Tag Archives: police

The future of freedom of speech

This is mainly about the UK, but some applies elsewhere too.

The UK Police are in trouble yet again for taking the side of criminals against the law-abiding population. Our police seem to have frequent trouble with understanding the purpose of their existence. This time in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders, some police forces decided that their top priority was not to protect freedom of speech nor to protect law-abiding people from terrorists, but instead to visit the newsagents that were selling Charlie Hebdo and get the names of people buying copies. Charlie Hebdo has become synonymous with the right to exercise freedom of speech, and by taking names of its buyers, those police forces have clearly decided that Charlie Hebdo readers are the problem, not the terrorists. Some readers might indeed present a threat, but so might anyone in the population. Until there is evidence to suspect a crime, or at the very least plotting of a crime, it is absolutely no rightful business of the police what anyone does. Taking names of buyers treats them as potential suspects for future hate crimes. It is all very ‘Minority Report’, mixed with more than a touch of ‘Nineteen-eighty-four’. It is highly disturbing.

The Chief Constable has since clarified to the forces that this was overstepping the mark, and one of the offending forces has since apologised. The others presumably still think they were in the right. I haven’t yet heard any mention of them saying they have deleted the names from their records.

This behavior is wrong but not surprising. The UK police often seem to have socio-political agendas that direct their priorities and practices in upholding the law, individually and institutionally.

Our politicians often pay lip service to freedom of speech while legislating for the opposite. Clamping down on press freedom and creation of thought crimes (aka hate crimes) have both used the excuse of relatively small abuses of freedom to justify taking away our traditional freedom of speech. The government reaction to the Charlie Hebdo massacre was not to ensure that freedom of speech is protected in the UK, but to increase surveillance powers and guard against any possible backlash. The police have also become notorious for checking social media in case anyone has said anything that could possibly be taken as offensive by anyone. Freedom of speech only remains in the UK provided you don’t say anything that anyone could claim to be offended by, unless you can claim to be a member of a preferred victim group, in which case it sometimes seems that you can do or say whatever you want. Some universities won’t even allow some topics to be discussed. Freedom of speech is under high downward pressure.

So where next? Privacy erosion is a related problem that becomes lethal to freedom when combined with a desire for increasing surveillance. Anyone commenting on social media already assumes that the police are copied in, but if government gets its way, that will be extended to list of the internet services or websites you visit, and anything you type into search. That isn’t the end though.

Our televisions and games consoles listen in to our conversation (to facilitate voice commands) and send some of the voice recording to the manufacturers. We should expect that many IoT devices will do so too. Some might send video, perhaps to facilitate gesture recognition, and the companies might keep that too. I don’t know whether they data mine any of it for potential advertising value or whether they are 100% benign and only use it to deliver the best possible service to the user. Your guess is as good as mine.

However, since the principle has already been demonstrated, we should expect that the police may one day force them to give up their accumulated data. They could run a smart search on the entire population to find any voice or video samples or photos that might indicate anything remotely suspicious, and could then use legislation to increase monitoring of the suspects. They could make an extensive suspicion database for the whole population, just in case it might be useful. Given that there is already strong pressure to classify a wide range of ordinary everyday relationship rows or financial quarrels as domestic abuse, this is a worrying prospect. The vast majority of the population have had arguments with a partner at some time, used a disparaging comment or called someone a name in the heat of the moment, said something in the privacy of their home that they would never dare say in public, used terminology that isn’t up to date or said something less than complimentary about someone on TV. All we need now to make the ‘Demolition Man’ automated fine printout a reality is more time and more of the same government and police attitudes as we are accustomed to.

The next generation of software for the TVs and games consoles could easily include monitoring of eye gaze direction, maybe some already do. It might need that for control (e.g look and blink), or to make games smarter or for other benign reasons. But when the future police get the records of everything you have watched, what image was showing on that particular part of the screen when you made that particular expression, or made that gesture or said that, then we will pretty much have the thought police. They could get a full statistical picture of your attitudes to a wide range of individuals, groups, practices, politics or policies, and a long list of ‘offences’ for anyone they don’t like this week. None of us are saints.

