Pornhuff

If you visit one of the plentiful Adult Entertainment websites around the Internet, you may find yourself looking at dozens of small screens providing a preview of the delights on the other side of the link beneath them. Now I understand that people don’t visit Adult Entertainment websites all the time, so to provide a clue to their layout, here’s some clips.

Oh sorry, that appears to be the Daily Mail. Whoops. Slap my *innocent face*, how could I make that mistake?

There’s been an ongoing Puritan streak through 2013 in the UK, something I’ve blogged about before in similar circumstances to where we are this week. The Independent newspaper has slumped around the “dark web” to pour yet more ‘evidence’ against the safety of the Internet in general and David Cameron maintains that the battle between Google and the Government can only go in one way.

The oh-so-moral Daily Mail has preached about its “success” in pushing David Cameron to stick an pornography opt-in for each and every ISP in the land. And we all say, “Oh for the love of the 21st Century….”

Right at the core of this argument is misunderstanding, a confusion of what is meant by “porn”. Feminists arguing against Page 3, child protection campaigners and tabloid hacks have all been squeezed and squashed and thrust together to make a single clusterfruitcake of chaos. It’s not a coherent argument to say “ALL PORN IS BAD”, nor “WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN”. Neither is it a moral victory to block porn in the UK at the same time as championing the breasts, legs, buttocks and stomachs of every A- B- C- D- E- F- G- H- I- J- K- L- M- N- O- P- Q- R- S- T- U- V- W- X- Y and Z- list celebrity woman who dares walk out  of home, work or nursery with(out) make-up. The very last breaths of a dying mainstream media stinks of puritanical hysteria, and such a combination of contradictory stances can only come from a source confused about the target of its protests.

I’m not here to demand freedom for everyone to access anything they want. It’s sensible for companies to restrict what can be accessed through free wi-fi such as The Cloud or through public libraries, etc. Parents of young children are completely within their rights to restrict or reduce Internet access on their own terms. Of course material which goes beyond the definition of extreme into criminal harm or abuse or violence must be stopped; but that’s what existing computer misuse laws exist to catch.

Crowing about blocking access to porn is the most backwards of all regressive steps, and Lord above knows how many strides into antiquity this country takes with each passing year. It’s bad enough living in a 19th century state with regards to drug law, attitudes to sexuality/gender politics and electoral administration/democracy, without having to add private use of personal computers to the list. I remember that crass and ignorant maxim – “If we change our way of life, the terrorists have won” – and now wonder whether every Cabinet Minister chose to run with it as a general daily slogan. This isn’t just “Yes Minister” levels of administrative hell, this is “The Day Today” gone feral.

What exactly is the “porn” which scares the Daily Mail so much? Do they appreciate the small percentage of extreme material which exists amongst the thousands of fuzzy, out-of-focus, barely entertaining amateur material uploaded to XTube every day? Have they checked out PornHub to audit an accurate ratio of 30-second wanking clips to subscription site previews? Is this the end of Cam4 as we know it?

As with drink, drug and sexuality policy, this country needs a grown up discussion on pornography. It’s beyond pathetic to live in a 21st Century democracy on the eve of the Prime Minister announcing the curtailing of personal freedom and choice on the back of a blind, quasi-religious freakout. The entire issue has been conflated and confused into a breathless crusade against sex, ignoring genuine problems (female body issues, much ignored male body issues, sex worker health and safety) for the sake of a quick thrill at the dispatch box. It’s bad enough living in a state where the ‘great sins’ are considered fair game in the race to the panic button, I’m not sure exactly how we can show our faces if the right to watch sex on a screen is robbed by here today gone tomorrow politicians.

I don’t care about “Won’t somebody think of the children?” I’m bothered by  “Won’t somebody think of the adults?!”

freedom to, freedom from, freedom for

Should prisoners be denied the right to vote?
No.

The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights yesterday has been, predictably, rounded upon by the awkward squads. The Daily Mail has called the decision “contemptuous”. I can’t bring myself to check what the Express thinks, it’s like not wanting to open a bank statement. There can only be bad things in there.

I’m glad for the Mail and Express having apoplectic fits of fury over prisoner voting rights, because it ticks all their boxes and therefore has to be right. Dealing with their opposition is similar to arguing with the pub drunk – there’s all the relevant points there, just not necessarily in the right order. As with many of those subjects which rile and vex, the tabloids have whipped up anger on their own fears, rather than the evidence. It’s as though a student has thrown their laptop across the bedroom because the essay is over a word limit.

