Civil Liberties in Britain

I am always ready to criticize the US and our steady slide into police state tactics against our own citizens.  But I think that those who have some rosy picture of European countries being some sort of civil liberties ideal towards which we should aspire are mis-informed.  Granted that a number of these countries have more sensible attitudes both towards drugs as well as sexual relationships that don't fit a biblical script, but their state police forces have powers over their citizenry we (at least not yet) don't tolerate.

Today's object lesson is Britain:

For the past couple of years the British government has been extremely aggressive in installing surveillance cameras "” CCTV on high streets, speeding cameras on highways, and so on. If you are a typical British citizen, your actions are captured on camera hundreds of times a day, and you can be watched with suspicion even without the government having any probable cause reason to suspect you of anything. Relatedly, they have also been challenging people taking pictures in public, and have recently essentially made it illegal to take pictures of police officers (with the justification being the possibility of terrorist abduction of officers). The erosion of civil liberties in Britain has been short and sharp.

Now some local authorities are witholding liquor licences from pub owners unless they agree to install CCTV inside the pub. One striking recent example is The Draper's Arms in Islington, a borough of London. As the Londonist notes:

Nick Gibson is attempting to re-open The Draper's Arms on Barnsbury Street, a former Evening Standard pub of the year winner that shut its doors last August. But to regain a licence, he's been told he must fit CCTV cameras that capture the head and shoulders of everyone entering the pub, and be willing to hand over footage whenever the police ask for it.

Gibson is furious at what he sees as erosion of civil liberties. However, his local MP and the Metropolitan Police keep blithely citing "Ëœpublic safety'. We find that a bit rich, considering studies have shown CCTV is less effective than increased street lighting at cutting crime, and CCTV footage is used to help solve just 3% of London robberies.


  1. Current:

    The Garda have the same power in Ireland. They have compelled the larger pubs in the city I live in to install CCTV. Unlike in the UK though nobody has complain about it unfortunately.

  2. ElamBend:

    Lucky for me, the benighted local despot would prefer to have a camera on every corner:,mayor-daley-emergency-surveillance-cameras.article

  3. Max:

    Well, obviously the britains are nuts, and have since 2000 abandoned more and more civil liberties. Even for the Europeans, this is appalling. Some of those things, like extreme environmental controls and laws that make no sense, irritate even state-loving europeans. So, don't compare those islanders with "mainland" europeans. Though, I must say the police in Italy, France and Spain can be really really unfriendly. Not so the German police, because, lets face it, Germany had a long history of "strong police forces" like the Gestapo, and so we put some rules into place to check them. Until now, they did hold and we have one of the lamest police forces in the world.

  4. Shenpen:

    The worst thing is that it doesn't help one bit. One can argue a lot about the pros and contras of sacrificing liberty for the sake of safety, but when it buys no safety then WTF is exactly the argument for it?

    Almost every month someone breaks a window or a mirror on my car just out of drunken fun, on a CCTV street in the Oldbury district of Birmingham, I tell the police every time, and nobody gives a damn.

    OFFTOPIC: you'll love this:

  5. Craig:

    But those speeding cameras are fast encroaching here.

    No pics of police? Can I still take pictures of Beefeaters?