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In our Taking Liberties blog, not only will we keep you uptodate on the progress of the film, we'll also post news about the ongoing civil liberties movements we're related to.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

My name is Chris and I'm a Liberty addict

This is really starting to get silly. Even though I'm now supposed to be researching 2 different projects that have nothing whatsoever with civil liberties, I still seem to spend most of my tube journeys to work frothing at the mouth about some authoritarian story or other that has piqued my bristles. I'm not sure if then spending more time blogging about them is going to help cure my addiction, but for now I'm going to have a bit of a gorge...

Jacket that lets parents keep track of children
Yes this is the "must have" fashion garment for every child with demonically overprotective parents who think that by broadcasting their kids whereabouts to the world they are less likely to be nabbed by a nonce. This is a cool and trendy coat to make your youngster wear whenever they leave the house, that sends out a GPS tracking signal so you can monitor the young whippersnappers whereabouts via the Internet or mobile phone. Coming in at a snip at only £250 (Kevlar Lining is a reasonable £80 extra) these must haves are now on sale from UK manufacturer Blade Runner. (please check this out, I'm not making this up!). With a superb piece of Orwellian reverse logic, the Managing Partner of Blade Runner, Adrian Davis, actually believes that tracking your offspring 24/7 can increase the child's independence: "Parents might be more willing to allow them to go out more if they could check up on them!". Never mind that if the tearaway wanted to do a bunk they could (shock!) leave the jacket at home, give it to someone else to wear, or tie it to a cat and put a firecracker up it's arse.

But the most terrifying thing about the trackerjacket is the fact that the GPS signal will distributed to anyone who is willing to pay to receive it. Rather than have the signal known only to the "handler" (ie the parents) back at base, the exact location of your child will be stored on (you guessed it) a huge central database that is controlled by the friendly sounding company "Asset Monitoring Solutions". So, if a budding paedo wants to bundle off your bundle of joy, they just need to get someone to hack the servers (or simply pay off someone who works for AMS) and they can get the exact whereabouts of your child sent to their Blackberry. Cool!

Britain gets it's own torture camps
Yes, sick of letting the Americans get all the fun, there is mounting evidence of a "Black Site" on Diego Garcia, which is British Sovereign Territory in the Indian Ocean. Human Rights group Reprieve recently gave a dossier of evidence to the British Government containing reliable and credible evidence that innocent people who have been held there without trail by the US have and been routinely tortured. Our government has leased the land out to the US military for some time, and the base there was redesignated as a prison after 9/11 when the US was desperately looking around the world for places where it could carry out it's dirty work. The UK Government has defended it's position of complete inaction on this, by simply saying that it has asked the Americans if it has been carrying out torture or abuse on our soil, and we have been given "assurances" that they have not. Well that's OK then. Summarily the Brown government is accepting without question the assurances from a Mr Yogi Bear that he does not crap in Jellystone Park, and the assurances from Pope Benedict that he is in fact Jewish.

Sir Ian Blair demands a Pay Rise
No that's not a gag, just the gobsmacking truth. The head of the metropolitan police (or "Lonely of the Yard" as wags within the force are now calling him) has been a busy boy recently, what with announcing to the press (again) that he needs to be able to lock us up for 3 months without charge, and being revealed to be either mindlessly incompetent or a barefaced liar in the ongoing Menezes trial. He's been so overworked that he's put in a request for his maximum possible bonus (£25k) which has sent shockwaves of incredulity and anger through the Met itself. Blair's very own deputy, Paul Stephenson, was so outraged he is said to have actually told Sir Ian that "Of course you f*cking can't take the bonus, stupid!" This bust up between Blair and his right hand man, has resulted in them not speaking to each other for several days. This is presumably going to not be particularly helpful in their ongoing crusade against terror in which they apparently working night and day to stop us all getting blown to pieces.

