Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hurly Burly

Report anything unusual, or suspect-looking, you say?

There are several suspicious-looking (unmarked, one rented) vans and people-carriers sitting around outside my house, hovering on double yellows, with various burly-looking blokes in them.

I'd be tempted to report them, if I didn't know they were Police.

No heckling, no photos. Just sit and clap, please.

How to piss off your own party members. Good job, boys. Dem terrorrists sure are pesky.

Regarding seizure of media footage, I've heard some thoughts before about schemes such as wireless-enabled cameras to send data remotely asap. There are definitely a wireless camera or two out there, but nothing that does it automatically, AFAIK. Anyone have any hints or tips?

Update, 30th Sep: Well, Blair and Straw have apologised now that Wolfgang (suspected terrorist) has become a national hero - it's amazing what a little press coverage can do. No such grace, however, for the 600 innocent people stopped and searched throughout the conference*, or for the various local people getting arrested for bearing anti-blair slogans, under the anti-terrorism act, no less.

Hecklers, protestors and people doing nothing are all terrorists now. This turned into a comedy farce a while ago.

* An unmissable quote from the police spokeswoman:

"By definition, many totally innocent people going about their normal lawful business will be stopped and checked," she said. "This is what creates the deterrent for terrorists."

There's definitely a push for the norm to become a population of innocent people prepared to put up with whatever crap the police push onto them. The true effects of this continue to go unquestioned.

60 days for disturbing the reality.

Curious. A man has been jailed for 60 days after showing someone one of the Iraq beheadings videos via his mobile phone.

The magistrate told Younis: "I struggle to understand why you had images on your phone entailing the death and degradation of another human being, regardless of their religion or race.

Personally, I hate the phrase "I don't understand why..." - if lack of understanding stands behind our criminal system, then our judicial system is considerably more pre-Enlightenment than I had been led to believe.

The problem in this case, perhaps, is that there currently exists a very fine line between sensationalism, distressing images, and political/moral resourcing. There are also, for instance, various videos of military helicopters bombing and gunning down people, widely available. This line between the Disney-esque illusion of "clean", faraway wars, and the very gritty, very disturbing reality of a violent battleground is in some ways thicker than ever, thanks to a media landscape based on political agenda and consumer-friendliness, and a self-spun cocoon to separate our Western lives from harsh truths. The "distressing" pictures we get to see tend to be rather censored, and in a broadcast scenario with many people watching, perhaps that's a good thing.

But it also leaves us unprepared. And without the shocks of a violent world, how are we placed to judge whether the political decision to go to war is really justified? How can we arrive at an informed opinion if the only arguments we have are political, hypothetical, intangible, and our sphere of understanding lacks any sense of physical pain, and the plight, torment, or hostility of the people involved?

Everyone agrees that the first world war was a terrible thing. But all the remembrance ceremonies, poppies and poetry in the world have never made such an impression on me, never made me think about what war really is, as much as a black and white photo in my history text book depicting the corpse of a soldier attached muddily to a barn-wire fence.

We are adults, we should be acting as adults. Some times, we need to face up to what is really happening in the world. 60 days in jail, for a misunderstanding during a political discussion, highlights where we are in terms of what we want to be shocked by (reailty TV, usually), and what we often just want to sweep under the carpet - but that in actual fact represents the effects of choices we make every day.

Or perhaps if we know what war truly is, we won't be so supportive of it next time?

(Side note: This post written just metres from the PM himself, I believe.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Fringe Meeting in Brighton, this evening

Oops, a little late in bringing it up, but there's a NO2ID-organised fringe meeting this evening in Brighton, in amongst all the others.

Address is Brighthelm Auditorium, North Road. 7.30-8pm. Speakers aren't listed on the above link, but the Rt Hon Clare Short's on the panel, for sure. Have't got a leaflet one me now, so can't tell you who the others are. Rumours are that Home Office ID Honcho Andy Burnham will be turning up as well, so could be a good one.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Looking nervous is crime enough

The Guardian had it on Thursday, SpyBlog and BoingBoing covered it... still, it's worth another mention to flag just how dangerous stepping outside your own front door is these days. And not from terrorists...

Ordinary man arrested on tube

So many people are still under the illusion that the police will be careful about who they arrest. The death of De Menezes woke them up a little, but all that's changed is that people get Tazered instead of shot. It's pretty clear now that any kind of suspicion is sufficient for detaining someone.

