Introducing the Carnival on Modern Liberty


10:36 am - January 19th 2009

by James Graham    


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Much as I support the Convention on Modern Liberty, I am very conscious of the fact that there are two dangers inherent to an initiative such as this. The first is that all it leads to is talk and a thousand people sitting in a hall munching on sandwiches. Linked to that is the danger that all it leads to is despair; that the problem seems so big and so intractable that people simply end up withdrawing altogether.

It is crucial that the Convention leads to positive action by as many people as possible (I made some suggestions a couple of weeks ago – I’m sure you can think of others).

Our mission must be nothing less than a paradigm shift in how the general public perceives civil liberties.

That is an achieveable objective and has happened in politics over the years on numerous occasions, but the level of consciousness raising we need can’t be done by a single journalist or even pressure group.

What’s more, the need for action has never been more crucial. I write this having given up a substantial portion of my weekend doing stuff to block the Government’s plans to exempt MPs’ expenses from the Freedom of Information Act.

If liberty is to have any meaning, we have to be able to keep an eye on those we elect to serve. Otherwise we are no different from the animals at the end of Animal Farm, enviously peering into the House and unable to tell the difference between pig and human. Harriet Harman, champion of equality, has just added the rider “but some are more equal than others.”

We need to take urgent action on issues such as this, but it also highlights why it is high time we started being proactive.

It is with this in mind that Liberal Conspiracy – in association with Our Kingdom and Unlock Democracy – are launching the Carnival on Modern Liberty.

As an online companion to the Convention, it is intended to help promote debate on civil liberties on the blogosphere over the next few weeks. Fundamentally however, it is also intended to spur both bloggers and their readers into action.

I will be producing the first edition this Friday on Liberal Conspiracy. Over the next couple of weeks it will move to OurKingdom and Unlock Democracy and then we’ll be looking for volunteers to host future editions – what about you? (email offers to modernliberty *at* quaequamblog *dot* net).

If you have an article you would like to be included in the first edition you can submit it either by following this link or emailing modernliberty *at* quaequamblog *dot* net. The deadline is 4pm on Thursday 22 January (if you miss this it is no problem as it will simply carry over to the next week’s edition). We are particularly looking for articles on the following sub-topics:

* ACTION: our favourite category! ideas and initiatives for raising awareness of civil liberty-related issues.
* EVENTS: civil-liberty related events that you are either organising or would like to promote (you don’t need to wait until 28 February before holding a meetup, tweetup or even just a social to the pub or cinema – if it’s civil liberty related, publicise it here).
* JEERS: reports of the latest assaults on liberties.
* CHEERS: good news (we do get it occasionally!) and praise for the champions of liberty.
* WHAT LIBERTY MEANS TO ME: think pieces about what liberty in a modern context actually means (once you’ve been all philosophical, do an action post to balance things out :)).

Finally, if I have one goal for the next six weeks, it is to get this debate out in the wider blogosphere instead of the usual political bloggers arguing amongst themselves. The UK blogosphere is gratifyingly diverse, yet too often the politicos seem to exist in a bubble.

So your first mission, if you choose to accept it, is to think of five bloggers who are not the “usual suspects” who you would like to encourage to take part in the Carnival – and then encourage them!

My five will be:
* Girl With A One Track Mind
* London Underground
* Neil Gaiman
* Bad Science
* New Humanist

To help get the Carnival off the ground, please blog these five (so they get pinged!) and submit your post to the Carnival – thanks!

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About the author
James is an occasional contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He blogs at: Quaequam Blog!
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Reader comments


Great stuff! It’s already spurring me to think of people to encourage and things to write 😉

Fantastic idea. Should be a great opportunity to reach out of the political bubble to bloggers who have a real interest in this subject without thinking of themselves as ‘political’.

3. David Boothroyd

The comments that I have seen so far are not encouraging, in that Henry Porter (who writes the same article using slightly different words every week) is prepared to whinge on at great length with no historical sense in order to try to justify his irrational dislike of the Labour government.

If instead effort was put into trying to explain why removing restrictions on liberty did not impinge on the duty of the state to protect its citizens, then there would be far more chance of making a change in policy.

One more thing – surveillance is not in itself a restriction of liberty. You are not prevented from doing something merely by someone else watching you do it.

“One more thing – surveillance is not in itself a restriction of liberty. You are not prevented from doing something merely by someone else watching you do it.”

