Tag Archives: civil liberties

Can’t Be British if You Protest!

More bonkers, illiberal garbage from the New Labour Home Office, attacking once again the civil liberties of migrants:

Immigrants who take part in anti-war demonstrations could jeopardise their chances of getting British citizenship under new government proposals, a Home Office minister said today.

Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, said people would have to “earn” their citizenship under plans being unveiled this morning for a new points system for immigrants seeking a British passport.

The government has already introduced a points system for immigration. But once immigrants have been working legally in Britain for five years, it is relatively easy for them to qualify for citizenship.

Asked about this on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Woolas said: “We think it’s right to say if we are asking the new citizen, as incidentally other countries around the world do, to have an oath of allegiance to that country, that it’s right to try to define in some objective terms what that means. And clearly an acceptance of the democratic rule of law and the principle behind that we think is important and we think it’s fair to ask that.”

But, when it was pointed out that demonstrating was not illegal, Woolas suggested that an applicant could also lose points not just for breaking the law – but also for engaging in certain activities that were legal.

Sarah Montague, the presenter, asked: “Are you effectively saying to people who want to have a British passport, ‘You can have one, and when you’ve got one you can demonstrate as much as you like, but until then don’t’?”

Woolas replied: “In essence, yes. In essence we are saying that the test that applies to the citizen should be broader than the test that applies to the person who wants to be a citizen. I think that’s a fair point of view, to say that if you want to come to our country and settle, you should show that adherence.”

Woolas claimed that migrants themselves would support this stance.

I think he’s stark raving mad. I challenge him right here right now to find someone who has migrated to this country and wants to become a British citizen, who can comprehend how protesting against illegal wars can make them undesirable to become British. Does that mean I should no longer be British? And what of the demand that immigrants should accept the democratic rule of law, when the state itself decides it doesn’t have to? Mehdi Hasan is right when he asks:

Is Woolas out of his mind? This is the authoritarian mindset of a Politburo member circa 1972, not the views of a Labour minister (a Labour minister!) in a democratic British government in 2009. “Adherence”? Since when did loyalty and support for Britain translate into loyalty and support for the British state, British government and various misguided “official” policies and proposals, of which today’s consultation paper on citizenship is only one?

This is a nasty, authoritarian government, now mostly out of control. Let’s hope it doesn’t last much longer.


Chris Huhne is Right

Jacqui Smith hasn’t even left her department yet, but Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesman Chris Huhne has already addressed whoever replaces her:

“The next Home Secretary must ensure that the worst excesses of recent years are not just curbed but rolled back.

“A good start would be to scrap ID cards, take innocent people off the DNA database and not spy on our phone calls and emails.”

As a starting point it wouldn’t be bad, and it really has to be the barest minimum to expect from whoever follows her. The question currently remains – will her successor be under Gordon Brown or Alan Johnson? If Johnson does he now appreciate the need for a rollback from the Blair/Brown lunge towards a police state, that it’s not just because it’s wrong, but because it’s to his electoral advantage?

The Metropolitan Police: A Brutal, Unaccountable Militia

(photo source: Guardian)

Guy Aitchison at Open Democracy offers a brilliant analysis of the Metropolitan Police’s brutal and perhaps criminal behaviour at the G20 protests last week:

Does Britain now have an aggressive system of policing that undermines the country’s democratic traditions by systematically intimidating and closing down any protest it does not consider ‘safe’? The way that the G20 protests were managed suggests that we do. In particular the policy of “kettling” is a deliberate form of indiscriminate, collective punishment of demonstrators committed to peaceful protest, which seems designed to frighten people from expressing their disapproval of a system that is now, even by its own admission, dysfunctional.  The development is part of a wider pattern of state authoritarianism not to speak of out-of-control policing. I was present in the City of London throughout Wednesday’s events. Here I give my account of the protests, and an overview of the reports about them, with some ideas on how we can re-claim our liberty from those who would undermine it through fear and bullying.

Since Wednesday April 1st there have been several first-hand accounts by protestors of the heavy handidness and, in many cases, brutality of the police’s approach to the protests at the Bank of England and Climate Camp. These have helped counter some of the all too predictable smears coming from sections of the mainstream media. There is now a strong case which says that not only did the police action raise serious civil liberties concerns; it was counter-productive, provoking violence and endangering the safety of peaceful protestors.

Continue reading here. And you really should.

What About the Government’s Responsibilities?

Is Jack Straw’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities a diversion?

The Bill of Rights and Responsibilities would reaffirm every citizen’s right to equal health care if they become ill, decent treatment if they become a victim of crime, free education for every child and universal access to good housing.

The statement of responsibilities could include the duty to pay taxes and obey the law, as well as vote in elections, undertake jury service if summoned and treat public sector staff with respect.

