So it appears we are to have our “spying powers” taken away from us. Honestly I don’t feel, or look, like James Bond, and I’ve never understood this description of the RIPA – which as far as I can tell was more about requiring public bodies to authorise and register any surveillance activity than encouraging them to do more of it. This, combined with the Freedom of Information Act, meant that the newspapers could find out how much “spying” Councils are doing. I suspect much of it could have been done before the Act, but nobody would have found out. Don’t even get me started on the Daily Mail line that it is an “anti-terror” law.
Of course we could spend all day arguing about the pros and cons of the ‘surveillance society’. Frankly where I live isn’t very nice, and short of having hundreds more police officers on the beat, I’d welcome the installation of more CCTV, particularly the high-quality stuff, ideally being watched in real time. I have yet to be a victim of anything more than ‘not feeling very safe’ and having to duck local kids shooting fireworks at each other, but friends have been assaulted, burgled, and so on. Equally though I appreciate that some people would prefer not to be watched, and will take the greater risk of being victims of crime as a price worth paying. Unfortunately, public places being just that, short of having Freedom Town and Safety Town (audience: “It’s a postcode lottery!”) we have to reach some kind of shared view about the balance.
I’m not going to suggest how that balance should be reached, I’m going to make a far more trivial point, which is that listening to the radio and scanning through the papers this morning I got very annoyed by the media’s obsession with the immorality of CCTV and so on being used to detect and prosecute dog fouling. Dog fouling is a serious issue, and until Councils largely got on top of it, partly with these measures, it filled Councillors’ postbags like little else apart from potholes can. It turns parks into no-go areas, ruins walks, is generally unpleasant and can in extreme circumstances cause blindness in children. A couple of years ago people in my area became so angry at dog fouling that a small group of them formed a vigilante mob who spied on the owners of fouling dogs, collected the offending product, bagged it, and returned it through the owner’s letterbox.
So, I have an alternative proposal. I believe that someone’s likelihood to commit crime is largely driven by three factors – the reward for committing it, the chances of getting away with it, and the leniency of punishment if caught. On the basis that we will be significantly reducing the likelihood of getting caught, it seems to me the only option is a significant increase the severity of the punishment for the small number who are caught, on the model of the vigilantes above.
Therefore, in the spirit of restorative justice, I propose that anyone caught letting their dog foul a public area in the future should be required to lick the pavement clean.
That seems like a fair swap for making it harder to catch them.
In other news I have been “guest blogging” inasfar as Alice who blogs about UK housing (the fact that it’s too expensive, primarily) has picked up my post about Council Mortgages and shared it on her blog. I feel a bit fraudulent, a guest post really ought to be something new, but in this case it’s very relevant and likely to be interesting to her audience, so I forgive myself. How generous of me.