Will Due Process Be The Final Casualty Of Westminster’s Sexgate?

Sir Michael Fallon - Secretary of Defence - resignation sexual harassment allegations

Facing up to historical injustice while protecting due process rights for today’s accused – the irreconcilable conflict at the heart of #BelieveTheVictim and Westminster’s escalating sexual harassment and assault scandal

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson was quite correct when she likened the torrent of sexual harassment and assault claim now roiling Westminster to a dam having suddenly burst. Just as the Harvey Weinstein scandal led to allegations against numerous other Hollywood A-listers and power players, so the cracks are now spreading across Westminster’s thin ice.

But unfortunately, the release of floodwaters caused by a burst dam has the power to sweep away everything in its path – both those shoddy buildings on weak foundations which deserved to be condemned, but also many structurally strong houses which were up to code, but which the tidal wave refused to spare.

The media (who really ought to be a bit more introspective about the tawdry behaviour and abuse within their own ranks, as is already being uncovered in America) love a simple narrative, and presently even the most serious allegations of rape and sexual abuse by prominent political officials are being reported in the same breath and often under the same headline as relatively minor infractions of the kind which astonishingly brought down former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, forcing his resignation yesterday.

Naturally, the social justice warriors of Westminster see mandatory re-education as the obvious solution, and now want elected MPs to go through the same condescending “consent workshops” that the NUS likes to inflict on freshmen students.

Charlotte England of Left Foot Forward writes:

Far from accusing all men of being rapists, consent training aims to clarify what consent means and tackle pervasive myths that contribute to rape culture, which is defined as an environment in which prevailing social attitudes normalise or trivialise sexual assault.

According to Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack there is little understanding in Westminster of the power dynamics at play between male MPs, senior political party figures and other staff like assistants and researchers. Teaching men what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour is therefore imperative.

No, it is not imperative. At this point, even the most sociopathic MP understands the dangerous ambiguity around consent, for reasons of self-preservation if nothing else. Those politicians who continue to step over the line in 2017 do so deliberately, either because they don’t care or simply have no impulse control. And all the consent training in the world won’t fix that. Meanwhile, perfectly decent and law-abiding people will feel ever-more surveilled and curtailed in their behaviour while too many of the real guilty parties continue just as before.

But then this is always the effect of corrosive identity politics – serious social problems and even crimes are too often drowned out because of the disproportionate reaction to lesser behaviour which does not even fall on the same spectrum. If you go to Defcon 1 over some clumsy and ill-advised flirtation at a Westminster Christmas party then you have nowhere left to go when serious allegations involving rape or abuse of power come into play. Each incident becomes just another indistinguishable piece in the “rape culture” jigsaw puzzle and it becomes that much harder to focus on the real victims and perpetrators.

The difficulty with the more minor allegations which are now emerging in Westminster politics and elsewhere is that the outrage at (and de facto punishment of) the alleged offender (public shaming, terminating of careers, ending of livelihoods) is more a reaction to the general trend or cumulative scandal than the individual sin.

If a town finds itself in the grip of a serious crime wave then public anger and demands for something to be done are quite understandable, but is it right for the same ire and punishment to come raining down on the one-time teenage petty shoplifter as befits the man who makes a career of kicking down front doors and making off with the family jewels? Surely not. But our justified anger at decades of genuine sexual harassment and abuses of power is threatening to bleed over into other realms – types of behaviour which range from inappropriate to pitiable – which could have grave implications for how we live and work together (and even court one another) in future.

Grazing a colleague’s knee while making an ambiguous comment over dinner isn’t great (and in fact becomes absolutely wrong when a professional power imbalance exists), but the reason that such low-level behaviour can now prompt the resignation of people such as former Michael Fallon is because of a wider, understandable revulsion at far more serious offences such as those allegedly committed by Harvey Weinstein and other prominent people. The delusional middle-aged, middle-ranking male politico who wrongly mistakes the professional attention of a female journalist for a romantic interest is to be slapped down and probably also pitied, absolutely. But do we really need to turn every such incident into the Dreyfus affair in terms of notoriety?

The pendulum has swung from legitimately bad people getting away with patterns of tawdry behaviour and abuse of power for decades while their victims suffered grievous harm toward fundamentally decent people now being at risk of having their lives destroyed over ambiguous, misinterpreted behaviour or even unfounded malicious allegations. If there was a middle ground anywhere here, it has certainly been skipped over in our reaction to this post-Weinstein torrent of accusations.

While we are right to be disgusted at the world of overt sexism, sexual harassment and abuse which is slowly, painfully being consigned to history, we also have a duty to consider what kind of world we want to create in its place. If we truly want to go down a road where every alleged victim is believed and punishment meted out without due process or any threshold for evidence then we will midwife a brave new world where any public career and reputation can be ruined by a single malicious or disputed allegation. This may soon prompt concerned individuals to hedge against the risk of being brought down by false charges, meaning that every single personal interaction must be witnessed, every woman or vulnerable man permanently chaperoned and everybody permanently surveilled for their own safety, perhaps in the same manner that many American police forces are now outfitting their officers with body cameras.