Well isn’t the reason for our disconnection with the political system and one another in part down to the fact that the system doesn’t work? What about Straw’s responsibility to reform the legislature and hold the executive to account? No more adventurous wars – isn’t that something they owe us? What about Straw’s responsibility to deliver voting reform? A political system which actually represented people’s wishes – isn’t that his duty? What about reform of the House of Lords, to hold the entire House of Commons to account?

Is the level of criminality now far more to do with New Labour’s obsession with creating new criminal offenses, and even pre-criminalising us, through allowing police their future intelligence teams (FIT)? As ‘loftwork’, in the comments below this article quite rightly points out – what about David Milliband’s responsibility to tell the truth about M15 and torture? What about Straw’s own responsibility to live up to the Freedom of Information Act and not veto it when it’s politically inconvenient for him? And why should I be forced constitutionally to obey unjust laws, such as ID cards? This is a philosophical continuation on from ID cards – the state’s duty is to you, your duty is not to the state!

Gordon Brown is a Fraud

Gordon Brown is about to take the ‘War’ on Terror to a new level:

Together with the new US administration, we are developing a strategy to tackle the terrorist threat across the region, the underlying causes, the extremist madrasas and the lawless spaces in which terrorists recruit or train. A vital part of this is building up the security forces of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the support of our own armed forces, so they can take on more of this responsibility for themselves, an approach I discuss frequently with Presidents Karzai and Zardari, urging closer co-operation between their countries.

Recast: a vital part of this is building up the security forces of fundamentally corrupt puppet regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. How on earth is that going to improve the safety of Western Europe against Islamist terrorist attack? Karzai is discredited and Zardari has long been known to be on the take, so isn’t this approach just a continuation of the way business as usual was conducted pre-9/11?

As the threats we face are changing rapidly, we can never assume that the established way of doing things will be enough. We will always make the necessary changes, whether through greater investment, changes to our laws or reforms to the way we do things, to ensure that Britain is protected.

And at all times, the responsibility remains the same – protecting the security of all and safeguarding the rights and freedoms of the individual. I outlined to Parliament last week the steps we are taking to make absolutely clear that we meet the highest standards, continuing to condemn unequivocally the use of torture, never torturing nor ever asking others to torture for us.

And yet on his watch both as Prime Minister and Chancellor, the United Kingdom has been complicit both in torture and extraordinary rendition. Proof exists, but is currently suppressed from publication, that the British government knew what was happening to Binyam Mohammed, and indeed played a role in his multi-year torture in Morocco, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. The ‘war’ on terror narrative has claimed numerous victims like Binyam Mohammed, and it’s telling that at a time when the Obama Administration is distancing itself from such a myopic perspective on such a complicated set of interlocking problems, that Brown is getting ever more blinkered.

Terrorism threatens the rights that all in this country should hold dear, including the most fundamental human right of all – the right to life. We know that terrorists will keep on trying to strike and that protecting Britain against this threat remains our most important job.

I believe that this updated strategy, recognised by our allies to be world-leading in its wide-ranging nature, leaves us better prepared and strengthened in our ability to ensure all peace-loving people of this country can live normally, with confidence and free from fear.

And here we go, returning to the straw man argument about ‘right to life’. Terrorism indeed threatens the right to life; his government however has constantly attacked the right to freedom from torture, from arbitrary arrest, to freedom of assembly, to a fair trial, to the right to leave and return to this country, and that’s just human rights as listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How are we expected to ‘live normally’ under such conditions? Gordon Brown is a massive fraud and a far bigger threat to human rights and civil liberties than Al Qaeda could ever hope to be.

Keep an Eye on Jack Straw

Justice Secretary Jack Straw appears to be backing down on elements of his Coroners and Justice Bill, in the face of tumultuous protest by the public and civil liberties groups:

Jack Straw today announced plans to amend the coroners and justice bill to limit the extent to which it could be used to allow inquests to be held in private.

The justice secretary told MPs that he was “fundamentally” recasting his plans in response to complaints from civil liberty campaigners opposed to the way the bill would allow inquests to be held without juries in cases involving sensitive information with implications for national security.

He also confirmed that proposals in the bill to allow information collected by one government department to be shared with another had been put on hold.

The operative words are ‘been put on hold’. As I’ve put in a previous post, the culture in Whitehall is now so rooted in data sharing and databases, that it’s only a matter of time before the aim of Clause 152 is reintroduced. It’s interesting that he is still responding to protest, but I fail to understand the logic or morality of having inquests held in private.

British Government vs. Liberty

I saw him try this on The Politics Show on Sunday, but Andy Burnham’s now formally smearing the government’s opponents, in a vain attempt to win the argument on civil liberties which is now fully out in the open because of David Davis’ actions.

