Sunday, November 27, 2005


As if producing 2005: Blogged whilst writing his own blog and contributing articles to other blogs wasn't enough to fill his time, Tim Worstall has banded together with some other bloggers and set up Wikablog:

Well, the point is that there are a lot of blogs out there -- a billion trillion gazillion, according to some experts -- and it's difficult to find out what they're all about without visiting every one of them and reading it. How tiresome. Here at Wikablog, you can, in just a couple of minutes, create a page about your blog or someone else's with a few words saying what it's about. Then other people can add to it. And you can add links to other similar blogs, and talk about the blog's history, and recount the tale of the great Himalayan Blog Controversy of 2002, and whatever else you like. Soon enough, any blog can have a detailed page on here, telling us all everything we could ever need to know about it short of bothering to read it.
I think I'd rewrite that paragraph to say "Wikablog is a directory of blogs maintained by its readers".

Anyway I shall soon be adding this blog to the Wikablog.

2005: Blogged by Tim Worstall

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. Things got a bit busy and blogging went on the back burner for a bit. Anyway now I'm playing catchup on some items that caught my attention.

As readers might already know, Tim Worstall has waded through thousands of British blogs and selected articles from them to produce a book called 2005: Blogged, which was published on the 18th November. Tim describes this book as follows:

So one of the things we hope to do is to get people to realise quite how much good writing there is out there available to them. We, the cognoscenti, already know. Well, we do to an extent. I’ve found, while doing the research (I skimmed through 5,000 blogs and read in much more depth a 1,000 of them to make the selections), that it isn’t true that we do in fact know all of the good ones. Certainly, I found that there were whole areas of personal and music and culture and so on blogs that I knew nothing at all about. (BTW, if you have someone you think I should know about drop me a line. Final closing date for alterations is early October.)

I’d also better point out that this isn’t just me and my muckers, isn’t all right wing or economics, it’s an attempt, however limited by space, to give an idea of the huge variety out there. Yes, of course there is Pootergeek, Norm, Samizdata, Harry’s Place, there’s also Dead Men Left, Chicken Yoghurt, Green Fairy, Angry Chimp, Twenty Major.....over 100 different bloggers from all sides of every question. There’s pieces on sex, sport, music, politics, elections, bombings, piss ups, books.....there’s even a couple of pieces of the lost John B archives.

It really is an attempt to highlight the great pieces over the year. There are angry pieces, funny ones, intensely sad and ones that should, at least they do me, engender great venom and bile against their targets.

It might also serve as an explanation to people about what you do in that darkened room for so long each day. "Umm, what is this bloogger thing then dear? " and instead of tirades about the Citizen Journalist you can just point them to this selection.

I have not read the book, but knowing a bit about the blogosphere, ISTM that there is at least the potential for some great reading here. There is such a wide variety of blogs out there on all sorts of subjects that you're bound to come across some real gems. After all blogging has allowed anyone armed with a computer and a 'net connection to spew out prose. This book might help you track down some of the gems. I think that Tim writes an interesting blog (hence my link to it) so hopefully his skills as an editor will have made the book worthwhile. It might make a good Xmas present for someone...

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Terrorism Bill 2005: A threat to blogs/websites?

Update: I got it wrong on the committee stage of the bill. The committee stage of this bill takes place over 2 days, the 2nd and 3rd of November. See this link. Sorry for the mistake.

I confess to having taken my off the ball on this one. I didn't realise the Terrorism Bill 2005 (yes another one!) was in parliament until I heard about the 2nd reading and then was slow off the mark to write about it... have berated the British blogosphere for failing to cover/analyse the Terrorism Bill 2005, which, in addition to enabling 90 days detention of terrorist suspects without charge, they argue threatens websites, bloggers and libraries due to the:

  • vaguely defined offences of "inciting or glorifying" terrorism and distributing a terrorist publication, combined with
  • the power of a police constable, acting on his own opinion that the publication is "terrorism-related", to issue a notice to a publisher to remove or modify an article within 2 days or be deemed to have endorsed the article, thus rendering you unable to raise the defence that it was provided only in the course of providing an electronic service, you didn't know it was terrorism related AND you did not endorse it.
More detail can be found here and at the Magna Carta Plus weblog. Note that the committee stage of this bill will be over on Wednesday 2nd November. Time to make use of WriteToThem...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

New "refuse" pledge setup by No2ID

Following on from the earlier 'refuse' and 'resist' pledges, No2ID have set up a new 'refuse' pledge. As with the first one, pledgers pledge to refuse to register for a card/on the database and to donate £10 to a legal defence fund. This time the aim is to get 15,000 signatures by January 8th 2006. The first one achieved its target of 10,000 signatures by the 18th of July and totalled over 11,368 signatures by the time it closed on the 9th October.

British residents who oppose the cards and have not yet signed a pledge are invited to sign either the 'resist' pledge or the second 'refuse' pledge (this one aimed at those who feel unable to run the risks associated with refusing). But please do not sign more than one pledge!

(See also here).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

My views on the free market

Jon P writing at the Liberty Cadre, gives a plug to the Magna Carta Plus News blog (thanks Jon!), and he also writes:

One of its contributors is James Hammerton, whom I have come across while perusing a few Libertarian Alliance documents. He is a sort of civil libertarian leftie, opposed to the free market but wants freedom in pretty much everything else...
I suspect he's probably read my critique of libertarianism, I recall someone in the Libertarian Alliance expressed interest in it some time back. I wrote the essay about a decade or so ago. At the time, I would happily have described myself as a Green, having been in the Edinburgh University Green Society throughout my undergraduate days and then its equivalent at Birmingham University during my PhD. As I recall, I wrote the critique during the early days of my PhD, but note my PhD had nothing to do with it! It was written in my spare time.

Anyway since then my views have changed quite a lot. I wouldn't describe myself as a Green now. Re-reading the essay has reminded me by just how much my views have changed. Basically I want to see the state shrunk, and I'm generally in favour of free trade, my reading having convinced me that its generally beneficial.

However I don't believe in cutting the state back to a "nightwatchman" state the way some libertarians do. For example, I support the idea of a citizen's wage, plus I think action is needed to wean the world economy off oil and onto something both less environmentally harmful and less dependent on unstable middle eastern governments. So whilst I might be opposed to total laissez-faire, I do wish to see much freer markets and a much smaller state than we currently have.

Maybe a followup to my critique, considering it in the light of my current views, is in order....

Monday, September 26, 2005

Magna Carta Plus News

For some years now I've been contributing to the Magna Carta Plus website(MCP), and recently I've been in charge of its news service, which has now been revamped as a weblog.

MCP is a civil liberties website and its news service aims to cover developments in civil liberties across the world, albeit with a UK bias. My efforts on civil liberties will focus mainly on the news 'blog there and in contributing further articles to MCP.

This blog will remain in operation, however its focus will move away from civil liberties into other areas of politics.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

ID card roadshow in Edinburgh tomorrow

Apparently, the government's identity cards "roadshow", a charm offensive the govt is using to try to win over the public on the proposals, will be hitting Edinburgh tomorrow according to the Glasgow No2ID website:

On Sunday 11th September, it was announced that the Home Office would be starting a 7 day "biometric roadshow" to try to sell the concept of ID cards to the British public. The roadshow started today with Andy Burnham MP, minister for ID cards, visiting Manchester Airport on Monday to show off the Home Office's dreams for biometric technology - BBC story (appeared Sunday afternoon).

The Home Office are trying to keep news of these events secret before they occur. On Monday afternoon they flatly refused to let me know if there were any plans for the roadshow to come to Scotland. The Home Office did not make a press release about the Manchester event public until it had already started.

Despite the Home Office refusing to tell us about future dates and venues, we have learnt that the roadshow will be at the Gyle shopping centre in Edinburgh on Wednesday 14th September. Andy Burnham will be there from 11:00 to 12:00.

