Saturday, September 10, 2005

Is former Labour minister Michael Meacher turning into a conspiracy theorist (as some contend), or are they really this keen to cover their own backs? (Via) - Perhaps it's time to start reminding ourselves about a little thing called international legitimacy...

Spyblog on Charles Clarke's apparent misunderstandings of the nature of the EU, biometrics, cross-border police work and civil liberties.

Clarkie boy has also started using massively pointed truisms: "All European parliamentarians ... should face up to the fact that the people who elected them want the European Union to have a strong package of measures to fight terrorism and serious and organised crime." - well yes, yes they probably do, Charles. Just not the ones you're putting forward, you fat fuck.

Oh, and the head of MI5 is being used as political back-up "We also, of course, and I repeat in both our countries and within the EU value civil liberties and wish to do nothing to damage these hard-fought for rights. But the world has changed and there needs to be a debate on whether some erosion of what we all value may be necessary to improve the chances of our citizens not being blown apart as they go about their daily lives."

Yay - let's let the terrorists win just a teensy bit, and see if that works shall we?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Ukraine update: Auntie has a good overview of the current crisis, while the New York Times worries that if Ukraine's post-revolution government fails to shape up quickly it could dim the hopes of democratic reformers in other ex-Soviet states. Leopolis reckons it could take months. Orange Ukraine has good info and some handy links to further reading in the comments, while Scott at Foreign Notes comes through again with some top-notch analysis, and Neeka points out that this current split has been a long time coming.

Awwww! Poor Charles Clarke! His massively intrusive plans for poking into every aspect of our insignificant lives seem to have run into a bit of opposition: the European Telecommunications Network Operators's Association has branded Charlie's data retention plans illegal, dubbed their effectiveness unproved, and estimated the cost to be prohibitive (see, e.g., The Guardian). Meanwhile MEPs have accused the Blair government of "exploiting the fear factor" and dishing out "summary justice". Blair has been dubbed Big Brother by one French newspaper (and no, that sadly doesn't mean he's going to get his flabby mantits out and shove a wine bottle up his jacksy), while Germany, France and Denmark are all lined up in opposition. Good.

Still, no one yet seems to have picked up on Clarke's comments about ID cards - that's where this is really heading...

Is Jack Straw justifying terrorism?

"By welcoming Turkey we will demonstrate that Western and Islamic cultures can thrive together as partners in the modern world - the alternative is too terrible to contemplate."

Sounds like a suggestion of potential violence to me, Jacky boy, coming as it does after a week of dangerous anti-terrorism bullshit being spouted by various cabinet ministers.

Sounds rather like you're trying to imply that if the EU doesn't progress with Turkish entry talks the Islamic world will end up divided further from the West and thus increase the cultural hostility which has led to the current wave of fundamentalist terrorism.

Which is quite possibly true.

But it does go somewhat against your government's stock answer that terrorism is going to happen anyway and that what many people see as contributing factors (the Iraq war and its aftermath being prime) cannot be used as excuses for terrorism.

Even though nobody other than the terrorists has ever said that the Iraq war excuses or justifies the slaughter of innocent civilians.

And even though by that logic you may as well not bother launching wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place, or in introducing biometric ID, detention without trial, suspending the human rights act, upping the number of police on the street, giving the police the right to shoot us all on a whim, or indeed checking passports, screening baggage or looking out for suspicious types at the airport - because terrorism's going to happen anyway, so why bother trying to do anything to stop it?

Could this tacit admission that there's such a thing as secondary, almost passive contributing factors in the process of radicalisation which can lead to people blowing themselves up on the tube be a new step in the government's incredibly slow progress down the path of realising that the world is a complicated place which can't simply be divided into "good", "evil" and "the French"?

Why do I have little faith that this pretence to be in favour of Turkish EU entry as a matter of principle - as if this government even knows what that word means any more - is little more than another stupidly obvious childish tactic to try and get publicity?

More on Britain, Straw, the EU and Turkey at EU Observer, The International Herald Tribune (good overview) and The Guardian. And views from Turkey and Cyprus (the somewhat anti-Turkey Greek bit).

