Monday, August 02, 2010
Family victory over British Stasi
The "Stasi" was the former Communist East German Secret Service, notorious for spying on its own citizens
Town hall snoopers are dealt a blow today by a landmark ruling in favour of parents who were spied on 21 times using anti-terror laws to check they lived in a school catchment area. A tribunal will rule that Poole Borough Council was acting illegally when it put Jenny Paton, Tim Joyce and their three daughters under covert surveillance for three weeks.
Officials had claimed it was necessary to use the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to find out if the family had lied about their address to win a school place for their youngest child. They wrongly suspected the family of cheating and tailed them round the clock, filling out detailed surveillance forms and describing their car as a 'target vehicle'.
But the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which heard a complaint from the family last year, has concluded the council's operation was an improper, unnecessary and unlawful use of the powers.
Campaigners hailed the ruling as a landmark victory that would curb the worst abuses by so-called 'town hall Stasi' who train hidden cameras and even undercover agents on the law-abiding public.
And it comes after Home Secretary Theresa May said there would be a dramatic reduction in the use of the RIPA powers, with councils having to obtain a warrant from magistrates before starting any investigations.
The Daily Mail has made a string of revelations about abuses of the powers including spying on those suspected of putting their bins out on the wrong day, dropping litter and making unwanted donations to charity shops.
Labour introduced guidelines to try and stop councils and other public bodies abusing the RIPA powers to investigate trivial offences. But critics say officials are still able to use the laws to spy on families suspected of, for example, bin crimes and are demanding tougher safeguards.
Miss Paton, 41, an environmentalist, last night hailed the ruling as a 'huge victory against the Big Brother state'. 'Local authorities should not have any form of surveillance powers at all - it is inappropriate,' she added.
Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for the civil rights group Liberty, said: 'Intrusive surveillance is vital to fighting terrorism and serious crime but weak legal protections and petty abuses of power bring it into disrepute.
'Former ministers claimed that the innocent had nothing to fear but the sinister treatment of Jenny and her kids proves that these powers need to be far more tightly restricted and supervised.'
Miss Paton and Mr Joyce found they had been under surveillance only when they were called to a meeting with council officials to discuss their school application. The family has declined to fight for compensation over their ordeal.
Defending Poole council last year, John Nash, the then director of children's services, said: 'We believe we act responsibly, in the best interests of people who live in Poole, using these powers.'
Can 'Eurabia' Be Far Behind?
The battle over whether to admit Turkey into the European Union seems eternal, at least among the EU's rulers. Among the peoples of Europe, when granted the rare chance to go to the ballot box -- increasingly window-dressing as far as the EU's soft totalitarians are concerned -- there is little argument. In fact, there is bona fide consensus: NO to Turkey becoming a part of Europe. Why? Because, culturally and historically, it is not.
Tell that to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who just visited Ankara to present himself as Europe's leading booster for Turkish EU membership (a move the United States has meddlesomely supported), pandering so low a prayer rug could give him cover.
Dubbing himself Turkey's "strongest possible advocate for EU membership and for greater influence at the top table of European diplomacy," Cameron gave a speech that also attacked "those who willfully misunderstand Islam" and who "see no difference between real Islam and the distorted version of the extremists."
Of course, such a description likely irked Cameron's host, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan has repeatedly criticized those who make the distinction between "moderate" and "extremist" Islam. "These descriptions are very ugly," Erdogan said in 2007. "It is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam, and that's it." Further, Erdogan in 2009 specifically rejected descriptions of Turkey as being an example of "moderate Islam." Enlarging on a theme, Erdogan in 2008 told Turks living in Europe that assimilation is "a crime against humanity."
But Cameron aimed to please. And no doubt he did, especially with his stunning denunciation of Israel for its blockade of Gaza, a defensive measure that Israel devised after Hamas terrorists were elected to govern Israel-ceded Gaza in 2005 and -- no surprise to any student of jihad -- decided to continue their charter-commanded war on Israel, raining down nearly 10,000 rockets onto Israeli civilians. Dubbing Gaza a "prison camp," Cameron also attacked Israel for the May shipboard battle to defend its blockage that pitted Israeli commandos, lightly armed with paintball guns and emergency sidearms, against trained fighters with ties to the Turkish government, specifically to Erdogan's ruling AKP party.