If you can possibly get to Edinburgh on Wednesday to join in a small protest, hand out a few leaflets and challenge a minister to answer some of the questions that they have been avoiding, then please let me know. Or just turn up, if you prefer.

Sorry about the short notice, but the Home Office are trying to keep this quiet. We need all the help we can get - please get in touch:

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

More on the Stockwell tube shooting

This story seems to get more and more disturbing as times goes on. Whilst of course we've still to have the report from the inquiry and thus don't yet know the full facts, the recently leaked documents suggest that almost every aspect of the story we were initially told is incorrect.

According to this BBC report on the matter, the leaked documents suggest that Mr Menezes did not jump the barrier at the station, but entered normally, picked up a newspaper and proceeded to the platforms. He only ran when a train was near and was sitting down when the police boarded the train, he stood up after the police shouted "police" and was then restrained by one officer whilst another shot him. He was not wearing a bulky coat and nor was it the case that he ran when police challenged him.

This account suggests that until the police boarded the train, Menezes was not aware of being followed. It also suggests that he did not do anything unusual, indeed he was simply going about his business, and the only reason for the police to think he was up to no good was that he emerged from a building under their surveillance and they thought he was one of their targets.

Now it seems to me that for a decision to shoot to be justifiable, the police needed to have evidence that the suspect had a bomb on him or under his control at the time they were surveilling him. Nothing I've read so far suggests they did, and it looks more and more like the only reason they had for shooting him was misidentifying him as someone they're looking for. If this is borne out by the inquiry then heads should roll.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Stockwell tube shooting (contd)

The maintainers of the blog commented on my earlier article about this:

The Times reports that the innocent Brasilian Jean Charles de Menezes waited for, and caught a Number 2 Bus from near his home too Stockwell Tube Station, and was "under surveillance" for more than 20 minutes.

Do the Operation Kratos "rules of engagement" value the lives of Bus passengers less than those of Tibe passengers ?

Why was this alleged suicide bomber allowed to board a Bus ? If he was not considered to be a "threat to life" on the Bus, then why was he considered to be one before he got to a Tube train ?
These are indeed important questions. If the police considered Mr Menezes to be a suicide bomber in the process of carrying out an attack then surely they should have stopped him before he got on the bus, or even as soon as he left his house? It is possible of course that it wasn't until after he got off the bus that the police thought he might be a suicide bomber, but this is a vital question and demands an answer.

There is also the question of whether the police did enough to identify themselves as police when they challenged Mr Menezes. The eyewitness accounts suggest they did not shout "police" or "armed police". This might be a factor in explaining why Mr Menezes ran.

There plenty of questions that need answered here. I hope the inquiry will answer them and that if the police are found to be at fault then those responsible face the music and that procedures are altered if necessary.

Nevertheless, I think that shooting to kill someone who is in the process of carrying out a suicide bombing attack is the right policy (if there is no safe alternative). And where possible we should try and stop these people before they set out to blow themselves up in crowded areas.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

New No2ID pledge

Following the success of the earlier No2ID pledge, a new pledge has been set up, aimed at those who are opposed to ID cards but feel they cannot incur the fines or possible jail sentences associated with refusing to get one. The new pledge reads:

I will actively support those people who, on behalf of all of us*, refuse to register for an ID card, and I pledge to pay at least £20 into a fighting fund for them but only if 50000 other people will too.
The originator of the pledge is a mother called Franky Ma, and as the website explains this pledge is aimed at those who for whatever reason feel that they can't join in a campaign of non-compliance directly:
"As the mother of a young child I can't risk her rights with mine by contesting ID cards directly, but I want to do everything I can to make sure she grows up in a free country." - Franky

*Many people, including Franky, have told NO2ID that they really want to refuse to register but they feel that their professional or family responsibilities mean they cannot personally contest registration--which could stop them travelling, working, and exercising many other civil rights.

The government's so-called 'voluntary' phase is a lie. Linking your passport to the National Identity Register and ID card WITH NO OPT-OUT is coercion, not choice. It may, in fact, prove to be a violation of human rights conventions.

NO2ID has already found over 10,000 people willing to test this--and the government's apparent intent to starve out the non-compliant. They will need your support.
The aim is to collect 50,000 signatures for this pledge by 31st March 2006. Given that they got 10,000 signatures for the earlier pledge in a matter of weeks, with a 9th October deadline, I'd suggest they've got a good chance of achieving this.

The Stockwell tube shooting

After shooting a man dead on Friday, the police have announced that he was not in fact connected to the inquiry over the London bombings:

A Scotland Yard spokesman said last night that there would be an inquiry. "We are satisfied the victim of the Stockwell Tube shooting is not linked to our terrorist inquiry. For somebody to lose their life in such circumstances is a tragedy and one the Metropolitan police regrets.

"The man emerged from a block of flats in the Stockwell area that were under police surveillance as part of the investigation into the incidents on Thursday, July 21. He was followed by surveillance officers to the Underground station. His clothing and behaviour added to their suspicions. The circumstances that led to the man's death are being investigated."

Clearly things went badly wrong here for the police to shoot dead someone who was not carrying out a suicide attack, and one hopes that the investigation will clear up what exactly happened. It is too early to judge what happened here.

However, it seems to me that if the police had good reason to suspect that Mr Menezes was on his way to carrying out a suicide bombing, then they did not have much choice, when confronted with his refusal to obey police instructions to stop and his subsequent fleeing into a tube station including jumping a turnstile and running onto a tube train, but to do what they can to stop him. Had this really been a suicide bomber carrying out an attack, then it seems to me that shooting him dead was the right thing to do, to prevent many more lives being lost.

The sad fact is that since the emergence of suicide bombing in this country, the police face a very difficult situation when faced with someone they believe may be about to carry out such an attack. Failure to act could lead to dozens of people dying. Acting may require shooting the suspect dead. It follows that mistakes will be made.

Of course we should establish what happened to see if anything could have been done to prevent this tragedy, and if it becomes clear that the police had been incompetent then those responsible for the incompetence should face the music. But it is possible that, based on the information they had at the time of the incident, they had no choice but to do what they did. Such is the nature of the situation we face with the arrivial of suicide bombing in Britain.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Over 10,000 pledge to resist human livestock bill

The Register reports that the No2ID pledge set up by Phil Booth, the No2ID National Coordinator has reached its target of 10,000 signatures with several months to go before the October 9th deadline. The pledge states:

"I will refuse to register for an ID card and will donate £10 to a legal defence fund but only if 10000 other people will also make this same pledge."
It was set up back in June, and has thus reached its target in under 2 months.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

UK government pushes for data retention across the EU

Following the 7th July bombings in London, the British government is pushing for communications service providers to retain data for upto 3 years for access by the police and intelligence agencies:

Under the proposals, telecoms operators and Internet service providers would have to keep records of emails, telephone calls and text messages for between 12 months and three years. Law enforcement agencies would be able to see who had sent and received these communications, although the content of these communications would not be stored.

Home secretary Charles Clarke claims that the powers would help to establish links between individuals.
This move is despite the fact that the European Parliament recently rejected these proposals, though because the proposal was put forward under the "third pillar" it has no power to stop the proposals if the member states push ahead with them.

An extraordinary meeting of the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council called by Charles Clarke has given backing to these data retention powers. Yet, surely it would be trivial for any terrorists to circumvent such measures to try and spy on them. For example, each of the following methods would make data retention useless for monitoring who they communicate with:
  • Buying and regularly changing unregistered pay as you go mobile phones.
  • Using anonymous internet accounts and other anonymising services to hide your activities.
  • Communicating face to face.
  • Posting coded messages from newly created internet accounts to usenet groups, making it impossible to determine who the message was for, let alone who actually read it.
  • Communicating via dead drops.
  • Communicating via postal services.
So the end result is that all this data will be stored for the law abiding public and those who wish to circumvent it will do so easily.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Blog revamp

You might notice that my blog is looking a bit different! My old template had acquired a few bugs I couldn't eliminate for some reason so I ditched it and chose a new one (from Blogger's standard selection -- the old one was chosen from there too) which I've now tweaked. Constructive feedback is appreciated on the new choice.

