Mr Gove goes to war!

Mr Gove Goes To WarMr Gove was dreaming.

He was dreaming a dream of history. It was his favourite period of history, when Britain was Great. When Britannia Ruled the Waves.

He was dreaming of one of his heroes, Lord Palmerston. Lord Palmerston knew how to deal with the world. He knew how to make foreigners do what he wanted. He knew how to make Britain Great.

When Mr Gove woke, he met his friend Mr Cameron. Mr Cameron told him that there was a big problem in Syria. It might be so serious that they would have to go to war.

Mr Gove Goes To War Closer

Mr Gove listened to Mr Cameron. He felt sorry for the poor Syrians – but he remembered his dream. He remembered Lord Palmerston. He remembered what made Britain Great.

‘Be brave,’ he told Mr Cameron. ‘You know what needs to be done.’

But when Mr Gove looked at Mr Cameron he was not sure Mr Cameron did know what needed to be done. Mr Gove didn’t really think anyone except Mr Gove himself ever really knew what needed to be done.

But Mr Cameron was the Prime Minister. Somehow. And Mr Gove knew about Loyalty.

Mr Gove Goes To War Even Closer

When Mr Gove sat down in the House of Commons for the debate, he was still dreaming. Gunboats blockading Piraeus. The Charge of the Light Brigade. The Opium Wars. When Britain was Great.

He smiled happily to himself as Mr Miliband whimpered like the wimp he was, knowing that soon Mr Gove and Mr Cameron would be leaning over a map of the Middle East, pushing little model boats with long sticks.

But then, things started to happen that Mr Gove did not like. Not at all.

Some of Mr Cameron’s so-called-friends started asking questions that Mr Gove did not like. They started to ask for ‘evidence’ that this plan would work.

Mr Gove Super Close up

Mr Gove didn’t like evidence. He never liked evidence. All those moaning teachers and namby-pamby academics asked for evidence when Mr Gove wanted to take teaching back to the way it had been in the Great Days. Evidence? It was obvious! Of course Mr Cameron’s plan was the right thing to do!

No-one had asked Lord Palmerston for ‘evidence’.

Still, thought Mr Gove, everything was going to be fine. Those nice people in the Whips Office had told them that.

But more of Mr Cameron’s ‘friends’ asked more questions. They wanted to know what would happen after their little plan was finished. Why? It should have been obvious. Mr Assad was a bully, and we all know what happens when people stand up to bullies. But they kept on asking questions. Mr Gove did not like this.

They started saying that most of the people of the country didn’t like Mr Cameron’s plan. Pah! What do most of the people in the country know?  Who cares about them?

When Mr Clegg was as pathetic as only Mr Clegg could be, Mr Gove began to feel a little less comfortable. His face felt a little hot. Mr Gove did not like this at all. He hated it.

Mr Gove Super Close up 2

And then, something terrible happened. Something unthinkable.

The vote happened.

Mr Cameron lost. He lost. He lost.

Mr Gove felt steam starting to rise. He felt his dreams melting away.

And Mr Gove lost it. He turned to Mr Cameron’s so-called-friends, his eyes blazing, his ears bright red.


He was still muttering under his breath as his friends led him from the chamber.

Poor Mr Gove.

Sometimes things don’t go the way that you want them. Even if you’re Mr Gove.


Art based on original artwork by @kaiserofcrisps. Words by me.

The first episode of Mr Gove can be found here…

An excellent dramatic reading of Mr Gove goes to War, by @Elmyra, can be found here…

Guest post: Go home, Superman!!

[Guest post by @Super__Cyan]

Superman 1

Would the Home Office dare do this to the Man of Steel? After all, he is an illegal alien. Maybe the Home Office would be more inclined if he looked like this?

Superman 2

(For those who do not know, this is Superman from Earth-Tangent)

This is just to point out the growing concern that officials of the Home Office are conducting ‘racist and intimidatory profiling’ see also this storify by @anyapalmer. This is not to discuss stop and search powers, more on general stop and search powers by yours truly can be seen here. Two things are worth some attention, first this image from the @ukhomeoffice twitter account:

Superman Home Office

And this page on the Home Office’s site which has the interesting headline of ‘Immigration offenders arrested in Home Office operations.’

