Friday, April 15, 2005

Attention deflected, Cap'n.

Been away for a few days, so only been loosely following the Order of Things. Election time fills me with manic glumness as promises and pooh-poohed arguments fall over themselves to get media attention. The fate of the next 4 years decided by a month of political polemic, good-oh.

The Kamel Bourgass story has been particularly notable for its lack of level-headedness, though. I suggest ignoring the print media on this one, and going straight to both The Register and Spy Blog for more interesting takes on the matter. The bandwagon stirred up around this one is well worth a look, just to note how well the public media machine lumbers into life when needed. Also worth a peek, perhaps, is the BBC's amusing analysis, which highlights documents attributed to Bin Laden "downloaded from the internet", and the finding of "scales, thermometers, rubber gloves, a coffee grinder, batteries and bulbs" in the flat. Heavens, I never knew washing up was considered so dangerous.

Meanwhile, I'll be writing to my MP to make sure that castor beans are banned, or at least subject to identity checks at point of purchase. Rice should also be carefully controlled, due to its aural similarity to "ricin" which may confuse eavesdroppers, leading to yet more embarassing arrest scenarios that have to be covered up in a blanket of spin.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Blunkett's Back

David Blunkett is back in the news again (must be an election on or something).

He is urging a clampdown on postal vote fraud by linking it to an ID card scheme. He still hasn't given in has he?

So, let's get this straight. Let's invent a fictional person - this person is totally housebound (for reasons unknown). They register for a postal vote by using a form itself sent by post. They then receive (by post) a postal vote and fill it in. They then sent it back once again by post. At what point will anyone check their ID card and determine whether they are entitled to vote? Or check their biometrics against the central system?

The whole point of postal voting is that it allows people to vote without meeting the returning officer or any other offical - so there is nobody who can spot check ID cards.

Another function for the proposed ID card scheme which actually will have no helpful effect at all.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Question 1. Define "terrorism". (10 marks)

This is a strange one. In February 2003, Hazil Rahaman-Alan concealed a grenade in his luggage upon flying to Gatwick, with the intent of blowing everyone up. "The grenade would be his microphone to the world." Furthermore, "during the flight, he had drawn attention to himself by moving around the aircraft and appearing to be nervous". Stopped at random at Gatwick, he was charged under the Terrorism Act, but this has now been changed to the Explosives Act and the Aviation Act. Why? Because he's not a terrorist...

Back in 2003, the Guardian article notes, the Met police commissioner warned alongside the original arrest that al-Qaida terrorists had a "substantial presence" in Britain. Yet this al-Qaida hitman is now apparently completely otherwise. No real reason for this reversal is given, although the BBC article notes that "his motives were obscure."

Why is this important? Because it's about boundaries, and where lines are drawn. One man, with an intent to kill a plane load of people in the name of getting people with power to listen, is an evil terrorist, while the other is a slightly disturbed loon, perhaps. The difference? In this case, perhaps the mental state of the accused, or perhaps the plight he was trying to bring attention to ("starving children in Africa", possibly), or maybe even the fact that his plan would never have succeeded.

The focus, here, is on how we use language. What is a "terrorist" anyway, and how are they different to a "suicide bomber" or a "political activist"? More importantly, what are we trying to achieve when we paint someone with any of these terms, even before they've had a fair trial? And what, maybe as in this case, are we capable of totally ignoring while we carry out our modern-day witch-hunts?

Meanwhile, Stephen Wilkinson has defected from Labour to the Lib Dems, due to Labour's authoritarian angles. As the Beeb puts it, "he also criticised the use of the threat of terror to push for house arrest and compulsory ID cards and to justify the war in Iraq."

And they're off

The election has finally been called (despite all the campaigning that has gone on in recent weeks), and the legislation still to go through parliament may have to be scrapped.

BBC News has an article on the subject including the following paragraph:

"Home Secretary Charles Clarke has admitted his controversial plans for identity cards and a new offence of incitement to religious hatred may be shelved."

Of course, this is not time to get complacent just because the threat has retreated slightly - I will be keeping an eye on the campaign trail to see what Gov't and opposition (both of them) MPs are saying on Home Office Affairs.