Blogcritics UK -- become a book reviewer...

Tim Worstall is busy setting up a UK subsection of Blogcritics, a blog that is dedicated to letting bloggers submit book reviews. If you're interested in reviewing books then hop over there. The only commitment you need to make is that if you spot a book you want to review and they send you a copy, you will in fact write a review of it. Anyway more details at Tim's blog.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The MPs who voted for the ID cards bill.

Noting the project set out in this article at the Samizdata blog, below is a list of the MPs who voted for the Identity Cards Bill on the 2nd reading, which took place on Tuesday 28th June. If they represent you, you might want to tell them what you think of their support for this bill. If so hop over to and you can send write a message to be faxed to them.

Michael Taylor's project above of course focusses on the "behind the scenes" backers, however it seemed to me that making public which MPs voted for the bill would be a good starting point.

The list below is taken from the Parliament website, which records the divisions (votes to you and me) in the House of Commons. The Ayes were:

Nick Ainger
Mr. Bob Ainsworth
Mr. Douglas Alexander
Mr. Allen
Mr. David Anderson
Janet Anderson
Hilary Armstrong
Charlotte Atkins
Mr. Ian Austin
John Austin
Mr. Bailey
Vera Baird
Ed Balls
Gordon Banks
Ms Barlow
Mr. Barron
John Battle
Hugh Bayley
Margaret Beckett
Miss Begg
Sir Stuart Bell
Hilary Benn
Mr. Benton
Roger Berry
Mr. Betts
Liz Blackman
Dr. Blackman-Woods
Mr. Blair
Hazel Blears
Mr. Blizzard
Mr. Blunkett
Mr. Borrow
Mr. Bradshaw
Mr. Gordon Brown
Lyn Brown
Mr. Nicholas Brown
Mr. Russell Brown
Mr. Des Browne
Chris Bryant
Ms Buck
Richard Burden
Colin Burgon
Andy Burnham
Ms Butler
Mr. Byers
Mr. Byrne
Mr. Caborn
David Cairns
Mr. Alan Campbell
Mr. Ronnie Campbell
Mr. Caton
Colin Challen
Mr. Chaytor
Paul Clark
Mr. Charles Clarke
Mr. Tom Clarke
Mr. Clelland
Ann Clwyd
Mr. Coaker
Ann Coffey
Harry Cohen
Michael Connarty
Mr. Robin Cook
Rosie Cooper
Yvette Cooper
Jim Cousins
Mr. Crausby
Mary Creagh
Jon Cruddas
Mrs. Cryer
John Cummings
Mr. Jim Cunningham
Tony Cunningham
Mr. Darling
Mr. David
Mr. Davidson
Mrs. Dean
Mr. Denham
Mr. Dhanda
Mr. Dismore
Jim Dobbin
Mr. Donohoe
Mr. Doran
Jim Dowd
Mr. Drew
Angela Eagle
Maria Eagle
Clive Efford
Mrs. Ellman
Mrs. Engel
Jeff Ennis
Bill Etherington
Paul Farrelly
Mr. Frank Field
Jim Fitzpatrick
Mr. Flello
Caroline Flint
Barbara Follett
Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester)
Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)
Dr. Francis
Mike Gapes
Barry Gardiner
Linda Gilroy
Mr. Godsiff
Paul Goggins
Helen Goodman
Nia Griffith
Nigel Griffiths
Mr. Grogan
Andrew Gwynne
Mr. Mike Hall
Patrick Hall
Mr. David Hamilton
Mr. Fabian Hamilton
Mr. Hanson
Ms Harman
Mr. Tom Harris
Mr. Havard
John Healey
Mr. Henderson
Mr. Hendrick
Mr. Hepburn
Mr. Heppell
Lady Hermon
Stephen Hesford
Ms Hewitt
David Heyes
Keith Hill
Meg Hillier
Margaret Hodge
Mrs. Hodgson
Mr. Hood
Mr. Hoon
Phil Hope
Mr. George Howarth
Dr. Howells
Mr. Hoyle
Beverley Hughes
Mrs. Humble
Mr. Hutton
Dr. Iddon
Mr. Illsley
Huw Irranca-Davies
Mrs. James
Mr. Jenkins
Alan Johnson
Ms Diana R. Johnson
Helen Jones
Mr. Kevan Jones
Mr. Martyn Jones
Tessa Jowell
Mr. Joyce
Sir Gerald Kaufman
Ms Keeble
Ms Keeley
Alan Keen
Ann Keen
Ruth Kelly
Mr. Kemp
Jane Kennedy
Mr. Khabra
Mr. Khan
Mr. Kidney
Mr. Kilfoyle
Jim Knight
Dr. Kumar
Dr. Ladyman
Mr. Lammy
Mr. Laxton
Mark Lazarowicz
David Lepper
Tom Levitt
Mr. Ivan Lewis
Martin Linton
Tony Lloyd
Ian Lucas
Mr. MacDougall
Andrew Mackinlay
Mr. MacShane
Fiona Mactaggart
Mr. Mahmood
Mr. Malik
Judy Mallaber
John Mann
Rob Marris
Mr. Marsden
Mr. Marshall
Mr. Martlew
Mr. McAvoy
Steve McCabe
Chris McCafferty
Kerry McCarthy
Sarah McCarthy-Fry
Mr. McCartney
Siobhain McDonagh
Mr. McFadden
Mr. McFall
Mr. McGovern
Mrs. McGuire
Shona McIsaac
Ann McKechin
Rosemary McKenna
Mr. McNulty
Mr. Meale
Gillian Merron
Alun Michael
Mr. Milburn
Mr. David Miliband
Edward Miliband
Andrew Miller
Anne Moffat
Laura Moffatt
Chris Mole
Mrs. Moon
Margaret Moran
Jessica Morden
Julie Morgan
Mr. Morley
Kali Mountford
Mr. Mudie
Mr. Mullin
Meg Munn
Mr. Denis Murphy
Mr. Jim Murphy
Mr. Paul Murphy
Dr. Naysmith
Dan Norris
Mr. Mike O'Brien
Mr. O'Hara
Mr. Olner
Sandra Osborne
Dr. Palmer
Ian Pearson
Mr. Plaskitt
Mr. Pope
Stephen Pound
Bridget Prentice
Mr. Gordon Prentice
Dawn Primarolo
Gwyn Prosser
Mr. Purchase
James Purnell
Bill Rammell
Mr. Raynsford
Mr. Andy Reed
Mr. Jamie Reed
John Reid
John Robertson
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson
Mr. Rooney
Mr. Roy
Chris Ruane
Joan Ruddock
Christine Russell
Joan Ryan
Martin Salter
Mr. Sarwar
Alison Seabeck
Jonathan Shaw
Mr. Sheerman
Jim Sheridan
Mr. Simon
Mr. Singh
Mr. Slaughter
Mr. Andrew Smith
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Angela E. Smith (Basildon)
Jacqui Smith
Anne Snelgrove
Sir Peter Soulsby
Helen Southworth
Mr. Spellar
Dr. Starkey
Ian Stewart
Dr. Stoate
Dr. Strang
Mr. Straw
Graham Stringer
Ms Gisela Stuart
Mr. Sutcliffe
Mark Tami
Ms Dari Taylor
David Taylor
Mr. Thomas
Ms Thornberry
Mr. Timms
Paddy Tipping
Mr. Todd
Mr. Touhig
Jon Trickett
Dr. Desmond Turner
Mr. Neil Turner
Derek Twigg
Kitty Ussher
Keith Vaz
Joan Walley
Lynda Waltho
Claire Ward
Mr. Watson
Mr. Watts
Dr. Whitehead
Malcolm Wicks
Mr. Alan Williams
Mrs. Betty Williams
Mr. Wills
Ms Rosie Winterton
Mr. Woodward
Mr. Woolas
Mr. Anthony Wright
David Wright
Mr. Iain Wright
Dr. Tony Wright
Derek Wyatt

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Government bans spontaneous protests within 1 km of Parliament

As reported in the Evening Standard and on the BBC and in the "Mayor of London" weblog, spontaneous protests, even if they only involve a single person, are now banned in an area that extends up to 1 km from Parliament Square in London.

