Sunday, February 15, 2009

Help wanted - A chilling landmark for civil liberties in the UK



On Monday 9th February this week a friend and work colleague found police at his door at 7am in the morning. They searched through his house, took all of his computer equipment and then arrested him. He was then grilled for several hours before finally being released on bail.

His "crime"? Allegedly he has been arrested under "suspicion of incitement", or more specifically, "inciting people knowing a crime is going to be committed". This is under sections 44, 45 and 46 of the Serious Crime Act 2007. The fact of the matter is though, he has done absolutely nothing wrong and is simply being set up as the fall-guy for someone else's misdeeds. And all of this on the basis of some painful abuse of recent legislation.

My friend rents co-located server space to a number of customers. One of them happens to be Indymedia. Activists involved in SHAC (animal liberation group - Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) had used Indymedia to discuss and post information. A Judge involved in legal proceedings against some SHAC members, a one Justice Neil Butterfield had his personal contact details posted up on Indymedia twice by anonymous users. Shortly after the contact details had gone up, they were deleted by Indymedia administrators. All of this was completely unknown to the hosting provider as - unsurprisingly - his role is to rent hosting space, not moderate user activities on the various sites that use it.

Kent Police (being the police force involved in the recent SHAC investigation and trials) decided to investigate however. Unable to track down the posters of the Judge's details they then decided to go for the person providing the hosting space for the site. Indymedia, as a matter of stated policy, on sites across the globe, do not keep IP logs. Despite a common assumption to the contrary, they are not obliged to either (and given the current climate and government attitudes, this *could* become law at some point). Police physically seized the server in January.

It was at this point my friend started receiving hostile, accusatory phone calls from Kent police, and when he decided to contact me for advice (for what little I could give). It was clear from what he related that the officers involved initially had absolutely no clue about internet, or server technologies. They simply could not understand that without a log of IP addresses, they could not track down the anonymous posters from the information on the server's hard drive (never mind trying to explain to them that IP addresses, even if they had them, can be faked....).

I said then, as I also believe now, that the police have absolutely no case against him whatsoever.

This will not stop them pressing ahead however as it is clear that they're desperate for a scapegoat, especially as they have invested plenty of time and energy in this now (Kent police came all the way up to Sheffield in order to question him, though South Yorkshire police carried out the actual arrest, search and confiscation of property).

He said the officers have wisened up since then though, at least those who were interrogating him in Sheffield had some smarts. They're determined to make this stick, with or without evidence. It appears they're engaging in something another friend of mine has been on the receiving end of recently - what he calls "evidence construction".

This is potentially a landmark case for all of our civil liberties. Despite there being no causal chain of culpability, it appears my friend is subject to having his house turned upside down, property taken, arrest and worse for mere association. And it is important to spell out exactly what association means here: He has never, I repeat never, attended any meetings, or had admin access or any involvement with the indymedia users and contributors, never mind the animal rights activists. His only association has been to rent out co-located hosting space to multiple users, one of whom happen to be indymedia.

The case the police want to make appears to be based now on this vague woolly idea of association, and psychological support to a cause (as in, you personally hold the opinion that certain activists are doing a good thing, irrespective of whether you act on that). They are probably going to try presenting this as one instance of a pattern of sympathetic support to people they consider lethal to our national security. Just to be clear, the description of Indymedia they laid before him made it sound like the nation's terrorist network centre (who knew they'd been looking in at GCHQ?) - people bent on death and destruction. Well, that's not the Indymedia I know, nor I'm sure many of you reading this. It's almost as if the police have constructed their own phantom monster to justify complete overreaction. Our upright and honourable police and security services would never do that though would they?




As an aside, it's also worth noting that while the coverage in the Register says that the RIPA legislation was not applied (e.g. to demand the keys for encrypted data), it is also an offence to reveal that they have been demanded, so we don't know for sure either way. I think you know which way it is likely to be though.....

Bigger issue

This is a bigger, and separate issue to animal rights activists and to Indymedia. The fact is that he has been tied to a crime using zero evidence. Even if he had had casual association in person with anyone running indymedia, this still would have been highly spurious, however, he has not even had this much contact. The police want blood though, and who can forget that they have "targets" to meet. Activists are easy targets and if they can't get the activists they get innocent people who provide business services to said activists. Perhaps they might also want to arrest staff at the local supermarket for selling them food, as they might be "inciting people knowing a crime is going to be committed".

Not only does the police "case" rest on ignorance of technical issues surrounding the internet, it appears that Kent police also require training in epistemology. My friend can't predict the future after all. Who knows what comments anyone might post in response to this post I'm writing for example. Am I to be held culpable for them? Is the - otherwise invisible - web host of the server this is being displayed from culpable for what I *might* say? The whole affair is farcical beyond belief. And the fact that it has even got this far is deeply worrying and directly implies that the police's main interest is in sowing the seeds of fear amongst those of us who use the internet to speak out. It's something that concerns ALL of us.

