We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Never mind Damian Green, do you want the cops to have this power over you?

David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has threatened to resign if Damian Green (the First Secretary of State, effectively Deputy Prime Minister) is sacked unfairly. Why, you may ask, is Davis – a Brexiteer – willing to put Theresa May’s already shaky government at risk for the sake of a Remainer like Green?

The Guardian link above explains it better than I can:

The Brexit secretary believes his cabinet colleague is the victim of a police vendetta and made it clear to Theresa May that he would be willing to leave the government if he felt Green had been unfairly treated.

The threat emerged only hours after a former Metropolitan police detective came forward with fresh claims implying that Green himself had been viewing pornography found on his workplace computer when police raided his Commons office in November 2008.

Green was a shadow Home Office minister at the time and was under investigation because he had received a series of sensitive Home Office leaks. He denies viewing pornography on his parliamentary computer.

At the time, the Conservatives were fighting some of the Labour government’s law and order measures on libertarian grounds and Davis was a strong backer of Green’s work.

Mark Wallace of Conservative Home writes,

Whether Green did what is alleged or not, the behaviour of the police in his case is appalling

Lewis is speaking out because he disapproves of what he claims he found. But on what authority is that his job, his responsibility, or his right? He gained access to that computer as a police officer, not as a self-appointed moral arbiter. The powers granted to police officers are given on the condition that they use them for specific purposes only. He was meant to be looking for evidence of crimes, not legal things which he could tut about. Separate to whether the Cabinet Office finds his or Green’s account to be true, is this really how we want former police officers to behave? If the police were to search your home or office or person, but fail to find evidence of any crime, is it acceptable that years down the line the officers involved could publicly embarrass you by claiming they found legal pornography, or anything else legal that they personally find morally icky? That’s an awful precedent, which would harm trust in the police and worry a lot of innocent people that private information might be being held over them. In a society under the rule of law we should all have a right to expect that the police do their job, but do not exploit their professional positions for personal grandstanding or moralising at a later date.

I took a look inside the College of Policing Code of Ethics: A Code of Practice for the Principles and Standards of Professional Behaviour for the Policing Profession of England and Wales.

Under “Standard of Professional Behaviour” section 3.1.7, “Confidentiality”, it said:

I will treat information with respect, and access or disclose it only in the proper course of my duties.

7.1
According to this standard you must:
• be familiar with and abide by the data protection principles described in the Data Protection Act 1998
• access police-held information for a legitimate or authorised policing purpose only
• not disclose information, on or off duty, to unauthorised recipients
• understand that by accessing personal data without authorisation you could be
committing a criminal offence, regardless of whether you then disclose that personal data.

Do we want to set the precedent that if in the course of a search a police officer finds evidence of behaviour that is legal but frowned upon they can make it public?

Samizdata quote of the day

“Many seem to believe that the capital based in so-called tax havens is sitting there gathering dust, like many a Saudi prince’s Lamborghini. It isn’t. For the most part, capital in offshore centres is invested around the world, fetching rates of return far in excess of bond yields and the value that most government expenditure can generate. It is unfashionable to praise tax avoidance, but ask yourself the following: would you rather corporate profits be spent on the white elephant of the day, whether HS2 or a ghost airport in Spain? Or is the money better allocated on research and development by private firms? Bear in mind that nothing illegal is going on here: we are talking about entirely legal alternative uses of capital. If capital mobility were halted, individuals and firms would have a much harder time voting with their feet against confiscatory rates of taxation such as those implemented by François Hollande. People in countries with a weak rule of law would be at the mercy of satraps and triple-digit inflation. Never mind that Meg Hillier, the surely well-meaning chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, is just calling for greater transparency. The reason we have banking secrecy is precisely so that persecuted groups, such as Europe’s Jews in the run-up to World War II, could take financial refuge from their persecutors.”

Diego Zuluaga

He is writing following the latest mass data “leak” (aka theft) of offshore account data from the law firm Appleby. The saga is being dubbed “Paradise Papers” (the data comes from the Caribbean, geddit?) Here is another item in defence of offshore centres. 

What I dislike about targetted advertising

The Sun had a story recently (and I presume many other organs did too) about a pizza advert in Norway which changed its message according to who was looking at it. It spied on those who spied it, you might say. But the advert broke down, very visibly, and revealed its inner secrets to passers-by, many of whom immediately told the world about this advert via all those social media that media outlets like The Sun (and Samizdata come to that) now have to coexist with.

