NSA leaks: erosion of rights or protection of a nation?

It has been reported in the Guardian (here; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/03/uk-reaction-nsa-leaks-human-rights) that seventy leading Human Rights groups have warned David Cameron that his response to the NSA scandal is far from adequate and threatens freedom of expression. They say that “We have joined together as an international coalition because we believe that the United Kingdom government’s response to the revelations of mass surveillance of digital communications is eroding fundamental human rights in the country,” the letter states. “. But what is really happening, does the activities of the NSA, in coordination with GCHQ (for the purposes of this blog, I refer mostly to GCHQ as an organisation in the UK’s jurisdiction) erode freedoms or protect a nation from tragedies like 9/11? 

 

Article 10 of the ECHR does state at s10(1) that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises’.

However, s10(2) states that ‘The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary‘. 

The most relevant phrases here are ‘in the interests of national security‘ because this is what the government and intelligence agencies argue, and ‘right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority’. 

The NSA and GCHQ have been conducting what I believe is a grossly disproportionate surveillance programme which, even now, surprises and shocks me. I am not shocked that this has been happening. Spying is normal and necessary in every country and every society to some degree to ensure the survival of the people and protection from extremists that would kill thousands without second thought. However, I am shocked that intelligence agencies think that monitoring millions of people is an effective use of their time, if anything it distracts from the real mission and it increases the possibility of missing actionable intelligence that could stop a major plot.

But does what the NSA and GCHQ doing  meet the criteria of s10(2), in particular, is the activity necessary in the interests in national security? They would argue yes for the obvious reasons, I would argue no, it has gone way beyond what the programmes and mandate was created for, I don’t believe it was ever the intention of the US or UK government to authorise the surveillance of millions of people but to authorise the surveillance of legitimate targets and legitimate threats to the country. Whether that be surveillance of terror strongholds in Afghanistan or specific terror cells operating within the UK.    

In the most relatable case of The Observer and The Guardian v United Kingdom (Spycatcher), the British Government lost its long-running battle to stop the publication of the controversial book Spycatcher which included sensitive operational information, written by Peter Wright, former MI5 officer and Assistant Director, and co-author Paul Greengrass. In November 1991, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the British government had breached the European Convention of Human Rights in gagging its own newspapers. 

However, one key and crucial difference between what is happening now and what happened then was that Law Lords ruled the media can publish extracts from former MI5 officer Peter Wright’s memoirs, only because any damage to national security has already been done by its publication abroad. Before the leaks by Edward Snowden, nobody but those who were authorised to, knew about PRISM or GCHQ activity. Sure, it may have been speculated and widely accepted that they were spying on people but there was never an abundance of information that the leaks provided. 

As far as I can tell from the leaks I have seen thus far, although they are damaging to relationships, there is nothing that would put national security at risk. I am sure that The Guardian and others publishing the content, including Snowden, would think twice about putting people at risk or revealing targets. And, arguably, the damage has already been done as it was in the Spycatcher, so there is little prospect of success using article 10(2). 

Whatever happens now is up to the US and UK government but there is no doubt in my mind that the scale of surveillance needs to be scaled back, if not for the sake of preventing real plots then for the sake of their reputations. 

The coalition of HR groups say “We believe these actions clearly violate the right to freedom of expression, which is protected under British, European and international law … We also believe that this use of national security will have dangerous consequences for the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in the UK and beyond, creating a hostile and intimidating environment and discouraging those who could reveal uncomfortable truths and hold those in power to account.

What are your views? Is the NSA going too far or do you feel protected and more secure as a result of their activities? 

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Energy Crisis; What crisis?

ImageYou would be forgiven for thinking that when energy companies raise prices it affects everyone in some way. Alas, you are deluded. As the Sunday Mirror reveals, these price rises do not affect our MPs because we, the taxpayers, pay for their energy bills so their own personal pockets remained lined. You can see the full list here; http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/your-mp-claim-energy-bills-2671685. 

In numerical figures, bills of over £1,000 were submitted by 41 MPs, 78 submitted bills for £500 in the 12 months up to March of this year. The worst offenders are; Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, with a bill of £5,822.27, International Development Minister Alan Duncan with a bill of £2,750 and £1,250 in heating oil and Universities Minister David Willetts, who claimed £2,596. 

This coming at a time when Labour are trying to convey a policy of ‘freeze that bill’ and a party in touch with the people. In touch, however, is far from reality when many Labour MP’s claimed hundreds of pounds at a time when many are sat in their freezing living rooms right now deciding whether to turn the heating on and, consequently, not eat, or to eat and risk freezing to death. Some may not have either choice. Many will almost certainly die this winter. In 2011, the number of fuel poor households in England was estimated at around 2.39 million, representing approximately 11 per cent of all English households. (see full report here; https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226985/fuel_poverty_report_2013.pdf). 