This ban has been imposed under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, a law which was passed just before the general election in the "wash up" period after it was called. Sections 132 to 138 set out both the nature of the ban and the requirements for organising protests and how the designated area is set out. Key features are:

  • it is an offence to organise, take part in or carry out a demonstration without authorisation in any public place within the designated area (section 132),
  • the offence of organising a demonstration in the designated area without authorisation is punishable by upto 51 weeks in prison and a fine (section 136),
  • the offence of taking part in or carrying out a demonstration in the designated area without authorisation is punishable by a fine (section 136),
  • to get authorisation for a demonstration in the designated area one must apply to the Metropolitan Police 6 days beforehand if reasonably practical or 24 hours beforehand otherwise, and must do so in person or in writing using registered post (section 133),
  • the police must authorise the demonstration but can impose any of the following conditions; restrictions on the length and times of the protest, restrictions on the numbers who can protest, restrictions on the number and size of the banners or placards used, restrictions on where the protest can take place; maximum permissable noise levels. (Section 134) The use of loud hailers is banned. (section 137)
  • violating the conditions of a demonstration is an offence punishable by upto 51 weeks imprisonment and or a fine in the case of the organisers or a fine for other protestors (Section 134),
  • it is an offence to incite someone to commit any of the offences described above (Section 134) punishable by upto 51 weeks in prison and/or a fine
The designated area can be any area the is upto 1 km from Parliament Square. Section 138 gives the Secretary of State the power to issue an order describing the designated area.

This statutory instrument was produced under this section and thus gives effect to this part of the Act and describes the designated area that will come into effect from the 1st August 2005.

Note that under the terms of the Act unauthorised protests are not allowed in any public place, that is any place the public have access to, within the designated area. Thus it covers the public areas of any pubs, hotels, conference centres or other buildings the public have access to.

Also the idea of a "demonstration" is not defined in the Act, leaving unanswered questions such as "Does wearing a T-shirt with a political slogan count as a demonstration?" and "Does organising a meeting of a political group inside a bar in the designated area count as an unauthorised demonstration?".

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The government's mass surveillance fetish

The British government seems to have a fetish for mass surveillance. Today it has announced plans to use satellite tracking of all motor vehicles as a means of road pricing:

Drivers could pay up to £1.34 a mile in "pay-as-you go" road charges under new government plans.

The transport secretary said the charges, aimed at cutting congestion, would replace road tax and petrol duty.

Alistair Darling said change was needed if the UK was to avoid the possibility of "LA-style gridlock" within 20 years.

Every vehicle would have a black box to allow a satellite system to track their journey, with prices starting from as little as 2p per mile in rural areas.

These plans have been in the offing for some time mind you. But it is in line with other proposals they've had that involve mass surveillance of everyone's activities:
Note that all this surveillance will be directed at the population as a whole, not merely those who the govt suspects of wrong doing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Queen's Speech

Today, the Queen set out the government's legislative programme for the next parliamentary session. The full speech is available online here. As expected, the human livestock bill Identity Cards Bill has been reintroduced, as has the proposal to make "incitement to religious hatred" a criminal offence.

Both of these have implications for civil liberties. The former will give the government another means by which to interfere in people's lives and keep tabs on what people are doing whilst the latter is likely to make criticism of religious beliefs a risky affair and thus restrict freedom of speech.

A list of the bills being introduced can be found here. It is likely that the Identity Cards Bill and the incitement to religious hatred bill will not be the only legislation attacking civil liberties if this government's record is anything to go by.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

On Blair's "rebalancing" of the justice system

From "Just Law", by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Chapter 1, page 26
(hardback edition, ISBN: 0-701-17506-0)

"In the criminal courts the victim is a witness, a crucial and central witness for the state. So, when the government talks about rebalancing the system, it is really about rebalancing in favour of the state.That is the fraud in the government's rhetoric, the sleight of hand."
Kennedy puts this point quite well, but I have a problem with the language.

It is the accuser who is the witness for the state.

Who the victim(s) is(are) depends on whether the defendant is innocent of the crime he's charged with and on whether the accuser has had a crime committed against them. These are questions for the court to decide.

It may well be that the defendant is the victim, e.g. of a false accusation.

It may even be that both the accuser and the defendant are victims, with the accuser misled as to who the perpetrator is and the defendant the unfortunate scapegoat or victim of mistaken identity.

Or it may be that the accuser is indeed a victim of a crime committed by the defendant.

But the language of the government's rhetoric, and much of the debate over these issues, implicitly assumes that the accuser is the victim.

Yet surely part of the purpose of the trial is to determine whether or not the accuser has in fact had a crime committed against them? And thus whether or not the accuser really is a victim?

And when Tony Blair says, e.g. "It is perhaps the biggest miscarriage of justice in today's system when the guilty walk away unpunished"(1), it is simply wrong.

Logically speaking you have 4 possible miscarriages of justice:
  1. The accused is punished for a crime someone else commited.
  2. The accused is punished for a crime he didn't commit and no one else committed.
  3. The accused is punished for something he did do, but which wasn't a crime.
  4. The accused walks free from a crime they committed.
It is arguable that cases 2 and 3 are as serious as 1 -- assuming like crimes -- because in each of these three cases, 1 party is punished or not incorrectly.

However (1) is clearly more serious than (4) because 2 parties are punished (or not) incorrectly -- the accused and the actual perpetrator(s). To make matters worse, the actual perpetrators also remain free to commit further crime.

Moreover since it is the state that brings a prosecution, there is an inequality of arms which safeguards like the presumption of innocence, the right to a jury trial and the right to silence seek to redress.

Weakening or jettisoning those safeguards thus makes it easier for the state to lock anyone they choose up and thus increases the risks to us all from the state.

This is where those who criticise civil libertarians for preferring the rights of criminals over victims get it so wrong with regards to those who try to uphold the accused's rights.

When the rights of the accused are weakened, this is an attack on the rights of all, because anyone could be accused of a crime and these rights are there to try and ensure that only a sound accusation will result in loss of liberty.

Defending the rights of the accused is not the same as defending the rights of criminals.

Convicting the accused is not the same as convicting the guilty.

Making it easier to convict the accused by lowering the burden of proof, or standards of evidence, will simply make the system less reliable, thus increasing both the incidence of innocent people being punished and the incidence of the guilty walking free.

It will also lead to less trust in the system (though I grant trust in the system has already been compromised in Britain).

The only sound way to ensure the guilty are convicted and the innocent are either not put on trial, or are acquitted if they are, is to ensure a sound and thorough investigation of crime, and to ensure that each case is thoroughly tested in court.

Principles such as presuming innocence, having to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt and allowing a trial of someone by a jury of their peers should not have been jettisoned as they are there precisely to ensure such thorough investigation and testing of cases.

Of course the criminal justice system was not perfect when these principles applied. There may well have been a need to provide better protection for witnesses for example, but this was not an excuse for abandoning sound principles that had been tried and tested for hundreds of years.


