Civil Liberty

Press Freedom

Magazines could be banned from using airbrushed photographs of celebrities that make them look slimmer over fears that they are promoting unrealistic body images.

At the moment it\’s actually a voluntary code of conduct that\’s under discussion. And no, of course I don\’t give two hoots about whether models are airbrushed or not.

But we do know that we have a government fond of the statement "if the voluntary option has failed we should look to legislation"….

The move follows criticisms by the Model Health Inquiry, which accused editors of acting irresponsibly and promoting a size-zero culture.

The report, released last September, urged the fashion industry to adopt a voluntary code on the use of computer technology to give models unrealistically perfect figures.

If the prodnoses can force, under the threat of such legislation, that restriction upon the freedom of the press (however trivial it is in these first stages) then what next? How long before a news picture of someone smoking must carry a health warning? Or people must look miserable in a pub? Or we must "respect" all religions?

Luvverly Cuba

Such a home of freedoms and liberties, isn\’t it?

Cuba has blocked access to the country\’s most popular blog, signalling an apparent government crackdown on a new generation of cyber critics. The blog, Generación Y, received 1.2m hits last month, but its writer, Yoani Sanchez, said Cubans could no longer visit her web page.

Attempts from the island to view and two other Cuban blogs which share the server in Germany prompt an error alert, though the site can be viewed outside Cuba.

"The anonymous censors of our famished cyberspace have tried to shut me in a room, turn off the light and not let my friends in," Sanchez wrote in her most recent post.

But with a perfect health care system…..


Those Slippery Slope Arguments.

It\’s usually identified as a logical error, the use of the slippery slope argument. If we allow X to happen, then Y and Z will follow, with the proposer using as an example of Z something that pretty much everyone will reject. The aim is to gather support for not doing X, of course.

It really only works (in logic that is) when Y and Z really will inevitably follow from X, rather than is usually the case that Y and Z might, but won\’t necessarily.

It was Bernard Levin who rather refined the logical argument, calling it the Fallacy of the Altered Standpoint. It isn\’t that Y and Z will necessarily follow from X, but that if you\’re already allowing X to happen, then it doesn\’t seem that much of a step to Y or Z.

Examples Levin used abound: the original Abortion Act limited the time period that any fetus could be aborted in. Later ones have allowed abortion up to birth itself in cases of severe abnormality to the child. The late 1960s would not have, at least I don\’t think it would have, supported the contention that a 37 week Down\’s Syndrome fetus was not a human being, or rather a being with no rights at all. The 90s, when the law was changed, did.

This isn\’t to say that one view or the other is "correct", only that the latter situation came about only because of the earlier acceptance of abortion itself. A slippery slope, an Altered Standpoint.

Much is made these days of the merits of assisted suicide and one of the arguments, one I\’ve deployed myself, is that that fine line between requesting such assistance and having it forced upon you will be crossed if we do indeed allow the first part, the assisted suicide. This argument is, of course, pooh poohed, it is Tim simply using that logical fallacy, the slippery slope argument.

Mr Tommelein, whose party is a key member of Belgium\’s coalition government, has pledged to bring forward new legislative proposals extending euthanasia to children and old people suffering from such severe dementia that they are unable to choose for themselves.

Oh yes?

The old and the mad will be done away with on the grounds that they cannot choose for themselves?

There is a certain dark humour in the next paragraph of the report:

"We will seek, as Liberals, parliamentary majorities," Mr Tommelein said.

Clearly this is "liberal" in the Vladimir Zhirinovsky sense. But how did it come to this, that the vulnerable shall be done away with as simply inconvenient?

There are more than 39 cases of euthanasia declared by doctors in Belgium every month, but the true figure is thought to be double that.

Euthanasia is currently permitted on infants and more than half of the Belgian babies who die before they are 12 months old have been killed by deliberate medical intervention.

In 16 per cent of cases parental consent was not considered.

Well, if you\’re already at the Standpoint that you can and should kill babies without even asking the parents, it\’s not all that much of a leap to kill the mad without asking them, is it?