Another senior police source has been quoted as saying that "Blair is off his trolley... he is the most self centred man I have ever met". The reason for this uproar is not just that Sir Ian is the most Gaffe prone policeman since Inspector Clouseau , but that he has picked the week to fill his boots as yet more damming evidence is made public at the Menezes trial. This week saw one of the (unnamed) officers defending the decision to shoot this innocent man in the head without warning by saying that Menezes was behaving suspiciously in the following ways:
-Getting on and off a bus
-Texting on his mobile phone
-Appearing frustrated when a station was closed.
Well if that's all it takes to be identified as a suicide bomber then most of London's commuters are in deep shit.

Richard Thwaites QC, who has the unenviable job of defending the Met against charges of breaching health and safety guidelines, has presented this evidence as his ultimate "Chewbacca Defence" to prove that this behaviour means that Menezes deserved to be shot: "If people deploy anti-surveillance methods it's usually because they are up to no good, isn't it?".

The other revelation last week was that the Met deliberately manipulated the picture of Menezes that it released after the shooting, so that it looked more like one of the suspects from the previous days failed bombings.

In a move that even Alistair Campbell might have found distasteful, some boffin at the Met actually had a fiddle on photoshop and tweaked the proportions and skin tones of the photo of Menezes to make him look more like the the person they were supposed to be following.

So while all of these damning revelations have been coming out on a daily basis, Sir Ian Blair has been demanding that he be paid what he's worth, a tactic which has suprisingly backfired. The Metropolitan Police Authority is said to be considering a motion to have him removed from office as soon as possible. According to one source, Sir Ian had "reached the last-chance saloon" and some members may pass a motion against the Commissioner at a meeting with him on 30 March. One said: "It's getting to the stage where he is the issue and not the safety of London. We should be talking about burglary and knife crime, not his latest gaffe."

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Nearly there...

The Taking Liberties journey is almost at an end... Well for us anyway. The DVD comes out TODAY (Monday 15th October), and that will sadly be the final installment of Britain's first (and probably only) feature film about the loss of British Liberty. Either things will get better so that films like Taking Liberties aren't necessary, or things will get worse and making films like this will be made illegal. DVD pre-orders are doing reasonably well - as of today we are at sales rank 422 on Amazon. To give this some kind of context Black Gold (docuimentary about coffee that was released at the same time) is on 5,088.

If you haven't got a copy yet, you can order yours here.

For those of you who managed to miss the reviews screaming at you on the website, I've cut and pasted a few of the crits below:

**** "Exhilarating... A vitamin boost of scepticism... cheerful, polemical and tactless." Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

"Excellent... you shouldn't vote at the next general election until you've seen this film" Phillip French, Observer

**** "Pure Dynamite... An eloquent mugging" The Times

"Bold, fearless and blackly funny, this vital film should be compulsory viewing" Dazed and Confused

**** "One of the most important films of the year... Watch it and get angry!" Daily Mirror

Film of the Week - Mark Kermode BBC Radio 5

**** "A less hysterical, but still gripping, incendiary and amusing British answer to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11…An excellent piece of populist film making" The Scotsman

**** Time Out
**** Sunday Times
**** Sunday Telegraph
**** BBC Films
**** Daily Express

OK enough navel gazing! Even though I'm supposed to be weaning myself off the subject of liberty loss, two items in the news last week had me frothing at the mouth:

Sir Ian Blair announces he will hold his breath until the Government gives him 90 Days pre charge detention
This Blog's favourite policeman has announced that he wants to be able to lock people up for 3 months - without having to tell them why. Even though there has never been a single occasion when they have needed even the existing limit before someone has to be charged or released (28 days – the longest in the free world), Sir Ian has declared that we'll all die tomorrow unless we turn Britain into a Police state because, er, he says so that's why. Sir Ian puts in a request for this power about once every 2 months, but on this accoaision the timing could not have been more galling.