Write to your MP, start kicking up a fuss about shit like this. Shatter people's illusions.

N.B. The incident took place on July 28th. Curious that the Guardian don't make that clear until halfway through the article. This was still less than a week after the shooting of De Menezes.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I concede that Clarke is a shrewd politician

Charles Clarke has just outlined the Home Office's proposals for new anti-terror legislation.

You may remember that, last year, there was cross-party consensus for introducing a number of new offences. The consensus was for "creating offences of preparing, training for and inciting terror acts".

The new proposals include those three offenses, but they also include a number of others, including extending the limit for detention without trial from two weeks to three months.

The opposition parties, such as the Liberal Democrats, are unhappy with these plans and may well attempt to block them in their current form or attempt to modify them back to the agreed proposals.

Charles Clarke can then claim that they are renaging on their promises from before the summer recess and score political points. In between the political battles he may well get his way, unless we are forceful in our condemnation of pushing through unpopular and controversial proposals on the back of common ground.

Let's be clear: The argument between the parties has been caused by the modification of the original proposals.


A climate of terror

The prime minister told the United Nations yesterday that its failure to agree a tough line against the environment had only strengthened the forces of nature.

Tony Blair ... used his speech to warn world leaders that they would only defeat the devastating might of the planet when their determination and unity matched the single-minded will of "a global weather system hell-bent on destruction".

He said: "Hurricanes, tsunamis and rapidly-spreading plagues will not be defeated until our determination to prosper is as complete as theirs, our defence of living as we want as absolute as their lust for death, our passion for progress as great as their passion for regression."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The BBC report that

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said any attempts to "disrupt essential goods and services that rely on oil" would be met by "firm action" from police forces.

The Guardian goes into a little more depth:

If the situation deteriorates the government can invoke powers under the Civil Contingencies Act, brought in after the 2000 protests to give police more muscle against protesters.

Once emergency laws to protect or restore the fuel supply are in place police powers could be "limitless", according to the Cabinet Office. In a worst case scenario, this might include calling in troops.
A spokesman for [ACPO] said: "We have a raft of legislation to deal with this."

The morning bulletin from ePolitix (I can't find a copy on the site yet) has a slightly more specific take on it:

The Army plans to use heavy vehicles to remove blockading lorries and the government could use anti-terror laws to stop the country being held to ransom by the protesters.

(My emphasis, naturally.)

Exclusion Zones, 2 is a crowd... Has the ability to protest (/argue) under our democracy died out yet?

Update, 15 Sep: A little old to warrant a new post, but also relevant here. Spyblog reports on 6 NO2ID protestors being arrested whilst they drove to a European summit, on "suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage" (my emph again).

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Blunkett's Back

There is a story on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph that says that David Blunkett is to return to the Home Office in a planned cabinet re-shuffle.

I don't know how accurate the story is, nor who the source is. But if it is true then this Blog is suddenly appropriately named again - just when we were thinking that a change would be good for us.

We wait with baited breath to see what happens.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

New Scientist

New Scientist has the first of a two part series on biometrics and identity cards. The piece does rely heavily on the companies who are pushing the technology but it does include some of the arguments against. It still features several obvious mistakes (well, obvious to everyone who has studied the issue) such as the claim that iris patterns do not "change and wear down as fingerprints do".

The second installment concerning the implications may be more interesting.


P.S. Scribe, we really should do something about that name change. It's getting beyond a chortle.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Mostly caught up after being sans news for a couple of weeks. A few quick links...

Seems like the Blairite God complex is in full swing again, as he starts demanding cash to ake people respect each other. In any sensical universe, the idea that you can solve deep emotional problems through financial motivation/punishment and strong-arm techniques would be one met with loud, echo-ey laughter. Only in the UK could it be used to actually try and gain public popularity. The moronic state of affairs is summed up best, I feel, by a quote from this BBC article:

Mr Blair dismissed accusations of a "nanny state".

"People need to understand that if their kids are out of control and they are causing a nuisance to the local community, there is something that is going to happen," he said.

I'm sure I remember my nanny saying something very similar to me. Still. More commentary on this to come.

Back on ID Cards, Dr Emily Finch talks to a career criminal and recognises (quite rightly) that the technology is generally not the problem in any system - the human is.

"What fraudsters know about is human nature."

Criminals adapt. Humans are fallible. Are we so naive as to think otherwise?

