I couldn’t agree with Harris’, Glanville’s & Heawood’s position on this more. Blair is a despicable man but suggesting that Waterstone’s should censor him is entirely wrong. I agree he should be arrested and tried on war crimes charges, but that’s not Waterstone’s business. If he hasn’t been charged (and let’s face it he’s unlikely ever to be) they shouldn’t interfere in the book’s promotion in any way.
We respect the writers of yesterday’s letter (18 August) and share their view on the illegality of the Iraq war and Tony Blair‘s nefarious role in engineering this country’s participation in it. But we can not share their call for Waterstone’s to desist from promoting it on the grounds that the event “will be deeply offensive to most people in Britain”, even if that were the case.
When it comes to literature, drama, journalism, artistic expression and scientific publication we must be consistent in our support for free speech. How can we defend the right of the Birmingham Repertory to put on and advertise a play like Behzti, despite it being deemed offensive to some Sikhs, and then call on a bookseller not to promote one of its books – or a library not to stock it – on the grounds of offence? The answer, in a liberal society, is to not read the book if it offends you, and to not buy a copy if you don’t wish royalties to go to the author.
While Iain Banks and colleagues say “Waterstone’s will seriously harm its own reputation as a respectable bookseller by helping him [Blair] promote his book”, we think its reputation would now be harmed by caving in to this sort of pressure.
Dr Evan Harris Trustee, Article 19
Jo Glanville Editor, Index on Censorship
Jonathan Heawood Director, English PEN
Why isn’t the mainstream media talking about the Digital Economy Bill? If most people knew it was coming the response would be a full-scale revolution. The government’s authoritarian agenda would be in tatters; Labour would be out of power for an awful lot more than a generation. Are they scared of how to present it? Let me try:
- the government will be able to ban whatever website it likes, in secret and for no reason;
- the music industry (which is not suffering at all as a result of piracy) will get to control whether or not your family is able to access the internet at all;
- the government is convinced that banning people from the internet entirely is necessary to stop piracy, yet the majority of those engaged in ‘illegal’ downloading spend more on copyrighted material, not less;
- a new Tory/Liberal Democrat proposal, if endorsed by the Commons, would frighten websites the music and film industries don’t like into taking themselves offline;
- internet cafes, university wifi networks and the growing democratisation of the web will be destroyed, because the Bill will attack providers, not for their actions but for the actions of even just one of their users.
Does anyone really think this makes sense? There is survey evidence that young people (and who’s representing their interests at the upcoming general election?) will just find new means to bypass the government’s censorship proposals, but that’s not the fundamental point. The point is this: corporate Britain and New Labour are in cahoots, not to empower communities, but to make the excessively rich much richer and at the cost of your civil liberties and human rights. If you think that that would put us on the road to becoming China then join me at the demonstration organised by the Open Rights Group on the 24th March outside Parliament.
If you don’t stand up for your rights they will be taken away from you. It’s just how this government operates.
A lot of hyperbole is given over in this country to the idea that we’re somehow drifting into a police state. Some of it is valid, much of it isn’t – Jacqui Smith may have justified the Metropolitan Police’s arrest of shadow cabinet member Damian Green earlier in the year, but where is she now? The police may have been used a number of times this year to attack violently protest groups which the state decided were behaving contrary to its interests, but the furore was so great they’re certainly not operating overtly in such a way at present. Peter Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill however in its current form would give him powers the likes of which the Chinese would envy:
What is the problem with clause 11 that I am getting so alarmed about it? It amends the Communications Act 2003 to insert a new section 124H which would, if passed, give sweeping powers to the Secretary of State. It begins:
(1) The Secretary of State may at any time by order impose a technical obligation on internet service providers if the Secretary of State considers it appropriate in view of—Pausing there. Note that this says nothing at all about copyright infringement. For example the power could be used to:
- order ISP’s to block any web page found on the Internet Watch Foundation’s list
- block specific undesireable sites (such as wikileaks)
- block specific kinds of traffic or protocols, such as any form of peer-to-peer
- throttle the bandwidth for particular kinds of serivce or to or from particular websites.
In short, pretty much anything.
I do not exagerrate. The definition of a “technical obligation” and “technical measure” are inserted by clause 10:
A “technical obligation”, in relation to an internet service provider, is an obligation for the provider to take a technical measure against particular subscribers to its service.A “technical measure” is a measure that— (a) limits the speed or other capacity of the service provided to a subscriber; (b) prevents a subscriber from using the service to gain access to particular material, or limits such use; (c) suspends the service provided to a subscriber; or (d) limits the service provided to a subscriber in another way.As you can see blocking wikileaks is simply a matter of applying a technical measure against all subscribers of any ISP.
Surely something must limit this power you ask? It seems not. The Secretary of State may make an order if “he considers it appropriate” in view of:
(a) an assessment carried out or steps taken by OFCOM under section 124G; or (b) any other consideration.Where “any other consideration” could be anything.
Francis Davey’s superb analysis of the bill is truly terrifying. The Digital Economy Bill would not just give Mandelson (or his successors) the power to ban say child porn sites immediately, but Wikileaks or any other site the state had issues with as well – on a whim. The power would not be limited by judicial or parliamentary scrutiny – it would be absolute. You’d have no idea he’d blocked the site, you’d have no comeback against him, and in short this would give government the ability to censor the internet as and when it saw fit in the most draconian manner imaginable. Davey’s right when he says this isn’t even about censorship – it’s a continuation of the regular New Labour attack on the rule of law and evidence based policy making. He (and they) must be stopped in this mad quest, because freedom of speech really is under threat, and if passed for example all the twitter campaigning the likes of which have shown some effectiveness against particular villains in the last year would be made futile by this bill.
No doubt the government will trot out it’s common spiel that there are no current plans to use this element of the bill, but if such powers aren’t needed then why develop them? History has always shown that powers when available are always used – RIPA, SOCPA, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, you name it. Government agencies will line up to say the abuses of such powers weren’t what they intended, yet their very existence has led to local government and the Home Office to stamp all over civil liberties, be it against photography of public buildings in public areas or the right to protest itself. If Mandelson is allowed to bring about what’s contained in this bill we will move one step further towards a genuine police state, and that’s something we should all fear.