Tom Griffin (London, OK): Over at the Independent, Chris Huhne finds himself in the uncomfortable position of defending holocaust-denier Dr Frederick Toben, who is facing extradition to Germany under a European arrest warrant:
In Dr Toben's case, the European arrest warrant is being used to detain someone who lives in Australia and who was changing planes at Heathrow, but is accused of the offence of Holocaust denial in Germany. Dr Toben has not committed an offence under British law or indeed under the law of 17 of the 27 European Union member states. I respect the right of Germany, Austria and others to criminalise Holocaust denial, but I do not want to imitate them. That is why our courts should refuse extradition.
The legal controversy does not end with the use of the warrant. Dr Toben is accused in Germany but his offence is to post on an Australian website. Germany has taken on itself the role of censor, because of the capacity to download content in Germany. It is hard to see where such an attempt to extend jurisdiction might end, or what its chilling effects on freedom of speech might ultimately be.
Guy Aitchison (London, OK): The battle for privacy in the digital age is being fought on many fronts (a point last night's seminar on the database state - reported on below by Tom Griffin - made abundantly clear). Some of these battles are being fought more publicly than others. I've been aware of Jacqui Smith's Orwellian plans to permanently store the whole population's electronic communications, including browsing history, in a huge central database since the summer thanks to No2ID flagging up the plans here on OK. But only today was I made aware of Phorm, a sinister new behavioural tracking technology currently being trialled by the country's biggest Internet Service Provider, BT.
Phorm is the subject of a must-read exchange between Peter Bazalgette, formerly of Endemol, the producers of Big Brother (yes, the headlines write themselves), and Becky Hogge of the Open Rights Group. In a speech at the LSE (published this month by Prospect - excert in the FT), Bazalgette argues that by campaigning against Phorm, and other technologies which capture web browsing habits for the purposes of advertising, privacy groups like the ORG are helping to prevent the full economic potential of the web from being realized:
A website launched by the government in July to find out what 16-25 year olds think of the national ID scheme has been closed. Visitors to the site are now greeted by the message "Site off-line: The mylifemyid community has now finished. Many thanks for your contribution. We will post a notification here when the report is published". Most of the comments posted on the site, that cost £76,249 to set up and maintain, were against ID cards and the National Identity Register so it will be interesting to see the promised report...
What I love most about this is the name the Home Office bods (or whichever private consultancy firm the 76k went to) came up with to try and make ID cards appealing to people of my age group. You can just imagine them - "The yoof love MySpace don't they? How about calling it 'mylifemyid'?"...only to be swamped by a tsunami of hostile comment, most of which was probably unpublishable. Makes yer proud, doesn't it?
Tom Griffin (London, OK): The database state is moving forward at an increasing pace, but it is not inevitable, and there are far better ways of dealing with the identity challenges of the information age. That was the conclusion that emerged from a Rowntrees Governance Seminar on the subject at Westminster on Wednesday.
In the opening presentation Phil Booth of NO2ID defined the database state as "using computers to manage society by watching people."
He suggested that the Government has lost the argument on every front, but was developing a narrative that the database state is inevitable. Stressing that those who oppose the Government's plans are not Luddites, he said that, in many cases, their technical awareness exceeds that of the Home Office. Booth outlined three approaches that offer an alternative way forward.
- Information privity: a new sort of enforceable property right, with some of
the features of confidentiality, but extending to all personal information.
Analagous to leases of property or licenses of copyright, which occur
through a chain of contracts - each of which gives specific, limited rights
to the recipient, no rights to those outside the chain and direct redress
against any infringer.
- Authentication/verification rather than identification: In many cases it is only necessary to verify one particular fact about a person. This can be achieved by a market of overlapping identity tokens, rather than putting all our eggs in one basket as with a centralised database.
- Precisely targeting problems: for example by allowing people to freeze their own credit records, a radical departure from the database state approach which has already been applied in the United States.
Booth stressed that individual control, choice and consent were vital principles: "In an information society things done to your data can have as much effect as things done to you in person. We have to get this right now."
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I have a feeling that the Deripaska affair could lead to a political crash that interlinks with the financial crash. There is a bubble element to the Corfu gathering and its ill-gotten billions with journalists afraid of saying what they suspect about our Russian friend for fear of being shot or chemically disposed of. The BBC insists that the actual story concerns the specific allegations against George Osborne while the Mail says that the Beeb is covering up for Mand. I suspect that Charles Moore in the Spectator gets the larger point.
