Monday, 10 June 2013

Who is this law-abiding citizen?

Alexander Pope told us that 'to err is human; to forgive divine'. Nobody is perfect and some get caught and gain a criminal record, so maybe power does corrupt. If you don't believe me then see what the hero does in the next book you read as life is full of moral dilemmas. Sometimes you choose to do something that is wrong because of the greater good. I am not advocating unlawful protest but it sometimes happens.

In political or business life, once you have that ability to award a contract then you may have to decide between two equal competitors? Do you toss a coin or do you see if one gives you a brown envelope with used notes (or buys you a drink and becomes a  'friend'? You may also like to consider why businesses support politicians and how the process of lobbying works. Sometimes a gentle nudge like a small free gift turns into a push as incentives extend to holidays (fact-finding missions) in Fiji. Sometimes corruption is evident through the courts.

We all make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes end up sending people to prison. The important point is nobody is perfect and if the authorities want to find something then they will. Maybe your car has a light that isn't working. Maybe a tax form wasn't filled in perfectly correctly. Maybe an insurance claim wasn't an accident. Just watch the news when they are broadcasting from a court. There will be a defence lawyer telling us about innocence or mitigating circumstances. Even black and white cases aren't black and white.

What caught my eye in the news yesterday was William Hague telling us that "law-abiding" citizens (a meaningless phrase) have "nothing to fear" from the British intelligence service. Who is this law-abiding citizen and why do they have nothing to fear? William also told us that "the idea that in GCHQ people are sitting working out how to circumvent a UK law with another agency in another country is fanciful". I am not reassured as there are too many stories of government departments falling foul of the law. If GCHQ wanted to circumvent UK law they wouldn't work on it. They would just ignore the law. They are already a covert operation. Nobody is meant to know what they are doing. Possibly the one reason to make sure that everything is above board in the spying world is to make sure that the Foreign Secretary can reassure us. Telling us that the innocent have nothing to fear doesn't reassure me. Stating that government departments would not circumvent the law isn't reassuring.

The next time you drop a piece of paper in the street, accidentally of course, the next time you send an email that contains a sentence that may be interpreted maliciously, then that is the time to consider if William is reassuring you. Do you have nothing to fear? It may be that your neighbour would have zero tolerance (another meaningless phrase) and throw the book at you.

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