The leaked proposals to compel council staff, charity workers and doctors to tip off the police about potential criminals would be a far more sinister blow to civil liberties than the rise of CCTV and would see a major escalation of the surveillance culture.
The Home Office maintains that public bodies have “valuable information” that could identify potential offenders.
It says when staff become “sufficiently concerned” about an individual, that person should be should “risk assessed” and, if necessary, referred for further attention.
Simon King, head of the violent crime unit at the department, goes as far as suggesting that two new agencies be created – one to collate reports on potential offenders, the other on potential victims.
The proposal is one of a number being considered to improve multi-agency information sharing in the UK. The aim is to close the type of loopholes that enabled Soham murderer Ian Huntley to get a job in a school in spite of previous accusations of violence.
At a certain level, it is fair to say that information sharing needs to be significantly improved and that such public bodies are well-placed to tackle the issue. But I cannot help but think this could be achieved without the introduction of a “snoop’s charter” and the imposition of such a potentially sinister system that could be open to abuse and manipulation.
Simple lines of communication between organisations would provide all the benefits required, without the potentially significant divisions that this particular proposal could herald into our society.
I am currently reading Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson and cannot help finding eerie and unsettling echoes between this work of fiction and the these rather alarming proposals.
At first viewing, it might appear a large leap from this leaked proposal to Thomson’s image of a radically partitioned nation. However, identifying traits within particular members of our society – either those with criminal intentions or born victims – could form the thin end of the wedge. Combined with other elemenbts of our surveillance society, the lines between truth and fiction sytart to become more blurred.
Do we really want to go down such a dangerous route when far simpler solutions remain untried?