Indeed, there is of course no psychological control imposed by the knowledge that you’re being watched. You never further question whether to do what you’re doing lest it be interpreted wrong by the people watching, and you will never ever fall foul of information being twisted in to something that can be used to detain you for something you haven’t done or isn’t possibly illegal.

Indeed Lee – David Boothroyd is ‘not even wrong’.

“If instead effort was put into trying to explain why removing restrictions on liberty did not impinge on the duty of the state to protect its citizens, then there would be far more chance of making a change in policy.”

I also always have to wonder about the short-sightedness and forgetfulness of these sorts of comments. What terrible things were happening to us that meant surveillance camera’s are needed for example? Pre-camera’s crime was much lower than when Camera’s were introduced, and while crime is now coming back down to 1980 levels you have to ask why it is that crime was actually lower without a surveillance state, and thus why the surveillance state is a good idea. Especially when police chiefs admit the surveillance camera’s are next to useless which further pushes their use as a psychological control on population (one that doesn’t work for criminals, obviously, but does for concerned innocent people).

How many of these things infringing on our liberties can be looked at in a much more historical view (as you say David) and realised that actually, before they were implemented it was only a knee jerk singular or set of incidents that made these liberties lost to us, but that before these extraordinary events we had no problems whatsoever.

And Porter’s dislike of our Labour government seems perfectly rational to me.

8. David Boothroyd

I fear that yet again the debate is being dragged away from reality by hyperbolic and paranoid suggestions. The term “surveillance state” is practically meaningless.

The reality is that CCTV cameras are in general immensely popular. The public associate them with being a very quick route to reducing street crime, and demand their introduction in more and more areas. That is the consideration which has driven the rise in use of CCTV cameras; the psychology simply does not work as their opponents seem to think (probably because it’s a great deal easier to blame them on ‘the authorities’ rather than criticizing the general public).

CCTV is at the moment really about making people feel better (security theatre) rather than making a significant difference to crime prevention or detection. CCTV networks aren’t linked up, so any claim that they are involved in mass national surveillance at present seems unreasonable, and the quality of the recordings varies widely, making their use in crime detection often difficult. That said, of course ‘the state’ would like them to be linked up.

As for the argument that CCTV is popular, well its is, but a proposal being merely popular is not a good enough reason to deploy it – it must also be necessary and proportionate, and it must be looked at it not only in its own terms but also how it fits into the overall context.

David Boothroyd finds the term “surveillance state” “practically meaningless”. I don’t know what he means by that. But regardless of the Government’s objectives (I happen to think they are populist and incompetent, not evil) the state is monitoring more and more detail of our lives. With regard to movement alone, there is CCTV, which monitors our pedestrian and vehicular movements, ANPR, monitoring vehicular movements about the country, PNR, monitoring journeys by air and intended to monitor international train and boat journey too. Then of course there are the myriad databases and systems that together will record the minutiae of our lives, together with the recent proposal in the Coroners and Justice Bill(!) that will break down the data storing and sharing rules.

I would like to co-opt William Heath’s three questions:

1. Are we so petrified, have we so lost our common sense, courage and phlegmatic British values that we should install a massive snooping engine so that bureaucrats have intrusive access to every aspect of everybody’s work, creative, cultural, social sexual and religious life?
2. Should we bequeathe to the future an interlocking set of mechanisms of total state control in order to reduce littering and graffiti?
3. Do we seriously think that wasting more billions of pounds on high-risk technology projects start to resolve the human and social sources of conflict in society?

And I would add, where are we going with this, and where do we want to end up?

“I fear that yet again the debate is being dragged away from reality by hyperbolic and paranoid suggestions.”

You said historical basis, the historical basis you only need to look at is 1920’s and 30’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mussolini’s Italy and, most recently, Bush’s America. All of these states with absolutely poor records on the treatment of individuals, especially political dissidents, regardless of guilt start with at least the psychology of “you’re being watched” followed up by actual surveillance.

CCTV camera’s fulfilled the first stage and, as UKLiberty points out, ANPR is the first step in the second stage (although arguably monitoring of who we call and email probably should be the first).

These countries also didn’t have a problem with public support for such measures in the name of their countries safety or sovereignty, thanks to the environment in which such situations are cultured.

Ask yourself, David, why people are asking for more CCTV despite police chiefs admitting to how useless they are either in crime solving or securing a conviction? Is it not because the rhetoric from our government is that this is the only way in which we can ensure your safety? It’s the language of Mr Hoon when he says that not allowing the government to monitor our internet communications is a license to allow terrorists to commit murder.

