Allowing liberty to be stolen in the name of convenience

This is the sort of post that I’d rather think through properly, but on the other hand I’m struggling with a subject, so here goes.

I’ve just renewed my car tax online. Logged on to the website, gave them the reference number from the reminder letter, and sixty quid later my car’s taxed and the disc is on its way. This is incredibly cool! It saved me scrabbling round for the MOT and insurance certificate, filling out the form, taking it to the Post Office, queueing for 15 minutes or so, (big queues at lunchtime), and buying a steak bake for lunch on my way past Greggs to help me recover from the trauma.


But…… it further undermines the viability of the Post Office and it’s yet another example of joined-up data (they checked my insurance details and MOT certificate while I was online). Ariel Dorfman‘s comment in the late 1970s on Chile that…

… many otherwise normal, decent human beings in my land allowed their liberty … to be stolen in the name of security…

… reminds us that we can sell our freedom but it is never a good bargain. This is not a new thought. In the 19th Century, Gibbon said of the Athenians

In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all — security, comfort, and freedom.

Us too, perhaps?

In 1985 Neil Postgate warned us of the seductive dangers of modern life in his book

Amusing ourselves to death

It’s a sobering read, and he was writing it before the wonderweb.

What all these thoughts share is the warning that we will trade the true gold of liberty for the false coin of security, convenience and entertainment. I have just accepted the offer and traded my privacy for convenience. As a side effect I have undermined the viability of a physical service provider, and threatened people’s jobs and the quality of service to those who are too old or too impoverished to use the internet.

I feel dirty. However, I am about to go online to get quotes for car insurance.

I guess I am part of the problem.

7 responses to “Allowing liberty to be stolen in the name of convenience

  1. Funnily enough, just after I read this my boss was wondering aloud about whether there will come a point where complex integration of information, the obsessive cross referencing of forms and id and such we all have to deal with will have reached some kind of limit.

    She’s not that up on computers…

    It _is_ a convenience thing. I don’t think I’d ever thought about that before. All I knew is that I always felt less canin’d cribb’d and confin’d in Russia where you have to do everything long hand. Took me a week and four trips to separate offices to get registered as a private tourist in Moscow this October. Although I was alarmed to see that they’ve got a computer system up and running which cuts down the waiting time considerably.

    Thing is, that can get very tiring after a while. I resent the loss of freedom I have in this country. The pedantic tyrranny of the ‘computer said no’ culture you’ve got here really (really) gets on my tits too. But I was tired of the constant need to slog though everything the hard way too. It’s an astonishing feeling to ralise that you are suddenly pushing on an open door.

    I actually have to keep more bits of paper on file here than there though.

  2. I’m sort of concerned about how this cross references with road charging that is on the radio today. Much of my information is cross-referenced already, and if I have to have a tracker in my car in order to pay-as-I-drive then government (and anyone else that can get into it) have a complete pattern of my movements at the click of a mouse.

    I’ve been thinking about the compulsory registration and tracking of all children too. I understand why it is being introduced (so kids in trouble and need don’t fall through the cracks) but it is vulnerable information that will ultimately lead to all people being registered and tracked in a central place. I say all people – but there are exceptions. The children of MPs and Celebs don’t have to be in there – think that gives a pretty obvious indication of how secure this data is…

  3. What’s that about children, Kelli? I’ve missed it.


  4. Sol, how fascinating and depressing.

  5. It was in response to another of those failures of social services to protect a child – it may have come from the Victoria Climbie enquiry, or the one after that, whose name currently escapes me. Will try and have a hunt around later for a link.

  6. The scheme is called ‘Every Child Matters’ – I’ve turned up a couple of links but haven’t found the one I read before yet.

  7. Found a few links, but the main government page is the Every Child Matters page relating to the children act 2004

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s