The technology is all entirely feasible in the near future. What will make it real or imaginary is the attitude of the authorities, the law of the land and especially the attitude of the police. Since we are seeing an increasing disconnect between the police and the intent behind the law of the land, I am not the only one that this will worry.

We’ve already lost much of our freedom of speech in the UK. If we do not protest loudly enough and defend what we have left, we will soon lose the rest, and then lose freedom of thought. Without the freedom to think what you want, you don’t have any freedom worth having.


UK crime and policing

The news that the level of reported crime in the UK has fallen over the last decade or two is the subject of much debate.  Is it because crime has fallen, or because less is being reported? If crime has actually fallen, is that because the police are doing a better job or some other reason? Will crime fall or rise in the future?

My view is that our police are grossly overpaid (high salaries, huge pensions), often corrupt (by admission of chief inspectors), politically biased (plebgate, London riots) and self serving, lazy, inefficient, and generally a waste of money, and I don’t for a minute believe they deserve any credit for falling crime.

I think the crime figures are the sum of many components, none of which show the police in a good light. Let’s unpick that.

Let’s start from the generous standpoint that recorded crime may be falling – generous because even that assumes that they haven’t put too much political spin on the figures. I’d personally expect the police to spin it, but let’s ignore that for now.

Recorded crime isn’t a simple count of crimes committed, nor even those that people tell the police about.

Some crimes don’t even get as far as being reported of course. If confidence in the police is low, as it is, then people may think there is little point in wasting their time (and money, since you usually have to pay for the call now) in doing so. Reporting a crime often means spending ages giving loads of details, knowing absolutely nothing will happen other than, at best, that the crime is recorded. It is common perception based on everyday experience that police will often say there isn’t much they can do about x,y or z, so there is very little incentive to report many crimes. In the case of significant theft or vandalism someone might need a crime number to claim on insurance, but otherwise, if there is no hope that the police will find the criminal and then bother to prosecute them, many people won’t bother. So it is a safe assumption that a lot of crimes don’t even get as far as being mentioned to a police officer. I have seen many that I haven’t bothered to report, for exactly those reasons. So have you.

Once a crime does get mentioned to the police, it still has to jump over some more hurdles to actually make it into the official books.  From personal experience, I know some cases fall at those hurdles too. As well as the person telling the police, the person has to persuade the police to do something about it and demand that it is recorded. Since police want to look good, they resist doing that and will make excuses for not recording it officially. The police may also try to persuade the crime reporter to let them mark a case as solved even when it hasn’t been. They may also just sideline a case and hope it is forgotten about. So, some reported offences don’t make it onto the books and some that do are inaccurately marked as solved.

This means that crime levels exceed recorded crime levels. No big surprise there. But if that has been the case for many years, as it has, and recorded crime levels have fallen, that would still indicate a fall in crime levels. But that still doesn’t make the police look good.

Technology improvement alone would be expected to give a very significant reduction in crime level. Someone is less likely to commit a car theft since it is harder to do so now. They are less likely to murder or rape someone if they know that it is almost impossible to avoid leaving DNA evidence all over the place. They are less likely to shoplift or mug someone if they are aware of zillions of surveillance cameras that will record the act. Improving technology has certainly reduced crime.

A further reduction in crime level is expected due to changes in insurance. If your insurance policies demand that you have a car immobiliser and a burglar alarm, and lock your doors and windows with high quality locks, as they probably do, then that will reduce both home and car crime.

Another reduction is actually due to lack of confidence in the police. If you believe for whatever reasons that the police won’t protect you and your property, you will probably take more care of it yourself. The police try hard to encourage such thinking because it saves them effort. So they tell people not to attract crime by using expensive phones or wearing expensive jewellery or dressing in short skirts. Few people have so little common sense that they need such advice from the police, and lack of confidence in police protection is hardly something they can brag about.

