Friday, 16 December 2016

Pre-Policing and PREVENT

We have pointed out before that the UK, which was once an icon for legal rights, has in this century (starting in the last two decades of the last century) flipped and now leads in engineering the new authoritarianism.  From thousands of security cameras to anti-social policing (and ASBOS) to highly intrusive child welfare legislation to secret courts to curtailment of free speech at its universities the UK is painting the picture of a new society - an unfortunately very Orwellian society.
        
The latest UK addition to this sustained assault on legal rights is a program called “Prevent”.  Prevent is said to be part of a counter-terrorism strategy which tackles the problem of terrorism at its roots, by preventing people from becoming terrorists.  Prevent is a “pre-criminal space” program which means that it is intended to identify individuals who are at risk of radicalisation.  It is not limited to identifying potential Islamic radicals.  It is not limited to a particular ideology but rather extends to all forms of state identified extremism. 

The public in general and professionals in particular are asked to identify individuals who are “vulnerable” to radicalisation or whose behaviour and ideology has changed.  These individuals are “snitched” to a body with the rather imposing bureaucratic title “Health Corporate Safeguarding Team” which independent of any legal process decides upon the appropriate response. 

The police force for Prevent are various health and educational professionals including any National Health Service front line staff, managers and clinicians and teachers at state schools.  In fact teachers are now obliged to undergo Prevent training.  Although couched in the usual social worky “supportive” language it is clear that Prevent is a surveillance program.

Doctors, in particular, are being conscripted to act as spies.  Personnel from their offices will have to attend courses where they will be taught to identify radicals - whom the doctor will be required to report to Big Brother.  If a GP practice fails to send a member of staff on the “Prevent” counter terrorism course, part of their funding will be cut.

At the present time Prevent is directed at radical Islamism but it has a far broader reach.  The 2015 legislation’s definition of extremist ideology includes “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.  In other words an atheism, which does not respect religious beliefs, is potentially identified as an extremist ideology.  Depending on what one considers to be fundamental British values there are a lot of other potential thought crimes - opposing abortion, supporting abortion, opposing the monarchy, criticizing capitalism and calling for state nationalization, opposing eating meat, disliking vegetarians or whatever else might be the unacceptable viewpoint of the day.

The Prevent legislation includes “extremism disruption orders”, which go beyond previous anti-terrorism legislation by criminalizing not the act itself but rather the intent to act.  These measures are aimed at those who operate in what the police have called the “pre-criminal space” and therefore expand the definition of people who could be incarcerated from those who do bad things to those who think bad things.  It means prosecuting a person’s mens rea where there is no actus reus.

What will they teach the spies that attend the Prevent indoctrination sessions?  Across the Atlantic the Minnesota Department of Corrections has developed a program that identifies criminal thinking patterns.  Examples of statements which supposedly disclose a proclivity to engage in criminal activities include “I tend to be a victim of the whims of others. Friends, family, employers, and/or the government really created the mess I am in today.; “It doesn't take a lot of hard work, time or effort to be successful. I am really interested in ‘get rich quick' ideas.”; “No one knows what I have gone through. I've lived a tough life that has given me the experience to be better at things than others.”; “Rules and laws are made for other people. I tend to have my own way of doing things.; “People are always telling me that I should learn from my mistakes and plan for my future. Not me, I live for today.”;  “I'm a thrill seeker. I live for excitement - responsibility is not for me.; and “I tend to be possessive of my things and the people around me, but get upset when others don't share their good fortunes with me.”

The Minnesota list identifies thought patterns held by millions of people - one suspects that some of these attitudes are especially widely prevalent among highly successful people - whether in sports, entertainment, politics or business.

The UK’s National Health Authority are drawing up their own lists of “attitudes” which supposedly will disclose unacceptable radical thinking.  They will inevitably reflect the ideological perspectives of the drafters.  As a product of mindless, unimaginative bureaucrats they will invariably come down hard on outliers, eccentrics, non-conformists, individualists, free thinkers. 

The “trained” people from doctor’s office will return to their jobs with their nice little lists.  They will be looking hard for patients who supposedly have identified proclivities.  And no doubt people will get reported just because the snitch just doesn’t like them or their “attitudes”.

Pre-policing, of course, is an intrinsic component of any authoritarian state.  In Hitler’s Germany the citizens including educators and doctors were expected to report people who showed the slightest hint of disrespect for the regime.  It was the same in the Soviet Union.  Police states are constantly engaging in pre-policing; ie. identifying people who have the wrong thoughts and who might, in the future, act against the regime.  On the other hand pre-policing is antithetical to that bundle of civil rights which underlie law and order in a democratic state.  The U.K. - as it used to be.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

THE ENLIGHTENMENT v. THE DARK FORCES

The Enlightenment was a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries which emphasized reason and individual freedom. It challenged the traditional class system; it challenged the designation of some people as superior and others (the many) as inferior. The Enlightenment argued for equal treatment under the law, equal opportunity for all, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, civil rights and civil liberties for everyone, the equality of women and minorities, and especially the separation of church and state and the freedom to practice any religion or no religion at all.  The Enlightenment was indistinguishable from rationalism.  Its more modern day descendant is probably secular humanism.

Baruch Spinoza is often called the philosophical founder of the Enlightenment.  Other Enlightenment figures included Descartes, Locke, and Newton, Kant, Goethe and Voltaire.  The classical economists like Adam Smith (but not the neo-classical economists like Pareto) were mostly associated with Enlightenment.   More often than not Enlightenment figures were critics of the then prevailing religion.  In the Age of Reason Thomas Paine wrote “Whenever we read ... the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God.  It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize humankind. And, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”

Since the 18th century there has been an epic struggle between the Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenment.  There have been many strands to the Counter-Enlightenments from the middle of the 18th century through to the 21st century.   The Enlightenment has enemies on all points of the ideological compass, from the far left to the far right, and even points in between.  Its most vehement critics have come from the Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism although current critics of the Enlightenment even include critical theorists, post-modernists and feminists. 

I refer to the enemies of the Enlightenment as the Dark Forces.  I identify five main categories of present day Dark Forces. These are puritanism, kleptocracy, fascism-nazism, statism and red guardism.  These are necessarily arbitrary and arguable categorizations as many characteristics are shared by these cohorts. 

The original Puritans wanted to “purify” the Christian church by following intensely strict religious principles, which earned them the name Puritan.  Puritanism has come to mean adherence to scrupulous moral rigour and extreme strictness in religious matters and especially hostility to social pleasures and indulgences.  The original Puritans in England and in the American colonies wanted to set up a theocratic state in which clergy had authority over both religious and civil life.   Accordingly Puritanism is associated with a prominent role for religion and the preist hood in determining the laws of the land and political and social structure.

Puritanism has continued as a significant influence on Christianity - in recent times the Fundamentalists carry the puritan banner.  A leading puritan philosopher of modern day Christians was Rousas John Rushdoony who was associated with the Reconstructionism  movement which openly advocated theocracy and the restoration of Mosaic law.  Rushdoony’s fundamentalist Calvinism has had an important but often unseen influence on the Christian Right in the United States. 
  
The Reconstructionists looked to the Mosiac laws in the Old Testament as their guide for the society that they envisioned. Government posts would be reserved for the righteous, as long as they are male. There would be thousands of executions a year, with stoning a preferred method because it would turn the deaths into “community projects,” as movement theologian Gary North (Rushdoony’s son-in-law) has noted.  Sinners in line for the death penalty would include women who commit adultery or lie about their virginity, blasphemers, witches, children who strike their parents, and gay men. Gays would be executed if they were caught indulging in sodomy.

