I wrote this, provoked in a good way by an article by Sacha Ismail in Worker’s Liberty about the Police, Intelligence Services and accountability. It’s a bit of a segue, but I hope relevant.

Criticisms by the Police, their Union, and recently retired serving officers is based on the fact that the cuts in police numbers have turned them from a proactive force into reactive and they no longer know who to talk to and they don’t know their community and their communities don’t know them. Intelligence is drying up.

I agree with your comments on accountability and the introduction of one man management in the establishment of the Police and Crime Commissioners is another step to minimising any democratic control over the police. We note that the City of London Police, now inheriting national responsibilities and the National Crime Agency do not have elected Commissioners and that large elements of the Met. Police control is shared between the Mayor and Home Secretary. The successor organisation to Special Branch still sits in the Met.

The intelligence services need better democratic supervision; I suspect that the demands for this to grow as we discover more about how the Manchester attack was organised. Recent legislative developments such as the passing of the Investigatory Powers Act, the legalisation of mass surveillance and the powers to decrypt secure communications are all related to the issues you raise. It’s about control, not security. Mass surveillance does not make us safer.

We should remember MI5’s profoundly anti-democratic history, organising against Wilson’s Labour Government, the NCCL (Liberty’s predecessor), the Unions, the Labour Party and more recently the Greens. Technically the definition of economic security as grounds for intelligence agency action be removed but the agencies’ traditional contempt for legal restraint would make little difference. The new laws and the new technology make GCHQ spies on us, not our national security enemies and of course they were compulsorily de-unionised in the ‘80s, so the collective brake on illegal behaviour was removed.

I agree, it’s not just about numbers, it is about governance and accountability. Also Digital Liberty issues matter. A surveillance society is not a safer society.


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