Wednesday, 12 June 2013


It's been a good week for George Orwell, considering that Eric Arthur Blair has been dead for a long while. Firstly, there's a campaign to send 100,000 copies of his most famous book to Washington DC, which hasn't done publishing revenues any harm.

Then there's the determined attempts by both the US and UK regimes governments to pay tribute to 1984 by taking us there in a kind of securocratic time machine.

In Britain we've seen the pre-emptive arrest of would-be protesters on the grounds that they might have been about to commit crimes. I wonder why the same principle can't be applied to, say, members of parliament? I'm sure there's a good reason. I'm not a huge fan of anti-capitalist squatter anarchists, because a lot of them do seem to enjoy smashing stuff up. But I am a huge fan of giving everyone the right to peaceful protest and arresting them if and when they break the law.

And in case you think - as I'm sure many do - that all this fuss about state surveillance doesn't apply to normal people, think again. In Britain there is a thing called RIPA (presumably pronounced 'Reaper' - never let it be said these people have no sense of humour, grim thought it may be). Under RIPA various government departments, plus MI5 and other agencies, can obtain phone data i.e. who you've called, when, how long you talked etc. They can't actually listen in to your calls, but of course they can instantly build up a picture of all your phone contacts and - depending on how much you use your phone - a picture of your life at work and play. 'Under RIPA, various organs of the UK State can obtain from telecoms company data about users. This can range from a registered user’s name to every piece of information on a customer held by the telecoms company.' Every piece of information. Hold that thought.

How many times a year do you think UK state agencies obtain phone data on individuals? 15,000 times? 150,000? Try nearly half a million. With that level of info, working on the 'six degrees' principle, it might be possible to build up a rather nifty database on tens of millions of people. Of course, there almost certainly isn't one. Now.

As Jack of Kent (linked to above) puts it:
The only limits to the State’s desire to obtain data on its own citizens are probably only practicality, competence, and expense. 
There is a debate to be had as to the correct limits are to this intrusion (and those officials who say that “if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” are usually most reluctant to tell you what they are doing); but we will not get that debate unless it is demanded. The State certainly does not want to discuss its intentions with us and get our prior approval. 
It may well be that the wider claims made this week about Prism are “baseless” – and even false. 
But it would not be because the State does not want to have such powers, if they were to become available.

Oh, and there's this absurd old principle that someone charged with a criminal offence has certain rights. Nonsense, of course. The US are charging inmates at Guantanamo with the most heinous crimes. Fair enough, you may say. But some are not allowed to know the crimes they are charged with...
(...) what makes the no-name government motion so intriguing is that those who've read it can't say what it's about, and those who haven't don't have a clue. Not even the accused, who, unless the judge rules for the defense, is not allowed to get an unclassified explanation of it - and cannot sit in on the court session when it's argued in secret.
Well, at least we can turn off our telescreens. It's just that we don't want to...

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