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List of official harrassment of photographers in UK

Further to my recent coverage of the war on photography, via UK Liberty I came across Matt Wardman’s list of incidents involving official harassment of photographers in Britain.

The Convention on Modern Liberty: a personal view, part three

This article is the last of my series of articles on the Convention on Modern Liberty. In this article, I look at what the Convention has achieved and give a personal view on the question: What happens next?

So what has the convention achieved? A cynical person might suggest that all the Convention has achieved is to gather people together for sessions of preaching to the converted. The more conspiratorially minded might even suggest that the Convention has been deliberately set up as controlled opposition to keep the public quiet.

The Convention is already failing at merely providing “controlled opposition” in that it has succeeded in raising awareness of the erosion of liberty amongst the general public. My evidence for the raising of awareness is this: look at the coverage of civil liberties and of the Convention itself that accompanied the run-up to and the aftermath of the Convention in both the mainstream media and the online media. Helpfully, both Jack Straw, David Blunkett and Tom Harris have all attacked the Convention, providing further publicity and opportunities to raise awareness, as well as suggesting that the government and the Labour party are worried. There is also some sign that the pressure being exerted, partly via the Convention, over the data sharing clauses of the Coroners and Justice Bill is bearing fruit with hints that the measure will be watered down.

This raising of awareness also partly addresses the charge of preaching to the converted. By generating debate in the media, on blogs and on websites, the Convention has already got people talking about these issues who otherwise wouldn’t, and has got those who defend the government’s record to respond. On the day the Convention was not simply about preaching to the converted. We had people from all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives, discussing and debating the issues, including the issue of how to halt and reverse the erosion of liberty. There were MPs from across the political spectrum, activists, lawyers, authors, researchers, students, teachers, software developers, bloggers and many ordinary people attending the event whether in London or elsewhere in the country. There even people there trying to defend the government’s record and trying to defend the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. People will have come away better informed about the issues, with contacts who can help in campaigning on the issues, and with ideas for what to do next. The Convention has also set up a social networking site to enable people to keep in touch with each other, discuss, debate and plan how to take things forward.

So the Convention has succeeded in raising awareness, generating debate and putting like minded people in touch with each other. It has even contributed to raising opposition to a specific erosion of privacy, namely the data sharing clauses mentioned above. This is all to the credit of those involved and is an achievement to be proud of.

However if the Convention is truly to be the turning point I hope for, much more will need to happen. The erosion of liberties has to stop and be reversed. In other words, we need to persuade both present and future politicians that eroding liberties is a Bad Idea, one that is liable to lose elections for them. And we need to do so whilst we still have a sufficient freedoms left to be able to campaign and to be able to vote. As David Davis said, by the time Britain becomes a police state, it will be too late.

We thus need to engage in the political processes of this country in order to persuade ordinary voters to vote against candidates who promise to erode liberties and to vote for candidates who promise to protect our rights.

We need to persuade people that the erosions of liberty simply give the state, and those who’d hijack it for their own purposes, more power over the public without any real benefit, that they merely amount to greater social control being exerted and they thus undermine democracy.

We need to address the false arguments that pit liberty against security, that suggest if we have nothing to hide then we have nothing to fear.

We need to ensure people are aware of the intrusive nature of schemes such as the National Identity Scheme or the database of communications data.

In the short to medium term I think we must have the following goals (at minimum!):

  • Defeat of the data sharing proposals in the Coroners and Justice Bill. If these proposals go through, then personal data held by one organisation will not be safe from any government that decides the data should be shared with any other organisation it chooses. Any safeguards introduced for schemes such as the National Identity Scheme will be worthless as they can be cast aside via an order in Parliament.
  • Defeat of the plans to create a central database of everyone’s communications data. This is mass surveillance of the general public, pure and simple, and should be opposed by anyone who believes in the right to privacy. If it goes ahead, it will give the authorities considerable power over those who get in their way.
  • Defeat of the National Identity Scheme. If this scheme goes ahead, it will involve mass surveillance, linking of data and the government getting a de facto veto over our access to any products or services that require checking someone’s NIR entry or card.
  • Defeat of the current government at the next General Election. My reason for suggesting this is simple. If this government continues into a fourth term, it will conclude that the erosion of liberty has negligible electoral consequences and will push that agenda even harder than before. Halting, let alone reversing, this agenda will become hugely more difficult in such circumstances. I’d add that defeat of the above three schemes will probably require defeating the current government.
  • Repeal or reform of offending legislation to reverse the erosion of liberty. That the Lib Dems have produced a Freedom Bill involving such repeals and that the Tories have also suggested some related repeals is a sign that such a goal is achievable. However, I regard a change of government as a pre-requisite. I simply do not believe the present lot will consider such a thing if they win again.
  • Generally, to maximise pressure on the (future) government to restore civil liberties.