Personally I don’t have a big problem with CCTV in public places so on that narrow issue I don’t disagree with David. The thing is though that you can look at all the various infringements of our civil liberties in isolation and say that they are not in themselves too serious, or if they may have maybe gone too far it doesn’t in itself doesn’t make us a police state etc. etc.

What Labour’s defenders seemingly don’t want to see is the cumulative effect of all of these measures, the way that salami-slicing our liberties in ways which may seem to them relatively trivial leaves us much less free overall.

David Boothroyd, what proportion of the public is calling for every detail (but the content) of their telecommunications to be recorded?

9. Uk Libertry if we wish to increase our support for reducing the powers of the state , I think we will obtain more support if crime , particularly where violence is used, is reduced to a level where people feel safe. The high insurance premiums for acts of theft in many inner city areas , demonstrates the high level of crime. Rigorous and effective border controls and a clear immigration policy would greatly diminish support for ID cards. Britain in the 30s even during the depression had very low levels of crime and a belief in the privacy of the individual. Brown and co will not consider an organisation which started in a mansion in the wealthiest part of Britain particularly serious. Henry Porter is the UK Editor of Vanity Fair; if he was a reporter covering crime within London , Liverpool or Manchester, then he would cary more weight. Convention on Modern Libertry should have had it’s opening conference in the part of the UK with the highest crime rate. Brown and Mandleson will portray the movement as something of only academic interest to the upper middle class( bit like he Green Movement) and not to those living in crime plagued estates. When wanted to show they were no longer to be portrayed as being soft on crime ,Straw went to one of the estates in Bradford with the highest crime rates . When CML can obtain the support from people who have had their cars stolen several times and their homes broken into on numerous occasions, then Brown and co will lsten.

“I think we will obtain more support if crime , particularly where violence is used, is reduced to a level where people feel safe.”

I don’t think anyone that pushes for greater liberties would be against a better or bigger police force (aside from libertarians) if the money for running so much surveillance instead went in to better resourcing the police to simply be out there and doing the job, in an accountable manner.

“Rigorous and effective border controls and a clear immigration policy would greatly diminish support for ID cards. ”

Perhaps, if we continue to live in a land where erroneously immigration and ID is actually still linked. The key to removing support for ID cards is to ensure the public understand how it cannot stop terrorism, crime or indeed the protection of their identities. In fact I’d say one of the biggest challenges we have right now is actually to debunk the immigration myths so that they can’t be used as an excuse to remove our rights.

But in essence you are correct, we need to get the common member of the public on board, and that certainly must be the intention and priority. The sooner they realise that crime isn’t prevented through loss of liberties the better.

Charlie, there is truth in what you say and I did recently point out elsewhere on LC that it is difficult to get across to the honest and law-abiding why our civil liberties matter, and change the perception that they are for criminals, terrorists and illegal immigrants (and on my own blog I recognised that our charters and declarations were written by elites not Joe Public) as opposed to being important for everyone. But, conversely, what proportion of car and home crime victims are calling for the details of our telecommunications to be recorded?

I think something very important for people to understand is that CCTV (as an example) isn’t as effective or effective in the same way as many seem to think. The argument that CCTV is very popular is a bit lazy to be frank. Popularity isn’t a good enough excuse. It ignores the point that we live in a representative democracy. It also ignores the fact that no-one was asked what they would rather spend £500m on over ten years – no-one was asked if people wanted it spent on CCTV, 1600 more police officers, or cancer research.

(As an aside, something I find interesting in relation to this is that the public supports CCTV but dislikes the idea of having their street conversations monitored by microphone. There certainly seems to be a sense of privacy in those terms.)

16. Alisdair Cameron

Get it up and prominent on gadget/tech sites, and those sites that veer that way, like Boing Boing. Huge numbers of hits (web-users and bloggers tend to like tech stuff, who’d a thunk? Shows what an arse Draper has been bad-mouthing so many, and knocking geeks online, when his new venture is, err, online).
Also, net neutrality, ISP monitoring etc are of real concern to such readers, who have the know-how and expertise to make a real splash online. Natural bed-fellows?

17. Alisdair Cameron

By the way, Mr Boothroyd, does your house or flat have curtains? If so, why? Nothing to hide, nothing to fear and all that, plus people being able to scrutinise your every move isn’t an infringement on your liberty by your terms.