(1) Kennedy attributes this quote to Tony Blair for the 18th June 2002, but does not give a proper source. Indeed, one problem I have with the book is the poor citation of sources. A bit of googling got me this article however:

Near the bottom it says:

"And it's perhaps the biggest miscarriage of justice in today's system when the guilty walk away unpunished."

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005: Summary

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, i.e. the control orders legislation, is available online here.
This is the version of the legislation that has become law. This article summarises the key features of the Act.

Sections 1 to 4 set out the powers to create control orders. The main points are:

  • Control orders have two forms: derogating control orders are those incompatible with the right to liberty set out in article 5 of the ECHR and thus require a derogation from that article, non-derogating control orders are those which do not derogate from article 5.
  • Control orders can be imposed on a person by a court on application by the Home Secretary, except for non-derogating control orders where the Home Secretary can impose an order without first going through the courts if, in his opion, it is urgent.
  • Control orders can impose any obligation that the Home Secretary (or court where appropriate) believes is necessary for "purposes connected with" preventing or restricting the involvement of the person in "terrorism-related activity".
  • Possible obligations include prohibitions or restrictions on a person's possession of specified articles and substances; their use of specified facilities; who they can communicate or associate with; their work, occupation, business or other specified activities; their movements and their place of residence.
  • Other possible obligations include requirements on the person to surrender specified possessions for the duration of the order; to allow access to and searches of their place of residence or any other premisses they have access to; to allow items to be removed from their residence/premisses for testing and to remain in a particular place for specified times or periods or generally.
  • Terrorism-related activity is defined as activity one or more of the following: the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism; conduct which facilitates the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism; conduct which encourages the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism; or conduct which gives support or assistance to individuals known or believed to be involved in terrorism-related activity.
  • Terrorism is defined as it is under Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
  • The Home Secretary can impose a non-derogating control order on a person if he has "reasonable grounds for suspecting" someone is or has been involved in terrorism related activity, and if he considers it necessary to do so for to protect members of the public from "a risk of terrorism".
  • Non-derogating control orders last for 12 months but can be renewed by the Home Secretary.
  • Courts must give permission for the Home Secretary's application for a non-derogating control order unless they find that the decision to make such a control order is "obviously flawed". They can also quash specific obligations if they believe the decision to impose them is "obviously flawed".
  • For a derogating control order to be imposed, there must be a public emergency resulting in derogation from article 5 of the ECHR in force.
  • A court can impose a derogating control order if it is satisfied, on balance of probabilities, that the person concerned is involved in terrorism-related activity and if it considers the control order necessary for purposes connected to protecting the public from a risk of terrorism. Note that my earlier article on control orders was thus mistaken about the burden of proof for derogating control orders -- house arrest would use the balance of probabilities, but non-derogating orders would not.
  • Derogating control orders expire after 6 months unless renewed.
Section 5 enables a person to be arrested and detained by the police as soon as the Home Secretary makes an application for a derogating control order. This detention can last for upto 48 hours, or with court approval, a further 48 hours.

Section 6 stipulates that derogating control orders can only have effect if a derogation from article 5 of the ECHR is in force. Such a derogation is made by the Home Secretary making an order and putting it before both Houses of Parliament. The order to derogate ceases to have effect 40 days after it has been made, unless both Houses approve of the order. If approved an order lasts for 12 months, but can be renewed by Parliament.

Section 7 sets out various matters on modifying and proving control orders including giving the police the power to enter any premisses, by force if necessary, to search for someone who is to be subjected to a control order, where they suspect the person to be on those premisses.

Section 9 creates various offences. It is an offence to contravene an obligation imposed by a control order, punishable by upto 5 yrs in prison. Obstructing officials who try to enter premisses to search for someone subject to a control order is an offence carrying upto 1 yr (6 months in Scotland) in prison.

Section 13 stipulates that Sections 1 to 9 expire after 12 months, but allows them to be renewed for a year at a time by Parliament.

Section 14 requires the Home Secretary to make 3 monthly reports on the use of control orders, to appoint someone to review the legislation, for that person to review the legislation after 9 months and then every 12 months thereafter (if the legislation is renewed).

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Cybermen should be shaking in their boots...

...the Doctor's back, and it's about time! I just watched the first episode tonight. It was jolly good fun, with some superb lines and comedy. I could really get to like Christopher Eccleston's Doctor!

Rose ain't too bad either, and not just because she's aesthetically pleasing to the eye... Billie Piper can act.

Some bits were a touch cheesy, but then that was true back when Tom Baker, or for that matter William Hartnell, were playing the role.

Anyway role on episode 2...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

UK Govt can put control orders on those who are, on balance of probability, innocent...

Update (April 9th, 12:12 am BST):

I was mistaken about this matter. House arrest will actually require the balance of probabilities, but non-derogating control orders can be imposed on the "reasonable suspicion" test. Thus I have changed the title from "UK Govt to house arrest those who are, on balance of probabilities, innocent..." to the new title above.

Anyway sorry for the error. With all the fuss it was hard to keep up with the changes and it's only with my reading the actual Act of Parliament that I realised the mistake.
The extraodinary battles in the Houses of Parliament over the Abandonment of the Rule of LawPrevention of Terrorism Bill have done little to protect civil liberties. The main changes the Lords insisted on include:
  • judges issuing all control orders
  • the Director of Public Prosecutions declaring there's no possibility of prosecuting
  • a sunset clause so that the legislation expires at end of November
  • use of evidence gained from torture abroad prohibited
  • the standard of proof being "balance of probabilities" instead of "reasonable suspicion"
Given that it will still be the case that suspects will not know the evidence or the charges against them, they won't be able to defend themselves and these changes are fairly minor (despite the fuss the government is making).

The most significant change is raising the standard of proof. Although this barely touches the problems with this bill, it gives judges greater room to decide that a control order is not justified.

With the "reasonable suspicion" standard, it is hard to see how one could seriously dispute the reasonable suspicion except by claiming it is unreasonable which begs the question of whether, in law, the Home Secretary, acting on advice and secret evidence from the security agencies, can ever seriously be regarded as acting on unreasonable suspicion.

ISTM thus that this standard of "proof" is a joke, and will ensure that the Home Secretary can still apply control orders to anyone he/the security agencies choose, with the judge acting as a mere rubber stamp.

With balance of probabilities, if a suspect has a sympathetic and independent minded judge, there is room for the judge to say he's not convinced it is more likely than not that the suspect is involved in terrorism.

Of course it is still a very subjective and arbitrary standard (unless they actually compute the probabilities, but how would one do that?) but it does give room for maneouvre.

Anyway, the government is tonight opposing this change. This has the logical implication that they want control orders imposed on people who would be judged more likely to be innocent than not...

And the govt claims it is doing this for our own good.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Control Orders: Just exactly what can they impose?

The media coverage/discussion of the proposed control orders has focussed on several possible things that can be imposed with them: house arrest, tagging, curfews, internet/phone bans and restrictions on who you can communicate with. However upon reading the legislation itself it appears that potentially any obligation could be imposed. Section 1(2) of the bill states:

A control order may impose any obligation on the individual against whom it is made that the Secretary of State considers necessary for purposes connected with preventing or restricting further involvement by that individual in terrorism-related activity (whether or not activity by reference to which the Secretary of State was satisfied for the purposes of subsection (1)(a)).
Section 1(3) of the bill lists numerous examples of such obligations, but does not restrict the control orders to the imposition of such obligations. The possible obligations listed are (to summarise section 1(3)):
  • prohibitions/restrictions on the possession of articles or substances,
  • prohibitions/restrictions on the use of specified services or facilities or on specified activities,
  • restrictions on a person's work, occupation or on their business,
  • restrictions on who one associates/communicates with,
  • restrictions on one's place of residence or who is allowed to access one's residence,
  • prohibitions on being in specified places/areas at specified times or on specified days,
  • prohibitions/restrictions on one's movements to, from or within the UK or specified places/areas in the UK,
  • requirements to comply with other prohibitions/restrictions on movement for a period not exceeding 24hrs, by directions given to him in a specified manner by a specified person for the purpose of securing compiance with other obligations imposed by the order,
  • requirements to surrender one's passport or anything other possessions to which a prohibition/restriction relates to a specified person for the period of the control order,
  • requirements to grant access to one's place of residence or other premises one has access to,
  • requirements to allow searches of one's place of residence or other premises one has access to,
  • requirements to allow items found in one's place of residence to be removed and retained by specifed persons for the period of the control order,
  • requirements to cooperate with arrangements for enabling one's movements, communications and other activities to be monitored,
  • requirements to provide information to a specified person in accordance with a specified demand,
  • requirements to report to a specified person at specified times and places.
Thus it seems to me that a control order, in addition to possible house arrest or internet/phone bans, could require you to leave (or stay) in the country, move to another part of the country, allow your house and workplace to be searched, allow items to be seized from your house or workplace, and much else.

