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.
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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
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(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.)