Recent Civil liberties Articles
Yesterday evening I was invited by the Guardian to debate the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and where we go from here. I wanted to make a series of coherent points in a mini-speech but it never happened, so I’m writing them out here… Each point is in a separate mini blog-post.
Let’s start from the proposition that the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and secularism are inherently a good thing. I always do. I think our stance on them should be unquestionable, like against racism or homophobia.
When I explain or justify any of these principles in front of sceptical Muslims, I generally get a good response. I’ve done it a few times so I’m confident of this. The other day I posted my speech to a group of Muslim students on why they should want to live in a society where people have the right to insult their prophet, and they got it.
There’s a minority who don’t agree but I would say that generally it is not that hard to convince British Muslims about the importance of free speech and having a secular government. Once you sit down and have a debate with them at least.
But there are two problems, I find.
Firstly, it’s not that they dislike the argument, it’s sometimes more that they don’t believe others are interested in free speech in the first place.
And they have a point, there are loads of inconsistencies in the government and media industry’s behaviour when it comes to free speech. The Sun’s editorial post-Hebdo was a classic case of demanding more freedom while attacking people who stand up for civil liberties.
Many Muslims say – hold on, if you don’t always believe in free speech, why should I? How to answer that? I always say that at least we are agreed that there should be more free speech but it always sounds a bit hollow to me.
Secondly, the problem is that many liberals aren’t interested in convincing others who are sceptical, but merely interested in stating that they are right and Muslims should lump it.
This isn’t good enough.
We have to make the case for free speech in a way that says Muslims also benefit from free speech. In fact they benefit more than you white folks because they are far more likely to be spied on or locked up for saying inflammatory things than you.
So lets make that case without playing into a them v us narrative.
And let’s also stand up for free speech when Muslims are being threatened. Some of the voices I hear piping up about free speech only do so when Muslims are the perpetrators not victims.
That isn’t just inconsistent, it also makes me think you don’t really care for the principles at stake. And that also makes it much harder for all of us to convince Muslims about why they should embrace more free speech and the right to insult their religion.
Late last year I was invited to speak at the LSE Islamic Society on Islamophobia and the media. Rather than preach to the converted, I decide to challenge my audience by making the case for more free speech, even if included insults to their Prophet.
In light of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo today that has killed over 10 people, I think posting this would be relevant.
Thanks for inviting me. I want to start with this picture. What I find funny is that Muslims and Sikhs are conflated so easily. They all look brown!
The other interesting point to note is how much things have changed. This was acceptable then [in the 1970s] in a way it isn’t now. At least, not about Asians so broadly…maybe Roma.
I found many more such drawings, and to me they do illustrate that Britain has changed a lot since the 70s when the National Front marched unafraid on the streets, and cartoons like these were printed without an eyebrow being raised.
The challenges now are different than the ones our parents faced.
One of those is around free speech – the issue I want to raise today. After all, it was LSE where the recent controversy around the cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed was sparked off.
In 2005 I was invited to a debate on Channel 4 after a theatre in Birmingham had to abandon a play because a large mob of angry Sikhs had gathered in protest outside, and some had broken the windows. All this because they said it insulted their religion.
The play – Behzti (‘shame’) – didn’t insult Sikhism, it had a scene where a woman was rapes in a Gurdwara (temple) on stage. Community leaders said the writer, a Sikh woman, was an attention seeker. They said she wrote it deliberately to inflame tensions. They wanted it stopped. I wrote and argued that it should stay open, not only because she was trying to raise an important topic, but because they had no right to close it down. But it was shut down because they were worried about threats and broken property.
I believe we should cherish the right to free speech. We should even understand the importance of the right to criticise, and even insult, religion.
Do I believe in insulting religious people just because they’re religious? No. Do I go around insulting or denigrating religions. No. My mother goes to the temple every day!
What I want is for us to be tolerant of people who insult religion.