Finally, the Independent has an interview with Lord Falconer, in which Mr Blair's former room-mate steps around politically sensitive questions, and makes a quick jab at the host paper about the issue of trust vs Iraq.

"There were very, very profound disagreements in parts of society about that particular policy, in particular in The Independent newspaper," he says. "That there was disagreement about that issue should not lead to a corrosion in trust. Plainly those who disagree with us on Iraq do not in any way forfeit our trust, and it should be visa versa."

Hmm, I trust the cabinet less after Iraq because I felt they deliberately fed me poor arguments and patronising information, and refused to listen to any counter discussion. Nothing seems to have changed too much, either.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Screaming and Shouting

The Department for Constitutional Affairs has published a consultation paper today on the subject of the role of the deceased's relatives and friends in the process of manslaughter and murder trials.

The consultation paper is entitled "Hearing the relatives of murder and manslaughter victims: The Government’s plans to give the bereaved relatives of murder and manslaughter victims a say in criminal proceedings".

I will pull a few useful quoutes from the document to illustrate what it is that the government is trying to achieve, and where my objections lie. Quotes are in italics.

Victims make their voices heard now – but usually outside court, on the steps of the court, sometimes in front of the media. They take that opportunity because it is clear that they often feel that is the only choice open to them – the only course of action available. p.6

I won't argue with the idea that some people do wish to make a public statement on the loss of a friend or family member, and that on the steps of the courts is where they choose to do it. I don't believe that this is as common an occurance as is sometimes portrayed. I believe that a lot of people in that situation would just like to be left alone. Many of the statements read out by lawyers are pleas to the media and society to be left alone after the trial - made because they feel they have to by the presures of society.

We want to build on the improvements we have been making. So far, the changes we have made are mainly about how the court process should impact on the victim – not how the victim should impact on the process. p.13

I fully support the changes that have been made so far in ensuring that the decisions of the CPS and other legal organisations are transparent - so that the relatives of the deseased know why decisions have been made, such as decisions not to prosecute or why the particular charge has been brought. Similarly the single point of contect for witnesses to make the whole system seem less confusing is to be welcomed.

I am very uneasy about the idea that the same people should have any say in those decisions.

In October 2001 we introduced the right for victims or others affected by the crime to make a written personal statement, known as a Victim Personal Statement. p.14

This statement may be taken into account when the courts decide on a sentence, or bail conditions. What happens to people who have no living relatives? Will the fact that no one will make a statement on their behalf mean that their lives are 'cheaper' than other peoples?

What about those families who do not wish to stand up in court and display their grief for society's entertainment. Will their lack of a statement be detrimental to the legal and sentencing process?

A court of law is supposed to be an impartial arbiter of justice, not a media circus, nor a lynch mob.

But evidence shows that the takeup and understanding of the Victim Personal Statement has been patchy so far. p.14

I have downloaded the report quoted as "evidence" in this case and I am working through it (80 pages). I will write a second post in the next few days once I have finished. Needless to say the VPS has not been an unqualified success.

The CPS and other prosecuting authorities are taking further steps to encourage and facilitate dialogue between prosecutors and victims. For example, the Attorney General will shortly be introducing new guidelines that emphasise the importance of seeking the views of victims in making prosecution decisions. p.15

I hope I'm not alone in opposing this. Decisions over whether to prosecute are supposed to be taken on the merits of the case, including whether there is enough evidence for a reasonable chance of conviction. I do not see the point in allowing the relatives of the victim to push forward a case that has little or no chance of success.

We wish to consider a radical proposal to try a new approach, namely that in murder and manslaughter cases relatives should be able to present their views in person to the judge at the sentencing stage of the trial. This should provide a better basis for the judge to take account of the effect of the crime on the bereaved relatives when sentencing. p.16

Wonderful. Let's turn the court room into an edition of the Jerry Springer Show - when are the cameras coming in?

Everyone agrees that when it comes to sentencing the judge should take into account the effect of the crime on the victim’s relatives, but he or she does not usually hear from them directly to understand the effect of their loss. p.16
[My emphasis]

Really? No evidence to back this statement up - no references to any studies or surveys - just a bald statement.

Let's examine this statement - those people without any living relatives matter less then those with. I disagree. A murder is a serious crime whether the victim is a working parent with a vibrant social network or an isolated elderly widow* - and the sentencing should not distinguish between the status of the victim.


* Spot the stereotyping.