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

Big Blunkett Wants Yet More Powers

The BBC reports that Big Blunkett is proposing to introduce yet more draconian powers to lock up suspected terrorists without a fair trial.

The new proposals are an extension of the current anti-terrorism laws rushed into being after September 11th. Those have already been condemned as creating “Guantanamo Bay in our own back yard”.

The new proposals would see British citizens tried partly in secret and denied access to the evidence against them. They would also reduce the burden of proof from “beyond reasonable doubt” to “on the balance of probabilities”.

Speaking on the Today programme, Senior lawyer Baroness Kennedy described the proposals as “a disgrace”. She went on to say:

“It is as if David Blunkett takes his lessons on jurisprudence from Robert Mugabe”

Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe

Excessive regulation leads to arbitrary government

I’ve just done a posting at Samizdata about the phenomenon of excessive regulation, so excessive that even if an organisation wants to obey it, it can’t. It’s just too voluminous, too complicated, sometimes even too contradictory. (One of the Samizdata commenters told of how his encryption duties seemed to require some sort of infinite regress and were un-obeyable.)

The White Rose Relevance of this is, Cicero apparently said:

Excessive law is no law at all.

Which means that in practice the law becomes whatever those in charge decide to make it. And that is the point at which White Rosers should sit up and notice, because that is when people who make trouble for the authorities by saying things that the authorities disapprove of, get prosecuted not for their wicked sayings (which might be a rather hard charge to make stick and would anyway draw attention to the sayings) but for non-compliance with plumbing regulations, for failure to fill out the proper forms concerning employee sick-leave, for baking bread of the wrong size and shape, etc. The completely we are all likely to be breaking this or that law, the more completely they have us by the proverbials.

T. M. Lucas also commented as Samizdata, drawing the attention of its readers to a series of posts his blog has on these themes.

Free speech equals exclusion

I went from her to him to this.

Quote of beyond America interest:

The Bush administration’s anti-protester bias proved embarrassing for two American allies with long traditions of raucous free speech, resulting in some of the most repressive restrictions in memory in free countries. When Bush visited Australia in October, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mark Riley observed, “The basic right of freedom of speech will adopt a new interpretation during the Canberra visits this week by the US President, George Bush, and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao. Protesters will be free to speak as much as they like just as long as they can’t be heard.” Demonstrators were shunted to an area away from the Federal Parliament building and prohibited from using any public address system in the area.

For Bush’s recent visit to London, the White House demanded that British police ban all protest marches, close down the center of the city, and impose a “virtual three day shutdown of central London in a bid to foil disruption of the visit by anti-war protesters,” according to Britain’s Evening Standard. But instead of a “free speech zone” – as such areas are labeled in the U.S. – the Bush administration demanded an “exclusion zone” to protect Bush from protesters’ messages.

And the concluding paragraph:

Is the administration seeking to stifle domestic criticism? Absolutely. Is it carrying out a war on dissent? Probably not – yet. But the trend lines in federal attacks on freedom of speech should raise grave concerns to anyone worried about the First Amendment or about how a future liberal Democratic president such as Hillary Clinton might exploit the precedents that Bush is setting.

Precedents hell. I agree with Kim Du Toit. This is already bullshit. Never mind all the bullshit it brings on in the future.

Disaster plans due to be unveiled

The BBC reports that planned new powers for dealing with a major terrorist attack and other big emergencies are unveiled today. Ministers have already published drafts of the new laws, which were criticised by an influential committee of MPs and peers for putting human rights at risk.

They fear that unless the Civil Contingencies Bill contains suitable constraints its powers could be abused by a future government. Civil rights campaigners want the new powers to be more strictly defined.

Summary of key power in draft bill:

  1. Ministers will be able to bypass Parliament to make emergency regulations
  2. Police will be able to ban public gatherings, impose curfews, seize property
  3. The Human Rights Act could be suspended

A parliamentary committee set up to look at the plans said they had “potentially dangerous flaws”. The Committee chairman Lewis Moonie said his main concern was over human liberty and rights because the terms used in the bill were “too vague”.

The basis under which the government could take these powers to itself – the way in which government defines an emergency – I think is the first concern. If they listen to us, as I’m pretty sure they will, they should have changed the terms on which this is done and made it much more explicit how they take these powers in the first place.

Dr Moonie, a former defence minister warns:

We should not put such power into the hands of anybody without suitable constraints.

Truer words are rarely spoken by politicians.

Full text of the civil contingencies bill here (pdf). Via the Guardian.

Here is Liberty’s response to the government’s civil contingencies bill.

Whenever the authorities try and vote themselves greater powers, there is a need to be cautious and sceptical. By reinstating the courts’ powers to consider human right abuses under these laws, the government has made an important concession.

And Statewatch has a detailed commentary on the issue:

The concessions made by the government in no way change the fundamental objections to this Bill. The powers available to the government and state agencies would be truly draconian. Cities could be sealed off, travel bans introduced, all phones cut off, and websites shut down. Demonstrations could be banned and the news media be made subject to censorship. New offences against the state could be “created” by government decree. This is Britain’s Patriot Act, at a stroke democracy could be replaced by totalitarianism.

The Listerner’s Law

A reader alerted us to an interesting vote happening on the Radio 4 today programme: vote for a law to be submitted to the House of Commons. So far there are five ‘Law Ideas’ and at No.5 is a bill to allow homeowners to defend their property with any force, by deleting “reasonable” from the phrase “reasonable force”.

You can vote by phone or online, if you are registered with BBCi.

Police re-arrest terror suspects

Guy Herbert finds this is a bit worrying.