Thursday, September 08, 2005

German elections: North Sea Diaries on the "shadowy, chimeric thing" that is German conservatism, Jerome a Paris on yet another glimmer of hope for Schröder as Bloomberg and others report on a poll which sees his popularity rise - and Merkel predicted to be unable to gain a majority. Meanwhile the International Herald Tribune ponders what's in store for US-German relations if Merkel forms a government? Oh, and has very good overview of the issues in the upcoming German, Norwegian and Japanese elections - a good place to start if you have no idea about any of those countries' politics.

Thoughtcrime in Newcastle:
"The campaigners, who were going to wear orange boiler suits and bar codes on their foreheads, had created a massive ID card to highlight what they see as an increasing restriction on civil liberties."
And - would you Adam and Eve it? Before they can even begin their protest they ended up arrested. Silly fools - of COURSE their civil liberties aren't being restricted...

Ukraine looks to be in trouble again. I haven't been keeping up with events over there so much over there since covering the revolution back in November (see "Ukraine" in the left-hand sidebar), but after allegations of even more widespread corruption than under his supposedly vile predecessor, Orange Revolution victor Viktor Yuschenko has just sacked his government. Not good. Neeka's not sure what to make of it yet, but she'll be worth checking for updates from Kiev. Scott at Foreign Notes has more, including some good analysis, and will also be worth checking back for details - he's reporting that plans are afoot to form a new government almost immediately. Also worth checking: Blog de Connard, Orange Ukraine, Abdymok (which also has a translation of Yuschenko's address to the nation), Leopolis and Notes from Kiev.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

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)

Blair's database state - coming soon?

Today's chief attacker is Charles Clarke, expected to berate the European Parliament for being "reactionary and dangerous" - this the day after Clarke ticked off independent members of the British judiciary for their wishy-washy regard for "human rights" and legal precedent. (Clarke's reason for saying we can trust these notorious torturers who we've got deportation agreements with in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights? "It cannot be right that government-to-government agreements are not respected" - because, hey, we can trust the word of a country which regularly tortures its citizens, can't we? Just like we could trust that nice chap with the tache who gave that lovely Mr Chamberlain a wonderfully reassuring government-to-government agreement... And - erm - the fact that we're breaking several government-to-government agreements by ignoring umpteen international human rights treaties is entirely irrelevant here, isn't it?)

Anyway, the excuse for this current blitz (bar that bomb business, and the need for the Blair government to be seen to be leading the way in the run-up to parliament's return in a month) is this .pdf document, the briefly titled "Draft Framework Decision on the retention of data processed and stored in connection with the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or data on public communications networks for the purpose of prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of crime and criminal offences including terrorism" - originally drawn up by France, Ireland, Sweden and the UK in April last year, it has finally started to it's scheduled movement through the labyrinthine procedural corridors of EU power.

That document, however, is far too wishy-washy for the Blair government's present purposes, mentioning all kinds of nonsense like "hi tech crime" (rather than the preferred "EEEEVIL TERRORISTS WITH SHIFTY EYES LURKING IN THE SHADOWS AND UNDER THE BED") and keeping the idea of "data retention" relatively specific, aimed at "child pornography and racist and xenophobic material; the source of attacks against information systems; and to identify those involved in using electronic communications networks for the purpose of organised crime and terrorism."

Nonetheless, even if the use of this data is carefully restricted there was already enough to be worried about: it would become mandatory for providers to store all public communications networks' traffic data for between six months and four years, starting with telephone connection and - fairly worryingly - location data. In the next step the ISPs would be forced to build up infrastructure to store and manage internet data - a remote storage of your internet usage history, emails, IRC chats etc. etc. (There's a handy campaign site - Data Retention is no Solution, which has loads more info.)

The current thrust of the Blairite blitz, however, seems to have taken on more sinister undertones. The focus, while nominally also still on web-based fraud and the kind of hi-tech computer crime which always crops up in the movies (glamorous, good-looking hackers breaking electronically into banks and making off with billions etc.), it's the shifty-eyed terrorists which now get the most emphasis. Because, look guys - we've just been attacked, you know?

Of course, the bonus of this legislation is that vast quantities of ready-stored data on everyone in the country (and indeed the EU) - including their daily movements via mobile phone tracking, purchases, associates, conversations and every other aspect of their lives (especially combined with credit/debit/store card records to which the government will no doubt also give themselves access) - will make the government's job far easier when they finally come to introduce ID cards, by whatever method. Thanks to this piece of legislation (which, let's hope, shouldn't get past MEPs), the state would be well on the way to giving itself the right to know pretty much every single thing about you and your life. The state could even end up knowing more about you than your immediate family.

