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When the BBC met the Terrorism Act

Why was the laptop of a BBC journalist seized by counter-terrorism police?

GCHQ and me

Investigative journalist Duncan Campbell recounts his experiences unmasking British eavesdroppers. 

Apologists for terror or defenders of human rights? The Cage controversy in context

The attack on Cage is part of the more general assault on politically active Muslims and an attempt to push Muslim organisations to the margins of public life.

Schooling ‘British values’: threatening civil liberties and equal opportunities

Attempts to secure ‘integration’ based on ‘British Values’ are not just infringing on civil liberties, but are also likely to damage student self-confidence and academic performance.

"One Nation Britain" and anti-extremism

As the government makes a grab for new terrorism powers, we need to examine the basis of its "extremism" narrative.

A green and pleasant land? The trauma of the British asylum system

The system of asylum in the UK pushes mental fortitude to its limits. 

Beware the terrorist lurking in your bookcase: are British citizens being prosecuted for thought crimes?

Britain's counter-terrorism laws are becoming more sweeping and powerful. They are beginning to criminalise not only what we do, but also what we say and think.

Sunny on the threat and promise of new technology

Sunny Hundal has an article in this week's New Statesman on the double-edged nature of modern technology, which simultaneously allows governments and corporations to track us and collect and store great swathes of personal information, but also gives us the tools we need to organise and fight back. He has some generous things to say about the Convention on Modern Liberty which was an alarm call at the threats to freedom from new technology but also a celebration of its emancipating power.

Many ordinary people do not realise just how much information is being stored about them. The technological complexities have allowed the government in effect to say, "Trust us, we're here to protect you," without having the full fail-safe systems in place.

Furthermore, the "database state" has become a fully fledged "database economy". Corporations have huge financial stakes in perpetuating this state of affairs, whether through government contracts or gathering information themselves. The Tesco Clubcard and Google search history are essentially giant, lucrative data-mining operations.

Time for Magna Carta 2.0

Guy Aitchison, Thomas Ash & Clare Coatman: Few legal documents resonate in the collective consciousness like Magna Carta. Imposed on King John at Runnymede in 1215 by a consortium of feudal barons, the Great Charter has come to symbolise the idea that collective action is a proper and successful way to protect our rights and freedoms from arbitrary and unaccountable power and the ambitions of an over-powerful, self-seeking and avaricious state. Nearly eight hundred years on, it is an idea we aim to draw inspiration from in an open and democratic way. It is time for Magna Carta 2.0.

We want to make Magna Carta 2.0 a call to people and organisations of all political persuasions across the country to put a stop to the threats to our liberty, clean up the way we are governed and ensure that the state respects the people. We want to do this now and engage with parliamentary candidates ahead of the next general election over the dangers and what they intend to do about them. We believe such dangers manifest themselves in at least six ways.

  1. The corruption and suborning of parliament as a check on the executive which accelerated after its support for the Iraq invasion now exposed by the Lords cash for amendments scandal and MPs on the make.
  2. The rise of a surveillance society, from the blanket logging of all our electronic communications to CCTV to travel scrutiny
  3. The sharing of personal information on official and commercial databases: the rise of the so-called database state
  4. Growing police autonomy, both nationally - the Association of Chief Police Officers, for example, is an independent corporate entity not a public body - and internationally, especially within the EU
  5. Exploitation of the threats of crime and terrorism to excessively enhance state power and undermine our fundamental rights often accompanied by encouraging populist fears and alarms
  6. The exercise of arbitrary and unaccountable power by government agencies and quangos

An important step in overcoming these threats is to educate politicians, ourselves and the wider public on their real nature and significance. In February the Convention on Modern Liberty showed there is both a clear need and a hunger to connect the issues and to debate them in an intelligent and democratic way. This is especially true of our generation, which has come into politics since 1997 and feels alienated from a political system and culture that is contemptuous of democracy and regularly exposed as being corrupt and venal.

Help with legal challenge to kettling

Stuart White: News just in that the Climate Camp is trying to move forward with a legal challenge to the police kettling at Bishopsgate on April 1. As I argued in an earlier post, there is good reason to think that the kettle at Bishopsgate was illegal even if the Law Lords’ decision in the Austin case earlier this year is good law. There is a strong case that the kettle in question did not meet the tests of reasonableness and proportionality which the Law Lords laid down.