Why, you ask. After all, many see the Prophet Mohammed as their family. Why should you tolerate someone who insults your family? Good question.
The problem is we cannot live in a relatively free society without the freedom of speech and freedom to insult each other’s beliefs. In fact, WE – people who are in the minority when it comes to our race or religion – should appreciate and cherish this freedom even more.
Freedom to criticise religion is the same as freedom to practice religion. One cannot exist without the other.
Think about the people who are on the streets spreading Dawah. Think about your right to say that you choose your faith over others because they are false. I want YOU to have the right the right to reject other religions. What if there was no freedom to criticise religion? Well, you couldn’t reject other religions. You couldn’t have people on the streets practicising Dawah.
If the mainstream clamp down on free speech or freedom to criticise religion – its always the minorities who lose out first. If Britain had a law against blasphemy – the first people in jail would be half the imams in the country.
If you appreciate the fact that Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims broadly have the same right as Christians, then you should embrace freedom of speech. If you think people shouldn’t be locked up for expressing fringe and perhaps unpopular opinions, then you should embrace free speech.
And let’s be clear about what I’m referring to here. What about anti-semitism? What about anti-zionism? Be as anti-zionist as you want – you should cherish that right.
Freedom to incite violence against a group of people because of their background – no. Not against Jews, Muslims or Sikhs. But demonising a group of people because of their backgrounds? Well, if we allow that for Jews, it will happen to Muslims too.
Freedom to reject or criticise Islam, Judaism or Sikhism? Yes.
The right to be offended? Yes. You have that right. The right to protest or boycott someone if they insult your religion? Yes. That’s democracy. But the right to censorship? No. Threats of violence against people who do? No. A law against insulting religion. DEFINITELY NOT.
People don’t automatically have the right to shut down a play, close down an exhibition, stop a book being sold, or stop someone from speaking peacefully just because they don’t like it.
Why should you defend this freedom? Because you want… in fact you NEED the right to protest against the government… to speak out and say things the mainstream might find unpopular. The right to expose wrong-doing, even if others don’t like it. When freedom of speech is curtailed, it is always used against minorities first.
I leave you with this. I was talking to a friend yesterday and she said the Prophet Mohammed was the first leader to introduce a pluralist constitution where Jews had the right to their own religion and did not have to believe in Islam. She added, by extension, they were rejecting Islam and rejecting the teachings of the Prophet. It was blasphemy. Yet the Prophet understood the importance of that right.
To my relief the audience clapped after, and many students came up to me after to say they agreed with me.
The first time I was invited on to a debate on TV, I was so nervous I couldn’t stop myself shaking. It was partly nerves and partly the topic. It was Christmas 2005, and a theatre in Birmingham had to abandon a play because a large mob of angry Sikhs had gathered in protest outside, and some had broken the windows. All this because they said it insulted their religion.
Of course, the play – Behzti (‘shame’) – didn’t insult Sikhism, it merely depicted rape in a Gurdwara (temple) on stage. Self-appointed community leaders were aghast and spread rumours that the writer, a Sikh woman, was 1) an attention seeker 2) had a black boyfriend and wanted to deliberately insult Sikhs 3) wasn’t really a Sikh. I wrote angry editorials (as editor of the industry journal Asians in Media mag, then) that Behzti should not be shut down and angry Sikhs should learn to live with perceived insults to their faith. The play got shut down because the theatre and the local police were too scared to stand up to fundamentalists.
There have been plenty of controversies since, involving British Hindus and Muslims too.
The latest one involves Maajid Nawaz, a Lib Dem candidate and head of the anti-terrorism think-tank Quilliam Foundation, who tweeted a picture of the Jesus & Mo cartoons, which depicts both figures as stick drawings. Some Muslims are outraged and want Maajid de-selected. One of the instigator, another self-appointed ‘community leader’, boasted that he would inform Islamic countries in the Middle East about Nawaaz. It doesn’t get more comical than this.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learnt: it’s that most religious Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in Britain still don’t understand freedom of speech. They pay lip service to free speech, of course, but the minute they feel their religion is being insulted, they want to see it censored. I’m not referring to ordinary people here – I’m referring to the ones who are more religious than normal. They are the ones who go the extra effort of mobilising others to be offended.
