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]

Past the Point of Reasons Why

The Guardian reports that the government wants biometric iris-recognition machines installed in ten UK airports within a year.

The scanners will probably be welcomed by regular travellers for “speeding them past immigration queues”. Simply look the machine in the eye and say goodbye.

How many will consider the privacy ramifications of saving a few minutes at the airport? Are we to believe that once a big enough database is established these machines will not spread?

How long before we are scanned every time we enter a public place and that information recorded centrally? All to protect society, of course.

It seems Big Blunkett is determined to get us all on file by any means necessary.

Big Blunkett Bluster

Big Blunkett appears to be taking the Campbell approach: when caught out, bluster and shoot the messenger.

Blunkett has attacked the BBC’s “Asylum Day” reporting for being Powellite and racist.

John Ware of Panorama has refuted Blunkett’s claims in this letter to the Guardian.

The Panorama programme showed that the asylum system – for which Blunkett is responsible – is a mess. Whether you want tighter or looser rules, the current ones are not being enforced. Human and systemic error is rife despite the use of fingerprints.

Big Blunkett wants to introduce compulsory National Identity Cards. Programmes like this edition of Panorama show once again that any system is only as good as its weakest link – the human element.

If the Home Office can’t manage the records of a few thousand asylum seekers, what chance do they have of maintaining a national database on every one of us? Error and corruption will be rife, privacy will vanish.

This Panorama programme proved that Big Blunkett’s plans to watch us all will not achieve their stated aims. Was that the real reason he was so upset?

Cross-posted from An It Harm None

US Snooping Project Faces Axe

The BBC reports that in a surprisingly positive move, the US Senate has voted to withdraw funding from the proposed Terrorism Information Awareness programme (TIA).

The TIA (previously called by the much more chilling name “Total Information Awareness”) was to have been the largest snooping system in the world. Its objective was to centrally co-ordinate and cross-reference every single piece of data available on every single person in America. The justification for this appalling idea was the phoney “war on terror”. As usual, supporters used the lie that “the innocent have nothing to fear”.

It now seems that with funding removed the TIA will be scrapped – publicly at least.

Now if only this country could remove funding from then scrap Big Blunkett.

Be Seeing You

Tomorrow is apparently ID-Day. Big Blunkett is expected to announce plans for compulsory National Identity Cards that will turn the civil liberties clock back fifty years.

To those who say “the innocent have nothing to fear”, look at this Liberty report .

It tells how during the Iraq conflict the Terrorism Act 2000 was systematically used to harass protestors at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire and deny them their civil liberties including freedom of movement and the right to peaceful protest. Police even served an anti-terrorism order on an eleven year old girl!

How much worse will it get once everyone is neatly filed, stamped and indexed?

Cross-posted from An It Harm None

Lords Reject Limitation of Trial by Jury

The House of Lords has thrown out Big Blunkett’s proposals to limit the right to trial by jury. They voted 210 to 136 to reject the proposals in the government’s Criminal Justice Bill.

The government now has to decide whether to try and force their plans through, accept the Lords’ amendment or drop the entire Bill.

Downing Street had suggested earlier that the entire Bill might be dropped.

We can but hope.

Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe

Lords Clear Way for Repeal of Clause 28

Some good news for once:

The House of Lords has supported repeal of Clause 28 of the local Government Act. An amendment seen by many as an attempt to preserve Clause 28 was defeated by 50 votes.

In theory Clause 28 doesn’t discriminate against homosexuals, merely against using public money to “promote” homosexuality. In practice this wide ranging and ill-defined prohibition has resulted in a climate where low-level institutional discrimination has become commonplace. Decent people have been forced to discriminate through fear of breaching Clause 28.

Clause 28 was introduced by the Thatcher government in 1988. It was a massive attack on the civil liberties of a significant minority of British citizens and has been the jewel in the crown of British homophobes. The fact that a single group was specifically targeted in this way meant that apart from anything else it was simply bad legislation.

Good riddance.

Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe

Police Chief Supports Erosion of Magna Carta

Sir John Stevens, head of the Metropolitan Police, has supported removing the automatic right to trial by jury in some serious cases.

In a speech he argued that the move was necessary to fight organised crime by preventing “jury nobbling”. BBC report here.

If juries are in danger then it is the job of the police to protect them – not throw out a fundamental part of our constitution because it is inconvenient and expensive.

To be fair Stevens did say that the restriction to trial by jury – proposed in Big Blunkett’s discredited Criminal “Justice” Act – should be limited to special cases and determined by a judge. However any erosion of this basic Magna Carta right is unacceptable. This proposal is akin to saying “we already know you’re guilty so we won’t give you the same rights as anyone else.”

Remember how door-to-door DNA testing was initially introduced for “special cases” only? Now any time there is a serious crime police roam the neighbourhood asking innocent citizens to “volunteer” a DNA sample.

Special cases have a tendency to become commonplace.

Partially cross-posted to The Chestnut Tree Cafe.

War of Words

As British citizens we have very little actual power to influence government. One weapon we do have is words, that’s why we write blogs. However if we’re honest the impact is small. Only a tiny proportion of the population will ever read any blog at all. Most will read ones they agree with – we’re largely preaching to the converted.