Gary North succinctly set out what Reconstructionism was all about when he wrote,“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty…until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

In the United States the open advocacy of biblical law has been restrained because in many cases it would be criminal.  While a theoretical discussion about stoning disobedient children or adulterers might be protected as “freedom of speech” an intonation to stone a specific child or adulterer would land the good pastor in jail.  Thusly Reconstructionist notions have more usually been advanced by mediators like Francis Shaeffer. 

In the last several decades the extreme puritans have mostly been Muslims.  While the Christian puritans especially in the U.S. are there, they are kept in check by a secular legal system.  Muslim puritanism, however, is the official orthodoxy in countries as diverse Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.  In the Islamic State and in Taliban Afghanistan the kind of puritanical extremism that the Reconstructionists can only theorize about is the law of the land.  Stonings, death penalties for adulterous women, beheadings for blasphemy,  persecution of gays ... are all common occurrences.

Muslim fundamentalists have often derived their theological premises from the intolerant puritanism of the Wahhabi and Salafi creeds.  Wahhabism was founded by the eighteenth-century evangelist Muhammad ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab in the Arabian Peninsula.  He wanted to rid Islam of the corruptions that he believed had crept into it.  He was a strict literalist in which the text became the sole source of legitimate authority and like the Calvinists with respect to Christianity he was extremely hostile to intellectualism, mysticism, and any sectarian divisions within Islam.  It was necessary to return to a pristine, simple, straightforward Islam, based on the literal implementation of the commands of the Prophet, and by strict adherence to correct ritual practice.  Wahhabism opposed any modernization of Islam on account of changed circumstances. It perceived the vast majority of Islamic history as a corruption of the true and authentic Islam. It narrowly defined orthodoxy and was extremely intolerant of any creed that contradicted its own.

On the surface the Christian fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists are implacable enemies.  Many Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. would like to make it illegal to be a Muslim and most Muslims in most Muslim ruled countries support making Christianity illegal.  These two strands of fundamentalism, however, are also very similar  - they both subscribe to the notion that their primary religious texts - the Koran in one case and the Old and New Testaments in the other - are the inerrant word of God.  In arguing for inerrancy they both inevitably advance Abrahamic law - where there is no freedom of religion, where many offences are punishable by death - usually stoning - where there is a hatred of deviation.

One ever present characteristic of both Christian puritanism and Islamic puritanism is the fear of freedom for women.  This intense desire to control women probably has a root in  sexual monopolization but the targeting and degradation of women is more than just ensuring faithfulness to a mate.  There is a certain undeniable vehemence and angst in the treatment of women, as if the more women are made to suffer, in order to secure the future of the religion. Puritan orientations do not hesitate to treat all theological arguments aimed at honouring women, by augmenting their autonomy and social mobility, as if they were part of the Western conspiracy designed to destroy Islam. This is also manifested in the puritans' tendency to look at Muslim women as a consistent source of danger and vulnerability for Islam, and to go as far as branding women as the main source of social corruption and evil.

The code word for the Enlightenment is secular humanism.  Both Islamic and Christian fundamentalists are extremely hostile to "secular humanism".   According to Francis A. Schaeffer in his book How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (1976) rampant secular humanism would lead to moral relativism and ethical bankruptcy. For Shaeffer secular humanism was pernicious and diabolical, and would morally and spiritually destroy America.  This premise is a frequent theme in North American fundamentalism where secular humanism is typically portrayed as a vast evil conspiracy, deceitful and immoral, responsible for feminism, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, and New Age spirituality. 

For the fundamentalists secular humanism is the devil’s work.  One Christian pastor put it this way “We live in a day when there is a great war going on in the society in which we live. There are many battlefronts and aspects to the war, but the primary war in our day is between Christianity and secular humanism.  Secular humanism is a religion and a philosophy of life which views man as the supreme being of the universe. It rejects the existence of God and the supernatural. It sees moral values as relative and changing and varying from person to person.  It is important for every Christian to know the subtle ways that secular humanism is manifesting itself all around us. It is important for us to make decisions on a daily basis that demonstrate that we have not been captured, to any degree, by this intoxicating and persuasive philosophy and religion.”

Another fundamentalist preacher, Robert L. Waggoner writes “Many are only now suddenly awakening to the realization that the Christian foundations of our society have drastically eroded. Christians must realize a war is in progress. Christians must resist philosophical enemies. To defeat humanism, Christians must understand it and how it operates. Because Christians have too often failed to understand humanism, Christians have often compromised their beliefs and have therefore suffered defeat in many battles.  The conflict between humanism and Christianity is a war of many battles. This war is about whether a third of our unborn children shall continue to be murdered within their mothers’ wombs. It’s about whether a fourth of all births in this nation will continue to be outside of wedlock. It’s about whether decency or pornography shall prevail. It’s about who controls the education of children – parents or civil governments. And it’s about many other such things. This document contrasts humanistic and Christian beliefs and their consequences within society, and notes reasons why Christians have been losing this war with humanists.”

An Islamic scholar Habib Siddiqui writes “In the minds of people, the term “humanism” has certain magic, electric charm – like the "Aladdin’s lantern”. It bemuses many with its so-called rational, liberating gimmicks. Many Muslims, therefore, have developed false opinions without questioning the origin of western humanism and its effect on modem man.”

Malaysian prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak  said, “They call it human rightism, where the core beliefs are based on humanism and secularism as well as liberalism. “It’s deviationist in that it glorifies the desires of man alone and rejects any value system that encompasses religious norms and etiquettes. They do this on the premise of championing human rights.”

Every religion has its puritans and they are increasingly powerful - the ultra orthodox jews, Hinduist extremists.  Todays fundamentalists whether they identify as Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or other religion are the storm troopers of the new puritanism.  They are out to destroy the enlightenment values which many of us thought had been preserved for all times with the defeat of Hitler.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

SASKATOON'S EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS ANTI-BULLYING BYLAW

I have earlier article on Regina’s anti-bullying by-law which I described as ridiculous. Saskatchewan’s other metropolis has done Regina one better with an anti-bullying bylaw which deserves unrelenting ridicule.  

It starts with one of most far-reaching definition of bullying imaginable.  Bullying is said to mean any unprovoked, repeated and inappropriate comment or conduct by a person which causes, which is intended to cause or which the person ought reasonably to know will cause harm, fear or physical or psychological distress to another person, including taunting, tormenting, name calling, ridiculing, insulting, mocking and directing slurs towards another person. kicking, pushing, hair pulling or pinching another person; and shunning, ostracizing, excluding another person and gossiping or rumour mongering about another person.  

Lets distill this at its worse: Bullying is any ... conduct by a person ... which the person ought reasonably to know will cause ... psychological distress to another person, including ... name calling, ridiculing, insulting, mocking ... another person.  At the time of considering this by-law there is an election going on in Saskatchewan.  Better suspend that election in Saskatoon since any election in Saskatchewan involves a whole lot of ridiculing, insulting and mocking of another person.

Of course kicking, pushing, hair pulling and pinching all fall under one or more criminal offences and do not need to be nor should they be the subject of a municipal bylaw.  As to a municipal by-law making it illegal to shun, ostracize or exclude another person - what can one reasonably say.  People in Saskatoon will no longer be free to choose their friends and associates.  This is a level of human relationship micro-management that would not even have been contemplated in the Soviet Union in the 1950's and 1960's.  There is obviously no concern in this part of Canada about protecting free speech like in the United States with its First Amendment.

The ultimate absurdity is making gossiping illegal.  Gossiping is a universal human social behavior - there have been estimates that it makes up forty per cent or more of human discourse.  Of course to stop gossiping it will be necessary to have multiple microphones in all public places - one up on the omnipresent cameras in the U.K.  

