Best thing I have ever read in the Guardian

This.

The public should be invited to reject the politics of fear, that sees life as a perpetual terror of what might happen and a perpetual investigation of what has. It should not be asked to regard every child as a victim and every adult a paedophile, a terrorist or a mass murderer. The government should stop spending stupid amounts of money on a security lobby now running amok through the public sector.

There is no such thing as safe. There is only safer, and safer can require the greater watchfulness that comes with taking risks, witness new theories of road safety. Removing risk lowers the protective instinct of individuals and communities, and paradoxically leaves them in greater danger. But there is no government agency charged with averting that danger. There is no money in it.

Magnificent.

AJ

Blamestorming

As is the way, the brewing twatterstorm is getting round to the grisly business of apportioning blame for the situation Paul Chambers finds himself in. The invisible finger seems to be alighting up on Kier Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, head of the Crown Prosecution service.

There are so many points at which discretion and common sense could have prevailed. The police. The CPS. The judge.

It didn’t prevail.

Clearly, then, the police, the CPS and the judge are all implicated. But if you dig down and ask why they behaved in the way they did, I’m pretty sure you’ll find government targets and directives at the bottom of it all.

The police, the CPS and the courts were strongly encouraged to pursue this matter, and can only, at the end of the day, be accused of acting in their own understandable self-interest, in applying the law as it is written.

So we come down to two points:

  • Bad law, drafted and passed into law by the Labour government.
  • Target driven pursuit of prosecutions, under whatever laws may apply, bad or not.

So, if you support Paul Chambers and share my horror and disgust at his plight, but you voted Labour last week, you really need to stand back and re-evaluate what it was you voted for.

AJ

In these troubled times

… is a catch all excuse for jackbooted authoritarianism. Whether it’s harassing photographers, or criminalising hyperbole.

The judge who found Paul Chambers guilty today said this:

A district judge at Doncaster Magistrates Court ruled today the Tweet was "of a menacing nature in the context of the times in which we live".

Which basically means that, because of a rag-bag of bearded lunatics, everything we ALL say is subject to strict controls.

Ergo, this judge (District Judge Bennett apparently) is doing the bidding of Islamic extremists who seek to disrupt our society and our justice system.

Paul Chambers is a victim of the appallingly misconceived attitude that characterises the UK’s official response to domestic terrorism.

It’s truly frightening.

Calling Thomas Jefferson:

When the government fears the people, there is liberty.  When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.

I don’t think we can be in any doubt that right now, there is tyranny.

AJ

Harriet Harman Arrested for Refusing Heathrow Body Scanner

Earlier, we were alerted that:

image

So the latest news comes as no surprise.

Mindful of recent coverage, Ms Harman became agitated when asked to proceed into the body scanner. She expressed her insistence that she be monitored by a female operative.

When the Heathrow security chief explained that there were no female operatives on shift, due to widespread maternity leave, The Leader of the House of Commons began to stab furiously at her Blackberry, sending an update to her Equality Bill.

The scene became ugly when security officers explained that the scanner was nonetheless mandatory. Harman flew into a frothing rage.

As she was handcuffed and lead away, she yelled, “I will not my scanned by any Man or any Tory.”

Her press officer later said, “She’s Harriet Harman, you know where to find her.”

Wormwood Scrubs refused to release contact information.

Sigh… Fridays.

Personally, I think it was a missed opportunity to get a flap-shot for her autobiography.

AJ

Body Scanners: What could possibly go wrong

No need for a question mark at the end of that statement.

Our movements by air are subject to mandatory body-scans, which are intrusive, an invasion of privacy and a health risk.

Now this:

image

Jo Margetson, 29, reported John Laker, 25, after he took her picture with the X-ray gadget and made a lewd comment.

The pervy guard leered and told her: "I love those gigantic t**s."

She had entered the X-ray machine by mistake – and was horrified when Laker pressed a button to take a revealing photo.

Laker, who faces the sack, was the first airport worker to be caught abusing the controversial new devices.

You mean the ones who did this weren’t caught?

Over to Alex Deane:

Barrister Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: "When privacy-invading machines are installed at our airports, abuses like this are inevitable.

"We are disturbed to hear of this case, which will lead to greater calls for these scanners to be banned.

"For every official caught ogling like this, there are plenty more eyeing up law-abiding travellers. These expensive machines are totally disproportionate."

Quite.

AJ

#twitterarrest #helppaulchambers Update

image

Thursday it is then.

I guess (iAnal) it can go three ways now.

