“Papers!”

Watching old TV shows with the adventure supposedly set in a (generally) unnamed European state, one can be struck by the number of times an armed military or police officer approaches the hero and says, “Papers!”  (Danger Man, The Man from Uncle and Mission Impossible spring to mind.)

What happens is that the hero then hands over something which you never see, and these “Papers” are considered by the officer.

The implication is that this is a totalitarian society in which the individual is surveyed all the time by the right of the military to demand your “papers” (whatever they were).

This, I always imagined, resulted in each citizen having to produce lots of pieces of paper, in order to get the “Papers!” that were required by the authorities upon demand.  Indeed I often wondered what the papers were.  Gas bills?  Passports?  A note to say you had paid your rates?

Of course in the UK we have never slipped to this level of authoritarian dominance, and one might snigger a bit at those poor Europeans (Belgians and the rest) who all have to carry their national identity cards (which I guess has replaced the ‘Papers!”)

Sadly that view of the superiority of the UK in such matters was a little knocked back when I found Privacy International’s 2007 survey of 47 countries.  In it eight countries were rated as being ‘endemic surveillance societies’ – and would you believe it the UK was held to be the fourth worst country in the group!  The best turned out to be Greece which had adequate safeguards against abuse.

In fact, by the end of 2006 the UK was described by the Surveillance Study Network as being ‘the most surveilled country’ among the industrialized Western states.  Leaving aside the technical point as to whether “surveilled” is actually a word, it is worrying.

On 6 February 2009 a report by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, Surveillance: Citizens and the State warned that government surveillance is a serious threat to the freedom of UK citizens, and that “The expansion in the use of surveillance represents one of the most significant changes in the life of the nation since the end of the Second World War.  Mass surveillance has the potential to erode privacy.”

It seems that people generally agree – with 79% of people interviewed in a YouGov poll agreeing that the UK was a ‘surveillance society’.

Back in 2002 it was thought that the United Kingdom was monitored by over 4.2 million cameras and microphones.   But now it is going further – government agencies working with the arms manufacturer BAE Systems are flying drones over all sites to be used in the 2012 Olympics in London.  Part of the work will be the monitoring of anti-social motorists.

In 2002 the UK government announced plans to extend the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, enabling around 30 government departments to browse everyone’s web, email, and phone records without a warrant and without a subject’s knowledge.

Of course you might not mind this at all – and indeed if a criminal who has stolen things from your car is then caught because of a CCTV camera, and you get your stuff back, you are probably quite happy.

But if you are unhappy about this, what can you do?  It turns out it is very easy – you start using paper again.  Write letters – that by-passes all security systems.  Put your reports in writing.  OK, it takes up lots of space, but then you can store it all in our storage system.  You won’t have to worry about anyone finding it, because no one will think of looking.  After all no one writes things down any more do they?

(Just in case you are worried, I should add this article contains a fairly large degree of irony.  The fact that it is on the internet might tip you off.  But the storage facility is certainly there.  Just call).

For more information on our document storage facility have a look at our website.  Alternatively give us a call on 0800 783 9516.