When institutions abuse the trust placed in them, they become brittle and expose themselves to conspiracy theorists and demagogues
One thing I like to do on this blog is note the small and less spectacular effects of human rights violations on our democracy.
Too often, when we discuss government wrong-doing, or some power-grabbing piece of legislation, we speak in grand terms about how it could lead to the breakdown of democracy and the onset of totalitarianism. We always talk about the end state—Nineteen Eighty-Four, usually—which conveys the implicit message that the way-points in that journey are not terrible in-and-of themselves. Continue reading “Whitehouse wiretap smear: GCHQ has reaped what it has sown”
The opportunistic words of one writer will mutate, and perhaps cripple, the literature of another.
The Italian journalist Claudio Gatti has caused controversy this week, with the publication of an article that claims to reveal the true identiy of the celebrated novelist Elena Ferrante. Published in English on the New York Review of Books blog, and simultaneously in German, Italian and French, the article sets out the evidence Gatti has found that points to a particular woman, who he names.1
Anonymity and pseudonymity are often a pre-requisite for freedom of expression. Whistle-blowers usually need to keep their names away from whatever they have told journalists, lest they lose their jobs or even their liberty. This is the main reason why English PEN, for whom I work, campaigns so vigorously against draconian surveillance laws and for better protections for those handling journalistic material. Continue reading “The Exposure of Elena Ferrante: A Writer-on-Writer Attack on Free Speech”
Three separate parliamentary committees have made a total of 123 recommendations
Yesterday I wrote again in defence of politicians. Many of the frustrations that give rise to ‘anti-politics’ are borne of people not understanding how politics works: there is a constant need to compromise and any hard choice will end up disappointing people.
Sometimes, however, the anti-political feeling is justified. I have rarely been as angry with politicians as I was when the coalition government passed the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act in just two days in 2014. This legislation made lawful a number of mass violations of privacy that the security services had been caught doing without public or parliamentary consent. The politicians from all parties made mendacious arguments in favour of the new law, claiming an ’emergency’ when there was none.
From that low point, my faith in parliament is slowly being restored. Continue reading “The New Snooping Bill Needs a Total Rewrite”
There are several reasons why I am happy to have personally blocked this terrorist investigation
Apple have refused an FBI request to help crack the iPhone of a terrorist.
Ray McClure, the uncle of murdered soldier Drummer Lee Rigby has said that Apple is protecting terrorists, and that ‘life comes before privacy’.
I think Drummer Rigby’s uncle is mistaken, both in his assumptions about what Apple is technically capable of, and the moral trade-off between life and privacy.
We need to understand that Apple are not being asked to decrypt just the iPhone of one particular terrorist. They are not like a landlord with a spare key that will open a particular door. If they were, then there would be legitimacy in Mr McClure’s complaints. A judge could examine the particular case at hand, and then sign a warrant that permitted entry to the property or decryption of a device. Targeted surveillance and privacy violations are a legitimate law enforcement tool.
But that is not the request. Instead, the FBI have asked Apple to hack their entire operating system in such a way that would enable them to by-pass encryption on any iPhone. Including mine. Continue reading “I Take Full Responsibility For Apple Inc Protecting The Privacy of a Dead Terrorist”
Defending the law, the Chinese government pointed to legislation proposed in Western nations.
Whenever I moan about the British Government interfering with and weakening our human rights protections, one thing I usually note is what a terrible example it sets to other countries around the world. How can we expect other Governments to respect human rights if we do not respect them ourselves.
Here is a concrete example of this problem in action, courtesy of The Guardian.
China introduces its own ‘snooper’s charter’
Defending the law, the Chinese government pointed to legislation proposed in Western nations, such as Britain’s draft investigatory powers bill, which grants similar powers to the UK government.
There is no need to comment further at this point.
Do extremists continue to preach underground when they get banned?
Earlier this week I sat down with the author N Quentin Woolf, host of the Londonist Out Loud podcast, to talk about free speech, its value and its limits.
The audio of our discussion has just been published. You can listen via the Acast player below, and there are download and iTunes links on the Londonist website. Continue reading “Discussing the Limits of Free Speech with The Londonist”
I wonder whether ISPs could provide similar signs to their customers?
The draft Investigatory Powers Bill was published at the beginning of November. Its a huge document and the Government promised there would be ample time for scrutiny before MPs start the formal legislative process next year. Unfortunately, some are suggesting it now be rushed through in the wake of the Paris attacks. Continue reading “GCHQ Has Not Been Here”
Ambivalence about the rights of others is unpatriotic.
The Investigatory Powers Bill will be published tomorrow. The Home Secretary will set out her vision for what snooping powers the security services should have in their tool-box, and also what oversight parliament, the judiciary, and independent ‘watchdogs’ should have over the use of those powers.
I work for English PEN, one of the six organisations leading the Don’t Spy On Us campaign. Be in no doubt I will be sharing our analysis of the proposed new law and recommendations for improvement.
A constant issue regarding civil liberties (and one that we have discussed before on these pages) is how to convince members of the public to care about human rights when few of us ever actually experience a violation of those rights. In the past, I have discussed the idea of ‘everyday rights‘ and the notion that, even if we are not tortured or detained, our lives are made marginally worse when our rights are eroded, even in small ways. Continue reading “Surveillance: It’s not all about you”
How about the Royals employ a photographer to take a steady stream of snaps of the family?
The Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge are angry at the paparazzi pursing Prince George and Princess Charlotte in public places.
Here’s one idea that might make the paparazzi go away – undercut them.
How about the Royals employ a photographer to take a steady stream of snaps of the family, in a similar manner to Barack Obama’s official Whitehouse photographer. Snaps of official engagements would likely be free and creative commons. But images where the personal photographer ostensibly has exclusive access could be made available to agencies for a fee. The money paid for any particular image could be donated to one of the Duke and Dutchess’s many charities. Quite a large fee could be charged, and yet still undercut the paparazzi’s asking price, making images of the Royals far less profitable. The harassment should dissipate.
Yes, this does equate to the selling of privacy and not something I’d choose for myself. But for the children that our perverse political system designates as future Heads of State, it may be a better option than what they endure at the moment, and help those less fortunate in the process.
Oh! This puts me in such a bad mood.
Lord King is author of amendments tabled last week to the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill. They would have granted the government surveillance powers without proper checks and balances. Arguing in favour of the changes, Lord King admitted he did not use social media and did not understand apps like WhatsApp or SnapChat. Continue reading “Dear Lord King: Ludditry is not cool, it’s dangerous”