Great discussion. One aspect of the issue about CCTV cameras that can be over-looked is that it is very much discussed at a local level – in the press, in consultation meetings, at local elections, and in locally-based socail situations (eg pub and dinner parties!!).

It would be very useful to hear about arguments/ experience about alternative ways of dealing with security and safety – eg planning laws about layout, community – building, etc.

Erm, not wanting to be a party pooper or anything but having yet another argument about CCTV cameras with a government apologist wasn’t really what I meant by bloggers getting active.

Fly, my pretties, fly! 🙂

Alright James, just getting warmed up and all…miracles in minutes is what you want 😉

Agree with Alisdair Cameron – liberals and techies have a natural common ground here.

Which leads me to wonder what else might be possible under the heading of “ACTION”. I’m up for a rally to follow up the Convention if it looks feasible. But since we’ve potentially got a lot of creative tech people to tap into, we could surely pull some shiny new online stunts as well. That FB group about CCing Jacqui Smith into your emails for a day is a good start. Any other ideas?

I need to ask the creative techs, I suppose. Off to find some! 😀

Hmm, on the action front I think the CC group is about as far as you can go in a techy arena. You can try and make a fuss over data protection perhaps, though I’m not sure how much charges may make it prohibitive to ask ISPs and other bodies for all of the information they hold on us on a specific date. Legal bods may be able to shoot down such an idea as I’m not sure if organisations would need to provide the records they keep on our email/phone calls?

The key action has got to be, as Alisdair says, getting the word out there and making it matter. We have to start asking ourselves what the best route is to get civil liberties up there under the economy as the main issue of the next election.

Well, I am happy to do the “encourage other people to take part” thing, and I can host if you want me to, too.

Do we have a nice shiny banner to put across the top of posts? That sort of thing makes me happy.

A shiny banner is indeed a good idea. I’ll mock one up tomorrow when I am reunited with Photoshop (GIMP is good but a bit fiddly).

Yeah, I only have GIMP on this machine. My preference is for Macromedia Fireworks.

14 and 15 UKLiberty and Lee Griffin. My concern is that we could be portrayed by Brown et al as a group is out of touch with much of public opinion. Personally , I consider CCTV of questionable use. Criminals only have to wear hoods and caps to nullify much of the use of CCTVs. If the criminals then swop the hooded jackets between themselves after the crime , then the the CCTV is of even less use. I think there may be cases where the CCTVs give a false sense of comfort to the law abiding public because they do not deter the criminals.

To me what is dangerous is that the competence is not assessed of the Authorities. The Labour Governmemnt has put 1000s of crimes on the statute book which is in danger of criminilising the law abiding. Various types of crime occur . There is no assessment as to whether the authorities are using the laws, manpower and resources in the most effectve way before they request more of all three. The basis of catching many criminals is information from the public , yet there are few bobbies on the beat. Does anyone reading this webb site recognise the face and know the name of the of the local police officer? A PCSO can earn £26K/yr in London. Two PCSOs talking to each other as they walk down a street to me me , is not effective as employing a full officer who walks down the road as observes what is going on. A regular officer who engages with the public is more likely to receive information which could lead to the catching of a criminal.

One aspect of the danger of ID cards was shown in WW2. In France , as in most of Europe people had ID cards. In France The Suretee( Police based in Paris) had records on many millions of French people , I do not think just criminals ones. When The Nazis captured Paris , the Gestapo captured the Suretee records and therefore had detailed records on the French people . Consequently, it made control of the population much easier . In particular, creating new identities and forging new ID cards for those fighting in the resistance was a major problem for the SOE.

The present economic situation has a potential to become similar to 1929-1939. The Depression only finally ended with the re-arming required for WW2. A State which has near total knowledge of it’s populace can control it with far greater ease. In the Observer Review p21 Article How To survive a tyranny is most chilling . Basically in the face of a tyranny most people do nothing.

If the economic situation does produce much higher unemployment , then the safest jobs are likely to be in the state sector. In London, a police officer can earn £40K with overtime. In time of hardship agreeing with the state may make economic sense for many people.

“The present economic situation has a potential to become similar to 1929-1939. The Depression only finally ended with the re-arming required for WW2. A State which has near total knowledge of it’s populace can control it with far greater ease. In the Observer Review p21 Article How To survive a tyranny is most chilling . Basically in the face of a tyranny most people do nothing.”

This is precisely why I wanted to write the article about Naomi Wolf’s book and subsequent documentary. I agree completely.

