Carl Gardner believes privacy campaigners are distracting us from the real threats out there. By chance our long-planned meeting takes place the day after the Paris Terror Attacks, as I am trying to fathom the implications of what’s happened. There are so many issues to balance…and in the fulcrum it seems it’s our individual freedoms that are being squeezed every time.
When is it appropriate to rein in our right to free speech? When it’s to avoid heinous offence? When ridicule of one particular group comes too close to racism? Or inches towards incitement to racial hatred? And what is a “proportionate response” to a terror attack? How far should we attempt to curb our personal freedoms to protect national security? Interesting to consider all this against the backdrop of David Cameron’s post-Charlie anti-terror laws, proposals for the blanket collection of “plane data” and revelations just this week of the European Commission’s plans to request no less than 42 items of personal info about air passengers flying in and out of Europe. This balancing act is becoming more impossible, by the day.
Public Law expert Carl is the perfect person to ask about all of this, having spent over a decade advising the British Government before branching out and becoming one of the profession’s most respected bloggers.
So I put it to him: how do you balance all these competing rights?
“But I don’t see that there is a “balance” ”, he counters. “These things are not in conflict to my mind. Just because we have more of one, doesn’t mean we have to have less of the other. The aim of all of these so called competing rights is for all of us to have more freedom. Where’s the conflict?
“I have to say, listening to the rhetoric that comes from some civil liberties campaigners, the focus seems to be on a rather abstract idea of freedom and an exaggerated polemic around how the Government is attacking it. A good example is the scaremongering headlines around “GCHQ listening to our conversations.” Having worked inside Government for 15 years or so, I can’t see how this civil service department, as resource–stretched as any other, could even resource this. The reality is, we are far more likely to be attacked by extremists than listened in to by GCHQ. The vast many of us would simply not be of any interest to the Government and so their precious resources would not be wasted on us.
“I don’t know where people have got this idea from… [he reconsiders]…well actually I do: it originates from privacy campaigners who, intentionally or not, are building up a privacy paranoia. Many people honestly believe our privacy is under attack in this country. They think the threat to their privacy is real. But it’s just not.
“I do personally have a bit of an issue with privacy campaigners because there’s a lot of misinformation being put about. It’s important that we do debate these issues, but inaccuracy does not help.
“A good example is the lather around supposed “Government mass surveillance”. The misinformation is that our Government reads our emails. In discussion over the rights and wrongs of Government tracking the meta-data around our communications, the impression is carelessly given that it’s the content of our emails that is being routinely scrutinised. This is misleading and it is simply not the coherent and principled position it appears to be at first blush.
“There’s a paranoia of a new Orwellianism in the UK that is just fantasy. And if people really think the real threat in the aftermath of the Paris attack is what the Government is going to do next, well that’s crazy. It’s about time we ditched this fantasy and started focusing on the real issues.”
I always did like Carl’s plain talking! And I for one would feel much more secure about my freedom if I were convinced the Government was focusing on the real, rather than fictional, threats to it. I’m collecting views on this, so please do share your thoughts.
…Just 5 days after the Paris attacks, Sophie and I travel to the Middle East. This was always going to be interesting… But once in Dubai visiting our new friends, we are struck over the course of our four day visit, how well Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and more live and work so harmoniously side by side… whilst elsewhere in the world, an ugly echo of inter-faith unrest ricochets from city to city.
Of course Dubai’s role in the modern world is precisely this: to be an international hub, a meeting place for the world of international commerce to come and do business with the Middle East, which I guess necessitates the open mindset and culture we find there. We loved Dubai for this.
And as we fly back home we pick up the news The Sun is to divest itself of its Page 3 staple. A curious story to greet us after hearing views from Dubai locals about “the merits of a controlled press”… i.e. absence of celebrity flim flam, more space for worthy/interesting editorial… and certainly no "topless beauties".
We flew home feeling very proud our free press had freely volunteered to take this positive, if rather overdue, step forward into enlightenment. See, the press doesn’t need to be controlled; the readership itself has provided the necessary pressure for The Sun’s editors to make the right decision.
So imagine our disappointment then to find out, just 48 hours later, the news report was false. The paper’s Page 3 “lovelies” are here to stay. For a while longer at least. The only thing that cheered us up on hearing this dismal development was the reaction on Twitter: men up and down the country posting pictures of their own or others’ “man nips” in protest at the anachronistic Page 3’s return. The selection is hilarious. Take a look under #sunmannips and you’ll find a few celebrity entries too, designed to raise a smile… such as Putin’s famous topless poses in combat gear.
Now there’s a He For She campaign if ever we saw one! Thanks boys!!