Chapter Eight: The Future Of The State

IX. Human Freedoms

It is but a short step from 'rights' to 'freedoms', or indeed from 'freedoms' to 'rights'. Most national constitutions set out freedoms which people have, even if these are heavily tramelled by legislation. The European Union, which established its citizens' freedoms very clearly in the Treaty of Rome – free mobility of goods, services, capital and labor – has done a better job of preserving them than most nation states, with the supra-national European Court of Justice well to the fore in bashing member states that transgress the freedoms.

As a set of operating principles, the freedoms are a lot clearer and easier to implement than any list of human rights. In fact the two intersect, and by the time the four freedoms have been robustly implemented there is not too much missing from most peoples's lists of human rights. Recent documents of the European Union, and particularly the Constitution which failed to gain acceptance in 2004, have attempted to synthesize the freedoms with human rights.

As with human rights, it is clear that implementation of the four freedoms on an international level leaves component member states with little power to legislate in a way that would infringe on the freedoms. And as with human rights, it seems highly likely that the EU's freedoms will be imitated in equivalent federal multilateral areas elsewhere in the world.

Some sort of combined 'human rights' and 'freedoms' convention or set of rules will inevitably become guiding global principles well before 2050.

There is a price to paid by individuals, however, for their new rights and freedoms, in terms of transparency. The old bargain between the individual and the State was more or less 'live and let live' – if a person didn't cross the lines set down by the State, that is didn't break the law, didn't attack the State or otherwise get noticed, then they were allowed to live their lives as they chose, and their privacy was guaranteed in most countries by explict provisions of the law.

In 1950 a normal, law-abiding citizen of a Western country could rely upon it that their domestic arrangements and their financial affairs would remain confidential, if that is what they wanted. For all the hoopla with which privacy laws are brought into being by modern states, the reality is that there is hardly any left – and it is going to get worse.

Governments at various levels defend their assault upon individual privacy, with more or less justice, as being a response to aggravated levels of criminal activity, whether it is termed money-laundering to finance terrorism (today's Aunt Sally for all legislators), identity fraud made possible by the credit card explosion, or the phishing which has made the Internet into a minefield for the unwary.

Innumerable public servants have the right to enter your house; you must half undress and present fingerprints or iris prints in order to board an aircraft; the minutest transaction with banks, lawyers or accountants is liable to be reported to the authorities on a whim; and if you are so foolish as to pretend to academic successes you never had, you are likely to be hounded from your job and public life as if you were a serial rapist.

Civil liberties activists do what they can to moderate the onrush of scrutiny; but the fact is that the case is already lost. Despite all precautions a person may take, the details of their lives will become increasingly available to all and sundry. This is perhaps one of the less welcome results of the 'information explosion' and the Internet. But we have to learn to live with it.

The way to avoid spam is for your computer to know for certain who is writing to you; and the way to contact another person without getting chewed up in their spam filter is for their computer to know for certain who you are. White lists and so on can be somewhat helpful, but they don't allow for ad hoc contacts. Transparency is unavoidable. Once it exists, an attempted spammer can be punished so horribly that the practice will die out almost overnight. Transparency does what it says on the bottle: you have to be who you say you are.

Of course, the codes of behaviour, the 'know-your-customer' routines, the standards for iris recognition, the levels of encryption, and the rest – these will not be national standards. How could that work? They will have to be international standards, and once again the poor old nation state – you almost start to feel sorry for it – will be left out in the cold.

The dystopian visions of an all-seeing, all-knowing, remote and hostile State as in 1984 or Brave New World are however wide of the mark. As has been seen, the rule-making on both sides of the equation, for transparency on the one side, and for human rights and freedoms on the other, will be in the hands of multilateral bodies, while dispute resolution will equally be subject to international juridical process.