Tue, 16 Jan 2007

You're so September 10

A few late notes about some of the events I attended and mentioned previously. In chronological order:

Racism, liberty and the war on terror

Civil liberty vs. the database state

Ross Anderson launched The Big Opt Out campaign to ensure your medical record doesn't end up on the NHS central computer system (NHS Data Spine) accessible to too many civil servants.

I raised the issue of the Police and Government building a massive DNA database today where there's no opt out (and a large number of innocents) versus the future risk of the Spine.

Reclaiming our rights

One of the, if not the, person who did most to fight for our civil rights, Gareth Peirce summed up the current situation when saying ‘the title of this conference is a bit optimistic’. The situation is dire. ‘It isn't the threat of terrorism we should fear but that of laws’ like the ones I list on this page. Others pointed out how the definition of terrorism carefully excludes one of the most patent one: state terrorism (Craig Murray pointed out the recent case of the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko as an example.)

It's hard to effect positive change with the ‘passive unquestioning population in this country’. The situation improved in Northern Ireland when grass root community reaction increased. This is what forced the British government to change its stance. There are very uncomfortable parallels with the situation then when many should still be able to clearly remember this period. (‘Has nobody learned?’)

I was indeed amazed by the small number of individuals interested in civil rights issues affecting all of us. This was a conference that included some very high profile speakers such as Gareth Peirce, Mark Thomas and Brian Haw. Entry was free (donations welcomed of course). I didn't count, but there must have been about 100 attendees, I would have hoped for thousands. (In contrast Mark Thomas' show at the Soho Theatre a few weeks earlier was fully booked several weeks in advance and I couldn't get a ticket when I tried to.)

A positive aspect of being a smaller event that I had anticipated was that in most workshops everyone had a chance to actively participate. We heard of the extraordinary work done by many to support those affected by the repressive laws currently in place. The numbers of those affected is growing. We also heard of how terrible some of their lives are. Follow up on the ideas that came out of the discussions will be needed.

The Terrorist Threat and Freedoms Today - Learning from the US and UK experience

David Cole explained how much of what's happening in the US is based on what John Ashcroft termed the ‘preventive paradigm’. So many are detained (more than 5,000 in the aftermath of 9/11) and so few are convicted for terrorism (0). One effect of this preventive paradigm is sacrificing the US international legitimacy. He was (surprisingly) optimistic as there's more grass root reaction than ever (especially in comparison with what happened during McCarthyism) such as the work of the ACLU.
I learnt a new American expression – once, when David Cole was talking about all this security theatre, a friend of his exclaimed: ‘You're so September 10’.

Louise Christian showed that the situation in the UK is not much better and sometimes worse than in the US; in particular the Terrorism Act 2006 amendments in the definition of terrorism, guilt by association and encouragement of terrorism. She echoed David Cole in that ‘We [the UK] don't have authority [in the world] any more. No legitimacy.’ An important reminder is that terrorism is not a war, it's a crime. Treating it as such would be a progress. Again the message is clear: it is important that we all, each individual, fight as the legal framework that has recently and continue to be put in place will last and continue to affect us all.

I posted some suggestions in how you can act to help halt and reverse the erosion of our civil liberties.

UPDATE 2006-01-15: added links to videos

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