Success in the above goals will form a good start, but the longer term goal must be to effect political changes that entrench our liberties in a manner that prevents the ongoing, step by step, erosion we’ve seen in the past 15 to 20 years or so.

All of these goals require persuading voters that the erosions of civil liberties matter, raising awareness of the erosions and the consequences of those erosions and exposing any broken promisses or further erosions of liberty that future governments engage in. Each person concerned about these issues, whether their focus is on the erosion of due process in the criminal justice system, the rise of mass surveillance or the restrictions of freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest can play a role by telling others what they know about these issues, whether it be through blogging, writing to the newspapers, telling their friends or writing to their elected representatives.

The question left is how those who want to change things can produce effective vehicles for doing all these things. Some will work effectively within the political parties persuading them to change, others will work via pressure groups such as NO2ID or Liberty lobbying politicians and campaigning to the public, others still will blog, write newspaper or magazine articles or produce TV programs or videos on You Tube. The diversity of approaches already on display in getting us this far is encouraging - it makes it more likely that some them will succeed.

If those concerned about the erosion of liberty all resolve to act to change the situation, then it seems to me there is everything to play for.

Carnival on Modern Liberty

Part of the legacy of the Convention on Modern Liberty is the Carnival on Modern Liberty, which is a weekly round-up of liberty-related articles hosted at a different blog each week. The current edition (the seventh so far) is hosted at Liberal England. Below is a list of the previous editions:

You can submit links for each week’s Carnival at the Carnival’s home page.

The Convention on Modern Liberty: a personal view, part one

Yesterday the Convention on Modern Liberty took place. I attended the Glasgow convention, organised jointly by NO2ID Scotland and the Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS).

In this article, I provide an overview of my experience attending the Glasgow convention. I shall delve into more detail about various topics later in followup articles.

The first thing I’d like to do is to congratulate both NO2ID Scotland, especially Dr Geraint Bevan, and the IAS, especially Professor Mike Nellis, for organising a highly successful event. There were over 100 people from all sorts of backgrounds attending, more than had originally been planned for. The video links from the London Convention worked very well and there was a wide range of speakers and topics covered in the Glasgow sessions. I was particularly impressed with the questions from the audience and subsequent discussions that accompanied the talks. Notably, most people stayed for the whole day, i.e. from 9.30am through to a slightly late 5.40pm finish. The atmosphere was positive and I think most people will have come away from the event knowing a lot more than they did before, knowing who to get in touch with about these issues, and also with some ideas to followup on for campaigning on these issues. I shall talk in a bit more detail about what was said at the Glasgow Convention in a followup article.

The impression I got of the London event was also positive. There were excellent speeches and talks from the likes of Shami Chakrabarti, Dominic Grieve, Chris Huhne and David Davis, and interesting, pertitinent questions from an audience numbering in the thousands, with £35 tickets having been sold out. Here, again the organisers deserve congratulations, most notably Henry Porter for kicking the whole thing off after David Davis’s resignation.

As a starting point for a general campaign on liberty, the Convention has at least succeeded in getting large numbers of people from different backgrounds who are concerned about the erosion of liberty to talk to each other and start thinking about what to do about it. The main question is whether it’ll amount to more than preaching to the converted. To an extent, on the day, the Convention was bound to involve only those who were concerned about or otherwise take an interest in the erosions of liberty because the audience is self selecting.

