Privacy Liberty and security: How will Labour tackle terror?

This was chaired by Jamie Bartlett of Demos, with David Blunkett and Helen Goodman with Nick Pickles of Big Brotherwatch. Jamie Bartlett, who has an interesting publication record at Demos may have been the perfect chair for the meeting.

He opened by looking at Labour’s mixed record, on the positive side introducing the Human Rights Act and on the less positive side, introducing RIPA and extending detention. RIPA is not well understood; but it defines the powers and duties in the issue of search warrants as a result most police searches are now self-authorised. He made the point that once in existence, databases suffer from scope creep and that to some extent the Communications Data Bill is an attempt to legalise actions already taken.

David Blunkett spoke next, and opened by remarking that the ‘Ring of Steel’ around the conference seemed less intrusive than previous years although I can’t comment since I wasn’t there. Unlike some Blunkett reviewed MI5’s historic spying on the Trade Union movement and added the Data Protection laws on the plus side of the ledger and the Terrorism Acts on the negative. He stated that in some cases, the Labour Government returned to Parliament to make changes since the first attempts had the balance between security and liberty wrong. The appointment of the parliamentary spymaster was an attempt to build oversight and confidence of effective oversight, but one that has clearly not worked. He stated he was proud to have abolished the double jeopardy protection since Steven Lawrence’s killers would still be free if he hadn’t.  In my view this pride leads to a paradox, Lawrence’s killers took so long to find guilty because the police enquiry was corrupted. It’s the same police force that is being relied on to protect us against terrorism. If they can’t defend our right to life against poorly armed home grown racists, what makes anyone think they can do so against the current groups of urban, global terrorists? The evidence isn’t good. He finished his speech with comments about the decadence of Berlin in the 1930’s and the tide of bestial porn threatening our society today. This is reported by the BBC and commented on by David Allen Green in his Jack of Kent twitter timeline. The BBC report these comments and turn his speech which was a commentary on the legal changes made as a result of 911 and 7/7 into a contribution on ‘adult content filtering’. He said what he said, but it was only part of that speech.  David Allen Green’s comment about “Labour ex-home secretaries” being an archetype, is quite funny as is his correspondent’s comment that Blunkett is using “Cabaret” as a history book. It’s a thought I had at the time, but this trivialising of the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the role of the Left & Trade Union movement’s in fighting the Brown Shirts helps no-one. (And now I have done it too, more words about the silliness, and not about the growth of the security state!)

Helen Goodman spoke next and opened by saying that there are two threats, Terrorism & [State] Bossiness.  She then suggested that the Internet is like a wild west, a land of outlaws like 12th century Sherwood Forest, that Robin Hood and his Merry Men were outlaws because they were outside the law and we need a legal framework based on the same principles as today. The problem I have with this, is that it is not a wild west, or even a Sherwood Forest, the law remains the same and the basic human rights of privacy, and freedom to organise are still central legal rights and principles. To most English people, Robin Hood is hero, who broke the law because it was unjust. Admittedly if one actually got to the truth it was probably a continuation of the fights amongst the aristocracy as to who had the right to oppress the peasantry and get rich on the proceeds, and robbing from the rich to give to the poor may well just have been a bribe for silence; more Game of Thrones than Peasants revolt. Also I don’t think the Labour Party yet criticises Robin Hood for pursing a policy of income equity; also the Financial Transaction Tax which we are inching towards, is known as the Robin Hood tax. Helen is on record and repeated her policy objective that online activity should be traceable. I can’t see how to do that without denying effective encryption to us all, or prohibiting children from using the internet, did she actually mention driving licences as a precedent? and it’s quite clear that this cannot be done without changing the State’s supervisory relationship with the ISPs (i.e. telephone companies) and the mobile network providers. Helen’s priority is child protection, in particular from each other. Of course, she too, argued for adult content filters on all new internet connections.

When the ORG started its campaign against net content filtering I was in two minds and when I first got my own smart phone, as opposed to being given one by my employer, I left the filtering on. As David Blunkett says there’s some nasty stuff out there which I am happy not to see or read; the problem is that someone else is deciding what’s not to be seen. I found that researching P2P technology on the web was over filtered, and that football fan racism wasn’t. So I turned it off and will now always opt-out of these filters. When I first got Sky, I turned on my Sky set-top box X content password; but this was because there is a shit load of it and it’s all additionally chargeable; I and Mrs. L didn’t want to hand the wallet over. Looking back, this may have been unnecessary but we have only occasionally needed to use the password to watch X (18+) certificate general release films on the rare occasions we use Sky Box office. An interesting aspect of this discussion, is that I am talking and thinking about protecting myself; it’s not “for the children”.

I am now convinced that it’s not possible to design a filter that permits research and prohibits voyeurism. I am further convinced that I do not want someone else deciding what I can and cannot see and read, as I said it gets difficult when considering research and politics. I agree with the line that Diane Abbott has taken in the undesirability of the pornification of society and that I believe that porn degrades its users and objectifies and degrades its participants. What to do?

Given that the title of the session was “Privacy Liberty and security: How will Labour tackle terror?”, I, the BBC and the meeting have taken huge amounts of time in considering child protection as opposed to Privacy and Security. I suppose the child guardians oppose the right to anonymity and the right to free speech and so they believe that state surveillance of the use of the internet, the privatisation of surveillance to the social networks , the MPAA and the music trade are legitimate tools and the illegal behaviour of the spies and corporates is just a bye product.

On the issue of free speech, it would be good to get Article 19 down to talk, since the Labour Party has been massively influenced by “No Platform” and has just started a discussion on how a good society regulates Pornography and its impact on society. Article 19 have thought hard about how to make policy in these difficult areas that challenge the right to free speech. At least they show a path, there’s no meeting of minds with the “I disagree with what you say, but defend your right to say it” crowd.

I spoke, and followed a speaker who was critical of the New Labour Governments and I reminded the meeting that it was Labour Government that passed the Human Rights Act, which is both the legal lodestone and benchmark against which, corporate and state spying is being judged. What we have to apologise for is limited? This is a serious defence for the rights of people in the UK, shown by the Tories desire to repeal the Act and leave the European Convention.

I asked,

Do you believe that GCHQ should be tapping the UK’s edge and sharing this information with the NSA?

Do you believe that the NSA should be inserting back doors into communications and encryption technology?

Would you ban anonymous access to citizens?

The problem with taking questions in batches is that they can be ignored. An action I make easier by asking three questions. At least I do ask questions, rather than make a speech. I got no answers to my questions. Actually this is a bit rude, I think the panel might expect the majority of attendees to be Labour Party members and that they have a duty to have a conversation with them. It seems that the front bench have some learning to do, although it doesn’t surprise me.

Ecommerce will be hard without trusted encryption. You can’t believe people are who they say, nor produce evidence that they have made an agreement with you.

My notes make the point that the agreement of Universal Rights, which the world did through the United Nations in 1948 is in fact the building block on which a world citizenship will be defined. The world-wide anger that the US justifies the NSA overreach to their taxpayers by stating they’re only spying on foreigners is one piece of evidence. This anger is shared by some US citizens. The Tories desire to opt-out of the ECHR is another piece of evidence.

Blunkett in his summing up said,

…lack of judicial oversight is a problem

And Helen Goodman agreed saying that she had been persauded by the meeting, so some good done then, but overall I am not sure the Labour Party is grown up enough to deal with these issues, nither Privacy, nor Secutity nor Child Protection.

Nick Pickles, the Director of Big Brother Watch who I think is good on these issues was rather eclipsed.

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