The state is in the position of power, and for that reason it’s particular stance with banks can be seen as worrying as much as it can be seen as necessary (depending on your views.)

We do need to make sure we’re not cast out as simply an annoyance, that’s why a huge priority has to be put on really getting to the bottom of public opinion and information to them. People quote this CCTV “is popular” thing all the time, but I always just feel that whether this is true or not depends on the question asked.

I honestly believe that if I went around canvassing tomorrow people would answer “Do you favour CCTV to catch criminals” almost all of them will say yes. If I rephrase the situation to “Do you accept that the recording of your movements whenever you’re in your car, which are put in to a database and, if Jack Straw is succesful with his wishes, can be readily accessed by any appropriate public (and private, if contracted) department without your consent, through CCTV systems such as ANPR is something that you’d be willing to live with in order to sustain a network of surveillance equipment that police chiefs have described as useless” then, if they don’t shut the door on my face for such a longwinded question, I’d expect the answer to be no.

The trouble is that asking someone if they like CCTV is easy, and it’s also not the whole informed picture….to get an accurate answer about peoples feelings we have to do more than ask a simple 10 word question in an opinion poll that has been prefaced with questions that go on about how much perceptions of crime have increased. We need to bring all of these tired arguments that stand *against* civil liberties in to focus, and to do that we need to find a way of articulating our views as to why they are wrong in to a more “soundbite” nature as well.

Anyone who thinks that surveillance doesn’t infringe on your freedom should look up the word ‘panoptican’ in the dictionary: that’s where we are headed – the Panoptican State. Only Jeremy Bentham thought the POSSIBILITY that you are being watched was enough: with the direction behaviour recognition software is going this will become a matter of CERTAINTY.

Even Orwell’s dystopia was limited by the man-hours needed to watch the surveillance cameras.

And have you ever noticed those who say if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear are the first to decry the use of speed cameras?

One day the only liberty you’ll have is behind a wheel.

Sorry, ‘panopticon’.

30. douglas clark

One day the only liberty you’ll have is behind a wheel.

at 29.99 mph.

We are becoming a society which does not know whether it has broken a law or not, for the law itself has become counter intuitive. Which is Orwellian, to say the least. In a few years, debates like this will be banned as they are not supportive of the nation state, or some such nonsense.

“And have you ever noticed those who say if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear are the first to decry the use of speed cameras? ”

Speed camera’s are actually the perfect example of the decline of liberties, and actually just how terrifying a prospect surveillance states can become.

Driving a car dangerously used to be pretty much the only thing that mattered to traffic police once upon a time on the issue of “speeding”. If they were patrolling the empty main roads at gone 3am and you were speeding along at 90 they probably wouldn’t do much more than pull you over and make sure you understood that at such speeds it’s not really safe. Equally they would pull over people driving at 70 in poor conditions on busy motorways.

The name of the game was, in a sense, true working liberty. You could drive, and where realistically the laws of the road no-longer applied in the sense of ensuring people’s safety the threshold for detention and punishment would lessen, conversely where the laws of the road were not enough to protect lives the threshold would increase. A great flowing model of authorative management that enabled fair access to liberties on a holistic scale.

Now, with speed camera’s, whether or not you’re driving safely never actually comes in to the question. You could be driving safe as can be, dependant on your experience, training and all the conditions around you…but 2 miles an hour over the speed camera’s limit and you’re as guilty as someone that does so dangerously.

The correlation to the autonomy of surveillance and databases surely doesn’t need to be explained too much to see how people can be worse than fined for a different set of circumstances, perhaps innocent people locked up on terrorist charges because the systems can’t differentiate real world realities and because money that would have been spent on resourcing the police so that they can actually avoid such mistakes went on the technology in the first place.

The government doesn’t care whether what you’re doing is fair to others, safe and harmless, nor that associations you make may be of an entirely innocent nature. What they care about is that we stack up against a set of criteria, tick enough “red flags”, and as soon as that criteria is passed we become marked, put on the list, and suffer the indignities of an illiberal society forever more.

There are already schools piloting face recognition software to spot truancy. When I was a kid we had a register. This is obviously a pilot for street surveillance.

Oyster cards may be a conveniance but they give the authorities a record of your movements.

Technology designed to scan the humidity of your car to check that you are sharing the vehicle may be used by councils to spot co-habiting couples just as thermal cameras are used to spot those growing pot.

A year ago we’d have laughed at the idea councils might use anti-terrorist laws to check if parents lived within the correct school catchment areas.

