Perhaps we should not feel surprised when we discover that a politician’s computer has been used to view pornography. Possibly we could feel disappointed but hardly surprised. It is unreasonable to expect that politicians are free of the vices to which the rest of us are prey. I accept that, if a politician has spent a career promoting chastity and moral virtue, then the discovery of a habit of viewing pornography may allow us genuine surprise at the discovery of their hypocrisy and deceit. But the simple fact that politicians may be lazy, or obese, or smokers, like the rest of us should really upset no-one; one would have to be very naïve to believe that they are very much superior to the rest of us. Like the rest of us they will be on tenterhooks when their browsing history is being reviewed by the computer repairman, their boss, or the police.
In the UK there are the beginnings of a scandal as retired policemen, Neil Lewis and Bob Quick, revealed that they had seen pornographic images on the cabinet minister Damian Green’s computer during an investigation into a cabinet leak in 2008. There is no reason to believe that any legal action was intended regarding these images they were simply discovered in the process of seeking evidence about the cabinet leak. These images, if they were present, were an unrelated find, so why have they been brought to the fore now ?
It is clear that there is a history between Bob Quick and Damian Green. Bob Quick had to issue a public apology, and resign, 8 years ago after he had made unfounded accusations of impropriety about Damian Green. There is a danger that this recent revelation may simply be the an old battle being fought on new fields. But there is a further, more worrisome, aspect of this.
When police work with us to prosecute crime we cooperate as we wish the guilty to be found and the truth established. We give over aspects of our privacy to enable this. If I was mugged while out walking one evening and the police, during their investigations, found I was not with my wife, it would not be reasonable for them to disclose this aspect and jeopardise my marriage. If they coincidentally find a crime, then so be it, but my private life is my own and this should be respected. If this respect is not given then I might be rather reluctant to contact the police if the victim of a crime for fear that I might be forced to reveal details of my life I wish to keep secret.
When I worked as a doctor I routinely asked patients about many aspects of their life, experiences, habits and opinions. This helped me form a diagnosis and to formulate a plan of treatment with them. However, I was bound by a contract of secrecy, and an professional oath, never to divulge this information. This information was only given to aid the treatment of the patient. If patients felt that they could not trust me to keep their privacy then fear and shame would certainly deter many people from seeking help. This contract is rightly inflexible and persist after my retirement to until my death.
Police are in a privileged position in our society, they can on occasion gain access to our private lives but they only gain this access with the contract that they can not disclose details found which are not related to a crime. If we can not trust this then we will be unable to work cooperatively with the police. If we fear that they may use information they collect for their own ends and advantage (such as settling political scores) then we can not be expected to share information with them.
Damian Green obviously has his problems at the moment as he is being investigated for “inappropriate behaviour towards a female activist” but this should be dealt with appropriately and not taken as a opportunity to refight old battles. He may well have to ‘fall on his sword’ for these present accusations, but more importantly the policemen who have breached the trust given to them, and broken their contract of privacy with us, should be investigated and if found guilty punished. The police can not see themselves as the law, nor as being above it, they are simply its agents.