53 reasons to stay at home
If you think radical Muslims, bureaucrats and cops have made travel miserable for everyone in America, you might have to stay away from Britain.
Gordon Brown, the new prime minister in London, has revealed his new scheme for saying hello and goodbye to tourists and other travelers, and it’s a scheme that could please only a busybody bureaucrat. The jihadists are working now on cracking the code.
“Travelers,” reported London’s Daily Mail, “face price hikes and confusion after the government unveiled plans to take up to 53 pieces of information from anyone entering or leaving Britain.”
The relevancy of all this to Americans is clear and present, since bad things spread swiftly to unexpected places. Even now, there’s a ranking bureaucrat in the Homeland Security Department say saying, “Hmmmmm. Possibilities here. If the Limeys can get by with this . . . ”
The 53 items include the usual questions of sex, name, address, telephone number, passport number and so forth, but also such trivia as frequent-flier number, “no-show” history, names of infants traveling in the party, check-in time, initials of check-in agent, “group indicator of whether a party member is a ‘friend,’ ” and — here’s the real sticker — “any other information the ticket agent considers of interest.” Who knows what a nosy ticket agent might want to know. How close is that “friend”? Are you sleeping together? What’s your favorite color? Your astrological sign? (Would a Sagittarius be allowed to fly with a Libra?) If you die in a terrorist crash, what tree would you like to come back as? This opens up considerable possibilities on the slippery slope, and who knows who would ultimately get such a priceless data dump?
But worst of all is the prime minister’s proposal to extend to 58 days the length of time the government can hold a “suspect” without filing a charge against him (or her). This is not going down well in the land that invented civil rights, and particularly that little gem of the Anglo-Saxon common law, the right of “habeas corpus.” Where, indeed, is the body — and the formal charge of a crime.
The prime minister’s chief minister for security, Admiral Lord West (I’m not making up this title) first said the extension from 28 days, now allowed by British law, to 58 days was rubbish. “I want to be totally convinced because I am not going to go and push for something that actually affects the liberty of the individual unless there is a real necessity for it,” he told a radio interviewer. “I still need to be fully convinced that we absolutely need more than 28 days and I also need to be convinced what is the best way of doing this.”
Convincing him didn’t take long. No sooner had he gone off the air but he was invited in to discuss his concerns with the prime minister. He emerged 30 minutes later and told reporters: “My feeling now is, yes, we need more than 28 days.”
David Davis, the Conservative “shadow” home secretary, observed that the government already has the power to declare a temporary state of emergency and suspend civil liberties, but holding suspects without charge for two months was effectively a declaration of a permanent emergency. He scoffed at the suggestion that such a formal declaration would cause panic and chaos.
“Panic the nation?” he cried. “Are you joking? This is a nation that had 3,000 deaths under the IRA campaign. It had 3,000 deaths in one night at the height of the Blitz [in World War II]. I don’t think that panicked it. We’ve had habeas corpus for centuries. It’s one of the fundamentals of British liberty. We now have the longest period in the free world in which a government can detain someone without charge.”
Feeling sympathy for Gordon Brown, like feeling sympathy for George W. Bush, is not difficult. The worldwide Islamist campaign against civilization — and not only Western civilization — poses a real dilemma for free men and women. We’ve never had a threat quite like it. Most of us accept the abridgement of certain freedoms to safeguard life, the most essential freedom of all. But eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty, and there’s a lesson here for all of us.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.