The definition of "public place" includes any place to which the public has access as of right or by express or implied invitation. In other words public place includes restaurants, bookstores, community halls, clubs, golf courses, churches, etc.  as well as roads, streets, parks and other places traditionally considered public.  A political rally would most likely be deemed to be taking place in a public place.  

Retired Saskatoon police Sgt. Brian Trainor, a gentleman who is now making his living in the burgeoning anti-bullying industry, loves it.  He says “I think it’s an intermediary tool that the police can use instead of a slap on the wrist or doing nothing.” What this really means is that police have another tool to push people around - bully them if you like.  The bullying will invariably be directed at young people.  If a police officer doesn’t like some young person’s attitude he or she will have an excuse to levy charge which can result in a significant fine.

The accused has the ability to participate in mediation to deal with charges as an alternative to the court process; this all sounds so nice and goodie, good but really it is just another way to interfere in a person’s life in what can be a most Kafkaesque manner.

If approved, the proposed effective date of the Bylaw is September 1, 2016, which will permit implementation of an awareness campaign and provide time for an appropriate mediation program to be developed to handle the diversion of matters from the court process.  People who push these kind of laws like the notion of diversion from the court process - because what it really means is avoiding oversight from judges who might still have some vestigial appreciation of civil liberties

Friday, 13 March 2015

MUNICIPAL CODES OF CONDUCT

CODES OF CONDUCT

The thing about 21st century totalitarianism is that it seems so nice at first appearance.  Like Codes of Conduct.   Shouldn’t codes of conduct be welcome.  Isn’t it a social good to encourage people to be polite to one another?

Codes of conduct have been notoriously imposed on many U.S. campuses.  But free speech limiting, democracy restricting codes are not limited to universities.   For example they are being widely adapted by municipal governments in Canada.  This is particularly true in Ontario, which in many ways is Canada’s  leader in “soft authoritarianism”. Codes of conduct have been popping up here and there all over the province.  Missisauga, is a sprawling suburban town outside of Toronto which was famous for its (now retired) 93 year old mayor, Hazel McCallion.  It also has a very extensive Code of Conduct governing its elected Council.  It is appropriately divided into rules - yes, a list of rules just like the Councillors would have been subjected to forty years earlier in high school.

Rule No. 10 of the its Code of Conduct reads “members of Council will accurately communicate the decisions of Mississauga City Council, even if they disagree with the majority decision of Council, and by doing so affirm the respect for and integrity in the decision-making processes of Council.”  It is difficult to imagine a more blatant way to chill opposition to Council decisions.  A critical Councillor will invariably be tagged with not accurately “communicating the decisions”.  Why should a Councillor be forced to affirm respect for and integrity of the decision-making process of Council when he or she disagree with that process and the decisions resulting from the process.  

The commentary attached to Rule No. 10 makes it even worse.  It says  “A Member should refrain from making disparaging comments about other members of Council or about councils, processes and decisions.  In other words, a Councillor cannot criticize Council decisions.  Missisauga does not tolerate opposition.  Goodbye democracy, Mississauga.

Rule No. 11 of the Missisauga Code keeps up the assault on political opposition when it says that Members “shall encourage public respect for the city and its bylaws”.  Why? -  if a Councillor disagrees with the bylaws and does not respect the type of decision-making being made in the City? This Rule goes beyond telling a Councillor that he or she should not encourage citizens to violate a bylaw.  In compelling a Councillor to be a cheerleader for a bylaw with which he or she disagrees, it is totally inappropriate in a democratic society.

Rule No. 11 also says “Members shall conduct themselves with decorum at all times.”  Imposing such a requirement on a Councillor also has no basis in a democratic society.  A Council is a political body and an elected member in a democratic society has every right to “rant and rave” at political meetings in the community and sometimes even to abandon “decorum” at a Council meeting or elsewhere.  

Rule No. 13 reads, “Members shall be respectful of the role of staff to advise based on political neutrality and objectivity and without undue influence from any individual Member or faction of the Council.”  This rule effectively shields municipal management from criticism from Councillors.  It is also, of course, ridiculous to claim that staff advice is based on “political neutrality and objectivity”. The import of such a statement is that staff advice is pure and above reproach.  A Councillor is essentially disallowed from stating that staff advice is anything other than politically neutral or objective.  Subrule 13(4) includes the further chilling provision “all members shall show respect for the professional capacities of the staff of the City.”  In other words, don’t disagree with what we say because we are the professionals and you councillors are the know-nothing amateurs. 

The Town Council in Carleton Place employs a cop to ensure that councillors do not get out of hand. The deputy mayor, Ed Sonnenburg, was reprimanded for a series of e-mails that used “offensive” language in a message to a resident and others that criticized the town’s chief administrative officer, Paul Knowles.  The town’s integrity commissioner, Robert Swayze, a lawyer in Caledon, Ont who at the time was the integrity commissioner for nine different Ontario municipalities, suspended Sonnenburg’s pay for four weeks which was a penalty amounting to about $1,700.  Swayze cited a couple of examples of unacceptable behaviors: the Councillor sent e-mails about changes in a development plan discussed at meeting he apparently missed, only to learn the news from a ratepayer: The e-mail: “But then again, council has been proven over and over again to be powerless” ... and “For Paul (the CAO) once again a ratepayer is providing information to a councillor.” Or another e-mail about a capital project in town: “Who decided to build what on whose authority --- or is it just the CAO using his discretion again?” Council, it turned out, had approved the very work.

The Carleton Place Code of Conduct contains the following: “Members of council....shall treat every person including other Members of Council, corporate employees...and the public, with dignity, understanding and respect for the right to equality and the right to an environment that is safe and free from harassment and discrimination.” The writer of an article in the Ottawa Citizen concerning the Councillor’s problems made the following comment: “On the one hand, especially among elected officials, is scrutiny and criticism of each other not just part of having a healthy democracy? It’s not kindergarten. Look at that band of partisan banshees up on Parliament Hill. One wonders, too, whether these limits on free expression would even stand up in court.  It is troubling, too, that the integrity commissioner has been delegated to decide what is and isn’t contrary to council’s code of conduct, which is written in that “everybody play nice” kind of language.”

It is troubling that an unelected official can exercise this kind of authority over an elected councillor. Councillor Sonnenburg was essentially reduced to a civil servant by a non-elected “Integrity Commissioner”.  It doesn’t matter if the councillor’s comments were accurate or inaccurate - it is incompatible with democracy that he can be punished for making these kinds of comments.

Port Hope (Ontario, of course) exemplifies everything that is perversely undemocratic about municipal codes of conduct.  Under the heading “What are the Responsibilities of Council Members?”  one finds this statement “Political Activity - Members of Council are to be allowed as great a measure of political rights as can be reconciled with the need to ensure the fact and appearance of impartiality, in the performance of their duties with the Municipality as Members of Council. The point at which any appropriate balance can be struck in any particular case depends primarily on the nature and level of the Council Member's responsibilities.”  This statement basically says that the political freedom of a councillor is something that we will try to allow but don’t count on it.  The drafter of this document suffers from democracy impairment - an elected councillor is a politician and as such it is his or her role to express their opinions and to represent the views of their constituents.  He or she is not “allowed” political rights.  Political rights are fundamental to being a democratically elected representative. 

Even more outrageous is Port Hope’s provision on Public Comment: “In accordance with the Municipality's Communications Policy, By-law Number 115/2007 every member of Council shall display the reserve inherent in his/her position with the Municipality when publicly expressing his/her personal opinions on matters of political controversy or on existing or proposed municipal policy or administration. This policy is not intended to restrict the legitimate public comment of spokespersons of Council, nor the public comment of Council Members on matters of essentially a personal interest related to his/her position as a Council Member with the Municipality of Port Hope.”

