Sunday 12 June 2016

The List

"Excuse me, Madam.


"I see you’re reading a book.

"Not a crime is it, officer?

"Not usually.


"Have you put it on the List?

"What list would that be?

"At your local library. You have to register a list of all your reading material at least once a month.

"Is it 1st April today?

"This is no laughing matter, Madam. The List is a vital tool in the fight against terrorists and paedophiles. Haven’t you seen the posters: “The List will keep you safe.”?

"No, I’ve been abroad. Please tell me what’s been going on.

"You’ve heard of the Investigatory Powers Act?


"Then you’ll know that the Home Secretary can require internet service providers to keep records of all the websites that we visit for up to 12 months.


"Somebody pointed out that this wasn’t technology neutral. It records your online but not your paper reading habits.

"I can see how that would offend a tidy mind.

"What’s more there was growing evidence that people who wanted to do us harm were getting around the legislation by going low tech. They were reading paper instead of using the internet.

"Crafty devils.

"Quite. Everyone agreed that a law that applied online should apply offline. The Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Act plugged the gap. So now we have the List.

"Seems pretty pointless. Your average terrorist is hardly going to write down what they have been reading, are they?

"Parliament thought of that, Madam. You see this badge?

"“Book Registration Unit”.

"Our mission is to take all necessary and proportionate steps to ensure compliance with measures that are vital to keeping you and your family and loved ones safe.

"What does that mean?

"It means we can carry out random spot checks on anyone we see reading a book or newspaper in public. And we conduct carefully targeted book raids on homes and businesses. We have the power to confiscate unregistered reading material.

"How do you know whether what you find has been read?

"If they can prove that a book hasn’t been read, then of course we would take no further action.

"I thought book licensing went out with John Milton.

"Madam, I think you have misunderstood. We do not license books. Anyone can publish a book. This is only about reading – no more than an administrative notification procedure. Libraries already keep a record of books that people borrow, so it was natural that they should administer this scheme.

"Who can look at this list?

"The same categories of authorities that can look at website records.

"That’s nearly 50 isn’t it?

"More or less.

"And for the same purposes?

"Yes. So no one has any reason to be concerned about registering their books on the list. Access by the authorities is carefully regulated for limited purposes and subject to stringent safeguards.

"But there is no need for a court order or independent judicial approval?


"I see. Has no-one objected?

"There were a few protests, but of course it already applied to the internet so they got nowhere.

"ISP lists of websites are automatically generated. Hardly surprising that no-one cared about that. Out of sight, out of mind.

"Possibly. Returning to the matter at hand Madam, have you put that book on the List?

"Of course not.

"I’m sorry then, you’ll have to come with me.