What I personally find depressing about adverts targetted at me personally is that I stop learning things. I already know what I like. What I get – or used to get – from adverts is a sense of what the world in general likes, or at least what someone willing to back his guess with money guesses it might like.

Advertising on television, for example, is currently telling me that I am not the only one suffering from itchy eyes, a bunged up nose, and such like. Hay fever symptoms, in other words. My television didn’t push all these adverts at me personally, because it heard me sniffing or saw the shape and colour of my face change or saw me putting my hands in my eyes, the way a cat does when it’s washing its face. All the people watching the TV show I was watching got the same adverts. I found this reassuring. I am not uniquely ill. I am somewhat ill, in the same way that thousands of others are somewhat ill. Nothing to worry about. It will soon pass.

TV adverts, as of now, tell me about who else is watching what I am watching. Adverts for baths with doors on them, for chair lifts, for over-fifties health insurance, tell me who we all are, watching this show. Lots of old woman adverts also tell me when I have wandered into that audience. Other shows have adverts attached for fizzy drinks, electronic gadgets, or short-term loans or on-line gambling dens. I find all this interesting and informative. It tells me not about me, but about the world I am living in. Often what I learn is rather depressing (as with those short-term loans and the gambling dens), but I do learn.

Advertising that is aimed directly at me annoys me not by threatening to know everything about me, and rat on me to the government or the CIA or whoever. Although I can well imagine that becoming a problem for me, it is not my problem with this stuff right now. No, what I object to now is the thought that I may soon be wandering through life in a cocoon that is constantly being rearranged in order to bounce back at me nothing but my own tastes and prejudices. It’s as if I will soon be walking around in my personal private Potemkin Village.

I already know what sort of stuff I like. The constant nagging from the www the buy whatever I was looking at yesterday is depressing to me, not because it spies on me, but because it isolates me. Not because others learn about me, but because I stop learning about others.

The fact that this Norwegian pizza advert was switched off once word got around about it tells me that I am not the only one in the world who finds this kind of targetted advertising in public places rather creepy and off-putting. But what exactly is it that people object to about such advertising? What you have just read is my little contribution to this latter discussion.

LATER: I originally wrote this piece with my personal blog in mind as its destination, and the mind-set of that blog is different from the mind-set that prevails here. Since this is Samizdata, let me clarify that the above is not a plea for the government regulation of targetted advertising, merely an expression by me of my dislike of it. There are plenty of other products and services which I also dislike, which I also don’t think the government should forbid or interfere with.

Discussion point: porn on the bus

Here are two contrasting articles from the Guardian:

Watching porn in public is not OK. It’s harassment – Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Pussy Riot celebrate the vagina in lyrical riposte to Trump – Luke Harding

It is no discredit to the Guardian that different writers for the paper have said contradictory things, although none of the dozens of comments I read to Ms Cosslett’s article brought up the the difference between the views of old and new feminists on whether it was liberating or deplorable to shock the public.

Many Libertarian-ish people would say that incompatible preferences across different groups of people regarding what should be seen in public could be solved by property rights and competition. Each shopping mall and bus company could set its own rules, some catering to the puritans, some to the libertines. That would be nice, but until we find the door into Libertopia we must deal with the major regulator of such things being the State.

What do you think? How should people behave here and now? Do the existing laws come first or ten millionth on our list of things to oppose – or should we support them? Is there more of a problem than there used to be, now that people can watch R18 movies on their Kindles on the bus while a twelve year old sits next to them? Or is this just another moral panic that could be solved if people kept their eyes to themselves?

By the way, consider this blog post to be a a venue where, as they say on the cinema screens, “Strong language may be permitted, depending on the manner in which it is used, who is using the language, its frequency within the work as a whole and any special contextual justification”.

The UK just legalised everything that Snowden warned us about

There is a good article on the Verge laying out the horrendous Investigatory Powers Act.

Dear UKIP, you’ve changed

“UKIP leader Paul Nuttall says UK should ban burqa”, the Independent reports.

In the 2015 election I was pleased to note that UKIP, the third most popular party in the UK in terms of number of votes, was also the closest to libertarian among the mainstream parties. Since then the United Kingdom Independence Party has both fulfilled and lost its purpose. Its new leader, Paul Nuttall, seems to want to achieve his aim of supplanting Labour as the main opposition to the Tories by outcompeting Labour in the field of authoritarianism. Just listen to the tail-wags-the-dog justification for banning the burqa that Mr Nutall gives in the video clip linked to by the Independent:

“Whether we like it or not we are the most watched people in the world. There’s more CCTV in Britain per head than anywhere else on the planet and for the CCTV to be effective you need to see people’s faces.”

