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Archive for the ‘Big Brother’ Category

Riot narrative heading in wrong direction

with 15 comments

Ill considered words and gestures ramping up repression

It’s OK talking and acting tough if you are getting results that matter to the rest of us, but David Cameron’s performance in the House of Commons yesterday, whilst good for his own authority as PM, does not portend well if he actually means what he says.

The overall impression that Cameron saved the country from burning down by returning from holiday early might look great to some but there is a lot of discomfort behind the headlines. Talking of tracking down and punishing the rioters would be fine if that is what he actually meant, the courts so far have sent out very mixed signals with some lenient sentences and some heavier sentences, but what is apparent is the lust of ordinary people up and down the country to lock young people away and throw away the key. Cameron latched on to this as he abandoned his “hug a hoodie” attitude promising jail terms for those convicted of involvement in the riots and looting, yet surely what we really need to see is armies of strictly supervised young people working at least 40 hours per week in their communities putting right the damage that they have caused. Surely this will have more productive long term benefits than locking them away for foolishly stealing bottled water, in six months some of them may even be on their way towards learning a skill or a trade!

Cameron talked of legislating to increase the sentences available to magistrates, instead of thinking about toughening up referral orders where offenders may only be required to work a few hours per week in the community, and what did he mean by a review of dispersal rules to give a “wider power of curfew”? Something which perhaps might be a terrible burden on the innocent and unaffected. He made pretty overt and open criticism of the Met Police’s failure to deal with the initial outbreak of violence in Tottenham, perhaps unfairly without first praising the bravery of the individual officers who faced that first unruly mob, and it is already coming back to bite him as sections of the police feel rather slighted and Sir Hugh Orde rounded on politicians and the Home Secretary in particular.

On taking office as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher immediately had the police on side with a 40% pay increase, David Cameron does not have that advantage, he faced increasing frustration in the House of Commons yesterday over future police budgets and this argument is now spreading into the wider public forum, his only counter balance is to offer more powers to the police which always carries the risk of repressive policy which does not convey the “consensual policing” that many regard as the cornerstone of British law enforcement. Talking of closing down or restricting the services of certain social networking sites is dangerous and unnecessary,  it is not the services at fault it is the users. Conservative MP Louise Mensch has waded in with this:

“Common sense. If riot info and fear is spreading by Facebook & Twitter, shut them off for an hour or two, then restore. World won’t implode,”

Yet we baulk at the suggestions that other countries such as Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or China take such oppressive action to censor the internet, those few small hours certainly would represent the thin end of the wedge and lead us down a darker path! Paradoxically it might even prevent the emergence of real community spirit evidence by the “broom army” in London. The whole concept of censorship and the choking of information is not something that I welcome, it is inherently not the British way and will damage good journalism (and yes we have to acknowledge that some of the news coverage fed the ambitions of the rioting crowds for a couple of days) resourceful journalist made very good use of Twitter to get around London, Manchester, and Birmingham to cover events and some of their stories and pictures have led to the identification of suspects and consequent arrests.

So we heard a few knee jerk reactions yesterday, the dust is settling, the politicians can resume their holidays, the magistrates will continue to confound, but has this emergency session of Parliament really changed the game? Well, yes it did a little, but not for the common good.

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Written by curly

August 12, 2011 at 10:44 am

Phone Hacking

with 48 comments

“To listen to your messages press 1

To listen to your messages again press 2

To save your messages press 3

To delete your messages press 4

To allow an investigator to delete your message press 5

To send your messages to a newspaper press 6”

It should not take you long to decide NOT to have this newspaper in your home this weekend!

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Written by curly

July 6, 2011 at 8:01 am

So, your neighbour is a Muslim?

with 24 comments

Ever thought of getting to know them a little better?

Regular readers here will know that for some time I have been very concerned at how “The War Against Terror”, and the attendant changes in anti terror legislation introduced during the Blair/Brown era, affected the way we viewed ourselves, our civil liberties, and the way in which we approached others within our communities. I have to report that in South Shields, at least, the more general fears and stereotypical views about the followers of Islam have not been realised, although there have been a very few isolated incidents reported in the local press.