A further possibility arises: because "any obligation" can be imposed if the Secretary of State deems it necessary, perhaps one might even be required to keep the imposition of the control order on you secret from anyone you're allowed to contact, the excuse being it might alert other "suspected terrorists" that you've been surveiled.

Note that even if I'm wrong about an obligation to keep the control order secret, the restriction on association/communication could be used to ensure you cannot communicate with anyone except the authorities anyway!

The powers being given to the Home Secretary, even where falling short of house arrest, are thus extremely wide ranging and could make it impossible for people to defend themselves against the control orders.

Quite simply, this measure is worthy of a tyrannical dictatorship, and would put us in the same league as apartheid era South Africa or Communist East Germany.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Big brother proposals from EU and US

The Sunday Times reports that the EU and US authorities are planning to fit satellite trackers to all cars to monitor speed, location/routes taken and the wearing of seatbelts:

BLACK box recorders could be installed in all new cars under a European Union ruling.

The aircraft-style equipment would also act as a tracker, using global positioning satellites to record the location and route of a vehicle and to tell how fast a driver is going and whether seatbelts are being worn.

Data recovered from the boxes could give investigators important clues on how accidents are caused.

However, British motoring groups fear the technology could be used by government to introduce a national congestion charge or to keep tabs on people’s movements.

The European commission has asked the police forces of member states to look at whether the technology could improve road safety. Every year about 50,000 people are killed on European roads and another 3.5m are injured.

If, as expected, the police give their backing, manufacturers would be required to install black boxes in all new cars by 2009.

The National Transportation Safety Board in America also wants to make them mandatory by the same date. Already 15% of vehicles in the US are fitted with the palm-sized devices. Most new cars there have them fitted as standard. (Emphasis added)

Oddly enough, a couple of years back, the UK government was proposing similar stuff as a means of performing nation-wide congestion charging/road tolling.

The day when you're activities are continuously tracked 24/7 is not long off.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Telegraph columnist: "House Arrest scarred me for life, Mr Clarke"

Eric Abraham, writing in the Telegraph, describes his house arrest in apartheid era South Africa:

``One crucial difference, however, remains. Within one week Charles Clarke must refer such an order to a court which has the power to quash it. How long such a judicial review will take seems unclear. But what of the psychological damage done to the individual who may well be innocent of any terrorist act, or even the intention to act, during the period prior to the outcome of a judicial review? The effect of the sudden brutal assault on my civil liberty almost 30 years ago remains with me to this day. The Cape Times editorial went on, "Mr Abraham is being sentenced to a living death and, unless he is an individual of extraordinary inner resources, is being subjected to a species of mental torture which could cause grave psychological damage".

Since the imposition of house arrest, as opposed to banning (similar to the "lighter" version of Mr Clarke's "control order"), was relatively rare in apartheid South Africa – certainly for whites – the white public presumption was one of my guilt of a crime of heinous proportions. South Africa was a fear-ridden society convinced that it was under terminal threat from "die swaart en rooi gevaar", the black and red (Communist) danger. Fears stoked daily by the apartheid government. It is hard not to draw parallels with the Islamic fundamentalist terror threats which we are bombarded with daily – threats which Mr Clarke and Mr Blair use to justify the proposed Bill.

Not unlike an Islamic fundamentalist I was therefore Public Enemy No 1, held up to public gaze in a small ground-floor apartment. Not a good place to be at 22. The death threats started almost immediately. My telephone was left connected and tapped and they usually called at night. I would hear how I had betrayed my country and white skin and how they, Right-wing extremists, were going to kill me the next day. Because my case was taken up by Amnesty International and even prompted a motion in the Commons, I had armed police outside my house ostensibly to protect me from the extremist threats. Given the sympathies of the police I did not feel safe and slept in the bath on a number of occasions. My car brake cable was cut, a hearse arrived to collect my body, wreaths were delivered, known violent Right-wingers belonging to a group called Scorpio walked up and down the street outside.

I was scared for my life. No law should enable a government minister to impose restrictions that would subject anyone to this kind of experience for any period of time. Isolation and fear. These are the abiding emotions, the residue of which still lurk deep in my sub-conscious. How odd. I write this with the window wide open and the cold wind gusting around me and yet I find that I am sweating.

But, unlike Rick Turner, the first husband of the Labour backbencher Barbara Follet, who was murdered under house arrest in South Africa in 1978, I was lucky. In 1977 I escaped after a few weeks into 15 years of exile. I left a repressive police state for a liberal democracy where the rule of law was sacrosanct, where house arrest and torture were as inconceivable as slavery. It was a country which generously gave me a safe haven and political asylum – another great tradition. It was Britain.''

I fear that the Britain Mr Abraham writes of is dying.

And although the judge may review the detention within 7 days, because the detainee and his lawyer may be barred from seeing the evidence used to justify the detention, a proper defence cannot be mounted.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Scottish Parliament votes against Labour's ID cards plans

Today, on the basis of a motion put forward by the Scottish Green Party, Members of the Scottish Parliament voted, by a margin of 52 to 47, with 15 abstentions, against the govt's planned identity cards:

The Scottish Parliament has voted against UK Government plans to introduce identity cards.

The measures were branded "regressive" and a threat to personal freedom during a debate called by the Scottish Greens at Holyrood.

Labour insisted that the system would actually strengthen civil liberties.

MSPs rejected ID cards by 52 votes to 47 after the Green motion received cross-party support, although the matter is reserved to Westminster.

It should be noted that whilst the Parliament cannot oppose the measures outright, they can prevent the cards being required to use public services in Scotland and thus can minimise its impact.

None of the Scottish parties other than Labour could support this measure, not even the Tories who say they're in favour in principle.

The Lib Dems abstained, claiming that the motion did not go far enough in opposing ID cards outright, as opposed to the govt's specific plans. Whilst this was true, it seemed to me that defeat of the motion would have been a blow to the campaign against the cards and that a stronger motion would have seen the Tories oppose, thus making it likely the motion would be defeated.

Nevertheless, this is a welcome development for those opposed to the ID cards and the database associated with them. Thanks should go to the Scottish Green Party who gave up one of its few slots in the Parliament for this debate and the accompanying motion.

Now for the House of Lords...

Barbara Follet MP on house arrest

A report from the Scotsman quotes the novelist Ken Follet's wife:

Mrs Follett (Stevenage), now married to novelist Ken Follett, said the system of control orders proposed by Home Secretary Charles Clarke bore “an extraordinary resemblance” to those used under apartheid.

She told the Commons during second reading debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill that Richard Turner was placed under house arrest in 1973 because he campaigned to give black people the right to vote and join trade unions.

He lived under the order for five years, unable to work or leave home, until he was assassinated in front of their two daughters Jann, 13, and Kim, aged nine.

