Big Brother is watching you. George Orwell’s chilling words are now a reality. In China’s Xinjiang province, Uyghur Muslims have been described by one official as laboratory mice in an experiment of “advanced, predictive, algorithmic surveillance”. The comments were made to an undercover film-maker, whose documentary, “Inside the Chinese Digital Gulag”, airs this week. The film depicts a society based on phone surveillance apps and a vast network of cameras tracking individuals and even reading their body language to determine their ‘threat level’. The Chinese authorities insist these are necessary security measures; human rights watchers say they are inhuman. Closer to home, civil liberties campaigners are unhappy that several UK police forces are trying out facial recognition cameras. What level of state surveillance is morally acceptable in a liberal democracy? While we’re busy pondering that question, let’s not ignore the fact that most of us accept being spied upon in our own homes by our smartphones and computers. Some of us believe it is a price worth paying for convenience and inter-connectedness. Others warn that information is power and power corrupts. The recent eruption of dystopian drama on our TV screens could point to a deeper unease about the current threats posed to human freedom. Are we giving away too much control to artificial intelligence? Are we sleep-walking into our own Orwellian nightmare? And do we care?
Producer: Dan Tierney
Deadliest Day – a new investigative series from Beyond Today
Claire Read introduces her special series about the impact of one day of the British army’s war in Afghanistan on the troops who were there and the families they left behind.
Download the Deadliest Day series from the Beyond Today podcast.
The Morality of Fashion
Some of the stars of this year’s Glastonbury festival have joined the chorus of campaigners denouncing ‘throwaway fashion’. They’ve given some of their own clothing to Oxfam and are encouraging their fans to buy their outfits second-hand (or ‘pre-cherished’). These days you can buy a dress for a fiver and wear it once before chucking it away. Is that proof that capitalism has gone too far? Critics of the industry cite the appalling conditions and rates of pay in the third-world factories churning out garments that will end up as non-biodegradable landfill quicker than you can say “sustainability”. There are those, on the other hand, who prefer not to be lectured by celebs famous for their multiple costume changes and who point out that the minimum wage doesn’t run to a wardrobe of high-quality clobber. Beyond the social and environmental implications of fast fashion, what about the moral value of clothes themselves? We humans have covered our nakedness ever since Adam and Eve embarrassed themselves in the Garden of Eden. Fashion lovers say that our clothes matter because they are expressions of an aesthetic sensibility, intrinsic to both self-esteem and dignity. Others believe the fuss about this season’s ‘look’ is a cynical manipulation of insecurity and a celebration of vanity and superficiality. The morality of fashion: fashionably moral.
Producer: Dan Tierney
The Morality of Anonymity
Sir Cliff Richard said his reputation was "in tatters" after the police raided his home in 2014 while the BBC filmed it from a helicopter above. Accused by an anonymous informant of a long-ago sexual assault, Sir Cliff was never arrested but his humiliation could not have been more public. He has since recovered damages from the BBC for breach of privacy and now he is one of several well-known figures calling for a change in the law. They want those suspected of sexual offences to remain anonymous unless and until they are charged. It is unjust, they argue, that accusers receive lifelong anonymity, while suspects can be named at any time. We are all innocent until proven guilty, but ‘mud sticks’ and too many onlookers say that there’s no smoke without fire. Opponents of this view say false allegations are rare and they are worried that unless the names of abusers are publicised, other victims will not come forward. How, then, should we balance the risk to an individual’s reputation with the public interest, the freedom of the press and the principle of open justice? There are further questions about transparency in the wider legal system. Campaigners want to ‘shed light in dark corners’ of the family courts. They argue that, with the media present and reporting restrictions lifted, miscarriages of justice will be less likely. But lawyers working in the courts are concerned about the impact on vulnerable children. And what about youth justice? Should those under 16 years of age who commit murder be given new identities as adults? Does anonymity uphold or undermine justice?
Producer: Dan Tierney
Famously photographed stuck on a zipwire, Boris Johnson is now attempting the tightrope. Unless he falls off, the pollsters suggest, he will alight in four weeks’ time in Downing Street. Perhaps understandably, he is trying to limit the number of buffetings to which he subjects himself in the meantime. Buffetings, however, continue. While it may be fascinating to voyeurs that he apparently spilled wine on a sofa and had a crockery-smashing row with his partner, is that really important? The Boris backers said this was politically-motivated, Corbynista curtain-twitching. The neighbours defended their actions, saying they recorded the proceedings out of genuine concern and passed the audio to The Guardian in the public interest. But was it? How much, if anything, do we have a right to know about a domestic quarrel involving a potential PM? How, indeed, should we balance the competing rights of public figures to a private life and of citizens to know about those in power over them? What about the value we place in moral character itself? It could be argued that honesty in small things is no small thing – as Abraham Lincoln said: “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true”. These days however, politicians should be judged, many insist, not on the content of their character, but on the merits of their manifestos. Yet, paradoxically, it has become a commonplace of Twitter that political foes are attacked not for having bad ideas but for being thoroughly bad people. So what is the relationship between virtue and effectiveness? Is the requirement for moral character in politicians overrated or overdue?
Producer: Dan Tierney