Thursday, 15 November 2012

The bully state; or, conservatives are not your friends.

There are times when I am so incensed that I feel I can't even write. This is one of those times, but what I need to write about is of the moment. It can't wait.

Right now, the UK government-commissioned Leveson Inquiry is subjecting big media to greater scrutiny than it has ever faced. Press barons and Prime Ministers alike have been called before the panel to give evidence. Criminal charges have been brought against formerly powerful scum like Rebekah Brooks, who may face up to eighteen years in prison if found guilty (this is extremely unlikely, given that she is rich, white, and a woman).

The Leveson Inquiry was set up in response to public outrage at egregious moral and legal violations of the press that had come to light last year. These include paying the police for stories, relentlessly hounding suspects (many of whom later turned out to be entirely innocent, e.g. Chris Jeffries), the too-close relationship between politicians and the media, and so on.

The real instigator, though, was the systematic phone and email hacking of the Murdoch press. The News of the World, among others, were routinely hacking the voicemails, email accounts, etc., of celebrities and victims of violent crime. This has actually interfered with police investigations and given families false hope that their missing child was still alive, as in the Dowler case.

There are no words that could adequately convey the grotesqueness of big media. I am not even going to try. The facts, including those coming to light as the Inquiry progresses, speak for themselves.

Here's what incenses me, though. Prime Minister David Cameron appeared before the Inquiry two days ago. Like everyone else, he claims he is appalled at the press for hacking into, and listening in on, private correspondence between private citizens.

Fucking liar.

His own government is in the process of creating new legislation to record and store information on every telephone call, every email sent and received, and every single website visit, made by every single citizen in the United Kingdom.

He claims to be outraged at the News of the World for doing this to a few dozen newsworthy people, while simultaneously drafting legislation to do the same thing to absolutely everyone in the country.

It is this that has me so angry I can barely think or type. As in the famous H. L. Mencken quote, I want to hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats.

Just the other day, Maggie McNeill observed that political parties are basically like competing sports teams: they differentiate themselves by their team colors, so that they don't accidentally pass the ball to a member of the other team. But both teams play by the same rules, and strive for the same outcome for themselves.

To complete the analogy, the public is the football.

Total digital surveillance was initially proposed by the Labour party in 2008, then under the name Interception Modernisation Programme. This was scaled down heavily by 2009 and apparently cancelled at some point, after vocal opposition from the public and the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties, who labeled it "incompatible with a free country."

The best source for all this, up to 2009, is Dominic Raab's book The Assault on Liberty. Raab is one of a handful of libertarian Conservative MPs who have actually stuck to their principles while in government (notably, he called out feminists for being obnoxious bigots). I can only imagine his despair at the little dictators that sit on his party's front benches.

After the 2010 election returned a hung parliament, the Conservatives and Lib Dems formed a Coalition government, issuing a programme which put forward the restoration and protection of civil liberties as a central policy plank:
CIVIL LIBERTIES
We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.
  • We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion.
  • We will introduce a Freedom Bill.
  • We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.
  • We will outlaw the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
  • We will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
  • We will adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
  • We will protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
  • We will restore rights to non-violent protest.
  • We will review libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
  • We will introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
  • We will further regulate CCTV.
  • We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.
  • We will introduce a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.
  • We will establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.
Needless to say, this "full programme of measures" to reverse New Labour's sustained attacks on civic freedom has not materialized. For all its rhetoric about the Big Society and scrapping quangos, the Coalition government has turned out to be even more enthusiastic about state solutions than its predecessor.

The promised Freedom Bill and subsequent Act did appear, admittedly fairly quickly (under the name 'Protection of Freedoms Bill'). But it was a mishmash of unconnected minor issues - from wheel clamping and the right to marry between the hours of 6pm and 8am - rather than a fundamental repudiation of the outgoing government's attempts to transform citizens into subjects. A single code of practice was to be established for CCTV, in the most surveilled nation on earth. This, rather than a commitment to getting rid of the damn things, was Deputy Prime Minister's Nick Clegg's idea of progress:
Freedom is back in fashion. While our predecessors took it away, we will give it back.
In practice, giving back freedom apparently means installing audio CCTV cameras within private vehicles and on public transport, and monitoring who is visiting your home (and potentially denying them access).