Why is it so important for Mr Rothschild to divert attention from Lord Mandelson? It must surely have something to do with Mr Deripaska, for whom Mr Rothschild works, and to whom, before everything went wrong, he introduced Mr Osborne four times in three days. It must matter very much indeed to Mr Deripaska that his dealings with Lord Mandelson are not pursued, and Mr Rothschild must be so devoted to keeping in with Mr Deripaska that he feels it necessary to fall out with someone who may well be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer. What is at stake for the Russian, the Rothschild and our new Business Minister? It feels as if it must be a great deal.
Or at least one aspect of it. I'm looking forward to Peter Oborne's reflections, after all could there be a more enjoyable example of a political class in action - with the Murdoch print and TV media, Eurocrats, party funders, hedge-funders galivanting together in a honeypot atmosphere with the promise of more goodies to come? An essential part of the argument in Peter's book being that there is a political class that is also a reincarnation of the old corruption.
The scoundrels are all in it together. But there is one twist not commented on so far. The Tory Party made a wager on Cameron because he was from the gilded class and because he had the polish and attraction of Blair in the era when globalisation was sweeping all before it. His opponent was, of course, David Davis who seemed much less glamorous and fashionable. But what a difference it could have made now if DD's duller but gritty integrity was the defining material of Tory opposition to Mandelson and Brown.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): Could victory in the Glenrothes by-election set the seal on Gordon Brown's political comeback? Labour pollsters have told the Prime Minister that they will win on the back of his handling of the banking crisis, according to the BBC.
As the Sunday Times noted at the weekend, the credit crunch has prompted a reassessment of the viability of Scottish independence. Brown himself has not been afraid to make the argument, citing the UK bailout of HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland:
"We were able to act decisively with £37bn. That would not have been possible for a Scottish administration.
"We've seen the problems in Iceland, we've seen the problems in Ireland, we were able to put the whole strength of the United Kingdom's resources behind these two banks and I think it's important because I value the Scottish banking tradition, I think that everybody does."
Whether it is Brown's interests to preserve the Scottish banking tradition is open to question. Many now believe that the Downing Street-arranged merger of HBOS with Lloyds-TSB is unnecessary. The deal will inevitably weaken Edinburgh's status as a financial centre, and thereby, incidentally, the case for Scottish independence. One cannot help but wonder whether this was a factor in Brown's pursuit of this option.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Now that I have attracted your attention, I'll lead with an answer. If there is a Churchill in our moment of financial need, to withstand the advancing hordes of neo-liberal meltdown is is Vince Cable. He has just emerged as far away the most admired politician in the recent Politics Home survey.Andrew Rawnsley reports that:
His predictions of the financial crisis, and performance during the mayhem in the markets, have clearly impressed the political experts and insiders.
He gets a predictably high score from Lib Dem panellists who rate him 8.5. He also impresses non-aligned panellists who give him an even better 8.6.
He has plenty of admirers among left-leaning panellists who score him at 8.0, a higher rating than they give to any member of the Cabinet.
Least generous are right-leaning panellists who award him 7.3. Even then, that is equal to the highest rating that right-leaning panellists give to Tory politicians.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): CiF has launched a new Henry Porter blog. It opens with a post on Ken Macdonald's valedictory lecture as the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions. He warns, and he should know, "we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it". I'm going to reproduce the whole of the section on Terror because it is so strong and well said.
But first, two things about the speech and one about Henry P. I'm struck that Macdonald says we should imagine the world we are creating. oD is about to run an article by Tom Nairn on globalisation that discusses the power and importance of imagination. Macdonald uses it in a matter of fact way, and this is right. It is a critical aspect of our politics and culture, and an explosive one to be treated with respect.
Second, the speech is a must read simply because it is so clear and so well set out. It tells us the history of the development of an independent public prosecution service. I read the papers a lot but I never understood what had been done, or why. A really profound change in our constitution took place with no effective public debate. Once again our parliamentary system and its attendent media has proved cretinous. You don't read speeches like this from our politicians either. This one is about saying clearly what is meant, setting out a case and how it came about. It's not a seeking for influence with the tabloids, or full of windy rhetoric or tortured positioning laced with pseudo-show-off references.
Now for Henry - our most consistent critic of the world that Macdonald warns us against and which is being created (imagined and implemented) as we blog. He is now adding to his Observer columns this new, regular on-line service. Also we are working with him and others on a project to bring everyone together in the new year - to debate all the implications of liberty in the modern context as our fundamental rights and freedoms are threatened; perhaps, if the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions is right, irreversibly.
As I near my conclusion, let me, in my final public speech as DPP, repeat my call for level headedness and for legislative restraint in an age of very dangerous movements.