However, the Climate Camp needs money to mount the legal challenge:

‘We really, really, need to raise £40,000 quickly to challenge the kettling. It may seem a lot but we think we can do it - small amounts from lots of people will get us to this target. See the Camp Donate page to donate to the Legal fund. Please tell all your friends and rich aunties.’ Relevant links are here (Legal Team) and here (Donations). Let’s give generously!

cross-posted from Next Left

Trapped and beaten by police in Climate Camp

Media coverage of the G20 protests has focused almost entirely on the violence outside the Bank of England and, following the release of Guardian footage, the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson. Events at the Bishopsgate Climate Camp, which was cordoned off in an aggressive operation by riot police, went largely unreported by the BBC and other major media outlets. Most of the reporting has come from online sources (see Stuart White and Beth McGrath for example). Here we publish another eye-witness account of the aggressive police action.

Chris Abbott: I went down to the climate camp after work on Wednesday as I had heard that it was completely peaceful and I wanted to see what it was like. Unfortunately, I got trapped there when the police first charged and then penned everyone in early in the evening and none of us could get out (this was about 7.00-7.30pm). Footage of this is now on YouTube. During this first, entirely unprovoked, attack I lost my girlfriend in the crowd - but I later found out she was punched by a policeman while trying to stop another girl being trampled on after being knocked to the floor.

Once that had calmed down, my girlfriend and I found each other and were sat with others in front of the line of riot police on the south side of Bishopsgate. It was completely peaceful once again and we were even joking and talking with the police. We were there for a couple of hours when they suddenly charged again without any warning (this was about 9.30-10.00pm). We were still sat down and offered no resistance at all. My girlfriend was pressure pointed on the neck (extremely painful), dragged backwards off me and had both her wrists bent behind her back by two policemen who threatened to break them. They dragged her outside the police cordon and then said "what should we do with her now?" before the other said "let's throw her back in", which they did - head first, with her hands behind her back. She landed on the floor and has now got severe bruising on her legs (which we have photos of) and very painful wrists (which we actually thought might be broken).

Britain's policing problem

Britain was once famous for its unarmed and relatively restrained police force, but the death of a man at last week's G20 protests in London has brought into focus serious concerns with a new aggressive form of policing. Former police chief Andy Hayman today warned that "If left unchecked, we have a more violent crowd in uniform than the one demonstrating."

Here I give my account of the protests and the police tactics used. This article was written several days prior to the release of the video showing  Ian Tomlinson, the man who died at the protests, being beaten and pushed by a baton-wielding policeman shortly before his death.

Does Britain now have an aggressive system of policing that undermines the country's democratic traditions by systematically intimidating and closing down any protest it does not consider ‘safe'? The way that the G20 protests were managed suggests that we do. In particular the policy of "kettling" is a deliberate form of indiscriminate, collective punishment of demonstrators committed to peaceful protest, which seems designed to frighten people from expressing their disapproval of a system that is now, even by its own admission, dysfunctional.  The development is part of a wider pattern of state authoritarianism not to speak of out-of-control policing. I was present in the City of London throughout Wednesday's events. Here I give my account of the protests, and an overview of the reports about them, with some ideas on how we can re-claim our liberty from those who would undermine it through fear and bullying.

Since Wednesday April 1st there have been several first-hand accounts by protestors of the heavy handidness and, in many cases, brutality of the police's approach to the protests at the Bank of England and Climate Camp. These have helped counter some of the all too predictable smears coming from sections of the mainstream media. There is now a strong case which says that not only did the police action raise serious civil liberties concerns; it was counter-productive, provoking violence and endangering the safety of peaceful protestors.

Carnival on Modern Liberty. 4

Guy Aitchison (London, CML): The latest edition of the blog Carnival on Modern Liberty is brought to you by Jennie Rigg over at the Yorksher Gob. This week's edition is stuffed full of liberty-related posts from across the blogosphere brought to you in carnivalesque one liners. Get your ticket here and enjoy the ride!

Next week's Carnival is hosted by Matt Wardman. Make your submissions here.

Database state on the defensive

Tom Griffin (London, OK): No one has kept a closer eye on the rise of the database state than Henry Porter. On his Guardian blog today he sees signs in stories from Westminster, Scotland, Northern Ireland and France that suggest the tide may just be turning.

In the United Kingdom the primary struggle against government intrusion centres on the ID card and the plans for a huge government silo to store information on every phone call, email and internet connection. There is good news on both these but the campaign against the theft of our democratic rights will not be won unless public opinion builds against these two schemes.

It is in our hands. 

