Even George Orwell would be shocked. He described the sinister machinations of a totalitarian police state in his novel, 1984, and laid bare the danger of eroding our basic civil liberties, including the right to freedom of speech and the right to privacy.
Although he famously coined the phrase ‘Big Brother is watching you’, even Orwell cannot have foreseen just how prescient those words would prove to be.
Today, in Tony Blair’s Britain – which I naively voted into power ten years ago – we have witnessed a breath-taking erosion of civil liberties.
The truth is we are fast becoming an Orwellian state, our every movement watched, our behaviour monitored, and our freedoms curtailed.
Between May 1997 and August 2006, New Labour created 3,023 new criminal offences – taking in everything from a law against Polish potatoes (the Polish Potatoes Order 2004) to one which made the creation of a nuclear explosion in Britain officially illegal.
Then there has been the incredible number of CCTV cameras – a total of 4.2 million, more than in the rest of Europe put together.
And, yesterday, we learnt that the Government has agreed to let the EU have automatic access to databases of DNA (containing samples of people’s hair, sperm or fingernails) in order to help track down criminals, even though many thousands of those on record are totally innocent
How did all this happen? Who allowed it? To try to answer these questions, I have made a film, Talking Liberties, about the attack on our freedoms.
I uncovered a disturbing roll call of ancient basic rights which have been systematically destroyed in the self- serving climate of fear this government has perpetuated since the 9/11 attack.
First there was the Act which banned the age- old right of protest within half-a-mile of Parliament without special police authorisation.
And who can forget Walter Wolfgang, the pensioner who was dragged out of the Labour Party Conference for daring to heckle the Home Secretary? He was detained under the Terrorism Act 2000, which gives the police unprecedented stop and search powers.
In 2005 alone, this law was used to stop 35,000 people – none of whom was a terrorist.
But this is only the thin end of the wedge – our civil liberties, enshrined in British law since the Magna Carta, are being whittled away.
There has been an unprecedented shift of power away from the individual towards the state – but now this power is being used not to defeat terrorism, but to keep tabs on ordinary citizens. As well as a raft of repressive anti-terror legislation, there are the more insidious infringements of our freedom and privacy.
We will soon see the introduction of the vast National Identity Register, linking all databases such as the DNA database to which the EU will soon have access.
The tentacles of these networks will intertwine until they form a vast state surveillance mechanism, which can track every detail of your life: what books you borrowed from the library as a student, your sexual health, your DNA profile, your spending and your whereabouts at any given moment in time.
Ministers are even creating a children’s database, which will record truancy, diet, and medical history.
And, of course, ID cards will be issued in 2009 – to be used every time we carry out routine tasks such as visiting the dentist. Soon, biometric data – your iris scan, fingerprints and DNA, will help to identify you further.
And, all the time, there are those CCTV cameras – 20 per cent of the global total, even though Britain only has 0.2 per cent of the world’s population.
New Labour has an absolute obsession with these devices. Soon, more sophisticated cameras will be able to recognise your face and the information matched to one of the national databases.
All cars will eventually be fitted with a GPS chip, officially to simplify road tax payments but they will also allow government agencies to track every vehicle in the country.
There are, of course, more alarming implications to being constantly monitored – as Orwell understood. Soon, we will be living in an open-air prison.
Some may ask: why does all this matter? The answer is that to surrender our identity and privacy so comprehensively is to give up something we will never get back.
Although New Labour says its mania for data-gathering is all part of its plan to protect us, there’s no guarantee that future governments (who will be inheriting a nationwide surveillance machine and the National Identity Register) won’t use it to more malign ends.
Totalitarian regimes have, after all, always collected information on their citizens. Hitler pioneered the use of ID cards as a means of repression. The Belgians left Rwanda with a bloody legacy by implementing an ID card system which divided the population into Hutu and Tutsi.
When the 1994 genocide began, these cards proved a device for horrific ethnic cleansing, with one million people dying in 100 days. The Stasi secret police in Soviet East Germany kept millions of files in order to keep track of everyone in the country.
Of course these examples are the extremes – but basic liberties such as privacy and free speech have been hard-won over centuries and history shows that we should not allow them to be brushed aside.
This shift away from individual freedom towards state power has happened slowly, and almost without us noticing.
Like so many others, I was proud to put a cross against the box next to New Labour in 1997 as a first-time voter. But now I have become shocked at the vast swathe of new laws which had been introduced, most of them in response to terrorism.
We are told that this is all for the good – these laws, and the surveillance cameras and ID cards will stop terrorists. Is that the case? Sadly not.
The London bombers carried ID and were observed on CCTV – of course it did not stop them committing their terrible crime.
Intelligence experts say that most information leading to genuine breakthroughs come from informants, not through random tracking or surveillance of the general population.
In any case, liberty and security aren’t balanced on some delicate equilibrium, as John Reid, the Home Secretary, and Tony Blair would have us believe. History has shown us that it is precisely when you undermine people’s basic rights that they mobilise towards radical groups.
After all, one of the greatest recruiters for the IRA in Northern Ireland was the policy of internment, under which people were imprisoned without trial. Have we learnt nothing from our past?
Stop and search laws applied to Britain’s Muslim communities will simply polarise those groups. Instead, we need them to help us protect the country from terrorism.
It’s not all doom and gloom, of course – as I hope my film reflects. The sheer absurdity of the bewildering array of idiotic new laws has given us an abundance of bizarre and hilarious situations for our documentary.
But behind this dark comedy is something much more disturbing. Faced with the threat of terrorism, the Government has told us that we must lay down our freedoms for our lives.
Perhaps it has forgotten the millions of people from past generations who have laid down their lives for our freedom. I think we owe it to those people to turn this tide
• Taking Liberties is on show in cinemas across the country. Visit www.noliberties.com