Are there any human rights issues with these? Possibly, the image of the person being taken away could raise issues of privacy, and as we know that same old Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights might be engaged where it stipulates that:

  1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Private life, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Von Hannover v Germany 59320/00 [2004] ECHR 294 has pointed out that this includes a person’s picture (para 50). Let’s just assume for the sake of this post that the Home Office officials have lawful authority for taking those pictures, because if they didn’t that would be illegal. So if the officials have lawful authority, what then? Is the Article 8 issue now exhausted?

Not quite, because the subsequent use of those pictures can still leave the Article 8 issue live. This can be seen in Peck v United Kingdom 44647/98 [2003] ECHR 44 here the applicant was filmed by a CCTV attempting to commit suicide by cameras operated by Brentwood Borough Council in a public street. A few months later, the Council issued two photographs taken from the CCTV footage for publication in an article about the preventative benefits of CCTV. The applicant’s face was not specifically masked. Extracts from the CCTV footage were also shown on regional television in which the applicant’s face had been masked at the Council’s request.

The ECtHR pointed out that the Independent Television Commission considered the masking of the applicant was not adequate because the applicant’s distinctive features (para 16). Many of the applicants friends and family who saw the ‘Crime Beat’ programme recognised the applicant (para 21) including people who knew him, like colleagues (para 54). So the important questions would be, from that image, could the individual be identified? Is the obfuscation adequate? Because on the on the @ukhomeoffice ‘Photos and videos’ page there is an image of an official whose obfuscation is telling.

The ECtHR reaffirmed the position that interaction even within the public context falls within the ambit of Article 8 (para 57). Also reiterating that using photographic equipment that records in a permanent nature gives rise to considerations regarding interference with Article 8 (para 59). But here the applicant was not arguing against the use of CCTV footage but the that it was the disclosure of that record of his movements to the public in a manner in which he could never have foreseen which gave rise to such an interference (para 60). The ECtHR concluded that the Council’s disclosure constituted a serious interference with the applicant’s Article 8 rights (para 61). This could be the case also for the present image.

After determining whether this was in accordance with the law and pursued a legitimate aim (which was satisfied para 64-67) the ECtHR also pointed out that ‘the applicant was not charged with, much less convicted of, an offence. The present case does not therefore concern disclosure of footage of the commission of a crime’ (para 79). Drawing analogies with Peck and the image tweeted by the Home Office is that the person is arrested on ‘suspicion’ so there are some similarities. The ECtHR criticised the Council for not taking the utmost care in ensuring the media masked those images and stated:

In sum, the Court does not find that, in the circumstances of this case, there were relevant or sufficient reasons which would justify the direct disclosure by the Council to the public of stills from the footage in its own CCTV News article without the Council obtaining the applicant’s consent or masking his identity, or which would justify its disclosures to the media without the Council taking steps to ensure so far as possible that such masking would be effected by the media. The crime-prevention objective and context of the disclosures demanded particular scrutiny and care in these respects in the present case (para 85).

For reasons such as these the ECtHR found the United Kingdom in violation of Article 8. This is not intended to suggest that this would be the likely outcome regarding the present images the Home Office has tweeted, but none the less great caution should be taken when releasing images of individuals to the public.

There is another issue that may be applicable here, and again it’s something to do with Europe, and something to do with human rights, a recipe for disaster! This time Article 6(2) of the ECHR may be relevant which states that:

Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

This disallows premature declarations of guilt by public officials. In Allenet de Ribemont v. France 15175/89 [2007] ECHR 112 emphasised that not being charged but being arrested falls within the ambit of being “charged with a criminal offence” (para 37). Kouzmin v. Russia (link in French) points out that public official does not need to be an already elected representative or employee of the public authorities at the material time. It may include persons of recognised public standing, from having held a public position of importance in the past or from running for elected office (para 59-69). It seems pretty sure the Home Office’s twitter account would satisfy this as it is a public authority (para 49).

The ECtHR in Ismoilov and Others v Russia 2947/06 [2008] ECHR 348 stressed that:

A fundamental distinction must be made between a statement that someone is merely suspected of having committed a crime and a clear declaration, in the absence of a final conviction, that an individual has committed the crime in question. The Court emphasises the importance of the choice of words by public officials in their statements before a person has been tried and found guilty of a particular criminal offence.(para 166)

So essentially the Strasbourg Court is saying that poor choice of words could violate Article 6(2). The hashtag used in the tweet with the images states ‘suspected #immigrationOFFENDER.’ Offenders are those that have been convicted of an offence, a sex offender is someone who has been found guilty of a sexual offence, see generally F & Anor, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 17. Obviously the word suspected demonstrates the suspicion the individual is under, but adding ‘offender’ in the hashtag is certainly poor choice of words, it may have been more appropriate to tweet ‘suspected of #immigrationOFFENCES.’ As pointed out the headline on the website does not, however help the case for the Home Office as it clearly states of ‘Immigration offenders arrested in Home Office operations.’ Only if one reads the body of the text will they discern that those arrested are suspected of an offence, this is sadly only after the website states ‘immigration offenders’ twice before even mentioning ‘suspected.’

Calling someone a ‘bribe-taker’ was enough to violate Article 6(2) in the case of Butkevičius v Lithuania so it is not that farfetched to suggest ‘immigration offender’ may as the ECtHR said ‘encourage the public to believe him guilty and prejudged the assessment of the facts by the competent judicial authority’ (para 53). Similar sentiments by Richard A. Edwards and Associate Professor @NoelleQuenivet regarding the presumption of innocence can be found here and an excellent post from the aspect of data protection here by @bainesy1969. I suppose this may all hinge on whether the individual is identifiable, but the ECtHR in Butkevičius v Lithuania noted that:

‘[Article 6(2)] will be violated if a statement of a public official concerning a person charged with a criminal offence reflects an opinion that he is guilty before he has been proved so according to law’ (para 49)

This implies a violation is possible irrespective identification. Regardless, the Home Office could not have trolled harder, as at the bottom of its site it asks:

Superman home office question

Perhaps the better question would be ‘Is there anything right with this page?’

Syria and the myth of simple solutions

Last night’s parliamentary defeat for the government over the proposed military intervention in Syria was both dramatic and potentially hugely significant. There will be (indeed there has already been) a great deal written about it by many, many people – from the impact it might have on the people of Syria to the possibly massive political ramifications in the UK. I don’t propose to add to those – I was hugely surprised by the events of last night, and fully expected, right until the moment that the result of the vote was announced, the government to win and for military action to be given the green light. That shows how much I know… and means I’ll await events rather than pretend that I know what’s going to happen next.

There is, however, one aspect that I want to say a few words about – and one aspect of the debate in the House of Commons that really impressed me. That’s the way that a large number of MPs, on all sides of the House, were unwilling to accept the idea that there was a simple solution to a highly complex problem: that there was one ‘obvious’ way to deal with it. It is a highly seductive way to look at things – but it very rarely turns out to be true.  The simple solution suggested here – effectively ‘surgical strikes’, limited in scope and in impact – didn’t convince me, and didn’t convince the MPs. Speech after speech asked questions to which there seemed to be no answers forthcoming: most directly, ‘how do you know this will actually work?’

There’s no question that the Assad regime is nightmarish. The atrocities that we’ve seen the results of should sicken everyone. They certainly sicken me – and I would love to be able to find a way to stop them. That, however, does not mean that I would do ‘anything’ that is suggested – however bad things are, they can get worse, and they very often do when a seemingly simple solution is suggested.

From a political perspective simple solutions are very attractive – they can be ‘sold’ to the public, they can make good headlines in the newspapers – but when you look closer, they rarely provide the answers that are needed. In my specialist field, we’ve seen this again and again in recent months. The idea that you can ‘solve’ the complex challenge of pornography on the internet with a ‘simple’ filter system (about which I’ve blogged many times, starting with these 10 questions) is attractive but pretty much unworkable and has highly damaging side effects. The ideas that you can ‘solve’ the problem of abusive tweeting with a ‘simple’ report abuse button (see here) or deal with trolling comments on blogs with a ‘simple’ real names policy (see here) are similarly seductive – and similarly counterproductive. These are complex problems – and in reality they need more complex, more nuanced, more thoughtful solutions.

The MPs in last night’s debate seemed to understand that – and not like it. They were being asked to support something essentially on trust – with minimalist legal evidence and even flimsier intelligence support – and they wanted to know more. Enough of them could see that the ‘simple’ solution being suggested was not as simple as it seemed – and wanted to know more, to think more, and to be given more time. Most of all, they wanted to have more evidence that it would work – that it would make the situation better for the people of Syria. Personally, I don’t think we know that it would. It might – but it might well not.