What we need to do is take our words out on to the street – to get other people using them for us. We can do that not with lengthy arguments or rants but with simple phrases that encapsulate our position. Soundbites, memes, call them what you will. Politicians, advertisers and the media all know the power of a simple slogan: “Things can only get better”, “Beanz Meanz Heinz”, “the innocent have nothing to fear”…

The term I want to popularise is Big Blunkett. David Blunkett is an authoritarian Home Secretary who believes in monitoring innocent citizens. He is responsible for some of the worst threats to civil liberties this country has seen for many years. In particular he seems determined to introduce compulsory National Identity Cards – yet the average person on the street seems unaware of the threat he poses.

I’m not trying to offend or hurt David Blunkett personally. He might be a really nice man socially – but as a politician he is dangerous. The thought that he might become Prime Minister is frightening.

The expression “Big Blunkett” sums up the dangers simply and effectively, especially in the Orwell centenary year. When people hear the name David Blunkett they should automatically think “Big Brother”. The fact that Blunkett is blind simply adds irony and provides a talking point.

I want to get “Big Blunkett” into common usage and I want to do it fast – time is running out. Please help me. Use the term “Big Blunkett” at every opportunity. Use it with your mates down the pub, use it in your blogs, use it in letters/emails to the media. If you’re a journalist use it in your reports, even if only to the extent of saying “some people are calling him ‘Big Blunkett'”. I search Google daily for the phrase “Big Blunkett”, hopefully soon I’ll find 5000 entries instead of just 5.

Words can make a difference. Let’s use them.

I don’t want Big Blunkett watching me.

Cross-posted from An It Harm None and the brand new Big Blunkett blog.

Big Blunkett: Case for Identity Cards “Overwhelming”

The Sunday Times reports that in a leaked letter Home Secretary David Blunkett describes the case for Compulsory National Identity Cards as “overwhelming”.

Citizens would pay £39 for the privilege of carrying a card containing biometric information. It would not be compulsory to carry your card at all times however you would have to show it to the police within a few days of demand. So don’t forget to take it with you if you’re on holiday.

Blunkett adds that “a highly organised minority” would “campaign vocally” against the cards.

Too right we will. This plan is a serious threat to civil liberties in Britain and must be stopped.

Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe

The article on the ST site appears unavailable just now, you can read the BBC summary.

Lock, stock and smoking barrel

UK Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson has called for smoking to be banned in public places including bars and restaurants. The Department of Health has said that there are no plans to implement this but are considering the proposal.

Smoking is unpleasant and dangerous, it is sensible to encourage people to give up. However the proposed ban goes too far. The individual should retain the right to choose.

It would be acceptable to ban smoking in genuinely public places such as railway waiting rooms. However bars, clubs and restaurants are simply private leisure businesses which the public can choose whether or not to enter. Many of these would undoubtedly gain customers through choosing to provide non-smoking areas or choosing to ban smoking on their premises whilst others allow it. That would provide customers with increased choice.

This proposal would set a dangerous precedent. In a free society the role of government should be education and regulation, not prohibition.

Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe

Nobody’s Business But My Own

At the advanced age of 41 I have some pretty old fashioned ideas. One of these is an absolute belief in the importance of personal privacy.

Invading the privacy of celebrities is a long-standing media tradition and one could argue they deserve it. The danger is when ordinary individuals start to lose their privacy – and welcome that loss.

It probably started with US daytime TV shows of the Oprah variety. Being “on TV” was so important for people that they were willing to share their most personal secrets with the world. As these shows spread and multiplied, hanging one’s dirty linen out in public started to become a goal in life for some. Privacy was willingly sold for a few minutes of fame.

Reality TV shows took this a stage further. People became used to the idea that privacy was something so unimportant that it could be given up in the name of entertainment. Big Brother worked initially because it was new and shocking; now it is commonplace. Most of the “contestants” are canny enough to know they’re playing to the cameras. The danger is the viewing public who come to accept the whole concept as a harmless bit of fun.

These attitudes spread throughout society as a whole. Michael Jennings wrote an interesting piece about bag searches in Australia. We don’t have those here without probable cause, however we almost got to the stage where they were unnecessary. A while back there was a fad for using transparent carrier bags and rucksacks so that the whole world could see your baggage. Even that most sacred of receptacles the woman’s handbag was being exposed to all.

Why does this matter? What dirty secrets am I trying to hide?

Privacy is essential for individuality and diversity. Lack of privacy makes it more difficult to be “different”, it drives people towards uniformity and conformity. If “no privacy” becomes the norm then those of us who insist on privacy will be automatically branded as “suspicious”.

Lack of privacy leads to a bland, safe, boring world. No colours, just shades of grey. A stagnant society that is easily led – and easily sold to. A perfect world for government and big business.

Which is one reason I’m vehemently against compulsory National Identity Cards. People say “if you’re innocent you’ve nothing to fear”. I fear loss of privacy. Where I go and what I do is not illegal, it’s just no business of the police, the government or anyone else.

I don’t want Big Blunkett watching me.

Cross-posted from An It Harm None