Carnival on Modern Liberty. Part the Third.

Roll up, roll up and then carefully insert the filter tip into this, the third Carnival of Modern Liberty! (I don’t know whether it’s just mounting hysterical terror, but I find my puns getting steadily worse with each passing week as the government unleashes some fresh illiberal hell on us.)

Anyway, should you need a bit of refresher scaring, today’s BBC report on some recent recommendations of the Lords’ committee for constitutional reform is as good a way as any to remind yourself of what is at stake here:

Electronic surveillance and collection of personal data are “pervasive” in British society and threaten to undermine democracy, peers have warned.

The proliferation of CCTV cameras and the growth of the DNA database were two examples of threats to privacy, the Lords constitution committee said.

Those subject to unlawful surveillance should be compensated while the policy of DNA retention should be rethought.

What do you think, should we hold our breath? Seriously, we should keep an eye on what might happen to the reporting powers of this particular committee under the emergency Lords’ reforms currently being pushed though by the government in the wake of Erminegate. Paranoid? Moi?

The Coroners and Justice Bill argh, noooo somebody stop them! float

And before we plunge into the glitter and madness of the carnival proper, a quick parliamentary update on the progress of the Coroners and Justice Bill, ably skewered last week by David Howarth as a piece of “red rag and smuggle” legislation, with its deft combination of the proposals for secret inquests (the red rag) with data sharing provisions that would give ministers power to share, well, anyone’s data with anyone else (the smuggle).

The Liberal Democrat motion to prevent the second reading having been defeated, the Bill slithered into general committee, where it has lurked this week, as evidence is taken from the Law Commission, Victim Support, Women for Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Information Commissioner’s Office, amongst others.

I await the official record with a due sense of desolation and dread, but in the meantime it’s not too late to write to your MP to express your startled horror that these provisions are getting anywhere near the legislative process.

The Jeers Float

Enough of that and on, on with the dance!  UK Liberty is impatient with Conor Gearty’s tortuous attack on the  people he characterises as the “libertarian right” and asks why we can’t just let go of the labelling and get on with the business of opposing very bad law. Gearty’s original piece is extensively quoted, and his contortions as he struggles to come to terms with the fact that he’s starting to hold some views on civil liberties in common with said “libertarian right” are a sight to see.

Becky Hogge paints a disturbing dystopian picture of the, er, present in online advertising, and explains why you should NOT opt in to BT’s scheme to monitor your internet usage so that they can offer you more targeted ads convenient content. A timely reminder that in weighing up the risks of privacy infringement we should look beyond the abstract prospect of a totalitarian government – less accountable people even than politicians will sneak in on the tracks of any new state-sponsored infringement.

Lynne Featherstone guests on this very organ to highlight another pernicious side effect of threats to freedom of speech: the impact on whistleblowers. If they’re silenced or otherwise prevented from raising a concern about public services, the consequences can be bad for us all – and she’s thinking especially of the Baby P case in her constituency:

Whatever else one case say about Haringey, it hasn’t been short of whistleblowers with credible, relevant concerns about the way children were being looked after by Children’s Services and the health authorities. Yet they have repeatedly been injuncted and gagged, prevented from speaking out and pressured into silence. Even now, many people are not willing to go on the record to get their concerns into the light

The events float

I don’t know about you, but I’m increasingly struck by the degree of developing common cause between different regions of the internet on civil liberties issues. Cosy little silos with our own jargon and conventions we may be in normal times, but now political hacks, techie geeks and photographers are starting to notice each other because, on this if nothing else, we’re all on the same side. Spyblog highlights this again with news of a “Know your rights” session run by the Digital Photography School forum which took place on Wednesday. The session was to be blogged by the Digital Photography School site, but I can’t find it anyone – can anyone point and shoot me in the right direction?

The more philosophical sort of float, like

For those of a theological bent, Simon Barrow at Faithinsociety draws our attention to a diverting essay from Savi Hensman of Ekklesia discussing the chequered history of Christians’ support for human rights, but emphasising how Christians can bring important resources to the fight for basic rights in the future. This piece is deliberately designed to coincide not only with our own dear Convention for Modern Liberty, but with the  upcoming General Synod debate on the Human Rights Act. What was I just saying about cosy little silos suddenly finding common cause? Doesn’t get much more cosy than the good ol’ Church of England.

The action float!

More action you can take without leaving your armchair! Unity at Liberal Conspiracy whisks the velvet cloth off Factcheck UK, a collective site to be launched on Monday. The aim, much in line with Channel 4’s Factcheck, is:

to pull together some of the best talent from the British blogosphere and subject the veracity of Britain’s politicians and mainstream media to some much needed independent scrutiny.

Slight twist on the dear old C4 format are the Bullshit Awards held to celebrate the launch. Nominations are open now in categories including the Minister for Bullshit Award (self-explanatory and oh, such a close race), the Witchfinder General Award whose most deserving nominees will have “sparked off or made a significant contribution towards a full blown moral panic on the back of a premise which turned out to be complete bullshit” and the Churner Prize which recognises “journalistic endeavour in the field of churnalism”.

The site is under construction now, and Unity is looking for contributers to brainstorm topics, set up the questions, do the digging and help get a flow of daily factchecks going – and for people with their own blogs who would like to host a particular Bullshit Award. Email him at factcheckuk[AT]googlemail.com if you’re interested.

And finally, on the Facebook float…

Alex Foster recently brought you tidings of the cc All Your Emails to Jackie Smith Day group, which numbers 7,500-odd members and counting. Matters have now spiralled entirely out of control but in a good way with the evolution of a fanpage (just over 2,500 members at time of writing) and website.

I can now exclusively reveal (by means of having looked at the site and badgered the founder) that the date set for this glorious revolution of teh internets is 15 June. But in order to remind you nearer the time, Martin the founder needs you to go to the site itself and sign up to an email list. A victim of his own success, he can’t email an entire Facebook group once it numbers more than 5,000 members.

And yes, he is well aware of the irony of asking you to submit your email address to a group list whose purpose is to protest about data sharing. But as pedants out there know, as so often in life, it’s consent that’s the important thing.

Meanwhile, CCYETJSD’s racier younger sibling, National Take a Photo of a Police Officer Day, has a more urgent agenda:

Set to become law on the 16th of February in the UK, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 amends the Terrorism Act 2000 regarding offences relating to information about members of armed forces, a member of the intelligence services, or a police officer. Laws are being introduced that allow for the arrest – and fining, and imprisonment for up to ten years – of anyone who takes pictures of officers ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.

The law is expected to increase the anti-terrorism powers used today by police officers to stop photographers, including press photographers, from taking pictures in public places.

‘Snot illegal, so long as you do it within the next fortnight. Get along to sign up, or just to watch the footage of an Open Rights Group member filming himself in the middle of a stop and search process. Is there no end to our self-referential celebrity culture?

Well, with developments this frightening, it’s good to have a bit of a laugh. Then a bit more, probably.

Next week’s Carnival will be hosted by the Yorksher Gob – submit your liberal offerings here. Make sure you come back here in some dull between-activities moment over the weekend to catch the first in a new Lib Dem Voice series - Authoritarianism: the Greatest Hits, being your guide to the progress of repressive legislation under the current Conservative Labour government.

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4 Comments

  • Alix Mortimer 7th Feb '09 - 10:05pm

    Ooh, ta!

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