But this immediately raises privacy concerns. People were sufficiently unhappy at the potential privacy issues presented by Google glasses that this promising prototype product had to be discontinued before making it to mass market. But the kind of constant surveillance required to provide sufficient personal insurance against a formalised “believe the accuser” culture – where the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is abandoned – makes Google glasses seem tame by comparison.

If we are to avoid going down this extreme road then we at least need to set clearer rules about workplace interactions, so as to remove the ambiguities which lead to the “grey area” where many disputed events currently fall. We will need draconian rules prohibiting any romantic or sexual relations with coworkers that might seem more appropriate to the military than office-based professional work environments. There will need to be a blanket ban on any such relations, with the penalty for any transgression being instant termination regardless of whether or not the the encounter or relationship in question is consensual. Human Resources departments of firms large and small will need to staff up in order to carry out the inquisitorial new role assigned to them. If your parents met while working together, they must become the last generation which ever does so.

And if this seems excessive them we must step back from the brink and think again about whether casually discarding the time-honoured principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is a step that we are willing to take, particularly given the grave ramifications and precedent that doing so may set. Do these new rules apply only to accusations where there is a power imbalance (such as in the workplace) or will we apply them to purely social interactions between equals, too? How do we define “equals”? Will there be any statute of limitations on historic allegations? Will there be any evidentiary standard whatsoever? How will this new reality dovetail with existing laws governing libel and defamation, or to one’s ability to bring civil suit against an accuser for loss of future career earnings?

We must also ask ourselves how much collateral damage we are willing to accept in our effort to make right past wrongs. There are many valid and totally understandable reasons why a victim of abuse or harassment twenty years ago may have kept quiet to this day, but it is also plainly the case that any form of proof in terms of DNA, CCTV footage or retained correspondence is much less likely to exist, in which case it becomes one person’s word against another’s. We then have to decide to what extent we are willing to atone for historical societal sins by lowering the evidentiary standard and always believing the victim when every further move in that direction increases the likelihood of present-day injustices.

Do two wrongs make a right? Or is there a point where we will have to admit that justice for some historical alleged incidents will simply never be possible? We cannot escape this choice. We may wish that it did not exist, and we may pretend that some mythical alternative exists, a solution where proof for past allegations can always be found, victims always believed and offenders always correctly identified and punished. No such magic solution exists; it is a chimera.

At present we are in danger from swinging from one extreme to another, from victims being outrageously shamed and silenced to being unquestioningly believed without even cursory verification; from no consequences for serial perpetrators to draconian summary justice regardless of guilt. The danger is particularly acute as we suffer under a weak government with the weakest of leaders, a prime minister with non-existent decision-making abilities, who can’t afford any more missteps and is therefore prone to making up policy on the stop to appease whoever happens to be shouting the loudest.

#BelieveTheVictim? There is a valid debate to be had here, with serious arguments on both sides – the “always believe” side putting the emphasis on compensating for a history of past injustices and the “proof, please” side placing its emphasis on the importance of traditional due process. Ultimately, some kind of fudged compromise is all but guaranteed, pleasing nobody even as it acknowledges a messy reality.

Personally, while I lean more towards the “proof, please” side I acknowledge that simply telling accusers that nothing can be done to pursue their historic complaints without documentary evidence is often untenable, and that the rights and presumption of innocence which should always accompany a private citizen do not always fully carry over when the accused is in elected office or otherwise occupies a position of public trust.

But my goodness, we ought to stop and think a little more carefully before attempting a quick fix to a month’s worth of disturbing headlines by overturning centuries of precedent.

 

UPDATE – 3 November:

For what it’s worth, I think Ayesha Hazarika does a good job of explaining the kind of non-draconian, common sense solutions which we should be looking at here, for the Spectator:

But the silver bullet is behaviour. You can have all the Human Resources and complaints systems you like, but until MPs, and senior staffers, understand that their basic behaviour to junior women and men has got to change then I’m afraid the needle will not move. And it’s not actually that difficult. I would hope most people could work it out without the need for a cringey manual but here’s a few helpful tips. When you’re the boss, don’t fondle, grope, cup or lunge at anyone and as a general rule don’t harass people for sex via the oh so clever ruse of late night drinks to ‘help them with their career’. And give yourself a reality check: they’re not inviting it and they’re really not into you. At all. Especially if you’re a 58-year-old man who’s seen better days and they’re someone thirty years your junior who either works for you, needs a job or an interview. Ask yourself this critical question: are you abusing your position to get in someone’s pants? And if all that fails, ask yourself how you would feel if you get caught.

Politicians love lording it over the rest of society about how we behave and how we should conduct ourselves in the workplace. It’s time they cleaned up their act – and it’s really not that hard.

Absolutely. A cultural change which ends this “come out with me for late night drinks to discuss your career (wink, wink)” practice should be encouraged, because it is where professional power imbalances exist that the worst serial offenders always lurk.

