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Archive for the ‘Checks and balances’ Category

Groundhog Day with the NSA?

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“unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying… that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States… there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in #rendition.” – Jack Straw, December 2005

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/apr/18/jack-straw-libya-rendition

“The idea that in #GCHQ people are sitting working out how to circumvent a UK law with another agency in another country is fanciful. It is nonsense”, William Hague, June 2013

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/10/gchq-broke-law-nsa-intelliegence #nsa #edwardsnowden

Written by Richard Wilson

June 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Checks and balances, Corruption

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“Guess who’s also on the Murdoch payroll? The Scotland Yard cop who headed up the failed investigation”

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From the Columbia Journalism Review

Politico astutely pointed out the other day that Fox News now employs four of the leading Republican presidential candidates: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum.

It’s hardly news that Fox News is more propaganda outlet than news organization. But this ought to be a more troubling development than it seems to have been thus far…

…it’s uncertain how other news organizations can cover the early stages of the presidential race when some of the main GOP contenders are contractually forbidden to appear on any TV network besides Fox.

C-SPAN Political Editor Steve Scully said that when C-SPAN tried to have Palin on for an interview, he was told he had to first get Fox’s permission — which the network, citing her contract, ultimately denied. Producers at NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC all report similar experiences…

Murdoch, at least, is a naturalized American citizen, and who can forget the heart-warming story of why he became one: To get past legal requirements so he could snap up TV stations here.

But I’ve never understood why the UK allows a foreigner like Murdoch to have so much control over its press—he controls some 40 percent of newspaper circulation and has huge influence over television, too…

That News of the World scandal and coverup continues to unravel, and Murdoch’s influence is one of the key stories there. It looks for all the world as if Scotland Yard was so in debt to and/or scared of News Corporation that it wouldn’t investigate the crimes properly—and even helped cover them up.

Guess who’s also on the Murdoch payroll? The Scotland Yard cop who headed up the failed investigation….

Written by Richard Wilson

October 5, 2010 at 5:16 am

In defence of flashmobs…

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Jack of Kent has written a characteristically thoughtful blogpost about this week’s ‘flashmob’ protest outside Carter Ruck’s offices. Here is my response, which I’ve also posted as a comment on the article itself:

Thanks for this post, David. As one of those involved in this week’s Carter Ruck protest I’m happy to debate the wider questions that you rightly point out such tactics raise.

In my view, companies who abuse human rights and/or pose a threat to democracy need to be named and shamed. This would surely include an oil company whose negilence led to 18 deaths and 30,000 injuries, and who then fought tooth and nail to silence media coverage of the issue. But it would also, I believe, include a legal firm who sought to advance their client’s interests by exploiting a demonstrably unjust law in order to suppress the right to freedom of speech. Should such a firm then seek to do the same by using similarly unjust laws to attack the fundamental underpinnings of the liberal democracy in which they exist, it is then time, in my view, for ordinary people to get on the streets and challenge them directly.

Carter Ruck this week sought, on behalf of their client, to use the law to prevent media coverage of Parliamentary proceedings. They then wrote to both the Speaker of the House of Commons, and every MP, in an apparent attempt to stop next week’s debate on freedom of speech. This was not the normal behaviour of a law firm in a healthy liberal democracy. In my view, these were political actions, and they were political actions characteristic of a dictatorial regime, not a free and open society. If a law firm starts playing politics (whether or not they do so on the instructions of a client), I believe that they then become a legitimate target for peaceful political protest.

Many people were killed, tortured or imprisoned to win and defend the democratic rights that we still largely enjoy in this country.  These freedoms are now in danger, and our democracy has already been outrageously degraded by the attacks we’ve seen on civil and political rights over the last decade. If we want to remain a largely liberal and democratic society, rather than sliding slowly towards some form of corrupt pseudo-democracy, I believe that we will need to start mobilising political action now against all those now chipping away at our democratic traditions – including, where necessary, law firms.

I don’t believe there is an absolute dividing line between liberal democratic societies and tyrannical ones. A largely liberal democracy may have unjust laws on its statute books, such as the law which led to the prosecution for homosexuality of one of our national heroes, Alan Turing, within living memory of our grandparents’ generation. More recently, it was still possible to be prosecuted in this country for “blasphemy”. Today, someone who writes an entirely truthful article about another living person can be spuriously prosecuted under a libel law which, due to the financial cost of obtaining adequate legal representation, effectively denies many defendants their right to a fair trial.

Where a lawyer chooses to collaborate with the enforcement of an unjust, undemocratic law, they cannot, in my view, insulate themselves from the moral consequences of that choice, even if they are working within a still-largely-democratic society, even if they are acting on the instructions of a client.

I fully agree that cheap shots at the entire legal profession are lazy and unhelpful, but in a way that’s exactly my point. Lawyers are (notwithstanding those cheap shots) human beings. Human beings are moral agents. Moral agents make choices for which they are morally responsible, including choices within their professional lives. Perhaps it’s true that some other lawyers would have done exactly the same as Carter Ruck did this week, but I know that there are many others who would have refused, and would have done so not on legal grounds but on moral ones. In a situation where, as we are now seeing, what is legally acceptable begins to drift away from what is morally right, the role of individual conscience becomes crucially important.

Written by Richard Wilson

October 18, 2009 at 11:44 am

The 98 MPs who tried to cover up their expense claims by exempting themselves from the Freedom of Information Act

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In May 2007, 98 MPs voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act, with the apparent aim of stopping the public from finding out the details of their Parliamentary expense claims.

The measure was ultimately defeated, and after a long legal battle, the courts last year ordered the publication of the expense claims made by MPs. The government, however, continued to drag its feet until the information was finally (and now famously) leaked to the Telegraph newspaper, amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Parliamentary authorities.

Amid the uproar that the last week of revelations has caused among the wider public, attention has understandably focussed on the worst excesses of the worst offenders – the claims for non-existent mortgages, exorbitant gardening bills, and the famous “moat-cleaning” expense.

But alongside this, it now seems worth taking a closer look at the people who helped create the environment in which this behaviour was able to flourish – and who fought so hard to stop the truth from being exposed.

Interestingly, several of the MPs – such as Elliot Morley, Julie Kirkbride and Tony McNulty – who have now been identified as serial abusers of the Parliamentary expenses system, were also among the 98 MPs who, in May 2007, voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. But there are also many others who, to date, seem to have largely escaped public scrutiny. There’s a detailed summary here by the Campaign for Freedom of Information of the bill in its various stages. From this we can see that:

78 of those who supported the bill are Labour MPs:

Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West)
Alan Campbell (Tynemouth)
Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth)
Andrew Dismore (Hendon)
Angela C. Smith (Sheffield Hillsborough)
Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon)
Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East)
Bob Laxton (Derby North)
Brian H. Donohoe (Ayrshire Central)
Caroline Flint (Don Valley)
Claire Ward (Watford)
Clive Betts (Sheffield Attercliffe)
Clive Efford (Eltham)
Colin Burgon (Elmet)
Dari Taylor (Stockton South)
Dave Watts (St Helens North)
David Cairns (Inverclyde)
David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
David Lammy (Tottenham)
David Marshall (Glasgow East)
David Wright (Telford)
Denis Murphy (Wansbeck)
Desmond Turner (Brighton Kemptown)
Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne North)
Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe)
Frank Doran (Aberdeen North)

Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington East)
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West)
George Mudie (Leeds East)
Gillian Merron (Lincoln)
Graham Allen (Nottingham North)
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)
Huw Irranca-Davies
Ian McCartney (Makerfield)
Ian Stewart (Eccles)
Ivan Lewis (Bury South)
James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)
Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen)
Jim Dowd (Lewisham West)
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town)
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North)
Joan Ryan (Enfield North)
John Heppell (Nottingham East)
John McFall (West Dunbartonshire)
John Robertson (Glasgow North West)
John Spellar (Warley)
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)
Keith Hill (Streatham)
Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton North East)
Kevan Jones (North Durham)
Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham Perry Barr)
Laura Moffatt (Crawley)
Liz Blackman (Erewash)
Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North)
Maria Eagle (Liverpool Garston)
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside)
Martin Salter (Reading West)
Martyn Jones (Clwyd South)
Meg Munn (Sheffield Heeley)
Michael Foster (Worcester)
Mike Hall (Weaver Vale)
Nick Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend)
Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester)
Phil Woolas (Oldham East and Saddleworth)
Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)
Siôn Simon (Birmingham Erdington)
Stephen Pound (Ealing North)
Steve McCabe (Birmingham Hall Green)
Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
Thomas McAvoy (Rutherglen and Hamilton West)
Tom Harris (Glasgow South)
Tom Levitt (High Peak)
Tom Watson (West Bromwich East)
Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central)
Tony McNulty (Harrow East)
Wayne David (Caerphilly)

The remaining 20 are all Conservative:

Andrew Pelling (Croydon Central)
Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and the Weald)
Ann Winterton (Congleton)
David Maclean (Penrith and the Border)
David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds)
David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East)
John Butterfill (Bournemouth West)
John Randall (Uxbridge)
Julian Lewis (New Forest East)
Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin)
Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Peter Atkinson (Hexham)
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)
Tim Boswell (Daventry)
Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East)

Strikingly, only 26 of Parliament’s 650 MPs turned up to oppose the bill – 5 Conservatives, 9 Labour, 9 Liberal Democrats, 1 Plaid Cymru MP and the Respect MP George Galloway.

Geoffrey Alderman suggests Home Secretary’s husband’s porn expense claim was “legitimate research”

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Amid the growing furore over the £93 million of public money that UK MPs claimed last year for various arcane “expenses” – whilst also attempting to block full disclosure of the details – the broadsheet columnists have been coming out in force to defend our poor beleagured politicians.

Writing in the Times, David Aaronovitch suggests that the publishing of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith personal bills – for which she had submitted a public expense claim and which included the cost of two “adult movies” watched by  her husband – was “as big a breach of privacy as one can imagine”.

Aaronovitch clearly needs to try imagining a bit harder, and obviously hasn’t been paying  attention to what Jacqui Smith’s own department has been up to recently. Sadly, there’s nothing “imaginary” about the sweeping powers that the government has been seeking, to monitor every email sent, every phone call made, and every website visited by every person in the UK – or about cases like that of local journalist Sally Murrer, who was bugged for weeks, then arrested, strip-searched and put on trial on trumped up charges (she was acquitted in November last year after an 18-month ordeal) as part of the government’s vindictive campaign of harrassment against the police whistleblower Mark Kearney, who Murrer happened to be friends with.

Just three days ago, Jacqui Smith was being quoted in the Telegraph (where else?) denouncing those who have raised objections about such government encroachments as “people who take an approach to rights which puts the right of privacy above a pretty fundamental right for us to be safe”.

But now that the privacy of Jacqui Smith and her husband have been compromised – albeit chiefly through their own greed and carelessness – the government is threatening to launch a criminal investigation into how the information was leaked.

Writing in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee insists that “Our politicians are among the cleanest in the world” and warns that “Those who abuse, belittle and encourage popular contempt for MPs should consider that we need more good people in politics”. Toynbee suggests that “the excruciating public humiliation of the home secretary’s husband for watching a couple of porn movies” may deter decent candidates from seeking a political career.

This seems entirely to miss the point. What’s primarily at issue is not that Jacqui Smith’s husband watches pay-per-view porn movies – it’s that he got his wife to make an official claim requesting that the costs of his private habit be reimbursed with public money. If Smith hadn’t submitted her husband’s extracurricular activities as a supposedly legitimate “expense”, then the media would never have found out about them in the first place. Anyone who’d be deterred from going into politics by the fear that their dodgy expense claims may lead to public humiliation would clearly be better off out of it for everybody’s sake.

But the prize for the most slavishly forelock-tugging display of deference to our self-serving political elite must surely go to the historian Geoffrey Alderman, also writing in the Guardian. Jacqui Smith and her husband have done nothing wrong and have nothing to apologise for, he insists, and anyway “the rules governing the reimbursement of MPs’ expenses are very unclear”.

Furthermore, says Geoffrey Alderman, for an assistant of the home secretary (Smith’s husband is paid £40,000 from the public purse to do her admin for her), it “might be argued” that watching pay-per-view porn “is legitimate research”. Pure genius…

Labour elite’s slapdash approach to personal privacy comes back to haunt them as MP expense details rumoured to be in the hands of data thieves…

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Following revelations that the UK taxpayer has been helping to fund the Home Secretary’s husband’s porn habit, and former trade minister Nigel Griffiths’ unconventional use of publicly-funded office-space, the government appears to have been dealt further humiliation by rumours that the full, unedited list of MPs expenses has been stolen by data thieves and is being offered for sale to the highest media bidder.

Given the government’s notoriously slapdash approach to everybody else’s personal data, it seems fair enough that information which should never have been deemed confidential in the first place has now escaped into the public domain by similar means. The fact that our engorged mediocrats aren’t even capable of keeping their own dirty secrets secret does seem to raise further questions about the wisdom of giving them an uber-database with all of the UK’s most personal data gathered together in one, easy-to-hack-and-duplicate place.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 31, 2009 at 12:29 am

Barclays Bank gags Guardian newspaper over leaked tax avoidance documents – info still available on Wikileaks

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From Wikileaks

On Monday 16th March 2009, The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom published a series of leaked memos from the banking giant Barclays, together with the article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/mar/16/revenue-investigates-barclays-tax-mole-claims

The next day, these documents were removed from The Guardian web archive, as a result of a court injunction obtained in the middle of the night:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/mar/17/barclays-guardian-injunction-tax

Barclays’ lawyers, Freshfields, worked into the early hours to force the Guardian to remove the documents from the website. They argued that the documents were the property of Barclays and could only have been leaked by someone who acquired them wrongfully and in breach of confidentiality agreements.

The Guardian’s solicitor, Geraldine Proudler, was woken by the judge at 2am and asked to argue the Guardian’s case by telephone. Around 2.31am, Mr Justice Ouseley issued an order for the documents to be removed from the Guardian’s website.

The documents are copies of alleged internal memos from within Barclays Bank. They were sent by an anonymous whistleblower to Vince Cable, Liberal-Democrat shadow chancellor. The documents reveal a number of elaborate international tax avoidance schemes by the SCM (Structured Capital Markets) division of Barclays.

According to these documents, Barclays has been systematically assisting clients to avoid huge amounts of tax they should be liable for across multiple jurisdictions.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 17, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Jon Stewart confronts CNBC finance journalist Jim Cramer over complicity in public deception

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George Monbiot responds to Hazel Blears’ attack on independent commentary

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From The Guardian

Courage in politics is measured by the consistent application of principles. The website TheyWorkForYou.com records votes on key issues since 2001. It reveals that you voted “very strongly for the Iraq war”, “very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war” and “very strongly for replacing Trident” (“very strongly” means an unbroken record). You have voted in favour of detaining terror suspects without charge for 42 days, in favour of identity cards and in favour of a long series of bills curtailing the freedom to protest. There’s certainly consistency here, though it is not clear what principles you are defending…

You remained silent while the government endorsed the kidnap and the torture of innocent people; blocked a ceasefire in Lebanon and backed a dictator in Uzbekistan who boils his prisoners to death. You voiced no public concern while it instructed the Serious Fraud Office to drop the corruption case against BAE, announced a policy of pre-emptive nuclear war, signed a one-sided extradition treaty with the United States and left our citizens to languish in Guantánamo Bay. You remained loyal while it oversaw the stealthy privatisation of our public services and the collapse of Britain’s social housing programme, closed hundreds of post offices and shifted taxation from the rich to the poor….

The only consistent political principle I can deduce from these positions is slavish obedience to your masters. TheyWorkForYou sums up your political record thus: “Never rebels against their party in this parliament.” Yours, Hazel, is the courage of the sycophant, the courage to say yes…

You are temporarily protected by the fact that the United Kingdom, unlike other states, has not yet incorporated the Nuremberg principles into national law. If a future government does so, you and all those who remained in the cabinet on 20 March 2003 will be at risk of prosecution for what the Nuremberg tribunal called “the supreme international crime”. This is defined as the “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression”. Robin Cook, a man of genuine political courage, put his conscience ahead of his career and resigned. What did you do?

It seems to me that someone of your principles would fit comfortably into almost any government. All regimes require people like you, who seem to be prepared to obey orders without question. Unwavering obedience guarantees success in any administration. It also guarantees collaboration in every atrocity in which a government might engage. The greatest thing we have to fear in politics is the cowardice of politicians…

Written by Richard Wilson

February 10, 2009 at 8:24 am

Richard North caught white-washing Booker’s Wikipedia entry

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whitepaint

Wikipedia’s article on Christopher Booker is currently the top search result when you type type his name into Google. Alongside a rather impressive biography, the article references “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, and includes a list of Booker’s false statements on global warming and asbestos (including the notorious claim that white asbestos is “chemically identical to talcum powder“), with links to the various corrections issued over the years by the Health and Safety Executive.

Enter Richard North, Booker’s co-author for the surrealist masterpiece “Scared to Death” (which debunks the dangers of passive smoking, white asbestos, eating BSE-infected beef, CO2 emissions, leaded petrol, dioxins, and high-speed car driving), and erstwhile “chief researcher” of the UK Independence Party.

When The Guardian’s George Monbiot took issue with Booker over his pseudo-scientific claims, North mounted a spirited defence – albeit one that relied on further false claims about asbestos science. But it appears that he also went further. Last month, someone calling themselves “Defence of the realm” cut all critical references from Booker’s Wikipedia entry. The change was quickly reverted, so they did it again the next day, claiming that the criticisms were “libellous”. The edit was again reverted, only for “Defence of the realm” to try it one more time a few days later.

The identity of Booker’s pseudonymous champion would have remained a mystery but for the fact that Wikipedia allows us to browse through a user’s previous contributions to the website. These include an online discussion from November in which an anonymous user first identifies himself as Richard North, gives his email address as RAENORTH at aol.com, and then signs in as “Defence of the Realm”.

It might at least be plausible that an entirely different Richard North had chosen to spring to Booker’s defence, were it not for the fact that Booker himself gives the same email address for “my friend Richard North” in several of his Sunday Telegraph articles. Barring an improbably elaborate conspiracy to frame North as a serial wiki-whitewasher, it would appear that, for all his democratic rhetoric and iconoclastic posturing, Richard North is less than keen on the public knowing the full facts about his co-author’s track record…

NO2ID – Nothing to hide, nothing to fear?

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NO2ID’s hard-hitting video on the dangers of data abuse

Many summers ago I had a temp job as a clerk at a private bank where a number of big-name celebrities held an account. The amiable chap I was working for was just a couple of years older than me, and seemed pretty comfortable in his job, though it was obvious that he found the work inordinately dull. One of the ways he liked to liven things up was to look through the personal details of the bank’s famous clients, and on occasions make prank calls to the private numbers that he’d dug out of the files.

As he was a music fan, millionaire ageing rock stars came in for particular attention. Within days of my starting he’d (amiably) shown me around Paul McCartney’s bank account and told me with pride of his habit of calling up the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, whispering “Robert Plant, ha ha ha!” and then hanging up.

A few years later, soon after the death of my sister, we got a knock on the door from the Daily Mail. We had long been ex-directory, and were being meticulously careful about our contact with the media, but the Mail had managed to track us down nonetheless. For years I was mystified about how they might have done it, and it was only when I read Nick Davies’s “Flat Earth News” that I found a plausible answer. Tabloid newspapers had long been in the habit of paying private investigators to track down people they wanted to contact, and it was an open secret that the PIs were bribing civil servants at the DVLA to hand out people’s personal details. Anyone who earned a legally-registered car could be found by the Sun or the Mail at a few hours’ notice. Maybe that was how they found us.

I was reminded of all of this yesterday when I had a fascinating chat with Phil Booth, the national co-ordinator of the NO2ID campaign. The standard reply to anyone who objects to compulsory ID cards, and the attendant mega-database that the government plans to introduce, is that only those with something to hide will have something to fear from it. But this relies on the assumption that every official with access to the database can be trusted to behave with absolute integrity at all times. No-one will ever be tempted to look up the details of their favourite (or least favourite) celebrity and make prank calls to them. No-one will ever take a bribe from a tabloid journalist, or an identity-fraudster, or a deranged ex-husband looking to settle a grudge.

According to NO2ID, the government databases that currently exist are already being used in unauthorised ways on a massive scale. A monthly audit of just one local authority database reportedly found thousands of instances of data being used in ways beyond that originally intended and authorised. Many of the infringements were no doubt minor, but the sheer volume clearly highlights the huge gap between the intended purpose of a government “power” and the practical reality of its use.

It’s this gap between intention and reality that the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” mantra fails to address. As I argue in “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, one deeply engrained feature of the human psyche seems to be a tendency to over-estimate – sometimes catastrophically – our capacity to control what goes on in the world – and to under-estimate the potential for unintended consequences.

We assume that making something illegal – be it the use of drugs or the abuse of our personal data – is the same thing as stopping it from happening. We assume that giving the authorities unfettered power to detain, torture or even kill those suspected of engaging in some social evil – be it drugs, crime or terrorism – will a) make the problem better rather than worse b) only affect those who’ve been up to no good. Time and again we remain blind to the gap between intention and reality until thousands of innocent people have already been subjected to horrific abuses.

The phrase “nothing to hide” works so well as propaganda because – like many good propagandistic phrases – it means two entirely separate things. “Nothing to hide” is generally taken to be synonymous both with “doing nothing wrong”, and with “no secrets from anyone”. Yet there are plenty of people who have done nothing wrong but might nonetheless have very strong reasons for wanting to keep some things secret from somebody. As NO2ID points out, these include:

those fleeing domestic abuse; victims of “honour” crimes; witnesses in criminal cases; those at risk of kidnapping; undercover investigators; refugees from oppressive regimes overseas; those pursued by the press; those who may be terrorist targets.

A series of embarrassing data breaches have shown how hard the government finds it to keep our personal details secure even now. The more information is stored centrally, and the more people can access it, the more opportunity for abuse and incompetence there will be – with potentially very serious consequences for those who, quite legitimately, do have something to hide.

And neither are we bound to accept that there is anything intrinsically wrong, in and of itself, with wanting to keep things about ourselves secret. The assumption often underlying discussions about the government’s uber-database plan seems to be that the onus is on opponents to explain why we shouldn’t be required to surrender all of our personal information to the authorities, rather than on the government to explain why this move is actually necessary.

At the heart of all this is a fundamental question of principle over who “owns” our personal data, and who is best placed to keep it secure. After half an hour speaking to Phil Booth, I’m more convinced than ever that, both on the principles and the practicalities, this government is fighting a losing battle.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 13, 2008 at 11:45 am

Geoffrey Robertson QC on the dodgy legal grounds for Damian Green’s arrest

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From The Times

Maurice Frankel (letter, Dec 4) identifies the most serious aspect of police proceedings against Damian Green, namely their decision to search and arrest on charges of conspiracy and aiding and abetting in relation to alleged “misconduct in public office” of his source in the Home Office. Were this charge to stick, it would mean that any “public watchdog” — editor, journalist or MP — who enthusiastically receives a leak from a civil servant, would be liable (incredibly) to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, without any public interest defence.

Charging these common law offences in respect to leaks of merely “confidential” information would be a clear breach of the Home Secretary’s assurance to Parliament, given during the passage of the 1989 Official Secrets Act. To charge them in a case where (so Sir Paul Stephenson has hinted) leaked information has “potential” security implications, would circumvent section 5 of that Act, which applies to recipients of such information but protects them by requiring the prosecution to prove that any disclosure of the information would be damaging to the interests of the United Kingdom. No such defence is available to the common law charges. The offence of “misconduct in public office” was invented by Lord Mansfield in 1783 to convict a deceitful army accountant. It has been superseded by more modern statutory offences of bribery, corruption and theft. The common law has no clear definition of “misconduct” and the crime is now mainly used against police who recklessly fail in their duty. It has never been used against a “watchdog” until R v Kearney and Murrer. The latter was a local newspaper journalist charged by Thames Valley Police with “aiding and abetting misconduct in public office” — the very charge copied by the Met for use against Mr Green. On November 25 her trial collapsed because the judge held that the prosecution had breached the Article 10 free-speech guarantee in the Human Rights Act.

Two days later the Met Police arrested the MP (and obtained entrance to Parliament) on a charge they must therefore have known was legally questionable. The CPS did know, because on that very day a decision was taken not to appeal the Murrer decision. So why didn’t the Met police take advice from the DPP, who heads the CPS, before their rash decision to enter Parliament and arrest an MP on a charge that is probably incompatible with the Article 10 right to receive and impart information? Their blunders demonstrate the necessity of police to obtain authoritative legal advice from the DPP at the beginning, and not at the end, of controversial operations. The police are only entitled to operational independence if those operations are conducted according to law.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 5, 2008 at 8:58 pm

AIDS denial on the retreat…

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When I was writing “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, Thabo Mbeki was still President of South Africa, with the extraordinary Manto Tshabalala-Msimang as his minister of health. AIDS denial was still exerting its malign influence after reaching a high point in 2000, when Mbeki had – to the delight of AIDS denialists the world over – invited a number of self-described “dissidents” to join his advisory panel on HIV and AIDS.

Abrupt change came only this September, with Mbeki’s ignominious exit from office, and the replacement of many of his closest allies. South Africa’s new health minister Barbara Hogan has stated unequivocally that HIV is the cause of AIDS, and ordered decisive action to tackle the disease.

In October, to the further consternation of the small but vocal group who continue to deny that HIV exists, the virologist Luc Montagnier was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for his discovery of the virus during the early 1980s.

Workers in South Africa yesterday observed a minute’s silence on World AIDS Day, in memory of the hundreds of thousands who have died from the disease.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 2, 2008 at 2:10 pm

UN mediators fooled again by LRA leader Joseph Kony

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From the Institute of War and Peace Reporting

After announcing that he would sign a peace deal with the Ugandan government on Saturday, November 29, Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony again drew a crowd to the jungle camp of Nabanga on the border between South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

As Kony has done in the past, he balked, leaving a host of his Acholi tribal and cultural leaders waiting and wanting, along with the United Nations special envoy Joachim Chissano, the talk’s chief mediatory, South Sudan vice- president Riek Machar and a flock of international observers.

While the signing of the agreement would certainly have been a milestone in the history of Uganda, it remains a meaningless document despite the vast amount of time and money spent by international community on the talks, including the provision of food and other supplies to the rebels, over the past couple of years…

Kony has been able to manipulate the international community with his repeated peace overtures. He has devised the perfect ploy: talk peace, and do the opposite.

What’s clear is that Kony will be around for a long time, doing what he wants, when he wants, in part due to the painful indulgence of the international community.

Sadly, the innocent and the defenceless suffer. Maybe now, finally, the international community will wake up.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 1, 2008 at 11:59 pm

The Sun comes out for democracy

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For years, The Sun newspaper and its erstwhile political spokesman Trevor Kavanagh have firmly supported UK government demands for ever more “sweeping new powers” to bug, monitor and jail us without charge and with minimal oversight. Two days ago, the newspaper was still demanding – albeit with a certain amount of cognitive dissonance – that the police be allowed to “detain suspects for as long as they need”.

But the arrest of Sally Murrer, combined with the government’s suicide attack against the last remnants of its reputation seems to have brought about a change of heart.

“We are a police state here and now”, declares Trevor Kavanagh in today’s Sun.

I used to think ID cards were a good thing. What law-abiding citizen could object to these new weapons against terrorists, rapists and murderers? Nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Not any more… If Damian Green can be banged up for nine hours for telling the truth, what hope for you and me? …

The Government’s kneejerk abuse of anti-terror laws as a political weapon is increasingly sinister. It uses them on any pretext – even freezing the economy of friendly Iceland recently when its banks went bust… Soon, unelected snoopers will be able to pry into our mobile calls, text messages and emails. These are the alarming consequences of an authoritarian regime that sees the state as paramount and the people as pygmies.

Craig Murray sceptial of Jack Straw’s protestations about Damian Green arrest

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From Craig Murray

Jack Straw, so called Justice Minister, denies that he had any foreknowledge of the arrest of Damian Green.

Jack Straw denied directly to the BBC in the documentary “The Ambassador’s Last Stand”, and denied to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, that he had any part in the false accusations laid against me or in my removal as Ambassador for raising human rights concerns. Yet, as detailed in Murder in Samarkand, I have obtained documents in Jack Straw’s own handwriting, directing the process, and he held at least three meetings with Sir John Kerr to organise it.

On being sacked, I very openly leaked a number of government documents concerning UK policy, the use of torture material by our intelligence services, and the government’s attempts to frame me. Most of these documents were classified more highly than the documents leaked to Damian Green, like this one for example:
http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/documents/Declaration.pdf

Yet when I leaked a number of highly classified documents, openly on the internet with my name and address, did the police come knocking at my door? No, they did not. They consulted Home Secretary John Reid, who consulted Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. They concluded that they should seek to kill the story, and not generate publicity by arresting me.

Does anybody really believe that Ministers decided whether someone as obscure as I should be arrested, but were not consulted on whether Damian Green should be arrested?

Written by Richard Wilson

November 30, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Why was Sally Murrer singled out?

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Now that the government’s extraordinary judicial harassment of journalist Sally Murrer has finally been stopped, Ms Murrer is free to speak openly about the case for the first time. In an article in today’s Mail on Sunday, Murrer describes in detail the personal toll that her 19-month ordeal has taken.

The startling political implications of the case are further highlighted by Nick Cohen in the Observer. Though sympathetic, Cohen describes as a “conspiracy theory” Murrer’s belief that she was targeted because of her close friendship with Mark Kearney, the police whistleblower in the Sadiq Khan case, who was (unsuccessfully) prosecuted with her.

This description seems somewhat harsh. Sally Murrer is the only journalist in the entire country to have been singled out in this way, simply for doing what local journalists do all the time – taking news tip-offs from local police sources. But unlike other local newspaper journalists, one of Sally Murrer’s friends – and sources – happens to be the man at the centre of a high profile police scandal that caused the government enormous embarrassment – a man whose son and former business associate were also targeted for prosecution in the same case. It surely isn’t wildly speculative to suppose that these two facts might have had some connection…

Written by Richard Wilson

November 30, 2008 at 12:03 pm

The Sun says…

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It’s hardly news that pundits and columnists often talk at cross purposes and contradict themselves, but to do so within two paragraphs of the same article takes some talent.