  1. The judge can reject the motion to change the plea to not-guilty and go on to sentencing.
  2. The judge can accept the motion and declare that there is no case to answer.
  3. The judge can accept the motion and set a trial date in front of twelve men good and true.

Probably the best result all round is option (2) and I expect that’s what Paul Chambers is hoping for (I would be), but option (3) would (one would hope) make South Yorks Police, the CPS and the government look very stupid indeed. Sadly, it would be unlikely to get underway until after the election.

So fingers crossed for Mr Chambers and cheers to the above iconised twatterist for keeping us updated.

AJ

Bits & bobs

Just a few things I’ve happened upon today, that I can’t be bothered to construct full posts about.

Someone called Matt Flaherty has written a letter to the CPS expressing concern about the Paul Chambers #twitterarrest case. It  very nicely articulates the concerned raised by the choice of path the CPS has taken in this instance. Sadly, since Mr Chambers has already pleaded guilty, it’s too little too late. As an expression of all that’s wrong with this case, though, it’s a fine piece of writing & I commend it to you.

Many years ago, I used to frequent a web forum, where a chap once boasted how he’d secretly videoed himself shagging various women, by using a hidden camera. A free-for-all ensued and debate was split along the lines of “get in there, good lad – hope you caught the money shots” and “err – that’s certainly immoral and probably illegal – you’re a fucking sleezebag, mate”. This, would have been somewhere between 2002-2004, I guess (I couldn’t find the thread in 2 hours of searching last night), but I was reminded of it when I read this item, about a bloke who has just been jailed, having been rumbled for precisely this activity.

Mad Mel nails The Tories’ hopey-changey-wishy-washy bullshitfest with aplomb.

In spite of Tory optimism that their marginal seats strategy is mitigating the nationwide narrowing of the polls, YouGov have a poll of 60 key marginals, showing that the gap in the marginals is 2% too.

The Jon Venables thing continues to rumble. The beying of the general pubelick continues to grow in pitch and amplitude. #bbcqt last night was awash with it (Will Self here). It is, though, annoying to think that, if the papers are right, Venables has been habitually flouting various of the conditions of his licensed release. Robert Thompson is still at liberty. Do you have a dysfunctional Scouse loner with a sketchy background in your workplace? Renting a flat from you? In your bed? Have you checked under your bed for monsters and trolls? Meanwhile, Venable is getting another new identity after his ID was rumbled at the prison he’s in.

Bit of a contradiction here:

image

Which one is it? I think we all know. I’ve suffered these bi-weekly collections for a couple of years now and they are a fucking joke in half a dozen different ways.

Incidentally, they’re installing RFID chips in bins again. Look for a circular black plastic thing, recently inserted in the underside of the front lip of your wheelie bin. Remove. Microwave for 2 minutes. Reinsert.

Brown’s in front of the Chilcot inquiry today. Outcome likely to be, “meh – he got away with it again.”

I’ve added the Big Brother Watch site to my blogroll, because, if I’ve nothing to say on any particular day, it’s usually because they’ve already said it with aplomb.

The Met office are to stop issuing seasonal forecasts, because they’re shit at it. Presumably, this will give them more time to spend cooking their global warming datasets.

This took a while to float back to the surface.

[Airline Bomb Plotter] Ali’s wife has also been charged under anti-terror laws for allegedly failing to inform authorities of the plot. However, she strongly asserts her innocence.

She’s just been cleared after a 3 week trial. Good.

More crap anon.

AJ

Well, it took 3 weeks

From this:

image

to this:

image

A MUSLIM woman was barred from boarding a flight to Pakistan after refusing to go through a new ‘naked’ full-body scanner at Manchester Airport on religious grounds.

Her companion also declined to be scanned for ‘medical reasons’.

The women were travelling together to Islamabad when they were selected to pass through the controversial security screen after checking-in at Terminal 2.

Both told airport staff they were not willing to be scanned. They were warned they would not be allowed to board the Pakistan International Airlines flight if they refused.

The pair decided they would rather forfeit their £400 tickets and left the airport with their luggage.

They are the first to refuse to pass through the £80,000 scanner, introduced by the government at Heathrow and Manchester airports last month.

The X-ray machines allow security staff to see a ‘naked’ image of passengers to show up hidden weapons and explosives.

Manchester Airport confirmed the passengers had refused to be scanned but said it had received no complaint from the women.

And what did I say last month?

So Muslims who wish to observe this Islamic ruling will be barred from free passage.

Human Rights Act. Game, set & match.