I have often criticised in this blog, the apparent failure of government to adhere to its own principles that terrorism would not alter the way of British life, government itself has managed to achieve that by regulating, legislating, monitoring, spying, and gradually eroding many of our centuries old civil liberties that we often take for granted. Following on from the major outrages of 9/11 and 7/7 government has managed to introduce an illogical sense of fear about Muslims in our communities and allowed sections of the press and media to highlight the most extreme extreme examples of expression from teachings and preachings to public demonstrations, yet in the majority of British communities, and most certainly here in South Shields, there is very little evidence at all to support these fears.

We have lived side by side with Muslims in our locality for over two hundred years here, with descendants of Yemenis and more recently Bangladeshis, educated in our schools, working in our community, and generally being normal “Geordies” enriching our lives with an infusion of diversity and culture. I stated in a previous post that I will be writing a little more about our Muslim neighbours during June and July to try and bridge that gap of understanding which still exists, and I am meeting some people who are keen on reaching out into the wider community to help us gain that understanding about their cultural and religious beliefs.

We all need to appreciate, accept and respect each other’s beliefs and be able to come together in those areas where we all share a common path, it strengthens us as human beings, engages us, and challenges us to move forward with greater social integration. We have been blessed in South Tyneside with many years of social, cultural, and religious harmony, but the history of recent more international events risks alienating a section of our community which has done little to deserve suspicion on any level.

The video above is taken from an American website which has broadly the same aims, My Fellow American is also reaching out to bridge that divide, caused by ignorance, and build stronger local communities with greater social cohesion. Just because your neighbour may have a different coloured skin, or may occasionally dress differently, or wear a beard, or eat different meals to you is no reason to view him with a wary eye. We didn’t necessarily do this with those speaking in an Irish brogue in the 1970s did we?

As we approach Ramadam I will be introducing some members of the Muslim community here in South Shields who will talk about their experiences and share them with us, I hope you will find their stories fascinating, interesting, entertaining, and engaging.

I hope that it may encourage you to reach out and get to know your neighbour a little better.

It’s part of what being a Sanddancer is all about.

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Written by curly

June 8, 2011 at 10:05 am

Contact Point: Indies to “Grandstand”

with 8 comments

Motion to South Tyneside Council

Independent Alliance to debate Government database policy at South Tyneside Council

Well, in some respects I can understand where the political sympathies lie, and the general intention to think well of South Tyneside Council and its children’s services, but to bring a motion such as this to the full council is a wee bit frivolous and entirely outside of the remit of the council’s responsibilities.

The Contact Point database set up under the last government was bedevilled with problems and fears were expressed about its security and stability as long ago as August 2007 before it was being operated:

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ACDS) has written to officials outlining its “significant” concerns about the new system, called ContactPoint, The Times has learnt. Confusion over who is responsible for vetting users and policing the system “may allow a situation where an abuser could be able to access ContactPoint for illegitimate purposes with limited fear of any repercussions”, Richard Stiff, the chairman of the ADCS Information Systems and Technology Policy Committee, said….

“The enormous size of the database and the huge number of probable users inevitably increase the risks of accidental or inadvertent breaches of security, and of deliberate misuse of the data (eg, disclosure of an address with malign intent), which would be likely to bring the whole scheme into disrepute”, the Lords’ Select Committee on Merits of Statutory Instruments concluded.

The database designed to hold the personal details of 11 million children in England can continue to hold this information until the “child” is 25 years old if they are care leavers or have learning disabilities, way beyond the “protection” called for by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. A large number of criticisms relating to invasion of the individual’s privacy have been expressed since Contact Point started operating prompting calls for the new government to scrap it completely. The legislation which allows officials to collate and use individuals private details where they have “any areas of concern” has been accused of using “function creep” as the state’s intrusions into private life through covert surveillance continued under New Labour.

