Race & Class - Vol. 51 No. 3
2 Race & Class 51(3)
move towards an authoritarian system of governance little different in essentials from a one-party political system. What has driven this process is capitalist globalisation, what has enabled it are the huge advances in information technology that have both furthered that globalisation and made ever-more sophisticated mass surveillance possible. European democracy is suffering from a self-inflicted wasting disease.
The symptoms As with all diagnosis, however, it is necessary to begin with examining the most obvious symptoms, of which the first is the ongoing creation of a ‘surveillance society’. In everyday life, in the streets, shopping centres, as well as on public transport, mushrooming CCTV cameras have become part of the urban landscape, in the UK particularly, as the price of ‘keeping our streets safe’. But cameras on the streets are only one part of the story. There is a whole range of background personal information being amassed, collated, exchanged, added to and kept, relating to all EU populations. This passes, on the whole, with little remark, for, in everyday life, the majority are prepared to trade ‘privacy for convenience’ – allowing widespread access to their personal data in order to gain speedy access to a facility, for travel or to buy goods and services.
Yet look at the range of data that is being kept, or planned to be kept. Take passports; although the EU agreed back in December 2005 that everyone wanting a new passport – and probably national ID cards too – will be compulsorily fingerprinted, including children of six years old and above, few were aware of this decision.1 There is some concern over fingerprinting but it does not, as yet, connect to people’s everyday experiences. Only when 10 per cent plus, every year, of the EU’s 450 million people are required to have their fingerprints taken in special ‘enrolment centres’ will it become apparent that ‘everyone is a suspect’ now. It is only a matter of time before DNA is taken too.2
Similarly with driving licences, for which the EU regime is also changing. In the UK, you used to get a driving licence for life (or up to 70 years old when a medical check is needed). This is to be replaced by ten-year licences (five renewals up to 70 years of age) and eventually five-year ones (ten renewals up to 70), which will allow the data and interoperability of the chip to be regularly updated.3
And, finally, the EU ‘Health Card’ (now just a piece of plastic) is set to carry a ‘chip’ with a full medical record on it. Meanwhile, the UK is currently introducing a national health (NHS) database containing the whole population’s medical records.4
So, in three basic areas, common to the majority of the population – passports, driving licences and health records – detailed personal information is not only to be kept, but expanded, updated and, technically, made accessible to whichever state bodies and officials are ultimately deemed to require it – or to theft, loss, criminal exploitation, and so on. That such databases have the capacity to ‘speak’ to each other (data-mining) and share or exchange information only adds to the