More controversially, still further reduction has been linked recently to the drop in lead exposure via petrol. This is hypothesised to have reduced violent tendencies a little. By similar argument, increasing feminisation of men due to endocrine disrupters in the environment may also have played a part.

So, if the police can’t claim credit for a drop in crime, what effect do they have?

The police have managed to establish a strong reputation for handing out repeat cautions to those repeat criminals they can be bothered to catch, and making excuses why the rest are just too hard to track down, yet cracking down hard on easy-to-spot first offenders on political correctness or minor traffic offences. In short, they have created something of an inverted prison, where generally law-abiding people live expecting harsh penalties for doing anything slightly naughty, so that they can show high clear-up stats, while hardened criminals can expect to be let off with a slight slap of the wrist. Meanwhile, recent confessions from police chiefs indicate astonishingly high levels of corruption in every force. It looks convincingly as if police are all too often on the wrong side of the law. One law for them and one for us is the consistent picture. Reality stands in stark contrast with the dedication shown in TV police dramas. A bit like the NHS then.

What of the future? Technology will continue to make it easier to look after your own stuff and prevent it being used by a thief. It will make it easier to spot and identify criminals and collect evidence. Insurance will make it more difficult to avoid using such technology. Lack of confidence in the police will continue to grow, so people will take even more on themselves to avoid crime. The police will become even more worthless, even more of a force of state oppression and political correctness and even more of a criminal’s friend.

Meanwhile, as technology makes physical crime harder, more criminals have moved online. Technology has kept up to some degree, with the online security companies taking the protector role, not the police. The police influence here is to demand every more surveillance, less privacy and more restriction on online activity, but no actual help at all. Again they seek to create oppression in place of protection.

Crime will continue to fall, but the police will deserve even less credit. If we didn’t already have the police, we might have to invent something,  but it would bear little resemblance to what we have now.

Police commissioners. I just don’t see the point.

Rant warning: No futurology ahead, just rant.

What a fiasco! Who was the twit who decided we all must have police commissioners and worse still must all decide who they are, as if we haven’t enough to think about already? This isn’t Batman, I don’t live in Gotham City, except occasionally on my Xbox! We already have a well paid home secretary who is meant to get the well paid police to do what they are paid for. Why should we have a different kind of police in Suffolk to what they have in Essex. Surely nobody wants crime in their area, and nobody wants their police to spend all their time chasing twitter users rather than proper villains just because they are easier to catch. And I certainly don’t want the behaviour of police in my area decided by other people with some local axe to grind, I’d much rather have exactly the same as everywhere else in the country please. I just don’t get it, and neither do the 85% of the population who also didn’t bother to vote, and it is a safe bet many who did were only doing so out of some sense of democratic duty. I just hope that the people that voted aren’t just all the busybodies who want police interfering in everything. I don’t want a police commissioner and I feel sure we’d be better off without them.

What’s next? Do we vote on head of regional rail authority,  the head of the local post office, the head of cleaning staff at the local hospital, someone to decide on the decor on the bin lorries? I don’t see why policing is any different. If chief constables need to be told what they should be doing, they should be replaced by someone more competent.

Any local special priorities ought to be obvious to chief constables. They presumably live in the area and know how it differs from other regions, if at all. If the chief constable is showing a bias or a bias towards a particular political affiliation, gender, sexuality or ethnic group then they should be replaced. We shouldn’t need a commissioner to do that. The police on the telly always know what they are meant to be doing. Significant numbers of complaints to a local MP, escalated through the channels to home secretary if need be would work just fine. When government is meant to be struggling to decide over spending cut targets, we shouldn’t be creating yet more unnecessary but expensive public sector jobs.

Argh! Rant over.