Monday, May 28, 2007

Papers, please

The above is a phrase traditionally associated with totalitarian regimes. But if Tony Blair and John Reid have their way, it will soon be coming to Britain:

John Reid, the home secretary, who is also quitting next month, intends to extend Northern Ireland’s draconian police powers to interrogate individuals about who they are, where they have been and where they are going.

Under the new laws, police will not need to suspect that a crime has taken place and can use the power to gain information about “matters relevant” to terror investigations.

If suspects fail to stop or refuse to answer questions, they could be charged with a criminal offence and fined up to £5,000. Police already have the power to stop and search people but they have no right to ask for their identity and movements.

The police haven't asked for these powers, and have even said that they will be counterproductive and undermine relations with the Muslim community (in the same way that the harassment of young black men under the old "sus" laws alienated them and eventually led to riots by people sick of being treated like criminals all the time). Instead, it seems to be driven by two things: the outgoing Prime Minister's desire to be "tough on terror", and the desire of Northern Ireland police to retain their draconian powers in peacetime by dragging everyone down to their level.

Contrary to Tony Blair's opinion, this is unacceptable in a free society. Civil liberties and the ability of ordinary people to live their lives without constant harassment from those in authority are what we are supposedly fighting the war on terror to protect. Sacrificing them will be destroying freedom in order to "save" it.