11 March 2005

Privacy or Freedom?

Four immigrants have been removed from their homes in 2001 and imprisoned in Belmarsh Prison. They have not been charged or convicted of any crime. (They are free to return to their countries of origin, but cannot be forced to do so).

The Law Lords ruled that this was a breach of human rights. In an attempt to reduce the threat posed by their release, the government has tried to get a new law passed that it can use to restrict their freedoms and movement after release. This law is being held up in the House of Lords.

These four are therefore now being released.

Their names are "E", "H", "Q", and "K".

What?

Oh, we can't be told their real names. That would violate their privacy.

HAS THE WORLD GONE FUCKING MAD?

The government is prepared to overrule basic principles of freedom in this case -- both ancient ones (Magna Carta) and modern ones (ECHR). It says it is necessary to take these extraordinary steps to protect us from these men. It has imprisoned them for over three years without trying them. So why can't it tell us who they are?

Talk about swallowing camels and straining at gnats.

If it is necessary to compromise our liberties in the face of the terrorist threat, and perhaps it is, then surely we should have some kind of scale of which rights we are more willing to lose and which we are more determined to keep.

The idea that someone subject to legal proceedings should have their identity protected is something which I would happily give away for nothing. Indeed, I think the legal process should be open and public.

The right of people anywhere in the world to stay in this country, even if they are believed to be a threat, if they would be in danger in their home country, is worth a bit more. I would quite like to keep that, or at least to require that some justification for the belief that they are a threat be presented. I am open to discussion of this matter, though.

The right of citizens of this country to be either tried for an offence or allowed to go freely about their business is incomparably more valuable. I am nowhere near being convinced that we need to compromise this at all.

So why have we jumped straight to abolishing that essential freedom, when the stated objective could be so easily attained at much less cost.

I am sure the Police and Security Services are sincere in their desire to do their very important jobs as well as possible, and are asking for the power they think they need. But the dynamics of their organisations are such that they will always be asking for the most power they have any chance of getting. I do not blame them for that, but it is the role of our elected government to make the important trade-offs, and not to hide behind "advice" of these agencies as an excuse for not making them.

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