The Labour Purge…. and social media privacy.

The so-called ‘Labour Purge’ has many disturbing elements – from the motivations behind those who might ‘need’ to be purged to the motivations of those who want to purge them – but there is one aspect that appeared yesterday that seems to have been largely ignored: the attitude to people’s privacy. There was one particular statement, reported in the Guardian, that I found particularly disturbing:

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 20.15.25

There are many different elements to this statement that should bother us, but two linked point are particularly disturbing. Firstly, it suggests that the party has been scouring the internet to find social media profiles of people who have registered. Secondly, it seems to suggest that for people not to have clearly identifiable social media profiles is suspicious.

Privacy in public

The first idea, that it’s ‘OK’ to scour the net for social media profiles, then analyse them in detail is one that is all too common. ‘It’s in the public, so it’s fair game’ is the essential argument – but it relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of privacy, and of the way that people behave. Privacy isn’t two valued, with information either ‘public’ or ‘private’. It’s not even a spectrum, with some things more private, other things more public. It’s much more complex and nuanced than that. Some things we want to keep private from some people, and are happy to share with others. Some things we change our minds about. Time and context can change things. You might be happy for your friends to know something, but not your parents – or your kids. And vice versa. And it’s not about ‘hiding’ ‘bad’ stuff – again, it’s far more complex than that.

With social media this is particularly important. Though we should be wary of ‘real world’ analogies, in the context of politics it might be worth comparing the sort of conversations people have on Twitter, for example, with those we have in the pub. It’s a public place, and the things we say are ‘in public’, but when you chat with your mates around a table in a corner of the pub, do you expect that conversation to be recorded, and then pored over by your employers, the police, your relatives, your enemies, the local morality police etc? Do you think it would be OK for someone to have a microphone on the table next to you, and a camera hidden in their pint glass? Yes, this is ‘in public’, but in practice we do expect some degree of privacy – and if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have the kinds of important conversations that we do. If we expect to be watched and recorded, we’re more guarded – and less honest. We should encourage privacy, not ride roughshod over it, if we want honesty, freedom of speech, intelligent political debate and so on. Labour’s approach here is quite wrong.

Anonymity in social media

The second point is just as important. We should not expect people to have social media profiles – let alone identifiable social media profiles. What is more, this is particularly important for some of the people that Labour should care about and support the most. People may be ‘digitally excluded’, for a start – but they might also have extremely valid reasons to be pseudonymous on the internet. Vulnerable people, in particular, might need pseudonymity to protect them from those to whom they are vulnerable. Whistleblowers. People with abusive spouses. People with abusive or manipulative employers. Trade unionists, for example, might have that status used against them – there’s a reason that Trade Union membership is considered ‘sensitive personal data’ under the Data Protection Act. People might wish not to have their religion revealed to all and sundry. People might wish to separate their personal and professional lives for perfectly good reasons.

Respecting and supporting people

There is much more to say on this subject – but the underlying issue is the one that is most disturbing. What the Labour Party is doing may well breach the Data Protection Act – there is a discussion to be had here – but it is certainly at least verging on the creepy. It displays an attitude to people who wish to support them that is disappointing to say the least. It displays a distrust of – even a contempt for – people that should worry us.

Did they ask the people who applied to become supporters if it was OK for them to be scrutinised in this way? Did they inform them that they would be scrutinised in this way? Did they even think that it might be an issue? Did they check who would be doing the scrutiny, and what they would do with the data that they gathered? Have they compiled databases with the scrutiny information in – something that would certainly engage the Data Protection Act? Are there blacklists? How have they ensured that this data, these lists, are secure and not open to misuse? Have they even asked any of these questions?

The underlying attitude seems to be one of the classic and hideous misunderstanding of privacy: ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear’. If that’s still the attitude of the Labour Party, even after all the revelations of the last few years, they need to step back and think again.

Labour should embrace privacy

The Labour Party should embrace privacy, not ride roughshod over it. Privacy should protect the weak against the powerful. It should enable people to organise, to support themselves with and as a community. It should be precisely the sort of thing that Labour should support. They should remember the way that the powerful – whether governments, corporations, criminals or other powerful groups – invade privacy in order to cement and wield their power. They should remember how vulnerable people and vulnerable groups need privacy. They should always have known this – but now, particularly now, they should be aware of it, and change both their attitude and their actions.

Neither ‘moderates’ nor ‘ modernisers’…

One thing that has become stark in the Labour leadership election has been the division between factions – the trouble is, the descriptions used seem to be determined by those who have a distinct interest in the result. Jeremy Corbyn is of course described as ‘far left’ or ‘hard left’ – and though I disagree with both descriptions that isn’t really the point I want to make here. No, what I don’t agree with is the counter-description of those who seem to be lining up against Corbyn as ‘moderates’ or ‘modernisers’. Neither term is at all appropriate.

Anyone who has watched the increasing desperation by some within the anti-Corbyn campaign should have noticed the lack of moderation. The language used against him and his supporters has been vicious and personal. The tactics used – and even worse the tactics proposed – have been much less democratic than those used by his supporters. There have been stories of coups should he win, and most recently a call by John Mann MP for the whole contest to be called off. None of this is ‘moderate’ in any meaningful way. It’s the opposite: extremist, in a particular ‘centrist’ form. The level of control demanded – and part of John Mann’s call was based around an idea that the leadership election was ‘out of control’ – is the kind associated with the ‘hard left’ or ‘hard right’ than with anyone who pretends to be ‘moderate’. The narrowness of the ‘acceptable’ discussion is also far from moderate – it’s controlled and controlling. Moderates? Far from it.

The idea that the anti-Corbyn campaign is full of ‘modernisers’ is almost as misleading: in practice, many of them want the opposite of modernisation. What they want is a return to something that was modern, but has now become part of an almost mythical past. Labour circa 1997 is seen as the ideal – and this isn’t ‘modern’ any more. It’s harking back to the past, with nostalgia just as unrealistic as UKIP’s nostalgia for a mythical 50s. A true ‘moderniser’ is open to something new, ready to abandon their presumptions and prejudices, not to try to lock into place something that they liked in their youth. I liked Labour 1997 – but in 1997. It’s not 1997 anymore – and a real moderniser wouldn’t want it to be. They would want something really new – and not to go back to their version of the Blair model. That time has passed.

So no, the ‘anti-Corbyn’ campaign isn’t populated by moderates and modernisers so much as with extremists (of the centre) and nostalgia-driven conservatives (with a small ‘C’). A moderate would want debate, and show respect. A moderniser would be open to different options and to having their assumptions (including economic ones) challenged. Right now, those driving the campaign against Corbyn do neither.

The Labour Leadership Saga…

When Labour lost the General Election

They knew they needed new direction

Without a pause for much reflection

“A new leader” they cried!

 

The first to rise was the man called Chuka

His suits so sharp, credentials pukka

But when tabloid lips began to pucker

He ran away to hide.

 

Tristram next began to expound

His vision, with his vowels round

But support for him could not be found:

He fell, and wept inside

 

Just three remained: let battle commence

With Yvette and Andy on the fence

And Liz, who said her views made sense

For the members’ votes they vied

 

‘I’m Northern, me,” Scouse Andy said

Bright Yvette “I’m not quite so red”

Tough Liz cried “They’re both just like Ed”

“Who the voters can’t abide”

 

Said Liz, “I’m really not a Tory”

“Listen, you lot, to my story”

“Don’t vote for me? There’ll be no glory”

“Our future will be fried”

 

But from the left a wailing came

Those three, they cried, are all the same

They treat this thing as just a game

Let’s not give up our pride!

 

So Jez rose out from far left field

To this despair, he could not yield

With sword of red, and trusty shield

The media he defied

 

“I stand for people” Jez cried out

“For the poor and the lost, for those without”

“For socialism, I will shout”

“I’ll swim against the tide”

 

The old-new Labour lot just laughed

The very idea was completely daft

But a cunning plan they thought they’d craft

And let him come inside

 

But to their shock, his old left style

Did not make members run a mile

Instead it made them raise a smile

And fight instead of hide

 

His rivals could not deal with Jez

So went to their friends in the press

And said “it’s really quite a mess”

“Don’t worry,” their friends sighed

 

“It’s Tories playing silly games”

“They only want to fan the flames”

The antis cried, and called Jez names

And rocks at him they shied

 

They said ‘he’s just a dinosaur’

But others said ‘Jez tell us more’

At hustings he just took the floor

The others seemed to hide

 

The more he spoke, the more they shook

He rarely let them off the hook

He read them like an old, old book

No secrets held inside

 

What could the anti-Jez lot do?

The game had turned, that much they knew

They even tried to plan a coup!

The others simply sighed

 

Nothing seemed to work at all

Their ratings seemed to fall and fall

No matter who they tried to call

No answers could they find

 

Could Labour members be so mad?

Surely Jez must be a fad?

Things can’t really be so bad

The odds he has defied

 

The Blairites soon began to panic

Their media-writing was almost manic

But they misunderstood the whole dynamic

They couldn’t turn the tide

 

“He’s old,” they cried, “he’s got a beard”

“He’s damaging”, they sneered and sneered

“He’s just the sort of man we feared”

Was what they felt inside.

 

They called on Blair, their old grandmaster

But this time he was a disaster

They couldn’t have made Jez rise faster

No matter what they tried.

 

What could they do? They cursed and cursed

The Corbyn balloon must be burst

Before things could get any worse

And he got in his stride

 

“The game” they said, “it must be stopped”

“The whole contest it must be dropped”

“A new idea we must adopt”

“New rules must be applied”

 

“This time” they said, “we’ll make quite sure”

“The likes of Jez are shown the door”

“And just the right people take the floor”

“Let that be our guide”

 

Will they win? Just time will tell

The whole thing now begins to smell

A stitch up we might just foretell

But can they stop the tide?

 

…to be continued…

 

 

 

 

A ten point plan for the anti-Corbyn campaign.

  1. Stop calling Corbyn supporters stupid
  2. Send Tony Blair to Kazakhstan and don’t let him leave there until after the election
  3. Stop commissioning or writing editorials about how bad it would be if Corbyn wins the Labour leadership election
  4. Stop calling Corbyn supporters stupid
  5. Remember that the people who will decide the Labour leadership election are the Labour members and supporters, not the ‘general public’. You have to convince Labour members and supporters to choose a different candidate, not your conception of the general public, Daily Mail readers, ‘Middle England’, people who voted Tory or UKIP etc. Convincing them comes later, not in the Labour leadership election.
  6. Have a little think about why people support Corbyn, and if your answer is ‘they must be stupid’ think again.
  7. Stop calling Corbyn supporters stupid
  8. Convince one of the other candidates to have an idea that might be attractive to Corbyn supporters
  9. Try to come up with an idea that wasn’t in the Tory manifesto
  10. Stop calling Corbyn supporters stupid.

Simple, really….

Hollow Labour….

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

Many people, I suspect, know the last stanza of The Hollow Men far more than the first.  “This is the way the world ends” it goes, “This is the way the world ends, This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.” I found myself re-reading the poem today, ‘inspired’ by the Labour leadership contest. It was that last stanza, one of the best known and most quote pieces of poetry in recent times, I suspect, that made me think of it. No-one wants to go out with a whimper rather than a bang – least of all those interested in politics. And yet that seems to be what the ‘sensible’, ‘serious’ and ‘grown-up’ people seem to be suggesting for the Labour Party.

When I look at the contest, when I listen to the candidates, I don’t see anyone who I can realistically imagine winning a general election. The portrayals of Liz Kendall as a Tory are cruel and unfair in many ways, but they do hit at the heart of her approach – she seems to be saying that the Tories have won the big arguments, so we need to accept that and move on. Cooper and Burnham are bland and unconvincing – George Eaton’s description of them as ‘centrist blancmange‘ seems hideously and horribly apt. None of them get close to inspiring anything – it seems impossible most of the time to imagine them even inspiring themselves. That brought me back to the first stanza of The Hollow Men. Cooper, Burnham and Kendall seem very much to be hollow men and women, whispering together in dry voices, as quiet and meaningless as wind in dry grass. Labour Party meetings under their leadership might as well be rats scrabbling about over broken glass in dry cellars.

That’s where Corbyn comes in. His appeal is not hollow, it’s not dry, and he’s not whispering. His is the sort of voice that’s used to shouting in village halls, chanting on protest marches, even reading poetry at festivals. And that, though he has pretty much no chance at all of winning a general election, makes him appealing. The Labour Party, if it’s going to be led by as uninspiring leadership as Cooper, Burnham and Kendall have shown in the contest so far, is dying – and to many supporters, if they’re going to die, they’re not going to go down without a shout. If the Labour world is going to end, let it end with a bang, not a whimper.