Here we go then…

Test case
However, civil liberties campaigners say the incident could form the basis of a legal test case to challenge the use of the Rapiscan device in airports.

Alex Deane, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the organisation would represent the women if they wished to challenge the decision in court.

He said: “People shouldn’t have to sacrifice their health, their faith, their dignity, or their privacy in order to fly.

“People with health and religious concerns shouldn’t be forced to go through these scanners if they have good reason not to. Foolishly, the government has ignored both issues and ignored privacy concerns to boot – they are in the wrong on this.”

There is one Rapiscan scanner in use in a trial at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2, which has seen 15,000 people pass through it. A further two devices – one each for Terminals one and three – have been delivered and are set to be operational within the next month.

The scanners have been criticised by the human rights group Liberty and also the government’s own Equality and Human Rights Commission.

But the powers-that-be have been quick to offer reassurances:

“Body scanning is a big change for customers and we are aware that privacy concerns are on our customers’’ minds, which is why we have put strict procedures in place to reassure them that their privacy will be protected.”

Oh yeah? Like Indian film star Shahrukh Khan – whose privacy was protected impeccably at Heathrow recently?

That’s okay, then.

AJ

#twitterarrest takes a very nasty turn

You may remember the case of Paul Chambers, who I wrote about here  in 18th January.

image

It was reported at the time that Paul had been bailed until 11th February. When that date came and went, having shit to do, I assumed he’d had a ‘no further action’ letter. Not so.

image

This is important:

He was arrested on suspicion of communicating a bomb hoax after a post on the website about blowing up the airport was reported to police.

But charged with something quite different:

South Yorkshire Police said: “A 26-year-old Doncaster man has been charged with sending by public communications network a message that was grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.”

Enter lawyer (spit!) Jack of Kent, who gives this case a bit of scrutiny and senses an injustice in the offing that could have broad and potentially devastating implications for all internet users in the UK – everyone from swear-bloggers and twitter-trolls to green-ink emailers.

I’ve abridged this, but I urge you to read the whole thing.

image

And so, if there has to be an offence of making bomb hoaxes – a legitimate incursion into the right of free expression – it seems that the 1977 Act strikes the right balance with its onerous requirement on the prosecution before any defendant can incur criminal liability.

Paul Chambers was duly arrested in January by South Yorkshire police on suspicion of communicating a bomb hoax under the 1977 Act; the police confirmed: “[t]he arrest relates to alleged threats about Robin Hood Airport discovered on a social networking website”.

Do note that word “threats” here as it indicates – at this point – the seriousness of the apparent offence, at least in the eyes of the police.  The police then added: “[t]he Force take such misuse of these sites seriously and will take robust action to deal with those who choose to use them in such a way as to cause unnecessary alarm and distress to members of the public.”

Of course, no alarm or distress – let alone “unnecessary alarm of distress” – had been caused whatsoever.  The silly joke had been reported to the police and the airport by a third party; it would appear that no one who saw the tweet regarded it as serious.  The airport later confirmed no inconvenience had been caused, other than in respect of the investigation.  Notwithstanding their worthy press statements, South Yorkshire Police were beginning to look very foolish indeed.

Nonetheless, Paul Chambers was placed on bail.  A further police statement said:

“There was huge public and media interest in this case. Whilst the investigation and collation of evidence was straightforward, due to the wide-spread interest in the use of Twitter in this way, the case was referred to CPS to make the decision on disposal. Based on this “public interest test” it was not appropriate for police to make this decision.
“The CPS themselves could have decided on a caution, but based on the evidence and the public interest they decided to charge in this case, a decision that the police feel is appropriate.”

The CPS did not decide on a caution; they decided to charge.

Errr … What? Hold on – it’s about to get a whole lot worse – for you, me and all.

And, curiously and importantly, this statement did not mention what Paul Chambers was to be charged with.

The CPS had decided to charge him, but not with the offence which Parliament actually legislated for in the 1977 Act, which would require them showing evidence of Paul Chambers intending others to believe there was a bomb hoax.

Instead the CPS decided to charge him under the little-known – and in many ways worrying – offence under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.  The 1977 Act, with its protection for defendants, was effectively side-stepped.

Okay, so… no problem – we know not to make daft bomb jokes – we have to treat the whole world like the security area of an airport. Ho fucking hum.

But no – it’s much worse than that.

The next police statement said: “[a] 26-year-old Balby man has been charged with sending, by a public communications network, a message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.”

The relevant portions of section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

(1)            A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a)           sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or

(b)           causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

 

(2)           A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—

(a)           sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,

(b)           causes such a message to be sent; or

(c)           persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.

