Big Brother is watching – and it’s not doing a damned bit of good

As part of its overall anti-terrorism strategy, the British government introduced a program called Prevent.  It appears to have become more an instrument for Big Brother-style thought control, rather than an effective tool against terrorists.  Reason reports:

Part of a larger anti-terrorism strategy, Prevent was designed to prevent radicalization and seeks to monitor supposedly vulnerable people for evidence of extremism in the materials they peruse and the ideology they express. The idea is that, once identified, these individuals can be steered by authorities away from negative outcomes. “Interventions can include mentoring, counselling, theological support, encouraging civic engagement, developing support networks (family and peer structures) or providing mainstream services (education, employment, health, finance or housing),” according to the official strategy statement.

Primarily targeted at potential recruits to Islamist terrorist groups, but also at Northern Ireland-style sectarian violence and extreme right-wing terrorism, Prevent suffered mission-creep pretty much right out of the gate. In 2015, a politics student at the University of East Anglia was interrogated by police after reading assigned material in an ISIS-related publication … A similar case arose at Staffordshire University when a postgraduate student was questioned for reading a textbook on terrorism in the college library. Concerned about ending up on a watch list, he hired a lawyer and dropped the course.

Prevent officials have demanded membership lists from university Islamic groups, creating a climate of “fear, suspicion, and censorship,” according to reports. With ample reason, the students worry that they’re being “spied upon.”

Some professors are now running reading assignments past the authorities—”just in case there was anything too critical”—in hopes of avoiding more examples of students being hauled in for doing their homework.

Younger students are being scooped up for alleged radicalization, too. In 2016-17, 272 children under 15 years of age and 328 youngsters between ages 15 and 20 were flagged under the Prevent program “over suspected right-wing terrorist beliefs.” The proportion of individuals referred to government officials “as a result of far-right concerns has risen from a quarter in 2015 to 2016 to over a third in 2016 to 2017,” according to Britain’s Home Office, so that likely represents only a fraction of young people questioned and “mentored” for their suspected ideological deviance.

Where do these referrals come from? Well, anybody can contact the authorities, but the situation is complicated by the duty the law imposes on both public and private institutions to report people seen as being at risk of radicalization, with very little guidance as to what that means beyond cover-your-ass. The imposition of the duty resulted in a surge in referrals by schools to the authorities.

Civil libertarians worry that the law has Britons far beyond schools looking over their shoulders and watching what they say … As the example of students interrogated for reading their assignments shows, the definition of “extreme” speech gets very slippery when government officials are looking for something to do—and when people required to inform-or-else on violators make reports to keep themselves out of trouble.

There’s more at the link.

This is what happens when unelected bureaucrats develop measures that they feel are necessary to do their jobs.  They aren’t accountable, so they don’t have to worry about how their measures impact ordinary citizens, or make our lives difficult.  One is reminded of the old joke about the Civil Service department that was fed truth serum in its morning tea – whereupon the salutation at the end of their letters to the public changed from “I am, Sir, your obedient servant,” to “You are, mate, my obedient slave!”

The most annoying thing about this is that it’s a panacea.  There is no evidence whatsoever that Prevent, or programs like it elsewhere in the world (including the USA), have prevented or deterred even one terrorist “conversion”, where a member of the public became radicalized through exposure to inflammatory material.  Terrorists and their sympathizers will always manage to produce and circulate such material, despite any number of official laws, rules, regulations and policies to the contrary.

Remember the “War on Drugs“?  It began during the Nixon administration in the early 1970’s.  Today, almost half a century later, we’re spending almost $60 billion every year on it – but drugs are more freely available than ever, in greatly enhanced formulations with stronger addictive effects.  So much for that war.  What makes anyone think that an ideological “war” will be any more successful?



  1. Granting the main point about the futility of watching children's homework to prevent radicalization, let's be honest, Peter:

    Put that $60B number into perspective:
    How much are the cartels spending to fight the war on drugs, how much are they making annually, and what happens societally if our spending goes to zero dollars per annum?

    What's the cost per annum in lost productivity, law enforcement, mayhem, murder, hospitalization, and just general deaths, when we stop doing anything? What's the annual dollar cost of a "Just Say Yes" program? I really want to know.

    And what's the actual alternative to what we're doing?

    It's possible to lie with figures.
    Quoting that $60B number with none of the suggested context is how that can be done.

    It's like decrying the annual Defense budget, without noting the overwhelming bulk of it goes to pay salaries, not to buy weapons or blow people up, even in war years.

    If the Netherlands spent €60B annually on dikes and levees and everyone still gets their feet wet, but if they spent €0 instead, and then everyone drowned, you can perhaps note the problem with comparing apples to oranges without any context, or with calling a given amount of expenditure a failure because it hasn't reached perfection.

    I won't even get deeply into the farce of calling this a "war" on drugs, when we've avoided the perfectly obvious solution of carpet-bombing Columbia and Bolivia with B-52 Arc-Light strikes, and strafing the boats and planes loaded with drugs entering our territory, until the problem stops. How about we give that a try, if we're going to call this a war?

    Let alone standing the dealers here up against a wall for the first offense. Ideally, right at the ports of entry.
    Heads on spikes at the Tower of London seems to have curbed the recidivism of traitors there since 1078AD or so; what say we give that a go?

    So, how much do Singapore and Saudi Arabia pay for their anti-drug programs?

    When we spend $60B a year on those approaches, and they're still bringing the dope in on armored tank caravans across the border, call me and we can talk about it being an actual war.

    This is a prayer meeting on drugs, an office conference on drugs, a government make-work program against drugs.
    What a shock, bureaucrats only ever get paid; doing useful and functional work, not so much.

    War implies we're blowing the stuffing out of someone. We've done no such thing, since forever.

  2. Agree with Aesop, and every time we've 'tried' proactive actions, it's been shut down by the loony left… One interesting note on the Brit program, it apparently ONLY goes after far-right concerns, nothing on the left or muslim jihadist… sigh

  3. Old NFO, exactly. The 'far-right' i.e. anyone or anything to the left of center are the current bogey-men in the UK. However, ask the questions 'How many people have they murdered?' , 'How many of them have been convicted of involvement in a organised child abuse ring?' and the answer is deafening silence. I despair of my country, do not yours go the same way.

  4. What makes surveillance so bad is not because any of us necessarily have illicit or unsavory activities and elements to hide
    …it's because people and authorities are often very prejudice and judgmental, and have the mindset of censors—that is, often tending to misunderstand things and mistakenly seeing undesirable elements in even a lot of basically innocent and innocuous activities and words. Especially when it comes to anything different or unusual. The more idiosyncratic something or someone is, the more suspicious most people get of them.

    And there's the tendency of those in authority to put a negative spin on anything that appears to them as being "suspicious" in nature.

    That's why privacy is important. So one can go about their own activities without the fear of being thwarted by meddling types who might interfere with them based on some extreme, unfounded and paranoid notions.
    So one doesn't get so bogged down by having to worry about whether or not their lifestyle might be viewed as somehow being "offensive" or "undesirable" by some individual they have no ties to in any way.

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