 

Westminster Big Ben Telephone Box

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

Advertisements

Bastille Day Terrorist Attack In Nice – The Enemy Which We Refuse To Name Strikes Again

Nice Attack - Truck - Terrorism - France

As #PrayForNice trends on Twitter and another European city is plunged into terror and tragedy, what action have we taken to name, confront and defeat the evil which threatens us?

The news and images coming from the French city of Nice on what should be the most celebratory of days for the French people – Bastille Day – are awful, and heartbreaking, and wearily familiar.

As of this time, 77 people are confirmed dead, mown down on the Promenade des Anglais by a truck driven at high speed and containing an arsenal of weapons and explosives. This is clearly an act of terror – the numerous bullet holes in the windshield of the blood stained truck a testament to the amount of force it took the security services to stop the vehicle. And of course this is the third time in nineteen months that the French have suffered a grievous, high profile terrorist attack on their soil – first Charlie Hebdo, then the Bataclan, both in Paris, and now the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice.

To this we can add the Brussels terrorist attacks in March this year and, looking beyond Europe, numerous deadly attacks in Turkey as well as the terrorist shootings in San Bernadino and Orlando.

This is the future. This is the kind of terrorism which we are now going to face – not truly grand attacks on the level of 9/11, where casualties run into the thousands, but a long, slow grind of relentless medium-sized attacks, often on lower-value targets or in second tier, provincial cities. Often their planning and execution may turn out to be quite crude – this is not the age of the cunning master plan coordinated from a supervillain’s lair, but of “quick and dirty” plots hatched by autonomous cells and all the more unsettling precisely because they do not strike where we expect.

Now, murder comes to the airport entrance before the security checkpoints, or to an unremarkable concert venue, or a nondescript office or the main strip of a seaside town. Places which with the best will in the world are impossible to defend 24/7.

Radical Islamist terror has moved firmly into the age of the lone wolf, or the quasi-autonomous sleeper cell.

Why? Think of it like WiFi. Terrorist networks can no longer safely rely on coordinating large scale attacks in the West from a remote location with a reasonable degree of confidence that they will go undetected. Therefore, if ISIS and other fundamentalist Islamist organisations cannot physically cooordinate logistics and dispatch operatives to conduct attacks in Western cities, they must resort to other, remote means.

When the traditional methods of internet, telephone and even face-to-face communication are at risk of being intercepted by the security services, proponents of fundamentalist Islamist ideology must instead rely on transmitting their ideology and broad objectives through more general means, including YouTube and social media, targeted at the right susceptible population – usually disaffected and alienated young Muslim men who do not feel connected to or fully invested in society. The leaders of this death cult then rely on some of their indoctrinated targets possessing sufficient initiative to become their own mini terrorist masterminds.

We saw this approach in San Bernadino last winter, and again in Orlando last month. As more facts emerge, it may become clear that the Nice attack followed this pattern. Alternatively, it may be that Europe’s porous border and chaotic influx of migrants allowed foreign terrorists to slip through the net and aid in the planning or execution of the attack (press reports currently indicate that ID found on the truck driver suggest that he is a 31-year-old with dual French-Tunisian nationality, but this ID could well be fake or stolen).

But what is already crystal clear is the stark, uncomfortable fact that since Paris and Brussels (or Madrid and London, if you want to cast back a decade) our leaders have done nothing – nothing at all – to meaningfully grapple with this scourge of Islamist terrorism. So terrified are they of being accused of intolerance or racism that all we hear is the furious insistence that these atrocities have “nothing to do with Islam“.

And it’s just false. Of course the barbarity in Nice has absolutely nothing to do with the peaceful, moderate Islam practise by millions of adherents in the West and elsewhere. But it cannot be denied that those who do commit mass murdering acts of terrorism often explicitly reference Islam as their inspiration and justification – and do so from a very literal reading of certain Islamic texts. Moderate Islam does not inspire terrorist attacks, clearly. But fundamentalist, radical Islam often does, and we need to admit as much, for if we cannot even name the threat which we face what chance do we have of overcoming it?

As Douglas Murray rightly pointed out in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre:

Contra the political leaders, the Charlie Hebdo murderers were not lunatics without motive, but highly motivated extremists intent on enforcing Islamic blasphemy laws in 21st-century Europe. If you do not know the ideology — perverted or plausible though it may be — you can neither understand nor prevent such attacks. Nor, without knowing some Islamic history, could you understand why — whether in Mumbai or Paris — the Islamists always target the Jews.

[..] We have spent 15 years pretending things about Islam, a complex religion with competing interpretations. It is true that most Muslims live their lives peacefully. But a sizeable portion (around 15 per cent and more in most surveys) follow a far more radical version. The remainder are sitting on a religion which is, in many of its current forms, a deeply unstable component. That has always been a problem for reformist Muslims. But the results of ongoing mass immigration to the West at the same time as a worldwide return to Islamic literalism means that this is now a problem for all of us. To stand even a chance of dealing with it, we are going to have to wake up to it and acknowledge it for what it is.