The BBC reports that six people suspected of terror activities have been re-arrested on lesser charges. All six were originally arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act, on suspicion of involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. They were released under terror laws but re-arrested on other matters such as bank fraud and immigration offences.

What’s wrong with this picture? Under the Terrorism Act reasonable suspicion is not required to arrest or search. Therefore it has potential to be used for fishing expeditions – police arrest you and search your property without proper cause. Of course, they’ll have an actual cause, such as being uncooperative with officials or some such pretext, and give themselves a week to find something on you. Once they have found something on you, their actions are justified in the eyes of the Lawn Order brigade.

Given the state of the criminal law and bureaucratic reach, I sincerely doubt there is anyone in the country who could not be charged with some crime after a week of interrogation and search, even among those whose lawns are in perfect order and believe they have nothing to hide.

Aussie rules interrogation – rules change from 24 hrs to 48 hrs and you mustn’t tell anyone about it

ASIO stands for Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and the ASIO is in the news, here, and here:

An international law expert believes the Federal Government’s proposed changes to its ASIO laws to extend the questioning time allowed for non-English speakers would be a “clear contravention” of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Associate Professor Donald Rothwell, from the University of Sydney, said amendments expected to be introduced today into Parliament, which would extend the period ASIO could question people who needed interpreters from 24 hours to 48 over a week, would breach Article 26 of the covenant.

… and here:

Labor is expected to agree to key legislative amendments that will provide stiff penalties for unauthorised disclosure of information relating to ASIO’s new special questioning and detention powers.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock will introduce the amendments today, with an expectation they will be passed by both chambers before the parliament rises next week for Christmas.

The most contentious aspect of the legislation relates to the disclosure provisions by which the subject of an ASIO warrant or his lawyer or other persons convey information about the course of ASIO’s investigations.

Blair plans new laws to curb civil liberties

Sunday Herald reports that UK wants similar powers to controversial US Patriot Act.

Sweeping new emergency legal powers to deal with the aftermath of a large terrorist attack in Britain are being considered by the government.
The measures could potentially outlaw participation in a protest march, such as last week’s demonstrations during President Bush’s state visit, making it, in effect, a criminal offence to criticise government policy.

In an attempt to give the UK government similar powers to those rushed through in the US after the 9/11 attack on New York in 2001, it is understood that a beefed-up version of current civil contingencies law is being considered. It will allow the government to bypass or suspend key parts of the UK’s human rights laws without the authority of parliament.

Aware of the current level of scare-mongering following the Istanbul bombing and the threats made by al-Qaeda-linked groups that further suicide attacks were being planned on targets both in the UK and abroad, a source close to the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, last night denied his department were seeking a massive and immediate injection of cash from the Treasury. This would be needed to foot the bill if Britain’s streets were to be flooded with armed police in an almost constant level of red alert.

Despite Blunkett saying he was “sick and tired” of people pretending there was not a threat from terrorists and insisting only “very, very good intelligence would save us”, the Home Office seems to have no plan to boost security spending this or next year.

If “Fortress Britain” were to be achieved, with countrywide security checks, increased police surveillance and widespread detention of any suspect group or individual, the Home Office’s annual budget would rocket.

Hm.

Patriot Act may threaten civil liberties

From an unlikely source comes this analysis of the US Patriot Act in the editorial column:

Explaining the reasons why the USA Patriot Act runs counter to the traditional American concept of liberty is a daunting task. Most people – including the members of Congress who voted for it – haven’t even read the Act in its entirety, if at all. Those are the uninformed. Then there are the misguided – those who are somewhat familiar with the legislation, but who accept it under the notion that some loss of freedom is inevitable if we’re to protect ourselves from the scourge of terrorists.

The article ends with a famous quote attributed to Rev. Martin Neimoller:

First, they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.

Read the whole thing. Simple and effective.

A global alliance against RFID

RFID coverage from ZDNet UK:

A global alliance of opponents to the rollout of radio frequency identification tagging systems are demanding that companies stop deploying them until crucial issues such as privacy are addressed.

Over 30 civil liberties and privacy groups have demanded a suspension to the deployment of radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging systems until a number of issues surrounding the controversial technology have been addressed.

These organisations, including Britain’s Foundation for Information Policy Reseach and Privacy International, have backed a position statement on the use of RFID on consumer products that was issued on Thursday.

It claims that RFID, if used improperly, represents a major threat to consumer privacy and civil liberties. This follows earlier protests against RFID by campaigners, and is thought to be the first formal global alliance against the technology.

Peers Nobble Blunkett

Despite Michael Howard’s reported U-turn, peers have once again thrown out Big Blunkett’s discredited Criminal “Justice” Bill. They were particularly concerned by Blunkett’s plans to restrict the right to trial by jury, to allow people to be tried twice for the same crime and to allow evidence of “bad character” (i.e. gossip) to be used in trials.

Today is the last day of the parliamentary session, so if the Lords continue to stand up for civil liberties the whole Bill could be lost. The only way for it now to pass would appear to be significant concessions by the Government, a move that would further undermine Blunkett’s position.

Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe

Lawyers and civil liberties groups condemn jury curbs

The Independent reports that lawyers and civil liberties groups yesterday urged the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to back down over proposals to limit the right to trial by jury as he prepared for a bitter parliamentary battle to force the proposals into law.

In a letter to The Independent, the Law Society and the Bar Council joined civil liberties groups in urging Mr Blunkett to accept a string of Lords amendments toning down the Criminal Justice Bill.

Ministers will attempt to revive the plans in the Commons today after they were thrown out by a coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers. They will also try to reverse defeats over proposals to allow juries to be given details of defendants’ previous convictions.