A councillor is not required to display any “reserve” when it comes to publicly expressing his/her personal opinions on matters of political controversy or an existing or proposed municipal policy or administration.  To quote from a letter written by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association when the City of Victoria was considering a similar conduct provision “Political debate, by its very nature, can involve heated discussions on matters of great contention.  It can involve polemics and diatribes.  This may, again by its nature, result in people being offended.  It may involve people having their motives questioned and that is, as we would expect in any truly open and democratic process.  The accountability of Councillors for their conduct in these regards is to electors.”  

Michael Vonn of the B.C.C.L.A. made a particularly valid point about codes of conduct that prohibit councillors from openly criticizing staff.  She said "The downside if you have a code of conduct that includes the requirement that you respect or consider the self-esteem of staff and colleagues, you really are in an area of chilling appropriate political speech.  Obviously in the context of debate, people are going to disagree. You have to allow for that disagreement without the chill of having somebody being brought up on a conduct matter."

What we see with codes of conduct is the downgrading of municipal councils to the role of an advisory board to the unelected bureaucrats. Is it the level of democracy closest to the people or it is it the level of bureaucracy with the closest control over the people?  One has to think the latter is more accurate.

Monday, 9 March 2015

ONE BIG REGISTRY

Online registries are flourishing in the U.S.  Politicians just can not resist them.  Identify a bad set of behaviors and then legislate an online registry naming the miscreants that have engaged in that kind of behavior.

SEX OFFENCE REGISTRIES

The movement to create online registries - like compulsory reporting laws - were initially motivated by crimes against children.  Sex registries in the U.S. began in California in 1947 but were not used in a major way until 1994 with passage of the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act - which required states to form a database of offenders convicted of sexually violent offenses or offenses against children. In 1996 following the abduction and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kankain New Jersey, the law  (Megan’s Law) was amended to require law enforcement to make registration data public. 

Like compulsory reporting laws on-line registries have not remained confined to horrendous sex crimes against children.  While they were originally intended to name the worst of the worst,  sex offender registries have gradually broadened to include any type of sexual offence.  For example offenses listed on Pennsylvania’s sex offender registry include “aggravated indecent assault,” “unlawful contact or communication with a minor” and “sexual assault.”  New York’s list is even broader including patronizing a prostitute. 

As a result in 2013, there were nearly 750,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S., including individuals convicted of non-violent crimes such as consensual sex between teenagers, prostitution and public nudity, as well as those who committed their only offenses decades ago. Children as young as 13 have been placed on a registry.

Jill Levenson, an associate professor of psychology at Lynn University in Florida, questions the effectiveness of sex offender registries.  She references Department of Justice figures that conclude that only 13 percent of new sex crimes are committed by known sex offenders, and that such crimes are at least six times more likely to be committed by other types of offenders who do not appear on any sex offender registry.  She notes that studies, that have examined the effect of registry and notification laws for sex offenders on recidivism, “do not show a decrease in repeat sex offenses that can be attributed to sex offender registry or notification.”

MORE REGISTRIES

There are now a host of registries listing non-sexual offenders.  In fact an organized effort to establish a new registry seems to always succeed.  Typically the New York State Senate voted 57 to 4 on Tuesday for a violent offenders registry.  In Illinois, the murderer’s registry bill passed the House in April by a 97-to-1 vote.   Representative Monique Davis, the lone member of the Illinois House to oppose the law, said that although she favored the state’s sex offender registry, “I just don’t think that a murderer registry is of much value to anyone except those getting paid to set it up.”  She noted that the recidivism rate for murder was very low to begin with and that the state, facing a deficit of more than $4 billion, could not afford the cost of another registry. In fact murderers have among the lowest rates of recidivism. Only about 1.2 percent of convicted murderers go on to commit another murder within three years of their release; roughly 35 percent commit other types of crimes within the same time period.

Activist groups across the U.S. are successfully promoting registries for drunk drivers even though as Maine State Representative Gary Plummer, a Republican, stated they are “prohibitively expensive.”   He said “I haven’t even gotten to the point of considering is it fair to put people on this type of registry, when we don’t have the resources” to do it, he said of the drunken driver bill, adding that he had also opposed proposals for arsonist and animal abuser registries as too costly.

BAD TENANT REGISTRIES.  

With all these stories about bad tenants, Ontario PC MPP Ernie Hardeman has called on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to look into creating a registry where bad tenants (and bad landlords) could be listed and seen by the public.  Hardeman said “there must be a way that once you have a record that record becomes public.” And BC landlords now the importance of tenant screening. And even Alberta landlords are making sure they rent to great tenants and avoid the pro bad tenants.

ANIMAL ABUSE REGISTRIES.

In fact registries are no longer being restricted to crimes against humans.  Suffolk County, on the eastern half of Long Island, has created the nation's first animal abuse registry, requiring people convicted of cruelty to animals to register or face jail time and fines.  The online list is open to the public, so that pet owners or the merely curious can find out whether someone living near them is on it - on the theory that some animal abusers have been known to steal their neighbors' pets.

"We know there is a very strong correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence," said Suffolk County legislator Jon Cooper, the bill's sponsor.  Repeating was essentially is an urban legend he said  "Almost every serial killer starts out by torturing animals, so in a strange sense we could end up protecting the lives of people."

Cathy Mulnard, a founder and co-director of Second Chance Rescue, a Suffolk animal shelter, said about animal abusers "They don't mean to be bad to the animal, but they get overwhelmed and don't know how to ask for help. They may be innocent abusers," She called the legislation "a godsend for the animals."  She added "We take care of our animals and love our animals the way you do your children," she said. "We need to protect every animal that's out there because they don't make the decisions in their life; human beings do."

Suffolk County is also notorious for having imposed such onerous restrictions on sex offenders exceeding those required by New York State law that it was faced with a situation where 40 sex offenders ended up living in two cramped trailers located in isolated locations.

Animal Abuse Registries exemplifies the whole problem with laws created by people with good intentions.  As SCOTT H. GREENFIELD, says on his Simple Justice blog “Animal abuse is wrong, therefore anything that causes misery to animal abusers is good.  And this is how bad law happens.” He observes that animal registries (like other registries) essentially gets the bad guy twice “You mean they were already sentenced for their crime?  You mean they served their sentence, paid their dues, and only afterward do they get this dumped on them, on top of everything else?”  Another erosion of the rule against double jeopardy.

ONE BIG REGISTRY

Every time there is publicity about some repugnant act - idling a car in a parking lot, smoking in the vicinity of children, throwing a plastic bottle into a culvert, saying something hateful about a religious belief, some legislator somewhere in the U.S. will be trying to create another registry.  So the country will invariably end up with a significant portion of the population on a bad person registry.   Eventually the various registries will be combined into one BIG REGISTRY. 

In fact, in British Columbia, Canada that has happened.   B.C.’s Court Services Online provides public access to court records including the Provincial Court ticket records and Provincial Court criminal records. Most of the records displayed on this site are traffic offences or criminal code offences. Some offences are even municipal bylaw offences or offences under provincial or federal Acts, such as the Fisheries Act.   B.C’s Online Registry, like other registries, is accessed by all the information systems that are being utilized by government and policing institutions in Canada and the U.S. so invariably a person trying to travel to the U.S. will be stopped from entering the country because of catching a fish that was too small or failing to license the cat.

Friday, 6 March 2015

FOOD FASCISTS

How do contemporary authoritarians differ from authoritarians of yesteryear.  In most of the developed world today’s authoritarians are a gentler bunch.   They don’t (usually) want to use a secret police force to beat up, execute or jail the miscreants that violate the rules. On the other hand there are a lot of areas of a person’s life that were untouched by old authoritarians but into which the new authoritarians are more than willing to intrude.  For example, food.  They want to regulate what you eat.  Food may well be the next big expansion area of illegality.