Burnham said: “To people who get seduced by Tory talk of how liberal they are, I find something very curious in the man who was, and still is I believe, an exponent of capital punishment having late-night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls with Shami Chakrabarti.”

Chakrabarti, and Davis, who are both married to other people, were both said to be furious.

Shami Chakrabarti is the highly effective director of Liberty, who has said if he doesn’t apologise, she’ll sue him. Burnham of course countered this by saying no slur was meant, but his words were part of a coordinated attempt to decapitate the Davis campaign before its narrative gained a strong foothold with the media and electorate. Just on Sunday on The Politics Show, Burnham completely misrepresented Davis’ position by claiming the former Shadow Home Secretary was entirely against CCTV and the DNA database – precisely what Davis just three days earlier had refuted.

Gordon Brown came out of the 42 days vote with the argument that the component elements cited by David Davis as comprising our ‘surveillance society’ were a good thing. Far from curtailing civil liberties, he maintained CCTV, the DNA database and ID cards protected civil liberties. Except he doesn’t understand that these laws and systems are not static concepts, nor are they bereft of context; both in this country are toxic. Taken in isolation ID cards for example have been useful and accepted tools in many Western democracies. In the UK however they would be a function of the National Identity Register:

individual checking and numbering of the population; making personal details into “registrable facts” to be disclosed and constantly updated; collection and checking of biometrics (e.g. fingerprints); the card itself (and other documents made equivalent to an ID card); a widespread scanner and computer terminal network connected to the central database; widespread use of compulsory identity “verification” ; and data-sharing between organisations on an unprecedented scale.

It would be administered by the Identity and Passport Agency, a similarly dysfunctional agency to the thoroughly discredited UK Border Agency, and both run by the Home Office. Peter Tatchell has already many times shown basic systemic problems with the management of Home Office agencies, and coupled with deeper problematic attitudes (demonstrated by Poole Council spying on families whom they believed were trying to cheat the school catchment system) you have a recipe for ‘function creep’ and authoritarianism. What is more important, marginal (and unproven) protection against ID fraud (which can be prevented by other, more traditional means like a cross-cutting shredder) – Brown’s ‘security’, or freedom from this unnecessary and dangerous tool for control and surveillance? It isn’t the government’s responsibility to protect identity, indeed this government’s determination to be the unique arbiter of our identity would cause a reverse to the fundamental relationship between the individual and state which has driven modern democracies since the industrial revolution. We determine the state, not the other way around.

There’s far more than just that wrong however. I attended the Stop the War protest against George W Bush’s visit last weekend, which was entirely peaceful, until protesters tried to head down the originally planned route along Whitehall to Downing Street (where Brown and Bush actually were). At that point the police went extremely violent (it’s the Metropolitan Police so it’s not surprising) and started snatch arresting (after setting FIT teams against other peaceful protesters and journalists).

The SOCPA zone remains untouched, the police abuse it as they see fit, and regularly intimidate professional journalists, protesters and citizen journalists alike. Brown doesn’t bring this up. What he did say was:

“Facing these modern challenges, it is our duty to write a new chapter in our country’s story – one in which we both protect and promote our security and our liberty, two equally proud traditions.”

Yet that doesn’t actually mean anything, and he wilfully ignores the flaws in the systems he lists. As Henry Porter quite rightly points out, senior policemen have expressed doubts about the usefulness of CCTV, David Davis himself has identified over one million innocent people on the DNA database, amongst whom are a disproportionate number of black and Asian people. And how is intimidating journalists and protesters promoting our ‘security’? The police’s forward intelligence teams (FIT), levelled even against entirely peaceful teenage protesters against the ‘Church’ of Scientology last weekend have become an exercise in pre-criminalisation. If the point of them was to gather intelligence on football hooliganism and political protest, how is it that politically active teenagers and news journalists are being systematically abused by them? Regarding the latter point, the Met claims:

‘Metropolitan Police FIT officers do not target legitimate photographers. FIT officers are deployed in an intelligence and evidence gathering capacity at public order events. This may include interaction with photographers, who on the production of a valid form of accreditation will be able to continue with their work.’

Even on cursory inspection this statement is full of lies and doublespeak. I’ve seen them abuse press photographers with my own eyes, and have been on the receiving end of it myself (although I’m not yet a press photographer). And since when was ‘accreditation’ needed to take photographs in public? Maybe this spokesman should look at the police’s behaviour when it comes to dealing with photographers.

Brown though seems to think that this climate, where even councils spy on local residents can be managed by typical New Labour tinkering with its own draconian laws to make them more ‘accountable’ and ‘fair’:

During his speech Mr Brown also announced that he would ask the Information Commissioner to produce a report each year on surveillance in the UK, which would then be debated by MPs.

