Here we are less that two weeks after Privacy International announced that Britain was an “endemic surveillance society” and we have today’s Independent on Sunday reporting with a front page headline: “Prisoners to be chipped like dogs”. Welcome to the police state Britain!

In a bid to enforce home curfews on the more errant members of our society and to create more space in Britain’s overcrowded jails, ministers have come up with plans to implant "machine-readable" microchips beneath the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme.

The system is already in place for dogs and cats, cattle, cars and airport luggage, for instance, so it was really only a matter of time before someone came up with the bright idea of using ‘spychips’ on humans.

Says one senior minister: "We have wanted to take advantage of this technology for several years, because it seems a sensible solution to the problems we are facing in this area. "We have looked at it and gone back to it and worried about the practicalities and the ethics, but when you look at the challenges facing the criminal justice system, it's time has come.”

So much then for the battle cry of the Labour Party when it came to power: “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” The latest move is tantamount to admitting Labour policies have failed, that crime cannot be controlled within the context of capitalism and that class inequality will forever throw up a “criminal element”.

The Independent observes:

"The Government has been forced to review sentencing policy amid serious overcrowding in the nation's jails, after the prison population soared from 60,000 in 1997 to 80,000 today. The crisis meant the number of prisoners held in police cells rose 13-fold last year, with police stations housing offenders more than 60,000 times in 2007, up from 4,617 the previous year. The UK has the highest prison population per capita in western Europe, and the Government is planning for an extra 20,000 places at a cost of £3.8bn – including three gigantic new "superjails" – in the next six years.

“More than 17,000 individuals, including criminals and suspects released on bail, are subject to electronic monitoring at any one time, under curfews requiring them to stay at home up to 12 hours a day. But official figures reveal that almost 2,000 offenders a year escape monitoring by tampering with ankle tags or tearing them off. Curfew breaches rose from 11,435 in 2005 to 43,843 in 2006 – up 283 per cent. The monitoring system, which relies on mobile-phone technology, can fail if the network crashes.”

The idea now is for offenders to have tags, consisting of a toughened glass capsule holding a computer chip, injected into the back of the arm with a hypodermic needle

It goes without saying that human rights campaigners would be the first to expostulate. Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti commented: "If the Home Office doesn't understand why implanting a chip in someone is worse than an ankle bracelet, they don't need a human-rights lawyer; they need a common-sense bypass.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "This is the sort of daft idea that comes up from the department every now and then, but tagging people in the same way we tag our pets cannot be the way ahead. Treating people like pieces of meat does not seem to represent an improvement in the system to me."

One company plans deeper implants that could vibrate, electroshock the implantee, broadcast a message, or serve as a microphone to transmit conversations. What is being proposed then in some quarters, and its not long before we find Gordon Brown and co contemplating the idea, is the tazering of offenders from outer space. Step outside the confines of your curfew area and ZAP! With the government keen to have us all carrying biometric ID cards, just how many years before each and every one of us is carrying a vein deep implant, with defenders of the idea regurgitating the old line: “if you’re doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about”?

Within a minute the authorities could have the names of every person at a political rally or demonstration. Any aggro and ZZZAP, and in come the meat wagons to cart away the twitching bodies!

I’m not alone in thinking this. Consumer privacy expert Liz McIntyre said: "Some folks might foolishly discount all of these downsides and futuristic nightmares since the tagging is proposed for criminals like rapists and murderers. The rest of us could be next."

Marx on Crime

In Part 3 of his Economic Manuscripts of 1861-63, Marx noted just how productive the criminal is, just how many jobs his career creates:

“A philosopher produces ideas, a poet poems, a clergyman sermons, a professor compendia and so on. A criminal produces crimes. If we take a closer look at the connection between this latter branch of production and society as a whole, we shall rid ourselves of many prejudices. The criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this the inevitable compendium in which this same professor throws his lectures onto the general market as “commodities”… The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc. ; and all these different lines of business, which form just as many categories of the social division of labour, develop different capacities of the human mind, create new needs and new ways of satisfying them. Torture alone has given rise to the most ingenious mechanical inventions, and employed many honourable craftsmen in the production of its instruments…”

“…Thus he [the criminal] gives a stimulus to the productive forces. While crime takes a part of the redundant population off the labour market and thus reduces competition among the labourers — up to a certain point preventing wages from falling below the minimum — the struggle against crime absorbs another part of this population. Thus the criminal comes in as one of those natural “counterweights” which bring about a correct balance and open up a whole perspective of “useful” occupations. The effects of the criminal on the development of productive power can be shown in detail. Would locks ever have reached their present degree of excellence had there been no thieves? Would the making of bank-notes have reached its present perfection had there been no forgers? Would the microscope have found its way into the sphere of ordinary commerce (see Babbage) but for trading frauds? Does not practical chemistry owe just as much to the adulteration of commodities and the efforts to show it up as to the honest zeal for production? Crime, through its ever new methods of attack on property, constantly calls into being new methods of defence, and so is as productive as strikes for the invention of machines.”

“The earliest, crudest, and least fruitful form of this rebellion was that of crime. The working-man lived in poverty and want, and saw that others were better off than he. It was not clear to his mind why he, who did more for society than the rich idler, should be the one to suffer under these conditions. Want conquered his inherited respect for the sacredness of property, and he stole.”

We can add to Marx’s list the many advances in policing and criminal detection since 1863 and which Marx could never have envisaged: forensic science, the training of police dogs, the 3 million plus security cameras in Britain today, biometric ID cards, security marking pens, burglar alarms, tasers, tagging and spychips. The list is endless. Moreover, the criminal justice system – from prison personnel and police officers to security guards and lawyers, judges and magistrates involves many times the numbers than when Marx was writing.

At the time of writing the latest figures for the number of police officers and sergeants, special constables, traffic police and PCSOs is 184,119 (figures courtesy of a written question from the Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn on 7th January.

Add to this every person employed in the law enforcement game, all the workers in factories producing security equipment, whether it be uniforms and handcuffs for the police or security cameras and locks and keys, and all the workers employed to maintain the same and you’re looking at a ginormous workforce centred on the crime industry. And Blair wants to get “tough on crime”. Imagine the mountain of unemployed if, by some miracle, crime within capitalist society were to vanish overnight!! Seems to me capitalism very much needs criminality. If anything it provides the master class with a perfect pretext to hone their surveillance techniques on the rest us and thus maintain their hegemony .

No comments: