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]

One way to be a media celeb is to be a lousy finance minister

This item at the EconLog blog caught my eye. It has the ring of truth about it:

And yet, good for him, this is exactly the outcome of his short time in Greek government. As a Minister, he has nothing to exhibit as success. But an intense countenance, an elaborately casual look, and his colourful prose makes him a perfect fit for the world of celebrities. I suppose this is another proof of the immense powers of “commodification” of global capitalism.

The author, Alberto Mingardi, is writing about the “cool dude” Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. The man’s rather strained form of Marxism will, so the author of the piece, hurt him not at all because his targets are, for different reasons, ones that aren’t particularly sympathetic, such as the German government, and Brussels.

The point, though, its that being a failed socialist finance minister isn’t enough to get that sort of media celeb status without other ingredients. After all, there are quite a few of such people and in some cases, such as former UK chancellor Gordon Brown, he is about as trendy as flared jeans; he has all the media appeal of steel reinforced concrete. The Greek chap has the looks and demeanour of an outsider, even if, in reality, he is as much a part of the Big Government class as the rest of them. He understood that people fall for all this bollocks about wearing leather jackets, riding a motorbike and not appearing to be A Suit.

And back in the UK, assuming that Jeremy Corbyn (not exactly the sort of name one associates with horny-handed coal miners or ship-builders) becomes leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and leads Labour into the sort of disaster widely foretold, he has a career as a media celeb sorted: the ageing geography-teacher schtick with the beard, loose jackets and references to Tony Benn.



Fingering EU

A reader forwards the following information:

On October 25th, without any consultation, the Council of European Union introduced a change to this legislation, calling for the mandatory fingerprinting of all EU citizens, residents and visitors.

This, along with the passport could form the basis of an intrusive EU wide identity card, similar to that the current British government is proposing at national level, and certainly would enable EU-wide surveillance of everyone’s movements.

The organisations Privacy International, Statewatch and European Digital Rights have written an open letter to MEPs. They are calling for endorsements of this letter, please email privacyint@privacy.org if you wish to do this. (The email address (terrrights@privacy.org) given on PI’s web page for this purpose bounced.)

They are also calling for people to contact their MEPs over this by November 30th. You can find UK MEPs’ emails here. For those EU residents not in the UK, these links should help.

Testing the EU Arrest Warrant

The European Union instituted a European wide arrest warrant in order to speed extradition between Member States, without providing some of the basic precautions that a citizen would expect before being deported to a foreign country. These were established to promote the development of a European ‘judicial space’ under the guise of fighting the ‘war on terror’: an old chestnut these days in the campaign to undermine and reduce civil liberties.

However, the EU arrest warrant is running into the obstacles and minefields of laws and judgements. A recent case involved three French citizens, accused of belonging to a group, that Spain considers to be a terrorist and criminal organisation.

A French court on Tuesday rejected a Spanish request for the extradition of three French people accused of being members of an organisation suspected of financing Basque separatist group ETA, judicial sources said.

Amaia Rekarte, Yves Matxikote and Harritza Gallaraga were detained last month — but later released pending the court’s ruling — after Spain demanded their extradition on charges of belonging to a criminal and terrorist group.

The three accused belong to an organisation, Segi, with Basque sympathies and posssible links to ETA, the Basque terrorist group. However, membership of the organisation is not banned under French law, and Spain was requesting extradition for the three on actions conducted legally in France, whilst being illegal in Spain. It is not clear if the three acted in France alone or in Spain as well.

This appears to have been a ‘fishing trip’ to arrest three Basque sympathisers. It failed as the French judge in Pau argued that French citizens should not be extradited if their actions were legal in their own Member State. The European Commission played down the judgement:

The ruling appears to be a blow to the ambition behind the EU arrest warrant, which was to facilitate extradition in terrorism cases. However, the EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Antonio Vitorino, does not want to overdramatise the importance of the case. “This is a case of conflicting competences between judges. The arrest warrant as such has not been called into question,” said spokesman Pietro Petrucci to EurActiv.

ETA has murdered over 800 men, women and children since 1968 in pursuit of an independent Basque state. The Spanish are understandably enthusiastic in their wish to prevent further murders in this cause.

EU accepts UK anti-terrorism surveillance plans

10 Downing St says the EU Justice Council has agreed to all UK anti-terrorism proposals, including communications data retention standards.

The Council:

agreed to establish new common standards for retention of communications data;

agreed to implement proposals to improve the exchange of data between countries, for example on lost and stolen passports; and

tasked EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security policy, Javier Solana, to bring forward proposals to make better use of intelligence across the EU within six months.

 – 10 Downing Street, EU agrees UK anti-terror plans.

Cross-posted from vigilant.tv.

Blunkett raises spectre of fingerprinting entire EU population!

Mentioned en passant in another alarming article in which David Blunkett threatens yet further abridgements of civil liberties under the guise of ‘fighting terrorism’, it is noted he and the European Commission advocated the idea of…

Joining forces with the Commission, Mr Blunkett backed proposals for a fingerprint data base of all EU citizens and tougher measures to tackle terrorist funding.

