the friend online
23 January 2009

Spiritual concerns raised over ‘database state’
The spiritual issues thrown up by the encroachment of the ‘database state’ has led one Local Quaker Meeting to take up the matter.

Godalming Meeting adopted a concern for civil liberties at its Business Meeting on 4 January and forwarded its minute on the issue to the recording clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting. It hopes to encourage Friends to consider the issue and think of ways of acting on it.

‘There’s clearly a political dimension to this issue of civil liberties and a social dimension’, said William Heath of Godalming Meeting, who initially raised the concern. ‘The discussion we had about it was trying to discern whether there is a distinct spiritual dimension.’ He argued that the increasingly mechanised approach of judging people, allowing or disallowing them from undertaking certain activities based on information stored on a computer, sits at odds with Quaker views on individuality and personal freedom. ‘It’s hard to be open to the promptings of the spirit when we’re forced to deal with people – and we ourselves are dealt with – according to pre-defined mechanical rules based on crude ciphers sitting on dozens of official databases’, he wrote in a paper for the Meeting.

Godalming Meeting’s clerk Frances Worpe said that the discussion in the Business Meeting ‘was very spiritual and thought-provoking and careful’. She considered that some Friends had been convinced during the process of discernment that it was a spiritual rather than a political concern: ‘It was to do with the freedom of the spirit and standing up against this these restrictions which are insidiously… limiting us’, she said.

The minute has been forwarded to the recording clerk as part of Godalming Meeting’s response to the new framework for action.

Sarah Richards, clerk of the Quaker Civil Liberties Network, said that she personally felt moves such as Godalming’s were valuable even when there was no great swell of support among Quakers for the issues. ‘It shows that the issue is alive and bubbling away’, she said, adding that she believed Friends would act when led to do so. ‘The getting up and shouting will come but we have got to be very careful to move in the strength of the Spirit and not our own.’

William Heath blog
Open Rights Group

Oliver Robertson


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Peace activist seizes 'illegal' dates from supermarket
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Spiritual concerns raised over ‘database state’
Oliver Robertson
Shaming offenders is not the way
Stephen Taylor
News round-up
Heathrow expansion – Another triumph for the Spirit of the Age?
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Judy Kirby and Chuck Fager
Death of a Friend
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