The authoritarians almost invariably use health to justify their initiatives.  At the forefront of health concerns is obesity.  Fighting obesity is now up there with fighting drugs.  The war on obesity has not yet been officially declared but the anti-obesity forces are marching to the front lines.  Those famous U.S. SWAT teams may soon be breaking down the doors of the obese and emptying the refrigerators!

For the time being the measures being proposed to fight obesity are usually financial like special punitive taxes on disfavored foods such as a one percent excise tax on so-called junk food.  Special excise taxes are also being proposed on the sale of soft drinks or soft drink syrup and on bottled, ready-to-drink tea or coffee, sports drinks, spring or mineral water, and flavoured milk products.  It is called “taxing fat”.  American food warriors are advocating prohibiting the use of food stamps for the “incorrect foods” which is to be expected, since we all know that the poor are the fattest of them all. It is an historical constant that so much authoritarianism originates from an upper middle class disapproving of the behaviour of the poor.

Some Food Fascists advocate subsidizing veggies and organics.  Other Food Fascists simply want to ban a wide range of foods of which they disapprove.  There is a long list of proposed bans ranging from large sodas to anything that is a product of biotechnology.  

There are lots of food fascists who would like to ban the eating of meat.  They claim that meat and dairy industries take up 38% of the world's land use and account for 70% of global freshwater consumption or, in other words, the planet is to small and crowded to permit unrestricted consumption of meat. We could supposedly feed 10 billion of people if we would go on a vegan diet planetary-wide.  Meat is also accused (unsupported by carefully controlled tests) of causing all sorts of diseases including arthritis, cancer, diabetes, obesity, excessive cholesterol/ high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.  So meat will be banned because it is for your own good.

Children as usual are a favorite target of the authoritarians (who seem to be particularly numerous in the education system) who want to re-engineer school lunches to the point of inedibility.   At Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side, students are not even allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.  Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.  "Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," Carmona said. "It's about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception".

Parents of students at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Hamilton, Ontario, are being asked to avoid putting dairy, eggs and fish into their kids’ lunches because of one student’s severe allergies. Clamoring PC food fascists can intimidate your favorite restaurant into removing your favorite dish from its menu.

How far will they go.  Will doctors be required to report people who have poor diet habits?  Do they report parents who allow their children to eat too many sugary foods.  Doctors in Ontario already have compulsory reporting obligations under eighteen different statutes.  Why not add another one.

Standing just behind the people who want to ban a wide list of allegedly unhealthy foods is another group of Food Fascists.  These are people from health departments and agencies - they see e coli lurking in any food product that has not been properly incinerated.  They have a habit of targeting food production and sale where there have been few reported incidences, e.g. Chinese barbecued meats.

Does Food Fascism have any scientific justification.  A study from the University of North Carolina showed that today's fatter kids are not eating more than 20 years ago, they're just exercising less.  Another study involving 400,000 people has shown that eating lots of fruit and vegetables makes little difference to your risk of getting cancer. This contradicts the received opinion of nutritionists who have for years bombarded us with bossy propaganda telling us we must eat five fruit and vegetables every day.

Another study involving 400,000 people has shown that eating lots of fruit and vegetables makes little difference to a person’s risk of getting cancer.  So much for nutritionists dictating that we must eat five fruit and vegetables every day.

Consequently food scares are being constantly being revised.  New ones added.  Old ones dropped. At the same time food fad come and go.  We have those radical vegetarians who wish to ban the consumption of meat.  We have the paleo diet people who oppose eating any food that was a product of the agricultural revolution - which incidentally was so bad for Homo Sapiens that it resulted in a huge increase in our population.

Unfortunately Food Fascism will be pushed along by well intentioned politicians backed by a well intentioned public.  The latest evidence is a poll commissioned by the do-gooders at the Public Health Agency of Canada claiming that a “majority of Canadians” support a ban on the marketing of candy, pop, chips and other essential fun foods of childhood as well as near-majority support for new taxes on treats.


Friday, 6 February 2015

VERBOTEN

The censorship of commentary does not necessarily start with overt repression. A social and political milieu can convince people not to express unwelcome words or notions ab initio. State repression is unnecessary if people can be coerced to repress themselves.  

Speech intolerance is enveloping our culture.  The most egregious form of this non-legislated censorship is found on American university campuses where elaborate speech codes have become almost universal.  The new censorship, however, is not limited to universities.  Public personalities must carefully parse their speech to avoid saying or writing anything that offends an ever developing code of correctness.  Even a celebrity like Madonna was forced to apologize for alleged racism after re-posting fan art of famous people’s faces such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Bob Marley tied up in rope in order to look like the cover of her forthcoming album Rebel Heart.

A staunch conservative like former University of Calgary political scientist Mr. Flanagan was spectacularly exposed to the new censorship.  He learnt that is not permissible to say anything that downplays or questions any aspect of the protection of children.  Mr. Flanagan had in a previous university talk endeavored to distinguish between crimes that involve the abuse of actual children and those that involve "just pictures." In response to a question about people who are jailed just for viewing child pornography on the internet, he said "I certainly have no sympathy for child molesters," but then added, "It is a real issue of personal liberty to what extent we put people in jail for doing something in which they do not harm another person."

Now there is an obvious response to this statement; namely, that pictures of child pornography usually require a child being subjected to pornographic acts.  Mr. Flanagan’s comments, however, were not met with a reasoned response.  He had made the mistake of uttering a a verboten opinion.  By the end of the day, his employer of 45 years, the University of Calgary, had disassociated itself from him and the CBC had fired him as a commentator. Subsequently he would be disinvited from speaking engagements across North America. 

Mr. Flanagan’s friends on the Right were first and foremost in denouncing him.  Mr. Flanagan had worked hard to help build Danielle. Smith's Wildrose party into a credible political force in 2008.  But now, Danielle Smith was declaring  "There is no language strong enough to condemn Dr. Flanagan's comments," She said the party would no longer have anything to do with him.  The federal Conservatives followed suit.  The Prime Minister's communications director, Andrew McDougall said in a tweet "Tom Flanagan's comments on child pornography are repugnant, ignorant, and appalling”.

President Kathleen McCartney, the president of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, learnt how remarkably easy it is to cross the line separating permissible and non-permissible speech.  She was forced to profusely apologize simply for sending an e-mail to students that had the subject line, “All Lives Matter.”  She quickly sent a second email expressing regret that she was unaware the phrase “All Lives Matter” was being used on social media as a counterargument to the “BlackLivesMatter” movement.  One student wrote  “It minimizes the anti-blackness of this the current situation; yes, all lives matter, but not all lives are being targeted for police brutality,”

Kathleen McCartney had previously “crossed the line” because there is a long list of words you can't say at Smith College - or apparently reproduce in the student paper.  She had said “We’re just wild and crazy, aren’t we.  The comment was re-written in a transcript in the student newspaper to read “[Smith President]: We're just wild and [ableist slur], aren't we?”

Smith alumna Wendy Kaminer, a feminist lawyer and civil-liberties advocate, spoke on a panel discussion on free speech and hate speech at the College in September, 2013 and asked the audience what word came to mind when she said "the n-word." When they said it out loud, she repeated it and said "nothing horrible happened."  Kaminer was accused in the Huffington Post of committing "an explicit act of racial violence," President McCartney - who moderated the panel - had obviously learnt her lesson - she even apologized for those who felt "unsafe" listening to Kaminer.