Age UK’s charity director, Caroline Abrahams, told The Telegraph: “With fuel poverty blighting the lives of millions of households, it is nothing short of a national scandal that the UK is lagging so far behind other countries when it comes to tackling the problem”. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/consumertips/household-bills/10402771/UK-second-only-to-Estonia-on-fuel-poverty.html

Now, more than ever, is a time for a revolution in energy bills (you can see the campaign here; http://www.energybillrevolution.org/). 

Only one poll for you today: 

Oh dear – look what Ed Davey was saying about nuclear power before he became a minister

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the Lib Dems!)

Ed Davey is the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary in the coalition government – the person who was mainly responsible for the deal to allow the Chinese and the French to build a new nuclear power station in Somerset at the expense of the UK consumer.

Davey called the deal “good value for Britain‘.

But take a look at this leaflet from Ed Davey’s own website archives from before he became a government minister:

ed daveyLet’s look at the part where he mentions ‘national concerns‘ a little bit more closely:

ed davey 2And perhaps a little more closely still:

ed davey 3Oppose the building of new nuclear power stations“?

That’s some turnaround.

What happened Ed? Someone make you a job offer you couldn’t refuse?

One that comes with a ministerial chauffeur-driven car perhaps?

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(PS – notice what Davey also says on…

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Comic Suffering

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The BBC. The pinnacle of British Television, apparently, has once again been found engaging in less than attractive and less than ethical operations. No, I am not talking about the cover up of Saville’s paedophilic past (allegedly), but the discovery that the corporation, funded by the tax payer through the licence fee, is trying to prevent a programme airing that reveals the sinister discovery that Comic Relief used donations given by the generous British public, totalling around £610.03 Million, in order to help the less fortunate has actually been  invested in an arms company. An arms company that needs war, needs violence, needs destruction in order to remain financially viable.

According to The Telegraph (or the Torygraph as some of you may call it), “The (panorama) documentary is understood to examine how the charity allegedly invested £150 million of its funds for up to eight years, before handing the money to the causes for which it had been raised”, allegedly into an arms firm as well as a tobacco firm. Furthermore, The Daily Mirror reports that “More than a dozen senior BBC executives have ruled themselves out of making decisions about the Panorama programme as a fresh conflict-of-interest crisis threatens to engulf them”. Seemingly attempting to orchestrate a cover up in order to prevent donations decreasing and another humiliating scandal.

This coming after Newsnight controversially scrapped a Jimmy Savile abuse investigation in 2011. The BBC, as it stands, is down the creek without a paddle.

Some further figures given by The Telegraph include the discovery that “by the end of last year, the charity was allegedly sitting on £261million in a mixture of shares, bonds and cash. The six-month investigation also explores how staffing costs at Comic Relief have allegedly almost doubled from £7.1million a year in 2008 to £13.5 million by 2012”. The Daily Mirror added that “The Mirror found a project to sell Ramsay-branded cooking sauces has lost the charity £800,000”.

Comic Relief’s explanation? Well they say that their operating costs “have gone up in order to generate more funds” and costs were covered by corporate sponsors and Gift Aid claims from HM Revenue and Customs…We can assure the public that Comic Relief takes the issue of managing money very seriously indeed and we publish full details of the approach taken on our website”. Yes, and I am next in line for the Throne.

Tony Hall responded by saying that “The thing I learned when I was last in the BBC… was that when you have a programme which is controversial, and right to be controversial, making big claims, and right to be making big claims, you shouldn’t set a transmission date,”. Shouldn’t set one or shouldn’t have one at all, Lord Hall?

Surely it is time for another public inquiry to be held into this shameful and unethical use of funds meant to go to those who need us most? Two polls for you today;

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/10393457/BBC-shelves-Panorama-expose-of-Comic-Relief.html

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/panorama-probe-comic-relief-investments-2474694

Sexual offences defendants: should anonymity be allowed?

 

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In the event that you, the reader of this blog, were to be arrested and charged with an offence, whether it be criminal damage or a sexual offence, I am sure that you would want to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. This, as great a notion as it is, is far from effective in its entirety. For example, when Sky broke the news that yet another arrest was made by those involved with Operation Yewtree, I saw numerous tweets calling the arrested (as I have in previous cases) a ‘dirty bastard’ (excuse the expletive) and ‘hang him’ even before the trial had begun. 