The UK stands almost alone in its ban on prisoner voting rights, a view that puts us far lower down the list of respectable developed democracies than the tabloids would like.  That a convicted criminal receives extra “time off” from voting doesn’t differentiate them from the rest of the population for 11 months out of 12, and with turnout in the general population this year at around 30%, it’s not as though whatever logic existed beforehand stands up today.

Whatever general principle existed at the core of the current policy doesn’t make sense. How does giving prisoners an “additional extra” punishment work? Many criminals request – and are not barred from receiving in any case – help or communication with Members of Parliament. There have been a number of high profile cases of MPs helping release convicted criminals who were victims of miscarriages of justice. There is “justice” and there is “revenge” – denying criminals the right to vote is very much the latter – it does not stand up to scrutiny. Who wins because a convicted thief can’t vote for their local councillor, or a rioter was unable to vote in the AV referendum?

Prisoners are already considerably de-humanised by society – we are told that all those convicted  of a crime, from stealing a bottle of water to raping an under-age child – must be considered the same kind of evil. Jailed for sending a drunken tweet or beating up a pensioner? All the ban on voting does is feed resentment and bitterness amongst criminals, setting them along a spiral against rehabilitation. Society is at its best when it’s trying to take people away from criminal behaviour. This ancient pettiness is not society at its best.

The issue has very little about prisoner rights if you read the tabloids. There’s no concern in there about the levels of illiteracy, drug habits, access to employment opportunities. We’re forced to read the parallel rants, barely connected, against “Europe”, in favour of David Cameron “doing a Thatcher” against Brussels and all the usual, tedious British nationalism/EU-bashing. It’s the closest thing the tabloids have to showing signs of Internet trolling – the merest mention of a European decision sends staff to the keyboards in frenzied fury.

There’s people out there right now who have not stolen so much as an office stapler, but they can exercise their right to vote whilst not knowing one policy from another. There’s former prisoners living somewhere near your house who postal voted two weeks ago, and next door to you is a cannabis smoker who hasn’t voted for anyone in twenty years. Democracy is not just the right to slam your front door in the face of a leaflet-dropper two weeks before polling day; it’s about making  difficult choices for the right reasons. If we can get to a stronger, more liberal, more humane situation for convicted prisoners, it should be worth the long stretch of anti-European bile we’re about to drown in.

Everything to fear

Back in 2008, Labour’s Jacqui Smith explained why it was ‘vital’ to monitor email, internet and other communication use. That plan was eventually dumped, though its ghost has been hanging around Westminster and GCHQ for some time. Somebody called ‘Chris Huhne’ (where he now?) slammed the plans as being “incompatible” with living in a free country. Back in 2009, Jo Swinson   rightly criticised plans to snoop on social media users.

But what now for these Liberal Democrat MPs, and others, who are not in Opposition any more, as time has moved on and plans to create databases of everything typed, texted and crammed into 140 characters is drawn up by Coalition partners? To what extent has the dynamic changed between the instinctive liberal belief in civil liberties and the responsibilities inherent in being the junior partner in a Government? One hopes the dynamic has not changed at all: all Liberal Democrat MPs, regardless of proximity to the Cabinet table, must reject these proposals outright.

Labour have little wiggle room with this. The party who came up with the plans in the first place have an embarrassing record on civil liberties and freedom of speech, regarding these as optional extras. Under Blair and Brown, Labour were amongst the most authoritarian government this country has ever seen – ID Cards, DNA database, locking up children without charge and driving tanks onto the tarmac of Heathrow airport in the name of ‘counter terrorism’. Successive Home Secretaries attempted to outdo each other in their ‘tough stance’ on civil liberties, out-Torying each other as they went. John Reid relished becoming more of a Conservative Home Secretary than any of his predecessors, concluding that the ‘not fit for purpose’ Home Office should be beefed up, toughened out. Labour were enemies of civil liberties, making the decision by Theresa May to scrap controversial stop and search laws  and control orders within months of coming into power all the more remarkable – when the Conservatives are in charge relaxing civil liberty laws, you should be worried about the extent to which you were extreme.

