Bad Laws

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 28th, 2010

The way Britain is governed has gone wrong and is in urgent need of reform, a group of former Whitehall chiefs has warned in a highly critical report.

The former civil servants paint a picture of badly trained ministers rushing through “ill thought-out” legislation to satisfy media demands. BBC

Which reminds us:

I heartily accept the motto,—“That government is best which governs least;” and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe,—“That government is best which governs not at all;” and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.

Thoreau

A Voice in the Civil Liberties Wilderness

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 27th, 2009

The UK Liberal Democrats are proposing what I think is a dream legislation on civil liberties. I can’t help smiling when I read the list of measures. If we live in an open society, all these civil rights should be a matter of course.

In a more philosophical sense, these reforms can avoid the concept of “natural rights” by considering they are “rights of the state” over the individual that must be abolished.

* Scrap ID cards for everyone, including foreign nationals.
* Ensure that there are no restrictions in the right to trial by jury for serious offences including fraud.
* Restore the right to protest in Parliament Square, at the heart of our democracy.
* Abolish the flawed control orders regime.
* Renegotiate the unfair extradition treaty with the United States.
* Restore the right to public assembly for more than two people.
* Scrap the ContactPoint database of all children in Britain.
* Strengthen freedom of information by giving greater powers to the Information Commissioner and reducing exemptions.
* Stop criminalising trespass.
* Restore the public interest defence for whistleblowers.
* Prevent allegations of ‘bad character’ from being used in court.
* Restore the right to silence when accused in court.
* Prevent bailiffs from using force.
* Restrict the use of surveillance powers to the investigation of serious crimes and stop councils snooping.
* Restore the principle of double jeopardy in UK law.
* Remove innocent people from the DNA database.
* Reduce the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days.
* Scrap the ministerial veto which allowed the Government to block the release of Cabinet minutes relating to the Iraq war.
* Require explicit parental consent for biometric information to be taken from children.
* Regulate CCTV following a Royal Commission on cameras. Lib Dems

Basically a work of genius 🙂 But the existing powers that be are likely to resist this attempt to moderate their influence…

Anti Citizen One

UK DNA grab illegal

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 4th, 2008

I had to laugh. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled the UK police retaining DNA samples of people not convicted of a crime is a violation of human rights. Instead of saying “that is a victory for human rights”, the UK government disappointed and apparently has higher priorities than human rights (something about “crime detection”).

This highlights an interesting contradiction (or convenient deception) – are law makers above the law? or should they be? or can they be? If something is legally displeasing to them, they can simply legislate. (Of course, I am aware they occasionally ask to be re-elected but what we have is 1 day of democracy then 4 years of one party rule.) The recent arrest of Damien Green MP is a recent example of this. As Dominic Grieve MP asked: “Who is in charge of the police, if she [the home secretary] isn’t?”

I would imagine the home secretary would proclaim respect for the law as necessary and inherently good ideal. But then she ignores European human rights law! Or even more ironically, she claims the law can be abridged because it interferes with upholding other laws! If she can pick and choose which laws to obey, how is that not hypocritical? Should people who wilfully violate human rights (like the current home secretary) be punished as a law breaker?

This hypocritical attitude is actually necessary – strangely – because to establish new values, it is necessary to lie that these values are “true”.

Anti Citizen One

Review: Free Culture

Posted by Anti Citizen One on July 25th, 2008

Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig is a book that I found to be highly interesting and thought provoking. It is very well researched and prefers illustration by example rather than abstract arguments. The author’s position is pro-law but anti-lawyer which provides interesting fusion.

The book addresses the cultural impact of the internet and its relationship with copyright law – particularly American law. His conclusion is we need reform of the copyright system, not to remove rights from profitable works, but to free the culture of all non-profitable works to allow them to be preserved or reused in new creative work. This is in obvious contradiction to current law makers who continually attempt to extend the copyright term:

“A 95-year term would bridge the income gap that performers face when they turn 70, just as their early performances recorded in their 20s would lose protection” Charlie McCreevy

I think McCreevy has forgotten the purpose of copyright law. But what is that exactly?

The first copyright law was the Statute of Anne, passed by the British parliament in 1710. (Patent law is a slightly longer history). Before that time, book publishers had claimed a perpetual exclusive right to books under their control – a perpetual monopoly. Parliament limited that right by establishing copyright and after the term for the work to pass into the public domain (which did not previously exist). Note that the purpose of the first copyright law limited the publishers right to a finite time.

The limitation on terms was an indirect way to assure competition among publishers, and thus the construction and spread of culture.

This intention was explicitly expressed in the US Constitution. Americans must be complimented for being organised!

Congress has the power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8

Note again the word “limited” and the purpose “to promote […] Science and […] Art“. Why should copyright holders insist on their rights being perpetual? What purpose does it serve? Only self interest at the expense of public good! (and making “20 percent of America into criminals” by music downloading)

Lessig is very clear in distancing himself from copyright anarchists and unambiguously condemns copyright violations. He claims that ideas are “property”.

A free culture supports and protects creators and innovators. It does this directly by granting intellectual property rights.