The cost of this furious pretence that Islam is totally unconnected to the “so called” Islamic State and the terror attacks committed in its name can now be measured in a growing toll of human lives. And the slickness with which we now mourn these events, with standardised tributes and modes of behaviour, only serves to emphasise our utter lack of coordination in preventing their recurrence.

As this blog commented after the recent Brussels attacks in March, charting the inevitability of the public grieving followed by zero meaningful action:

Impromptu shrines appear in a major square of the afflicted city, with candles, chalk drawings and sometimes a bit of impromptu John Lennon.

And the day closes with Europe and America’s major landmarks illuminated to resemble the national flag of the afflicted nation. They’re getting really good at that part now.

Fast forward a day, and plans are well afoot to grant even more powers to the well-meaning but overstretched security services – who were unable to make use of their current extensive powers to thwart the attack – and generally at the expense of our civil liberties. Particularly our rights to privacy and free speech.

Fast forward a month, and we have all moved on. Domestic political concerns, celebrity scandals and daily life have reasserted themselves.

I think we can all agree that we’ve got the public grief, cathartic expressions of solidarity and stern faced authoritarianism down to a fine art at this point.

When are we going to start acknowledging – and maybe even tackling – the root causes?

Unless our leaders can openly and unequivocally acknowledge that the terrorist scourge which sees murder brought to the streets of Europe on a near-monthly basis has its roots in a fundamentalist, literalist and militant strain of Islam, how are we ever to really get to grips with the issues of radicalisation and non-assimilation?

If the deaths of eighty slain people in Nice have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam then how do we hope to save young and impressionable Muslim schoolgirls in London from stealing away to Syria to join ISIS, or young and impressionable Muslim boys from falling under the seductive spell of jihadist recruiters?

If we cannot openly and comfortably name the enemy which we face – not an entire religion, but certainly a very real and present strain of Islam – then how do we even begin to formulate policies which will meaningfully reduce this threat over time?

The answer is that we cannot. We can clamp down further on our precious civil liberties, bartering away even more of our freedoms in the hope of purchasing additional security (and letting the terrorists win, since they count as a victory anything which diminishes our liberal democratic way of life). We can ramp up the surveillance state and clamp down on freedom of speech to make it look like we are doing something purposeful, even though the costs of such draconian measures far exceed the benefits. But none of these measures will stop two radicalised guys and a truck from repeating the horrors of Nice in Camden Town or Edinburgh.

It is impossible to create the perfectly secure country, and the closer one tries to get to this ideal, greater and greater are the liberties which must be traded away in exchange. Therefore, the only way to stop more Nice attacks from happening is to approach the problem from the other end and seek to tackle the radical, fundamentalist Islamist extremism.

And this is the one thing which our leaders, in their tragic fear of giving offence, shamefully refuse to do.

 

Paris Terror Attacks - Eiffel Tower Dark - 2

Top Image: Guardian

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

Introducing Camsurf Safespace – The Social Network For Safe Space Dwellers

Camsurf Safespace

Behold our victimhood culture’s latest creation: a new G-rated social media platform for those too delicate to use Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Chatroulette…

Well, here it is – the logical end result of a victimhood culture in the grip of an identity politics feeding frenzy. Camsurf present to you their new Safespace social network – a heavily monitored video chat site for people (including grown adults) for whom all of the existing online platforms are simply too unsafe to ever contemplate using.

Camsurf describes Safespace in these terms:

Camsurf is a family friendly, G-rated Chatroulette platform and as such is strongly against all forms of bullying. To help combat cyberbullies, Camsurf is moderated by a team of professionals who are trained to spot when users of our service are being bullied. We have a zero tolerance policy against bullying and will ban all bullies from using our service.

However, it is also important that our users are able to recognize, understand, and deal with different forms of bullying. To help any users of our service who want to know more about bullying or feel they are being bullied we have created “safespace”, a place where you can learn about cyberbullying, its effects, how to deal with being bullied online, and much more.

While the press release notes:

Camsurf is delighted to announce the launch of the world’s first ‘Safe Space’ social network, an innovation designed to put a stop to cyberbullying through education and active participation. The idea behind the campaign stems from the rise in bullying and harassment on the web, specifically on social networks such as Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, a phenomenon which has grown rapidly in recent years to become more prevalent than bullying in the real world.

Users of Camsurf, and anyone else who feels overwhelmed by the rise in cyberbullying, can access the online arena and find a range of educational material and statistics, ask questions anonymously, and interact with other users in a safe and understanding environment. Participation in ‘Safe Space’ is solely focused on putting a stop to cyberbullying and all forms of online harassment. It is the first social network to openly place an emphasis on discussing and eliminating cyberbullying in a dedicated environment.

Camsurf Safespace is not merely a social network which takes a strong stance against cyberbullying. The whole ethos of the site sits in the shadow of cyberbullying – the “About” page says almost nothing about the technical or social features of the site, focusing exclusively on all of the measures in place to protect their oh-so-vulnerable users from ever being made to feel “uncomfortable” (a word that crops up frequently in the FAQs). And it freely uses the university campus-derived, identity politics terminology of safe space theory to promote itself.