But hey - if you complain about your right to privacy (like old Tony and his recent "secret" holiday destination) you'll just be letting the terrorists win, OK?

Meanwhile, Blair's used his jaunt out to the far east to get China on board for a UN Security Council resolution (Back-up for when that Independent link dies here). China - always well-known and praised for it's commitment to freedom and human rights - apparently will be Backing Blair. Over to Tony:

"We have to take proper security measures and one of the things that I was discussing with Premier Wen is how we co-operate on counter terrorism. At the UN next week, we will be talking about counter terrorism measures.

"I don't think we can do this just by security measures. We also have to take on their ideas"
After all, if any regime has experience on clamping down on thoughtcrime, it's China. We'll get some communist expertise on board, build up a vast database on every single British and EU citizen which the government and its agencies can access whenever they want, we'll identify suspicious emails, phone calls and websites and lock up those responsible without trial (or send them to overseas "processing centres" in friendly states less squeamish about a bit of pain-induced confession), we'll track the movements of every single person with a mobile phone in the country, we'll deport anyone we don't like.

And then some non-European terrorist not in any of the databases, not owning a mobile and with no internet presence will quietly chug ashore by small boat in a remote cove, unobserved by radar or CCTV. He'll slowly make his way to London, press a button and wipe out the entire city in one fell swoop.

Nice one, Tony.

(More on Blair's plans to get his dodgy databases imposed on us from abroad here)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

German elections: A political poster review, an overview of an odd campaign and a confirmation of 10,000 job losses - which could put it in the bag for Merkel.

The lost art of boozing

"Were they the sons of tea-sippers who won the fields of Crecy and Agincourt or dyed the Danube's shores with Gallic blood?" - a stirring defence of the lost art of drinking in this age of bizarre government policies of expanding drinking hours while simultaneously trying to (partially) ban one of the very things which goes hand in hand with a nice pint - or at least force people who want to drink and smoke (a decent proportion of regular pubgoers) to go to an establishment which doesn't serve food, meaning they'll get more pissed and more lary. Nice one.

"Drunkenness is an attribute of those who do not appreciate what they are consuming, not of those who do." Too bloody right. If you drink watery, tasteless, overly fizzy British or American style lager or (shudder) sugar-laden alcopops rather than decent Belgian brews or (best of all) a hearty pint of rich, mahogany hued real ale, you're automatically a soft-cock lightweight pissant. But it also makes you more of an antisocial wanker. Fact.

Following my discovery yesterday of a Blairite blitz on Brussels (well, Strasbourg) to try and con the EU into imposing dodgy "anti-terror" measures so that our Tony doesn't have to bother with the inconvenience of parliament (starting with a Blunkett buddy civil servant talking about digital surveillance and ID to a European Parliament standing committee yesterday), it would appear that old Prezza is even being rolled into action.

Ahead of Charles Clarke's speech before the European Parliament tomorrow, at which he is expected to propose all sorts of wonderful new EU-wide laws (e.g. lock everyone up and then shoot them just in case - because we can't be seen to be being discriminatory, after all), Prescott is today meeting with the EP's president Joseph Borrell. The purpose of said meeting is unclear, but with Prezza's well-known charm I'm picturing the old "nice parliament you've got here - it'd be a shame if something were to... you know..." approach to try and cow the parliament ahead of the Safety Elephant's appearance tomorrow.

Monday, September 05, 2005

German Elections: The Guardian Newsblog will apparently be covering things in the run-up. The first post, on last night's TV debate between the prospective Chancellors, is here, and it's pretty decent. More takes - from Deutsche Well (one, two, three) and Der Spiegel.

Update: Nearly forgot - this piece by Alex at The Yorkshire Ranter am well worth a look and all.

(By the by, this site apparently looks rubbish in Internet Explorer on PCs, with the body text shunted to the bottom of the page or something - I've checked it in Safari and IE on a Mac where it works OK, and it seems to work fine most of the time in Firefox on both Mac and PC (bar some BlogAd positioning weirdness), but if anyone has any suggestions of what's gone wrong, they'd be appreciated. Ta etc.)

