Friday, March 25, 2005

Stupidity: the wave of the future

So said Homer Simpson. The Home Office sometimes seems to me like some crippled retainer or mangy hound, that the king whistles for and sees it keel over embarrassingly before reaching the throne. "Homeoffice!" "Here, sire.." "Urgh..not again!" This impression is in no way dispelled by reports of a succession of ridiculous acts displaying egregious stupidity that have reached the Ranter recently.

For a start, Spyblog reports that, up in Nottingham, the courts have been releasing persons sentenced to be electronically tagged to addresses where there is no land-line phone. This is crucial, because it seem that the tag is dependent on a landline to function - no GSM/GPRS technology, still less GPS, just a gadget that rings up the Control Room if the tag goes out of range. So, now you know how to circumvent electronic tagging - just ask someone at home to pull the phone out of the BT socket before the hearing. You'll be free, and can use a mobile anyway to organise your continued criminal career.

Don't say you don't learn anything from blogs.

Apparently, a "touring detector van" is meant to pass by the houses involved. But there is an answer, still; in this case, the tagee took the thing off (which should trigger an alarm, but of course didn't because he had the sense not to do it while any white vans were outside). So, the tamper alarm doesn't stay on; it is transient, so having removed the tag he just needed to leave it there in case the van passed by. The lad in question used his regained freedom to participate in a jewel heist which ended in two people being shot dead, but I'm sure none of my readers would be so foolish.

Now, these tags are also used to monitor those alleged International Terrorists subject to Charlie the Safety Elephant's Control Orders. Feel safer? Do you feel that warm sense of security flooding across your neurons? Then try this. The Guardian headlined yesterday with an exclusive interview with one of these men, Mahmoud Abu Rideh gained (wait for it) by the simple means of him walking into 119 Farringdon Road. For our terrorist, it appears, is free to walk the streets; as long as he's back at home by 7pm. (Or until he disconnects the phone.)

Can we stop here to savour the full absurdity of this, please?

This man is such an imminent danger to national security that he was locked up in Belmarsh Prison's maximum security wing for three years without trial, without even being told the charges against him, without even charges being laid, in fact, because he is so dangerous that the information of what he is supposed to have done cannot be given to him for fear he will somehow contrive to commit terrorist acts with it. But - apparently - only at night! By night he schemes to crash jets flaming into the silvery towers of Canary Wharf, to scatter a silent dust of anthrax spores in the corridors of Parliament itself, to riddle the glowing high-end retail spaces of Heathrow Airport with machine gun strikemarks and spilt blood, yes, even to consume all London in the momentary sun of a nuclear explosion. But by day, he is an absolute pussycat, as dangerous as a potato and as remarkable as a commuter, free and weird on the streets!

Under the terms of his Banning Order under the Suppression of Communism...sorry..Control Order under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, he is forbidden from meeting anyone not approved by Charles Clarke in advance. Indeed. No meetings! You can see why - blazing kerosene, gas, germs, broken glass, thousands fleeing in terror, all that stuff. But between the hours of 7am and 7pm, he may drop in on anyone in the United Kingdom, you for example or even me (he'd be welcome, I'd like to apologise to him, after all I voted for Tony Blair), and discuss anything he likes.

In order to help him make sense of his situation, it appears that the Home Office has a "helpline" for those subject to Control Orders.After all, we are not beasts. But, wonderfully enough, it is an answerphone. There is also apparently a "voice recognition" device involved: it beggars belief that the government is labouring under the illusion that these are of any worth, but thar ye go. (I think I've mentioned before that my father once encountered a senior Home Office bureaucrat responsible for computerisation, sometime in the early 90s, who told him that Microsoft Windows was a "passing phase" and that the MS-DOS Shell was the thing. I'm convinced that man is now In Charge.) Naturally, someone is making a profit from this, too, as the tagging is carried out by a thing called "Premier Monitoring Services".

And for this gain in security, we had to tear up the principles we cherished since 1215, indeed earlier, all the way back to the first justices of the peace and the principle of being judged by your peers, habeas corpus, things like that. We absolutely had to get this on the statute book - no time to waste, election coming! So yer man can be subject to all the restrictions suitable for International Terrorists (but only out of office hours).

Or perhaps Clarkey is right: maybe he's a part-time terrorist, a weekend warrior, a Territorial Terrorist! It was said by someone, possibly Karl Kraus, that Austria-Hungary was saved from tyranny by incompetence, and looking at this utter absurdity perhaps we can indeed feel a little safer.

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