Let me be blunt.
If you appreciate the freedom to practice religion, then you should embrace freedom of speech.
If you appreciate the fact that Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims broadly have the same right as Christians, then you should embrace freedom of speech.
If you think people shouldn’t be locked up for expressing fringe and perhaps unpopular opinions, then you should embrace free speech.
And yes, all of these mean you have to accept the right of others to say things you may find hurtful or insulting to your religion. That’s how it works.
You cannot have a relatively free society without the freedom to insult and antagonise religious people. You cannot create a well functioning secular society without the right to insult religion. Otherwise, you end up like Pakistan, which plans to execute a mentally ill British man for being ‘blasphemous’.
I’m not saying Christians understand this fully (the Daily Mail constantly whines about insults to Christian sensibility); neither am I saying that non-religious Brits have this nailed down (people have been harassed for saying offensive things or just making jokes).
I am saying that minorities should be especially pro-free-speech, because when freedom of speech is curtailed, it is used against minorities first. And that freedom speech does and should always include the right to insult religion and religious figures.
You have a right to be offended.
You don’t have a right to censorship. You don’t have the right to shut down a play, close down an exhibition, stop a book being sold, or stop someone from speaking peacefully or holding a demo. And yes, that includes the likes of the EDL.
I’m really sick of some people acting like village thugs and demanding people listen to them because they feel insulted. No. No one cares if you feel hurt, especially if its over your religion. The rest of us don’t care how important it is to you – the right to insult and have free speech is far more important.
At the time of the Behzti play controversy, I was invited to a debate on BBC Asian Network where some Sikh ‘human rights’ organisation claimed they were going to sue the writer (herself a Sikh!) for inciting violence against Sikhs. I kid you not. I laughed in their face, on radio. That is how seriously these people should be taken. Their proposed plan never got anywhere of course.
Writing in the New Statesman, Labour Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan brazenly declares that the Liberal Democrat’s record in Government has left Labour as the party of civil liberties. This has kicked of predictable outrage from Lib Dem activists, with most people citing the poor record of the last Labour government.
Despite the Blair Government’s terrible approach to civil liberties and counter-terrorism, its wrong to call Khan a hypocrite.
For starters, he was one of the Labour rebels who voted against Tony Blair’s 90-day detention policy, back in 2005. More recently, he has admitted the party’s mistakes on human rights and civil liberties. Part of his Charter 88 anniversary lecture was a scathing critique of the last Labour Government’s approach:
And I hold up my hands and admit that we did, on occasions, get the balance wrong. On 42 and 90 days, and on ID cards, where the balance was too far away from the rights of citizens… On top of this, we grew less and less comfortable with the constitutional reforms we ourselves had legislated for. On occasions checked by the very constitutional reforms we had brought in to protect people’s rights from being trampled on. But we saw the reforms as an inconvenience, forgetting that their very awkwardness is by design. A check and balance when our policies were deemed to infringe on citizens’ rights.
If an opposition spokesperson says this, I think they ward off the charge of hypocrisy when they subsequently criticise the civil liberties failings of the Governing coalition. Whether the voters believe Labour or not is another matter, but I think the fact that the spokesman is someone who was a Government rebel on 90 days, and who has been a target of surveillance himself, make Labour’s position that little bit more credible.
Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, included similar nostra culpas in her Demos speech on security and surveillance.
Meanwhile, at the Liberal Democrat annual conference, delegates have approved motion F41 [PDF], a reaffirmation of their party’s committment to human rights and the Human Rights Act.