Slippery slope arguments may indeed often be logical fallacies. Doesn\’t stop some of them being valid though.



Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain\’s most senior police forensics expert.

This is laughable. Eligible? So it\’s a privilege to be registered with the State?

Come on guys, Minority Report was a dystopian vision, not an operating manual.

ID Cards and Fraud

You know how ID cards are supposed to lower the levels of fraud?

But there was also a six per cent increase in card fraud losses in Britain, which was largely driven by fraudsters using stolen details to make purchases over the telephone or internet, or by mail order.

This "card not present" fraud soared by 37 per cent to £290.5 million, possibly as criminals frustrated by chip and pin security looked for alternative scams.

Simply not going t help this fast growing form of fraud, are they?

Yup, Absolutely.

My first concern is honesty. Since ID cards manifestly cannot fulfil any of the functions for which government ostensibly desires them – prevention of terrorism and organised crime seem the most childishly simple to debunk since terrorists and organised criminals with access to planes, guns, bombs and currency laundering will just as surely access fake IDs with complete impunity – I would appreciate my government telling me honestly what it really wants these cards for. My suspicion is that it just wants them, and that rather as it is the nature of bees to collect pollen and the nature of teenage boys to collect fictitious tales of their sexual adventures it is the nature of government to collect information about citizens. If they cannot advance any sensible reason for wanting these things then we must conclude that they are driven merely by a compulsion, and should be treated like smokers or heroin addicts – with compassion, certainly, but without going so far as to indulge their craving.

Second I would like some admission on the part of the project\’s instigators that they are familiar with the concept of a sunk costs fallacy, or at least have become so since the Concorde project. That a lot of money has already been wasted on the project is really no argument to continue spending more money now. If there is no good cause to keep plugging away at the thing they can, and should, write the costs off now.

Spot On.

Fingerprints at Heathrow

Has anyone else seen this?

Millions of British airline passengers face mandatory fingerprinting before being allowed to board flights when Heathrow’s Terminal 5 opens later this month.


All four million domestic passengers who will pass through Terminal 5 annually after it opens on March 27 will have four fingerprints taken, as well as being photographed, when they check in.

To ensure the passenger boarding the aircraft is the same person, the fingerprinting process will be repeated just before they board the aircraft and the photograph will be compared with their face.

BAA, the company which owns Heathrow, insists the biometric information will be destroyed after 24 hours and will not be passed on to the police.

The reason given is that the lounge is shared between local and international passengers. I for one will refuse to fly BA through Heathrow.

But there\’s something else which I hope one of our resident security peeps will be able to tell me. How accurate are fingerprints? How many false positives and false negatives are we going to have out of 4 million domestic passengers: and presumably tens of millions of international ones?



The Government Inspector


Under the plans, inspectors from the EHRC would be empowered to carry out spot checks at any workplace – those where there was cause for concern or firms which had done nothing wrong.

So, a group of bureaucrats, eager to prove that they are indeed needed, that they are uncovering great scandals, can walk into any workplace in hte country and demand to see all the records? Demand to study the entire operating methods of the company? On the basis of no evidence whatsoever?

I have no doubt the burden of proof will be upon the employer as well. That they must prove that they do not discriminate, not that the inspectors must prove they are.

Does anybody understand how expensive such inspections will be? An expense that will have to be, naturally, covered by the businesses themselves?

Douglas Murray, the director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, called the idea "fantastically bureaucratic and expensive".


Perfect Databases

This ID card system: going to be 100% secure and accurate, isn\’t it?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, with a group of parliamentarians, was once given a demonstration of a facial recognition system. It failed; indeed the system subsequently crashed, twice. The reason? The baroness was told her face was “too bland”.

The only property that all systems have in common is that they fail. And the bigger the system – 60 million entries on a compulsory ID card database – the greater the opportunity of failure. Systems are much like any life form: they degrade over time, they entropy. In the case of databases, the pick up errors and then build data error upon error. The DVLA in Swansea in 2006, for instance, admitted that a third of entries contained at least one error, and that the proportion was getting worse.