This snooping law proposal is obscene, a return to the dark Labour days, and must be resisted. The ‘internet community’ showed how dangerous SOPA laws would be for intellectual properties;  it must now do the same for freedom of expression. “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is an obscene parody of the danger inherent in these plans. GCHQ is unaccountable, unreachable, yet Ministers feel it right to allow the tentacles of that agency to reach out of your phones, laptops and tablet devices like so many scenes from 1980s horror movies: licking your ears, sewing up your mouths, stealing the words from your fingers as you type. This is not “safeguarding freedom”,  this is theft of your thoughts, your ideas, your opinions. There can be nothing more idiotic than this concept of ‘safeguarding’ by way of making freedom less certain, less secure. Remember the lie “if we change our way of life, the terrorists win?”.  This would be the terrorists “winning”.

The words of George Orwell are so often invoked in cases like that so as to lessen the impact. Make no mistake about the lessons from history, especially those written not solely as fiction but as a warning.

I am liberal by instinct (you wouldn’t want to choose being liberal, it’s like consciously choosing to be gay or an Aston Villa supporter).  My suspicion about Governments of all colours comes from their actions – as their words are often blocked by FOI requests and firewalls. Labour were rightly beaten by good sense and reason as they continued their assault on freedom of speech, but the Hydra in Westminster tends to have skin which is coloured red and blue: one hopes, beyond all hope, that there’s no orange. Liberal Democrat MPs must ensure these proposals are voted down and out at every opportunity. Not just on the broad brush “freedom of expression” motion but from each and every angle – legitimacy, cost, reason, sense, achievement. How can this forever morphing ‘war on terror’ have shaped itself into an attack on the millions of innocent British people using email, chat rooms, message boards, Twitter? What justification can there be  to ‘root out’ the bad guys by having everyone clicked ‘suspicious’ like so many Minesweeper boxes flagged for uncertainty?

This has not been a good few weeks for the Coalition, so anything which manages to knock down the reputation yet further must be a hum-dinger of a plan. This stinks to the highest heavens from the lowest sewers of the Big Brother tendencies within the Home Office. We’ve been here too many times recently, the shadow of ‘terrorism’ seeping into proposals like so much bonfire smoke in the eyes. We cannot allow this plan to happen – it’s disproportionate, it’s alien to British values and it’s just plain old damned wrong. Real time monitoring of conversations – just read that phrase out loud! – is not the act of a Government that respects its people. It’s the act of a Government out of control. We are a better people than that. Resistance must start now.

Norway – jumping to conclusions

Labour MP Tom Harris shook up the sensitive elements of Twitter with his reaction to Norway’s bombing and shooting tragedy. His two tweets in question, which kickstarted the keyboard warrioring across Left and Right were:

“Even after Oslo, we’ll still have the apologists for terrorism saying it was caused by “foreign policy” or by “disrespect to the Prophet”.

“If I have unfairly accused militant Islamists for Oslo attacks I apologise and hope it does not interfere with their ongoing charity work.”

It doesn’t take too many Google searches to find blogs where conclusions (and prejudices) are well and truly exposed:

“The Norwegian people need to get rid of their Leftist treasonous government and display some of that old viking blood. Appeasing Islamic aggression hasn’t work. It’s time for Norway to stand against Islamic Imperialism!”

It is easy to wander around messageboards, forums, chatrooms, to see the thought processes which initially linked the attacks to Islamist terrorists, or linked somehow to al Qaeda. It tapped into assumptions and prejudices many of us shared. When I read the details of the news, I couldn’t help but groan. To a Facebook status implying it was Islamic terrorists, I leapt into automatic world-view keyboard warrior. “It was carried out by someone pissed off at the West invading their country,” I posted, fresh with the anti-Libya rage I have held since the start of that particular adventure. On a politics forum I visit, the implied assumption of an Islmaic attack hung around every post.

The man accused of carrying out both attacks. Anders Behring Breivik, does not have the appearance of a radicalised convert. It could be, as more details are known, that he is a crazed, lone individual whose actions come from deep seated concerns of his own. Nationalism, perhaps, such as it might exist in Norway. Despite the assumption jumping, it does not hold too many hallmarks of what would be called a ‘typical’ attack in the Madrid or Bali or London models.

Have we been conditioned, since 9 September 2011, into this automatic unease, this discreet prejudice? Tom Harris, of course, was flamed by the usual suspects who read what they wanted to read; he did not blame “Muslims”, if he actually blamed anyone at all. That does not absolve us of every accusation. The easy and convenient labelling comes from years of conditioning by the media, from whom ‘divide and rule’ retains its news gathering charm.

The existing threat from extremists on all sides keeps us vigil, aware, and ultimately frames how our Governments decide the levels of civil rights and freedoms we can enjoy. We have this situation completely wrong. If Breivik turns out to have no connections to Islamist terrorism, how we reconcile our own beliefs is one thing; how our Governments conclude reconsiderations of civil liberty legislation will be quite another.