These debates make me happy. What Khan and McNally’s comments show is that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have begun to see the promotion of human rights as a vote winner. This is by no means a given in British politics, and not something to be taken for granted.
Regardless of Labour’s past failures, or the Liberal Democrats’ current, shaky record in office, we should still applaud these commitments to protect the Human Rights Act.
The alternative is the gutting or abolition of the Act, and a withdrawl from the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Conservatives are threatening to do (David Cameron even had a populist pop at the idea of human rights in a conference speech before he became Prime Minister).
When a politician speaks out in defence of human rights, the public need to show their approval of such statements and publicise them widely.
Who knows, if the politicians see that such positions are a vote winner, we may find that Nick Clegg is inspired to fight a little harder for rights and liberties in this parliament… and that Secretary of State Sadiq Khan is emboldened to defend and extend human rights in the next.
A piece of legislation that is going through Parliament is rather alarming. It has passed ‘committee stage’, meaning it’s close to becoming law.
It is all the closer, since no major media organisations have made a peep about it. And the Liberal Democrats haven’t complained, so presumably they are down with it.
Either way, we failed to notice progress of the daunting Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
– The replacement of the ASBO will be harsher and easier for the authorities to serve
– The replacement of the Dispersal Order will be harsher, longer lasting and easier for the authorities to serve
– These, together with recent government moves (below) represent a genuine threat to UK freedoms, not least the right to protest and right to assembly
What’s in the bill?
The bill is massively wide, and its whole contents are not discussed here. The two most worrisome things are:
– Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs)
– Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs)
IPNAs will replace the Daily Mail’s old favourite, the ASBO (Anti Social Behaviour Order), which was widely abused by the authorities and often failed to do much good. The government’s justification is that the new law will simplify New Labour’s populist anti-chav measure.
This version, however, is worse. ASBOs could only be issued when a yob/hoodie/hoodlum had done something wrong – caused ‘harassment, alarm or distress’.
As Scriptonite Daily points out, IPNAs require only that you might ‘engage in behaviour capable of causing annoyance’. This is FEROCIOUSLY WIDE AND FUZZY.
Public Spaces Protection Orders
These are theoretically designed to stop people letting their dogs shit everywhere or to keep loud drunks off quiet streets. But PSPOs suffer from the same hopelessly wide scope as IPNAs. They can pop up, pre-emptively, to halt ‘activities carried on or likely to be carried on in a public place will have or have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’ [Clause 55, 2., a-b].
PSPOs can apply for three years, then be renewed, and renewed, and renewed. According to The Manifesto Club, PSPOs will be easier to serve than current alcohol protection zones, and can be legally targeted at specific groups (e.g. ethnicities, protesters, horse racing enthusiasts). If you breach a PSPO you are subject to an on-the-spot fine of up to £100 which could go up to £1,000 on conviction, plus £500 if booze is involved (Summary part 152).
What are the implications?
It’s pretty obvious that these powers would give the police and local authorities a terrifying power to disperse peaceful protest movements. Worse, the filth could ban you pre-emptively, effectively ruining your right to protest and your right to assembly.
This is especially shit in the light of two related developments. Edward Snowden’s data-spying leaks have shown us that the UK government, MI5 and the police have access to virtually all our internet use and history. And have the capacity to sift it all. And have the precedent to suggest they will abuse such a power. This means I’m pretty afraid of one or other arm of government spying on (legal) discussions of political protest or opposition, then banning the people or groups planning to take to the streets (legally).
I’m also worried by the general climate the government is setting in the past few months. If it isn’t the TEMPORA/SocMint spying revelations, or abuses against Steven Lawrence’s family and friends, then there’s:
– Racist Van and the Home Office’s Hunger Games style live-feed of migrant arrests and asylum denials
– Cameron’s Porn Crusade [My analysis and links here]
– The Tories’ attempts to make it virtually impossible to take employers to court
– Chris Grayling’s universally-panned smash and grab job on the criminal justice system…
– And legal aid…
– And appeals
Pipeline legislation that will allow serious criminals to be kept in 5” x 5” cages, out in the open, with signs encouraging members of the public to masturbate or defecate onto them.