The implication is that sites have to be monitored constantly and a train of accountability has to exist for every single comment online. This is something the government (and the ignorant members of the police who support them) would dearly love of course. So while there is a dearth of precedents to rush through such legislation, they'll happily construct an "incident" from scratch. Without being hyperbolic at all it is clear we're careening into police state territory here.

As others have already noted, it is entirely possible that the posters of the Judge's information got his contact details from easily accessible sources, including 192.com and the local library. A great many people, police included it seems, do not realise how much information about us exists and is easy to legally access with a little effort. (By all means sign up to 192.com, buy £5 of credits and do searches on yourself and friends via the electoral roll - you might be shocked)

The comments on the Register are well worth a look to highlight the idiocy of this case. Here are a few choice ones:

"incitement to communicate? wow, we really are screwed. When will they pull up the BBC directors for inviting people to comment on HYS when related to contentious issues?"


"Can I now hold the Department for Transport responsible for assisting me to get a speeding ticket?"


"Suspicion of incitement" is pure Thought Crime law. Now we don't even need to commit the crime, just thinking about committing a crime is enough to be punished.

Using this law, they could even take down newspapers and news web sites (e.g. TheRegister!). For example, the Guardian paper has a whole section on the growing Surveillance State. This could very easily be considered "suspicion of incitement" to protest against the government. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/surveillance

The UK is no longer heading towards a Police State. We are now in a Police State. From here on out, it just gets ever more scary. This law is the end of Democracy as we can no longer speak freely, as they can now choose any Thought Crime they wish to punish and so silence."



How to help
My friend does not wish to be identified; his main concern is protecting himself and his family. However, he has given me his blessing to help publicise his plight and solicit any help that people may be willing to give. At the moment this takes one particular form:

Building a counter-case
- Initially my friend has asked that we help him prepare his case for court should it go that far. The police's case is likely to rely on bamboozling the judge (and jury if there is one), on technical issues that they themselves are not exactly au fait with. My friend has had a longstanding interest in creating free, or cheap infrastructure for communications networking. He has, for a long time, been involved in projects to help local communities harness technology for communications and community building purposes. The police will make the case that this is all about the evil Indymedia.

Instead, the intention is to create a dossier of case studies and examples of this kind of technology (especially that used / given freely or cheaply) for positive uses, even political ones, that have nothing to do with Indymedia. I've started collating a few myself, including for example, the Rock The Vote campaigns in the U.S., Shoreditch digital bridge etc.

You can help tremendously if you can give other examples. Links, newspaper articles etc are all good. Please post any up, or get in touch with me. What might be particularly useful is if anyone involved in such a project would be willing to testify as an expert witness, identifying the "postive" side to such technologies. As ridiculous as the police's characterisation of Indymedia is, that is the case we have to answer.


Publicising the case
- It would be a very good thing to publicise this case as far as possible, especially if it looks like it may go the distance in court. It's an abhorrent abuse of the law and due process amongst other things. Please blog about this, complain to the police, write to the local papers, your MP etc.

I Have written to Liberty, as a member, to request that they take up his case. If you want you can write to them too. Contact details here.

For articles to reference, the two best articles are:
Spyblog (which also gives a comprehensive critique of the legislation being used here).
The Register article is also good.

Employment issues
- We all know how it works in this country now. The accusation is enough to screw your life, regardless of evidence or the circumstances of the case. Innovations like the National Employee Dismissal database will see to that for posterity. This man has done nothing wrong at all and is blatantly being framed on the basis of some very sketchy interpretation of the law. This may only be an issue if it goes to court though, and for now he has asked that we do not lobby his employer should they decide to find prejudice against him on this case.

Please help - you could be on the receiving end of this next.

As Spyblog have said:

"What happened to freedom of speech on the internet or even in the mainstream media ?

Who will be next ?

If the mainstream media and the UK political blogosphere and the UK telecomms and Internet Service Provider industries do not kick up a huge fuss about this case, then the terrorists will have won, by provoking this morally weak Government into
destroying our fundamental human right of free speech."


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Russell Brand: Weapons grade cock-end






Idiocracy: This too could be you.


In a change to my occasional schedule of angry piss-boiling commentary on politics, I wanted to write on something else briefly:

Trial by mob
I tried. I really did. I can't stand a trial by media or public opinion. I detest it. I was horrified to notice that in the wake of the Brand/Ross "scandal" that the BBC's 'Have your say' fell over during the day because of the deluge of the collective brain fart. Everyone had to have a say. I thought the pair of them had been a couple of idiots, however I was perfectly content to leave it at that and keep my opinion to myself. The incident also happened just as the extent of the global financial crisis was being realised. Whilst major dead-tree press articles on the crisis were attracting maybe 100 comments if they were lucky, in some places, 1000+ comments were being left on the Russell/Brand story. I despaired. I really did.