But note the picture on the front page. These are not teens or tweens shown using the site, but fully grown adults – the woman is dressed in distinctly professional-looking attire, and the man is likewise dressed for work a shirt and tie. Safespace is not targeted specifically at schoolchildren (the group most likely to suffer from legitimate cyberbullying), but at people with jobs and mortgages and maybe even kids of their own – people who presumably shoulder all of the normal burdens of life, and yet believe themselves unable to participate in the same social networks as the rest of us for fear of being made to feel uncomfortable.

In fact, Safespace goes to great lengths to emphasise that adults are often the victims of “cyberbullying” too:

Q. Are teens the only people who get cyberbullied?

A. Not at all. Cyberbullying is a problem that affects both teens and adults. Although many adults would not like to admit it, cyberbullying is said to affect up to 40% of adults who use the internet. Cyberbullying transcends age or sex and anyone can be the victim of an online bully. In fact, many adults who are cyberbullied lash out by becoming bullies themselves. It is therefore extremely important to confront the problem by taking to someone rather than keeping it all locked up inside.

Yes, Safespace would have you believe that nearly every one in two adults are being persecuted online by nefarious cyberbullies right at this moment (of course, the term “bullying” has been defined downward to the extent that it includes any interaction which sees the victim come away with anything less than warm and fuzzy feelings of contentment).

And worse still, if these adult victims fail to take the correct protective actions and run to an authority figure (either a Safespace moderator or perhaps a trained counsellor) then they are at the risk of turning into a cyberbully too. Apparently being a cyberbully follows the same contagion principles as becoming a zombie.

Fortunately, Safespace has all manner of tools at its disposal to ensure that nothing remotely interesting or controversial ever takes place within its boundaries:

How Camsurf is Standing Up to Bullies

Our aim at Camsurf is to create a bully-free and family-friendly environment that is welcoming to all. As part of that mission we are taking a stand against cyberbullies by implementing various schemes to catch bullies and bar them from our service. We employ a team of moderators who monitor the chat platform for nudity, inappropriate behavior, and signs of bullying. All of our moderators undergo a course in understanding online bullying and how to spot the signs of someone who is being bullied. We are also implementing a series of informative articles and guides to help any victims of bullying and to educate our users to spot the signs of bullying. By taking these steps we will create the safest and friendliest Chatroulette platform online.

And they are very clear that when in doubt, users should err on the side of banality:

Q. Am I a cyberbully if I engage in an argument on Camsurf?

A. Not necessarily. It is important to distinguish the difference between talking to someone about a topic you disagree on and cyberbullying. On Camsurf you can meet thousands of strangers from around the world, all of whom have different opinions and views of the world. On some occasions you might find someone who disagrees with you about a certain topic. If you discuss this topic with them in a civilized manner where both of you can get your points across then it is not bullying. However, if you use insults and hurtful language while discussing issues then you may offend someone or hurt their feelings. This is the line between cyberbullying and talking about a topic you disagree on. The best way to avoid this is to stick to talking about topics you and the person you are chatting with are interested in. Remember, Camsurf is about having fun while meeting new people!

Cue lots of talk about the weather, and not quite so much about a certain American presidential candidate, then.

Note too the defining downwards of the concept of bullying, along the lines described by Jonathan Haidt and Nick Haslam in their recent excellent Guardian OpEd:

When research on bullying began in the 1970s, an act had to meet four criteria to count: it had to be an act of aggression directed by one or more children against another child; the act had to be intentional; it had to be part of a repeated pattern; and it had to occur in the context of a power imbalance. But over the following decades, the concept of bullying has expanded in two directions.

It has crept outward or “horizontally” to encompass new forms of bullying, such as among adults in the workplace or via social media. More problematic, though, is the creeping downward or “vertically”so that the bar has been lowered and more minor events now count as bullying. For example, the criteria of intentionality and repetition are often dropped. What matters most is the subjective perception of the victim. If a person believes that he or she has been made to suffer in any way, by a single action, the victim can call it bullying.

So this is what it has come to. Grown men and women forswearing online forums where they might potentially encounter a boisterous or rude opinion in favour of a “walled garden” where their every interaction is monitored by watchful moderators looking out for their “safety”. Everyday human interaction is now being presented as so fraught with peril that it is best not attempted at all without external supervision.

Fortunately, Safespace doesn’t have the feel of a platform that will be with us for very long, or challenge the major social networks for pre-eminence. But the mere fact of such a site’s launch is sufficiently alarming that we must take note.

Bear in mind that one of the key reasons why heavily moderated, anti free speech platforms are not challenging more aggressively for market share is because the big beasts – particularly Facebook – are choosing to respond to pressure to deal with cyberbullying in almost as draconian a way.

These are the options currently presented to users who want to report something on Facebook which they find to be offensive:

Facebook Report Post - Anti Free Speech

Note the third option – “It goes against my views” – which is now legitimate grounds to report someone else’s post as being offensive and deserving of removal from Facebook.