Curing the constitution

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Over at Comment is Free, OurKingdom founder Anthony Barnett reflects on the lessons of the 42 day debacle:

There is an authoritarian cancer in the British system that has metastasised. From the Treasury-inspired "transformational government", to local council CCTV, to the interception modernisation programme that proposes to "live tap" all electronic communication, to ID cards – you name it, it seems, and they will be onto it – an official will is at work to police, control, arrest and expel. It regards restraints, from the Human Rights Act to parliamentary scrutiny as "old thinking". And it is turbo-charged by the huge funding opportunities that "new thinking" permits.

However, I also think that even if we do not have a healthy body politic, we do have a healthy public attitude which can purge the cancer and cure the patient. 

42 days in the balance

Tom Griffin (London, OK):With the Counter Terrorism Bill due to resume its passage though Parliament this week, Amnesty has launched a new petition against the provision to extend detention without charge to 42 days. The petition will be presented to Parliament if the legislation returns to the Commons, with individual MPs also being presented with signatures from their own constituents.

Such opposition may yet help to force a Government U-turn in the wake of the Lords defeat predicted by today's Times:

Gordon Brown is preparing for a humiliating climbdown over his proposal to hold terrorist suspects for 42 days after being told that it will be defeated in the House of Lords.

Ministers admit privately that there is not “a cat in Hell’s chance” of the legislation, which returns to the Lords this week, being passed into law.

The Government has decided against using the Parliament Act to force the measure through after peers reject it, The Times has learnt. That decision will effectively confine the controversial proposal — which the Prime Minister fought tooth and nail to get through a Commons vote in June — to the legislative dustbin.

Whitehall battle over Big Brother surveillance

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The security services are pushing for a massive expansion of electronic surveillance in the UK, in the face of opposition from the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, according to the Sunday Times:

The scope of the project - classified top secret - is said by officials to be so vast that it will dwarf the estimated £5 billion ministers have set aside for the identity cards programme. It is intended to fight terrorism and crime. Civil liberties groups, however, say it poses an unprecedented intrusion into ordinary citizens’ lives.

Aimed at placing a “live tap” on every electronic communication in Britain, it will dwarf other “big brother” surveillance projects such as the number plate recognition system and the spread of CCTV.

Pepper and his opposite number at MI6, Sir John Scarlett, are facing opposition from mandarins in the Treasury and Cabinet Office who fear both its cost and ethical implications. 

Policing YouTube

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): Our sister site, terrorism.oD, is carrying an article by Tim Stevens on YouTube's decision to block all videos which may relate to foreign terrorist organisations in response to demands by US legislators led by Joe Lieberman. It will be of concern to all those who are worried about the steady creep of censorship in the name of the "war on terror". The UK Home Office apparently has its own list of videos it deems undesirable and, as in the US, it is asking businesses to block material deemed unsuitable by civil servants. The material, of course, is almost exclusively related to Islamic militancy. Leaving aside the civil liberties question, the value of such a politicized form of censorship is debateable when it comes to diminishing the threat of terrorism, as Stevens argues. You can read the full article here

John le Carré hits the nail on the head

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): He's not happy about the Government's ongoing assault on rights and freedoms and explains why ahead of the Lords vote on the 42 days:

"Partly, I'm angry that there is so little anger around me at what is being done to our society, supposedly in order to protect it," said the 76-year-old in an interview in Waterstone's magazine.

"We have been taken to war under false pretences, and stripped of our civil rights in an atmosphere of panic. Our lawyers don't take to the streets as they have done in Pakistan.

"Our MPs allow themselves to be deluded by their own spin doctors, and end up believing their own propaganda."

He added: "We haul our Foreign Secretary back from a mission to the Middle East so he can vote for 42 days' detention.

"People call me an angry old man. Screw them. You don't have to be old to be angry about that. We've sacrificed our sovereignty to a so-called 'special relationship' which has nothing special about it except to ourselves."

Hat-tip Craig Murray.

 

A sacred duty

What follows is a speech given by Henry Porter at the Lib Dem Conference Rally in Bournemouth, 13 Sept 2008.

On my return from holiday, at the beginning of this month, I was greeted by about 70 emails sent by my researcher. They were press clippings, excerpts from government papers and links to websites, all of them about some aspect of the attack on liberty. I sat down and went through them and truly I felt I was reading the obituary for our free society.

Absorbing so much at once has a distorting effect - we are not quite there, but we have only a very little time: very little time to save ourselves from the database state. I estimate that in two or three years it will be too late.