Sir Ian’s plea for us to trust him unconditionally with our liberty, comes alongside the first and only court case into the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes. (No-one’s actually standing trial for the murder of the innocent Brazilian electrician 2 years ago… instead the Metropolitan police is being sued for contravening health and safety guidelines for firing a gun repeatedly into his head at point blank range. It’s a bit like giving Harold Shipman a written warning for breaking the Hippocratic oath.)

During the hearing last week, CCTV pictures were been made public showing Menezes calmly walking through the ticket barrier at Stockwell Tube on the 22nd July 2005. Moments later he was shot dead by 2 armed officers. Seven hours later, when most of London’s police force knew that Menezes was as dangerous as a Police Community Support officer, Sir Ian went on Live TV and announced that the suspect had “jumped the barrier” and therefore deserved what he got. These images prove that Sir Ian is either a blatant liar or horrendously incompetent. So Sir Ian choses this very moment that the images are released, to make a request to extend pre-charge detention - again - based on the say so of none other than Sir Ian Blair.

The arguments are exactly the same ones that have been trooped out the last half dozen or so times, namley: "There are lots of bad people out there who want to blow us up and this is the only way to stop them"

Firstly this is not the greatest threat we have ever faced, and we seemed to muddle through the Second World War, The Cold War and the IRA bombing campaign without tearing up the oldest civil liberty we have. Secondly keeping people locked up for long periods before charge produces terribly unreliable evidence. Studies have shown that the longer someone is detained without charge, the more likely they are to confess to something they haven't done. Thirdly, introducing the same limit for pre-charge detention that was in force in South Aftrica during Apharteid, is not going to do wonders for relations with the Muslim Community, who are the very group of people you want to keep on side while trying to fight terrorism. Of the very few actual real terrorists that have been caught plotting attacks in the UK, the evidence that has been used to scure conviction has not come from CCTV cameras, ID Cards or from people who have been locked up for weeks without charge. It has come from tip off's and sources from within the Muslim Commnuity, but this intelligence is going to dry up if we continue to pass illiberal laws that inevitably are going to create a feeling of grievance and injsutice within the community itself. At it's very worst this feeling of injustice can act as a recruiting seargent for the terrorists themselves, so by passing a law designed to prevent terrorism, you can in effect set it off. Similar laws were passed to try to stop the IRA, which enabled the authorites to intern people suspected of terrorism, without charge. This backfired massively and ended up ercruiting hundreds of dissafected young men to the IRA's ranks. If only our political leaders and senior police spent more time looking at recent histroy and less time poncing about in front of the cameras, then we might escape repeating the mistakes of the past.

Exporting Democracy to Burma
Yes it's all well and good for Gordon Brown to read out carefully drafted spin sheets condemming the Burmese Junta for crushing peaceful protests, but there is one tactic that in use by the Burmese military that will be frighteningly familiar to anyone who's been to a prtoest in the UK recently. Once the Burmese protests started, the authorities stood back for several days. After about a week the soldiers brutally rounded up the ringleaders in the dead of night. How did they work out who was organising these peaceful actions with such calculating efficency?

Step frowards the Burmese FIT teams, who seem to have imported thei tactics from Britain. Anyone who has been on any protests in the UK recently will have seen the FIT teams in force. These are overt surviellance officers who film peacful protests in the UK in order to gather information about who goes on political marches these days, as well as to dampen dissent by letting you know you're being watched. In some cases activists are followed for days at a time, and the effect is extremely threatening. Clearly the FIT teams are they are so effective at restricting protests that the idea has been joyously picked up by the authorities in Burma. During the first week of protests - when the government appeared to be restrained - the Burmese FIT teams were out carefully filming the activists, so they could work out who the ringleaders were. Thanks to this British technique, the Burmese were able to draw up a hit list of the orgnaisers, and then knock on their door in the middle of the night. Isn't it nice to see Britain exporting democratic values around the world, and it makes you feel proud that when we set the standard for civil liberties, other countries are more than happy to copy our methods.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Crossed Wires over Zimbabwe

