Britain, 1984

It seems Orwell may have been off by 20 years. Britain has the highest density of closed-circuit surveilance cameras. They are introducing ID cards which must be carried at all times. Now we all know the British have their fair share of louts, but new laws do an end run around centuries of justice.

This is how it works. You and your friends like to spend Saturday nights have a barbeque in the park. On this particular evening there is an argument, voices are raised, and an old lady trying to get some sleep calls the police. So far so good. But the police decide to hit you with an “anti-social behaviour order”, or ASBO. On the balance of probabilities a judge agrees that you were behaving loutishly, and bans you from associating with those people or spending time in that park. The next weekend when you show up together, the lady sees you and calls the cops again. This time the charges are criminal and hence must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, but the police don’t have to prove much: only that you violated the ASBO, which is a cinch since they found you in the park and you’re not allowed to be there. You’re thrown in jail for six months.

A policeman in the July 24 Economist article where I read about this says, “I never thought I would live in a country where the police would have these powers.”

2004-07-30

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