I consider this a misused of the word “property” since property is, to my mind, a physical object that I possess. I might cautiously allow intellectual “rights” because it does not imply all the associations that “common sense” associates with “property”. If we think of an item as property, it becomes too easy to assign it to the owner (and heirs) for eternity. (I will touch on this again in a review of “Unspeak”.) This flies in the face of all creativity which relies on:

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas. George Bernard Shaw

and this idea has been adopted by the free culture movement as the slogan “Information wants to be free”. I agree with this view even if, according to Lessig, I might be an anarchist.

Lessig will remain correct when he states:

However convincing the claim that “it’s my property, and I should have it forever,” try sounding convincing when uttering, “It’s my monopoly, and I should have it forever.”

Right on. And an illustration on the power of the choice of words.

The book covers may more topics than these small points. A fascinating chapter describes his day in the US Supreme Court, in which he faced his nemesis of copyright extension. I don’t want to spoil the ending but it is a matter of record for those interested.

Anti Citizen One

PS This blog’s content is licensed under a Creative Commons license, written by a group that was co-founded by Lessig. And Lessig’s book is also freely available for legal download.

Sensitive (aka Thought Crime) Information in Academia

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 30th, 2008

Hicham Yezza, who was working as an administrator at the university [UCU], was arrested for printing out a copy of the widely available al-Qaida training manual for his friend, Rizwaan Sabir. He was re-arrested on immigration grounds after his release from custody and is due to be deported to Algeria on June 1. The Guardian

The Register reports his deportation has been “cancelled” but he remains in custody.

also in IT management and research:

New computer crime laws for the UK are currently being fine tuned before hopefully being passed in to law later this year. However, some of the measures intended to punish hackers harder than than they currently are could be used to criminalise people legally working in the IT industry. tech.blorge.com

There are software tools, such as nmap, that are useful for both securing a network and also for breaking into a network. Should be be made illegal? The current trend is to pass vague legislation with the verbal assurance that it will not be misused.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Even if we trust this government, who can say what the next government will do with laws that are so open to interpretation? And with ever lengthening power of arrest without charge? And total surveillance of phone and email messages? And (if the UK pilot is expanded) police wielding tasers?

“It makes people think, if I do this – which could be considered a perfectly legitimate act of research – will the same thing happen to me?” Martin Ralph, from Liverpool University

Anti Citizen One

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 23rd, 2008

I have been trying to find an interesting angle on the recent law passed by the UK government. I am afraid I have not found anything particularly insightful! Both sides seem to be talking past each other. If I may paraphrase each side:

Religion: we respect human life and we should therefore not experiment on embryos.

Scientists: we should experiment on embryos to advance medicine because we respect human life.

This indicates a difference in their conceptions of “respect”. Without specifying this, saying we have respect from human life is ambiguous. It annoys me that most of the media coverage does not scratch the surface of this issue.

My own opinion has been expressed in my blog post – the Paragon of Animals. To base objects based on divisions between species is, almost by definition, arbitrary and transient (all life forms are our distant cousins and all species have a finite duration of existence).

Anti Citizen One

Mediums May Need To Justify Claims

Posted by Anti Citizen One on April 18th, 2008

A change in the law could mean mediums, psychics and healers face prosecution if they cannot justify their claims. Spiritualists are delivering a mass petition to Downing Street and complaining that a genuine religion is being discriminated against. BBC

Although I am not a fan of state intervention in this manner, I have a greater desire to see certain cults hindered that that charge their followers for access to their “truth”.

AC1

Copyright Extension (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!)

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 14th, 2008

“The [European] Commission wants to extend the copyright period for music performers from 50 years to 95 years.” BBC

This should be strongly opposed. My views are public. My proposal: to cut copyright to 50 years or the death of the performer which ever is sooner. Only exception: if they have a significant other that absolutely depend on the money (or perhaps they should have got life insurance??). In fact 20 years or until time of death is even more reasonable! (This is the lengths of patents typically.)

Anti Citizen One

Law: One Size Fits All?

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 7th, 2008

There seems to be an outcry over Dr Williams comments on Sharia law.

“People may legally devise their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process.”

“[an approach to law which simply said] there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts – I think that’s a bit of a danger”.

To paraphrase/straw man his critics (using my words): “People who come to Britain should abide by British laws. Otherwise they should leave. No group should get special treatment. Dr Williams should resign. We should not change British law.”

I would say Dr William’s is right in this: one size does not fit all. The protests do not acknowledge that law is adapted to new situations as they arise. If one law was for everyone, for all time, why does parliament bother passing new laws? This “one law” that people seem to value is really in a state of transition.

And I did notice that Dr Williams was suggesting alternative laws could be opt in rather than universally applied. What is wrong with personal choice? Ah, people like their thinking done for them!

Update: Also, a separate law applies in Scotland. Again what is this “one law” that people are defending? It does not exist!

Anti Citizen One

Aphorism on Legal Matters

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 2nd, 2008

“If it is a good idea, people should freely do it: why mandate it? If it is a bad idea, people should freely shun it: why ban it?”

I imagine the first objection would be “why have any laws at all?” – answer: if people do “bad” things that need banning, they were not free to avoid doing “bad”, so my statement does not apply.

Or another answer is: yes! all laws are redundant! A light touch is best.

Anti Citizen One