Has David Davis' stand backfired?

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!): That is certainly the conclusion of Lib Dem blogger and New Statesman columnist Jonathan Calder:

"It is now clear that Davis's political suicide bombings damaged his career and - far more important - has made it easier for the enemies of liberty in the Conservative Party (a club with a large and thriving membership) to prevail.

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity."

Why this conclusion? This week the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary has announced proposals to make it easier for the police to access surveillance powers. Reading Davis' campaign website you could certainly be forgiven for thinking that he was opposed to such measures.

The key word that Grieve is keen to emphasise is "proportionality," yet there is already growing evidence that the existing RIPA regulations allow public bodies to monitor the public in a completely disproportionate manner. These are powers which are currently being handed out to councils on the nod, for goodness' sake; just how can the police be said to be restrained?  Surely you don't have to be an anti-police paranoiac to think that these are precisely the sort of police powers which should be tightly regulated?

I don't automatically condemn Davis in the way that Calder does; it may well be that his decision to resign was spurred by the fact that he had already lost this particular battle in the Shadow Cabinet. He has also given us a pretty colossal stick to beat Cameron with, should we choose to use it. But for the sake of his reputation and the faith in which hundreds of individuals put in him, he really ought to respond to this sooner rather than later.

Blogpower Roundup - The Matt Wardman Civil Liberties Edition

Matt Wardman (Wardman Wire): This is the second in the lastest series of Blogpower Roundups, and this is my roundup of some of the current live issues around Civil Liberties.

While there are differences between bloggers on some questions at the edge on just what comes under Civil Liberties, there's usually a strong consensus around the right to self-expression, and that restriction of topics that we can write about or the excessive monitoring of online activity are BAD things.
Heather Yaxley has reflected on the whole theme of Defending Blogs.
In this roundup, I've covered recent Blogpower posts, and highlighted a number of other posts that I have come across. As it is a thematic roundup, I am going back several weeks.

Colin Campbell's comment about extra speed cameras in South Australia prompted me to do some digging into just how many speed cameras we have now in the UK. The answer: one hell of a lot - perhaps 7,000-10,000 plus all those installed in cars and on motorcyles.

By my count there are 75 links in this post. Enjoy.

What are we fighting for? Libertarians and nationalists must make common cause

David (Cambridge, Britology Watch): There has been much discussion recently – including on Britology Watch – about whether English nationalism can be reconciled with progressive politics; and whether progressives need to espouse the nationalist cause, associate it with left-of-centre values, and thereby prevent it from falling into the hands of the far right.

The wrong debate

Lyndon Radnedge, OK: Despite early bluster from Kelvin McKenzie and some calls from Davis supporters for an interesting candidate, no one has taken up the challenge to debate the 42-day issue in by-election form. Labour refused to stand and the Lib Dems claimed solidarity with David Davis’ cause. 

Campaigning for liberty in Haltemprice and Howden

Beth Forrester (Unlock Democracy): On Saturday 5th July 2008, a team of four from Unlock Democracy, travelled to Cottingham in East Yorkshire. We were to have a stall at Cottingham Day, an annual fun day in this historic Yorkshire village, to educate people about civil liberties, encourage people to value their rights and discuss the issue of extending pre-charge detention to 42 days (although our activities were of course prompted by the decision by David Davis to resign and initiate this by-election, Unlock Democracy does not support any candidate).

The day did not go entirely to plan but then the best experiences rarely do. All our activities in this campaign, including our wraparound adverts for both the East Riding Advertiser and the West Hull Advertiser, were funded by individuals who had donated money specifically. We were also helped by useful advice provided by a number of helpful local contacts including Alan Williams who had told us about the fayre.  With Alan’s help, four Liberal Democrat members, a local councillor and the local MEP Diana Wallis all came down to support us. This was great turnout and we were grateful for the support.

On arriving in Cottingham we found that this support was unfortunately not universal and were told, despite repeated phone and email contact the previous week to the contrary, that we did not have a stall booked. Eventually, we were placed next to the police safety bus, which provided a good balance in the discussion about civil liberties versus the need to be protected from crime.

Our other challenge was the weather: the continual heavy rain and strong winds threatened to blow away not only our stall, but also the whole fayre at times.  We were well prepared for this, with waterproofs, plastic sheeting and umbrellas, allowing us to keep campaigning and even provide some shelter to rain and wind beaten fayre-goers. To further improve our activity we distributed flyers and sweets amongst the public and engage them in discussion whilst visiting other areas of the fayre. This was an effective strategy, with people explaining why they were or were not voting and how they felt about civil liberties.