It’s typical of New Labour to tackle the cart after the horse has already bolted, but it simply doesn’t work, because it misses the point. Relentless tinkering rather than addressing underlying problems has failed the public services, failed the relative as well as the absolute poor, created an overblown sense of crime, and in the case of ASBOs sent out completely the wrong message. It ignores more deeply rooted problems such as police harassment and intimidation, freedom of the press and the rights to free assembly and protest (when is SOCPA going to be repealed anyway?). He may be too late in stating his case: the public has already started to side with David Davis. Almost on cue Harriet Harman resumes the offensive:

“When it comes to David Davis, he’s an unlikely champion of civil liberties and certainly when I was at Liberty, I did not support people who opposed the Human Rights Act and were in favour of the death penalty,” Harman told ITV News.

Typically disingenuous behaviour by the New Labour Deputy Leader, attacking Davis and Chakrabarti again by snide misrepresentation, as if their alliance were so impossible that there had to be some disreputable motivation (convenient that neither she nor Burnham have attacked Nick Clegg in the same way, following his identical discussions with Davis). This is disgusting politics. Yes of course Davis’ past history on rights issues is bad. He’s opposed the repeal of Section 28, and indeed supported the death penalty, but an overall inconsistency doesn’t make him wrong here, and the entire reason for such an alliance is Brown’s cynical move to the distant political Right in a vain attempt to decapitate Davis’ party’s traditional strength in law and order. Traditionally a top Tory siding with a human rights NGO would have been unthinkable; not now. But it’s not Chakrabarti we should be condemning, it’s Brown himself.

“to assume that the laws and practises which have applied in the past are sufficient always to face the future…would be the politics of complacency”.

And yet he hasn’t tried to put forward a credible case for precriminalisation, and how it and intimidation face the future? Since when have these ‘laws and practises’ of the past not been sufficient to face the future? For that matter, what has so fundamentally changed that we need to ‘protect security and individual liberty’? Remember this means justifying the argument for curbing traditionally understood civil liberties in order to protect us all from terrorism, organised crime and identity theft, because there’s no other way. It’s down to using ‘good’ technology to save us from ‘bad’ technology.

Even looking at the DNA database (thanks UK Liberty), and taking a quick look at the figures shows Brown hasn’t got a case. Remember the argument isn’t whether to have the database, but whether the changes to it in 2001 to allow records to be retained after acquittals, and in 2003 to allow records to be retained from the point of any arrest ‘protect our security and individual liberty’. During that period recorded crime went down, the number of profiles stored rose by 2 million, yet the number of crimes with DNA matches and DNA detections fell significantly. The figures may exclude violent and sexual crime, but consider how detections are gone about for such crimes: the perpetrators of violent crimes are normally known to their victims, and in the case of rape the question of consent is normally greater than that of identity. The likelihood of these figures being significantly distorted is quite small. Even the Home Office itself acknowledges the number of matches made from the database is primarily driven from profiles loaded at crime scenes, not from the added 2 million profiles. So the answer is ‘no’ – even this civil liberties curb hasn’t brought about greater security.

It’s not about using ‘good’ technology to save ‘us’ from ‘bad’ technology. It’s not about curbing civil liberties to save us from unprecedentedly complex threats. It’s about cynical political opportunism, by a bunch of incompetent politicians who have no other idea how to solve Britain’s deep rooted problems, so they (as so many of their predecessors have throughout history) choose control (Brown’s ‘security’) over freedom. Just look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and see how many have been trampled on by Blair and Brown. The government doesn’t have any responsibilities for identity protection, and as far as the human right of ‘security’ really does go, why not actually police better? The Metropolitan Police abuses political protesters, intimidates journalists, young people and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The UK Border Agency routinely deports and tries to deport gay asylum seekers back to countries where they are likely to be killed. Local authorities are encouraged by this climate and preponderance of new laws to spy on their own residents, and the tools of CCTV and the DNA database, whilst not unimportant, have been easy targets of ‘function creep’. Wait for the same with ID cards, and further after-the-fact justification by Brown, rather than actual reforms which aren’t based on dressed up Islamophobia and moral panic about crime (which is falling, remember?) If the cabinet really is rattled by the resonance Davis’ stance is gaining with the public, maybe they should pluck up the courage to field a candidate for the by-election Davis triggered and engage in honest debate – a practice of the past, rather than complacent personality-based attack politics, which suggest they don’t have a valid case at all?

“Al-Qa’ida plays on this concept of us not having strong values. If you attack democracy and human rights in the search for security from terrorism, you send the signal that they don’t mean very much.” – Shami Chakrabarti