The latest story in the Guardian about surveillance reveals something that is deeply disturbing. It seems that David Cameron’s enthusiasm for mass surveillance comes from watching TV dramas. As quoted in the Guardian:
“ I love watching crime drama on the television, as I should probably stop telling people. There is hardly a crime drama that is not solved without using the data of a mobile communications device. If we don’t modernise the practice and the law over time we will have the communications data to solve these horrible crimes on a shrinking proportion of the total use of the devices.”
Apart from the obvious questions like how a busy Prime Minister manages to spend so much time watching TV, it does raise a lot of questions about the basis for this kind of policy – and confirms a lot of the suspicions that many of us in the privacy field have had for a while. This kind of policy is based on ‘feelings’ and ‘suspicions’ that this kind of thing works, fuelled by fiction rather than evidence.
Cameron seems to have missed the point that this is fiction, not fact. Watching Spooks is no substitute for studying reality – and finding evidence that this kind of approach works in reality has proved very difficult in recent months. Spies in fiction tend to be far more effective than spies in reality – and drawing any conclusions from their actions is more than just absurd, it’s dangerous and deeply disturbing.
This government has often shown deep disdain for evidence – Michael Gove’s education policies and Iain Duncan Smith’s approach to welfare (which he has recently attempted to justify on the basis of the ‘reality’ TV programme ‘Benefits Street’) seemed to have almost no basis in reality at all, and the evidence often points directly against their effectiveness. Owen Paterson’s badger cull flew in the face of the evidence in almost every way. Theresa May’s approach to immigration ignores almost all the evidence (but sadly it’s echoed by the immigration policies of all the other parties).
This is no way to govern – and the Prime Minister in particular should be ashamed of himself. It’s not just the lack of evidence that surprises me, though, it’s the brazen way that the Prime Minister seems to think it’s OK to offer up fiction to support his arguments. That’s just not right, in so many ways. We need to be clear about that, and tell him so.
No, Prime Minister.