Not long after its launch this year The Daily Telegraph carried a report criticising its security and stability:

Contactpoint, the £224 million computer system designed to protect young people, is a “frustrating” database and not “user friendly” for local authorities, internal documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show….

One official, whose details were blacked out, reported to a supervisor: “It has been a frustrating time recently which recently culminated in a breach of the system.

“The system they are accessing is not stable, it took 15 minutes for John to get into it this morning.

“The process is not user friendly. Data is an issue locally, a lot of it doesn’t match up, especially addresses. There are also issues around what needs recording for each agency to get consistency.”

Such vulnerabilities in the system leave it open to abuse by those who it was designed to protect children from, and the report goes on to detail other security lapses and breeches which raise serious concerns about its usage.

However, my main issue here is not so much the national policy agenda for these “Big Brother databases”, but the role of our local council here in South Tyneside and the issues it should be debating as we attempt to ride out this recession and the effects of dealing with the structural budget deficit left by the last Labour government. Our local councillors ought to be debating local issues of concern to local people and leave the national policy agenda to the borough’s two Members of Parliament, that is after all, what we elected them to do. Surely the group of Independent Alliance councillors could have written to David Miliband and Stephen Hepburn expressing their concerns about Contact Point rather than tying up time at the full meeting of the borough council to allow certain members to “grandstand” their own policy positions. Unfortunately this is the type of “politics” that we have come to expect from this opposition grouping – lots of hot air and very little in the way of substance.

To substantiate that point can we remind them that :

The government is considering bringing back a version of the controversial Contact Point children’s database, just months after the original project was halted.

Tim Loughton, junior minister for children and families,  admitted, “We are exploring the practicality of an alternative national signposting service which would help practitioners find out whether a colleague elsewhere is working, or has previously worked, with the same vulnerable child.”
He added, “The approach would particularly take account of the needs of children who move between local authority areas or who access services in more than one local authority.

“Social workers in particular, and potentially other key services like the police or accident and emergency departments, may need this information very quickly. Any new approach would seek to strengthen communication between these areas.”

Not much need for this debate then, South Tyneside Council doesn’t operate the database nor can it change, evolve, reinstate, or renew it, perhaps we can get back to more local issues such as the level of council tax, economic regeneration, planning, or local schools policy.

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Written by curly

January 19, 2011 at 9:56 am

The Big Society

Is this just a euphemism for a privatised “Big Brother”?

Whilst I was happy to read of the demise of the national child database, as a sign that perhaps the coalition was earnest in its desires to sweep away illiberal poorly designed citizen databases, I was not amused to read about David Cameron’s ideas to use private companies to spy on the unemployed or the disabled.

Experian and Equifax have their place to help us build a credit history and provide banks and other financial institutions with the risk assessments necessary for making lending decisions, but there is no moral advantage in being used by the government to spy upon its citizens. The whole idea is repugnant and ought to be dropped as fast as possible. The “Big Society” is likely to very quickly become a privatised “Big Brother” with measures such as this which appear to have been filched from some old 1960s East German manual.

This is not what I would call a libertarian idea that a Conservative or a Liberal could proudly advocate.

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Written by curly

August 13, 2010 at 10:11 am

“Free” schools could be an advantage for the disadvantaged

with 4 comments

chainsCllr. Malcolm may be mistaken in directing South Tyneside’s Labour Council to oppose “academy schools”

I am a little dismayed that South Tyneside Council has decided to set it’s face against moves by some of our schools to seek academy “free” status and to seek full control for themselves over the finances, curriculum activities, management, style, and direction of their educational policies with full consultation and co-operation of their governors and parents. The exercise of choice by parents is something which Labour appears to want to challenge, and they may be in danger of blighting educational advance for pupils in some the more disadvantaged areas of the borough.

Whitburn is a prime example of a school already progressing well and wishing to push further to exceed the expectations of parents and pupils, and as Jennifer Beckles argues cogently in The Guardian (a newspaper which I am not in the habit of reading regularly enough) “free” schools set up in deprived areas could offer an improvement in morale, standards and ultimately educational achievement.

Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbott has raised these issues and spoken of the difficulties she faced in choosing a school for her son. But parental involvement in the creation of new schools could inspire other parents to get involved in school life and to engage meaningfully with their children’s education. Research shows that where this is the case, children achieve more. These types of schools are also more likely to understand and act on the issues that matter to parents.

Where there are knowledge or skills gaps, support could be gained from schemes such as the Future Leaders programme, a charitable trust which has a team of qualified school leaders trained in new school startups. Crucially, parent-created schools will help to break down the barriers between schools and families so that parents don’t feel intimidated when they walk into a school, or out of their depth in discussions with staff.

Some argue that free schools could lead to elitism as only certain types of families will want their children to attend. But if a free school is deliberately set up in a deprived area to help disadvantaged kids, how can this charge hold?

Despite the scheme being not too far removed from Labour’s academy ideas, it seems that some local parties, including South Tyneside’s have decided to take a political stand against the wishes and choices of parents, educationalists, and governing bodies, much to the discredit of local politicians. Indeed Labour’s South Tyneside leader Cllr. Iain Malcolm has taken to task one of the governors of Whitburn school, former Labour councillor Shirley Stratford who has been summarily sacked from her position as a school governor, where she was supporting the wishes of the teaching staff and the parents. By warning that any other LEA governors who wish to support parents and teachers in setting up “free academy schools” will also be removed from their positions Cllr. Malcolm is making it perfectly plain that he is looking for a fight with parents and forward looking teachers.

Shame on him, he has, with this stance, formed and moulded a political football, and the education of our children deserves the chance to prosper and flourish in new environments free from external influence, and not be kicked around by local political minions in a Labour Party devoid of national direction! I fear that the governors of Harton Technology College in South Shields and St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive in Hebburn may also come in for some “special treatment” from brother Malcolm.

One hopes that as the coalition government rolls out it’s plans for a council tax freeze that Cllr. Malcolm doesn’t play Big Brother in big boots to force local Labour councillors to oppose that too!

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Written by curly

July 22, 2010 at 8:06 pm

New government only provides new management of torture

with one comment

Classified documents reveal no real libertarian intents

So David Miliband, the South Shields MP, may well continue to feel some heat over the last Labour government’s position on torturing our own citizens and “rendering” them to third countries where the real question remains whether “detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation”, but today’s article in the Guardian also reveals that despite Clegg and Cameron making all sorts of sweet sounds about liberal free thinking principles, in reality the status quo will be maintained.

Cameron also made clear that the sort of material that has so far been made public with the limited disclosure in the Guantánamo cases would be kept firmly under wraps during the inquiry. “Let’s be frank, it is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret,” he said. “So any intelligence material provided to the inquiry panel will not be made public and nor will intelligence officers be asked to give evidence in public.”

Right, let’s keep everything under wraps in case we are seen to be collaborating in various methods of torture, which historically have produced poor questionable evidence as those suffering are prepared to say whatever is required of them in order to escape the physical and mental pain and anguish. Surely as a liberal western democracy we are above these ridiculous medieval inquisitions, we surely have the intelligence resources and technologies to gather evidence without resorting to such sub human methods. To treat people in a manner as bad as that used to experiment on rodents in pursuit of the perfect lipstick is an anachronism which we all should condemn.

It (the coalition government) also wishes to preserve what it calls “liaison relationships” – operational links with overseas intelligence agencies, including those known to use torture – on the grounds that they are a vital part of the country’s counter terrorism strategy.

Vital? Oh really?
Perhaps that’s why they are embarking on a programme of seeking mediation with those British subjects who have suffered at the hands of brutal operatives in third countries and who have yet to face any real charges under British law, or even find themselves convicted.

The protection of the status quo does nothing at all to improve our reputation in the rendition business, nor anything at all to improve the perception that the new government is simply failing to manage the policy makers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Change of government = change of managers, not change of policy!

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Written by curly

July 15, 2010 at 6:48 pm