How long before the GPS in your phone triggers a warning to some official when people known to be critical of the state gather together.

The question isn’t whether you are paranoid, its whether you are paranoid enough.

33. douglas clark

Lee,

You could have added, it’s an income stream… Yet another tax.

I am getting weary of all of this, frankly. It is pretty obvious to me that there are Liberal Conspirators, and you know who you are.

And there are folk who just appear for the sake of trying to separate, split or discombobulate folk like you and me who do see the sense of this conspiracy.

I might, I do in fact, disagree with several other Liberal Conspirators. But the degree of disagreement is miniscule when it is is compared to the nutters.

34. douglas clark

Shatterface.

How long before the GPS in your phone triggers a warning to some official when people known to be critical of the state gather together.

The question isn’t whether you are paranoid, its whether you are paranoid enough.

Sadly, I agree….

Us and them, Douglas? I fear the greatest threat to liberty is really within ourselves. So long as we can be split along nominal party lines on certain issues, the radical centre (spearheaded by the bureaucracy) can push through its regulating, systematising agenda.

36. douglas clark

Nick,

Well yes, It is pretty obvious that we are complete utter twats. So what is your point? I’ll stick with us and them until you come up with something better. Or, more to the point, how we break free.

You do know how we break free, don’t you?

Thought not.

Well it will take some experimentation and some strategy. But I try and do my bit. I just sent a polite email to my MP who I suspect I would hate if I had actually seen anything from him, asking him if he would kindly vote against hiding his expenses… safe seat so he doesn’t have any particular interest in listening to me but at least he knows someone is watching.

In general, I think we need a slightly more anarchist attitude in this country. We need to orientate people against treating the state as an especially legitimate institution. Introducing that sort of sentiment is not necessarily difficult, plenty of our popular culture focusses on the dangers of the state. We just need to emphasise that attitude a bit more effectively. We have never had a freer media so now is the time to work on that, before we lose it!

38. douglas clark

Nick @ 37,

Thanks for talking me down. Though, my own experiences of writing to my MP suggests it’s a complete waste of time. (Mine seems to have some sort of minor role in government, so he only replies with government approved platitudes). Maybe you’ll have better luck than me.

I agree completely that we need to be a bit more anarchistic. The French seem to be up for a demo at the drop of a hat. And they don’t take shit from their government.

I take it the free media you are talking about is the internet? ‘Cause it sure isn’t the dead tree thingy.

Charlie @26

My concern is that we could be portrayed by Brown et al as a group is out of touch with much of public opinion.

We already have been! (and it was ever thus.)

That’s why we must change public opinion (or buy some hempen rope).

But there is hope!

I think the public are coming round in narrow ‘practical’ (if that’s the right word) terms as opposed to theoretical or hypothetical terms in many cases where there is cause for concern.

For example, they don’t tend to think about privacy per se but how their personal information is held and who has access to it. An increasing proportion are against the national identity scheme, the majority think the data held will be inaccurate and unreliable, they don’t trust any government to keep it confidential and not improperly divulge it, the vast majority think there is a real risk that individuals working for the government will improperly divulge the information, the majority are unhappy that their own information will be stored (despite the majority being in favour of a scheme) in such quantities. People are largely for CCTV but object to microphones listening to their conversations. They object to DNA being held on the national DNA database if the person was acquitted or not charged. They object to their movements being tracked. These are good things that we should build on.

What I want to do is relate other liberty related issues to ordinary people – why the public should also care about the presumption of innocence, habeas corpus and the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression, freedom to protest, freedom of information, and so on. I’m not sure the majority will ever ‘get it’, unless something really dreadful happens, but we don’t need the majority, we just need sufficient numbers to make it worthwhile for our representatives to start voting against proposals that infringe our liberties.

Exactly, UKLiberty. The last fight on extension of detention was won on the basis of *enough* of a voice being heard, even if the majority of people weren’t in support or bothered either way from their perspective.

One thing to remember is that politicians are voted in to power on up usually 20% majorities in turnouts that can be anywhere between 40% and 60%. The majority of the public don’t need to get on board because to ask for that is to also agree that our governmental institution isn’t representative (which it isn’t, but that’s another point).

“I take it the free media you are talking about is the internet? ‘Cause it sure isn’t the dead tree thingy.”

Precisely. If we can save the internet from regulation, we have rather a lot to play for as more people start using it.