However the debates generated in the media in the run up to the Convention already involve a move beyond preaching to the converted. Also, some time was spent discussing ideas for what to do about the erosion of liberty, and various ideas have already been put forward. Examples of these ideas included Baroness Kennedy’s suggestion of a concerted campaign involving drawing up a list of civil liberties issues and asking where candidates at the next election stand; Chris Huhne’s Freedom Bill; one speaker’s suggestion that we should educate children about the importance of human rights; Phil Booth urging people to write to their MPs to tell them they refuse consent to data sharing under the Coroners and Justice Bill and Patrick Harvie’s suggestion of “liberty theatre” to try and make people aware of what liberty is, and how precious it is.

My overall impression is that, whilst the Convention has made a good start in getting people together/putting them in touch with each other, the question of what to do about the erosion of liberty has only begun to get a serious answer. This is not a criticism. It seems to me that it was only ever likely to make a start on this question in the first place, that it has done so with a broad range of people is a success. Also, there is clear intent to followup on the Convention, with suggestions for it becoming an annual event, plus people have exchanged contact details to start networking for followup events. My own view is that there is probably no particular magic bullet, but if everyone concerned with these issues can think of ways of getting the message out, ways of influencing both those in power and the general public to pay heed to liberty, and act upon their ideas, then the Convention stands a good chance of being the turning point that I hope it will be.

Good luck to the Convention on Modern Liberty

Tomorrow, the Convention on Modern Liberty will take place in London with satellite Conventions in Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff and Bristol.

I’ve been monitoring the erosion of civil liberties in Britain, with increasing concern, for a decade now, and I hope that this Convention will mark a turning point that will see these erosions of liberty halted and reversed. By getting people from different backgrounds and different political perspectives together to discuss these issues, hopefully eveyone who is concerned by this trend will be able to get together and campaign more effectively. Ideally the Convention will spawn a regular event, and/or renewed pressure on our politicians to listen.

So how successful will the Convention be? Time will tell of course, but it’s worth noting that tickets for the London Convention sold out, whilst the Glasgow Convention has had to be extended to hold a second parallel session since it was oversubscribed. This suggests that people are concerned about these issues and are willing to give up a Saturday to find out more and to help campaign against it.

More on Britain’s War on Photography

Posted by James Hammerton @ 3:18 pm on 21 February, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, political liberties, British politics, accountability.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Further to my recent article on Britain’s war on photography, I came via UK Liberty across septicisle’s excellent article on his blog “Obsolete” about the new powers in Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008:

With this in mind, it’s incredibly easy to be greatly cynical about the new offence created in the latest and greatest “Counter-Terrorism” Act. Contained in section 76 is the criminalisation of “[E]liciting, publishing or communicating information about members of armed forces etc“, which you would imagine ostensibly is intended to stop individuals, such as those convicted of plotting to kidnap and behead a Muslim soldier, from compiling information on potential targets, whether it be home addresses or photographs of soldiers themselves. That alone is contentious; what is even more contentious is that this covers not just members of the armed force and the intelligence services, but also humble police constables.

It’s rather difficult not to connect this directly to what has become more than just individual, jumped-up officers of the law asking members of the public what they’re doing when they’re seen taking photographs of almost anything, as has become almost routine for some whose simple pleasures including taking pictures of buildings, or even getting a camera out in the vicinity of children. While this does not directly cover that, what it will directly cover is the photographing of police officers, which has also become something of a point of concern, with those photographed routinely demanding that such pictures be deleted, even going so far as to confiscate the devices if they’re digital and doing it for them. This has been especially noted on demonstrations, where ironically there are now almost always dedicated teams of officers, known as Forward Intelligence Teams, who film and take photographs of everyone, regardless of whether there is even the slightest likelihood of violence or the breaking of the law. FIT was originally set up to monitor football crowds for hooligans; now those exact same methods are used to do little more than intimidate peaceful protesters.

In response, the likes of FIT Watch have been set up to give the officers a taste of their own medicine. It could be argued that the archives of FIT Watch could be used by those with less salubrious methods to target officers for far more than just tit for tat gestures, but the chances of this seem to be negligible. Rather, what section 76 does is simply put into law what the officers have already been unofficially practising for some time.

The consequences of this could not potentially be more serious. It essentially means that anyone who comes across an instance of the police abusing their powers and manages to record it can have their evidence destroyed with next to no powers of appeal. It will further empower officers to intervene with photographers regardless of what they are doing. It in effect gives carte blanche to the police to stop anyone from recording almost anything, with the excuse being they themselves might be the ones being targeted. Furthermore, because of the vagueness of the legislation, which is almost certainly deliberate, it’s up to the police and the courts themselves to intrepret when there was a breach. It’s a recipe for completely disempowering the individual while empowering the authorities of the state to do almost whatever they feel like, with little sanction for appeal.

