Friday, 29 May 2009

The Decline and Fall of Britain

“There is something terribly wrong with this country; Cruelty, injustice, intolerance and oppression.” … ” How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the” government.

One might think it odd that this article is introduced with a quote from a mainstream comic book turned motion picture. Perhaps it might have been more appropriate to inaugurate it with a grandiose statement from a professional political correspondent unlike yours truly. There is a certain reason why this simplistic approach was denounced: The three pillars of power were formerly ascribed to the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the mainstream media. The latter were the ones who were supposed to scrutinise every move that our politicians made on our behalf. Yet as V, from V for Vendetta, so compendiously proclaims you only need to look into a mirror to find the guilty of the surveillance state we now live in. While the media have miserably failed in their dissection of all matters politics you have spectacularly failed in fulfilling your duty as a professional citizen and by that virtue expressing your opinion whenever you feel that than an err has been committed on your behalf. Apathy cannot, must not, reign supreme in a country where the interaction of the people is so fundamental for the continued path of democracy. Evidently that interaction was left lingering in the 20th century.

Possibly the greatest symbol and tool of surveillance is the omnipotent and omnipresent CCTV. True surveillance started in 1913 with the photography of imprisoned suffragettes. However it was not until 1994 that ‘surveillance’ and the sense in which we now know the word took its true form, with the publishing of CCTV: Looking out for you by the Home Office under Conservative Prime Minister John Major – Mr. Major was a bit concerned of its publication, but not terribly so “I have no doubt we will hear some protest about a threat to civil liberties. Well, I have no sympathy whatsoever for so-called liberties of that kind.” It is duly understood that Mr. Major was a politician who held the sacrosanct view ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ thus apparently giving him and the Conservatives the carte blanche to blitzkrieg the private lives of ordinary citizens. One man’s secret is another man’s revelation and as much one would like to believe that our fellow citizens are true altruists there is still the infinitesimal possibility that CCTV be abused by the higher powers. Yet some might say that it is in fact an aid for London’s finest and its friends. There is one CCTV camera for every fourteenth person and it does certainly act as a deterrent in some places but while CCTV is a valuable tool for investigating crime, footage rarely secures a conviction on its own e.g. only 8% of incidents caught on camera in Midlothian led to arrest. Over the past four years Scotland alone has spent £42 million on CCTV cameras. For the same money 350 full-time police officers could have been hired. Which begs the question is this effective enough to justify the trade off of a less free society, certainly Britain is the only country which appears to believe so having the highest density of CCTV cameras in the world (do remember that countries like China, North Korea and Burma exist).

As technology has become the new autocracy shotgun of the state, the revelation that the United Kingdom National DNA Database (NDNAD) is the largest in the world (Stalin would have been proud) should come as no surprise. The NDNAD traces its roots back to 1994 when the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (CJPOA) was passed in Parliament (introduced by the then Home Secretary Michael Howard with the PM being, you guessed it, John Major). The police could now take samples without assistance from a doctor, gather mouth scrapes and hair roots all this by force if necessary. Furthermore the CJPOA gave the police new powers to search the database for matches between DNA profiles. If a person was subsequently found guilty, their information could be stored on the database and their sample kept indefinitely. However if the suspect was not charged or was acquitted the DNA samples had to be destroyed. The Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 amended the CJPOA which enabled the NDNAD to retain samples indefinitely taken from volunteers participating in mass screenings, on the stipulation that they had given their consent. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 allowed DNA profiles, fingerprints and “other” information to be taken without consent from anyone arrested on suspicion of any recordable offence. The new legislation also allows the police to keep this information indefinitely, even if the person arrested is never charged i.e. a significant change to the initial CJPOA. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 extended the uses of the NDNAD to include the identification of dead people or their limbs. Finally, as if the previous three amendments were not enough, The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (CTA) extended police powers to allow DNA and fingerprints to be taken from people subject to control orders. Samples are to be gathered during any authorised surveillance by the intelligence services and of course retained indefinitely. As with most acts which are to be as ambiguous as legally possible the CTA added that the samples were to be used only “in the interest of national security.” The latter amendments were all done in the name of the War on Terror, though who exactly the terrorists are remains open for interpretation. They certainly are not conforming to the stereotypical view; Turban + Kalashnikov + Beard = Terrorist. Naturally though, it has all gone sensationally wrong. In 2008 the Home Office revealed that 2,324,879 recorded criminals, or 40%, in England and Wales did not have their DNA sample stored on the NDNAD. In concert, the Home Office reported that 857,366 innocent individuals’ profiles were currently held on the NDNAD. Labour & Conservatives vs. Lady Liberty: 1 – 0.