The EU, the Blair government and ID cards

Heads up, people - ID cards propaganda phase two is under way, and it's starting in the gloomy recesses of the EU where no newspaper ever dares send its reporters.

Today the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) will be addressed by two British representatives, Simon Watkin (Chair of the Co-operation in Criminal Matters Working Group - which effectively doesn't exist according to Google - and former Private Secretary to David Blunkett during his time as Home Secretary, where he helped found the Home Office's Hi-Tech Crime Team and worked as head of the Covert Investigations Policy Team) and David Johnson (from the Metropolitan Police's Special Operations department).

Today's meeting will be followed on Wednesday morning by a debate with Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini in the European Parliament on "ways to combat terrorism more effectively without undermining civil liberties".

The aim of both Clarke's Wednesday debate and today's meeting? To convince the EU to legislate to enable law enforcement agencies to access and store pretty much any information they want from "public communications networks" - i.e. phone calls, emails, ISP records, the works - "for the purpose of combatting crime, including terrorism". Basically, phone tapping (and its various internet cousins) would become fine and admissable in court. But lurking behind this is the spectre of ID.

The emphasis in that quote above is mine - it comes from this.pdf of today's Committee agenda, and seems to mark a subtle shift in the government's rhetoric and tactics for all of their planned electronic surveillance of their own population. Remember that whole business with Tony McNulty admitting that the government had "over-sold" ID cards (at a Fabian Society meeting sponsored by, erm, a company specialising in IT and biometrics, according to Private Eye)? That was the first clue that the approach was changing.

In the wake of Charles Clarke's admission that ID cards wouldn't have prevented the London bombings - not to mention the fact that the terrorists all seem deliberately to have carried or left existing forms of ID and that the majority were "clean skins" never flagged as potential threats - any claims that ID cards would help prevent terrorist attacks seem like even more nonsense than they did before. So now it will be crime in general which is the professed target, with the few counter-terrorism benefits they can come up with tagged on the end.

But simply shifting the emphasis to win over the gullible public won't be enough. Opposition to ID has been growing amongst MPs, and with his reduced majority Blair can't be certain of getting an ID card bill through unamended any more. Then there's the added - and more serious as far as Blair's concerned - problem of the Chancellor. Gordon is worried about cost, and the Treasury could end up vetoing any further "progress" towards the database state.

British delegate to today's meeting Simon Watkin has long been aware of the difficulties of getting legal permission for "data retention" as this report of an October 2003 conference demonstrates - he mentions the restrictive "need for primary legislation" twice in the space of a couple of paragraphs. It's just too tricky to get the concept of this kind of ID card through a British parliament - the more they learn about it, the less they're going to like it. It's just not very British, let's face it, and gives the state far more potential power over the individual than it has posessed in centuries. That's enough to make a lot of backbenchers very squeamish indeed.

So, your own Treasury is reluctant and your own parliament can't be trusted to vote the way you want them to? Simple - pop over the Channel and try and get your plans imposed on the country from Brussels (or, in this case, Strasbourg). ID cards - even if not quite such hardcore ones as Blair's lot want to impose - have existed in several EU states for years. Most can't see the problem, and would likely not need to change much should some new EU legislation over ID come into force - in Germany, Italy and France, not to mention several other countries, ID cards are simply a fact of life. So French, German, Italian and God knows how many other MEPs would - the Blair government hopes - simply not understand the fuss, and vote through new legislation, to become binding on Britain, without even thinking about it.

Game, set and match Blair - ID cards get introduced without a vote in parliament, Gordon can't complain about the cost without getting into trouble with Brussels, and any public complaints about the new bits of intrusive plastic can be fobbed off with the old "it's the EU's fault - it's out of our hands" excuses which get trotted out pretty much any time European governments think they can get away with it.

Not good, folks. If you can track down reports of these meetings, or hear of any more, I reckon they'd be grateful of a tad more publicity - after all, the whole point of this scheme is to have more information, surely?

Peter Mandelson? "fuck off and get eaten by bears"

Sunday, September 04, 2005

It's Sunday, so it must be time for another Britblog Roundup - this piece on dodgy disaster planning in New Orleans in particular stood out as the relief effort finally seems to be kicking into effect. No word yet from Europhobia's regular Republican reader "Ronnie in New Orleans", but the stories of the chaos, looting, rape and murder in the aftermath seem only to get worse, so fingers crossed, eh?

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