I was challenged last night on Twitter by a few people to offer an alternative – and I couldn’t provide one, certainly not in 140 characters. I want to see more diplomacy, I want to see more imagination, I want to see more humanitarian support, I want to see more engagement with the people not only of Syria but Iran – but do I know that this will work? Of course I don’t. I can’t offer a simple solution. I highly suspect there isn’t one. This will be messy, this will be bloody, this will be hideous – it already is. ‘Standing by and doing nothing’ is horrible – but military intervention is horrible too. There’s no easy way out – and we should stop pretending, particularly to ourselves, that there is.

‘Real names’ chill free speech….

The Huffington Post has recently announced that it is going to bring in a policy of only allowing commenters on its posts who use their real names. The idea, as I understand it, is to cut down on abusive comments and trolling – but from my perspective the policy is not only highly unlikely to be effective but it is short sighted and ultimately counter-productive. Indeed, ‘real names’ policies like this are likely to be deeply detrimental to free speech in any really meaningful form. Real names policies work, to a great extent, to help the powerful against the vulnerable, to exacerbate existing power imbalances and to further marginalise and alienate those who are already on the fringes. It is a huge subject, far bigger than I can do full justice to here, but these are some of the reasons that I think the Huffington Post – and anyone else who instigates a real names policy – are fundamentally wrong in their approach.

Making links to the real world

Real names can help to make a link from the online world to the ‘real’ world – indeed, that’s really the point, if you want to make people ‘accountable’ for their comments. If you have any kind of vulnerability in the ‘real’ world that can be very bad news. Anything you do online can emphasise that vulnerability – and put you at real risk. The risks are different for different people, but they’re real. For many of those people, the risks may well be sufficient to silence them completely – and it’s not just the ‘obvious’ people who might be silenced. There are many different groups who might need some degree of anonymity – these are just a few of the possibilities.

1) Whistleblowers

The role of the whistleblower has come under huge scrutiny recently – Obama’s apparent ‘war on whistleblowers’ has been hugely criticised. Whistleblowers in most forms would be crushed by the need to provide real names. The organisations about which they are blowing the whistle will find it much easier to find them and silence them – or worse. It is already very risky to be a whistleblower: requiring real names makes it far more dangerous

2) People in positions of responsibility

In some ways related to whistleblowers are those whose positions of responsibility would be compromised if their real names came out. Doctors, police officers, soldiers, teachers, social workers and so forth are just some of these – and they are people who can often give invaluable insight to important things in our society. Perhaps the best known online example was the Nightjack blogger – a police insider who provided a brilliant blog, winning the Orwell Prize for blogging in 2009. NIghtjack gave a warts-and-all portrayal of the life of a policeman, something he could not possibly have done if he had been forced to use his real name. Indeed, when, via illegal email hacking by a Times Journalist as it turned out (see David Allen Green’s piece here), his name was revealed, his blog was silenced. There are many others – yesterday one of the people I know on twitter reminded me that when they were operating as a prison chaplain they could not possibly have blogged or tweeted under their real name.

3) People with problematic pasts.

It’s not immediately obvious, but some people like to – and need to – operate online to escape a problematic past. Something they have done, or something that has happened to them, whether it be merely embarrassing or far more serious, could ‘catch up with them’ if they operate using their real name. This isn’t about rewriting history – it’s about being a able to make a fresh start. By enforcing a real names policy you deny them this opportunity.

4) People with enemies

This doesn’t just mean the kind of person you read about in thrillers or see on TV detective stories – it means people who have been stalked, it means people who have had arguments with former colleagues, it means people who have caused ‘trouble’ at work, or against whom someone has just taken a dislike. It might just be people with problematic neighbours. Forcing any of them to reveal their real names helps their enemies find them.

5) People with complex or delicate issues

The most obvious of these is sexuality – if we lived in a world where people did not get abused for their sexuality it would be great, but we don’t. For some people exploring whether or not they might be gay is a huge and delicate issue – and they wouldn’t even dare ask the questions they really need to ask if they were forced to reveal their real names. Sexuality is far from the only area where this kind of issue can raise its head – religion, politics, even such things as vegetarianism or liking particular kinds of music can be things that make people sensitive. Force real names and you stop them being explored.

6) People living under ‘oppressive’ regimes.

This much should be obvious – and it’s far from surprising that the Chinese government is a staunch supporter of real names policies, and has gone so far as to legislate in that direction. Express a dissenting opinion and you will be hunted down. However, as recent events have suggested, it’s not just the obvious regimes that might be seen as oppressive – and regimes change, and not just for the better. Put a real names policy in place under a relatively benign government, and a subsequent, more dictatorial regime will be able to use it.