It can be tempting to make light of sites like Camsurf Safespace, regarding them as a sheltered playground for children, unrepresentative of the mainstream. But when the world’s pre-eminent social network treats its users in the exact same way, it is no laughing matter.

Cyberbullying is a real and concerning phenomenon where it occurs. But the idea of a fully grown, mentally capable adult being “bullied” is absurd, as are these incremental but damaging steps toward regulating and monitoring all of our online interactions to ensure that we are using the internet “safely”.

 

Safe Space Notice - 2

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

The Daily Toast: Don’t Exploit The Paris Attacks To Increase Surveillance

Surveillance State - Britain - UK - Paris Attacks

Demands for more government surveillance in response to the Paris terror attacks are crass, opportunistic and pointless

It’s very rare for this blog to agree with a Guardian editorial, but the newspaper’s stance on the proper response to the latest terrorist atrocity in Paris contains a lot of sense*.

For a start, there is none of the Western self-flagellation that grips too much of the Corbynite Left, and the absence of this equivocation is refreshing in itself (but then ever since their decision to back Yvette Cooper over Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election, the Guardian’s left wing idealism has seemed more affected than deeply held).

And on the need to avoid using the Paris attacks as permission to ratchet up the surveillance state, the Guardian is absolutely correct:

In Britain, there will be some who see Theresa May’s new investigatory powers bill in a more urgent light after Paris. But unless and until the evidence shows that bulk surveillance would have made a difference in that dreadful scenario, the argument remains where it was. And our starting point is still that mass surveillance of all of us is neither necessary nor effective.

When the intelligence agencies are looking for a needle in a haystack, they shouldn’t be adding more hay. When they need to spy on an individual or group, they should seek – and they will usually get – the legal warrant to do so. And, in case it needs repeating, European societies do not defend their values when they turn on their Muslim fellow citizens – on the contrary, they violate those values.

This is exactly right, and a welcome counternote to the blind panic currently spilling from the keyboards of other commentators such as Dan Hodges. While one can understand individuals – particularly those actually caught up in the attacks – being led by emotion and willingly sacrificing everything for the false promise of greater security, those people who make public policy or influence public opinion should be more careful with their thoughts and words.

As the Guardian rightly points out, it is for the intelligence services (and their willing cheerleaders in the media) to conclusively prove that harvesting more bulk data would have prevented the Paris attacks from happening. If they really want to shift the status quo and treat every citizen as guilty until proving innocent by keeping a record of their communications, they must prove that the lack of this data is what allowed the eight attackers to slip through the net. And they can prove no such thing, because even if some of their communications were swept up in bulk collection along with everyone else’s, they cannot prove – or even plausibly claim – that they would have known to look for that data in the giant haystack of data.

The problem with our current national security state is not that it lacks sufficient powers over us, but that we lack sufficient power over it. Citing “national security concerns” now seems to be enough to win the argument for more surveillance on its own, and the intelligence services have grown both lazy and entitled, expecting governments to grant their every request even when they fail to construct a convincing case for them. Just as President Eisenhower presciently warned of the military-industrial complex, so we must be wary of the national security state – which has now become so big that it has taken on a life of its own, with priorities and ambitions that go beyond their original, limited remit.

This would be bad enough if it worked, but the awkward truth is that we will never achieve the perfectly secure state. Realising this, we must understand that responding to every new barbaric terrorist attack by ratcheting up the same surveillance state which failed to prevent it represents a colossal failure of imagination on our part. Glenn Greenwald likes to make the comparison with road safety – we do not insist on draconian new road safety legislation such as a 20mph speed limit every time we see a road fatality, because we accept that a degree of risk comes with the freedom to drive.

As this blog commented after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, warning of the dangers of government overreaction:

The harms that would be inflicted in order to achieve absolute safety are the very same harms that David Cameron intends to inflict upon Britain in his panicked, servile submission to the demands of the national security and intelligence chiefs. The only way to achieve absolute safety is through absolute surveillance – and zero privacy. Stepping out onto a London street totally certain in the knowledge that you will come to no harm would require us to become North Korea.

Ultimately, the only way to make us safer is to reduce the number of people living among us or dwelling overseas who wish to rain death and destruction upon us. That does not – repeat, does not – mean appeasing them, admitting that they have a point, or accepting the legitimacy of their sick and evil ideology. But it does mean accepting some fundamental truths that we prefer to overlook in our righteous fury, as I pointed out after Charlie Hebdo.

Those who think that the way to prevent the next attack is by granting government yet more power to spy on our actions and regulate what we say would apparently be content to live in a society where a small, nihilistic minority hate us and wish us harm, but whose attempts to kill us are always thwarted by an omnipotent security and intelligence apparatus. I do not wish to live in such a state, and nor do I think that such a scenario should be our highest aspiration. We can do better than that.

In the shocked aftermath of these reprehensible terrorist attacks in Paris, some would have the authorities start to construct their very own North Korea right here in England’s green and pleasant land. They are motivated by an understandable fear, but our country will not be best served by acting on their gut instinct. Even when the advocates of the surveillance state mean well, we must oppose them.

