The Plastic Hippo

April 4, 2012

Snoop dog and bone

Filed under: Law,Media,Politics,Rights,Society — theplastichippo @ 12:33 pm

“Yah, hi Nick, it`s Dave. Look, I need you to take my morning suit to the dry cleaners, Rebekah`s having a christening. Take my shoes as well because you can polish them while you wait. They are at the servant`s entrance, yah. Do it now, okay? Ciao.”

When someone says or suggests something really, really stupid, there are three options for damage limitation. Firstly, forget about it and hope that not too many people noticed. The second option is to apologise for it and say it won`t happen again, thereby increasing the number of people who notice by the power of number ten. Alternatively, the really, really stupid person can try to add context to the really, really stupid suggestion by attempting to distance themselves from the really, really stupid original statement by offering justifications that are not only off, but actually break the stupidity gauge. Our government is really, really good at doing this.

Way back in the dim and distant 2009, when the previous bunch tried to introduce universal surveillance of citizens, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats fought tooth and claw against this outrageous attack of civil liberties by a monstrous authoritarian state. Both parties pledged in their manifestos to protect privacy and the rights of the people. After all, a manifesto promise is…ah, we might have to think through that sentence again.

Now, in what passes for power, the Conservatives and the newly re-educated Conservatives formerly known as Liberal Democrats, are realising their dream of dismantling a monstrous authoritarian state by flogging it off to their chums and replacing it with a monstrous authoritarian state intent on the universal surveillance of citizens. There is something comforting in the circularity of politics.

Clearly, few would argue that electronic intercepts of criminal gangs, terrorist cells planning atrocity and groups of sub-humans who harm and exploit children is nothing but a very good thing and a vital part of law enforcement in these changing digital times. But, the logic of demanding that every phone call, email and website visit be available to government scrutiny suggests that our government think every voter is a criminal, terrorist or, what a proportion of the readership of the Sun believes, paediatricians.

Soon the braying from left, right and centre made it clear that this latest monumental howler would allow the Home Office to join the growing number government departments including the Treasury, Work and Pensions, Health, Defence, the Foreign Office and Education who obviously missed the arse from elbow seminar hosted by David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

When the ridicule began, including one genius who suggested we cc Cameron on every email we send, the justification was spun out in a web of nonsense. Malcolm Rifkind crawled out of the woodwork to tell the BBC that nothing had changed, we have always done this and Home secretary Theresa May finally surfaced in, of all places, the Sun to tell us that the hasty legislation will protect children and stop us being blown up. The boy Clegg said that with the Queen`s speech a month away, we don`t know the details. He expressed concern and asked for consultation. Any real Liberals left in the world will be hammering keyboards, expressing outrage and demanding blood.

It is not difficult to analyse why an unelected government would wish to spy on the populace. Following the Arab Spring when criticism, opposition and protest was organised by social media, any corrupt government would really like to know, in the words of Marvin Gaye, what`s going on. A government that has fought tooth and claw to prevent the publication of the NHS risk register and the exposure of Michael Gove`s various email accounts now wishes to view, in real time, the “anti-social elements” infecting the internet. In other word, if you don`t agree, you are a criminal or a terrorist. At least this brings us into line with China, North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan in terms of freedom of speech.

Oh, and just a small piece of advice. Signing an online government petition giving your name and email address is not the brightest way of avoiding future prosecution under the prevention of terrorism act.

The government has certainly had a turbulent few weeks since Osborne`s budget. What is interesting is that the stories of invented scandals and crisis and the genuine hypocrisy, illegality and incompetence seem to be coming from one source. With a commons report about to be published critical of the British press and the Leveson inquiry moving on to investigate the relationship between the media and politicians, James Murdoch steps down to spend less time with his family. How ironic that News International should now berate a government who intend to hack phone calls, texts, email and computers. This clash to the titans will last as long as the Leveson inquiry or until Godzilla and King Kong, who were once allies, now tear each other apart.

Strangely, unmentioned so far, are the upcoming Olympic Games. With air exclusion zones, surface to air missile emplacements in Hackney and every security asset we have deployed to protect the copyright of the IOC, Coca-Cola, Addidas and NBC, it is important that the government can monitor people with funny names sending each other pictures of funny cats.

All this seems a long way from the exotic world of rock and roll touring. The unsung heroes are the stage crew and the riggers. These men and women are first in with the staging, vanity platforms that bring the untalented to the unworthy punters, chain-up motors and lighting trusses. They are last out with the “take-down” at the end of the gig when the punters are home and the talent is on the tour bus.

Some years ago, at a major televised gig from Wembley Stadium, one rigger who had an admittedly very Irish name, was getting some sleep. On waking, he texted his crew boss who also happened to have a very Irish name, and asked for confirmation of when the concert ended. Within an hour, both men were in the custody of the Met and enjoying a fairly robust interrogation. The removal of the equipment was significantly delayed as the text of the text read:
“Seamus. What time are we taking down Wembley?”

Before long, some clever person will come up with a list of buzz words simply to wind up GCHQ and result in endless Robin Hood airport twitter joke trials. Even as this keyboard is tapped, the government is backing down again and preparing for tomorrow`s crisis. Secret justice, hosepipe bans, airport delays, who knows? The list of wrong things to say probably exists and these seditious, treasonable musings about to terrorise the internet thingy will probably bring an armed response team to hammer down the door and cart your humble correspondent off to an internment camp in Cardigan Bay. As Douglas Adams pointed out, “resistance is useless”.

“Hi Dave, it`s Nick. Your suit and shoes are clean. Thanks for letting me do that, you know I`m here to help. Erm…just one teeny tiny favour. Can I have a rest from appearing on television to explain stuff? I know you`re really busy but I really need to get home and sort out things. Look, I really love my job but I need some time off. Dave…Dave…are you there Dave?…”

1 Comment »

  1. As always, a good post.

    I was particularly engaged by the roadie story, which I had heard in a slightly different form. My version is that, at a Leonard Cohen gig, the sound mixer got questioned by spooks for announcing that ‘First We Take Manhatten’ would be performed as a final tune up.

    Universal surveillance of citizens is by no means a new thing, but always silly, undemocratic and fundamentally futile . As it goes, this is a perfect description of the present Government.

    Nonetheless, I cannot pass up the opportunity to point out that the Coalition are simply reviving legislation proposed under Blair and Brown. No doubt ianrobo will confirm that the draft Bill was dropped by Labour as soon as it was clear that no-one would give it Parliamentary houseroom.

    The Civil Service, under instruction from the Government of the day, forms, checks and carries out legislation. It is therefore of some interest that the Information Commissioner , Christopher Graham, has turned rebel, describing the present proposals as ‘innappropriate’, ‘unneccessary’ and ‘unwarranted’.

    My feeling is that he will soon find himself in pasture.

    In my neck of the woods, I have been heavily canvassed by all sorts of well-meaning folk, all presenting reasonable and tolerant perspectives on every matter that should be of concern to the average citizen.

    However, when asked about the idea of the Government assuming blanket powers of surveillance of all private individuals, I drew a blank.

    Maybe there is a message here.

    The Realist

    Comment by The Realist — April 4, 2012 @ 2:38 pm | Reply

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