7) People who might be involved in protest or civil disobedience

With protests in the UK about the badger cull looming, this issue will no doubt come to the fore. Already an injunction has been brought in to try to block most of the protests, and the government has announced that it is going to scan social media to try to ‘head off’ protests – and if people involved in protest have to use their real names in their online activities it will be far easier for the authorities to find them and crack down. For me, protest is a fundamental part of democracy. Already it is much more limited than it should be – and real names policies can curtail it still further.

8) Young people

The position for young people is complex. One of the characteristics of the life of young people is that there are other people in positions of power over them, whether they be parents, teachers or others. That makes you more vulnerable – if your teachers or parents find out that you’re saying things or asking things that they don’t approve of, you can be in trouble, or worse. It also makes it easier for people to disregard or override your views – you’re only a kid, your views aren’t worth listening to. The internet allows a degree of this prejudice to be overcome – people can be judged by what they say, not by how old they are. Real names policies suppress young voices.

9) Women

It would be great if women were not likely to be targeted for abuse, but as recent events have shown this is far from the case. It would also be great if all women were ‘strong’ enough not to worry about the risk of being abused, but some aren’t, and none should need to be. For some women, a way out of this – temporary, many might hope – is to use pseudonyms that don’t necessarily reveal their sex. This kind of a tactic can really help in some situations – and preventing it can silence some crucial voices.

10) Victims of spousal abuse

A special and particularly nasty case of this is that of victims of spousal abuse – people whose partners or ex-partners are violent or abusive often want to track down their victims. If people are forced to reveal their real names, they can be tracked down far more easily – with devastating consequences.

11) People with religious or ethnic names

Forcing people to reveal their names can force them to reveal much more about themselves than might be immediately obvious – it can reveal or at least suggest your ethnicity or religion amongst other things.  That can make you a target – and it can also mean that what you say is viewed with prejudice, ignored or abused. Real names policies make it much harder for people in that kind of position to be heard.

12) People with a reputation

Sometimes you don’t want to be judged by who you are, but by what you say – and this can work in many different directions. ‘Give a dog a bad name’ is one part of it – but it can work the other way too. JK Rowling was recently justifiably angry when it was revealed that she was the author of a detective story under a pseudonym – she wanted the novel to be judged for what it was, not because she was the author. That’s a dramatic example, but the point is much deeper – when you want to test out your views it can really help to write them anonymously.

13) People needing an escape from difficult or stressful lives.

In the current climate, this means a great many of us – we want to separate our online lives, at least to an extent, from our real lives. It is a liberating feeling, and can help provide relief from stress, and a chance to do something different. Again, this is crucial to real free speech.

14) Vulnerable people generally

There are so many kinds of vulnerability that it’s hard to even scratch the surface – and any kind of vulnerability can make you feel at risk of being ‘exposed’. That chills speech. It doesn’t have to be ‘serious’ to have the effect – even without an obvious vulnerability many people just feel more comfortable speaking out without fear of ‘showing’ themselves.

The risks and rewards of anonymity

Of course there are risks with allowing anonymity and pseudonymity – and there are some hideous anonymous trolls and abusers online – but there have to be other ways to deal with them. Better ways, with less of a chilling effect on free speech.

It’s easy from a position of power or privilege to think real names policies will work. I use my own real name online – but I’m in a position to do so. I’m safe, secure, privileged and lucky enough to have a job and an employer that supports me in this way. I have a feeling that many of those advocating real names policies are in similar positions – they lose nothing and risk nothing by revealing their real names. Not all people are in such fortunate positions. Indeed, many of those whose voices we most need to hear are not in that kind of a position – the categories I’ve outlined above are just some of the possibilities. Going for a ‘real names’ policy will silence those key voices.

On top of all of this, from my perspective, we have a right to create, assert and protect the identities we use online – and that, amongst other things, means we have a right to pseudonymity. The Internet offers us the opportunity to bring that right to bear. It’s what makes Twitter a livelier place to debate than Facebook – well, one of the things. If you want real debate, and real free speech, you need that liveliness. You need to let those who need pseudonymity find voices for themselves. Real names policies deny them this opportunity.

I hope the Huffington Post reconsider their position – and, more importantly, I hope that other groups don’t follow their lead.