Better – write to your MP. Write to the MPs you think tend to stand for fluffy things like ‘justice’ and ’rights’ and ask what the fuck is going on. Ask why, in committee, the words ‘protest’ and ‘assembly’ did not come up. Ask whether this thundercunting debacle is possibly just an honest, massive oversight.
A longer version of this post was published here.
Jonathan is a writer and Civitas thinktank researcher.
There is a vociferous campaign against proposals to force ISPs to have opt-in rather than opt-out filters for pornography. It is also a campaign that doesn’t seem to be making much headway.
In fact, when I tweeted against it about a week ago, I was surprised to hear back from so many liberal-lefties who supported Cameron’s plans. Most of them were concerned mothers.
This is reflected in the press too. Late last week Deborah Orr wrote in the Guardian:
Frankly, it’s irksome to me that I’ve had to write this piece, which is essentially an appeal for calm in a climate that says, with a baffling disregard for the view of the vast majority, that the right to porn must be universal and that access to it must be protected from all possible inhibitions. Maybe Cameron’s idea is a lame duck. Let’s face it, they usually are. But the level of indignation over the fact that the prime minister is even thinking along these lines is weird.
In the Sunday Times Elearnor Mills said something similar.
This illustrates why the anti-porn-block campaign is failing: their primary argument is about free speech. ORG’s petition for example is titled ‘David Cameron: Stop Sleepwalking the UK into Censorship‘.
I’ll be brutally honest – this isn’t going to work. The supporters of the block don’t care for free speech in this case. They are worried about how easy access to porn is skewing the way young boys see women and sexual activity. In other words they don’t want their sons, or those of others, to grow up as sex pests.
This is a reasonable concern. And Cameron is directly addressing those concerns even if people aren’t sure that his plans will work.
There’s literally no point crying free speech or censorship if you’re arguing against these proposals. You’re preaching to the converted then. You’re preaching mostly to men.
The campaign should re-focus entirely and respond differently.
1) Accept there are legitimate concerns about how porn affects
young boys and men young people generally. Argue for a broader effort to counter this impact and follow it up with ideas and proposals (in conjunctions with women’s groups).
2) Explain how the proposals won’t work, technically.
3) Argue that it will only breed complacency with parents, many of whom will think they don’t need to worry after this when nothing will change in most cases. So the problem may actually get worse.
4) Say the focus should be instead on teaching Sex and Relationship Education. Point out that by focusing on porn-blocking the government is actually avoiding talk and action on SRE. Of course, it is not a matter of either/or – but in this case it looks like it. Cameron argues that he is pushing these proposals to stop the increased sexualisation of our society but this is a panacea; it won’t do much to help boys develop a healthy attitude towards women. Pushing this allows him to say that he is trying his best, without pushing something that actually works. Once again, it may make things worse by putting SRE on the back burner.
Some of these points are already made by some groups – and I don’t mean to single out ORG – but for most the key argument against this is on censorship. I don’t think that argument works because it does not appeal to mothers.
(Of course, I’m making generalisations about mothers here, but I don’t think exceptions invalidate the rule)
This week Sadiq Khan MP signalled that Labour were re-committing to human rights.
In front of an Unlock Democracy debate in Parliament, he rightly praised Labour’s first term successes – The Human Rights Act, freedom of information and the Supreme Court. But Labour later “got the balance wrong” on citzens’ freedom and security.
Now he wants Ed Miliband’s Labour to, “stand up for the rights of our citizens – holding to account politicians and public authorities, taking on vested interests”. It was really good stuff and engaging seriously with human rights issues sets him apart from too many Labour MPs.