Trigger warnings are customary in some feminist and other spaces. They are designed to prevent people who have an extremely strong and damaging emotional response (for example, post-traumatic flashbacks or urges to harm themselves) to certain subjects from encountering them unaware. Having these responses is called "being triggered".

A blog with the title “Kyriarchy & Privilege 101” gives a list of triggering words ot types of words which includes swearing, talk of drug use (legal, illegal or psychiatric), descriptions/pictures of medical procedures (even if they don't contain blood or gore), any time slurs are used (this includes words like "stupid" or "dumb"), death or dying, spiders, insects, snakes, vomit, pregnancy/childbirth, blood, serious injury and best of all “slimy things”.  Perhaps the blog was being satirical - it is getting increasingly hard to distinguish between when some of these people are being satirical or “correct” to an absurd degree.  Perhaps satirical, perhaps extremist - it does give a flavour of the trigger word mentality.

The trigger warning idiocy is inevitably leading to even broader speech code rules at American universities.  Oberlin College, for example, recommends that its faculty "remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals". When material is simply too important to take out entirely, the college recommends trigger warnings. Things Falling Apart is a novel about the great harms of colonialism, At Oberlin College “Things Fall Apart” now carries the warning that it “may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, and religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more” even though “it is a great and important book”.

Trigger warnings have inevitably become a way to short-circuit uncomfortable, unpopular or offensive arguments.  It is a new way to try to control speech.

The Oxford University Press, which bills itself as the largest university press in the world, provided another startling example of declaring certain words verboten.  It has told its authors not to mention pigs or sausages, or anything else which could be perceived as pork in their books in order to avoid offending Muslims and Jews. 

A few years back in an effort to eliminate potential "unpleasant emotions" among students, the New York Department of Education placed a ban on mentioning 50 or so common words including “birthdays, dinosaurs,slavery,Halloween, evolution and dancing" in city-issued tests.  After considerable ridicule New York’s educators (?) rescinded the ban.

So we can see two different developments.  Firstly, specific topics have become off limits.  At the same time more and more words are being removed from permissible communication.  This adds up to a chilling effect on freedom of speech generally.  In order to avoid running afoul of these inhibitors” politicians or media commentators will studiously avoid meaningful debate.  It is all part and parcel of a frightened, cowed society.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

THE SCOTTISH NEW ORDER - A SOCIAL WORKER FOR EVERY CHILD



The Scottish National Party (SNP) are leaders in establishing the contemporary Nanny State.  Their triumphant piece of legislation is the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill, under which every child from birth will be given a "named person", charged with keeping an eye on that child's interests until he or she reaches adulthood (age of 18).  A specific government worker will be assigned to every child at birth. These “named persons” will be charged with safeguarding each child’s welfare and with representing the state to the family.  Lets repeat that - every child in Scotland, not just children who are subject to abuse or neglect, gets a state minder.

The Children and Young People Bill was introduced to Parliament on 17 April 2013, passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament on 19 February 2013, and received Royal Assent on 27 March 2014, making the Bill an Act of the Scottish Parliament.  The legislation is intended to be fully implemented by 2016.  It is a World First - there has not been a scheme providing for universal state surveillance of youth since the Nazis made the Hitler Youth compulsory for all German children in 1939.  The guardians will be chosen from among existing teachers and healthcare professionals and will be people who may already exist in a child's life but they are being given extra powers which make them in effect an overseer of parents and parenting.

The scheme has been trialed in the Highlands since 2010.   A council spokeswoman says 7,927 children have been given a “child’s plan” by a head teacher or health visitor.  Before the trial began, there were just 64 children on the child protection at-risk register in the whole Highland council area, now every child is supervised AS IF at-risk.

Every Health Board in Scotland must appoint a “named person” to every child at birth - the named person will be a health worker until the child reaches the age of five.  After the age of 5 the responsibility will then pass to councils until the child reaches 18, with teachers expected to be asked to take on the role. 

A Health Board is responsible for keeping records, not only on every child but on their parents too, who will be assessed against the new National Risk Framework. This can be used by “any practitioner in any circumstances where agencies are exploring a child’s needs”. Section 23 of the bill, “Communication in relation to movement of children and young people” requires that if any family in Scotland moves home, their local health board/authority current “named person” must pass on all the information held on each adult and child to the “named person” in the area to which the child moves.  A head start perhaps on a dossier which will be built up over a person’s lifetime. 

The new legislation significantly reduces the threshold for state intervention in a child’s parenting. The previous test was that a child must be at “serious risk of harm”; now the test is merely the risk of not meeting state dictated ‘wellbeing’ outcomes. These well-being outcomes are set out in a “National Risk Framework to Support the Assessment of Children and Young People.   What comes through very clearly in this document is that parents must be compliant.  They had better not shown any resistance to the opinions and actions of the intervening professional.    What is required (if parents do not want to “lose” their children) is “An admission by a parent of the problem and a willingness to co-operate with a treatment and intervention programme ...”  A resistance related risk Indicator for a parent includes merely having “a different perception of the problems/risks.”  In Nazi Germany children could be taken away from their parents if they did not provide a "politically reliable" home; in modern Scotland a child will be taken away if the parent fails to provide the kind of idealized, middle-class parenting that young social workers were taught in university. 

PART 5 of Scotland’s totalitarian legislation is headed CHILD’S PLAN.  Yes the State has a PLAN for each child that a Named Person thinks has a well-being need.  The Named Person will rarely be called out for making a wrong assessment since “A child has a wellbeing need if the child’s wellbeing is being, or is at risk of being, adversely affected by any matter.”  When Big Mother has identified a well-being need the child is made the subject of a “targeted intervention”.  At that point the state will decide whether the targeted boy or girl requires a CHILD’S PLAN.   The responsible authority is required only as “reasonably practicable to ascertain and have regard to the views of the child, and the child’s parents.”   Scotland’s very own Balder von Shirach, Children's Minister Aileen Campbell, very magnanimously declared "we recognise that parents ALSO have a role" in raising their children.  A subsidiary one, of course.

The scheme fundamentally replaces parents with state officials.  For example under new guidance issued to Scotland’s schools teachers whose under age pupils admit having sex are instructed to inform the SNP’s planned network of “state guardians” instead of parents. The Scottish Government document advises teachers they should contact the youngster’s “named person” if a pupil tells them about sexual behaviour that raises a “child protection concern”. Any other information that raises the possibility the pupil’s welfare is at risk must also be passed to the named person, according to the advice.  It makes no mention of telling mothers or fathers.

Perhaps the order of the initials for Scotland’s ruling party got mixed up.  Rather than SNP it should be NSP as in National Socialist Party or Nazi.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

BIG DATA AND BAD PEOPLE

What is big data?  Wikipedia defines big data as an all-encompassing term for any collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process them using traditional data processing applications.   Big data is the machine-based collection and analysis of astronomical quantities of information.  Vast quantities of data are analyzed to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, market trends, customer preferences and other useful business information.  Algorithms are used to search for statistical correlations between one kind of behavior and another.  The data is typically derived from the internet and includes web server logs and Internet clickstream data, social media content and social network activity reports, text from customer emails and survey responses, mobile-phone call detail records and machine data.

Essentially, big data is all about following and then analyzing our digital footprints on the internet and elsewhere.  Every aspect of our life including location records via mobile phones, purchases via credit cards and interests via web-surfing behavior has been recorded and potentially shared by some entity somewhere. All of this data is then analyzed to provide fundamental insights into both our personal and collective behavior.   The unpleasant reality is that these insights can be surprisingly revealing.

Just how powerfully intrusive is big data.  A recent study published in the journal Science found that just four bits of information mined from a shopper's credit card could be used to uniquely identify ninety per cent of individuals.  The credit card information was made up of ordinary, every day expenditures such as where the individual bought coffee or purchased a new sweater or pair of shoes.