Your Freedoms, our opportunity…

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today launched “Your Freedom”, to help collate ideas for the Coalition’s “Great Repeal Bill”.

Clear proof that this Government is serious about undoing the tangle of authoritarian, civil-liberty hating agenda from the previous Labour administration, this goes another step to disprove the hysterics surrounding the new Government: the Conservative Party are talking with a liberal accent, and long may it continue.

Some of my suggestions, with appropriate links where I could find them (hey, Government websites are not very good STILL, so much for new politics etc).

Freedom to take photographs

There are two popular links to this proposal – by “manwood” and “eafo

It is almost too surreal for words to consider that the police can confiscate a camera – or even arrest the photographer – as a potential ‘terrorist threat’ Even train spotters have been dragged under this paranoid legislation, as though operatives are busying themselves at the end of Platform 4 admiring a Class 150/2 en route to Blackburn. The freedom to take photographs of public spaces is too fundamental to trap under so-called anti-terrorist law. It’s a measure of Labour’s evil streak that they considered it sensible in the first place.

Freedom to live without suspicion

With reference to this from “nothing2hide”

RIPA [Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act] is another watchword for absurd paranoia under Labour, legislation gone feral. You may remember councils checking up on parents during the school run, or people being clocked putting cardboard into glass-can recycle bins, that sort of thing. RIPA is a snooper’s charter, totally at odds with the right to exist without fear of unnecessary surveillance. Its repeal is required as urgently as possible to return some sense of liberty to our daily lives. There are other ways to monitor potential threats without the legislation being misused by bored Town Hall clerks.

Freedom to learn without prayer

From “lousiealmond” comes a popular proposal to free schools from collective prayers and assemblies.

This is not an agenda against Nativity Plays. It simply asks that non-faith schools, especially primary schools, are freed from the necessity to ask children as young as 4 to say “amen” to opinions they may not understand or believe. Parents are able to decide how much religion their children learn at home; they are allowed to opt-out of certain lessons (such as sex education). They should be confident about schools not giving children too much religious teachings if this is against their wishes.

Freedom to smoke cannabis

As seen – perhaps inevitably – by plenty of submissions, with some taken at random being from “pillarofsoc“, and “mikeoldroyd

This is an oldie, but a goodie. By decriminalising and regulating the sale of cannabis, the Government would have a substantial income stream while being able to ensure the quantity and strength of that on sale. It would decrease the “Morrisions car park” branches of NHS Direct to barely a trickle, improve the ability of the police to focus on serious crime prevention, including harder drugs and money laundering. Cannabis has been found to have serious medical consequences, but its use has not fallen by a substantial degree; Government regulation would be the “compromise” between full banning and total legalisation.

Freedom to respect, and be respected by, the police

With reference to suggestions by “getcartnernow” and “sladen”

The powers to stop and search are an important part of police work and crime prevention. Under Labour, and their tag-team Home Secretaries, “Section 44” stop and searches enabled the police to ask anyone, without prejudice, many questions without the need to have a given excuse. Black, Asian, and younger people were targeted like the proverbial pot of jam. “Section 44” is now a watchword for authoritarianism. It cannot be defended if this country wants to be considered an open, liberal society. The paranoid amongst Labour supporters say “If our way of life changes, the terrorists have won”. Clearly they did not look at the legislative history of their own party…

Freedom to enjoy legal highs

As recommended by your good Doktor

We know, now as fact, that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was pretty much ignored by Alan Johnson during the ‘drone controversy. Wanting a quick headline on the back of tabloid hysteria, legal highs such as methedrone were banned. Websites selling the substance reported their highest ever takings; they vanished from the web within hours of the ban taking place. Drone was found to be directly responsible for one death – regrettable as one death is, it is nothing compared to the deaths linked to excessive drinking, smoking, or even deaths on the road. The Advisory Council must now return to this issue, allowing users who already “self regulate” and “self police” far more than people realise to use their drug of choice free from State control unless it is proven utterly unsafe to do so.

I have been distracted by other very good ideas – repeal the extreme pornography laws, allow voting across a weekend, set up an English parliament. Now all I hope for – all we all hope, perhaps – is that the Coalition are able to take these suggestions through the House of Commons before 2015. This is our best opportunity for many years to influence the tone of Government. Labour liked to tuck us all up and tell us ghost stories.

May the Coalition bring some light into the room…