Mon, 22 Dec 2008

Recalibrating the balance

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith delivered a speech titled 'Protecting rights, protecting society' to the Intellect Trade Association on 2008-12-16. It is one of her most perverse speeches that demonstrates either a lack of understanding of the issues she's dealing with or dangerous vacuous doublespeak policy statements, or both. I recommend you check out the following excellent analysis:

'Balance' is mentioned eight times, 'balancing' once; here's a word frequency analysis of the speech (created with Wordle):

Word usage in Wacky Jacqui's speech

Two weeks earlier, on the same day the ECtHR ruled against the UK, Thomas Hammarberg, CoE Commissioner for Human Rights presented a rather different view in the issue paper 'Protecting the right to privacy in the fight against terrorism':

7. Conclusions

We are rapidly becoming a “Surveillance Society”. This is partly the result of general technical and societal developments, but these trends are strongly reinforced by measures taken in the fight against terrorism.

In the context of the fight against terrorism, this means individuals are at risk of being targeted for being suspected “extremists” or for being suspected of being “opposed to our constitutional legal order”, even if they have not (yet) committed any criminal (let alone terrorist) offence.

“Targets” of this kind are moreover increasingly selected through computer “profiles”. Even if some may be caught, there will always be relatively large numbers of “false negatives” - real terrorists who are not identified as such, and unacceptably high numbers of “false positives”: large numbers of innocent people who are subjected to surveillance, harassment, discrimination, arrest - or worse. Freedom is being given up without gaining security.

In addition, increasing use is made of non-criminal, yet effectively punitive, “administrative” measures against identified suspected “extremists” or new-type “enemies of the State”. This robs them of fundamental safeguards, both against the specific measures taken against them and, as groups, against such discrimination. It leads to alienation of the groups in question, and thus actually undermines security.

In the process, all of us are increasingly placed under general, mass surveillance, with data being captured on all our activities, on-line or in the “real” world. Such general surveillance raises serious democratic problems which are not answered by the repeated assertion that “those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.”


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