Credit cards use was just as reliable at identifying someone as mobile phone records.  An individual could be re-identified with "just a few more additional data points” even if some of the specifics were removed from credit card data, such as the general area where a purchase was made instead of the specific shop or if the time range was expanded to one day to 15.  Interestingly women were more identifiable from metadata than men.  Similarly people with higher incomes were also easier to identify.

Data brokers collect consumer information and then sell it to other companies. They are not hindered by "do not track" option which are available on many browsers, since it is not legally binding.  Giant data-collection firms sort details of online and offline purchases to help categorize people as runners or hikers, spenders or savers, conservatives or liberals, main streamers or counter-culturalists and so on.

A bank will use the data to assess a mortgage applicants credit worthiness.  Big data’s supposed predictive qualities go far beyond the traditional elements which determine whether a person has good credit i.e. the person has paid all of his or her loans and debts in a timely fashion.  For example, a person’s contacts on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn can be used to assess his or her "character and capacity" when it comes to loans.  This might be done by “analyzing” friends. Are they rich? Are they poor.  If a number of associations with losers are detected by algorithms, a person can be labeled a poor credit risk and disqualified from a loan.  The individual may very well never find out about the true cause of the loan rejection - the “”lender will likely avoid being up front about the reason.  

It has been suggested that even the repayment history of the other customers of stores where a person shops can result in a negative "behavioral scoring".  Although this method of credit rating (guilt-by-association) is something that is totally beyond an individual’s control, lenders will use it because it provides a reliable statistical inference.   The consequences, however, for the individual will likely be horrendous.

Insurers are particularly excited by big data.  It is costly to use blood, urine and other physical tests to assess a person’s health.   Big data, however, may be able to reveal as much about a person as a lab analysis of bodily fluids.  The individual leaves an information trail that show such lifestyle factors as exercise habits and fast-food diets which can be used to estimate risk for illnesses such as high blood pressure and depression.  Similarly the individual might reveal concern about injuries and illnesses from websites that are visited.

The contemporary notion of privacy is based on two premises; namely, 1) individual choice in the sense that there is informed consent to disclosure and 2) on anonymization or that data is decoupled from an identified individual.  With big data, however, the information is used and reused in a manner separate from purpose for which it was originally provided.  Similarly even if the information is devoid of identifying data, the relationships between the individual pieces will identify the individual.

A person can avoid creating bad data by simply by cutting himself or herself off from the internet. We can’t help that suspect that “no data” will have the same negative consequence as having no credit cards and no mortgages.   

The negative impact of big data is not limited to a form of economic blackballing.  Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Security Agency in the U.S. has full access to internet information and all the analytic tools of big data.  Combine this access to an individual’s digital footprint (which, of course, is mostly gratuitously created by the individual) with all the information that government already has on individuals through income tax and social program records, financial disclosure requirements, travel records and the like and you have the blueprint for surveillance at a level never previously approached even in highly totalitarian societies.  

Assurances are given that these super powers of surveillance will only be used to counter terrorism or the drug trade or other nefarious activities ... but once a “power” is there does it ever really remain benign for very long.  There will be an inevitable expansion in the ways that super surveillance is used to “regulate” the entire population.


Friday, 21 November 2014

THEY KNOW ALL ABOUT YOU - A GOVERNMENT DOSSIER ON EVERY PERSON

We are moving step by step to a world where the national governments in the U.K., Australia, the U.S. and Canada will have a dossier on each of its citizens.  It will be quickly and readily accessible to a number of government officials, security agencies and police.  The information in the dossier will be extensive - it will include detailed financial information, information on tax and GST filings, information on travel history, information on property ownership and information on political tendencies.

This article looks at the development of the information web in Canada - there are similar legislative trends in the U.S., Australia and the U.K. The information web is not yet perfected but it is quickly getting bigger and better.  Most of the legislative framework is in place.  Components of the dossier system in Canada include the following:

Border Crossing Information

On December 13, 2012 Canada signed a Treaty with the United States of America (U.S.) to enable systematic immigration information sharing between the two countries on border crossings.  The Treaty creates a legally binding instrument under international law to govern systematic information sharing.  Two separate implementing arrangements are currently contemplated under the Treaty. The first covers systematic biographic information sharing to be implemented in 2014, and the second will cover systematic biometric information sharing to be implemented in 2015.

Canada and the United States under the so-called bilateral “Entry/Exit Initiative,” are already collecting and exchanging the entry data at all land border ports of entry of third-country nationals, permanent residents, visitors, foreign students and those who are here on work permits.  The personal information collected includes a traveler’s name, date of birth, nationality, sex, document type, document number, work location code/port of entry code, date and time of entry, and the country where the travel document was issued. The scope of the program is being extended to all people traveling through land border crossings, including Canadian and American citizens.  Canadian and American authorities will automatically be notified of every border crossing by a citizen, immigrant or visitor almost instantaneously under the vastly expanded border control system.  The system will track the movements of Canadian and American citizens with "near real-time" exchange of information between government agencies.   Ultimately, in the program’s final phase, Canada will develop a system to establish exit records similar to those in the United States, where airlines are required to submit passenger info on outbound international flights.

The program will pass the tracking information on to other federal departments in Canada and the United States.  The Canada Border Services Agency has confirmed the new practice and said data would be passed on only in accordance with stringent rules. CBSA spokesperson Esme Bailey would not say if this new program would be used as an enforcement tool for purposes other than border security, however, she said “access to the information will be limited to designated users with an operational requirement for the information on a “need-to-know” basis. But the revelation is raising questions about privacy, how the information will be used and whether the federal government plans to use this data to crack down on immigration, citizenship, health and tax cheats. 

The United States will be allowed to share information about Canadians with other countries under a sweeping border deal.  The U.S. will not be required to explicitly tell Canada about its plan to pass along the personal details.

Immigration policy analyst Richard Kurland said “With this system, it is a blank cheque to the Big Brother. Where you go and when you go becomes government property.”  Kurland noted that the data collected can be used as an enforcement tool of immigrant residency and citizenship laws for newcomers, as well as in the application of health care and taxation rules for Canadian citizens by counting their days spent in Canada.

Citizenship

The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, known as Bill C-24, which was enacted in July, 2014, contains provisions which gives Ottawa broad new powers to disclose information. It is not yet known to whom such information will be disclosed as he Act gives the government power to pass a set of regulations which will set out the details to whom and under what circumstances such information will be disclosed.   

In fact regulations may be passed under the Act to  provide for the collection, retention, use, disclosure and disposal of information for the purposes of the Act.  Regulations may also provide for the disclosure of information for the purposes of national security, the defence of Canada or the conduct of international affairs.   International Affairs includes the implementation of an agreement or arrangement entered into under section 5 of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act or in other words an agreement for information sharing with a foreign government.  Additionally regulations may be passed to provide for the disclosure of information to verify the citizenship status or identity of any person for the purposes of administering any federal or provincial law or law of another country.  Finally regulations may provide for the disclosure of information for the purposes of cooperation within the Government of Canada and between the Government of Canada and the government of a province.  To summarize, information may be shared with other federal departments, with provincial departments and with foreign governments.  There is no guarantee that this information will be narrowly restricted to relevant immigration issues.  Given that other provisions of the Act require prospective citizens to make broad disclosure of their personal affairs, the government dossiers on New Canadians will have some extra heft. 

