Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Taking organised crime serously

Labour government introduces new Secret Police. Well it had to be didn't it. Any announcement on policing these days has us all quoting Orwell before you can say aspidistra.

The BBC reports Soca's new powers (presumably quoting the press release) as:

  • Queen's evidence: Prosecutors will be able to offer statutory deals - immunity or reduced sentences - where, previously, deals were only informal
  • Financial reporting orders: Courts can make orders, of up to 20 years, forcing criminals to provide bank statements to ensure they have no crime-related earnings
  • Disclosure notices - Courts can force suspects to answer questions or provide documents or face imprisonment or fines. Limits the right to silence
  • Law enforcement officers: Soca officers will have the multiple powers of police, immigration and customs officers
and that
According to the Soca annual plan, published on Monday, the agency aims to spend 40% of its operational effort on drug trafficking, 25% on organised immigration crime, 10% on fraud and 15% on other organised crime.
Jock rallies to the defence of immigration which I think is missing the point. People trafficking is a nasty business - people end up in slavery in the sex industry or drowning on Morecombe sands. It is a heinous crime against the trafficked, and it is about time it was taken seriously. Drug trafficking should also be taken seriously - the libertarian fanboys would have it solved by legalisation, but even that wouldn't stop the murders and warlords in Colombia and other supplier countries.

The one thing missing from the list is terrorism. Why? Terrorism is the job of other agencies. And if a security-related agency is going to be abused for Orwellian political purposes, it will do it in the name of combating terrorism, not fraud or smuggling. This reaction against Soca is just a knee-jerk.

We might have some qualms about futher limits to the right of silence. But largely this is, for once, not about new powers but about better organisation. Perhaps even more funding. This is how the fight against terror should be conducted too, so why all the sneering and condemnation?

It is always tempting when confronted with a new government measure that is potentially open to abuse, to belittle the problem that it is seeking to solve. But this is a very bad idea. It will earn a reputation not just for being soft on crime, but being indifferent to it. All security-related agencies - the army, the police - all of them, have a potential for abuse, yet none of them should be disbanded, because the job they do is necessary. We need to raise our game against organised crime and we should welcome the SOCA.