in Human rights / Surveillance state

Letter to


Here is a letter I wrote to


On 7 December I wrote an opinion for this site about the launch of identity cards in Manchester. I received one comment, from Joan Burton, who wrote: “It’s a cliche but a true one – if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear.”

One of the problems about the current UK government’s overarching surveillance project has been a lack of debate, both publically and in parliament, so I welcome any engagement with these issues.  I have heard the above sentiment voiced before and I address it here to provide clarification and, I hope on Ms Burton’s part, reevaluation.

Public protection from criminal activities is a key responsibility of the state but this should not allow the state whatever means it wishes in the pursuit of this goal.  Governments need to keep in mind that their populations predominantly comprise law abiding citizens whose rights and wishes should be balanced against any reasonable requirements the state may have to pursue its duties.  The ‘done nothing wrong/nothing to fear’ paradigm ignores any need for balancing public and private needs to the extent there is nothing that cannot be justified by its invocation.  It would, for instance, endorse the enforcement of the fitting of positioning devices to everyone living in or entering the UK, something that might drastically reduce crime but at the expense of massive state intrusion.

Thinking this way ignores the need to evaluate state surveillance projects and dismisses those who object as oversensitive to individuals’ rights, or failing to see the threat that we face.  The point I wished to make about ID cards is that not only are they intrusive, but they fail to meet any of their objectives, even though these objectives have changed over the years.  Now, more than ever, the UK Government must be careful with its taxpayers money and, civil liberties issues aside, that project of the expense of that of the ID cards is now being promoted as first and foremost a convenient way to prove identity at the post office is of concern in itself.

Finally within ‘done nothing wrong/nothing to fear’ thinking there is a tacit assumption that governments are inherently benign and have the interests of their populations at heart.  Whilst this may be broadly so for the UK it is foolish to think that this is a universal attribute of governments or that adverse change is not possible.  It is a sad fact that the majority of acts of violence committed in the modern world have been visited by those in governmental power against those who are out of power.  Indeed the word ‘terrorism’ actually dates from the French revolution and refers to the use of terror by governments against their own populations (1).  One estimate holds that during the 20th century governments killed 7.3% of their populations.  ID cards have  been documented as having been assets in mass killings both recent and historical and continue to be used to target vulnerable populations.

Yours etc.,
Dr. Stephen Ginn MD,


See also in recent news:
(2018 update – sadly is no more.  I can’t find the estimate for the % of their populations that governments killed during the 20th Century alas, but search around and you’ll find something along the same line).

Write a Comment


  1. Joan Burton the Fine Gael politician? It doesn’t surprise me that she thinks that way. The Irish govt isn’t planning on introducing ID cards afaik anyway.

  2. Thank you for an eloquent dismemberment of this ludicrous totalitarian-surveillance argument. It’s so frustrating hearing it endlessly trotted out. All nothing-to-fearers should have public webcams installed in their bathrooms so we can doublecheck they’re doing nothing wrong in there.