Income Tax Enforcement

Section 241 of the Canadian Income Tax Act seemingly requires the CRA to keep taxpayer information confidential but this traditional privacy notion has been largely amended out of existence.  There is a long list of exceptions to Section 241.  Information can be disclosed to Canadian government officials when it can reasonably be regarded as necessary for the purposes of the administration or enforcement of the Income Tax Act, the Canada Pension Plan, or the Employment Insurance Act. It can be disclosed to provincial governments for purposes of the administration of the workers' compensation program, for the use in the management or administration of a program relating to earning supplementation or income support or for use in the management or administration by that government of a program relating to payments under subsection 164(1.8) of the Act. 

The Minister may, where the taxpayer is, or is about to become, liable to make any payment to the federal government or to a province, apply the amount of the refund or repayment to that other liability and notify the taxpayer of that action.  Refunds can also be redirected for a child maintenance payment made pursuant to provincial law. 

There are a host of other exceptions.  Information can be passed to a government official for the purposes of formulation or evaluation of fiscal policy; to a police officer or a Canada Customs officer for the purpose of investigating whether an offence has been committed under the Criminal Code and to “appropriate persons” if the information relates to the imminent danger of death or physical injury to any individual.  The Income Tax Act also provides that taxpayer information may be disclosed to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada where the information may be used by these organizations to assist with ongoing investigations related to national security.  This disclosure provision was introduced as part of the recent package of “terrorism-related” legislation.

Section 79 of the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act provides access to so-called  information banks maintained by various federal government departments, and where there is an information agreement, provincial departments notwithstanding any provision in any other Act of Parliament that prohibits or restricts the release of information.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can enter into written collaborative arrangements, such as Information Sharing Agreements (Agreements), with federal, provincial and territorial departments.  For example the Agreement with the British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency (BCVSA) has been in effect since July 28, 2009.  The CRA can give information to other countries with which Canada has a tax treaty that authorizes the exchange of information.  These include a Tax Information Exchange Agreement ("TIEA“) or a listed international agreement, which includes the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ("OECD") Agreement.

Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act requires Canadian financial institutions to supply comprehensive financial information to the Canada Revenue Agency which then turns it over to the Internal Revenue Service in the U.S.  The agreement provides that if an account holder is a “U.S. person” (such as U.S. residents and/or U.S. citizens (including U.S. citizens who are residents or citizens of Canada), the financial institution will be required to collect and report information on the account to the CRA in respect of that account holder. The information that will be collected and shared with the IRS will include information about the account holder including his or her name, address, the individual's U.S. taxpayer identification number and certain financial information pertaining to the account.  This information will be transmitted by the CRA to the IRS under the existing provisions of the Canada-U.S. tax treaty relating to exchange of information.

The Operations Centre Information Portal

The Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), led by Defence Research and Development Canada's Centre for Security Science and the Government Operations Centre (GOC), have developed the OCIP which is a system that enhances the GOCs ability to share data immediately across federal operations centres.  It gathers information on all types of events affecting Canadians at home and abroad ranging from a local fire department responding to a forest fire, to special security arrangements for visits from international dignitaries.  The portal was created with the express purpose of organizing incoming information and readily sharing what's relevant with many operations centres at the click of a mouse.   It gives users the ability to share documents quickly, track ongoing events, and issue notices about incidents of interest. It also has a number of collaborative custom-built features such as a chat tool, a Request for Information tracker, and an incident management log to categorize incoming alerts.  Recently, an `automatic messaging' feature was added which allows alerts to be sent to offline operations centres users when a request for information is posted.

Initially only a few key federal departments had access to this so-called tool but it now employed by 21 federal departments and agencies, with more likely to join in 2015.  Federal agencies using the portal are currently looking at how it could be used in their regional offices.  The use of common data standards in OCIP will allow for continued growth in the future.  

The Internet

One of the documents retrieved by U.S. whistle blower Edward Snowden showed that Canada's electronic spy agency uses information from the free internet service at a major Canadian airport to track the wireless devices of thousands of ordinary airline passengers for days after they left the terminal.  This is probably illegal since the spy agency is supposed to be collecting primarily foreign intelligence by intercepting overseas phone and internet traffic, and is prohibited by law from targeting Canadians or anyone in Canada without a judicial warrant.  Security experts who have been apprised of the document point out the airline passengers in a Canadian airport were clearly in Canada.  CSEC justified its actions by claimiing that it is "mandated to collect foreign signals intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians and that in order to fulfill that foreign intelligence role for the country, it is legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata.

The kind of metadata being collected is more than just "phone book" information.  It reveals a trove of information including, for example, the location and telephone numbers of all calls a person makes and receives.  Knowledge of subscriber information, such as phone numbers and IP addresses, can provide a starting point to compile a picture of an individual's online activities, including online services for which an individual has registered, personal interests based on websites visited; and organizational affiliations.  It can also provide a sense of where the individual has been physically (e.g., mapping IP addresses to hotel locations, as in the Petraeus case). 

This information can be sensitive in nature in that it can be used to determine a person's leanings, with whom they associate, and where they travel, among other things.  What's more, each of these pieces of information can be used to uncover further information about an individual. 

Bill C-13

Frank Addario, a Toronto-based lawyer, notes that digital data surveillance gives the state virtually unfettered access to eavesdrop or read every single personal communication with no mechanism for accountability.  He suggests that the government has done nothing to rein in police techniques to obtain digital information from third party carriers like cell phone and social media providers. “By not recognizing the pressure that state snoops put on these regulated carriers, the government has delivered us into a post-privacy world.”

The Supreme Court of Canada in the Spencer case tried to put the brakes on the police coercing third party carriers to hand over digital information. Addario questions whether the courts are an adequate “substitute for legislative control of surveillance techniques to restrain overenthusiastic intelligence collectors”.  It is unlikely that such legislative control is forthcoming. Rather than trying to restrain overenthusiastic intelligence collection the Harper government has made repeated attempts to legalize it.  Their latest effort is BILL C-13 which has now passed through the House of Commons and is on to the Senate.  Bill C-13, if passed, will give police easier access to the metadata that internet service providers and phone companies keep on every call and email by their customers.  It will make it easier for police to get preservation or production orders by lowering the threshold from a "reasonable grounds to believe" a crime has happened or could happen to "reasonable grounds to suspect."  Most significantly, the bill will give immunity to any companies that turn over to police the information they hold.  Although these companies might not be compelled to hand over the information, past experience shows that they usually accede to police pressure especially if it has no negative legal consequences.

Privacy Laws

Provincial governments are increasingly exempting themselves from the operation of privacy laws. In 2011 the B.C. government amended the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act to increase the ability of government ministries to share citizens' information amongst themselves and centralize that data electronically.  The legislation, among other changes, lets ministries share information when government programs involve more than one department, permits use of so-called data linking to combine existing databases, such as for research and allows for the creation of a super ID combining driver's licences and health-care cards.

Conclusion

Government, provincial and federal, are erecting a vast information structure exemplified by the Operations Centre information Portal.  This is BIG DATA IN FULL FLIGHT. There are still technological weaknesses in the structure but it highly likely that there will soon be a time when certain government officials, spy agencies and the police will be able to bring forth a detailed dossier on each and every Canadian citizen by inputting a name, a social security number and an address.  This dossier will not only give a detailed description of a person’s life history, it will have point in time accuracy.  Our governments assure us that they have instituted internal reviews and controls to prevent misuse of this information but history tells us that internal bureaucratic run controls are useless.  Governments also tell us that the information web will only be used for good purposes - catching terrorists, drug dealers, child pornographers, cyber bullies, criminals generally.  We should note, however, that federal and provincial governments have been busy creating new crimes, new offenses.  All sorts of social misbehavior are being criminalized or semi-criminalized.  Punishments for provincial offences are constantly being made more severe. In a society where almost everyone is a criminal or potential criminal almost everyone is a government surveillance target.