The shocking Guardian report into the surveillance operations run by the police National Public Order Intelligence Unit makes it clear that the right of free protest in Britain now hangs in the balance, and that the very expression of opinion and attendance at meetings is enough for an individual to be categorised as an enemy of society.
Anyone now who feels strongly about climate change or the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is now liable to be labeled a "domestic extremist" to be photographed and monitored and to be subject to automatic tracking by the number plate recognition system. There are few stories that capture the parlous state of Britain's democracy like this one, and I suggest none that portray the government's institutionalised contempt for rights and its casual attitude to unfettered growth of police powers.
The outrage that will be expressed in the wake of the investigation by Paul Lewis, Rob Evans and Matthew Taylor, which is to run over the next two days, will mean nothing unless we manage to change attitudes across the board. We now live in a society whose values and instincts have been so skewed by Labour's corrosive rule that it is possible in one week to watch the leader of a fascist organisation promoting his cause on BBC TV – and the next to learn that legitimate protesters with mainstream views are regarded as "domestic extremists" and harried by the police using anti-terror laws when their cars pass through the field of automatic number plate recognition cameras.
We seem to have lost the ability to navigate these issues with anything resembling common sense, which no doubt suits the authorities. They seem to desire more and more control over the individual and the expression of his or her political views.
What is so disturbing is that this blanket surveillance has grown without proper statutory basis, let alone supervision. Laws that were designed for one thing – for instance, preventing terror and harassment – have been deployed by the police, who seem to have forgotten that it is their job to protect freedoms and rights, rather than to act as a force of repression.
The automatic number recognition camera system was built and installed without debate in parliament, without a minute of formal scrutiny and, as many of us predicted, we now find it has become a means of stalking innocent citizens.