Having been tagged for geographic diversity by Tom Griffin I’ve tagged some of the less usual Scottish suspects.

Speed camera’s are actually the perfect example of the decline of liberties, and actually just how terrifying a prospect surveillance states can become.

Sorry, I don’t agree with this at all. There have to be speed limits on roads so I don’t have a problem with them being enforced. There are certainly strong arguments against more sophisticated systems where our movements would be constantly tracked but I don’t see how basic speed cameras represent any fundamental contravention of our liberties.

I’m not sure speed cameras are a perfect example either. The ANPR network, however, is a good example. And it is something that was introduced without the involvement of Parliament.

Yes, that is more worrying, and given that Parliament was bypassed we get two injustices for the price of one.

The problem I see is that people always look more at the details of the current legislation rather than the bigger picture and the real question: How is it that our politicians can do as they please, introduce whatever laws they like, remove our liberties without any serious opposition or obstacle?

The reason is that our constitution is not designed to protect and serve the people, it is designed to enable the state to rule and control.

What is needed is a serious drive to bring about a new constitution, one based on popular sovereignty and the rights of the people. We must create a new relationship between the people and ‘their’ government.

This essentially means we need a republican constitution, one which enshrines the notion of popular sovereignty and which limits the power of government and parliament.

As yet I’m not particularly optimistic about this convention. It does seem to be aimed at talking rather than acting. However, if that’s to be addressed then the action must be aimed at the system which allows such excessive power to be held by the PM, not be distracted by the details of what Brown is up to from one day to the next.

“Sorry, I don’t agree with this at all. There have to be speed limits on roads so I don’t have a problem with them being enforced.”

There don’t “have” to be speed limits on the roads at all, not in the inflexible and incontestable sense. Speed limits are on roads due to a general calculation of risk based on likely environmental factors. If some of those factors aren’t there then the speed limit is to stringent, if there are too many or extra environmental factors then the speed limit is too loose.

It is a legally enforceable guide, at least that’s how the police used to operate about it…now speed cameras make the limit some kind of magic barrier where everything under is ok and everything over is not, substituting police that can actually make a rational judgement about dangerous driving.

The analogy was that this is how mindless surveillance dumbs down the intricacies of our actions and creates criminals out of people that are not actually doing anyhting wrong given the circumstances, thus infringing on our liberties.

Graham, I think a point of the convention is to talk about how we should act.

As yet I’m not particularly optimistic about this convention. It does seem to be aimed at talking rather than acting.

Graham, the crucial issue is (to paraphrase) not what the convention will do for us, but what you will do for the convention.

My philosophy about the whole venture is that it is exactly what you make of it.

From a strictly pragmatic approach for example, you can look at the Carnival on Modern Liberty in two ways: either read it and then dismiss it as a waste of time for failing to address the issues that matter to you, or participate in it and thus widen your audience.

Talk about there being a danger that the convention will be just a talking shop is just… talk.

Hi James

Forgive me for saying so but that’s a slightly patronising and defensive reply. I didn’t say either the event or the carnival were a waste of time, in fact my principal point was simply that action should be aimed at the route cause, not the symptoms.

My comment about it being a talking shop was based on looking at the programme and speaking to the organisers, one of whom actually told me one of the sessions is an academic discussion on what happened 300 years ago! That’s not going to do anything to help the current situation or inspire action, as interesting as the discussion might be.

Like you, I’m fully engaged in taking action. My concern is that this convention will do little more than provide an opportunity for lots of talking. Prove me wrong!

Graham,

I’m really trying not to be patronising but if you are looking for evidence that the Convention on Modern Liberty will be a conference, you are going to see a conference.

I go to at least two of the three party conferences every year. They are all talking shops. But they are also an opportunity to spread ideas, build networks and motivate people. If no-one is thinking about making the most out of the opportunities to do those things we won’t make the most of them but, well, the article at the top of this page is all about avoiding that. So what’s your beef?

I just don’t understand the point in talking things down. Sorry if that is defensive, but maybe you should need to check on your own negativity.

So if I raise a question about the value of this convention it’s just my own negativity? That implies you don’t want a debate about the value of the convention or what it is aimed at doing, but would rather just point the finger at those who raise questions or criticisms.

When people criticise my work I don’t tell them to stop being negative, I address the concern and give a decent reply.

What makes you think I’m looking for evidence of a conference? I was looking at an event I’m hoping will be something useful and engaging. I’m still hoping that. It was, after all, just one line in a post I added which was primarily about the issues at hand.