He has a blind spot though. In 2000, Labour passed RIPA – the major British law governing surveillance. It’s RIPA that’s behind many of Edward Snowden’s revelations over the past few weeks. RIPA lets British intelligence agencies tap the world’s Internet data as it reaches British shores. GCHQ stores all that data for 3 days and the information about where you are, who you contact and which sites you visit for 30 days.
RIPA enables the UK to share PRISM’s findings. If you use the Internet, RIPA means you’re under surveillance. Sadiq said yesterday that RIPA is “great but out of date.” (I’ll give it to him. That’s a decent soundbite.)
But he’s wrong. RIPA isn’t great. It’s letting GCHQ carry out mass surveillance on the web’s 2 billion users regardless of whether they’ve done anything wrong.
That’s a huge invasion of privacy and discourages free speech and free association. These are all human rights too.
Sadiq pointed out several times how Labour got it wrong on human rights. But despite Edward Snowden’s revelations, he still thinks RIPA is a “great” law. If Labour want to be radical supporters of human rights in Government again, they need to prepare to reform RIPA.
GCHQ shouldn’t be allowed to hoard everyone’s data with little oversight. The police and intelligence agencies would be better off targeting suspected criminals. And it’s Parliament’s job to hold them to account when they make mistakes.
It’s great news that Sadiq Khan’s pushing for Labour to regain its radicalism on human rights. But human rights include the right to privacy. It’s important Labour doesn’t forget that.
The Intelligence and Security Committee wants to be taken seriously. We know this because in its previous incarnation it was regarded as a bit of a joke, producing reports so ridiculously censored that its existence was a waste of everyone’s time.
It was lied to repeatedly by the intelligence agencies, and when it wasn’t being lied to it was more than happy to change the very meaning of words in order to clear those it was meant to be monitoring of any involvement in little things like extraordinary rendition.
When it then postpones the very first occasion on which it was meant to be questioning the heads of the security services because “it’s too busy”.
This means it almost certainly won’t be rescheduled until October once the summer recess is done and the party conferences are over. Firstly you smell a rat, and secondly it makes a mockery of the new powers it has received.
As the Guardian almost incredulously reports, surely Thursday would have been a great opportunity to question those who normally prefer the shadows – both on whether more could have been done to prevent the murder of Lee Rigby (there’s MI5 involvement with Michael Adebolajo) and on the revelations about GCHQ’s spying on the G20 meetings and alleged tapping of the country’s main fibre optic cables via Project Tempora.
Frankly, who knows whether it was the committee or the agencies that decided they simply couldn’t be quizzed on TV when interest would have been high.
No, far better to let everything calm down, the accusations against GCHQ to be pushed to the back of minds, and then allow John Sawers and Andrew Parker to be extremely lightly grilled at some point in the future.
Taking into account that the trial of Adebolajo and Adebowale has been set for the 18th of November, it wouldn’t surprise if the heads either refused to answer questions on the Woolwich murder in light of the trial, or if the session was pushed even further back.
Regardless of the reality, the ISC is hardly convincing that it is up to the job it’s been set, and that’s just the way that the spooks like it.
I hope the news that the Metropolitan Police sent undercover police to spy on the Stephen Lawrence family becomes the turning point in the on-going spy cops scandal.
It’s surprising it has taken until now for broad calls for a public inquiry. Why not when we first discovered undercover police officers had been having long-term intimate relationships with activists as a tool for gathering information? What about all the other victims of police spies?
The Met had a unit that stole the identities of dead babies, apparently withheld information from a judicial inquiry and used sex as a tool to gain information and cover from innocent women.
Plus, we already have a fresh set of allegations that police spies infiltrated campaigns against police corruption. The sorry saga of perverted and possibly illegal undercover policing needs a public inquiry to get to the truth, or as much of it as we can.
There are currently between 12 to 15 inquiries or reviews looking into different aspects of the murky world of police spies.