Public opinion not behind 42 days - ICM poll

Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): Gordon Brown is on shakier ground than he thinks on 42 days pre-charge detention for people suspected of terrorist offences. On the eve of the Haltemprice and Howden by-election, a new ICM poll conducted for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust shows most people (60%) think terrorist suspects should be held without charge for no more than the current limit - 4 weeks, or 28 days.

Will Lords restore Northern Ireland's reputation at Westminster?

Patrick Corrigan, (Amnesty Blogs: Belfast and Beyond): Will Northern Ireland's (non-DUP) Lords help restore Northern Ireland's Westminster reputation when the Government's counter-terrorism Bill comes to the upper house tomorrow? When the government won the vote at the Bill's first reading in the Commons by just nine votes, the chamber rang with jeers and furious cries of 'shame' directed at the DUP MPs who had just voted with Brown after an eleventh hour private meeting with the PM.

Bill 'risks undermining counterterrorism efforts'

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The House of Lords begins debating the Counterterrorism Bill on Tuesday, the day after the third anniversary of the 7/7 bomb attacks in London.

In a briefing on the legislation released today, Human Rights Watch argues that detaining terrorism suspects for up to six weeks without charge violates the fundamental right to liberty and risks undermining counterterrorism efforts.

ID and DNA: I'd rather keep my freedom and be mugged more often

Matt Wardman (Leiester, The Wardman Wire): Here we go again. We have a government demanding that we let the power exist to lock people up for 42 days, and making "it won't happen very often" an excuse, and we have a police force demanding that the crimes that have been solved because of 5 million records on the DNA database and nearly as many CCTV Cameras justify putting us under more and more control.

The "completely innocent" have nothing to fear

Jon Bright (London, OK): I remember, back in 2003, when the Labour government took the decision to downgrade cannabis to a Class C drug - meaning that casual users would receive a slap on the wrist at worst. It seemed to me a brave move in the face of a media that is pretty hostile to any notion of being "soft" on crime (a poll of Sun readers has apparently just found 99% in support of bringing back the death penalty, for example). It reminded me why I voted for Labour in the first place.

The last straw

Trevor Smith (Lord Smith of Clifton, Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Constitution & Northern Ireland): The continual drift towards authoritarianism since 1997 goes on. It is now revealed on this morning's Today Program that lawyers' meetings with their clients are routinely bugged - it is not just MPs. This government justifies this situation by a mixture of excuses: Ministers did not know about it; it's a matter for the police/Security Services; raison d'etat;we don't torture; we have no records of extraordinary rendition; and/or any other fatuous excuse that springs to mind.

Polly Toynbee's state and New Labour's reality

Michael Rustin (London, Soundings): Unfortunately, there are problems in the exercise of power by government in Britain beyond the infringements of human rights and individual liberties cited by the critics of Polly Toynbee’s pro-state position.

Is the state our only civilising friend?

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Gripping debate between Henry Porter and Polly Toynbee this morning on the Today programme. Well worth listening to. Polly's view is, I was amazed, that the state is not just our essential friend and a great civilising force but almost the only civilising force around. We have to respect it. It was not clear what she meant by "civilising", it wasn't just looking after the poor and bereft.

David Marquand on Polly Toynbee

OurKingdom: There is a short, brilliant, historically sweeping response to Polly Toynbee by David Marquand (reprimanding Anthony Barnett for his over-generosity) in the comments to Anthony's recent post on Toynbee versus Henry Porter. Plus a strong point that expands the argument from Stuart Weir. Read them all HERE.

For once Polly Toynbee is wrong

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): A hideous headcold has laid me low, and my brain can't take looking at the light of the screen, emails, other blogs and life on line. But I'm dragged back to the mac by Polly Toynbee's column today. I admire Polly hugely, she works hard, she holds her nerve, she advocates a coherent social democratic socialism, she is grotesquely traduced by guardianistas. But this time she has got it wrong. She argues that Henry Porter and his vigorous alarm call over the fate of our liberty is fashionable because it allows the middle classes to pretend to be victims. I am delighted to know that this is now "fashionable"! I recall meetings with him last year when the main issue we discussed was why are we alone, and are we square? Now, according to Polly, Henry's agenda is popular - also potentially right-wing, anti-state and virtually neo-con.

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