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They want us to trust them…

February 23, 2009

In the last fortnight there have been interesting developments that have reminded us, as if we needed reminding, that those who want to infringe on the liberty of others need to be absolutely squeaky-clean themselves or risk severe censure, and that those who introduce systems which encourage suspicion and spying should not be surprised if people no longer trust them and start to investigate their activities.

The first of course was the saga of Jacqui Smith’s apartment. The basic facts are that the UK Home Secretary has been claiming £24,000 (around $35,000 US) per year in allowances for an apartment that she does not actually live in. The particular irony (and we love a bit of irony in Britain!) was that she has been reported by a neighbour – in other words she was a victim of the kind of suspicious, back-stabbing, trust-no-one society that she has been encouraging. Of course she should resign if she had any intelligence or integrity, but we already know to the cost of our civil liberties that she does not.

Funnily enough, it is to China we go to another example and one with, it seems, a rather more accountable outcome. This is almost the second time in a row that I have unfavourably compared a western country to China – this is getting rather disturbing particularly as I am no friend of the Chinese state, being a long-term Free Tibet supporter. However, Variety (of all places) is reporting that Yu Bing, who is director of the internet monitoring department of Beijing’s Public Security Bureau, and therefore a major figure in the infamous Golden Shield, and surveillance of journalists, bloggers and net democracy activists (as well as those just trying to access unapproved content), has been arrested for taking bribes from a contractor.

Admittedly it is a lot more than the sums in the Jacqui Smith case (40M Yuan, or about $5.8M US), and corruption is endemic within the Chinese state at all levels, but it does show a rather different attitude to the establishment towards top officials who fail to live up to the standards we expect of them. Maybe what Jacqui Smith needs is a dose of ‘Chinese democracy’ to go with her Chinese-style attitude to security and surveillance?

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