“House arrest hampered but didn’t stop him,” she said.

“That is probably why, just before his five year order was due to expire, he was shot dead in front of our two young daughters in their bedroom.

“In the days that followed I tried to comfort them by telling them we were going to go to Britain where people were not detained without trial or put under house arrest.
She said she would not support the Bill and called on Mr Clarke to change the orders so they can only be implemented by a judge, to consider using intercept evidence in court and to write a sunset clause into the Bill.

“The end does not justify these means,” she said.

“The example we set will stay with us for many years.

“These principles are the very basis of our democracy and the Labour Party – destroy them and you destroy us.”''
We have:
[This list is not comprehensive.]

Should we be surprised when they put forward measures like house arrest without trial, on the say so of the Home Secretary, with evidence kept secret from the detainee and his legal representatives and try to rush them through the House of Commons in the space of 1 week with only 2 or 3 days of debate?

If they get away with this, what will they try next?

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Opposition growing to house arrest proposals

It seems that opposition to Charles Clarke's proposals to impose house arrests on suspected terrorists without trial is growing. Firstly, there was George Churchill-Coleman's comments to the Guardian claiming that the proposals were impractical and he feared that Britain was "sinking into a police state".

Then, both the Tories and Liberal Democrats are reported to be opposed to the measures:

``Controversial government plans to keep terror suspects under house arrest rather than in jail could falter in parliament and fail to become law.

The Conservatives declared on Wednesday they would oppose the new scheme, hastily drawn up after the highest court ruled that imprisoning foreign suspects without trial broke human rights law.

With the Liberal Democrats also against, and many in the Labour party uneasy, the legislative battle could be bloody.''
However Michael Howard, the Tory leader has agreed to meet with Blair to discuss the proposals:

``Mr Howard argued that it was wrong in principle for anyone to be deprived of their liberty "on the say-so of a politician'' and argued that those accused of terrorist offences should be brought to trial and detained in prison in the meantime.

Mr Howard went on to ask Mr Blair to meet him "to see if we can agree on a way forward which will command a wide degree of public confidence on these vitally important issues''.

Acknowledging the civil liberties implications of the Government's plans, Mr Blair said he would be "perfectly happy'' to meet Mr Howard to see whether it was possible to find a common way forward on dealing with terror suspects who cannot be brought to trial.''

I suspect a stitch up job here, which will result in measures only slightly less fascist than these proposals being agreed to.

But then yet more opposition has appeared, with the head of the Metropolitican Police, Sir Ian Blair coming out in favour of using intercept evidence in court as an alternative:

Perhaps more importantly Sir Ian also disagrees with the Government about the best way of dealing with suspected terrorists. Although Charles Clarke is proposing to detain suspects in their own homes without trial, the Commissioner believes that it would be better to allow intercept evidence to be used in court so that they can be tried.

"I have long been in favour of intercept evidence being used in court," he says. "In policing terms, it would make my job much easier. The simple reason why it would be better is that if we've got this, we can put it in front of a court and the court can weigh it up. At the moment, nobody can test it."

His concern with the proposals for house arrest is that Muslims will feel alienated from the police if they see officers searching everybody who goes into a suspected terrorist's house.

"The community will say to us, 'What are you doing with these people, why have you got these people under all of this, why don't you just tell us what it is you've got?' That's my position but, of course, there's a legitimate argument on the other side."

He is using diplomatic language, and I'm not sure there really is a legitimate argument on other side (save in the most extreme circumstances, but we're not facing those), but it is clear he's at odds with the government on this. It is worth noting that the civil liberties group "Liberty" has also come out in favour of accepting intercept evidence in court:
Backing Sir Ian's stance, Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: "Judges rather than politicians should decide when to authorise phone tapping.

"However, if it is legitimate to eavesdrop on someone's private phone calls, it is nonsensical not to use relevant material in a criminal trial."

It really is strange that Britain and Ireland alone in Europe do not allow intercept evidence in court. The US does it, France does it, Israel does it, Canada does it. Their security agencies seem to be able to cope why not ours?

And isn't worth trying measures that will help bring people to trial rather than dispensing with a trial altogether, at a serious risk to individual liberty?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Recent commentary on the House Arrest proposals

The Adam Smith Institute Blog says:

Sure, a liberal order must protect itself from those who would destroy liberalism itself. And maybe, at times, you have to act illiberally to do that. But you should still act according to the rule of law. If there is evidence, it should be produced in court. If the evidence is too sensitive to be made public, then it should be heard in private before qualified judges. At the moment we are jailing people, and soon we will be imprisoning them in their homes, on the say-so of a politician. That is scary.
I quite agree.

Tim Worstall, whose blog I recently added to my side bar, writes in an article entitled "Stalinism Returns":
The cornerstone of whatever freedoms we have managed to accumulate over the past millenium or so is the right to a trial by jury, with the associated presumption of innocence and Habeus Corpus. Everything else, and I do mean everything, that we enjoy, prosperity, freedoms of speech, association, property, are all reliant on this one base, and now they want to take that away from us.
This is an important point. The right to defend oneself against an accusation does form the basis upon which individual freedom lies. Without it, your freedom can be snuffed out at the whim of a politician.

Over at the Samizdata blog, they had this to say:
The Daily Telegraph appears to blame the Human Rights Act, noting that this decision is ostensibly being taken because the Law Lords said that it was illegal to empower the Home Secretary only to detain foreigners arbitrarily. This view is advanced notwithstanding Lord Hoffman's ditcta that applying such a equally rule to British citizens is no more defensible. But it is an absurd idea that such unlimited arbitrary power of arrest and detention is something the government reluctantly finds has been thrust upon it.
I agree that the claim the Human Rights Act is to blame is flawed -- the new measures are just as much a breach of human rights as the old -- and that the image of a government reluctantly forced to consider these measures is absurd. The government has been attacking civil liberties, in all sorts of legislation -- not just anti-terrorism legislation -- for years, and started this well before 9/11. They haven't tried obvious measures that might allow more prosecutions of suspected terrorists such as using intercept evidence in court (as almost every other developed country, including Israel with its long experience of terrorism does). It seems to me that, far too often, an attack on civil liberties is this government's first resort when faced with a problem. This is a government addicted to executive power.

The excellent blog comments:

The plan seems to be to allow a "whole range" of measures under a regime of Control Orders which could include house arrest, electronic tagging, denial of telephony or internet access, denial of association with some as yet unspecified people etc., all without actully having to present any evidence to a court. The whole point of having to go through a legal court procedure is precisely so that politicians and faceless petty officials cannot impose ever changing Kafakaesque rules and regulations which cannot be challenged by the defendant.

The 60th Anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp brings to mind the quotation from Pastor Martin Niemoller, who was locked up in the Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps:

"First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me."

How can this Labour Government introduce such a fundamental attack on the the principle of Habeas Corpus ? The end does not justify the means.

Finally some further comments of my own. There has been a steady, systematic attack on civil liberties going on in Britain now for many years, which started well before 9/11 and which has involved attacks across many areas of policy, not just crime or anti-terrorist policy. These proposals are the latest and most extreme yet.

It seems to me that each time a proposal to weaken civil liberties makes it into law without the government facing punishment from the electorate and without there being any other effective opposition or backlash, it provides encouragement for further attacks. Each new attack that passes by without an outcry/backlash from the population proves that the government can probably go yet further still and get away with it.

There is also another aspect of this that worries me. Each time civil liberties are successfully weakened and each time the executive acquires an arbitrary/draconian power over individuals, those who might abuse such powers are encouraged to press for more and given more opportunities to take power themselves.

It does not matter that the intent of the politicians may be benign, the above points will hold. This process is making Britain vulnerable to tyranny.

And here is my final point: If the government gets away with enacting these proposals without a serious backlash, it will demonstrate that even more draconian measures could be enacted before a backlash occurs.

