Archive for June, 2008

42 day detention – why 42?

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

On first appearances, it would seem that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has been reading too much Hitchhicker's Guide To The Galaxy. Where else did she pluck 42 from? She contests that 42 was arrived at between herself and "senior police officers" as an appropriate safeguard against future threat. It's clear to me that the greatest threat to us is the systematic bleeding of our democracy: terrorists 1 – UK 0

2000 saw the first of Labour's tinkering for detention-without-charge, a leisurely 48 hours, up to 7 days with court's approval. In 2003, this doubled to 14 days. In 2006, Blair tried for a staggering 90 days – reduced to 28 days after a commons rebellion. And how many times has there been a need to exceed this limit? Nil. Nada. Zilch. Never. But Brown & Co still swagger around with their new service medals "I Fought The War On Terror", hence 42 days.

The vote was won by the government by 9 votes (36 Labour rebels), which so happens be the same number of DUP MPs who were bribed into voting with the government. It was the DUP who opposed internment in Northern Ireland in the 80's, so it's quite astonishing that they can support this kind of legislation – unless your principles carry a £200m price tag.

What sickens me is Brown's insistence that he is "doing what is right" for this country. It's up to the politicians to decide what to do under the rules of the parliamentary process, which includes both the Commons and Lords. The bill will be rejected by the house of Lords (often a voice a reason from those motivated by beliefs and not spin), where it will bounce back to the Commons. Brown will then do what Labour do in these circumstances where it's lost the argument but won the vote: invoke the 1911 Parliament Act to condemn the bill straight into the statute books.

This is the same government that now boasts the world's largest DNA database on its citizens. The Criminal "Justice" and Police Act 2001 allowed police to retain DNA from acquitted suspects, modified in 2004 for anyone arrested. This results in the police drooling over the DNA records for over 1 million innocent people, including over 100,000 children. That makes a total of over 5% of the population, compared to 0.5% for the USA. Astonishing.

This is also the government that in 2005 oversaw the SOCPA legislation that prevents people from demonstrating within a 1 mile radius of the houses of parliament. Doesn't sounds like democracy to me.

Time after time, the government keeps us biting our fingernails by continuously telling us of the threat we face from people wanting to blow us up. In 2002, Blair scared the crap out of us stating that we were only 45 minutes away from an Iraqi chemical attack. This didn't turn out to be 100% true, but what the hell – parliament voted and we went to war anyway.

And then there's the government's plan to introduce ID cards, that will include a myriad of biometric details and god knows what else. Their record of retaining information isn't actually very good. There's been a spate of minister's stolen laptops, 25 million child benefit records lost in the post, confidential security documents left of trains, details of 3 million driving licenses going AWOL from a private company in, of all places, the United States of Paranoia. Not to mention the issue of civil liberties – Churchill scrapped ID cards after a real war in 1952,realising that they provoked so much public animosity as to prove counter productive when tackling crime. Wise words Winston, wise words.

It's almost impossible to go anywhere in London these days without being spied upon from a towering CCTV mast. They even have cameras on sticks poking out of Smart cars. Is this kind of surveillance effective? Like hell – on average we all get snapped 300 times per day and yet it solves only 3% of crimes. Some even have mounted speakers for that all important "Hey you! Stop littering!". It's enough to make you want a hoodie.

But the biggest problem with all these powers of surveillance and anti-terrorism that Labour have introduced, is in their misuse. Walter Wolfgang was famously arrested at a Labour party conference in 2005 after shouting "nonsense" during the Home Secretary's speech. Yep, he was arrested under anti-terrorism laws. And now local councils are having a go. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in 2000 was brought in to combat terrorism by legalising surveillance on an individual (intercepted phone calls, emails etc). Last year, 474 councils used these powers to snoop on residents for heinous crimes like underage smoking, dog fouling, school placement cheating. I had first hand experience of police-power-abuse in 2006 when I was stopped and questioned under terrorism laws, all because I had an orange motorcycle.

It's quite clear to me: give authority power and they will eventually abuse it. Just because the police say they want 42 days detention is not sufficient reason to grant it – I'm sure they'd bite your arm off if you offered them 100 days. Yes, the 7/7 bombings in London were terrible – but we have to accept that there's always going to be shit-heads with radical agendas. The fact is that killings from terrorism world wide have never been lower. The difference is the media.

But just when I'd given up hope of living in a free county and contemplated emigration, a ray of hope twinkled out of parliament in the form of David Davis. Disgusted at the way last week's 42 day vote was bullied through parliament, he resigned as MP so that he could be re-elected purely on a civil liberties agenda.

Well, I have nothing but admiration for this guy – someone who is risking his career to fight something in which he believes. Labour dismiss the election as a gimmick – which just demonstrates the contempt they show for this issue.

According to the media, 70% of the public support 42-days – a statistic I struggle to believe. I can't vote in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election, but what I can do is send a modest cheque to Mr Davis and hope that a small microcosm of democracy will finally be heard.