The thing is, no-one has to be a member of a political party. No-one has to be an activist. No-one has to give their time, energy and more to a cause – so if you want your political party to have members and activists, you need to inspire them – and boring, ‘centrist’ policies are very difficult to make inspiring. For Labour activists, this may even be more true than for other parties – though it would be a classical mistake for Labour supporters to imagine they’re the only ones with vision, passion and dreams – and when Labour loses that sense of inspiration, it loses those activists. The catastrophe in Scotland was in part driven by this – activists stopped being active, members let their memberships lapse, while the SNP gained both members and activists in droves, and their ‘ground game’ was key to their success. If Labour wants to recover – in Scotland as well as in England and Wales – it needs to find that inspiration. The fact that the new Labour leadership election is one-member-one-vote, though seen by some as a weakness in that it allows activists ‘disproportionate’ power, should be seen as a strength, as it should require leadership candidates to inspire those members…

…and that, right now, is why Corbyn is succeeding and the others are failing. They seem to have forgotten what activists do, what inspires them – why they became activists in the first place. The latest move, to abstain over the Welfare Bill, shows this all too well. It may be ‘sensible’. It may be ‘grown-up’. It may be ‘good politics’ in the parliamentary sense. What it isn’t, however, is inspiring. It looks far more like a whimper than a bang.

Those campaigning against Corbyn may well be right – indeed, I suspect they are – that he can’t win a general election, and that electing him as leader could spell the end of the Labour Party. Unless, however, one of the others raises their game – in an inspiring way – that may not matter. They need to show something to Labour Party members, something that makes them say ‘yes’, not give dry, insincere applause. They need to reach out with something to the activists, because Corbyn has offered them something better than they do. It may be the end, but there’s a vestige of hope there too.

And even if it is the end, Corbyn offers a better end to the Labour Party than they do. He offers a bang, not a whimper. No-one wants a whimper.

DRIPA overturned…. an explanation and comment

The ruling in the High Court that overturned the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP) may well turn out to be a significant one. At the time that it was passed, academics and privacy advocates were deeply disturbed not just by the bill but by the way it was passed – I blogged a number of times on the subject, including an Open Letter from myself and other academics, and a comment on the shabby process through which it was passed.

Our concerns appear to have been well founded – hence the overturning of the law – but they are part of a much bigger process through which the whole of our surveillance system is being held up to scrutiny and found wanting. The Anderson Report, the RUSI report, the rulings of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal and now this High Court ruling show a growing feeling that the current situation is unacceptable. It is no longer sufficient for the authorities to say ‘trust us’ with surveillance. Indeed, the more that comes out, the less they appear deserving of that trust. The passing of DRIPA, without proper scrutiny, without proper debate, and ignoring the criticisms of experts, showed contempt for people and for the nation – it is a very good thing that it has now been overturned. What happens next is another matter – but one that we should watch very carefully indeed.

Below is a post from the LSE Media Policy Blog, by Lorna Woods, explaining today’s ruling, reposted with permission.


Explaining the ruling that overturned the UK’s Data Retention & Investigatory Powers Act

The British High Court just invalidated the UK’s bill on retention and investigation of communications data that was enacted in 2014 in the wake of the overturning of the EU Data Retention Directive by the European court. Lorna Woods of the University of Essex explains the ruling and its implications. 

In a very rare outcome, the English High Court has declared that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) is inconsistent with European Union law and therefore is “disapplied”, although the Court suspended the effect of its order until after 31 March 2016. Liberty to appeal was granted.

DRIPA was rushed through Parliament last summer, much to the consternation of many, as this judicial review action evidences. DRIPA had been enacted in the wake of the Digital Rights Ireland decision of the European Court of Justice invalidating the Data Retention Directive (2002/58/EC), and the recognition that some of the activities of the police and security forces in this country in terms of surveillance and data access in any event had at best very dubious legal authority. DRIPA went through on the basis, that rather than involving new principles, it constituted mere clarification of the law. It was on the basis of EU law following Digital Rights Ireland that this action was brought.

The Judgment

Argument in court concerned what Digital Ireland in fact said, and the impact a ruling on a directive should have on national legislation designed to implement it. The High Court argued that, although Digital Rights Ireland related to the Directive and not national legislation, the ECJ was questioning whether the EU legislature had, by instituting its data retention rules, overstepped the principle of proportionality in balancing the rights to privacy and data protection in the EU’s Charter on Fundamental Rights against law enforcement and national security objectives (see Articles 7, 8  on rights & Article 52(1) on limitations). The Court took the meaning of the case to be that:

‘the ratio of Digital Rights Ireland is that legislation establishing a general retention regime for communications data infringes rights under Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter unless it is accompanied by an access regime (laid down at national level) which provides adequate safeguards for those rights’. [para 89]