We\’ve all had encounters with computer systems that get it wrong. Barclays once refused one of my transactions because they said I was accessing an account owned by a teenage girl named Ian Angell, who lived at my address and was a professor at LSE. I still had to take a morning off work to explain that a 14-year-old couldn\’t own an account that, according to their own records, had been open for 35 years.

It\’s not just going to be a massive and extremely expensive violation of civil liberties, it\’s going to be a disaster as well, isn\’t it?

Doesn\’t Change Much

But a previous plan, stating that by 2010 anyone applying for a new passport would be given an ID card as well, has changed. Now passport applicants will be given a choice.

Ministers will then wait to see how this voluntary scheme progresses before any expansion.

Personal details from both passports and ID cards will still be entered on the National Identity Register, Miss Smith will say. New biometric passports contain fingerprints and iris scans.

It\’s that National Database which is, as it always has been, the problem.

And by next year certain workers in "key sensitive areas" like airports and ports will have to carry the new document. That will be part of long-term anti-terrorist measures.

Internal passports, here we come.

This Will Be Interesting

About 100,000 workers at the Olympics site in London are to be screened using advanced face and palm recognition techniques in one of the largest and most expensive security operations undertaken on a British construction project.

Every worker on the site – up to 10,000 at one time at the peak of construction in 2010 and 100,000 in total – will pass through a two-tier biometrics access system that includes palm-print reading and face recognition.

“The gates will be like the Jubilee Line – put your hand down and it will open,” John Armitt, chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), said.

Keep an eye on this. I suspect that it will be an expensive disaster: and that such will be covered up. Because if biometrics cannot be made to work on such a scale then of course, they won\’t work for the National Database either, will they?

Booker on the RSPCA

Well, whadda you know. When a private group, with no accountability, gets the power to prosecute, they are over zealous in doing so.

Not really all that much of a surprise, is it?

The Self-Help Group of farmers and others has existed for nearly two decades to put anyone experiencing difficulty with the RSPCA in touch with specialist welfare lawyers and vets. They have never been busier and cite scores of other instances in recent years. None is more shocking than that of PC Jonathan Bell, a Stoke-on-Trent policeman who in 2004 was called to a night-time disturbance where a cat had been squashed flat by a car. The RSPCA could not be contacted, so he put the cat out of its misery with a spade.

PC Bell was prosecuted for cruelty by the RSPCA and the case dragged on for two years, at a cost of £50,000. After his initial acquittal, the RSPCA appealed. Finally, in April 2006, the High Court threw out the case, prompting the Federation of Companion Animal Societies to comment that some of the RSPCA\’s prosecutions "seem to have a political agenda" rather than being concerned with "animal welfare". The growing number of people who fall foul of that agenda would heartily agree.

Government Robbery

There isn\’t any other possible description of this: it\’s out and out robbery by the Government:

Police will be able to seize high-value assets from suspected drug dealers as soon as they are arrested under plans to be unveiled this week by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary.

Law-enforcement agencies will be able to take cars, televisions, laptops and expensive jewellery belonging to big-time offenders. Such assets can currently only be seized at the end of a criminal process, by which time drug dealers have often disposed of them.

The reason that we have a criminal process is because we rather like to find out whether people are in fact guilty of being drug dealers, rather than just suspected. Taking their belongings purely upon suspicion is theft, pure and simple.

I\’m ghasted and flabbered that such a thing is even being considered: it\’s bad enough now that confiscation happens under the civil (and thus the less onerous burdens or proof) law rather than criminal, but to seize purely upon charging?

I Beg Your Pardon?

They want to do what?

Passengers travelling between EU countries or taking domestic flights would have to hand over a mass of personal information, including their mobile phone numbers and credit card details, as part of a new package of security measures being demanded by the British government. The data would be stored for 13 years and used to "profile" suspects.

