Leaked British plan would turn doctors, social workers into police informants
The British government is weighing a plan that would require civil servants – including social workers and doctors – to report people deemed likely to commit acts of violence in the interest of stopping crimes before they are committed, according to a leaked official document.
The Times of London reports that the British Home Office's internal document on "multi-agency information sharing" – which the newspaper received from a senior British official – would allow government agencies better access to information on potential threats.
Public bodies will have access to valuable information about people at risk of becoming either perpetrators or victims of serious violence. Professionals will obviously alert police or other relevant authority if they have good reason to believe [an] act of serious violence is about to be committed. However, our proposal goes beyond that, and is that, when they become sufficiently concerned about an individual, they must consider initial risk assessment of risk to/from that person, and refer [the] case to [a] multi-agency body.
The Times noted that the document says nothing of what would happen to those deemed likely to commit crimes, or their likely victims, were the proposal to be enacted.
Danger signs used to identify an individual as a potential perpetrator might include a violent family background, heavy drinking or mental health problems. A potential victim might come to the attention of the monitoring agency on seeking treatment for stress-related conditions from a GP.
The Guardian compares a society with the plan enacted to the science fiction film Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise stars as a policeman in a "'pre-crime' unit who arrests would-be perpetrators before they can carry out crimes." Privacy advocates' criticism shows similar concerns.
A [spokesman for the British human rights group Liberty] said the reports were worrying. 'What does the Home Office propose to do with the people who have committed no crime, but who fit a worrying profile? How far are we willing to go in pursuit of the unrealistic promise of a risk-free society?'
But the Guardian noted that supporters of the plan say it could be used for good, citing its ability to identify threats like "killer Ian Huntley, who had been subject to complaints of violent behaviour which were not circulated to authorities in Cambridgeshire, where he became a school caretaker." Mr. Huntley was found guilty of the murder of two schoolgirls in the English town of Soham in 2002, and is currently serving two life sentences.
A Home Office spokesperson told The Daily Telegraph that it didn't want to comment on leaked documents, but that the proposals are still in development, by a working group it has convened.
The Times report on the proposal comes amid a spate of criticism of Britain's increasing use of closed-circuit (CCTV) cameras to watch the nation's streets. Deputy Chief Constable Ian Redhead of Hampshire expressed concerns on a BBC program that the country may soon face "an Orwellian situation."
"I'm really concerned about what happens to the product of these cameras, and what comes next?" he said.
"If it's in our villages, are we really moving towards an Orwellian situation where cameras are at every street corner?
"And I really don't think that's the kind of country that I want to live in."
The Daily Telegraph reports that a growing number of senior officials have spoken out against the proliferation of CCTV monitoring. Acting Chief Constable Colin Langham-Fitt of Suffolk called for public debate about the use of CCTV in a recent newspaper interview, while Nick Clegg, the home affairs spokesman of the Liberal Democrat party, said that "Something is wrong when police officers, rather than Government ministers, seem more concerned about the protection of our customary British liberties."
The Telegraph notes that there are some 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain, an average of one for every 14 people.
The latest tool goes even further, taking surveillance to the skies. The Press Association reports the launch of a helicopter drone that will keep watch over Merseyside. "The drone is only a metre wide, weighs less than a bag of sugar, and can record images from a height of 500m."