Whilst dwelling on the cunning of the state consider further the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, 2000 – known in Whitehall as the RIPA. The government grants itself the right, through RIPA, to access a person's electronic communications in a highly unrestricted manner, thus infringing in the privacy of their correspondence in a way intolerable regarding their postal communications, naturally all is done under the dubious aegis of natural security. In 2003 several addendums were added to the bill, the intelligence service can now also collect data from job centres and local councils. Initially nine organisations could invoke the RIPA but as always when power is shed out the required control to keep that power within its limits is not, alas, today 792 government organisations are allowed to appeal to the act. They must have a hard time keeping all those terrorists in check seeing as 474 councils now have the same power as MI5 with regards to the “snooper’s charter” as it has been christened by civil rights groups. It is a curious coincidence that the notorious Stasi, the East German secret police, also invoked national security in their quest for ‘safety’ and in doing so they eventually had an informer for every seventh citizen. Hence we must ask, in the rhetorical sense, what great means of safety has the act provided thus far. The Dorset council put a family under surveillance to check that they lived in the school catchment area; the same council put local fishermen under surveillance looking for illegal fishing. An investigation by the Guardian showed that several thousand of these kinds of petty misdemeanours are being targeted as threats to national security – every month. If you consider this to be paramount for the continued safety of the nation then certainly the act has been a triumph, the Gestapo could not have done it better them selves.

As anyone would know with an ounce of respect for history Hitler was, amongst other things famed for persecuting Jews, Poles, Roma, Jehovah’s witnesses, homosexuals, ethnic minorities, Catholic clergy and other people he did not like. On the first of January 1939 Hitler announced that all Jews must carry Identification cards. In November 2008 Jacqui Smith, British Home Secretary, announced that all foreigners living in Britain must carry Identification Cards. Mrs. Smith further announced that British Nationals would start carrying ID cards in 2009. Perhaps it is deemed too harsh or downright insulting to draw parallels between the symbolism of the persecution and the British ID cards, possibly, but then again that might just be what is required to reignite public awareness of what Britain is turning into: We concede to being monitored 300 times a day, we concede to having our human rights curtailed and we say nothing - life goes on as usual. Why must we also concede to, on top of all this, to have our personal data stored in a register, stored neatly in a little plastic card? This is a rhetorical question which does not deserve an answer for it is so fundamentally obvious that it would be insulting to produce one. Unfortunately the scheme took legal form with the Identity Cards Act 2006 and it is substantially more than just a card. The proposed National Identity Management System: The National Identity Register (NIR), personal details to be registered and updated with the government, biometrics registration, the card itself (and other documents made equivalent to an ID card), persons to be numbered and checked, a extensive scanner and computer terminal network connected to a central database, prevalent use of compulsory identity verification and data-sharing between organisations on an unprecedented scale and finally the truly breathtaking part: you have to pay for it yourself, not in the form of taxes, in the form of an ‘ID-card fee’. To even begin addressing all the faults in this scheme, both practical and ethical, would be a monumental task so we shall only consider the most obvious ones. To begin with, what the government does not seem to comprehend, in spite of the multitude of brilliant civil servants at its bequest; less liberty does not imply greater security. It is basic logic. If they were truly stuck they should have consulted the Mathematics department. Logic, at times, can be quite tricky especially if your helmsmen are Blair & Brown. Further, Dame Stella Rimington said that most documents could be forged and this would render ID cards "useless" Dame Rimington was an ex Director-General of the MI5. If an ex Director-General says that they do not need the card and furthermore that it will be to their detriment, it is in your best interest to listen. But then again this is New Labour’s government so you should never be surprised by the stupidity of their decisions or their replies, Downing Street’s reply to Dame Rimington’s remark “Dame Stella is a private individual who was [sic] entitled to her views.”
The cards in conjunction with the database will hold so much private data (50+ categories which could be added to) that if they were lost you would loose your life, for once the cards are properly introduced you will need one to get around (recent statistics show that almost 17,000 civil service passes have been lost or stolen over the past two years. Around two thirds of the misplaced cards have been misplaced by staff at the Ministry of Defence). How precisely the government intends to tackle this problem remains unknown since they are statistically loosing at least one government computer a week, only last year the MoD lost 600,000 personal records of servicemen and women – this is only the tip of the iceberg. Finally we have the ever so amusing particulars of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. The ID cards will be available for all from 2012 "I regularly have people coming up to me and saying they don't want to wait that long.” to which Phil Booth, national coordinator of the No2ID campaign, replied "She must be ignoring twice the number of people who are coming up to her and saying I don't want my details on any database whatsoever." On the Home Office’s website we find one of the reasons for introducing the scheme “ID cards will: help protect people from identity fraud and theft” Last year four people were arrested after the BBC bought a driving licence and utility bills in the name of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of the internet. As a representative of the government Mrs. Smith is nothing short of a pontificating, ambivalent debauchee who lacks the common decency to understand the criticism bestowed upon her by her fellow Argonauts – this being the only explanation imaginable which would elucidate her behaviour in the face of the tidal waves of critique she has received (and done nothing about) and undoubtedly will receive until the end of her Home Secretary mandate. Mrs. Smith, ‘1984’ was a novel not a manual.

