Fifteen years ago, tired of yobs and hooligans and a perceived decline in civility, British prime minister Tony Blair and his New Labour cabinet cooked up a nasty little legal concoction. It’s called an ASBO. The acronym stands for Anti Social Behavior Order.
These civil orders were designed to be issued to people whose unpleasant behavior was not otherwise (easily) prosecutable under U.K. law. And as long as we’re talking about things like vandalism and public urination, no argument here.
But soon, British police and magistrates were handing out ASBOs for virtually every behavior that someone, somewhere, disliked, including public cursing, loitering, using (allegedly) racist language, and “being rude to members of the public.” The standard for issuing an ASBO was astonishingly low from the start: anyone thought to be causing “harassment, alarm or distress” could find himself on the wrong end of one.