Little wonder that before the day was over -- at some point after Britain hired itself out, as Cameron put it, for the job of "paving the road from Ankara to Brussels" -- Erdogan had hailed a "golden age" of Turkish-British relations.
Of course, giving EU membership to Turkey would be a political move with more than political consequences. Demographically alone, it would accelerate those finishing touches on the Islamization of Europe as Turkey's tens of millions of Muslims entered a largely post-Christian, secular European society, bringing a weighty Islamic influence on European law. Could the total transformation to "Eurabia" be far behind?
This is the salient question that is never asked. Instead, the debate is deceptively framed as a civil rights issue, as though the EU were a pointlessly exclusive Neanderthal society, or supposedly obsolete men's club.
"We know what it's like to be shut out of a club," Cameron said, referring to Charles de Gaulle's efforts to block British entry into the European organization. "Europe can either decide to become a global actor or it can fence itself off as a Christian club," Erdogan has said.
Never mind the EU's deliberate omission of "God" or "Christianity" in its 439-page constitution. And never mind Turkey's having "fenced itself off" into the most exclusive "club" of all: the supremacist Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Turkey is also a signatory to the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, a distinctly Islamic version of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights that is informed by Sharia (Islamic law) rather than what the West recognizes as universal human rights. The Cairo Declaration declares that the Muslim community's role is to "guide" humanity, a point that isn't "clubby" but is downright imperialist.
But there is another implication to the debate: that Western identity is merely an atavistic expression of petty insularity. Free will, free conscience -- the evolution of individual liberty -- is the fruit of Judeo-Christian civilization, one that Islamic doctrine is unable to produce.
Tragically, it is also one that Westerners are throwing away.
Turkey does not belong in the EU
Those who think of Turkey as a relaxed holiday destination, or as a Westernised Nato member more or less 'on our side' need to revise their view. And that very much includes our Prime Minister, David Cameron, who last week joined in the fashionable chorus urging Turkish membership of the European Union. Mr Cameron plainly hasn't been properly briefed.
Leave aside the fact that such a step would allow millions of Turks to live and work in Britain, and give us - as EU members - a common border with Syria and Iraq. Mr Cameron really ought to realise that the new Islamist Turkey he so ignorantly praises is much more interested in making friends with Iran than it is in joining the EU. And it is becoming less free and less democratic by the day.
I would say there is a strong chance that we will soon lose Turkey to the Islamic world, much as we lost Iran to the ayatollahs 30 years ago. And there is not much we can do about it - least of all the daft scheme to include this nation in the EU.
Panic-mongering? Well, perhaps. But I would rather monger a bit of panic now than ignore what I saw.
I will come in a moment to the bizarre alleged plot against the Turkish state, which has swept dozens of government opponents into prison in dawn raids.
But first let us take a stroll round the Istanbul district of Fatih. It is noon, and the rival calls to prayer of two mosques are wavering in the baking, humid air.
Not far away is a gigantic Palestinian flag draped over the side of a building. Nearly opposite, a group of pale, intense men in turbans loiter on a street corner whispering into their mobile phones. Where am I? The flag suggests Gaza. The whispering men bring to mind Peshawar or some other Taliban zone.
Or am I in Saudi Arabia? For round the corner comes a phalanx of veiled women, under the vigilant eyes of a bossy man in a prayer cap. There are several grades of these women. First there are the wholly shrouded, their downcast eyes glimpsed through a slot, imprisoned in shapelessness. Most disturbing for me - because I have been to Iran - are those in chadors exactly like those commanded by the ayatollahs in Tehran. There is something particularly harsh about the inverted triangle through which their pale and sombre faces peer.
With them come the women they call 'Tight-heads' - 'Sikmabash' in Turkish. These are a new feature of Istanbul since I was last here a few years ago, in evidence all over this enormous city.
They are mostly young and often attractive. But they have swathed their heads tightly in voluminous, brightly coloured scarves. Their lower limbs are covered by long dresses or trousers, and over this, in the oppressive heat, they wear thin raincoats. Such outfits are available in a successful chain of shops called Tekbir, which means 'God is great'.