So the argument is therefore laid out simply; should those charged, or even arrested for, sexual offences have their identity sealed from the public domain? This is an argument that I believe has only one answer; Yes.

Background to anonymity: Anonymity was granted to rape defendants under the 1976 Sexual Offences Act but removed in 1988 and in 2006 the Liberal Democrats voted for anonymity at their conference and in 2010 the issue turned up again in the coalition agreement, but a pledge to introduce anonymity for rape suspects in England and Wales until conviction was dropped when ministers said there was not enough evidence to justify a change in the law.

Analysis: In Germany, those accused of rape or other serious sexual offences are not named until they are convicted by a court of law. However, in the UK Police will  release the names of those accused for investigative and evidence-gathering purposes. A major example of this is those charged under Operation Yewtree, where the name Jimmy Saville was released which led to an increase in complainants. Now, this could have two sides of reasoning. One is that these complainants were ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and the other is that, by realising that a victim had come forward, they found the courage to finally report their incident to the police. I want to be very careful not to suggest that all complainants who come forward after a name is released are ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ because this will not always be the case and I have trust in the police authorities, the CPS, DPP, etc to make an evidence-based conclusion regarding each individual complaint. 

However, when someone is charged, but not convicted, with a sexual offence it can have a profound and long lasting affect on the accused. It can lead to the loss or suspension of a job, as in Le Vell and Bill Roache’s case, for example. But more than this, it can put a label on that person for the rest of their lives because, despite being found not guilty, there will inevitably be people who truly believe that he or she did commit the offence. This can lead to emotional distress from being labeled a sex offender, pedophile, pervert, etc regardless of the outcome of the case. I am aware that this topic divides everyone because it also affects the victim because it can lead to them believing that nobody believes them and it may lead to other complainants not coming forward. 

In February this year Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, seemingly agreed with this analysis after she said defendants should get the same right to anonymity as complainants in which she told BBC Radio 5 Live “Until they (rape defendants) have been proven to have done something as awful as this, I think there is a strong argument in cases of this sort – because they carry such stigma with them – to maintain the defendant’s anonymity”. She did, however, add that there were arguments on both sides. When anonymity had been accorded to defendants before “there was a sense that perhaps it was affording too much protection to people. There is obviously a public interest in open justice – people would say they’re entitled to know not simply who’s convicted, but who’s been accused.”

Case example highlighting adverse effect of not affording anonymity to defendants: Terry Harrison, 34, lost his home and had it attacked and burgled after single mother Shirley Prince, 42, claimed he raped her during a house party in May 2007. She later admitted perverting the course of justice last Tuesday and was jailed for three months after appearing at Durham Crown Court. Unsurprisingly, Harrison argued that “If a person has done such a heinous crime then they should be named and shamed, I agree – but not until they have been done for it. I was guilty until I was proven innocent and even when I was proven innocent I’m still getting judged.” He further revealed the devastating emotional impact the false accusation had inflicted upon him, adding  “I contemplated taking my own life on a couple of occasions, I was on the Middlesbrough bridge, I couldn’t believe what was happening”.

Again, I want to be absolutely clear that I do not want to suggest I think this about all cases included sexual offences because genuine victims are inflicted with much more severe emotional distress. However, in concluding this analysis it is my opinion that not affording anonymity to those accused of such crimes can lead to a whole range of issues, including the continuous judgment by others. Please vote in the poll below to cast your opinion on this matter.

 

Military prosecutors seek at least 60 years for Manning

CNN Security Clearance

By Paul Courson

Army private Bradley Manning acted as a “determined insider” in leaking a trove of classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and should spend a minimum of 60 years in jail, a military prosecutor said at his sentencing hearing on Monday.

Capt. Joe Morrow told Col. Denise Lind, the judge overseeing the former intelligence analyst’s court-martial, that such punishment for the historic and unauthorized release of hundreds of thousands of documents and other information to WikiLeaks would ensure that “we never see a number like this again.”

Defense attorney David Coombs portrayed Manning as an excellent candidate for rehabilitation, and that he should not be left to “rot in jail.”

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Oscar Pistorius: The Life Changing Key Questions

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Just a copyright note first and foremost; I am writing this blog in response to the Channel 5 Documentary first broadcast on Channel 5 at 22:00 3 Jun 2013. The information contained below is an analysis of the issues raised by the programme and views belonging to any persons involved in the documentary are theirs and theirs only. I profoundly apologise in advance for any offence, distress or bias that the relatives or those connected to Oscar Pistorius feel is present in this blog.

