Advocacy group CAGE have warned that the current coronavirus pandemic is being exploited by the security industry to create a permanent police state.
In a new report titled “Exploiting a Pandemic: The Security Industry’s Race to Infiltrate Public Health” CAGE says vested interests – in particular, elements of the state apparatus and security industries – are pushing forward their vision of further securitisation, surveillance and a deepened national security framework.
And left to them, the exceptional circumstances we are now experiencing will likely become the new norm.
The outbreak of COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on March 11, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a lockdown on the evening of March 23.
Two days later the Coronavirus Act received royal assent as law, granting the government and its agencies sweeping powers to detain, isolate, assess and force disclosures about infections from individuals; to ban events and gatherings of more than two people; and to loosen safeguards over the use of investigatory powers, allowing for intrusive surveillance warrants to be extended from three days up to twelve days.
Since the introduction of powers in the Act, police forces across the country have, according to CAGE, demonstrated cases of overreach, abuse and trigger-happy implementation, as well as false convictions of the public.
Over the first month since the new laws came into effect, 9,176 fines were issued by police for breaches of lockdown.
CAGE warns of the possibility of these powers being open to abuse and being liable to be used for political ends.
The report says: “The Coronavirus Act includes clauses that allow its powers to be extended, modified and effectively made permanent. Moreover, ‘exceptional’ powers are being regularly normalised; the risk remains high that, through this pandemic, we are seeing a reshaping of the terrain of surveillance and policing for the long term. It is incumbent on the public and rights defenders to ensure that this is not the case.”
The report also warns that:
- Technology and surveillance is becoming pervasive.
- Contact Tracing Apps, if made compulsory, could effectively gift a potentially vast population-tracking apparatus to the government.
- The campaign against “conspiracy theories” is led by key figures in the counter-extremism industry, including Prevent, and this should be considered in light of ongoing moves to monitor the social media space.
- The security industry is exploiting the pandemic to ramp up its anti-China rhetoric.
- Recent weeks have seen traditional scapegoating and attacks on Muslims for various aspects of the pandemic in Britain.
- The government is prioritising Britain’s military and security apparatuses over public health infrastructure.
The report concludes by saying that the mass expansion of intrusive surveillance technology must be resisted, and the vast increase of coercive state powers vested by Coronavirus-related legislation must be rolled back.
Azfar Shafi, researcher at CAGE and author of the paper, said: “Security profiteers have been leveraging the pandemic for their own ends, repeating the need to promote a ‘new contract’ between the public and government that will only lead us further into a centrally surveilled, security state. Concerned people and groups must resist this together.
“These moves underline the importance of CAGE’s unchanging position against a securitised and politicised public sector. We will continue to guard the rights of communities and all those impacted by security abuse.”