Covering up the female sex is big business here now. The owner of an independent Islamic clothes shop complains to me that trade isn't as good as it used to be because he now faces so much competition. He notes that more and more of his clients are young women, rather than conservative rural grandmas.
The Tight-heads are startlingly similar to their Iranian sisters a few hundred miles to the east, who wear a near-identical uniform. Like them, they look as if they are making a point. But there is one crucial difference. The point they are making is the opposite one. The Iranian women mock the headscarf as they wear it, pushed as far back as possible on the head, revealing as much bleached-blonde, teased hair as the piety police will allow.
Their message is: 'The law can make me wear this, but it cannot make me look as if I want to.' The young Turks, by contrast, are saying: 'This is how I want to look, even if the law says I cannot.' For the scarf is banned by law in many universities and in government offices, and they view this ban as a challenge they must defy.
There is no simpler way of making the point that, while Iran is a secular country with a Muslim government, Turkey is a Muslim country with a secular government.
Or so it was. Now Turkey is in the midst of a revolution. In a fashionable waterfront cafe looking across the Bosphorus towards Asia, I spotted two young women sharing milkshakes - one veiled, the other displaying her curly hair and attired in barely-there T-shirt and jeans. I asked them if they didn't find each other's garb awkward. No, they didn't. The swathed one explained that she had decided, from religious devotion, to wear a scarf aged 15. Now 19, she had to go to university in North Cyprus, because most mainland universities banned the veil.
Her companion said she thought it quite possible that, in a few years, she too would be covered from head to toe. My guess is that she will be - the growing numbers of covered women across the Middle East place pressure on others to do the same.
But these are just symptoms. A deeper change is under way. Deliberately unremarked by Western commentators for some years, Turkey has a fiercely Islamist Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Even now, Barack Obama, like George W. Bush before him, still bleats about how Turkey should be allowed to join the EU. And establishment commentators, encouraged by liberal Turkish intellectuals, absurdly continue to insist that Erdogan is in some way 'moderate'.
How odd. Back in the Nineties, this supposed moderate was railing that: 'The Muslim world is waiting for Turkey to rise up. We will rise up! With Allah's permission, the rebellion will start.' Erdogan was even imprisoned for quoting a fervent Islamist poem that declared: 'The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers...'
Now he is Prime Minister, he has not stopped thinking this. He simply knows better than to blurt it out.
Much more HERE
Even grotesque fantasies should not be criminalised
If it goes beyond fantasies, action is then fair enough but other than that fantasies are just fantasies and harm no-one. People should not be judged for what they MIGHT do in someone's opinion. That's a VERY slippery slope
In May 2009, Iowa resident Christopher Handley, a collector of comic books, pled guilty to federal charges of importing and possessing obscene cartoon drawings of children; he faced a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, for a crime involving neither actual children nor actual child porn.
A few weeks later, a Tennessee prosecutor charged Michael Wayne Campbell with aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, for photo-shopping the faces of three girls on to the nude bodies of three adult women. How might this constitute a crime (outside of Iran)? The prosecutor explained: ‘When you have the face of a small child affixed to a nude body of a mature woman, it’s going to be the state’s position that this is for sexual gratification and that this is simulated sexual activity.’
It is also a crime – a federal crime – to share your sexual fantasies about children in private communications with other adults. The US Fourth Circuit court of appeals declined to review the conviction of Dwight Whorley for sharing fantasies about sexually abusing children in purely textual email exchanges between consenting adults. Like Christopher Handley, Whorley was also convicted of receiving obscene Japanese cartoon drawings of children. Be careful what you imagine.
Dwight Whorley is a decidedly unappealing defendant: a convicted sex offender, he had received sexually explicit photographs of actual as well as imaginary children. But while his record and his traffic in actual child porn makes him undeserving of much sympathy, it also made the government’s troubling case against his fantasy life unnecessary: his actual child-porn offences were sufficient to convict and imprison him. Nor does the perverseness of Whorley’s imaginings justify their prosecution. Our right to fantasise ought not be contingent on the moral content of our characters or fantasies; and if Whorley can be imprisoned for email discussions of repellent sexual fantasies, then so can you.
