Spies Spooking Britain Recall Spanish Inquisition: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of the book "God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World" by Cullen Murphy. Source: Houghtom Mifflin Harcourt via Bloomberg

Britain has a high-tech surveillance and data-collection system, with four million closed-circuit television cameras monitoring activity from perches everywhere -- in flower boxes, hotels and on roadways.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

According to Cullen Murphy, author of “God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World,” much of the current security apparatus is a legacy of the highly developed Inquisition practices of the Catholic Church.

Under a British law passed in 2000, 474 local governments and 318 agencies are allowed to follow people, listen in on their phone calls, dig into their e-mail files and secretly record their actions -- all on their own brief.

In 2008, a Dorset woman faced this kind of inquisition simply because it was wrongly thought that she was sending her children to a school outside her permitted district.

Security will tighten even more for the upcoming Olympics: there will likely be Royal Air Force spy drones cruising above, bomb-sniffing robots working the crowds and even a high-tech “tunnel of truth” with facial-recognition software and high-tech scanners that all participants will have to pass through.

I spoke with Murphy on the following topics:

1. Moral Certainty

2. Tools of Repression

3. Heretics, Jews, Muslims

4. Torture and Confession

5. Modern Security

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

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