We should protest against body-scanning machines by going out with our cameras and taking intimate photographs of every public official.
New body-scanning machines have gone on trial this week at Tulsa airport in Oklahoma. If successful, they could eventually replace the metal detectors in use at airports throughout the world, for they are supposed to be able to spot not only metallic weapons but also the plastic and liquid explosives increasingly favoured by terrorists. But the trouble with these scanners is that there is almost nothing they do not detect: they even provide images of people's private parts.
Naturally, this is causing some concern. Not everyone is proud of their private parts or eager to have them inspected by strangers, and not everyone feels satisfied by the assurance of one top American security chief that the scanner "really does not reveal as much as some people might think". How much does it reveal, then? According to a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union, "We're getting closer and closer to a required strip-search to board an aeroplane."
Alarming though this sounds, it is unlikely to cause as much of a rumpus as one might hope. People are so inured to invasions of their privacy in the name of security that they will probably put up with anything, even scrutiny of their genitalia. And I doubt if it will be long before officials decide that genitalia are a more reliable form of recognition than the face, or the retina, or the fingerprint, and make them their principal means of identification.
It seems unfair, though, that while officials are allowed to photograph every particle of us, we aren't allowed to photograph any bit of them. Under section 76 of the 2008 Counter-Terrorism Act, which came into force this week, we could go to jail for up to 10 years if we take a photograph of a policeman or any other individual or object "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism". This means in practice that, under threat of a jail sentence, we can be stopped from taking pictures of almost anyone or anything of a public nature, from the guards at Buckingham Palace to Westminster abbey or St Paul's cathedral. As the most photographed people on earth, we should protest by going out in our millions with our cameras and taking intimate pictures of every public official we see. They can't put us all in prison.
Dame Vera Lynn is reported to be "furious" with the British National Party (BNP) for marketing a CD of second world war music called The White Cliffs of Dover, with her rendition of that song as its main selling point. The 91-year-old says nobody asked her permission, and she is consulting her lawyers. One can quite see that she wouldn't want to be associated with the nationalist BNP and its inheritance of racism, antisemitism and homophobia, even though it now claims to be free of such prejudices.
Ironically, though, the BNP's album of songs celebrating British wartime patriotism features artists from groups it has traditionally disparaged as neither British nor patriotic enough; for most of them are either Jewish or black. Irving Berlin, Bud Flanagan and Joe Loss are among the most famous of the Jews, while The Four Vagabonds and Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson were black. "Hutch" was not only an immigrant from Grenada in the Caribbean but also a promiscuous bisexual, who had affairs with two famous homosexual songwriters, Ivor Novello and Cole Porter. He contributed almost as much as Vera Lynn to lifting the spirits of the nation in time of war. The BNP would seem to have scored something of an own goal.
Peter Mandelson emerges as a bit of a hero from his scrap with the head of Starbucks, appearing as a red-blooded patriot standing up for Britain against its snivelling foreign detractors. Howard Schultz, the head of Starbucks, was certainly provocative with his denunciation on television of the British economy, and it's hard to understand why he described Britain's downward spiral as his main concern when his shrinking company has only 700 outlets here (compared to 11,500 in the US) and has not hitherto had to close any of them. In the circumstances, Lord Mandelson's anger seems perfectly justified.
But the story as published was not that he had criticised Schultz, or had been right or wrong in his judgment of him, but that he had used the word "fuck" in the phrase "Who the fuck is he?" I think it's time the press woke up to the fact that, like it or not, the word is on the tip of every tongue in Whitehall, just as it is in Fleet Street. So accustomed have people become to its use that nobody turned a hair when it was claimed recently that Boris Johnson had said it nearly a dozen times in a telephone conversation with Keith Vaz, the Labour MP. It did the mayor of London no harm at all.
It would, of course, have been a different matter if either Mandelson or Johnson had uttered the expletive in public. That would have damaged them. So the press, in seeking to cause a stir about this kind of thing, is reduced to blurring the boundaries between public and private. One thing journalists like to do is to treat anything said in their own presence as a public statement, even if the context is a private drinks party at the British consulate-general in New York (as it was in the Mandelson case). This is little different to the BBC deciding that Carol Thatcher's "golliwog" reference wasn't private because she made it over drinks in a green room on the corporation's premises; each challenges any normal understanding of what is meant by a public place. The danger is that if people are now to be prevented from expressing themselves freely even in private, they may suddenly explode and do or say heaven knows what.Found this Post interesting? Receive new posts via RSS (What is RSS?) or subscribe via email at the top of this page...