Fake news – Putin has been pushing it for some time before Mrs Clinton noticed

From Observer (not the leftist UK newspaper, but another site):

The Washington Post reported this week that Kremlin-backed websites pushed “fake news” regularly portraying Hillary and the Democrats in a negative light. There’s really nothing new here for anybody who’s followed Russian propaganda for any length of time. Kremlin agitprop aimed at the West—properly termed disinformation—contains an amalgam of fact and fiction, plus lots of gray information somewhere in between which can be difficult and time-consuming to refute.

Back in the 1980s, when the KGB was pumping all kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories into Western media outlets to smear the Reagan administration, Washington got proficient at countering this sort of nasty deception (the Pentagon created AIDS, for instance). The Active Measures Working Group, an interagency entity stood up expressly to debunk Kremlin lies, became effective at its job, drawing on expertise from various government departments and agencies. With Cold War victory, however, it folded along with the Soviet Union.

By mid-2014, it was apparent that Moscow was up to its old disinformation tricks again, and it was obvious to anybody acquainted with the Kremlin that Washington needed to react to the torrents of lies filtering into Western media thanks to Russian intelligence and its friends in the West. Putin, that wily KGB veteran, is familiar with Active Measures, and his Kremlin has become more aggressive about employing it abroad than the Politburo ever was.

The Digital Economy Bill

The Bill’s intention is to create better data sharing gateways. The plans to digitise our birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates – which will be stored and shared in bulk – will make the sharing of our personal information as easy as clicking a mouse. There will be no requirement for them to consult you. You won’t be asked in advance, you won’t even be told after the event and you won’t have the chance to opt out.

Worried? You should be. Do you remember the ID card furore before the 2010 general election? The scheme was axed at great expense when public support for the plans plummeted after it was revealed that HMRC had lost personal information belonging to 25 million child benefit claimants.

Only then did the reality of how insecure our data is sink in. It’s worth noting the lost information still hasn’t been recovered almost 10 years later.

Don’t be fooled that things have improved. In 2014/15 government departments experienced almost 9,000 data breaches, according to a recent National Audit Office report.

Renate Samson

Samizdata quote of the day

You might not have noticed thanks to world events, but the UK parliament recently approved the government’s so-called Snooper’s Charter and it will soon become law. This nickname for the Investigatory Powers Bill is well earned. It represents a new level and nature of surveillance that goes beyond anything previously set out in law in a democratic society. It is not a modernisation of existing law, but something qualitatively different, something that intrudes upon every UK citizen’s life in a way that would even a decade ago have been inconceivable […] As David Davis said, before being distracted by Brexit, this kind of surveillance will only catch the innocent and the incompetent. The innocent should not be caught and the incompetent can be caught any number of ways.

Paul Bernal. Good article, even if I was a bit bemused by the author’s surprise that a paleo-socialist like Jeremy Corbyn acquiesced.

Repeal the new surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act)

If you are in the UK, please sign the petition to repeal the new surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act). We are half way to getting a Parliamentary debate (maybe 🙄 ).

Too many see Orwell’s “1984” not as a cautionary tale, but rather a compendium of interesting policy suggestions.

The tectonic plates are shifting

This is a statement by Geert Wilders about the attempts by the Dutch establishment to silence him for expressing a political opinion:

Now whatever you think of Wilders, this has been an astonishing attempt to simply shut down free expression in an western nation. And of course this will not silence him and will probably prove to be a spectacular establishment own-goal.

And in the UK, more and more infrastructure to censor internet porn is being put into place. Why is this related? Because once control infrastructure exists, it can and will be re-purposed, in much the same way the Department for Education’s “counter extremism unit“, set up ostensibly to prevent violent Islamic extremist views being taught in UK schools, gets re-purposed to shut down a gay secular journalist who has not called for any violence against anyone.

All across the Western World, political verities and assumption are starting to shift, and almost nothing can be accurately predicted any more. We live in times that are a danger and opportunity in equal measure, and people who care about liberty will have to get their hands dirty, making common cause with others who will not pass any purity sniff tests but with whom we share common enemies (however care does need to be taken in such matters for sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my enemy… but sometimes not), however now is the time for engagement and action.

Samizdata quote of the day

The Investigatory Powers Act legalises powers that the security agencies and police had been using for years without making this clear to either the public or parliament. In October, the investigatory powers tribunal, the only court that hears complaints against MI6, MI5 and GCHQ, ruled that they had been unlawfully collecting massive volumes of confidential personal data without proper oversight for 17 years.

Ewen MacAskill