Our government is trying to screw us while we're not looking
Charles Clarke's speech to the European Parliament from this morning (link courtesy of a kindly comment).
Apparently the reason some people are wary of the EU is that it "does not appear to give sufficient priority to offering practical solutions which make a difference to some of the issues of greatest concern" - namely EEEVIL TERRORISTS, organised crime and asylum seekers. Let's ignore the fact that people have been wary of the concept of the EU since its inception, shall we? And while we're at it ignore that the original concept was economic, not judicial... Done? Excellent! Now that we've constructed a false history we can make that fiction fit our arguments. Hurrah!
These issues can, argues Clarke, "be used by poisonous demagogues to undermine the very democracy which has in some cases so recently been created." By, for example, providing excuses for detention without trial, the collation of vast amounts of personal data on individuals by the state, the abuse of the voting system to perpetrate fraud via the post and secure a parliamentary majority on the votes of just 22% of the electorate, and the execution of innocent men on mere circumstantial evidence without any attempt at an arrest, let alone a trial. Hurrah!
And so Clarke confounds with truth: "in our globalised world no single country can tackle these problems alone, even in their own country". Eh? That makes sense. He's up to something... Ah - a couple of paragraphs on - it's political point-scoring against (unspecified) isolationist parties - which can only really mean UKIP, Veritas and the BNP in the UK. Are they that much of a threat to Labour? Hmmm...
And then: "The second principle that must underlie our approach is to strengthen the foundation of practical and pragmatic police and intelligence work" - "pragmatic" eh? What, precisely, does the Safety Elephant mean by that, exactly? Fears begin to bubble to the surface again... I always thought pragmatism was based on facts and an understanding of cause and effect - for example, if you don't know for a fact that someone is a terrorist, you don't shoot them in the head - for you realise that the effect may be detrimental to the overall counter-terrorism operation. You acknowledge that your own actions may have acted as a catalyst to an existing situation, and wonder how the effect of that new cause can be lessened. Is Charlie going to announce the end to shoot-to-kill and a bold new government strategy for calming the situation in Iraq? I can't quite put my finger on why, but I doubt it...
He then, of course, brings up the European Arrest Warrant as a practical, pragmatic approach. Yet fails to mention it has been struck down as unconstitutional in Germany and that it retains serious flaws (as in a British citizen could be forcibly extradited to, say, France to face trial in French courts with no right to first have a hearing in Britain to determine the validity of the charges). He also brings up the need for "cross-border prosecutions" - perhaps thanks to that terrorist chappie fighting extradition from Italy - which he seems to be doing fairly successfully in spite of the European Arrest Warrant, it must be said...
"But it is the third principle which I believe poses the greatest challenge in its modern application. That principle is that we need to use intelligence effectively and intelligently to target, track down, identify and convict the criminals who through terrorist violence and committing serious and organised crime threaten the security and strength of our society."So, despite earlier hints that the data retention proposals were going to be proposed as all about organised crime with terrorism as an added bonus, now Charlie's lumping terrorists in with other criminals - fair enough, to an extent, but another new shift in the Blair government's approach on this one.
"Of course criminals and terrorists use modern technology: the internet and mobile communications to plan and carry out their activities. We can only effectively contest them if we know what they are communicating. Without that knowledge we are fighting them with both hands tied behind our backs."And they're all probably paedophiles too! The interweb's full of criminals, terrorists and paedophiles! Hey - why stop at the internet - these devious criminals and terrorists can utilise the postal service to send each other - *shudder* - LETTERS! We need to open every letter and parcel to be really sure! And carrier pigeons! How can we be certain that the birds in Trafalgar Square aren't the sinister tools of a vast network of EEEEVIL TERRORISTS?
"This is not a sterile debate about principles but about practical measures to contest criminality and out opponents."Practical measures, eh? Collecting and storing every phone call, text message, email and history of website visits of all 450 million people in the EU is a practical measure now, is it? Having the already overstretched intelligence services having to search through all that incomprehensively vast quantity of information on the off-chance that they can identify a criminal group or terror cell is a practical measure now, is it? I know technology's come on immensely in recent years, but methinks Mr Clarke is either somewhat optimistic or simply a fucking idiot if he truly believes that.