Nearly 60 new powers contained in more than 25 Acts of Parliament have stymied our freedoms and broken pledges set out in the Magna Carta (1215) and Bill of Rights (1689), thanks to New Labour. Whilst our indigenous political parties are doing a formidable job in eating away our freedom, there is also another player on the stage; the white elephant (which incidentally also has a healthy appetite), the one the media rarely refers to with a preference for populist sensationalism and for lack of audacity, namely the EU. As with the so many obvious flaws with the ID card scheme there are even more with the supposedly democratic legitimacy of the EU and its civil liberties record. All laws that arrogate civil liberties are important but a complete exegesis of them all is not possible due to the sheer amount of laws being created. To begin with lets cement our gaze on the EU Data Retention Directive (2006). The directive aims to harmonise member states' provisions relating to the retention of communications data. The data, which can identify the caller, the time and the means of communication, is available for the purpose of the investigation, detection and prosecution of serious crime and terrorism. Telecommunications companies have to store this information for at least six months. We make hundreds even thousands of calls each year the details of which, not contents, are stored. Further the directive also covers Internet access, Internet email and Internet telephony. 42 human rights and civil liberties organisations banded together to oppose the directive in the European Court of Justice (where they eventually lost) “No research has been conducted anywhere in Europe that supports the need and necessity of creating such a large-scale database containing such sensitive data for the purpose of fighting crime and terrorism.” said a representative of the group. This is all good and well but here is the irony, a European Parliament report found that it had "sizeable doubts concerning the choice of legal basis and proportionality of the measures" and was concerned it placed "enormous burdens" on the telecommunications industry.
Brussels thus imposed a highly unpopular law which would damage the people, the industry and not in the least the credibility of themselves. Effectively this leaves the security services cherry picking as to which law they shall use to violate our fundamental human right to privacy. This directive can be linked with another long held desire of the EU’s: to regulate bloggs. The ambition is enshrined in fancy document called “Draft Report, on concentration and pluralism in the media in the European Union” (2004) which is probably the finest euphemism around for ‘censorship’. On the European Parliament’s website we find an article with the actual title “User-generated content and weblogs – a new challenge” the report was drafted by Estonian Socialist Marianne Mikko. Asked if she considered bloggers to be "a threat", she replied "we do not see the bloggers as a threat. They are in position, however, to considerably pollute cyberspace. We already have too much spam, misinformation and malicious intent in cyberspace". Apparently voicing your opinion is now ‘polluting’ in EU circles, quite a re-labelling of freedom of speech. We can safely assume however that the bloggs written by EU officials however are neither ‘misinformation’ nor ‘malicious’. The European Parliament is particularly keen to strike down bloggers with "malicious intent" or "hidden agenda" which again cannot apply to their own staff since they are not even bloggers but promoters of an official organization that, most definitely, has an agenda, though hidden it is not. The EU for example is going to spend €1.8 million on propaganda in Ireland to force them, in their second referendum on the same question, to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. After the first rejection a leaked document from the European Commission read “The internet has allowed increased communication between citizen groups away from Government and traditional media dominated sources.” –Horror– the Irish are thinking for themselves. The report went on to say “Because of the many different sources of No campaigners on the internet, classic rebuttals is made impossible.” Thus the No campaigners are the villains for using the blogosphere, where the Yes campaigners cannot instigate an effective counter offensive where they do not control the battle field (In 2008 alone, the EU spent more than €2.4 billion on propaganda, which is more than Coca Cola’s entire global advertising budget). Since they are incapable of creating good arguments for the EU online they are compelled to regulate the opposition, much like ‘President’ Lukashenko in Belarus, apparently ‘unregulated’ is synonymous with ‘illegal’. One cannot but think that good sportsmanship is a fairly alien concept to the EU apparatchiks. Then again Mikko does have a degree in journalism from the Soviet Union and rather ominously she graduated in 1984.

