UK Liberty

Are most Labour MPs in denial?

Posted in database state, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on March 5, 2009

Tom Harris says “our civil liberties are safe with Labour”.

Standard guff – Tom responding to Jack Straw’s Guardian article, and the comments on it from members of the public.

Tom mentions the usual “litany of grievance RIPA, ID cards, CCTV, no protest without authorisation within a mile of parliament, etc”. Nevertheless “Labour’s record on civil liberties is a good one”.

I wonder, what would be a bad record?

And of course those are merely examples of the the legislation they managed to get through Parliament – let’s not mention the proposals (such as 90 days) that didn’t make it to the statute book, not for the lack of trying.  Or even the legislation, such as Part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which provided for indefinite detention without charge, that did make it to the statute book but which proved to be unlawful.

Tom appears to approve of the Human Rights Act and Freedom of Information Act – like Straw, those are the only Good Acts he appears to be able to think of.  

The FOIA is “only grudgingly acknowledged by our detractors as a significant achievement”, but then we see Harris being snide again, and introducing a straw man to boot:

Undoubtedly there are those who claim that the government is itself undermining its own legislation by, for example, refusing to publish the Cabinet minutes concerning Iraq. But since no government could ever satisfy every “FOI campaigner” (is that actually a job these days?) — there are often very sound reasons for not publishing every single piece of information held by the government — then I hope ministers won’t be losing any sleep over that particular source of criticism.

In fact there are “FOI campaigners” who agree that the Cabinet minutes shouldn’t be released under the FOIA, and that not everything should be released.  Of far greater concern is the procrastination of the Government when it comes to releasing other documents it doesn’t want us to see, such as the ID scheme Gateway reviews, particularly when they are ordered to be released by the independent decision-making body set up by the government’s legislation.

So too does the Government undermine its own Human Rights Act when it introduces legislation (or the lawful legislation creates unlawful powers, such as control orders with long periods of house arrest) that violates it.

He uses the now extremely tired argument that only particular types of people are concerned about civil liberties, therefore it isn’t a real problem, and also they are hysterical, perhaps even paranoid:

But surely the fundamental point to make is that virtually none of those who blog about our alleged decent into a police state has experienced any perceptible diminution in their own personal freedoms. Libertarians screech hysterically across the blogscape about it with all the relevance of those blokes who wear those “The end is nigh” sandwich boards.

Anyway, I think I’d better get to bed: I can hear a humming, droning noise in the sky outside and I haven’t drawn my curtains yet…

He asks,

Who, exactly, has suffered unjustified intrusion into their private life through local council monitoring of their emails?

Well I don’t know about emails but some public sector staff have certainly abused their access to, for example, the DWP’s Customer Information System, not to mention medical records, the Police National Computer, the passport database…

I wonder if Tom thinks it’s a joke that battered wives and victims of ‘honour’ killings have been tracked down with the help of public sector staff and databases.  Is assault or murder an “unjustified intrusion” into one’s private life?  Are these victims paranoid?  What about the man who was tracked down via the PNC and killed after an argument about a car parking space?

Who has been prevented from discretely pursuing their day-to-day business because of the presence of CCTV cameras?

The woman who thought she was safe in her own flat from peeping toms?

Even the extension of detention without charge to 28 days has not resulted in the legions of innocents behind bars which were predicted by the likes of Liberty.

As far as I know, no-one reasonable said that legions of innocents would be put behind bars. Indeed that would be a silly thing to say.  Tom has introduced another straw man here.

In reality, what Liberty and others are concerned about is what happens during this period and the apparent lack of action on alternatives.

For one thing, it is far longer than other countries: Germany and the USA, 48 hours; Norway, 3 days; Italy, 4 days; Spain, 5 days; France and Greece, 6 days; Turkey, 7.5 days. What is so different about the UK that our suspects must be detained for 28 (or 42, or 60, or 90 days)? 

The other irritating thing Tom’s argument is that as 28 days (or any other illiberal legislation) is only used on a few people, it is OK.  Of course this is wrong.

A related concern is that if we allow this length of time on the basis that terrorism cases are “complex” – from that document, “Experience of recent terrorist cases shows that they can be very complex – indeed, their complexity is increasing, in terms of [the amount of] material seized, use of false identities and international links” – we may also see proposals to increase it for other “complex” cases, such as those relating to fraud or serious organised crime, because they too may involve lots of material, false identities, and international links.

Tom asserts that “Whatever the alleged misuse of anti-terrorist legislation, no responsible government could do anything but respond in legislative terms to the threat from islamist terrorism”.  Just plain wrong.

A little whine:

So isn’t it odd that when the subject of civil liberties in this country arises, the self-appointed guardians of our liberties (and thanks, by the way…) almost never voice a word of criticism of those who planned and supported the 7/7 attacks, reserving their most trenchant criticism instead for the efforts of our democratically-elected leaders to try to prevent further tragedies?

Surely it goes without saying that we “self-appointed guardians of our liberties” (and you’re welcome, by the way…) are critical of “those who planned and supported the 7/7 attacks”.  

Perhaps the reason our “most trenchant criticism” appears reserved for our beloved leaders’ efforts is because some of their efforts are a Bad Thing, and unlike terrorists they are the only people with any real power to change our lives, and they do it rather more often.  Repeat offenders, if you will.  It is all very well making an effort, having good intentions, but surely criticism is reasonable when there are poor results.

In mentioning that civil liberties campaigners are self-appointed (although that would come as news to, say, Labour’s liberal rebels, all the LibDem MPs, and David Davis) and that our ‘leaders’ are democratically elected, Tom appears to imply that the former are therefore somehow of less value than the latter. But it seems worth noting that only a third of the electorate in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s constituency voted for him (24,278), and only a fifth of the UK’s electorate voted Labour.  I imagine Liberty has rather more than 24,278 (paying) members.  In these terms “democratically-elected” doesn’t seem particularly meaningful, does it?  

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