At least one federal judge was deeply troubled by that case. Dissenting from the Fourth Circuit’s refusal to rehear Whorley’s appeal, Judge Gregory encouraged him to seek Supreme Court review. ‘The (court’s) obscenity jurisprudence has never come close to stripping adults of First Amendment protections for their purely private fantasies, and the implications of our sanctioning this governmental intrusion into individual freedom of thought are incredibly worrisome’, Gregory wrote.
Equally worrisome is the likelihood that the Supreme Court would not accept this case for review, much less rule in Whorley’s favour, even though the prosecution of people for sexual fantasies, or thought crimes – speech involving no illicit conduct and no conspiracies, solicitations, or attempts to engage in illicit conduct – was considered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as recently as 2002. In Free Speech Coalition v Ashcroft, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the Child Pornography Prevention Act bans on producing or possessing non-obscene, virtual (including computer-generated) child porn. Invalidating these provisions did not require a subtle or arcane legal analysis; it required only a basic understanding of First Amendment freedoms.
The US government may not criminalise speech based on claims about its indirect potential harm, as the Supreme Court stressed: ‘The mere tendency of speech to encourage unlawful acts is not a sufficient reason for banning it.’ (And, in this case, even the tendency of virtual porn to encourage child abuse was unproven.) ‘The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought’, Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority.
That was then. In 2008 Justice Kennedy joined the majority in a 7-2 decision that effectively overruled the defence of free speech he had offered a mere four years earlier. In Williams v US, the Court upheld the PROTECT Act, which includes a ban on pretending to traffic in sexually explicit images of actual children or obscene virtual child porn. Really. (PROTECT is an acronym for the shamelessly entitled Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Act of 2003, which was enacted in response to the Court’s decision in Free Speech Coalition v Ashcroft.)
In other words, having held that Congress could not criminalise production or possession of all virtual child porn, the Court held that it could criminalise soliciting or advertising virtual child porn in the mistaken belief or with intent to persuade others to believe that it’s the real thing. (The PROTECT Act also criminalises obscene virtual child porn.) The soon-to-be-missed Justice Souter pointed out the obvious, in a dissent joined only by Justice Ginsburg: allowing prosecutions for pandering or soliciting non-obscene, virtual images dramatically undermines First Amendment protections that the Court extended to them only a few years ago.
Dwight Whorley’s conviction was based, in part, on the PROTECT Act (he was the first person convicted under it); his conviction for sending ‘obscene’ emails to other adults rested on an older obscenity statute, but it might easily be justified by the same impulse to prohibit virtual child porn that underlies the PROTECT Act and imprisons people for pretending to pander child porn or actually collecting obscene cartoons. It doesn’t take a great leap of law to criminalise discussion of a cartoon – the depiction of a desire or an idea – once you’ve criminalised possession of it.
Outside the respective subcultures of free-speech advocates, comic-book collectors, and paedophiles, not many people will mourn the loss of a right to imagine or discuss abusing children. But the rationales for censorship developed in these cases can always be extended, by carving out additional exceptions to the First Amendment. In fact, they could conceivably be extended next year, when the Supreme Court decides whether, like child porn, depictions of cruelty to animals should be denied constitutional protection. In the autumn, the Court will consider the case of Robert J Stevens, convicted and sentenced to 37 months under a federal law criminalising the production, sale, or possession of material depicting animal cruelty; Stevens’ crime was selling videos of pit bulls on the attack.
His conviction was reversed by the Third Circuit court of appeals, which declined to create a new category of unprotected speech. The federal ban on animal cruelty depictions was based in part on assumptions about their indirect harm, the Third Circuit observed; the government claimed an ‘interest in discouraging individuals from becoming desensitised to animal violence generally, because that may serve to deter future anti-social behaviour toward human beings.’ If the Supreme Court rules that Congress may criminalise speech in the mere hope of deterring ‘future anti-social behaviour’, what speech may Congress not restrict? It’s hard (and may eventually be illegal) to imagine.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.