With the insightful knowledge that the EU wishes to censor the internet lets consider some other jolly clauses in the impending Lisbon Treaty. Enter the European Union criminal intelligence agency, Europol: Article 69G(2) of the Lisbon Treaty says "The European Parliament and the Council, by means of regulations adopted in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure [i.e. majority voting] shall determine Europol's structure, operation, field of action and tasks." A fine piece of literature indeed, however what is fails to mention is that Europol's officers have long had broad immunity from criminal prosecution for acts performed in the course of their "official functions". Europol is unaccountable to the European Parliament (power in the EU lies with another institution: the European Commission. They are the executive branch of the Union and they are unelected, but this is a minor detail) as well as national parliaments, as such they are immune to prosecution. Power, unchecked, spells disaster, in the UK MI5 & Friends are still accountable to parliament regardless of what mischief they get up to but Europol is not and has supranational authority and in 2010 they are set to become a full agency. That said the moral high ground is neither held by the law enforcement agencies in this country. Recall for example that the only person hitherto to be arrested in the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by the Metropolitan Police is a television journalist who revealed the police blunders leading up to the shooting and furthermore the attempted cover up by the Met with regard to the implementation of Menezes arrest. The Europol in conjunction with the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) creates are very malign tool for claiming power and furthermore enforcing it. The warrant is a judicial judgment by a court of the member state for the arrest or surrender of a requested person that is in another member state. It is designed to meet the needs of justice, liberty and security within a single region. It strips the British Government of action to stop European officers from coming into the country and taking whomsoever they want away for incarceration. It is fairly easy to spot the flaw in this law. A judicial conundrum is created if a person were to be extradited for a crime that was not an offence in his or her home country. This happened in 2008 when Frederick Toben was arrested at Heathrow for denying the Holocaust. The German government, who had initiated the EAW, eventually backed down when Britain refused to hand him over as denial of the holocaust is not a crime here. Andrew Symeou, 19, did not have the same luck; he was shipped of to Greece (where the judicial system is at best lacking) on manslaughter allegations. All that is required for the deportation of a suspect under an EAW is basic information about their identity and the alleged offence. They do not need to possess the warrant. There does not even need to be a warrant. But perhaps the most astonishing part is that the EAW was designed to fast track terrorists from one state to another in the EU, not 19-year old teenagers. One must ask why not a single MP nor a representative of the judiciary said anything? Possibly because the Advocate-General of the ECJ, European Court of Justice, gave a legal opinion (ref. case C-274/99) that criticism of the EU was akin to blasphemy, punishing someone for allegedly criticising the EU, whether such allegations were proven or not, were (he said) not an infringement of free speech. The nation that insists on drawing a broad line of demarcation between justice and law is liable to find its laws being written by fools and its judicial practise done by cowards.

This is the New Labour, Conservative and EU created leviathan that today is Britain: A realm where freedom of speech is delivered a blow day after day, where democracy and liberty are shackled, tortured and are screaming in their closed confinements that once was the birth of a proud democracy, the Palace of Westminster. Has “Oderint dum metuant” (“Let them hate as long as they fear” – Caligula, Roman Emperor) suddenly become the new state maxim of the UK? The indifference shown by this country in the face of previous and current governments’ war on basic human rights has clearly displayed the true spirit of a people that has forgotten its history and “A nation which forgets its past has no future” – Sir Winston S. Churchill. If we do not care about our civil liberties then we do not deserve our freedom.

No comments: