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Posts Tagged ‘civil liberties’

The importance of framing

October 10, 2013 1 comment

In the lead-up to the 2010 UK general election, many civil libertarians of my acquaintance (not solely Screaming Loony Privatise The Army Libertarians, but people of all economic stripes who believe that broadly, trials are a good thing and torture is a bad thing) were suggesting that for all a putative Tory government’s likely failings, at least it would be better than Labour at upholding civil liberties.

Backbench hanger-and-flogger David Davis’s ridiculous stunt over ID cards was the declaration of intent that this particular mob saw, although one might have thought that the ongoing chorus of ‘Abolish The Human Rights Act’ from the Tory backbenches was a more accurate signal of things to come.

Which brings us to today. In one day, the Tories have pledged to impose de facto ID cards by requiring certified ID for almost all aspects of daily life, and impose draconian restrictions on people who’ve never been convicted of a crime on the say-so of the police.

Even civil libertarians surely can’t have expected the Tories to be better on abortion than Labour (which, curiously, didn’t seem to matter quite so much to this largely male grouping when making decisions before the election. Mysterious). Even so, the sight of government ministers denouncing the Director of Public Prosecutions for upholding the existing law on abortion and allowing a woman to choose to terminate her pregnancy, whilst floating a change in the law that would restrict this right, is even worse than might reasonably have been expected.

In terms of policy, much of this reflects the fact that the party in government is always the party permanently having its ears bent by authoritarian bureaucrats and cops. But it also reflects the fact that the Tories aren’t and never were the free-trade, classical-liberal party that Labour-hating libertarians imagine them to be (that was the Whigs; Tories were always authoritarian reactionaries). Basically, civil liberties fans who cheered the Tories, you were stupid last time; don’t be so stupid next time.

The really impressive thing, though, is the framing, which goes even beyond Mr Blair’s skills. For a government that frequently seems to teeter on the edge of losing control, the way in which all three of these horrific policies have been phrased is sheer PR gold. Compulsory ID For All has been expressed as “OMG stop illegal migrants from taking your jobs!!!”; Minority Report has been expressed as “OMG stop Jimmy Savile and save the childrens!!!”; and Bollocks To Abortion Rights has been expressed as “OMG something something China!!!”. Superbly designed to pull at the heartstrings of the average total fucking idiot. Hopefully, still not quite enough to avoid losing the next election…

Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail has glittering coverage of all three.

Tories stitch up Lib Dems on civil liberties

May 12, 2010 9 comments

Sunny at LC reckons he has a copy of the Libservative agreement.

Libertarians, of both left-and right- varieties, have been getting super-excited on Twitter about section 10, which is dedicated to reversing ZaNuLieBore’s Evil Police State, freeing the dissidents from the gulags, etc:

A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.
Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
Further regulation of CCTV.
Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.
A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

What does this mean in real life?

Well, a bit of cash saved. The ID database was never going anywhere (come on, NPFIT is much simpler and failed), and its cancellation is solely bad news for IT consultancies and good news for the Treasury/taxpayer. Something which doesn’t and can’t exist doesn’t threaten civil liberties.

But that’s the only real pledge to do anything substantive (apart from allowing parental opt-out when schools try and use fingerprint authentication for IT access purposes, which is frankly bizarre – if a kid’s laptop is fingerprint-activated rather than password activated, then so bloody what?) – and the only reason the Tories moved towards outright opposition to the ID database in the election run-up is because they’d worked out that it would have been an epic failure. It wouldn’t have happened under Labour either (their manifesto carefully left the possibility of delaying or cancelling the database intact), although more money would likely have been wasted first.

The others are all weasel words that commit to nothing. No data stored “without good reason” means “unless we say so” – the previous government would say “to stop terrorists, pirates and paedophiles” is a good reason for all the retention they mandated. Any agreement that contains such a vague get-out clause is an agreement that means nothing at all.

Similarly, “extension of the scope of the FoIA” is great. But without any concrete details of how it’ll be extended, and with the Tories (who’ve historically opposed FoI far more even than Labour) running the show, it’s hardly likely to mean much.

You can run through the same process for all the others. They can all be implemented in a way that changes precisely nothing from how things are done now, and that’s precisely how they will be implemented.

But the most disturbing thing in section 10 is actually something that it doesn’t say.

The greatest victory for civil liberties over the last 25 years or so – the Human Rights Act – isn’t even mentioned, whereas a Great Repeal Bill is mentioned. Given historic Tory opposition to the HRA, does this make anyone else bloody nervous….?