Thursday, June 5, 2008

Strawberry Fair – This Saturday

This Saturday (7th June) the annual Strawberry Fair is being held on Midsummer Common. Its not everyone’s cup of tea, but personally I think it is a good thing. The volunteer organisers work hard to ensure the Common is restored after the event, and it allows lots of people from Cambridge and beyond to enjoy the music and entertainment.

I will be at the Fair on Saturday, helping out on the Cambridge No2ID stall. Over the last 10 years we have moved significantly closer to a big brother society, with more laws, less freedom and a style of ‘database law enforcement’ that affects those who are generally socially responsible, whilst failing to tackle the serious criminal and threats to society.

If you forget to renew you car tax, the fine is in the post automatically from the database. Buy a car with cash from a man down the pub, put on some stolen plates, don’t register with the DVLA, pay no tax or insurance, and more often than not the police couldn’t be bothered, so by the time you are caught the punishment will be trivial compared to the illicit gain.

Literally millions of people have been prosecuted for speeding (not including me I might add!) because this is a simple job for cameras and databases, doing all sorts of damage to the public’s relationship with our law enforcers, as no discretion is applied at all. But at the same time there are fewer traffic police tackling the real cause of most accidents, namely intrinsically bad driving, so despite massive rises in fines and cameras, the trend for reductions in road deaths has almost ground to a halt.

There are problems with anti-social behaviour, so we don’t target those who behave irresponsibly and ensure they are punished and rehabilitated, we stop all new licenced premises, and cover ever more of our streets with CCTV. We are the most spied on Country in the so-called free world.

There have been literally (apologies for using this word again but it is true!) thousands of new criminal offences created, banning things we used to be able to do, like protesting to Government in Parliament Square when they do bad things, yet fewer than ever have confidence in our police to fix the things we really care about like stopping burglars and drug dealers. New laws to spy on terrorists, have been used to spy on those who just want to send their children to the best possible school.

But the biggest, baddest scheme of all is the plans for ID cards. Vast amounts of personal information, collected by the state at truly vast cost on a big database, and used to track our every move inside the country and internationally. Paid for by ourselves through increased charges and taxes, it can only make life worse for the generally law abiding, and could be really dangerous if part of the government decides it doesn’t like you for some reason. But by putting all our security eggs in one basket, it makes it much more likely the serious criminal or terrorist will be able to get away with it – as experts like Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University have pointed out. No system is foolproof, but when we have been told the ID database is, its identity checks will be trusted even when the data is wrong, and a little common sense would tell you there was a problem. So I will be promoting Cambridge No2ID from 2-4pm at the stall between the Fort St George and Victoria Avenue bridge if anyone would like to say hello, or even help!

I have digressed from Strawberry Fair, but not very far – the spirit of the event is about people behaving responsibly and enjoying themselves, without constant nannying and control from a Government desperate to intefere in ever greater parts of our lives – now lets hope no-one does cause any trouble!

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