It's been a week that has highlighted the state's interest in diverse areas of our private lives, especially our online activities. There's good news for file-sharers though, as long as they're not dowloading comics...
Coroners and Justice Bill
Monday saw the second reading of the Coroners and Justice Bill, and bloggers have been busy all week unpicking the hotchpotch of illiberal measures contained in this piece of legislation.
Over at Lib Dem Voice, Alix Mortimer pointed to the unprecedented data-sharing provisions:
Effectively they provide ministers (note ministers, not secretaries of state) with an order-making power to enable any “person” (this can usually mean either an individual or an organisation) to share any private data they have in any way they wish, over-riding the provisions of the Data Protection Act. The only requirement is that the purpose of the order be “to secure a relevant policy objective”.
Downthetubes.net suggests that the bill's provisions against sexual images of children could make some popular comics illegal:
Comic book fans are being urged to lobby their MPs, the group [comicshopvoice] adding: "What is frightening about this law is that it gives [the Government] carte blanche to invade our lives, to shut down our comic shops and ultimately it could lead to censorship of books and films as well."
James Graham argues that such concerns are all too credible:
How many times have we seen photographers and protestors being arrested under terrorism laws for example? The fact that War on Terror boardgame can be confiscated on the grounds that the enclosed balaclava could be used for criminal activities tells me all I need to know. Secondly, there is the Lord Horror case. I seem to recall there being a number of other police raids on comic shops during the 1990s but since they were before the mass expansion of the internet I’m struggling to find confirmation of this.
Stop and Search
A pertinent example of mission creep in the police use of terrorism laws is provided by David Mery. He documents how counter-terrorism stop and search procedures have changed from a focus on detection to an emphasis on reassuring the public.
There's an implicit admission that Section 44 stops and searches do not detect terrorists. This is borne out by the available data. In the financial years 2003/4 to 2006/7, the Met stopped and searched 31,797 pedestrians using the powers of Section 44(2); of these only 79 were arrested in connection with terrorism - less than a quarter of a percent - and even fewer will be convicted. The purpose of deterring is feeble considering the extent to which the Home Office is ready to go to avoid revealing when and where the exceptional powers for Section 44 apply.
Filesharing and copyright
Cabalamat brings us one of the brights spots of the week with the news that Intellectual Property Minister David Lammy has rejected proposals to employ "the heavy hand of legislation" against people accused of illegal file-sharing on the internet.
It appears that Lammy is actually quite clueful and appears to realise that disconnecting millions of people from the net for filesharing is a total non-starter legally, politically, economically and technically.
In a further post, Cabalamat considers the pros and cons of a broadband tax as another way to protect the interests of content providers.
Free software for free speech
Andrew Hickey has taken up Modern Liberty's challenge to suggest ways in which we can reclaim our freedoms. Among his proposals is one which reflects the emergence of the internet as a key battleground for personal liberty:
If there’s one thing you can do to protect yourself from intrusion more than any other, it’s install a free software operating system on your computer. A GNU/Linux variant such as Debian or Ubuntu is not vulnerable to Windows viruses or many other methods of intrusion into your data. That may not seem like much, but in the UK right now the police no longer need a warrant to gain access to your computer and read all your data. Don’t want the police knowing about your collection of ‘erotica’? Or your connections to ’subversive’ groups? Or even just generally poking around in your stuff? Then don’t make it easy for them. Running Windows on your machine is like leaving all your doors and windows open.
The Liberal Society
In the true spirit of the Scottish enlightenment, contributors from north of the border have put a more philosophical spin on the subject of Liberty. Wardog makes the case for liberal civic nationalism, while McChatterer points to the roots of liberty in civil society:
What is the big deal, for example, in ID cards, you may ask, compared to the yoke strapped to the North Korean peasant? The big deal is the many, many years and tears it took society to reach its current state. Yet it will take an over-ambitious government only a couple of years to extend its power beyond its competency, as agreed by our current - unwritten - social contract.
If we are truly aiming for a modern liberty we have to allow room for those who disagree with us. But as Mill said the line gets drawn where that freedom harms an interest, violates a right, or neglects a duty owed to another person or persons. Indeed Mill himself, in his posthumous essays, saw a "social utility of religion " based on it having a moral code and leading to a benevolence of those who believed. He of course said that the strictures of dogma often impinged on others.