Today’s Sun newspaper editorial begins in a familiar vein:

IT is shocking that Indian authorities believe British-born Pakistani terrorists took part in the Mumbai massacre. If true, it proves we have still not learned the lessons of London’s 7/7…

That is why we must give our security services the surveillance powers they require. And we must let police detain suspects for as long as they need.

Then in the next paragraph we are told:

The arrest of Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green is a terrible blow to our democracy. Mr Green was pounced on in raids involving 20 anti-terrorist cops. His homes and offices were searched and his private files and computers seized. His Commons room was turned over apparently with the consent of Labour Speaker Michael Martin. Why was MP Mr Green treated like an al-Qaeda bomber?

The answer, at least in part, is that newspapers like The Sun have, for years, slavishly supported every New Labour demand for “sweeping new powers” to bug, and detain indefinitely on vaguely-defined charges anyone who they say might be a terrorist.

All the while the government has been progressively widening the definition of “criminal” or “terrorist” activity – amid barely a squeak of protest from the supine tabloid media.

That paranoid state officials would end up using these arbitrary powers to harass critics and attack opposition politicians was completely predictable.

In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I look at the strange nexus between politicians who stoke public fears about terrorism in order to extend their own power, and tabloid newspapers that make their money from enthusiastically regurgitating every torture-tainted government scare story.

Vindictive prosecution falls apart as journalist Sally Murrer is cleared of all charges

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Just one day after the shadow Home Office minister Damian Green was arrested by nine counter-terrorism officers on suspicion of “aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” – an arcane charge stemming from his publishing embarrassing revelations from a government whistleblower, news was released that the local journalist Sally Murrer had been fully cleared of a similar charge, in a costly court case which has been dragging on since May 2007.

The case against Murrer fell apart earlier this week, after a judge ruled that the key evidence presented by police had been gathered illegally. A press gagging order had been in place until today, while the prosecution made up their minds over whether or not to appeal. Murrer’s car and phone conversations with her police officer friend Mark Kearney had been secretly bugged over a period of weeks, before she was arrested, strip searched, and told that she could go to prison for life simply for having heard information deemed “sensitive”.

It later emerged that Mark Kearney was at the centre of the scandal surrounding the bugging by Thames Valley Police of the Labour MP Sadiq Khan. Kearney had been put under pressure to co-operate with the secret surveillance of Khan, and had raised concerns that the practice was unethical, if not illegal, shortly before his fellow police officers began investigating his contact with Murrer.

“They tried to discredit the whistleblower and the journalist they thought he was going to blow the whistle to and destroy the story that way”, Murrer told the Press Gazette earlier this year. “It seems like a huge hammer to smash a very small nut and I think this could be one of the biggest cover-ups this country has ever seen. They were trying to ruin him, destroying me in the process.”

The police also arrested Kearney’s son, Harry, a serving soldier, on similar charges. Quoted in the Times, Kearney suggested that:

“To get at me the police have tried to bring my son down as well – we used to call it hostage taking, arresting a suspect’s family to make him crack. But the Army have stood by him.”

Speaking after her court victory, Murrer told the Press Gazette that she was too emotionally exhausted to feel triumphant, and that after her 18-month ordeal she was unsure whether she had the confidence to continue her work as a journalist.

Echoes of Sally Murrer case as senior UK opposition politician arrested by counter-terrorism police

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In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I highlight the extent to which government demands for “sweeping new powers”, ostensibly to protect public security, often lead to those powers being used in ways far beyond those originally intended. One among many recent examples was the use of anti-terrorist legislation to freeze Icelandic assets in the UK.

Now counter-terrorism police have arrested the Conservative shadow Home Office minister Damian Green, after he published documents recently released by a government whistle-blower. Green was charged with “aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in public office”.

Following his release on bail, Damian Green said:

“I was astonished to have spent more than nine hours under arrest for doing my job. I emphatically deny that I have done anything wrong. I have many times made public information that the government wanted to keep secret, information that the public has a right to know.

“In a democracy, opposition politicians have a duty to hold the government to account. I was elected to the House of Commons precisely to do that and I certainly intend to continue doing so.”

Interestingly, this charge closely resembles the spurious case brought against the local journalist Sally Murrer, in an apparent attempt to intimidate the police whistleblower Mark Kearney. According to the Press Gazette, Murrer was charged with aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring Kearney to commit the offence of “misconduct in a public office”.