BBC World Service: Alex Deane and Claire Fox discussing the threats to the freedoms of the British people
"I'm not going to change anything about the way I go about my life", people would say, "if I did that it would be letting the terrorists win".
Sadly, this spirit of stoicism doesn't appear to have extended to the mandarins at Northamptonshire County Council.
According to the Metro this morning, the parents of 100,000 schoolchildren in the county have received letters from headteachers advising them of the risk of terrorism associated with visting the capital. London is, the letters explain, at "severe" risk of a terrorist attack.
The scaremongering tactics of Northamptonshire County Council are wholly irresponsible; injecting an element of fear into the traditional school day trip to London and placing an unfair burden of worry on parents. What kind of a word do we live in when a school day trip to the British Museum or such like comes with a "terrorism warning"?
Britain's Foreign Secretary is in Moscow today on his first visit to Russia.
I am glad to see that the case of Alexander Litvinenko features prominently in the news reports about the trip and sincerely hope that it gets more than a mention in the talks between the officials concerned. As I wrote elsewhere at the time, this seems to be a straightforward case of extra-judicial execution done on the streets of our capital by a foreign power, and it is absurd that things go on as if nothing happened.
The Russian suspected of having done the deed, former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, has been the subject of an extradition request by the Crown Prosecution Service since 2007. It remains unanswered, and Lugovoi appears in the media today to flaunts his contempt for British law, bluntly refusing to contemplate an appearance to answer the allegations against him and – forgive me if one appears incredulous about this – urging Britain to "move on" from the case.
I trust that William Hague will demonstrate that countries which respect the rule of law and defend the lives of their subjects don't just brush such things under the carpet.
By Alex Deane
The Daily Mail carries news today of the story of a former scout awarded £7,322 damages by a Birmingham court after incurring an injury during a game of 'objects in the dark'. The scout is said to have suffered shoulder damage after scoutmasters failed to "take reasonable care" to ensure the safety of children under their control.
The specifics of this case aside, such a ruling risks setting a regrettable precedent in which volunteers such as those involved in scouting feel unable to organise activities for young people without the permanent risk of incurring costly and personally embarassing litigation.
The ruling is currently being appealed at the High Court with the Lord Justices set to hand down their opinion at the end of the month.
While guaranteeing the safety of children is paramount, it can surely only be right that our legal system affords adequate protections to volunteers like scoutmasters who are so generously giving of their time to help young people?
An effort was made to address this issue back in 2006 in the form of the Promotion of Volunteering Bill championed by backbench MP Julian Brazier. The bill, which sought to "reduce the effect of litigation to organisations and others engaged in "desirable acts"" such as organising school trips and scouting visits, failed to progress beyond a second reading.
Over at the Daily Mail, Max Hastings has written that
Of course, the police have a tough job. But to shoot dead Mark Saunders like a mad dog was an affront to the values of a decent society
I think I disagree.
Let's remember that Saunders had been firing his shotgun wildly around Chelsea’s Markham Square. Police had been on the scene for some time, but he still refused to put down his gun. So – although I have not seen the evidence in any depth, and I may be wrong – I tend to think that the jury got it right when they returned a verdict of lawful killing in this case. I would add to that that I believe in the common sense of jurors, and the jury here had every opportunity to stick it to the police in question, and did not.
On the other hand, I do agree with Hasting when he writes that there is
a new and alarming macho gun culture among Britain’s constabulary.
I just don't think that the Saunders case is a good example of that. If ever there's a time for armed police, I'd think that responding to a man blazing away at his neighbours is it. Much better as an example, I think, is the experience I had this weekend, walking with my wife in the sunny gardens of St Paul's Cathedral – when we came across two hulking cops coming down the path towards us, each lugging a submachine gun.
My point isn't that this is unusual – it's that this is usual. Nothing special was happening this weekend, there was no specific event or exceptional justification – it was just a couple of policemen walking the beat, armed to the nines like Rambo.
I'll lay odds that you've seen something similar lately. It started becoming more usual at airports, and then at specific events, and now we see City of London police toting kit meant for warzones around the gardens at St Paul's, in which perhaps the worst examples of disorder might be a recalcitrant squirrel or two. What next in the standard kit – bazookas?
We're a long way from Robert Peel when this is the norm. Who, faced with this, thinks that "the police are the public, and the public are the police"? It's very hard to feel like we have a citizen constabulary when they are swaddled with hyper-aggressive kit (batons, spray, maglite thumper-torches, tasers, and now machine guns). To my mind it's the normalisation of this kind of kit and style of policing on our streets every day, rather than the high-profile exceptional incident, that should command our attention. Being armed for the exceptional circumstance is reasonable and can protect us. Being armed as a norm is a vivid demonstration of something many people feel – that we are now policed by representatives of an often overbearing state, rather than by ourselves.
(Re the specific example of the Saunders case, I know that readers might have expected me to go the other way on this one and I'd love to know what you think.)
by Alex Deane
A former Big Brother Watch intern who specialised in Freedom of Information request research, James now works for Ipsos-Mori – he continues to assist in research and web campaigns.
Dominique Lazanski spent over 10 years in the Internet industry with many of those years working in Silicon Valley. She has a long held interest in public policy and participatory government. She has written and spoken on digital issues over the years from a free market and entrepreneurial perspective. She holds degrees from Cornell University and the London School of Economics.
Following our blogposts yesterday regarding the introduction of facial recognition systems schools and the iPhone Facebook application's leeching of your private data, it now appears Apple are set to go one step further and allow you to fuse the two.
Apple has recently acquired the facial-recognition software firm Polar Rose whose technology has the ability to allow internet users to "tag, detect, manage, and search for Facebook (including other social networks) friends in Flickr photos".
The Business Press reports that it appears likely Apple will "implement the technology into mobiles.., allowing users to easily tag, search and manage friends with synchronizing capabilities on iOS powered devices such as the iPhone and iPad".
At Big Brother Watch, we hope this commitment will extend to this new technology so that Facebook users are able to share a few photographs online with friends without the fear of their images being accessed by this intrusive and invasive facial recognition software.