Background to the case: On the 14th February 2013 police say they were called to the Silver Lakes gated community in Pretoria after neighbours heard screaming and gunshots at the home of Oscar Pistorius. They found 29-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp being treated for gunshot wounds by paramedics.The paramedics certified her dead after efforts to save her. Police said she had been shot four times, in the head and hands, by bullets fired from a gun owned by Oscar. He was charged with murder that same day. 

Brief background to the C5 Programme: Channel 5 had enlisted the help of two prominent South African lawyers; Estelle Kilian for the prosecution, a well respected Criminal Barrister and Marius Du Toit for the defence, a well respected criminal lawyer. 

I attach a blueprint of Oscar Pistorius’ house, specifically the upper level of the house (this image was published by The Guardian on Thursday 21 February 2013 and I claim no ownership of this, you can view the interactive version here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/feb/20/oscar-pistorius-house-reeva-steenkamp-interactive). 

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 The four key questions which will determine whether Oscar is charged with premeditated murder, which carries a sentence of 25 years, or whether he walks free over the accidental killing of Reeve in order of importance are; 

1) Were the couple arguing BEFORE the shooting? 

Two witness statements that state Oscar and Reeva were heard arguing 300-600m away immediately before the shots were heard (possibly regarding the SPECULATION that Oscar was exchanging flirtatious text messages with another woman). Estelle and Marius put this to the test by having a third man play a sound clip in a house whilst they went to the perimeter fence, 300m away, the radius which the witnesses claimed they were at. They could hear nothing. They advanced 100m towards the house and they could still hear nothing. At only 50m could they hear quite audibly the sound clip which was set at the volume level that would be typical of an argument. This seems conclusive, however it is yet impossible to know whether the witnesses have correctly calculated the radius they were at and whether they advanced towards the house or stood still and listened. 

2) Is it plausible that Oscar did not notice Reeva was not in the bed beside him? 

As per the blueprint of the house, Oscar was laid on the right hand side of the bed and Reeva on the left. Oscar claims that he did not notice that Reeva was in the bed and that he jumped into “full combat recon mode” in order to secure her safety. In the programme Estelle laid in the bed, on the right hand side, whilst the lights were switched off and Marius still stood up. He concluded that he could see nothing, no persons, no bed, nothing at all. However, Oscar had still managed to find his gun, advance to the bathroom, and fire four shots through the bathroom door. Estelle rightly questions whether it is plausible that someone who believed he was being burgled would not check whether their partner were in the bed beside them by ‘feeling their way around…calling out’, etc. 

3) Was Oscar on his stumps or prosthetics when the gun used to kill Reeva was fired? This, according to C5, will be the single most crucial question in the trail. Oscar claims he was not wearing his prosthetic legs. The prosecution, it is believed, will argue that Oscar put his prosthetics and therefore had time to contemplate what he was about to do, which proves premeditated murder. In the programme Estelle and Marius attended a shooting range. Two doors were fired at four times at the approximate trajectory that Oscar fired the gun. One whilst at the height of Oscar with his prosthetics on and one with his prosthetics not on. The result was that the trajectories were very different, one going upwards and one going downwards to take into account his height. Reeva was shot in her hips, head and elbow and one bullet hit the toilet. The bathroom door belonging to Oscar, which will not be seen until the trial next year is therefore vital to both the prosecution and the defence. 

4) Was vital evidence altered AFTER the shooting? 

The programme centered on the possibility that Oscar could have concocted a cover story before the police arrived in order to protect himself. The police found the holster of the firearm was found on the left hand side of the bedroom (where Reeva would have been sleeping), 3 bullet casings, a cricket bat and two mobile phones. Estelle questions, weakly, why Reeva would need a mobile in the  bathroom, which Oscar did not mention in his affidavit. It also asked whether deleted implicating text messages, which would verify the reports of flirtatious text messages, could be  recovered, to which the answer was yes. Estelle deleted a text message, which a techie recovered and also showed Estelle and Marius how police can track the mobile phone signals from 24 hours ago. This, they believe, will be vital in either destroying or strengthening the case against Oscar. 

The programme concluded with Marius suggesting that he believes Oscar is looking at a maximum sentence of negligent killing because the argument test and darkness test were in favour of the defence. Estelle believes the defence have an uphill battle and that he is looking at a maximum sentence of premeditated murder and minimum of culpable homicide which, in light of the initial evidence I tend to agree with. 

Possible outcomes under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1997: 

Premeditated murder- 25 years minimum 

Culpable homicide/negligent killing (equivalent of manslaughter) (it is possible that the case of Rudi Visagie, A former Springbok rugby player who was charged with culpable killing after he mistook his daughter for a car thief and shot her dead in the family’s driveway, will be cited as authority for this)- 15 years.