* That’s not to say that the Guardian gets everything right. Determined to push their pro-EU agenda at all times, the article keeps banging on about “European values” as though our common revulsion at the killing and maiming of innocent people in Paris somehow means that the national cultures of Britain, France, Portugal, Greece and Poland are more or less identical, and ripe for further political integration. This much is nonsense, but does not detract from the overall thrust of the piece.

President Dwight Eisenhower - Military Industrial Complex

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

Paris Terror Attacks: More Government Surveillance Is Not The Answer

The surveillance state did not prevent Madrid, the 7/7 London bombings, Ottawa, Charlie Hebdo or the 13 November Paris attacks. Ramping it up yet further will not guarantee our safety either – but giving the intelligence services and their media apologists everything that they want will undoubtedly erode our freedom and change our way of life for the worse

In the early hours of 14 November, in the immediate aftermath of the appalling  and barbaric terrorist attacks in Paris, this blog wearily pointed out the well-worn sequence of events which would inevitably follow:

Day 0: Expressions of shock, sorrow, anger and solidarity

Day +1: Insistence that now is a time for mourning, not asking difficult questions about how or why the atrocities were committed

Day +1, later: The first difficult questions are asked, particularly of the government and security services

Day +2: The intelligence services dust off their wishlist of draconian new powers, and strongly hint that if only they already had these powers, the attack could have been avoided

Day +3: The official narrative is established – “we will defeat this terror by giving our intelligence services the tools they need, and making radical or hateful speech illegal”

So far, things are running like clockwork. We are certainly very good at the sorrow and solidarity phase of our response. Facebook timelines have been a sea of people updating their profile pictures to display the French tricolour (and, to a lesser extent, the inevitable virtue-signalling pedants inexplicably criticising them for doing so). Day +1 followed the normal pattern.

Day +2 is when we usually hear the first whispers of criticism about the intelligence services, when the identities of some of the attackers are revealed and it turns out that in many cases, they were operating under our noses undetected for some time. This is just starting to happen now – though it is being drowned out somewhat by criticism of Europe’s muddled borders and asylum policy, as it was reported that one of the attackers had a Syrian passport and entered Europe in Greece as a refugee.

And while it is slightly too early for the intelligence services themselves to come out and start agitating for new powers, this has not stopped some of their media cheerleaders from getting the ball rolling. We are officially still in that interregnum period after an attack when it is considered unseemly or inappropriate to have a real discussion about why the attacks happened, but there is an exception to this rule when it comes to demanding more surveillance powers for the state.

And climbing through this loophole today is Dan Hodges, writing before he thinks and letting his fear cloud any judgement or sense of proportion:

If we are serious in our expression of sympathy and solidarity, if we are serious about confronting those men who lined up the disabled patrons of the Bataclan and then gunned them down, then we must act. We must expand the same collective energy we utilise proclaiming “Je suis Paris” demanding concrete action. Or at least, not demanding inaction.

In the coming weeks the government’s surveillance bill will be passing through the Commons. If we truly believe in standing in solidarity with Paris, we must let it pass. We must demand it passes.

I’m surprised – I didn’t think we would see these calls for more unchecked government surveillance until the start of the new week. But hats off to Dan Hodges – by publicly freaking out in his newspaper column and calling for the Investigatory Powers Bill to be passed, he has opened the door for Theresa May, David Cameron and a parade of GCHQ ex-chiefs to hit the TV studios and make the same demands.

Of course, what Dan fails to do is explain how new government surveillance powers a) would have prevented the Paris attacks of 13 November, or b) might realistically prevent any such attack in future. And if you pushed him, I doubt that he could explain the scope of current surveillance laws in any detail, or describe the ways that the British security services currently do or do not make use of those powers.

Dan is (understandably) frightened following the Paris attacks. And when people are scared it is natural to demand more security, to insist that the authorities wrap us all in cotton wool, kill the Bad People, do anything to alleviate the gut-wrenching fear that next time it might be the concert hall that we attend, or our local neighbourhood restaurant in the line of fire. And that’s quite understandable from the perspective of a private individual, only concerned for their own immediate safety.

But coming from one of the most prominent, respected political commentators in the country, it is downright irresponsible. Everyone is entitled to have their own private freakout behind closed doors when civilisation is shaken – as Paris was – by Islamist barbarism. But what is unacceptable is taking to your keyboard whilst you are in that fearful state, and using your national profile to give the government carte blanche to do whatever it likes in the name of national security.

Paris Attacks - Military

Clamouring for the government to pass the snooper’s charter (the Investigatory Powers Bill) is not a wise and considered response to the Paris attacks, and neither is it a moral one – particularly when you cannot point to a single measure in the bill which would have prevented the horrific carnage we witnessed on Friday.

