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Archive for June 3rd, 2009

OUT-Law reported recently “The Government has rejected claims that it is conducting too much surveillance on citizens and has said that it has got the balance between surveillance and liberty right. It has rejected many recommendations recently made by the House of Lords.

The government has also rejected the perfectly sensible suggestion put by the Lords that surveillance be subjected to judicial oversight. Only recently the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas,  warned that  the UK could “sleepwalk into a surveillance society” as a result of ID cards and other plans.

The government has changed its position several times on the reason for ID cards. Richard Thoms stated You have to have clarity. Is it for the fight against terrorism? Is it to promote immigration control? Is it to provide access to public benefits and services?”

Today I read an interesting article in The Register A recent survey from internet security consultancy, Cryptohippie, suggests that the UK is setting the pace in at least one area – though being classified as the West’s most repressive regime when it comes to electronic surveillance might not be a title that this government is entirely happy to wear. This result emerges from Cryptohippie’s recently published Electronic Police State 2008

I quote from the article: “The audit focusses on 17 factors, ranging from requirement to produce documents on demand, through to the extent to which states force ISP’s and phone companies to retain data, the blurring of boundaries between police and intelligence work and ultimately the breakdown of the principles of habeas corpus……. The top four places in the survey are occupied by China, North Korea, Belarus and Russia. However, electronic policing also requires some degree of technological sophistication – so it is not surprising to find the UK dropping in at no. 5 and the US at no. 6. France and Germany arrive a few places below that.”

I am, thankfully, not alone in believing that we have already lost an element in the war on terror – not because the terrorists have won a victory, but because the government has found it most convenient to be able to cite ‘National Security’ issues to promote their agenda to control, to govern from the top down and restrict our freedoms  as a trade off for providing our armed forces and intelligence service with the tools they are believed by government to need. Martial Law is a long way off – but all steps leading towards even the most watered down version of it should be resisted.

It is not long ago that Jacqui Smith pushed the 42 day detention without trial and raised national security concerns in the Damien Green MP fiasco – concerns revealed to be preposterous by the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is not that long ago that we learned that local councils have been misusing RIPA terror legilsation to spy on people emptying their bins and walking their dogs.

This government has little taste for listening to experienced advisers and specialists, let alone the people it purports to serve. The leaders of the intelligence community, a former Lord Chancellor,a former Attorney General, a former Director of Public Prosecutions came out against the 42 day detention proposal which the government tried to bully through the Commons.What especial expertise lies in the current Cabinet that can afford to igniore such experience and moderation?  We are not given reasons for government decisions.  They are proclamations.  This is the way of those who prefer to rule rather than govern.

I make no party political point here because we have no idea how the Tories would act – for they do not reveal, as yet, many clear policies on this or, indeed, other aspects of government. It saddens me however, as a Labour voter for nearly 30 years,  that the greatest erosion on our freedom and civil liberty in many years has been presided over and brought about by a Labour government.  We all understand a need to equip our police, armed forces and intelligence services with the tools to combat terror – but other nations, who do not suffer attacks from terror groups, have not resorted to quite the same degree of surveillance and restriction.  We can’t even photograph a police officer, an ironic law given the excessive force used at the recent G20 protests.  This seems to be borne out by the cryptohippie report.

The last straw for me came today when I read a tweet by @Ianpj, leader of The Libertarian Party UK, about a plan  by Lancashire Police to launch a DVD to teach primary school pupils how to spot terrorists.

This is an outrage, a disgrace, and brings shame on this country and the Police service in Lancashire.  I quote from the Mail article:

“The force’s new Preventing Violent Extremism unit said the DVD aimed to teach youngsters about terrorism and fundamentalism in an ‘accessible way’. Children will be encouraged to inform on their classmates if they feel other pupils are expressing extremist views. The video features a talking lion, who explains that a terrorist can look like anyone, and urges children to tell the police, their parents or a teacher if they hear anyone talking about terror related activity. It also uses the example of Guy Fawkes saying that his strong views began forming when he was at school in York.”

This has gone too far. We destroy the innocence of childhood with this – and  it is a very dangerous step in an increasingly repressive and badly governed land.  If we are not careful we won’t have a ‘government’ we will have a regime.

I end with two quotes: The first, with the rather chilling words from The Register article…  “The usual image of a “police state” includes secret police dragging people out of their homes at night, with scenes out of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s USSR. The problem with these images is that they are horribly outdated. That’s how things worked during your grandfather’s war – that is not how things work now. “An electronic police state is quiet, even unseen. All of its legal actions are supported by abundant evidence. It looks pristine.”

And finally…. this quote from an article written by Lord Bingham, a former Lord Chief Justice of England and, until recently, senior law lord:

“The test of legal permissibility falls to be judged, ultimately, by the courts. But in times of crisis the courts too have tended to be uncritical of the executive. During both world wars judgments were given that would never have been given in quiet times, and the first half of the 20th century has been described as a period of judicial catatonia.”


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3rd June: News up on Insite Law

News up on Insite Law


Jacqui Smith: The departure of one of the worst Home Secretaries in history

Billed as the youngest Home Secretary in our history, tipped as a future Prime Minister, Jacqui Smith leaves the Home Office less fit for purpose than it was when she arrived. I am not talking of minutiae and administration but in terms of reputation. Leaving aside her own poor judgement in terms of expenses claims, and the questionable, if amusing, taste of her husband when it came to private amusement with a video, Jacqui Smith seemed to be in thrall to Number 10 and presided over a number of civil liberties disasters.

Pushing through the re-classification of Cannabis, against the advice of her own team, pushing for an extension of detention without trial to 42 days (thankfully booted into touch by objections in the Lords, failing to come to grips with Policing, a relationship with the Police federation in terms of pay and Police appointments and, perhaps, most serious of all, her involvement in the Damien Green Affair. While denying she called in PC Plod it became clear that she was the source of concerns about National Security – later shown to be preposterous by the DPP Kyle Starmer QC – revealing her as a person unfit to hold one of the most important offices of State. She is unlikely to be missed by civil libertarians. The incoming Home Secretary could possibly go down in the record books as being one of the shortest holders of the office.

***

BREAKING NEWS:
“Sources say Smith is stepping down for the sake of her husband, who has been watching so much porn he is on the verge of being declared medically blind.”

Newsarse

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