I am not going to run through every item on the list - this post is long enough as it is, and we are only two years into the Coalition's first term. However, as of the time of writing, the government has U-turned on its DNA database promises and decided that the retained DNA profiles of innocent people will not be deleted after all; Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is pressing ahead with plans to introduce secret trials without juries; and politically incorrect speech remains an imprisonable offence, as evidenced by the recent Emma West and Liam Stacey cases, as well as upcoming reforms that will make site owners liable for anonymous comments.

The idea of introducing compulsory ID cards for every citizen was already on the way out by the time the Coalition took over. As for the final point, regarding the European Convention on Human Rights, it's a bit more complicated than is implied in the policy programme. Blair's New Labour incorporated the entirety of Strasbourg case law as precedent into UK law, a rather illiberal (not to mention illiterate) move. A British Bill of Rights would have to actually replace Strasbourg law on human rights, not fit alongside it or "build on it" as is suggested. Again, the best source for this is Dom Raab's book.

The most egregious attack on liberty is that which the Coalition parties opposed viciously when in opposition. Labour's Interception Modernisation Programme is back, under a new name: the Communications Capabilities Development Programme. It is not an alternative programme. It's the same programme. Just like the IMP, the CCDP will store records of every email, text message, phone call and website visit of every citizen in the country.

Before the election, Cameron said the following:
[...] if we want to stop the state controlling us, we must confront this surveillance state.
Opposition to the Labour party's horrendous track record on civil liberties, especially individual privacy, was a key theme in Conservative pre-election rhetoric. In Raab's book, he blames a latent Marxism for New Labour's authoritarianism - and it is true that many of that party's leading figures were former communists, and that communists are typically dismissive of civil liberties. I wonder if he would revise his view in light of his own party's post-election attitude towards privacy.

It doesn't seem to matter whether the government cloaks itself in red or blue. We are heading in the same direction. Soft control systems are getting harder. This should serve as a warning to those on the alternative/libertarian right, and in the manosphere more generally: conservatives are not your friends. They are no more passionate defenders of liberty than are liberals, socialists, or fascists. None of these people have your best interests in mind. Some on the alt right seem to grasp this concept when it is applied to every group apart from conservatives. Wake up. These people do not represent you.

Home Secretary Theresa May justifies total digital surveillance by appeal to the Helen Lovejoy defence ("won't somebody think of the children?!") Yes, what better world for our children to grow up in than a gigantic Panopticon. This is the same Home Secretary who did absolutely nothing for four days during last summer's England riots, when people were being stripped naked on the streets and burned out of their homes. Lenient towards the guilty, punitive towards the innocent - this is pure anarcho-tyranny.

Why would the Conservatives and Lib Dems reverse their position like this? Perhaps because it was never actually their right to stand up for civil liberties, not if they planned to stay in government. You can say anything you like in opposition, and mean it, too - but ultimately, unelected parties call the shots. The government is only one component of the state. Most of the people who hold power over us cannot be voted out. They belong to the civil service.

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Big Brother has a name, and it is Charles Farr. His Wikipedia entry is short but tells you all you need to know: he worked for MI6 and now works for the Home Office, and is responsible for the total digital surveillance programme under both its names (IMP or CCDP, depending on which government is in power at the time).

Spy Blog suggests there are other invisible, unelected persons who are also responsible, and the only reason we even know about Charles Farr is because the Coalition is setting him up as a fall guy for CCDP. But this assumes that the government thinks CCDP will fail. That may have been plausible back in April when the status of the CCDP was uncertain (and this was when the Times article fisked by Spy Blog was written). But now we're in June, and the government has just published the Bill in draft form, clearly not swayed by public opposition.

