Full refund within 30 days if you're not completely satisfied.
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 Tony Bunyan: Just over the horizon 3
completeness of the surveillance tools that are available to the state. We will, then, have chipped biometric documents for a passport, ID card, driving licence and medical records. How long will it be before we have one state document carrying all this data? And how long before the same document/‘chip’ gives us access to so-called ‘e-government’ services, like borrowing a library book, going to a doctor, claiming benefit, and so on? To this scenario must be added the measures already in place in the EU for the surveillance of telecommunications and of travel. For there will not only be a mass of data stored on each individual, from a bewildering variety of entry points, there is also the potential to monitor that individual as he or she goes about their daily activities. In 2005 the EU adopted a directive on mandatory data retention, requiring all service providers to retain communications data for phone calls, faxes, emails, mobile phone calls (including the location) and internet usage. This is now being implemented across the EU. And in the autumn of 2007 the European Commission put forward a proposal for an EU-PNR (Passenger Name Record) scheme to track all travel in and out of the EU.5 Thus, a subject could, potentially, be monitored almost in ‘real time’. And the profile that can be constructed of a targeted person’s life with all this data (plus that pulled in from commercial sources) may well be highly intrusive and open to abuse – giving western states a capability the old Soviet Union would have been proud of.
If asked whether they wanted in live in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, few would say ‘yes’, but most would make no connection with the sweeping changes happening before their eyes or planned for the immediate future. This is partly because such changes are hidden in plain sight, as it were, under this directive or that directive, this draft order or that. People do not know or understand the make-up of the ‘big picture’ and, anyway, they think they will be all right – after all, this only affects ‘illegal immigrants’, criminals and terrorists, not them. Those who do understand, through their everyday experiences, are those directly affected, migrants, migrant communities (especially Muslim ones), the unemployed, the poor and the marginalised. But they have no voice and no power.
The diagnosis What, though, has driven this process? In what do its origins lie? While 11 September 2001 and the ‘war on terrorism’ are usually seen as driving the creation of a surveillance society, with its international parameters and cross-border reach, this view dehistoricises that moment. Of course, it is true that many of the substantive developments have taken off since then, particularly relating to international travel, but, in essence, the creation of the surveillance society long preceded 11 September. What 11 September did was to remove the democratic constraints on the use and development of widespread mass surveillance technologies.
The creation of the surveillance society is best understood as an aspect of globalisation. Though it has hitherto been little examined as such, it has to be seen through this prism. Globalisation was already well under way by the 1980s, although often not recognised at the time.6 By the late 1990s, its effects were