In terms of the criteria by which any domestic legislation should be judged, the English High Court held that “[w]e do not accept that the [ECJ’s ruling in Digital Rights Ireland] is authority for nothing more than the verdict [ie it only speaks to the validity of the directive], any more than we interpret the judgment as meaning that each criticism or concern which the Court expressed involves a fatal flaw in the legislation”. [para 90]. The English Court then came up with a three-part structure summarising the requirements of any such legislative scheme for it to be acceptable under EU law:

  • Derogation and limitations in relation to the protection of personal data must apply only is as far is strictly necessary, so any legislation must set down clear, precise rules regarding scope of derogation and safeguarding rights against risk of abuse;
  • Legislation establishing a general scheme of retention must expressly restrict the purposes for which the scheme is used to precisely defined serious crimes;
  • Prior review by a court is required [para 91]

The Court decided not to make a reference to the ECJ on the question, although similar questions are pending from a Swedish Court before the ECJon similar domestic legislation. The requirements in derived from Digital Rights Ireland were not satisfied by DRIPA.

Next Steps

Although the Court ordered disapplication, which means the law will not be enforced, it suspended the effect of that order to allow the Government time to re-legislate. It seems that there is a growing consensus that some change to allow proper safeguards is required – as can been seen in the Anderson Report and in the RUSI Report. It is to be hoped that this time, the Government gives adequate notice to allow proper scrutiny of the proposed measures: a lack of scrutiny has been an ongoing concern about the passage of DRIPA and other measures in this area.

This case will no doubt give rise to a number of legal questions – and leave to appeal has been granted – but two immediate questions occur. The first relates to the scope of the disapplication: the Secretary of State for the Home Department who was defending DRIPA in this case raised at the last minute whether national security fell within the scope of EU law. If it does not, the arguments raised here would not apply to it. The Court did not deal with this argument as it was raised at the least minute. Secondly, if the High Court accepts that DRIPA is incompatible with EU law, as it has just argued, then how does it have the power to suspend disapplication until March next year? According to the ECJ, EU law is supreme and needs no intervention from the domestic legal systems to make it so. From that perspective, today’s disapplication could not be delayed. The Government now needs to prioritise re-legislating on the retention and investigation of communications data.

This article gives the views of the author and does not represent the position of the LSE Media Policy Project blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.


 

Blair, Elvis and the Labour Leadership Contest

When I was on holiday a few weeks ago, the evening’s entertainment at our hotel was an Elvis impersonator. Big, fat, in a spangle-covered white suit with flared trousers and a short cape, hairy chest and paunch, singing old, old songs in a deep voice. The audience, mostly aged in their 60s and more, lapped it up. I listened for a couple of songs, and found myself asking a question: why do Elvis impersonators always seem to do the old, fat, bloated version of Elvis, the one who it’s easy to imagine dying on the toilet, overdosing on Twinkies? Why not the young, sexy, hip-swaying Elvis who shocked people in the 50s with his provocative dancing and (for the time) radical rock and roll?

A look at the audience seemed to suggest why. These weren’t people looking for excitement, for something new and radical. They were looking for nostalgia, for comfort, for safety. In fact, they were precisely the kind of people who would have been scandalised by the young Elvis, and want him banned for his radical ideas.

I get the same sense from the current batch of ‘Blair impersonators’ standing for the Labour leadership. They seem to have chosen to impersonate the late, sell-out, war-mongering, safe version of Tony Blair, the Blair who was best-buddies with George W Bush, who clamped down on civil liberties and preferred to cavort with Murdoch than spend time with more normal people. The Blair who started a hideous war and who should, in the view of many (including me) be investigated for War Crimes. They seem to think that this Blair, the fat-Elvis-Blair, is the only Blair, and the only way to get success.

More importantly, they seem to have forgotten that there was a different kind of Blair at the start. A radical Blair. A Blair who did bring in the people of ‘Middle England’ but who also brought to the table radical ideas. Who brought in the minimum wage (and not as a con-trick like Osborne’s fake ‘living wage’). Who brought in the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act. Who made devolution a reality. Who made national museums free to enter. These were bold ideas, radical ideas – and socialist ideas.

The current Blair impersonators don’t seem to have grasped that this was the key to Blair’s success, not just the sell-out and the supposedly Tory policies. Blair at the start wasn’t just a Tory-imitator, no matter what it might seem. Kendall, Cooper and Burnham are only looking at the fat, dying Elvis, not the young, sexy, hip-swinging Elvis. If they are to capture the success he had, they need to find more of the latter, and far, far less of the former.

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