A brief biography of Farr, as supplied by the Times article cited by Spy Blog:
Little is known of Farr's early life and career. He was educated at Monkton Combe, a private school near Bath, of which Slr Richard Dearlove, a former M6[sic] chief and his future boss, is also an old boy. After leaving in 1977 Farr studied English at Magdalen College Oxford, alma mater of several spies including Sir John Scarlett, another former MI6 chief.

[...]

A bright and driven bureaucrat, he has shaken up Whitehall's security machine, impressing successive ministerial bosses with his vision since he was plucked from MI6 in 2007 by John Reid, the former Labour home secretary, to head the Home Office's security and counterterrorism office. Farr won plaudits for overhauling the government's handling of the war on terror.

[...]

He joined MI6 some time in the 1980s, serving in South Africa and Jordan. Farr is understood to have come to prominence, as one contemporary recalled, "flying around Afghanistan in a helicopter with thousands of dollars in bundles, doing deals with farmers to not grow opium. Bad policy as it turned out, but he did it very well". So well, in fact, that he was appointed an OBE in 2003. He would go on to run MI6's counterterrorism department before Reid spotted him.

[...]

Farr's critics say he still carries the legacy of his MI6 heyday -- a mindset they claim is inappropriate for his job at the heart of Whitehall security policy. "When you are an MI6 officer out in the field, trying to stop people getting nuclear weapons in, say, Kazakhstan, you have to be very independ­ently minded and very confident in your own judgment. There's not a lot of ministerial con­trol or public accountability," says an admirer who knows him well. "Charles feels very uncomfortable in the world of domestic politics and doesn't read it very well."

[...]

A former Home Office official went further: "When you're suddenly flung into a top position with management and policy respon­sibility in the Home Office, you can't go on behaving like you are in the Tora Bora caves doing deals with warlords. Your job is to advise ministers who decide policy. You can't go around thinking you are a player in your own right. It's a constitutional concern."

[...]

It is no secret in Whitehall that the grandiosely titled communications capabili­ties development programme was Farr's "policy baby". In fact, it was a rehash of an earlier attempt by Farr in 2009 to persuade the then Labour home secretary to build a giant database where the government could hold details of all emails and telephone calls. It obviously needed sensitive handling, but its delivery was bungled by Farr's office and it was dumped by Labour after an uproar. When a new government was elected he tried to resurrect the plan -- with similar results.
As I mentioned above, the status of CCDP was uncertain in April, when this was written. It seems clear now that Farr's second attempt to push through total digital surveillance has not been met with similar results.

On a previous, failed scheme of Farr's, to use public money to pay Muslims to not become extremists, the Times article states:
The scheme became characterised as a huge bid for surveillance. "It was a blurring of the policy ol[sic] surveillance with a different policy of community engagement and building a civil society" said a former Home Office official.

"But if like Charles Fair[sic], you are a career spook you just don't get that. You see everything as an opportunity for surveillance and you see everybody as potentially sinsister."

[...]

Another former official, who had a show­down with Farr over policy, recalls: "He's almost messianic. He's like he's on a mission to protect the nation. When you disagree with him he gets very emotional. He's one of these guys who goes white and shakes when he loses his temper."
According to the article, not a single picture of Charles Farr exists online. And this is the man who wants to watch us all.

What does all this mean for those of us on the alt-right, or in the manosphere, or who prefer to read alternative media sources? Rather obviously, it means that they are ready to clamp down on our freedom of expression as it exists in cyberspace. They will know if you regularly read and contribute to Taki's Magazine, or The Spearhead, or VDare. This could potentially have serious consequences for your career. You could even wake up one morning to find a judicial summons in the mail, because a comment you made on someone's blog has been deemed insufficiently sensitive towards women or minorities.

