Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The slow transformation of Britain

George Monbiot has a scary article in the Guardian detailing the latest stage in Britain's slow transformation into a police state. The government over there is in the middle of passing a "serious organised crime and police bill", and while much attention has focused on its clause barring racial incitement (obviously a tool of organised crime), another part seems to have passed almost entirely without comment:

Section 121 of the bill prohibits people from "pursuing a course of conduct which involves harassment of two or more persons" in order "to persuade any person ... not to do something that he is entitled or required to do, or to do something that he is not under any obligation to do". Harassment, the bill explains, can involve "conduct on at least one occasion", "in relation to two or more persons". In other words, you need only approach someone once to be considered to be harassing them, as long as you have also approached someone else in the same manner.

This effectively outlaws a whole swathe of political and commercial activity which is presently entirely legal. Monbiot focuses on its ability to be used against protestors handing out leaflets, but you will notice that the law is entirely blind as to content or context - so anyone handing out flyers for any purpose whatsoever (say, selling pizza - unless there's a legal obligation to buy it, of course) will be a criminal and liable for a fine and a jail term. As will anyone engaged in distributing junk mail, telemarketing, or canvassing for votes during an election.

In fact, as they are based precisely on attempting to persuade people to do things they are not obliged to do, this law will effectively outlaw the entire sales, marketing, and lobbying industries. Of course, the government assures people that the law will not be used against "legitimate protestors" - but it said exactly the same thing when passing the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act and the 2000 Terrorism Act, both of which have subsequently been used to suppress protests. But I think we can be fairly certain that the law will not be used against any of the examples I have given above. Instead, it will be used in a partial and inconsistent fashion, as yet another weapon of those with power against those without. And trying to persuade people that it should be applied consistently or not at all will technically be a crime.


While it would be nice to live in a world free of telemarketeers and door to door salespeople / religious whackos, I somehow think the protesters have more to fear from this, as they will be the ones who attact the ire of the powers that be and will be more able to lean on the police to enforce the law.

Still, if they do pass this I'd love to see the results of someone bringing a case against the mormons, for instance.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/23/2005 01:41:00 PM

I agree. Though I'm wondering whether there's any scope to use private prosecutions - of politicians, say - to show that this law is an ass.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/23/2005 03:50:00 PM

flyers are a waste of paper anyway..
"save a tree" - "outlaw junk flyers"

Posted by Genius : 2/23/2005 10:30:00 PM

It's not just about flyers. Another thing it outlaws is asking too many people out. After all, it's not as if they're under any obligation to go out with you...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/23/2005 10:43:00 PM

Oh no! That would give a certain right-wing blogger issues if he went to the UK ever.. allegedly..

Posted by Rich : 2/24/2005 11:04:00 AM