Given how draconian these proposals are, that scares the hell out of me.

And remember there's already an enabling act ticking away on Britain's statute books!

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Amazing example of people power in Iraq

Some good news for a change.

Despite the awful security situation in Iraq, despite the gloomy prognostications of many commentators in the West, despite the war on democracy declared by al Zarqawi, the turnout in the Iraqi elections was a healthy 72%:

Polls have closed after a day which saw Iraqis defy the bombers and turn out in their millions to cast their ballot in an historic election.

About 25 people died in a series of bomb attacks staged by Sunni militants trying to scare voters away.

Despite the suicide bomb attacks, voter turnout was 72 per cent, the Election Commission said.

Highest turnout was in the Kurdish and Shia areas, where up to 90 per cent of the population cast their ballots.
However the BBC is quoting a lower but still respectable turnout of 60%. Either figure is quite remarkable in the circumstances. For comparison, the turnout in the last 3 British general elections was 77.7% in 1992, 71.3% in 1997 and 59.4% in 2001.

It thus appears that the Iraqi people have turned out in droves to vote, risking life and limb to do so
. Sadly 25 of them were killed by the insurgents, but overall what else is this but a great success for the project to bring democracy to Iraq?

Those who've been claiming that democracy cannot be brought to the middle east (and, however unwittingly, providing succour for the likes of Zarqawi), should ponder this result very carefully.

Those who're in charge of reconstructing the country and who have promised democracy now have a lot to live up to. The Iraqi people clearly want democracy. Now it must be delivered, we cannot let the Iraqi people down, we cannot let the jihadists and ex-baathists win.

Blair and Bush may yet have serious cause to be proud of their Iraq policy, costly, bloody and marred by mistakes as the process has been.

Indeed, who back in 2000, or even after the 11 Sept 2001, would have thought that the legacy of George W Bush and Tony Blair would include a democratised Afghanistan and a democratised Iraq? Yet now we're well on the way to achieving both.

Now a message to Blair, stop undermining democracy and liberty at home!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Former anti-terrorist officer says Britain is sinking into a police state.

The Guardian reports that George Churchill-Coleman, who headed Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad in the 1980s and 1990s, and who had to tackle the threat posed by the IRA has this to say on the govt's house arrest proposals:

George Churchill-Coleman, who headed Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad as they worked to counter the IRA during their mainland attacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Mr Clarke's proposals to extend powers, such as indefinite house arrest, were "not practical" and threatened to further marginalise minority communities.

Mr Churchill-Coleman told the Guardian: "I have a horrible feeling that we are sinking into a police state, and that's not good for anybody. We live in a democracy and we should police on those standards.

He added: "I have serious worries and concerns about these ideas on both ethical and practical terms. You cannot lock people up just because someone says they are terrorists. Internment didn't work in Northern Ireland, it won't work now. You need evidence."

I quite agree. And whom am I to argue with an ex anti-terrorist officer? Incidently, I think I can locate the cause of Mr Churchill-Coleman's horrible feeling: We are sinking into a police state.

On a completely different topic, the blogger behind the auroran sunset has said he's unable to select text on my blog, using the Firefox and Safari browsers. I am able to do so with Firefox, whether I'm logged into the account or not. I've also checked the template and settings and can't find any obvious reason why this should be the case. I've regenerated the whole blog and enabled the facility to email articles to friends to see if this helps. Anyway please let me know if you're having any difficulties.

A note to the auroran sunset if you're reading this.

I've emailed you via the email address you use on usenet. I hope that gets through. I couldn't find any other address on your website and I didn't want to create a new blog on just to send you a comment via the diary (your disabling of anonymous comments limits comments to livejournal users).

Friday, January 28, 2005

Implications of the proposed Control Orders

The govt's proposed control orders have some very worrying implications. Not only will these orders...
  • be imposed on the basis of secret evidence that may be withheld from the suspect themselves,
  • be applicable to British citizens and foreign nationals alike,
  • be imposed by the Home Secretary rather than by the courts, and
  • involve sanctions including indefinite house arrest,
...but they may be imposed on people who are not even accused of any wrongdoing:

Family and friends of terrorist suspects held under house arrest could be subject to tough sanctions even though they have not been accused of a crime, it was disclosed yesterday.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said people living with those subject to executive control orders could be banned from using the telephone or internet and searched every time they came home.

Thus if you live with someone the Home Secretary claims is involved in terrorism (but he also claims cannot be prosecuted and the evidence cannot be divulged) you could find yourself being frisked (strip searched?) every time you enter or leave your home, banned from using the internet and phone or even banned from communicating with certain people.

But the potential implications do not stop there. What constitutes sufficient "suspicion" in the mind of the Home Secretary will be key here. He will be advised by the security services. Their intelligence is not fallible, will likely be kept secret and therefore untested in court, and may have been cherry picked by over zealous officials.

If a person is suspected due to having regular contact with a (suspected) terrorist group, does that mean everyone who has regular contact with that person is also suspected? Will they then get subjected to banning orders? And their families? And their friends? How far down the chain will a particular Home Secretary or his advisers go?

What if (some people within) the security services "cherry pick" evidence to get a person they simply don't like silenced this way?

What if the security services are fed disinformation by others to get a person they don't like silenced this way?

Such questions highlight why the evidence should be tested in court.

Then there are further aspects of house arrest (which don't apply to detention in a prison). For example, Alice Thomson writing in the Telegraph points out:

Mr Clarke makes house arrest sound a nice, cosy alternative to locking up a suspected terrorist without trial in prison. All it means is that the suspect's wife won't be able to natter on the phone.

But it's not like that. His Cabinet colleague Peter Hain could tell him. House arrest was used extensively in South Africa when he was fighting apartheid. It meant the incarceration of entire families, who then became the focal point of discontent among communities.

The anti-apartheid activist Hilda Bernstein paints an appalling picture of her family's house arrest in her book The World That Was Ours. She makes it clear that prison would have been better than the suffering her children had to undergo.

Or take Zhao Ziyang, the Chinese Communist Party Secretary, who died this month in China after being under house arrest since the 1989 democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. "He is free at last," said his daughter, who called his incarceration a death sentence.

Saddam Hussein used house arrest to great effect, as does North Korea. And then, of course, there is Burma, where the Nobel prize winner and pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been locked up by the junta for nine of the past 15 years, turning her into a martyr in the process.

House arrest takes away all dignity. It can destroy the lives of individuals who have not been proved to have committed any offence, and can allow grievances to fester. As the Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews said this week, what is the difference between Belmarsh and a bungalow? (Emphasis added)

Suppose you and/or your children live with someone subjected to house arrest, and you all have to be frisked, are barred from using the phone, etc. It is quite possible that your kids will get taunted or bullied at school, that some in your community may regard you with suspicion (no smoke without fire) and persecute you and your kids too. How serious this gets depends on how suspicious/fearful or ignorant those in your community are.

This legislation, by giving the executive the power to lock up anyone it chooses on trumped up charges, has the potential to make the government a more serious threat to the lives of British citizens than the terrorists it's ostensibly aimed at.

I do not say this lightly.

It is precisely when the state acquires such arbitrary power over its citizens that the state becomes dangerous. History has illustrated this time and time again, in Russia, Germany, Eastern Europe, Iraq, Iran, China, North Korea, and indeed the world over (yes I include this country).

We recently commemorated the closing down of the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz at the end of WWII, but it appears we have still to learn the lessons of that dark episode in history.

It might not be this government that abuses this power, but can we trust the next one? Or the one after that?

Those who think our government would never do such things, should ponder how a cultured, developed European country in the 19th century, evolved into the barbaric state of Nazi Germany in the middle decades of the 20th century and should ponder the fact that Hitler was elected to power in (what was at the time) a democracy.