If this sounds like paranoia to you, then I'm sorry, but you're wrong. Earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center's quarterly report listed a number of manosphere websites, insinuating that they constitute 'hate groups.' The SPLC's quarterly reports are forwarded to every law enforcement agency in the United States. Granted, the SPLC also lists Alex Jones and the Mises Institute as potentially dangerous insurgents that need to be watched, so I'm not sure the organization is actually taken seriously any more, even by law enforcement agencies (and sending them 'intelligence reports' on pick-up artists probably isn't going to help).

Total digital surveillance means the end of anonymity, and official intolerance of unorthodox views heralds the end of free speech. Those who argue that everyone online should be brave enough to put their name to their words are ignorant - wilfully or otherwise - of the social (and increasingly, legal) control mechanisms used against free thinkers, which force them into anonymity in the first place. Forcing people to moderate what they say, by holding it forever to their real life names, may make them nicer, but it induces conformity and the fear of speaking out of turn. Is this really the trade-off we want to make? Is niceness a higher value than liberty of thought and speech? Than truth?

Which freedom is more important? The freedom to speak our minds, or to just get in line?

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The nanny state is a term that was originally used as a criticism of overbearing government, but it eventually caught on among the political class too - because it implies benevolent interference. The nanny state may restrict your freedom to choose, but it does so in your best interests, just like a real nanny. They can live with that. Perhaps they even like the idea that they are saving us from ourselves.

It's about time we ditched this term for one that more accurately represents what the state is and does. Let's call it the bully state, in recognition of the malevolence of its interference.

I stumbled upon a quote by leftist BBC journalist Andrew Marr that exemplifies the mindset of the bully statist (hat tip to Biased BBC):
[...] the final answer, frankly, is the vigorous use of state power to coerce and repress. It may be my Presbyterian background, but I firmly believe that repression can be a great, civilising instrument for good. Stamp hard on certain 'natural' beliefs for long enough and you can almost kill them off.
Of course, the bully state gets to decide which beliefs are natural and correct, and which are only 'natural' and thus can be repressed out of a population.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that only leftists are enthusiastic about repression. Conservatives are not your friends; they are statist bullies too.

So, what are we to do? Well, UK citizens have about twelve months before these measures come into force, assuming that Parliament passes the legislation (and given that all three main parties are largely on board, I expect it will):
The safeguards secured by Clegg include the joint scrutiny committee of MPs and peers, who will hear expert evidence, including that from the Home Office, and examine all aspects to ensure the measure is not "rammed through parliament". It has already been quietly agreed that the committee should report by the end of November, implying a timetable that could see the measure on the statute book within 12 months.
So if you are into any weird kind of pornography, now's probably the best time to start building up your archive, unless you want to share your proclivities with the Home Office. Once CCDP is in force, use Tor or other proxies (you will not be able to run scripts, watch videos, etc). I haven't looked into it myself, but from what I understand, you can pay for an offshore VPN which would presumably hide your activity from the state's prying eyes.

If you write and are concerned that your blog might get you in trouble, you could try to moderate your language while making the same arguments - but keep in mind that this is an ideological war, and your phrasing is just what they will use to 'get' you; it's not why they want to 'get' you.

Beyond that, you have but two options:
  1. Give in and go offline. Disconnect. Don't pay your internet bills. Stop surfing altogether. Socialize and read books instead.
  2. Expat. Leave the country. It's looking less and less like yours every day now, so up sticks and seek asylum.
The question is where to go. Given enough time, every technologically advanced society will use the UK's CCDP as a model for its own digital monitoring programmes. In our brave new globalized world, no developed society has escaped the thralldom of political correctness, and no state can resist an opportunity to subject its people to ever more rigorous control.

The question of 'where to go' may prove to be the most important libertarian question of the 21st century. It becomes more significant with every camera that the bully state erects over our heads.

One final note. Those tasked with protecting society - security services - should take a step back and assess what it is they are seeking the security of. If the answer is not a society in which all people are free to speak their minds without legal repercussion, then they should consider how far they have drifted from their purpose. If their vision of security does not include liberty as a priority, then the society that they are securing is not fit for men and women to live in.

- Mojo

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