Reminder: The Convention on Modern Liberty (28th February)

Just a reminder that on the 28th February, the Convention on Modern Liberty gets underway in London with parallel sessions in Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester, Cardiff, Cambridge and Bristol.

Philip Johnston on the Wilders case

Philip Johnston has an excellent article in the Telegraph on the Geert Wilders case:

What, then, possessed the Home Office to ban Wilders – an unprecedented action against a democratically-elected politician from a European state, who is entitled to free movement within the EU? By any measure, it was an extraordinary decision; yet it was not even raised in parliament, the supposed guardian of our freedoms, though some MPs have commented on the ban, largely to support it.

Were Wilders a terrorist preaching violence against particular groups, it could be understood on public order grounds. The order issued by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, read: “The Secretary of State is of the view that your presence in the UK would pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society. The Secretary of State is satisfied that your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewhere would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the UK.”

Yet what possible threat to public security is posed by a Dutch MP showing a film, in private, to a smattering of peers on a Thursday afternoon in February? Of itself, the film does not call for violence against Muslims; indeed, it suggests that Islam is a cause of violence, a view with which you are entitled to agree or feel strongly about, but not to prohibit.

The reason for the ban appears to have been the possibility of protests by some Muslim organisations against Wilders’s visit. In other words, his freedom to express a view and the liberty of peers to hear it in an institution supposedly devoted to free speech, were set aside in the face of intimidation – the opposite of what happened in the Rushdie case, even if that author was forced into hiding.

What is particularly insidious is the application of double standards. One of those most opposed to Wilders’s visit is the Muslim peer Lord Ahmed, though he denies allegations that he warned parliamentary authorities that 10,000 demonstrators would take to the streets. Yet two years ago, Lord Ahmed invited Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian previously detained on suspicion of fundraising for groups linked to al-Qaeda, to Westminster to meet him. When he was criticised for doing so, he said it was his parliamentary duty to hear Rideh’s complaints. He does not appear to see any contradiction with the position he now adopts against his fellow peers.

Geert Wilders: some links

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:21 pm on 14 February, 2009.
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics, European Union politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

By now most readers will probably have heard of the upcoming prosecution of Geert Wilders for his views on Islam (e.g. as expressed in Fitna) and of him being banned from entering the UK. Unfortunately, my time is pressed so I’ve not been able to cover this in the way I’d like to.

My position is that if Wilders has not been inciting violence then there is no case for either the prosecution or the ban on him entering the UK. As far as I can tell, he has not been inciting violence.

I disagree with his desire to ban the Koran on precisely the same grounds as I disagree on prosecuting him for expressing his views of Islam. I believe in freedom of speech, and regard the causation of offence as insufficient grounds to ban the expression of someone’s views.

Anyway here are various links to articles covering the story:

MP accuses Brighton police of scare tactics

David Lepper MP has accused Brighton Police of ‘scare tactics’:

In a surprise intervention David Lepper, Labour MP for Brighton Pavilion, said the police’s decision to photograph people entering and exiting the Cowley Club in London Road for a meeting about the environment last week appeared designed to scare activists rather than prevent crime.

Mr Lepper has written to Chief Supt Graham Bartlett, the force’s divisional commander for Brighton and Hove, demanding why officers were posted opposite the venue on Friday.

Members of the Cowley Club, which was hosting a meeting of environmental protest group Earth First, were confronted with four uniformed officers outside the Somerfield store, opposite the venue, snapping visitors using a paparazzi-style lens.

Sussex Police has said the photography was part of ongoing police work to gather information to support future operations. But Mr Lepper yesterday dismissed the police’s response and said he wanted an explanation.

He said: “It looks more like an attempt to intimidate people going in and out of the Cowley Club rather than genuine surveillance. To have such a large number of uniformed officers with a camera with a telephoto lens seems like it’s meant to deter people from going in there.

“I accept that police need to gather information but this is a ham-fisted way of doing it.”

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