Brussels officials are already considering controversial anti-terror plans that would collect up to 19 pieces of information on every air passenger entering or leaving the EU. Under a controversial agreement reached last summer with the US department of homeland security, the EU already supplies the same information [19 pieces] to Washington for all passengers flying between Europe and the US.

But Britain wants the system extended to sea and rail travel, to be applied to domestic flights and those between EU countries. According to a questionnaire circulated to all EU capitals by the European commission, the UK is the only country of 27 EU member states that wants the system used for "more general public policy purposes" besides fighting terrorism and organised crime.

You\’ve got to be tagged and recorded when you cross any intra-EU border? Good grief! Can we just cut to the quick here and shoot them all please?

Credit card details? Seriously?

ID Systems

Well, quite.

The summary said: "It should be noted that risk can only be managed, not eliminated, and therefore there will always be a risk of data security incidents occurring."

As with the children\’s database, so with the National Identity one. It can never be fully secure: thus we shouldn\’t have it.

Defining Torture

OK, so in a comment, Bruce points us to this. An entirely rational discussion: words mean what we commonly accept them to mean. Thus whether waterboarding is torture or not depends upon what we all think the words torture and waterboarding mean.

So in order to decide whether waterboarding is torture or not we need to define our words.

I would posit (and whether this is true or not depends rather on how many agree with this) that torture is the infliction of physical pain in order to elicit information.

No, that\’s not a complete desciption: torture can also describe the infliction of physical pain purely for the pleasure of the torturter, psychological torture is another meaning. But I would put forward the meaning that anything which is the infliction of physical pain in order to elicit information is indeed torture.

Does waterboarding inflict physical pain? Yes. Is it used to elicit information? Yes.

Thus waterboarding is torture.

Rather Hopeful

Somehow I doubt it:

President George Bush cited the London July 7 bombings in an interview broadcast last night to justify his support for waterboarding, an interrogation technique widely regarded as torture.

In an interview with the BBC he said information obtained from alleged terrorists helped save lives, and the families of the July 7 victims would understand that. Bush said waterboarding, which simulates drowning, was not torture and is threatening to veto a congressional bill that would ban it.

Perhaps someone would like to ask said families? I have a feeling that the reposnse would be along the lines of, yes, it\’s torture and no, we don\’t use it. Because, you see, we don\’t torture people, because we are civilised, we\’re not terrorists.

But then I\’m projecting my views onto others, just as Shrub is. Be interesting to know who was right though.

He\’s Right You Know

In a statement, Mr Malik said: "It is a great thing to live in a country where the Lord Chief Justice takes the time from hearing important cases to see if a group of unknown students have been fairly convicted for reading the wrong kind of literature.

Although I wouldn\’t say that this case was unimportant. The Lord Chief Justice protecting our basic liberties and freedoms seems pretty important to me.

No Jury Trials

Well, that\’s another ancient right down the plughole:

Prosecutors are planning to apply for permission to hold a major criminal trial without a jury in what would be a legal first for England.

The Crown is pressing for a judge-only trial because of concerns that jurors in the case could be subject to intimidation or bribery.

It is understood the request – which will be submitted to the judge on Tuesday – follows consultation with the Director of Public Prosecution.

The trial involves members of an organised criminal network and follows a long police investigation into a large drug trafficking ring.

Provisions for dispensing with a jury if there is "evidence of a real and present danger that jury tampering would take place" were introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, but have not previously been used.

Maybe it\’s even sensible in this one case: but who expects it to only be used for such cases?

That Bugging Thing


Lawyers, including the human rights solicitors Gareth Peirce and Mudassar Arani, were allegedly "routinely bugged" by police during visits to see clients at Woodhill prison. Listening devices were said to have been concealed in tables at the jail.

Nationally it is thought that many more people may have been covertly recorded.

Serious criminals, including the Soham murderer Ian Huntley and the letter bomber Miles Cooper, are also thought to have been targeted by the alleged secret bugging.

They\’ve been routinely bugging defense solicitors talking with their clients?

Words fail me.