Four fears for authoritarians

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it” Aung San Suu Kyi: Freedom from Fear

Recent events in the UK have been disturbing for believers and supporters of civil liberties. In many ways it feels as though our civil liberties are under a greater, more sustained attack than at any time since the Blair inspired near-paranoia that led to ideas such as the ID card database, the Interception Modernisation Programme (the predecessor of the Snoopers’ Charter) and 42 day detention amongst other hideously illiberal measures. What is perhaps more dangerous is that today’s attacks are in some ways more insidious, more seemingly disconnected, more apparently ‘reasonable’ when considered individually and hence more likely to gain public support – even by those who consider themselves to be very much supporters of human rights. Make no mistake about it, though: they are connected, and inspired by the same sense of fear that inspired Blair, Straw, Blunkett et al. They’re inspired by the same fear that have enveloped authoritarians for centuries: a fear of losing control.

1) Fear of a strong, independent, determined press

An independent press is the scourge of the authoritarian – and authoritarians know it all too well. The powerful have never liked a free press – from the pamphleteers of the 18th century to Tygodnik Solidarność in Communist Poland, an independent, brave and determined press has been crucial to the resistance to oppression. That’s why, regardless of the legality or otherwise of their actions, the Government’s first supervising the smashing of the Guardian’s laptops and then detaining David Miranda should be viewed very seriously indeed. It’s an attempt to stifle, to cow, to intimidate and to control the press. That’s serious. Very serious indeed.

2) Fear that people will learn what they’re doing

Authoritarians everywhere want their own actions, their own methods, their own systems to remain secret. they don’t want the ordinary people to know what they’re doing – partly because when people know what they’re doing, they generally object, partly because the authoritarians know that what they’re doing is in many ways wrong, partly because if people know what’s going on they can take measures against it. Make no bones about it, the Snowden revelations matter – it matters that we know about the level of surveillance that the authorities are performing, and how much they’re lying about it.

3) Fear that people are hiding things from them

The idea that people are hiding their thoughts, their plans, their associations – even their thoughts and dreams – is perhaps the thing that scares authoritarians the most. That’s why they consistently spy on their own citizens, using whatever methods they can find. In Burma, it was estimated that more than 1/3 of the populace was paid to inform the authorities, whilst the Stasi’s use of informants and other spies is now stuff of legend. The current obsession with internet surveillance – both legally, using the Snoopers’ Charter and its equivalents worldwide and ‘quasi-legally’ using the techniques and systems of PRISM, Tempora and so forth – is a reflection of that same fear, that same concern that people are hiding things. It’s an obsession that amounts, ultimately, to a belief that your entire nation, your own populace, is suspicious. We could all be traitors and enemies of the state – so we should all be watched. Orwell understood this – which is why 1984 hits the nerves so closely, and rings so true.

4) Fear that people can learn too much

A knowledgeable populace is a dangerous populace – so a good authoritarian has to control access to information. That’s why books are burned, that’s why censors are employed, that’s why education is closely controlled – and why, in the current technological climate, the internet is considered so dangerous. That, not the fear of pornography, is the key to the current plans to censor the internet. I’m not saying that the likes of Claire Perry think in these terms: I’m quite sure she doesn’t. Her desires for censorship come from another, not wholly unrelated angle: the idea of controlling the morals of the populace. Claire Perry, however, is being used by others who wish to take greater control over what people can learn – control of pornography is in some ways a Trojan Horse, to allow control over everything. Once the filters are built, the terms upon which they can filter can be (indeed will be) modified. It allows control over information – and hence over the populace.

It’s all about control – and the internet

Ultimately, control is the bottom line. All these events, all these actions, are about control. Controlling the press. preventing people learning about government actions, spying on people in their every action, controlling what they can have access to – it’s all about control. These aren’t separate issues: they all interlink, and the internet is the mechanism through which they link. To control the information people have access to online, you need to know what they’re doing online. To control the newspapers, you have to control the internet, because these days that’s how the newspapers distribute their information, far more than by print. That means, amongst other things, controlling twitter – which is why the authorities are getting keener and keener to control twitter, and why they will latch onto every opportunity to do so, whether that be the desire to stop trolling or abuse, or to control for copyright and so forth.

We need to see this bigger picture – and resist this drive for control. Some of the elements may seem eminently reasonable – most notably the porn-filters and the desire to root out abusive tweeters – but we need to understand the bigger picture too. We need to consider slippery slopes – even if that means we get ridiculed as conspiracy theorists. If the Snowden story tells us nothing else, it should tell us that not all conspiracy theorists are wrong. The stakes here are very high indeed – it’s about freedom itself.