(3)           A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.

Go on – read that again.

You can be charged for sending a message that is ‘grossly offensive’, ‘obscene or menacing character’ – or critically – “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he ‘sends … a message that he knows to be false’.”

And you can be sent down for six months or get a hefty fine. And we already know it doesn’t take much to be sent down for 6 months, these days.

Back to the eminent Mr Jack.

It can be inferred that Paul Chambers was prosecuted under section 127(1) – for sending a “menacing” message – not section 127(2), in respect of, say, causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another.

Now this is a different offence than for which Paul Chambers was arrested.

This 2003 provision is based on an earlier provision in the 1984 Telecommunications Act, which (in those pre-internet days) was intended to deal with nuisance telephone callers.

However, the broad definition of “public communications network” now means the offence covers the internet as much as a telephone call: and so it covers emails and internet postings of any kind.

Do read the rest of Jack’s treatment of the case. Including case law and an exchange with the CPS. He concludes:

It may well be that there should be legislation criminalising all internet-based messages of grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character, or sent for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to others, even if those messages are never received.

If so, this has clear importance beyond the Twitter “bomb hoax” of Paul Chambers.  It raises a fundamental question as to the relationship between the criminal law and the users of the internet.  And this question becomes urgent if, as in this case, a fairly broad attitude is taken by the CPS to what constitutes “menace” or one of the other elements of the section 127 offence.

But in the meantime, Paul Chambers has been convicted for an offence for which he was not arrested and for a “menace” he plainly did not intend to make, and nor was taken as such.  All this because there is a “public interest” in prosecuting him, even if the relevant offence does not apply.

It seems to me that an injustice is occurring; and, with the CPS’s new attitude to section 127, such injustices are likely to occur again.

Right. Tin-foil hat time.

Consider the possibility that, either before or because of this case, Harriet Harman, having arriving on Twitter, doubtless to howls of loathing, or Jack Straw, has had a word in the ear of Kier Starmer QC. He is head of the CPS and clearly left leaning. Now the likes of KerryMP have a nuclear option, which they’re perfectly vindictive enough to activate.

It’s pretty clear that we’re heading for a dirty election campaign, so I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of the most effective and/or successfully antagonistic right wing bloggers, commenters and tweeters had a knock on the door one morning, with all that follows – in particular, confiscation of all your computer gear and phones, an arrest under s.127(2) and a bail date just after the election.

Jahomstradamus has spoken.

Chambers was granted unconditional bail until the sentencing hearing at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court on 12 March.

A date for my diary.

AJ

A joke, surely?

Via Twatter: #twitterarrest

image

Ready for this?

When heavy snowfall threatened to scupper Paul Chambers’s travel plans, he decided to vent his frustrations on Twitter by tapping out a comment to amuse his friends. “Robin Hood airport is closed,” he wrote. “You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

Obviously a statement of grave intent. Not.

Unfortunately for Mr Chambers, the police didn’t see the funny side. A week after posting the message on the social networking site, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and questioned for almost seven hours by detectives who interpreted his post as a security threat. After he was released on bail, he was suspended from work pending an internal investigation, and has, he says, been banned from the Doncaster airport for life.

Think about that.

On 13 January, after apparently receiving a tip-off from a member of the public, police arrived at Mr Chambers’ office.

A week after a comment was posted on Twitter. Pigs turn up at your workplace. After a tip-off by a member of the public total fucking cunt. You’re arrested, DNA taken, interrogated for 7 hours and suspended from your job. Oh and they’ve got your laptop, your PC and your phone.

He has been bailed until 11 February, when he will be told whether or not he will be charged with conspiring to create a bomb hoax. In the interim, detectives have confiscated his iPhone, laptop and home computer.

You may be familiar with the feeling of dread one experiences on wondering if that speed camera you only saw at the last minute got you. 14 days to wait until you know one way or the other.

For all you know, the comment that’s going to see you arrested tomorrow is a throw-away remark you posted last Tuesday. Have you called Sunny Hundal a cunt? Said you’d like to rip off Gordon Brown’s head and shit down his neck? Listen for the door bell, now. And you’d better hope the pigs’ fishing expedition on your hard-drives doesn’t find anything dodgy.

WHAT THE FUCK HAS HAPPENED TO MY COUNTRY?

WHAT ARE THE FUCKING POLICE FOR?

WHY ARE WE ALL HEMMED IN SO BY A BIRDS NEST OF LEGAL TRIPWIRES

CUNTS.

AJ