We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom's back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security State.
Over the last thirty years technology has given each of us, as individual citizens, enormous gifts of access to information and knowledge. Sometimes it seems as if everything in the world is at our fingertips and this doubtless has made our lives immeasurably richer.
But technology also gives the State enormous powers of access to knowledge and information about each one of us. And the ability to collect and store it at will. Every second of every day, in everything we do.
Of course modern technology is of critical importance to the struggle against serious crime and, used wisely, it can and will protect us.
But we need to understand that it is in the nature of State power that decisions taken in the next few months and years about how the State may use these powers, and to what extent, are likely to be irreversible. They will be with us forever. And they in turn will be built upon.
So we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can't bear.
Of course our country faces very significant risks.
And I have enormous admiration for all those in the police and in the security and intelligence services who work with such energy and verve to combat those risks.
The prosecutors in my Counter Terrorism Division have similarly distinguished themselves time and again since we set it up it three years ago.
I've not forgotten, indeed it is salutary to remember, that when I took up my appointment five years ago, some people questioned my suitability on the grounds that I had, in my career at the Bar, defended terrorists of almost every hue.
Of course I was not ashamed of this. Indeed I was very proud of it. Defence lawyers must never judge their clients and there is no hierarchy of righteousness in criminal advocacy.
But I made clear, nevertheless, that my period as Director of Public Prosecutions would be accompanied by a relentless prosecutorial struggle against terrorism. And so it has been.
From the start that struggle has been absolutely grounded in due process and pursued with full respect for our historical norms and for our liberal constitution. We have not feared fairness.
We all know that this has worked. Our conviction rate is in excess of 90%- unmatched in the fair trial world. We have a guilty plea rate of over 40%.
So we have been absolutely right to resist, whenever they have been suggested, special courts, vetted judges and all the other paraphernalia of paranoia.
Of course, you can have the Guantanamo model.
You can have the model which says that we cannot afford to give people their rights, that rights are too expensive because of the nature of the threats we are facing.
Or you can say, as I prefer to, that our rights are priceless. That the best way to face down those threats is to strengthen our institutions rather than to degrade them.
It is difficult to see who will maintain a cool head if governments don't. Or who will protect our Constitution if governments unwittingly disarm it.
The response to terror is multi-layered. It has to be that way.
In some contexts it is dealt with geopolitically, by engaging relations between sovereign states.
In others it is disrupted by intelligence and by other interventions. In still others the response must plainly be military.
But on the streets of our country, violent law breaking is dealt with as crime. It is taken through the courts as crime and it is confronted with in accordance with our Constitution.
In all the debates that have raged back and forth, Britain has been absolutely right, and our government has been absolutely right, to hold fast to this course.
We would do well not to insult ourselves and all of our institutions and our processes of law in the face of these medieval delusions.
As I say, the response to terror is multi-layered. But it should not include surrender.
Clare Coatman (London, oD): In an attempt to engage young people with the formal political process, the Youth Citizenship Commission (YCC) - a body set up this summer as part of the Governance of Britain agenda to "examine ways of developing young people's understanding of citizenship and increase their participation in politics" - is beginning a three month consultation on lowering the voting age to sixteen - the first of a range of proposals. The consultation paper (pdf) includes information on where we fit in internationally, the current legal picture (what rights and responsibilities come into effect at what ages) and the implications of both leaving the law untouched and reforming it.
Sixteen-year-olds can get married, have children and join the army. They are among those who will feel the long term impact of global warming, our foreign policy and the recent financial crisis. They will face major challenges from rising unemployment and will feel the full effects of our education policy.
As National Coordinator of NO2ID I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies. But this hardly includes the thin sugar-coating on the Home Secretary's speech last week when she described her promised 'consultation' on the Communications Data Bill. Hers was a transparent attempt to misdirect the argument.
The government says it won't be storing the content of your telephone or internet use, as if that makes it all right. It is however proposing to record – for life – the details of everyone you call or write to and what websites you visit.
Do you want the State (which in the UK means a large and growing number who can gain access to its systems) to have a record of your religious and political interests, your sexual curiosities, your financial and medical worries, your wider (or narrower) concerns and your special relationships; not to mention a trace of what it reckons ‘you’ have done on your computer even when it is done by someone else? You don’t?
Patrick Corrigan, (Amnesty Blogs: Belfast and Beyond): Some detailed leaks in the News Letter this morning about the supposed likely recommendations of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland. As I have blogged before, their report isn't now due for publication until December or January, but today's news reports gives a fair few details.