Rather than brushing it aside and putting it down to my ‘negativity’ (I’m not remotely negative thank you very much, my jobs requires considerable reserves of optimism) why not answer the point by saying something about what the aim of the convention actually is.

This wasn’t a criticism of you, your post, your carnival idea or anything else you do – it was simply a point about the convention. A simple observation.

Which of the eleven morning sessions, ten afternoon sessions, three plenaries, three keynote speeches, and one lunchtime bloggers’ summit is the discussion “on what happened 300 years ago”?

Graham,

Just what do you want me to say?

To recap, the first paragraph of the above article states:

Much as I support the Convention on Modern Liberty, I am very conscious of the fact that there are two dangers inherent to an initiative such as this. The first is that all it leads to is talk and a thousand people sitting in a hall munching on sandwiches. Linked to that is the danger that all it leads to is despair; that the problem seems so big and so intractable that people simply end up withdrawing altogether.

I’m struggling to work out how you interpret this as an attempt to “shut down debate” on the danger of the Convention winding up being a talking shop. Really struggling.

My proposed solution – that people need to get creative and use this as an opportunity to promote activism – you appear to be dismissing out of hand in favour of demanding “proper” answer. I don’t know how I can give you an answer that will satisfy you – I don’t control the convention; the only control and influence I have is to perform this role in coordinating the carnival. And the carnival isn’t about dictating what outcomes will emerge – it is about encouraging individuals themselves to take action.

I’m sorry you consider that to be a cop out, but it is what it is.

Bottom line: is Republic interested in contributing to the Carnival or isn’t it? I would humbly suggest that contributing to it might be a more constructive use of time than continuing to manufacture this argument. Up to you.

Better later than never

http://london-underground.blogspot.com/2009/02/here-comes-everybody-mobilising-tube.html

Thanks for putting the challenge out to me, hopefully my post got a few people thinking & it did actually get a response from TfL’s communications office, who liked it and enigmatically said “great food for thought”.

AWESOME!


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. James Graham

    @willhowells @onmodernliberty is about more than a day conference:
    http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf

  2. James Graham

    @willhowells @onmodernliberty is about more than a day conference:
    http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf

  3. James Graham

    @girlonetrack I’ve invited you to participate in the Carnival @onmodernliberty: http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf – can I tempt you?

  4. James Graham

    @bengoldacre I’ve invited you to participate in the Carnival @onmodernliberty: http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf – can I tempt you?

  5. James Graham

    @neilhimself I’ve invited you to participate in the Carnival @onmodernliberty: http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf – can I tempt you?

  6. UnlockDemocracy

    RT: @OnModernLiberty: James Graham introduces a bloggers’ Carnival on Modern Liberty over on Liberal Conspiracy http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf

  7. James Graham

    @girlonetrack I’ve invited you to participate in the Carnival @onmodernliberty: http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf – can I tempt you?

  8. James Graham

    @bengoldacre I’ve invited you to participate in the Carnival @onmodernliberty: http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf – can I tempt you?

  9. James Graham

    @neilhimself I’ve invited you to participate in the Carnival @onmodernliberty: http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf – can I tempt you?

  10. UnlockDemocracy

    RT: @OnModernLiberty: James Graham introduces a bloggers’ Carnival on Modern Liberty over on Liberal Conspiracy http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf

  11. Introducing the Carnival on Modern Liberty | Liberal Democrat Voice

    […] Introducing the Carnival on Modern Liberty Written by James Graham on 20th January 2009 – 8:02 am Cross-posted from Liberal Conspiracy. […]

  12. James Graham

    @johnreppion No problem. When your blog is up and running again, perhaps I can persuade you to partake in this: http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf ?

  13. James Graham

    @johnreppion No problem. When your blog is up and running again, perhaps I can persuade you to partake in this: http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf ?

  14. Lib Dig Pig #7 | Liberal Democrat Voice

    […] Related to that, you dug the Independent’s coverage of the same issue and event and, ahem, the launch of the Carnival of Modern Liberty on Liberal Conspiracy. […]

  15. Campaign for an English Parliament » Blog Archive » PRESS RELEASE: The Convention on Modern Liberty

    […] Guardian’s excellent Liberty Central. And if you are a blogger then then check out Sunny and James at Liberal […]

  16. James Graham

    Introducing the Carnival @onmodernliberty: http://tinyurl.com/a7rycf Pls Retweet!





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