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This page provides occasional items, linked to the original articles, as we attempt to keep up with the rapidly changing situation on civil liberties.
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Freedom is the right to say Wolfgang Werle was convicted of murdering Walter Sedlmayer

Posted by James Hammerton @ 1:48 am on 15 November, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, freedom of speech, German politics.
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As Samizdata point out convicted murderer, Wolfgang Werle, is trying to sue Wikipedia under a German privacy law:

Wikipedia is under a censorship attack by a convicted murderer who is invoking Germany’s privacy laws in a bid to remove references to his killing of a Bavarian actor in 1990.

Lawyers for Wolfgang Werle, of Erding, Germany, sent a cease-and-desist letter (.pdf) demanding removal of Werle’s name from the Wikipedia entry on actor Walter Sedlmayr. The lawyers cite German court rulings that “have held that our client’s name and likeness cannot be used anymore in publication regarding Mr. Sedlmayr’s death.”
Half-brothers Wolfgang Werle (right) and Manfred Lauber go on trial for murder in Munich’s district court. They are accused of the popular actor Walter Sedlmayr in July 1990 have murdered and robbed in his apartment. (AP-Diether Endlicher)

Half-brothers Wolfgang Werle (right) and Manfred Lauber go on trial for murder in Munich.

German media have already ceased using Werle’s full name regarding the attack. Jennifer Granick, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says German publications must also alter their online archives in a bid to comport with laws designed to provide offenders an avenue to “reintegrate back into society.”

“It’s not just censorship going forward. It’s asking outlets to go back and change what is already being written,” Granick said in a telephone interview.

This insane policy must be stopped. As Perry concluded in his Samizdata article:

As the world networks together, increasingly we cannot tolerate legal attacks anywhere because the repercussions will not stay neatly within national borders, so neither can our hostility to such assaults on our liberty… now let us also do something about Britain’s intolerable defamation laws.

I’ll have more to say on Britain’s laws soon…

Australian Government adds Wikileaks to banned website list

Posted by James Hammerton @ 3:38 pm on 21 March, 2009.
Categories freedom of speech, accountability, freedom of information, Australian politics.
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Australian Government adds Wikileaks to banned website list:

The Australian communications regulator has issued a stark warning that websites who link out to ‘banned’ hyperlinks are liable to fines of up to Aus $11,000 a day.

The news comes after web forum Whirlpool was threatened with the fine for posting a hyperlink to a blacklisted anti-abortion website.

Wikileaks blacklisted

One of the newest additions to Australia’s ‘blacklisted hyperlinks’ list is Wikileaks; the website that publishes anonymous submissions of sensitive info on everything from corporations, religion and governments.

The blacklisting of certain pages of the site has come about after Wikileaks posted a list of websites at the tail end of 2008 that comprised the ’secret internet censorship’ list for Denmark. On this list were over 3,500 sites that were censored or banned in the country.

Seems Australia has taken the Chinese approach to controlling the internet.

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.

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.
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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:

Journalist threatened with legal action for exposing nonsense

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:05 pm on .
Categories freedom of speech, British politics.
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[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

Ben Goldacre writes:

Two days ago I posted about a 7th Jan 2009 broadcast in which their presenter Jeni Barnett exemplified some of the most irresponsible, ill-informed, and ignorant anti-vaccination campaigning that I have ever heard on the public airwaves. This is important because it can cost lives, and you can read about the media’s MMR hoax here.

To illustrate my grave concerns, I posted the relevant segment about MMR from her show, 44 minutes, which a reader kindly excerpted for me from the rest of the three hour programme. It is my view that Jeni Barnett torpedoes her reputation in that audio excerpt so effectively that little explanation is needed.

LBC’s lawyers say that the clip I posted is a clear infringement of their copyright, that I must take it down immediately, that I must inform them when I have done so, and that they “reserve their rights”.

However LBC seems to have reckoned without the internet as Goldacre later writes:

Since LBC unwisely threw their legal weight around to prevent you from being able to freely experience and ponder that astonishing 44 minute tirade against MMR, the inevitable has happened. The audio has been posted on a huge number of websites around the world, over 120 blogs so far are linking to the story, and more importantly, hundreds of thousands of people are talking and reading about the ignorance that Jeni Barnett exemplified in that worrying broadcast. It has been covered in the Times, and an Early Day Motion is being set down in parliament.

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