Oh wonderful.

EU collects PNR as well!

In Euractiv, it is reported that the next Justice and Home Affairs Council on the 19th-20th February will pass a draft directive authorising the collection of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data from non-EU nationals by airlines flying to a Member State. The data will be transferred to agencies in charge of the EU’s external borders in order to aid the management of immigration.

Data will notably include the names, travel document used, nationality, date of birth plus point and time of departure and arrival. Airlines will face thousand euro fines if they have not transmitted data or if the data is incomplete or false.

The original Spanish proposal was watered down after the House of Lords, amongst other bodies, pointed out that this placed a huge burden upon air and sea carriers. The draft directive will fail if it has not passed by April 30th under the auspices of the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Irish Presidency has crafted a compromise whereby biometric data is excluded and the burden is limited to air carriers.

Statewatch had already raised the flag on this proposal to transform air and sea carriers into data collection and surveillance agencies for external border control agencies.

European Roundup: Arrest Warrants and Healthcards

First of all, the new European arrest warrant was exercised today for the first time. Michael Kurt was wanted in Sweden on drink-driving charges and was arrested in Alicante. He will be taken back to Sweden.

The arrest warrant is valid in eight Member States:

So far only eight states have adopted it: Britain, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Moreover, another system is being introduced to provide every EU citizen with a smartcard. These health insurance smartcards will replace the E111 and other forms that allow every EU citizen access to the health systems of other Member States.

These smartcards will eventually include the bearer’s medical records and any other information deemed appropriate. The information here is taken from Ireland, and there does not appear to be any corroborating information at the Department of Health in the UK.

The European Public Health Alliance has one or two articles on the new smartcards. The draft regulation that I have not fully read is located here.

This new system standardises the information on citizens’ health held on databases throughout the European Union. In Member States where no cards exist at present within the healthcare system, these will be introduced. In most Member States, a European card will be introduced alongside the existing systems. It is in those countries where no system exists at present, that this proposal can act as a stimulus for standardising government databases and producing another precursor to a formal identity card.

Whilst electronic systems are here to stay, there are few safeguards against the dissemination of personal information. This is not noted in the draft EU regulation and presents another route by which the privacy of individuals may be undermined as ease of administration gains a higher priority than the right of the individual to safeguard and police his personal data.

Schengen Information System and Biometrics

It was very hard to pick the correct category for this particular (if outdated) story: European Union, Civil Liberties or Biometrics.

The Schengen system is the agreement between European Union Member States that allows individuals to cross borders without hindrance. However, in order to promote the freedom of movement, the EU set up the Schengen Information System, a database of individual’s names and details for the purpose of :

by means of an automated search procedure, to have access to reports on persons and objects for the purposes of border checks and controls and other police and customs checks carried out within the country in accordance with national law and, in the case of the single category of report referred to in Article 96, for the purposes of issuing visas, the issue of residence permits and the administration of aliens in the context of the application of the provisions of this Convention relating to the movement of persons.

The central database for this system is administered in Strasbourg by the French government.

With the accession of ten new Member States, and the inability of the Schengen Information System to be expanded beyond 18 national databases, it is envisaged that a Schengen Information System II will be established.

This new database will store biometric data and digital photographs, and will be integrated with the Visa Information system that will harmonise the issuance of such documents in Europe.

The institutions that will have access to this system include the national authorities of the Member States, Europol and Eurojust. The development of this database also gives an insight into how European policy works – decide the objective and then identify the laws which will legalise the system:

Appropriate legal bases for proposals to develop SIS II

8. It is necessary to identify the appropriate legal instruments in the treaties in order to develop the system, since the purpose of the SIS is to improve police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (covered by Title VI of the Treaty on European Union) and policy as regards visas, immigration and free movement of persons (covered by Title IV of the EC Treaty). In addition, the Council decision authorising the United Kingdom to participate partly in the SIS, like the two Belgian-Swedish initiatives (a decision and a regulation) adopted by the Council on 6 December 2001, confirmed the mixed nature of the SIS [Official Journal L 328, 13.12.2001].

Note how even the United Kingdom is not excluded and future Member States will have to accede to this part of the acquis communautaire.

12. The Schengen acquis and its developments must be accepted in full by all States applying for accession. It should be noted that participation by an applicant State in the SIS is an essential prerequisite to lifting controls at common frontiers. If a priority of the new system is to allow the future Member States to integrate, it is necessary to ensure they are appropriately involved in the implementing activities. The Commission undertakes to inform them regularly of progress and invites them to send any observations they may have.

This EU road pricing system is more intrusive than what they want to forbid, right?

Patrick Crozier of Transport Blog links to this piece from last August at Tollroadnews about the EU banning one kind of road pricing technology, in order to make things easier for its own preferred sort of technology.

Here’s what the EU wants to ban:

No new DSRC systems would be permitted in Europe after 2008, and existing ones would be banned in 2012. This radical anti-DSRC move is an attempt to force adoption of what is seen as a modern technology (GPS) regardless of cost or difficulty by forcing out the existing short range wireless technologies.