It's not just on the subject of General Elections that Gordon is sending out mixed messages. On the one hand our new leader is trying to show us his caring sharing side, by publicly lambasting Robert Mugabe's muderous regime and the horrific human rights abuses it carrries out in Zimbabwe. So far so Tony. Gordon has now gone one stage further by refusing to attend the EU summit if Mugabe shows up, though this could be just a cover as he doesn't want to fork out for the airfare. But nonetheless, Gordon has been flexing his liberal muscles on this issue and at the Labour Party Conference declared:

"The message should go out to anyone facing persecution anywhere from Burma to Zimbabwe. Human rights are universal and no injustice can last forever,"

Quite so. But could this be the very same Gordon Brown that is doing everything in it's power to send scores of innocent people back to Zimbabwe where they are guaranteed to face torture and death?

In April, British Court of Appeal judges halted the deportation of three Darfuri asylum seekers that the government wanted to send back to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The judges ruled the three should not be sent back to camps in Khartoum, because conditions there were "unduly harsh." But the government has now petitioned the House of Lords, the highest court in the land, for permission to appeal the court's decision. This is a crucial test case, and if the government wins, the first in line (after the 3 unfortunate Darfurians) are hundreds of Zimbabweans. NGO's are queueing up to show the government evidence that these people will face immiedate persecution on their return (the fact that they have run away and then been deported is a bit of a giveaway to the authorities) but the British Government continues in it's battle to fill Mugabe's Torture chambers.

Not surprisingly Britain also hold the European record for deporting the highest number of Iraqis back to the country we have done so much to stabilise.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Take the data and run...

One of the consistent themes running through our seemingly unstoppable slide towards an authoritarian state, is that most of the key changes slip by almost completely unnoticed. While a lot of the blame for this can be placed squarely on the shoulders of an apathetic public, our government has become increasingly adept at bringing in new powers without properly telling anyone. And so it is with The Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2007. A seemingly innocuous piece of Government red tape, actually gives the state sweeping and unprecedented powers to probe even deeper into your life, that will put us on a pegging with the Chinese when it comes to monitoring and tracking private citizens. Before I vent forth on the latest tools in this privacy busting document, it's worth noting that this is one of an increasing number of laws that are being made and changed without going through parliament. Under The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act, Ministers can amend existing law without needing to debate the proposed act before parliament. This means that when they have something particularly controversial they want to get through, they can deftly avoid all that boring democratic debate and potential defeat. Not surprisingly the New Home Secretary Jacqui Smith used the Leg and Reg to whip this piece of data retention legislation, as if she had put it before parliament even the most docile of slumbering MP would raise an eyebrow or two.

Show me the Data!
The new rules compel phone companies to retain information, however private, about all land line and mobile calls, and make them available to some 795 public bodies and quangos. While the justification for these new powers was, predictably, fighting terrorism, the vast majority of these bodies have absolutely nothing to do with foiling suicide bombers, and include:
-The tax authorities
-475 local councils
-The Food Standards Agency
-The Department of Health
-The Immigration Service
-The Gaming Board
-The Charity Commission

While I'm sure The Charity Commission does excellent work, I'm a little confused as to how they will stop Al'Qaeda bombing parliament by knowing how many sex lines I've called this week.

Records will detail precisely what calls are made, their time and duration, and the name and address of the registered user of the phone. The files will even reveal where people are when they made mobile phone calls. By knowing which mast transmitted the signal, officials will be able to pinpoint the source of a call to within a few feet. This can even be used to track someones route if, for example, they make a call from a moving car. Files will also be kept on the sending and receipt of text messages.

While genuine baddies are easily going to be several steps ahead of such ham fisted surveillance (real terrorists sadly use codes to avoid detection - this little trick was first used in the Gunpowder Plot) the real losers, again, are going to be unsuspecting members of the public, about whom yet more data is compiled, sifted and sold.

This is but a taste of what's to come. By 2009 the Government plans to extend the rules to cover Internet use: the websites we have visited, the people we have emailed and phone calls made over the net.

But if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear, right?
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