|Montreal, August 3, 2002 / No 107|
by Ralph Maddocks
For those who believe that a New World Order is in the process of being constructed, some events have occurred of late which may lead them to conclude that its completion may be closer than they thought. A few weeks ago, the UK government introduced its new Extradition Bill, which among other things begins to fulfill the conditions mentioned in Corpus Juris of which I wrote in QL no 39. Briefly, the Extradition Bill, which the UK Libertarian Alliance has aptly described as a "legal obscenity," is the gravest threat yet to the freedoms hitherto enjoyed by the inhabitants of that scepter'd isle.
The Bill proposes application, for the first time, of the EU-wide arrest
warrant which can be issued anywhere in the EU and must be enforced wherever
it is served. There is no right to examine the evidence, if any, no appearance
before a British judge to determine if there is just cause, no right to
Habeas corpus, simply the expeditious deportation of the citizen
to the jurisdiction from which the warrant emanated. You can be accused
of any number of crimes, many of which are not even crimes in the UK. You
could be accused of something as nebulous as "environmental crime," "computer
crime" or even of the PC-thought crime "racism and xenophobia."
Could advocating the virtues of some long established British freedom such as Habeas corpus be considered "xenophobia"? Other EU "crimes" are advocating "holocaust denial," selling Nazi memorabilia or advocating any of a wide range of unpopular opinions. The warrant can be applied where the person is sought for a crime punishable by more than one year in the issuing state. It is applicable where a person has already been convicted and has been sentenced to over four months imprisonment.
John Wadham, the director of the independent human rights organisation Liberty, said among other things, "Extradition protections are not about helping people evade justice: they're about helping to ensure that justice is actually done." And "We have no objection to speeding up the bureaucracy of the process, but standards and protections must be maintained. Before people – who may well be innocent – are taken away from their homes to a foreign prison, under foreign laws, British courts should continue to be able to assess the strength of evidence against a person. Our courts should establish there is a good reason for the huge step of extradition. Reducing appeals puts that process at risk: the EU arrest warrant practically destroys it."
Another step taken by Blair and his pliant government towards subjugating his country to the further ministrations of the European Union has been to announce again its intention to introduce an Identity Card, the first since the1939-1945 war. In the paralysing panic induced by the events of 9-11 a UK Identity Card was proposed by the government but ultimately, and wisely, rejected as impractical. In February, 2002, the European Commission in Brussels, as part of a 25-point plan designed allegedly to increase the mobility of skills throughout the EU, mooted an electronic Health Card in credit card format. The guarantee of free health care is supposed to encourage EU citizens to take jobs in other member states. Only 0.1 per cent of EU citizens moved across national borders in 1999 to live in a different country, and only 1.2 per cent left their "regions" or counties, compared with 5.9 per cent of Americans who moved to other parts of the United States.
How a health Card would confer needed linguistic ability is not explained. It is not difficult to see the connection between this "Health Card" and the ID card now being promoted. The UK identity card is now being introduced as an "Entitlement" card and the proposals mention the possibility of tying these cards to the renewal of passports/driving licences. Presumably, one would have to supply the information required by the ID card (and some of one's hard earned money) so the ID card would arrive in the mail with your passport/driving licence. Doubtless it would bear the "ring of stars" identifying the EU and another step will have been taken to remove one's nationality, as well as part of one's liberty.
Privacy International, a global privacy and technology watchdog, has been studying the implications of ID cards throughout the world for some years. P.I. warned the Blair government that such a card – voluntary or not – would create and/or increase the opportunities for criminal syndicates and their allies, corrupt officials, to manufacture false ID cards. Privacy International's research has established that ID cards do not diminish crime or fraud but introduce problems of discrimination, criminal false identity and administrative chaos.
Privacy International's Director, Simon Davies says "The technology gap between governments and organised crime has now narrowed to such an extent that even the most highly secure cards are available as blanks weeks after their introduction. Criminals and terrorists can in reality move more freely and more safely with several fake "official" identities than they ever could in a country using multiple forms of "low-value" ID such as a birth certificate." Added Mr. Davies, "...the ramifications of an ID card conform to the dynamics of the black market economy. Whenever governments attempt to introduce an ID card, it is always based on the aim of eliminating false identity. The higher the stated "integrity" (infallibility) of a card, the greater is its value to criminals and illegal immigrants. A high-value card attracts substantially larger investment in corruption and counterfeit activity. The equation is simple: higher value ID equals greater criminal activity." (Privacy International has an interesting FAQ which may be found at: FAQ on the UK government's proposed national identity card.)
Like the Homeland Security proposals in the USA, the introduction of an ID card has probably more to do with enabling the government to collate the data provided and create a new administrative basis for the linkage of government databases and private information systems. In the UK, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill itself contains an interesting and novel provision, very largely ignored by a compliant press. The proposal would give the government the right to remove the citizenship of UK-born nationals if the Home Secretary believes that the person concerned has "done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests" of the United Kingdom.
Could this mean that people's fondness for Japanese cars, as opposed to British or EU ones, would be against the "interests" of the United Kingdom? The Bill provides for no right of appeal if the Home Secretary's decision is based on information that, due to "the interests of national security, the interests of the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country or another matter of a political kind" cannot be disclosed. Such a device would have solved Mr. Bush's problems trying to define the status of his captured Afghanistan fighters of various origins. If he had removed Mr. Lindh's citizenship he could have shipped him off to Guantanamo and forgotten him along with the rest of his stateless Al Queda prisoners, instead of making a plea bargain.
