The New Spies

As Ed Boyle explains in this Comment from London, the British government is checking up on everyday folks in some surprising new ways.
If your beloved pooch goes walkies and does a poop in a public place, beware. The complete power of the British Government's anti-terrorism laws could descend on your four legged friend before you even have the time to scoop it up.

This is not a joke. The same legislation that now permits our security services to keep tabs on Al Quaeda is being used to clamp down on doggy do-dos.

Right across this great country of ours, Town Halls are guarding their grass verges with hidden surveillance cameras. If they don't catch Fido red handed, they also have the right to tap your phone, raid your house, search your e-mails, sting you with a massive fine and stick you in jail if you don't pay up.

The same law is being used to stop people dropping litter, putting the wrong kind of trash in their garbage cans, making too much noise, smoking in public - even in the open air - and falsely claiming state benefits.

A whole army of new secret police have been recruited to keep tabs on all of us. One surveillance team in the sleepy seaside town of Poole put high tech remote control spy cameras on boats to try to catch fisherman illegally netting a rare shellfish. The operation costs thousands. And it caught nobody. But Big Brother likes to keep watching.

In England there have been 1343 different investigations by 46 nosey councils. In Scotland it is even worse. 3579 special inquiries were logged this year alone.

The biggest use of the spy laws has been installing electronic microchip kit into garbage cans in an effort to stop people throwing away things that ought to be recycled. What happens in practice is that suspect trash gets stuffed in someone else's garbage can. But the town councils are making themselves hopelessly unpopular by pursuing garbage crime through the courts. 54,000 people have been fined for this so far.

Mr. Bin Laden, on the other hand, must be laughing his head off.
By Ed Boyle