"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
world more than anything written after the events of that day."
Robert Stone

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February 6, 2008


LONDON -- I'm in England and will be giving a talk tomorrow night about Watching the World Change at the Reform Club. While reading this morning's Times of London, I was disturbed to read yet another account, this one by journalist Sean O'Neill, of the pernicious surveillance culture in the U.K., a subject I explore at length in the book.

O'Neill, who has been reporting on a prison-bugging scandal this week, writes in today's "News Analysis" column, under the subhead "Surveillance Row":

"Organisations such as MI5 and MI6, GCHQ and the Serious Organised Crime Agency use bugging and tapping as everyday tools of their trade. But surveillance and interception are also increasingly used by police forces across the country. The rural West Mercia Constabulary, for example, recently advertised for 'substantive constables' to fill posts in its Covert Authorities Bureau.

"In prisons, Category A prisoners routinely have their phone calls taped and a police intelligence unit is based at Prison Service headquarters.

"As you go about your daily activities, you can be followed by men or women from the Office of Fair Trading, the Health & Safety Executive and the Rural Payments Agency. The Charity Commission, the Food Standards Agency and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain can seek authorisation to conduct surveillance operations against those they suspect of wrongdoing.

"Every one of the 474 local authorities in the country has the same right and can seek permission to examine your phone records, text messages and e-mail history.

"Sir Christopher Rose, the Surveillance Commissioner, reported a rise in the number of local authorities using their powers of surveillance. 'Covert activity is still most often used by departments that deal with trading standards and with antisocial behaviour and by those that administer benefits,' he said in his annual report."

It would be chilling, I guess, if it didn't seem so widely accepted among the general public, spooked by the 7/7 attacks, the foiled "doctors' plot," and other arrests and crackdowns.

CONFIDENTIAL....PLEASE! Speaking of Big Brother, check out a satire that Marc Kravitz and I have posted at VanityFair.com today, called "Confidential...Please!"

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