Fortress Britain

November 18, 2007 at 3:00 am 4 comments

Kim photoFortress Britain is an apt title – UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has just unveilled (wait for it) new border control security plans that would require hapless travellers passing through electronic check points to cough up to 90 (yep, that’s right 90) pieces of information. This would include information like credit card details, travel plans, email addresses, contact phone numbers and the like.

So….the idea as far as I can tell is that when you book your ticket with the travel agent, the agent would be collecting all this sort of information, which is then accessible by police, customs and immigration officials. Sorry, but I’m not comfortable with a whole lot of dudes knowing my credit card details. If you decide that this is all too much and opt for rail travel around the UK instead – forget it, you’ll still be subject to increased passenger screening at railway stations.

Brown is clearly making a fortress out of the UK. He’s announced plans to redesign buildings that could be terrorist targets making them “blast resistant”. And this is what it might be like to get into a public building in the future – external security checkpoint, vehicle exclusion zone, barriers made from concrete and the like.

And the new UK Border Agency will be given new powers of arrest and biometric visas (including fingerprint technology) will be introduced for all foreign citizens needing visas. At the moment, UK officials can hold a suspected “terrorist” for 28 days without charge (double the previous 14 days), but the Government is seeking to extend this period.

Now, this new UK Border Agency interests me. It’s a single agency passenger screening system uniting customs, immigration and visa procedures and consisting of 25,000 staff. From what I’ve read, Trusted Borders, a consortium of technology and service providers, will provide the technology for the passenger screening system, which will be based on fingerprint visas. So before you even enter the UK, the system will have screened passengers against immigration, customs and various watch lists. Apparently, staff from immigration, customs and visa agencies are being transferred into this new agency and with only 3 hours training or less are expected to be proficient at passenger profiling.

And if you go off and read Brown’s statement on national security you can get a sense of the mind-set. Brown refers to “the measures we are taking at home to root out terrorism and strengthen the resilience of communities to resist extremist influences..” and more policing and intelligence to “win hearts and minds“. And from now until 2011, Brown has pledged “an additional £240 million will finance counter-terrorism policing, which is focused as much on preventing the next generation of terrorists as on pursuing current targets“.

Hearts and minds will be won by waging a battle. Brown envisages “..a generational challenge that requires sustained work over the long term, through a range of actions in schools, colleges, universities, faith groups and youth clubs, by engaging young people through the media, culture, sport and arts, and by acting against extremist influences operating on the internet and in institutions from prisons and universities to some places of worship“. And he hints that the “governance” of mosques, which have existed in the UK for over 100 years, will be “strengthened”. And a new forum of head teachers from schools would be established to find ways to protect pupils from extremist propaganda.

Now, I think we need to give a cautious welcome to this crackdown. I’m not saying terrorists don’t exist. But there are two models of struggle. The first is the violent extremist model and if you meet this with defensive measures, it goes a long way to feeding into this extremist model by potentially escalating violent extremist efforts to overcome any “anti-terrorist” measures. And security measures that could be construed as “anti-Muslim” by Muslim communities or other ethnic groups could engender more hatred and violence, leading to the UK becoming a breeding ground for terrorism.

The other model is surely non-violent responses to terrorism. By understanding typologies of violence, sources of conflict, by differentiating between nonviolent Islam and Islamic Terrorism, understanding the grievances of people and knowing how discontent can be exploited and turned into hatred, refusing to support countries that don’t promote democracy or human rights – surely these responses would start to attack the roots of terrorism rather than erecting e-borders and increasing surveillance of citizens in the hope that terrorists will be flushed out.

The UK is fast becoming a no travel zone for me. It’s becoming travel terror. And if you look or act “different” – watch out.

Source: image credit BBC News, Washington Post, KableNet

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Entry filed under: Airport security, CCTV, Privacy, Surveillance society.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dave Snowden  |  November 19, 2007 at 8:01 am

    Kim – you might want to have a look at this exchange on the same subject,

    Reply
  • 2. Dave Snowden  |  November 19, 2007 at 8:02 am

    Sorry I meant this

    Reply
  • 3. Fortress European Union « ThinkingShift  |  November 22, 2007 at 3:04 am

    […] European Union, Privacy, Surveillance society Mmmmm…..well maybe I was a bit hasty with my Fortress Britain post when I said that the UK was fast becoming a police state, surveillance society, fortress – […]

    Reply
  • 4. thinkingshift  |  November 23, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Thx for the link Dave and essentially I agree with you. Howard may be out soon!

    Reply

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