And they want to replace it with their own pet satellite based system.

I always want to believe the worst of the EU, and unimpeded by any facts, I do. In this instance, I assume that the technology that the EU is engaged in banning is better from the civil liberties point of view than the technology it favours, and that this is part of why it is banning what it is banning. It doesn’t supply as much in the way of incidental snooping and central surveillance as the kit it wants to use.

Tollroadnews assert that it’s a bodge of the worst sort, because the new kit will work worse than the old kit. But if it could be made to work, would the system the EU wants be more centralised and Big Brotherish, or from this particular point of view is there no great difference? Obviously, comments welcome.

Liberty groups attack plan for EU health ID card

Disturbing news in the Telegraph about the European Union taking its first step last week towards the creation of an EU-wide health identity card able to store a range of biometric and personal data on a microchip by 2008. Approved by Union ministers in Luxembourg, the plastic disk will slide into the credit-card pouch of a wallet or purse.

The European Health Insurance Card is intended to end the bureaucratic misery of E111 forms currently used by travellers who fall ill in other EU countries. Eventually it will replace a plethora of other complex forms needed for longer stays.

But civil liberties groups said it was the start of a scheme for a harmonised data chip that would quickly evolve into an EU “identity card” containing intrusive information off all kinds that could be read by a computer.

The European Commission confirmed that the final phase in 2008 would add a “smart chip” containing a range of data, including health files and records of treatment received.

The ultimate objective is to have an electronic chip on the card, as the technology improves.

Tony Bunyan, the head of Statewatch, said it was part of a disturbing Union-wide erosion of privacy since September 11 2001.

We all know where they’re heading with this. They want a single card with all our data on one chip. It’ll be a passport and driver’s licence rolled into one with everything from our national insurance numbers, bank accounts, to health records.

Yeah, I think he just might be on to something…

EU privacy ‘blocking terror fight’

CNN reports that America’s top security official has urged European leaders to cooperate with U.S. demands to share information on airline passengers such as names, place of birth and date of birth, saying European resistance was hampering anti-terrorism efforts.

Tom Ridge, secretary for homeland security, said the European Union’s demand to protect passengers’ privacy must be balanced by the right of those passengers to travel safely. He noted that the United States wasn’t requesting information on health or religion.

The new U.S. law came into effect March 5. It requires airlines to provide the U.S. government with passenger details such names, phone and credit card numbers as well as meal choices. Because of the EU law banning the sharing of such information, European airlines face fines of up to $6,000 a passenger and the loss of landing rights if they fail to comply.

The EU Internal Market Commissioner, Frits Bolkstein, warned Ridge in June that if negotiations to bridge the two laws failed, a “highly charged trans-Atlantic confrontation” could ensue. If there is no deal, EU officials have said the EU would have to instruct national data agencies to stop sharing data with Washington and fine carriers that do so, leaving airlines caught in the middle.


This article is from nearly a week ago, but it is of interest still, I think:

Newspaper owners responsible for publishing racist or xenophobic articles in Britain are to be protected from being sent for trials abroad under government plans to soften the impact of the new Extradition Bill.

Ministers will introduce amendments today to tough European-wide laws that allow courts to extradite EU citizens accused of committing one of 32 generic criminal offences.

Concerns raised by the media that they could fall foul of the new law when it comes into force in January have prompted the Government to act to remove the threat of prosecution.

The Bill makes “xenophobia and racism” one of 32 crimes for which a British citizen can be sent for trial in another EU country – such as Germany or Austria, where it is illegal – although there is no such standalone offence in this country.

But because British newspapers are sold abroad and their articles are published on the internet, editors and their proprietors could face prosecution for racist offences committed in this country.

I can’t say I understand the full ramification of this, but my brain is abuzz with questions.

For instance. Will these amendments apply only to newspaper proprietors, or will, for example, the proprietors of group blogs be exempt also, in similar circumstances? If one of us junior contributors here did a White Rose posting that the government of Austria deemed to be xenophobic or racist, would Gabriel and Perry, the named organisers of White Rose, then still be in the firing line? Or do these amendments apply to them as well?

Looking at the larger picture here, the stink of this piece is that “Europe” is a place where what seems to matter is not what you have done but who you are.

What’s so special about these newspaper proprietors, other than that they have the power to affect the fortunes of major politicians? Are they like the drivers of fire engines needing to exceed the regular speed limits? I suppose they would argue that, metaphorically speaking, this is indeed what they are, sort of. They are our protectors, and therefore they themselves need special protection.

But one fears, on the contrary, that maybe these big media newspapers may ease off on their concern-raising about the other 31 of those 32 generic criminal offences – and about, you know, things in general – just so long as they themselves are not directly threatened by the new arrangements. One fears, in other words, that in exchange for their own protection, they’ll relax about protecting the rest of us.

Still, at least the Indy gave these other 31 criminal offences a passing mention. Can anyone say, or point to a place which does say, what they all are?