Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The systematic institutionalisation of repression

UK Border Agency's withdrawal of London Metropolitan University's licence to teach foreign students is the latest example of the extended tentacles of the security state at work.

The London Met recently had its licence to teach and recruit students from beyond the EU revoked, leaving thousands of students in limbo.

Students, lecturers and activists are in uproar at the decision, and the university has vowed to take legal action.
But this decision reaches beyond the university. Many have questioned where it will leave the higher education sector as a whole, sending out such a negative message to students overseas who may be considering studying here. This at a time when fewer home students are going to university due to the rise in fees.
But what has drawn less attention is the fact that it was the UKBA - a security arm of government - that took such a significant decision for education and the British economy.
This was an extraordinary action, marking a further extension of the security state's power.
The security state has been steadily growing over recent years. Its foundations were laid during the Troubles in the north of Ireland.
Liberties were repeatedly taken away on the basis of security, starting with the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1974.
More followed with the loss of the right to silence and the encroachment of security agencies into almost every element of daily life.
These agencies saw their meal ticket come under threat with peace in Ireland but, with the advent of the September 11 2001 terror attacks, the expansion of the security state was to resurge at a new pace.
Those with an interest in security have great power to persuade the public of unseen threats, as seen prior to the Olympics.
Missiles were stationed on roofs of nearby blocks of flats. The paras were deployed. Near where I live the police constructed a huge compound ready for all the people who would be arrested during the Games.
The courts, we were told, would sit round the clock - just like after last year's riots. In the event few people were actually arrested at the Games, and these were mostly for ticket touting.
Much of the terror hype was generated by public and private entities that stood to profit from such extensive security provision.
The failure of private security firm G4S to provide the requisite security resulted in the army being brought in.
Yet G4S has been one of the private companies to profit from the growth of the security state. The company runs prisons and has recently entered the market for providing a variety of services to police forces.
The role of ever-greater numbers of private companies in the prisons sector is disturbing. Companies come to areas promising to bring long-term employment with a new jail.
These companies are profiting from incarceration and they seem to have little interest in rehabilitation.
Increased private-sector involvement in prisons has also accompanied an increase in inmates being used as a cheap labour source.
And there are other areas where the security state is looking to grow. One is the growing pressure to expand the role of drones in British air space.
These drones may be used to practise military models intended to kill in other countries or for surveillance. What unites them all is a lack of regulation.
Such potential loss of liberty at the altar of security is "justified" on commercial grounds. The mantra is that this is an expanding sector where Britain can lead the way.
It is worrying how easily people can now be persuaded to give up basic liberties in the name of security.
"Better safe than sorry" or "if you have nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear" are two of the well-worn justifications.
Yet there are a multitude of examples of injustices resulting from this type of naive mindset - the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, to name just two.
Then there are those who've been detained without trial over the past 10 years due to post-September 11 anti-terror and immigration laws.
The expansion of the security state should cause every citizen concern.
It is a particularly dangerous mix where state bodies act in collusion with privateers whose only motivation is making profit.
It is time we all woke up to this ongoing loss of liberty. So next time someone justifies taking away a liberty on the basis of security, ask whose security and why

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