The Belfast Telegraph's story describes the proposals as follows:
"… there will be a five-year commission to investigate murders – headed by an independent international commissioner. The British and Irish Governments would appoint that commissioner with the agreement of the Executive and there will be an Investigations Unit and an Information Recovery Unit.
The plan is for the Investigations Unit to take over the work of the current Historical Enquiries Team and the legacy cases that are dealt with by the Police Ombudsman’s office.
"… if prosecution is not possible — then with the agreement of families cases can go to the Information Recovery Unit. Anyone with knowledge of killings will be encouraged to “tell what they know” — and any information they would give would not be admissible in court. That means there would be immunity from prosecution."
My sources tell me (yes, I have a few!) that on this occasion the leak isn't from Eames-Bradley themselves and that they are a bit disconcerted that it has taken place, but we can probably assume that the report is fairly accurate.
by taking decisive action domestically, and by leading the debate on a new approach internationally, the UK will remain a world leader in financial services. The fundamentals that underpinned our successes over the last decade have not changed - a talented workforce, world-class infrastructure and an internationalism and openness unmatched by other financial centres.
Meanwhile, Nelson Schwarts in the New York Times reveals how the US viewed the City,
In recent years, as Wall Street boomed, Americans often dismissed Europe as a place for languorous meals and vacations, not economic innovation.London remained a financial hub, of course, but it was often treated dismissively — as a flashy aberration pumped up by petrodollars from Russia and the Gulf, an exception to the otherwise somnolent Continent.
It's an especially interesting read because the NYT is ambivalent as to whether Britain is now to be regared as part of a European response or not.
Damian O'Loan (Paris): The government, shamed by the criticisms in yesterday's coroner's report labelling MoD failures "lamentable", was perhaps only too aware of the attraction of dropping the idea of secret inquests from the failed Counter-Terrorism Bill. As ever though, they will revert to another piece of legislation to implement what is clearly neither wanted nor needed. If, as noted by Tom Griffin, the Conservatives continue to base their opposition on the needs of British service personnel only, it is possible that the general public will be at risk.
Secret inquests, along with internment without trial, formed part of the draconian Special Powers Act 1922 that failed spectacularly in Northern Ireland. The government claims the need to protect vital security information trumps the relevant human rights concerns. The concern is that if the state is involved in a death, it could use this legislation to conceal evidence, and prejudice the right to effective remedy. As we have seen in Northern Ireland with infiltration methods, and Britain with the de Menezes muder, there can be no certainty that this is an outlandish proposal.
Mike Small (Fife, Bella Caledonia): Last week's lost cause is this week's cause celebre. Mr Bean - virtually laughed out of office two weeks ago - is this week's giant of fiscal rectitude bestriding the world stage like a colossus of economic management. Inconvenient truths like the role New Labour played in the deregulation of goods and services, the 'liberation' of the Bank of England or support for the policy of basing your economy on spiralling housing prices, are swept aside in the glib wave of back-slapping that is sweeping the political commentariat.
The media is fickle, not feral.
Gleefully Jim Murphy the new Scottish Secretary mocks the SNP with reference to the 'arc of insolvency', a reference to the 'arc of prosperity' that the SNP have used to describe Iceland, Ireland and Norway. The problem with Labour's new found chutzpah is that they are treading on thin ice. The markets are faltering, the terrain unpredictable. Just as the SNP's original triumvirate of Ireland, Iceland and Norway was a too-convenient set, it equally fails as an example of why Scotland must be held to the Union. Norway is doing fine in the financial crisis, Iceland is not. The scale and impact of crisis has little or nothing to do with the size and constitutional make-up of the country involved.
Clare Coatman (London, oD): Jacqui Smith's speech on counter-terrorism, which she gave to the ippr on Wednesday, has attracted a fiercely critical response from both the media and the opposition parties (you can read the speech in full here). Chris Huhne described the plans for a central database of all mobile phone and internet traffic as "Orwellian" and Dominic Grieve made a strong case that there is no justification for "such an exponential increase in the powers of the state."
Along with OK's Guy Aitchison, I sat in the audience for the speech which was held in the luxurious offices of the law firm Clifford Chance high up in Canary Wharf. Smith started off with a brief history of terrorism in the UK which she described as having two phases. "Phase one" terrorism purportedly spanned the 70's and 80's and was characterised by clearly focused objectives in specific geographical locations; attacks by non-nationals and the lack of a public narrative or use of religious language. "Phase two" terrorism, or 'new terrorism,' is characterised by domestic recruitment; a public narrative; a well defined ideology often expressed in religious language; the willingness to use WMDs to inflict mass casualties and the use of sophisticated technologies.