But data retention's not all. As predicted, Clarke's trying to get ID cards in through the back door:
"That is why we argue that internationally consistent and coherent biometric data should be an automatic part of our visas, passports and identity cards where we have them – and would even suggest driving licences as well."This, Clarke admits, "can only be achieved through international agreements, particularly in the European Union" - because he knows all too well that they'll never be able to pass the kinds of measures they want through the British parliament, or get them past the suspicious Chancellor, nervous of the insanely vast cost of this hare-brained and intrusive scheme.
But how can he possibly do this when "we now possess many hard-fought rights such as the right to privacy, the right to property, the right to free speech and the right to life"? Well simple - it's not the people trying to compile data on every part of our lives and pry into every aspect of our daily communication. It's not the people who want to lock us up without trial and who have ordered shoot-to-kill policies without telling us. Oh no - according to Clarke: "Those rights are actively threatened by criminals and terrorists." Of course! It's not the government that's actively trying to destory our freedoms, just the people who want to rob or kill us.
Clarke then agrees that "In making these judgements we need to reflect in each case on the balance between the civil liberty being effected and the increased security being achieved to ensure any changes we make to the status quo are proportionate and reasonable." Well, Charlie boy, I can answer that one - no, no they are NOT proportionate and reasonable.
Giving the state the power to pry into my personal email correspondance, to track my location via mobile phone, to record my phone calls and pry into my billing information without the express permission of a court of law based on the submission of evidence that I may be a threat, but merely on the whim of a random official is most certainly not anything like reasonable. Trawling through everyone's personal correspondance JUST IN CASE they may be up to something dodgy grants the state a position akin to omnipotence, a power that is simply too great. Yet it will not be omnipotence, because there will remain areas into which the government cannot pry. And those will be the areas to which the professed target groups - the criminals and terrorists - will retreat.
And for the record, Mr Clarke, your claim that this "will not lead to the mass surveillance of our citizens and unnecessary invasion of their right to privacy" is one that you give no guarantees of other than your word. And the word of a politician (as John Humphrys rightly pointed out) is not to be trusted. Or did we forget the manifesto promise not to introduce university tuition fees already? Even if the current government has no plans to abuse this new-found, vast power, who's to say future governments won't?
And finally he goes on to attack human rights. After all, the right not to be tortured is only a minor right in the grand scheme of things:
"Our strengthening of human rights needs to acknowledge a truth which we should all accept, that the right to be protected from torture and ill-treatment must be considered side by side with the right to be protected from the death and destruction caused by indiscriminate terrorism"Christ... The fact that he then goes on to talk about "safety and security under the law" simply shows how much contempt he has for everyone listening - namely the democratically-elected Members of the European Parliament whose views will likely be ignored as soon as Clarke, Blair and co can secure an international agreement via other sources.
And he ends with the wonderful conclusion - as yet to my knowledge not proposed by any other source as it's so fucking stupid - that the French and Dutch no votes in their constitutional referenda were due to a desire for greater police powers in the struggle against international terrorism. Because, you know, any other explanation wouldn't fit the current agenda - which is why they've dropped the previous line that the "No" votes were due to a dislike of the EU budget and Common Agricultural Policy...
Fucking ANGER. Apologies for lack of sense/rage etc - rattled off from the top of my head while reading through the damn thing. I dislike Charles Clarke intensely, and this government more and more by the day. Come on, Tories/Lib Dems, sort yourselves out. We need someone to take these fuckers to task over this. We need a proper sodding opposition to these dangerous, ill-thinking bastards, and we need one now. They can't be allowed to get away with slipping this through from overseas. We need demands for Commons votes, and we need the Labour backbenches to be mobilised in opposition to this dangerous, expensive and useless attempt to turn the state into the biggest peeping Tom of all time.
In short: Gah.
(Now also at The Sharpener)