So why don’t we see any job ads in the Guardian, asking for phone-tappers? The (not any) people who (admit to) doing it must be very busy; the state must be needing a few more by now. Do you know any mates who you drink with, who say in the bar……”Pint for me mate, yeah, mate, busy-busy-busy! Cooooooooooooooor….. (cough)…. Had to tap 437 people’s phones today mate, I’m knackered….Yeah, boring! All them right wing bloggers….talk talk talk, all day, all that politicky stuff mate, and then there was that scribbler Memberofparlymont fella, you know, Guido, yeah him in Brussels that fella, he wot grassed up that Peter Hain fella….yeah, had to do him too coz’ it’s orderz yeah…….”
The Daily Telegraph had this leading this morning.
Shocked, I then took a breath and got out my trusty slide rule and did some sums. Here is a powerpoint slide of the UK’s population breakdown, from something called the “Economic and Social Research Council” (Golly! That sounds like some awfully grand outfit! I wonder what it’s for?) For those who don’t have powerpoint, there are about 48 million adults available to phone-tap, since I don’t think even this administration is routinely tapping the phones of under-16s (but you never know!)
Assuming 1,000 orders a day, issued by about 600 “agencies” or “bodies” which allow themselves to do it (that’s heading for two a day for every, say, local council even) in 2006, there will be more by now. We are looking at about 400,000 people a year, or just under 1 in every 100 adults, targetted every year.
This is about eight times as many people as are in prison for anything at all.
So who might be a target for the state’s interest in his/her private communications? The article tells us that “Councils” are interested in “people suspected of fly-tipping”, for example. If this is the case, then it’s clearly nothing to do with “fighting terrorism”, for which, if it was just that, I could feel some slight sympathy.
But I just can’t get my head round there being 1% of the UK’s adults -and a different 1% every year since once the state starts to tap you then I can’t see why it would stop - suspected of involvement, even most peripherally, with terrorism. If that was so, then, conservatively, 2 MILLION UK adults have become terrorist suspects after 9/11 alone.
They can’t be tapping street-sweepers, OAPs, shop-girls, socialist buskers and street-musicians, librarians, Tesco shelf-fillers, MacDonalds counter-staff, primary-school-teachers (if female which is most of them), hairdressers, gay-lesbian-transgendered-outreach workers, or Ethnic ”community leaders”. That’s most adults accounted for. So who’s in the frame?
Why do the buggers need to do this stuff?
(1) prurient, pus-exuding, sad individuals who have a personality problem? Unlikely, although this profession will attract the few that have the personal misfortune to be this way. Rather like recruiting guards and bullying-staff, at the socialist extermination camps of Europe and Russia, from 1917 to 1990. I just don’t think we have enough of those, although I could be wrong in this century in Britain.
(2) just “Bureau Crats”? That is to say, intellectual socialist/utopians, driven autistico-pathologically by the NEED to MAKE SOCIETY BETTER? This is as as hypothsised by one of our brothers and sisters at Samizdata a little time ago: do they just feel compelled to collect information of whatever sort available, about everyone, in case it “may be useful someday”…?
(3) just tightening up on tax-collection? (They are bust after all…)
(4) finding out what everyone is up to so they can (a) either tell them to stop it coz’ they like the orgasm that gives them, or (b) blackmail them by threatening to tell their wife about what they’ve been caught doing? I guess this puts them in category (1) after all.
(5) just ordinary reporters for the “News of the World”, merely trawling for “footballers’ sex romps”? (Why is it that when a footballer is “caught” having “a night of passionate sex” with a “blonde hairdresser” who is (not) his present girlfriend, the papers always refer to it as a “romp“?)
(6) checking on whether, when we ring from Tesco for further instructions about what to get, we are NOT buying unapproved foods such as chips, sugar, burgers, salt, British meat of whatever kind, airfreighted blueberries from Peru, or whatever? And to make sure that we have cycled there?
Whatever the reason, I can’t think of a nation alive today where there might be as high a level of phone surveillance as this one – except perhaps Cuba or north Korea, where the only people who will be allowed phones are the bureaucrats themselves, and there are few enough that they can and MUST be watched. For the safety of the Dear Leaders.