Again in the UK, the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which was passed in October 2000 giving law enforcement agencies very sweeping powers to snoop on the electronic lives of citizens came into effect in August 1st. The Act demands that organisations it calls Communication Service Providers (CPS) – essentially anyone that helps people to keep in touch via the Web, fax machine or phone – install technology that can automatically monitor what many of their customers are doing. It also demands that service providers start monitoring a customer within 24 hours of being told that the police or other investigation agencies want to snoop on them. The information collected must also be passed on electronically to the agency which asked for the snooping to begin. Big Brother may have arrived because on a certain UK newsgroup to which I subscribe messages are being delayed for several days prior to appearing in my inbox.
July was an interesting month if one was looking for new ways of interfering with people's liberties. From that small European country, home of Lego and the Bionicle Bohrok Va Kaita #2, comes a serious threat to Internet liberty. In early July, a Danish judge, Michael Kistrup, made a preliminary injunction against an Internet news service to stop it linking to Web sites of Danish newspapers, claiming that it was in direct competition with the newspapers and that the links it provided to specific news articles damaged the value of the newspapers' advertisements. The lawsuit was brought by the Danish Newspaper Publishers Association whose spokesman, Ebbe Dal, said "It would have been difficult for newspapers to do business if the court had reached the opposite result." Perhaps Danish newspapers aren't really interested in improving their circulation, just in establishing a monopolised news market for Danish news in full text subscription databases. Presumably, one company will end up with the exclusive rights to sell and distribute news to end users.
In Germany, Munich's Upper Court ruled that using a search engine to locate stories on newspapers' sites violates European Union law. The law in question is the "Database Directive," European Union legislation which grants copyright protection to database creators for "selecting and arranging" the information contained in a database, even if the creator does not hold the copyrights on the collected information. The directive also protects against the "unfair extraction" of materials contained in a database, specifically mentioning downloading or hyperlinking as examples of prohibited extraction methods. This decision is potentially more dangerous than the Danish one because it will affect all countries of the EU if upheld on appeal.
Across the Atlantic again, in the Land of the Free, there was much discussion over the right of the Bush administration to decide that an American citizen can be held incommunicado at a military base as an "enemy combatant." The furor was over the right of one Yaser Esam Hamdi to have an attorney, a right which a lower court had granted. It will be recalled that Hamdi was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan five months ago while fighting for either Al Queda or the Taliban. He has since then told his interrogators that he was born in Louisiana. His birth certificate was then located in Baton Rouge by Federal agents, so authorities flew him on a heavily guarded military transport to the Norfolk Naval Base.
The Justice Department promptly appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Even if one has little or no sympathy for Mr. Hamdi, he is supposed to enjoy those rights guaranteed him by the US Constitution. This government action means that citizens can be taken into custody as "enemy combatants," and apart from those who may be detained on the battlefield, citizens could be taken off the streets anywhere in the USA with the courts unable to intervene to inquire into the legality of such arrests and detentions. Like their European counterparts,
If the Bush view is upheld then the police will be able to arrest people without warrants and jail people without trials. When, last November, Bush first issued his controversial "military order" regarding the right to hold, without counsel or trial, those he deemed "enemy combatants," he appeared to believe that his role as C-in-C allowed him to ignore those parts of the Constitution which do not suit him. In the outpouring of support at the time the matter was never really discussed and dealt with properly. I cannot believe that Bush et al are not mistaken in their view and the judiciary should resist strenuously what is nothing short of a grab for the dictatorial powers Bush decries in people like those much unloved democrats Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro.
There was a glimmer of hope for freedom in the USA when, towards the end of June, several cities were reported as staging a quiet revolt against the USA Patriot Act claiming that it gives law enforcement too much power in addition to threatening civil rights. The Massachusetts cities of Cambridge, Northampton and Amherst and the township of Leverett, as well as the town of Carrboro, N. C., all passed resolutions that call the USA Patriot Act a threat to the civil rights of the residents of their communities. The spin doctors have been telling us that the general public is very supportive of the Patriot Act which was passed, virtually without dissent, by Congress last October. Among the provisions of the Patriot Act is a proposal to create a pilot programme known as the Terrorism Information and Prevention System. In reality, TIPS means that the US will have a higher percentage of citizen informants than did the infamous Stasi secret police in the former East Germany. The program proposes a minimum of 4 per cent of Americans to report "suspicious activity." (For more, take a look at Operation TIPS, a national system for reporting suspicious, and potentially terrorist-related activity.)
On July 4th, it being too hot to do much of an energetic nature, I spent part of my day watching television from the USA. I watched Washington being turned into an armed camp, complete with CCTV and other freedom loving devices. As I watched, I was again struck by what the United States has become. Incongruously, amid all this security they were presumably celebrating 225 years of independence from the British Crown and the institution of a federal republic that gave the governed control over the election and maintenance of those who comprise the leadership of the country. Somehow, over the years, this seems to have changed. A nation where the rule of law has become the tyranny of lawyers, and the government is less and less representative of the people than of that nebulous entity known as the "the national interest" – whatever that happens to be at any given moment.
The US judiciary no longer seems to apply the law but has gone in the direction of interpreting the Constitution and the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, which limited the acts of government against the liberties of the governed. Those rights seem no longer inviolable, but have become subject to judicial review and politically correct interpretation. The US government, rather than its people, now possesses those former "rights" and the necessary force to use them at will. Congress has of course always been political, and very frequently divided, but today that entire body, regardless of expressed ideology, has drifted towards authoritarianism rather than towards a nation of free individuals who consent to be governed. The voice of the people is restricted so that the much cherished "freedom of speech" becomes confined to agreeing freely with the government's current agenda. The future looks gloomy, and one is reminded of the words of William Pitt, a former British Prime Minister, who said "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants, it is the creed of slaves."
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