Thursday, January 06, 2011

Control nudges: the big society fights terror

David Cameron wants to ‘nudge’ us towards better behaviour rather than nanny us, and “has now established a ‘behavioural insight team’ in Downing St to look at ways of changing behaviours without increasing taxes or introducing penalties”.

He also wants to find a new way to stop people killing us all: “The control order system is imperfect. Everybody knows that. … It hasn't been a success. We need a proper replacement”.

Well, this is simple. Rather than those illiberal, statist control orders, we could introduce a system of modern, subtle control nudges – a counter-terrorism strategy fit for the big society.

For instance: terror suspects would be able to leave their homes, but rather than wearing electronic tags they’d wear iPods programmed to play UK Eurovision Song Contest entries on repeat while out of the house. They’d still be free to go and blow things up, but having to listen to this would be a powerful deterrent. In that event that they did still choose to proceed on their mission, this would admittedly be unlikely to change their minds about the merits of the British way of life. On the other hand, it would encourage them to set off their suicide bomb as soon as possible rather than waiting until they’d arrived at their intended target.

They would no longer have their telephones tapped, but in advance of each conversation with their co-conspirators they’d have to ring BT customer services to get their line specially connected for the call. While it’s true that BT customer services is the greatest contributor to violent radicalisation that the world has ever seen, the prospect of going through such an ordeal would daunt even the most dedicated jihadi.

Furthermore, terror suspects would no longer be subject to 28 days’ detention without charge. However, all bomb detonators (I presume there are specialist shops that sell them) would come with timers pre-set to 28 days. This would give those angry youngsters time to calm down and reflect on whether they really want to be doing this. It will also enable police to catch them in the act, as someone standing in a public place for four weeks, wearing a backpack and repeating “Allahu Akbar” while clutching a clock with a big red button on it, will be reasonably easy to spot.

The detonators would still be reprogrammable for shorter times – we mustn’t deny these people their rights, after all – but in order to do so, the aspirant bomber would have to interact with the Microsoft Office paperclip. A gentle, but surely unconquerable, last line of defence. Nudge, nudge.

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