It was recently announced that the security measures for this year’s London Olympics will include the deployment of surface to air missiles in the vicinity of the various Olympic venues. Oddly, there has been very little discussion of the implications that these security measures might have for civil liberties or human rights. Unlike the games themselves, these legal issues are important in the wider scheme of things.
Call me cynical, or at least bitter and twisted, if you like. I simply have never seen the point of the Olympic Games, unless one sees it as a continuation of politics through sport (which we now have to assume includes synchronised swimming, (see this YouTube clip), or as a nice little revenue stream for construction companies, fund-raisers, and those successful in their chosen sport, or as a laboratory for the development of new undetectable drugs. With few exceptions, for instance Bannister’s achievement in breaking the four-minute mile, who remembers a world-record-breaking performance once it has itself been broken? This is an investment in ephemera, and the substitution of chauvinistic public emotion for reason and decorum.
So I, for one, am dreading the descent of the Olympics on London later this summer. I shall not be waving flags or cheering the athletes on, and that is not simply because there is no Scottish team. It is bad enough that I cannot look out my office window without seeing the “count-down to the games” revolving around the top of what used to be called the Post Office Tower. It is a constant reminder of dread. A dread which has been increased by the press reports of the enhanced security measures currently being proposed—in particular, the deployment of surface–to–air missiles which some reports claim can down a 747 (see here and here).
Perky army types in uniform have stressed that any decision to use missiles against a threat from the air will be taken not by them on the ground, but rather at the highest levels of government. Security analysts are, of course, claiming that the aim of these draconian measures is to reassure the public and deter potential air attacks.
Oh really? Even if we assume that the current crop of senior UK politicians might be able to make a sensible decision under extreme pressure, I am not at all reassured by the thought that they might entertain the possibility of shooting down planes over central London. And all the publicity that has been given to these extreme security measures might simply give rise to the new unofficial Olympic sport of outwitting security in a spectacular manner. And it too will be televised. Rather than being a deterrent, this might be seen as a challenge—and if an aerial threat were to be posed by, say, a drone, or those intent on a suicide attack, how could these measures deter in the first place? Leaving unmanned aircraft to one side, the question that I have not yet seen discussed is the threat that these measures pose to civil liberties and human rights. Are these, once again, to be swept aside without comment by alleged considerations of “security”? Is this, once again, politicians goading the public into mute acceptance and aquiescent complicity by ratcheting up a climate of fear? Is this just one more step to dystopia?
I must admit that I am surprised that lawyers have been silent because we have been here before. Read the rest of this entry…