The time has come for one judicial inquiry to look at all the allegations, including the crimes Mark Kennedy committed in Germany, Bob Lambert authoring the McLibel leaflet, fathering children with the women they spied on and the allegations about the firebombing of Debenhams raised under Parliamentary privilege.
There must be senior Ministers who are open to the inquiry idea, in the same way that the Met Commissioner appears to be.
It’s been 20 months since the Met launched Operation Herne, their own investigation into undercover policing, but the Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee are yet to be told how many matters have been referred to the IPCC for investigation, how many cases the CPS are looking at, if any disciplinary action has been taken against officers, or if these officers are still supervising undercover operations.
There are 23 officers and 10 staff working on the case, but there have been no arrests and the Home Secretary only heard about the alleged smearing of the Lawrence family via the media.
A judicial inquiry, unlike the internal police investigation and Tom Ellison QC’s review, would allow the victims of undercover operations – the women, the children of officers, the parents whose children’s identities were stolen and the Lawrences – a voice in this process.
They could tell their side of the story and see those responsible held to account in public for their actions and decisions.
PS, I will be questioning the Commissioner about undercover policing at Thursday’s meeting of the Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee.
I will also be speaking in the Speakers Forum, Green Futures Field of Glastonbury at 3pm on Saturday.
So the leaflet at the centre of the McDonalds libel trial was co-written by Bob Lambert, an undercover police officer who later apologised to the “law abiding members of London Greenpeace,” which he described as a peaceful campaigning group.
Likewise Mark Kennedy/Stone, who couldn’t fathom what threat the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station protesters he’d infiltrated posed. The judge trying one group of Ratcliffe protesters praised their public spiritedness. Doesn’t anyone else think it odd that the state spends millions of pounds infiltrating annoying, but mostly harmless, groups of hippies?
It makes no sense, until you stop to consider what happens to the surveillance data.
Simon Jenkins, in The Guardian, noted that Stone/Kennedy was working for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit whose chain of command lead to the Association of Chief Police Officers.
But ACPO isn’t a statutory body. It’s a private company and, according to Jenkins, it sold data to other private companies. It’s when you start to think about surveillance as a business that infiltrating peaceful, democratic green / leftist / anti-capitalist groups starts to make sense. There’s a market for surveillance data and demand drives supply.
Ask yourself this: who might buy data about far-right groups or militant ‘Islamists’ who represent a threat to public safety and the state? The answer, surely, is the state, and the state has tight budgets and a security apparatus of its own.
But who would buy information about greens, democratic leftists and assorted anti-capitalists? Big business has limited security apparatus of its own, deep pockets and, if protesters threaten the bottom line, the corporation’s motive-of-motives; money.
So the question is not ‘why spend so much infiltrating peaceful protest groups?’ but ‘just how far have our security priorities been distorted by the market for information?’ The more it becomes about money the less it becomes about national security and the more about protecting financial interests.
Now think about all this in the context of the Snowden revelations about PRISM and GCHQ.
Once we stood up for our liberties. Indeed millions donned uniforms and fought, were wounded or were killed in their defence. Now all it takes is one or two savage attacks on our streets and we’re prepared to throw away everything our forebears gave their lives for.
But we live in a different world where power is inexorably seeping away from our elected representatives who, however flawed they may be, are ultimately accountable to us. And power is flowing equally inexorably towards corporations – unaccountable, faceless and legally constituted to be amoral; uninterested in right and wrong only in serving their shareholders’ interests. PRISM benefits them.
What is at stake is not different ideas of right and wrong, right-wing morality versus left-wing morality, it’s whether we have a world in which morality plays any significant part at all.
Overwrought? Two weeks ago suggestions of an all-seeing, all-encompassing surveillance state across the Western democracies might have seemed equally so. But PRISM exists and so do real threats to the very fabric of society.
Our forebears were prepared to give their lives to stop this sort of thing. What are we prepared to give?
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