 150 to 200 people each week.

I did some Googling as well to flesh out more examples, and found communities all over the country who are essentially criminalizing or at least prohibiting/inhibiting private charity.

This seems like lunacy to me. There are people who are destitute and hungry. There are other people who are willing to give of their own time, talent and wealth to provide for those people. But the government is limiting their ability to do so, or in some instances stopping them.

Why? The motivation is hard to pin down. One chief motivation, no doubt, wanting homeless people out of parks and public areas. They believe that feeding them in a public place like a park only lures more homeless to that park. And some people just don’t want to see homeless people during their day-to-day lives. It’s the old “not in my back yard” attitude.

There is no doubt some truth to that, but I think there’s another motivation at work here as well.

But I think another motivation may well be that the government hates competition. Rather than allowing private charities like churches, etc. do their own part to feed the homeless I think the government would much rather homeless get help through government-sanctioned, government-funded, government-administered social programs.

Because that gives more power to the government. That justifies bigger budgets for the government. That means more bureaucrats employed by the government. And besides, the government always knows best right?

If we allow citizens to help one another, if we put the emphasis on individual acts of charity and families/friends taking care of their own, then we have a diminished need for government. And the government isn’t in the business, these days, of promoting independence.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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