If I was aggrieved at anything, it was the fact that the BBC licence fee, extracted from myself and millions of others under threat of force is used to pay the pair of them - particularly Ross, with his deal of £18 million over three years. I find that simply obscene, yet I don't have a voice with regard to how the money is spent. It's most definitely taxation without representation. However, this was a position I held before they decided to carry out a live prank phone call, and still hold now.

Charlie Brooker made the point recently in his 'Screenwipe' series that a new era of TV-viewer interaction has begun. He calls it the Dawn of the Dumb. It has primarily resulted from 'reality tv' shows, where viewers have a vote. This has been transferred, in the minds of the viewers, to an overall vote on any TV programme or issue. The viewers can, be weight of enough complaints, cause changes to be made. It would be nice to think that this was a democratic achievement, even if it still results in satisfaction of the lowest common denominator. However, in the case of the BBC there are two major problems with this:

i) The opposite isn't true. That is to say, if the number of commendations outweigh the complaints, the complaints still win. We have seen this in the case of Carol Thatcher.

ii) I'm still forced to pay for this farce, simply for the privilege of having a TV set in my front room to watch DVDs on. I avoid TV programming, and the BBC in particular, like it was some horrible infectious syphilitic walking corpse. As one enterprising chap on Babylon 5 said once: "It is a cultural wasteland full of inappropriate metaphors for reality". And that's just the soap operas.

So...this Russell bloke...

I'd caught the odd clip of Brand performing. I saw 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'. He seemed to be able to entertain competently on and off. The odd comment here and there indicated that he was considered 'edgy' and 'on the pulse'. A friend lent me his [Brand's] autobiography so I put some time aside to read it.

Now, I consider a person's autobiography to be an honest means of appraising a person. It's their own words, not taken out of context by the media, and they have the choice to put their own spin on it. On these grounds I'm willing to come to an opinion on a person, irrespective of what the media says about them.

In case you missed it, I came to the conclusion that this man is and was a weapons grade cock-end. Now to be clear, I don't like to use insults, or expletives too often, unlike some of my swearblogging friends. This isn't because I think there is anything inherently "bad" in use of such language. Far from it. Instead I think it is more powerful if used sparingly, like the occasional bit of violence (which, for all you idealistic do-gooders out there, is sometimes the 'right thing to do'). And in this case, my god, I think the only man to compare him to would be the currently self-destructing Derek Draper. And I've got expletives a plenty for that particular fleischweisen.

Commonalities

What was interesting for me was that, as I first got into his book, I began warming to the man. We appeared to have had a very similar childhood. We're about the same age, had quite a few similar experiences, and even knocked around in the same places. However, as soon as he started describing his crawl into adulthood it appeared we diverged sharply.

This is despite the fact that we still had a lot in common, even in adulthood. He has a terrible weakness for women and sex, despite the fact he is fully capable of seducing many pretty women on a regular basis. I relate directly to that. He also has long hair, likes to dress extravagantly and wear makeup to enhance his looks. Again, all things that I do. He's also not one for not putting up with people telling him what to do.

On the surface you might not see us as too dissimilar. In fact, you might wonder why we are not good drinking pals.

If someone gave a very general outline of his life and activities, and put it alongside mine the difference may not be clear at all. Yet -as the saying goes, the devil is, very literally in the details.

Women

For Russell, women appear to be primarily a self-validation mechanism. They probably are for most men in some respect. The Idiot-lantern constantly tells us that without sexual validation, we're nothing. Right?

As a teenage kid it appears Russell began to learn the art of seduction, picking up that charm, personality and a novel individual appearance (and pathos) can attract sufficient attention to bring women into your orbit. Pretty much the phase I went through too. As he careens into his kidulthood though, Russell begins to attract women through a combination of persistence, bullshit and the fame factor (though the latter was relatively late in coming). I spent my early adulthood doing my best to figure out what I actually wanted (a task that it seems a frightening number of people never actually master).

I don't think Russell figured this one out and women (and inebriation) began to perpetually fill up his ever-increasing self-esteem black hole. He appeared to blame a lot of this on his childhood. Yet the life he describes was no harder than mine, and a damn sight easier than the lives some of my best friends have had. It all comes down to that classic idea that it is how you choose to react to events and circumstances - "Circumstances do not make the man, they reveal him".