Spiked magazine sums up the illiberal measures contained in the bill:

The draft of the bill, published last Wednesday, sets out new and draconian powers allowing the security services to monitor, access and store our online communications data: IT and comms companies would be required to store information on the websites we visit for up to 12 months, and release them to the state when required; intelligence agencies would be given legal authority to hack into communications and bulk-harvest metadata; and the ability of companies like Apple and Google to encrypt individuals’ messages – putting their content beyond the reach of themselves and the spooks – will be severely curtailed.

Home secretary Theresa May has been quick to talk down the measures. She insists that the data retrieved from your web history is no more than a ‘shopping list’ of the sites you visit, rather than individual pages – a fine and utterly meaningless distinction. And while there has been much talk of the ‘safeguards’ guaranteed by the IPB, with judicial commissioners required to approve requests for interception warrants and wire taps, these are little more than formalities. Judges will only be able to reject Home Office requests on the principles of judicial review; as backbench Tory MP David Davis pointed out, ‘This is not the judge checking the evidence, it is the judge checking that the correct procedure has been followed’.

If Dan Hodges had ‘smoking gun’ evidence that the eight Paris attackers and their network of accomplices made extensive use of unbreakable encryption to plan their crime, or that the intelligence services always suspected the attackers but were constrained by law from keeping them under closer surveillance, then he would have the beginnings of an argument.

But Hodges has no such evidence. Instead, he wants to use the deaths of scores of innocent people to empower the government to keep us all under surveillance, all the time. He makes no proposal as to how the security services might pick out the terrorist needles in this new haystack of intelligence were they to gain access to it, and no idea of the trade-offs between combing through the communications of the entire citizenry rather than focusing on known threats.

Worse still, he is so unconcerned with the potential consequences for privacy and freedom that he doesn’t even bother to address them in his article. And still Dan Hodges feels qualified to tell civil liberties defenders that they are wrong, and to clamour for more government intrusion in our lives.

Clamouring for Parliament to pass the snooper’s charter two days after a horrific terrorist attack in Paris isn’t brave or level-headed – it is a response borne of fear. When we are afraid, our time horizon shrinks to zero and we are concerned only with avoiding immediate danger. If we believe we are in imminent danger of being shot or blown up, we would likely hand over a great deal of our future freedom to avoid that fate. But this instinct – which may be essential for an animal in the wild – is entirely inappropriate for citizens living in a modern democracy.

France - Mass Surveillance - Protest

When making laws and empowering the machinery of state, we need to consider not just the threats of today and the people who will wield those powers today, but also what threats may exist tomorrow and who will wield those powers when David Cameron, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are no more than names in a history book. We have a duty to our children and descendants to think about the type of country and world we want them to inhabit when we shape the laws of today.

Unfortunately, ramping up the surveillance state at the expense of the right to privacy and civil liberties fails both tests – it does not provide a convincing response to the threats of tomorrow, and it takes no account of who might try to wield those powers for their own ends in the future.

Terrorists are smart – when attacking the secure West, rarely do they try the same strategy twice. Thus, since 11 September 2001 we have gone from airplane hijackers armed with not much more than boxcutters to shoe bombs, liquid bombs and surface-to-air missiles. Our own intelligence services, to whom Dan Hodges wants to grant sweeping new powers, are usually one step behind. Thus, although the guardians of our safety were never smart enough to think of these risks before they were tried by terrorists, we are still constrained in the liquids we can take on airplanes, and have our shoes checked for explosives before we fly. In fact, modern airport security theatre as a whole reads like a “lessons learned” list of all the cock-ups and clangers of forty years of intelligence failures, with almost no discernible foresight or forward thinking.

So it will be with any new surveillance measures. Technology changes so rapidly that any law passed today will almost certainly be obsolete in a decade, while terrorists will immediately adapt and stop using monitored channels. Human ingenuity will always defeat the clunking fist of government, because it always does. So granting the government the power to monitor who we talk to, go through our emails and hack our smartphones will only infringe on the freedoms of the law-abiding; the terrorists will simply find new technologies or revert to tried-and-tested analogue techniques.

As for the leaders of tomorrow, the thought of a future Prime Minister Theresa May is frightening enough. But what is to say that in a couple of decades, if we do not properly grapple with the scourge of terrorism or in the wake of a future economic crisis, a far more extreme politician may come to power? And if they do, how glad they will be that our present government – cheered on by people like Dan Hodges – passed laws like the Investigatory Powers Bill, granting the state the tools and the legal cover to do as they please.

Again: having these fears and wanting government to provide safety is a perfectly understandable instinctive reaction to terrorist horror, coming from a private citizen. But government will happily assume new powers forever if they are freely offered up by the people, and so newspaper columnists should know better than to provide intellectual and emotional cover in the wake of an atrocity.

I admire Dan Hodges enormously as a writer and commentator on left-wing politics, but these latest irresponsible comments – invoking the image of massacred disabled concertgoers at a Paris theatre to cheerlead for the expansion of the surveillance state – cannot go unchallenged.

Jean Jullien - Peace for Paris - Paris Attacks

Bottom Image: Peace for Paris, by Jean Jullien

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.