Russell's is an epic fail on this point. As he became a Kidult he became the master of his own downfall, and this was despite some incredible opportunities coming his way. He simply had to feed the self-esteem monster you see.

So - women and sex. I have tried monogomy a few times. It isn't for me. Instead I have open-relationships with my partners. And they have been, consistently, much more successful, loving and beneficial all round than my monogomous arrangements. I find many people make all sorts of assumptions about this that they simply are not justified, or equipped, to make. It's the kind of relationship that drives The Righteous nuts.

Open relationships force a kind of sincerity and honesty on you and your partners that you simply don't have in monogomy. For one thing, it absolutely forces you to not take the other(s) for granted. They have the option, just like you, to go elsewhere. If you're in sync with one another, they will always come back to you, and you to them. Contrary to many erroneous assumptions, it also brings your standards way up. I look to maximise the amount of mutually enjoyable (emotional as well as sexual) experiences I can have with as many high-quality (confident, intelligent, driven, creative, know what they want are my criteria) women as I can in life. This actually means I say 'no' more often than I say 'yes'.

You see it all comes down to self-esteem. People with low self-esteem cannot understand how such a relationship could ever work. In their heads, some kind of ownership of the 'other' has to take place in order to vouchsafe your fragile ego. I don't know how many times I, or my partner(s) have been lectured on this, that I / we have "never really been in love". Very confident, secure people however, can see how this kind of relationship can work, even if they don't wish to engage in it themselves. It's an excellent litmus test for figuring out people you have just met.

Brand's self-esteem appears to be chronically low. He has fulfilled the role of the spectacular, had his ego massaged by hacks who realised they can play off of his self-destructive ("edgy") tendencies and bully him into incredible acts of stupidity (if you liked 'Jackass', and also winced at the fact people felt these were good things to do to themselves for 'entertainment' (approval), wait till you read this biography). He blames it variously on life-circumstances and his "addictive personality". The cult of celebrity seems to produce a lot of these.

Celebration?

The term 'celebrity' originally referred to people of great skill and talent. You referred, for example to the "celebrated" playright, Shakespeare, or the "celebrated" artist, Michael Angelo. For the most part, this notion of talent appears to have shrunk horrifically to good presentation and blagging skills at best, and willing displays of incohate idiocy at worst. Brand has certainly sucked from both of these teats to build his career and create a bloated "celebrity" construction of "edgy" behaviour.

He has been placed on the throne as one of the many Kings of Idiots. Appropriately channeled through the medium of the almighty One-eyed monster. (Yes, I guess that goes for his penis, not just a synonym for the TV too).

Occasionally Brand drops in a word like 'misogyny' as some way of mild contrition. The fact is though, throughout the book he doesn't actually display one iota of actual, sincere contrition. He reminds me of these colllectivist-anarchists who say how they are "aware" of gender issues, and 'right-on', yet still have severe emotional and sexual issues with women. Poor buggers can't even get out of that one through experience though as the collectivist-anarchists attract a lot of the Righteous. The Original Sin of men will be sure to keep them in place and not allow them to admit that yes, they (like women) actually want to fuck different people, and often. The only thing worse than a right-wing conservative prude is a left-wing version.

I got half way through the book and began hating the man earnestly. I had to push through to the end though, for the same reasons I have to continue following the antics of Labour's Clown Extraordinaire, Derek Draper. The path of self-inflicted destruction is incredible to behold, and a fantastic example unto others. He often tries to spruce up his account with some literary references. He painfully fumbles quite a few of them. And with this dickhead, artistic licence just doesn't cut it as an excuse.

Russell leaves us, after describing his rollercoaster wreck of a life, at the end telling us that he is a changed man after having attended a 'sex-addicts' clinic in the U.S. It's his "addictive" personality again you see. Never mind the fact that 99% of the rest of humanity also has this problem in adulthood - it's called feeling horny you dipshit.

His memory, however, appears to be shorter than that of his adulating fuckwit fanbase - for, after ploughing through to the end, I actually remembered what he actually said in the first chapter. He said, just prior to completing the book he'd just given in again to his weakness for pointless encounters thanks to his wafer-thin willpower (and self-esteem, though he leaves that bit out). He makes a big, almost puritan, deal of the fact that he was also clean of drugs and alcohol. I'd have some sympathy and respect for the man if it weren't for the fact that he was using these as escapes from problems completely of his own making. He doesn't seem to intuit that many people drink or take drugs because they have a lot of problems that are not of their own doing.

Brand is supposed to be one of the country's best. He'd like us to believe he's that uber-confident, together bloke in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall', perpetually on the up-side of a bi-polar disorder. He's not. Instead he personifies what is broken. No responsibility for anything (it's all paid for chaps!) and the adulation of the inert and the feeble-minded.

Gods help us all.