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August 3, 2004 2:33 AM   Subscribe

Britain - Stamping Out Terrorism. One Peaceful Protestor At A Time. "The Home Office proposes "to make it an offence to protest outside homes in such a way that causes harassment, alarm or distress to residents" [PDF & HTML] This sounds reasonable enough, until you realise that the police can define "harassment, alarm or distress" however they wish. All protest in residential areas, in other words, could now be treated as a criminal offence. The government will also seek to "suggest remedies" for websites which "include material deemed to cause concern or needless anxiety to others"."
posted by Blue Stone (29 comments total)

 
...unless the websites in question are theirs.
posted by rory at 2:52 AM on August 3, 2004


Ever since the day they banned music with repititve beats, I've lost all ability to be surprised at the Home Office's sheer evil.
posted by bonaldi at 2:55 AM on August 3, 2004


Next thing it'll be illegal to use spellings likely to cause "frustration" or "outrage" in pedants.
posted by bonaldi at 2:57 AM on August 3, 2004


if this means the police can take out the animals rights activists and the council estate vigilante paedophile mobs, i'm all for it. I think demonstrating outside a person's home is wrong, anyway.

Reminds me of the time council estate mob trashed a woman's house, conviced she was a paedophile. Turns out she was a paediatrician!
posted by derbs at 3:45 AM on August 3, 2004


The government will also seek to "suggest remedies" for websites which "include material deemed to cause concern or needless anxiety to others"."

they're gonna block access to warblogs?
posted by matteo at 3:59 AM on August 3, 2004


I'm with derbs here. Some laws have to be framed by common sense, and he has pointed out two very real examples of why such a law is needed. Social liberal that I am, I'm all for giving the police the power to deal with these mobs.
posted by salmacis at 4:00 AM on August 3, 2004


Well, it's helpful of George Monbiot to set out his views so clearly in the opening paragraphs. All political parties are the same. Don't bother voting in the next election, it's a waste of time. Let's all go on a protest march instead.

On environmental issues, Monbiot is a powerful and disturbing writer, but on political issues, it's becoming impossible to take him seriously. It's a great pity to see him destroying his credibility with articles like this. Who knows, one day he really will uncover a genuine threat to democracy -- but by then, he will have cried wolf so many times, that no one will take any notice.
posted by verstegan at 4:47 AM on August 3, 2004


I wonder...is there any such thing as a free country anymore? TANSTAAFL applied to politics? Maybe to ensure a free country, we all have to get off our collective asses and make some noise.

And yes, to those who would say I have to get off mine, I have. I'm volunteering for the political party of my choice, and both my husband and I are volunteering to man polls on voting day. I'm also manning a voter sign-up drive at my college.

I challenge everyone else to do the same. Don't let the United States go down without a fight.
posted by Beansidhe at 4:53 AM on August 3, 2004




I challenge everyone else to do the same. Don't let the United States go down without a fight.

Too late, but a good fight might just get it back.
posted by LowDog at 4:59 AM on August 3, 2004


Derbs, the problem is the scope of laws like these. They don't build into the law, the assurances and checks and balances that they're quick to use to reassure people about the limited nature of the new powers.
When Caroline Flint, the Home Office minister, introduced these proposals to a grateful nation on Friday, she promised that "we are not talking about denying people the right to protest". We have every reason to disbelieve her. The same promise was made with the introduction of the 1986 Public Order Act, the 1992 Trade Union Act and the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, and immediately broken. When the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act was passed, the government swore that it would not be used against demonstrators: it was intended solely to protect people from stalkers. The first three people to be prosecuted under the act were all peaceful protesters. The government also assured us that it would not misuse the antisocial behaviour orders it introduced in 1998 to deal with nuisance neighbours. They, too, were immediately deployed against peaceful demonstrators. It is hard to think of a better tool for state repression: once an order has been served on a protester, he is banned from protesting until it lapses. The police now use it to neutralise the most effective activists. The government liked this new power so much that in 2003 it wrote it into law, with an Anti-Social Behaviour Act designed to restrict peaceful protest.
posted by Blue Stone at 5:03 AM on August 3, 2004


Verstegan -- a lot of left-leaning British writers are pretty down on electoral politics these days. They hate Blair with a white hot passion, and he's the leader, and absolute controller, of the (left) Labour party.

The Lib Dems are a party of the urban/suburban elite -- these days they may well be left of Blair on some foreign policy issues, but hardly to be counted upon as an ally of unions or the working class generally, or particularly skeptical of globalism, etc.

What probably disturbs them most of all is that the Greens and other truly left parties can't make any progress, whereas the hard right (in the form of the UKIP and the BNP) are actually winning seats. Although neither is any threat to get more than a few seats, their success will pull the Tories to the right, potentially resuscitating some hard-core conservative ideas (the death penalty, EU withdrawal, real welfare and immigration reform) which have been off the table since Thatcher times.

Frankly, after watching the Democratic convention, I really wonder why the left in the U.S. isn't saying mostly the same thing. The left convinced themselves that Clinton's heart was in the right place despite a determinedly centrist campaign in 1992 -- and, guess what? He governed to the center on most issues, whether by choice or by inability to successfully oppose Republicans in Congress. I am amused that they'll let themselves be bamboozled yet again...
posted by MattD at 5:06 AM on August 3, 2004


The first three people to be prosecuted under the act were all peaceful protesters.

But they weren't convicted as even though they were harassing someone, this was found to be reasonable under the circumstances. Which seems to suggest that the law provided effective safeguards.
posted by biffa at 5:09 AM on August 3, 2004


the common sense point is a good one. Any law that uses vague terminology such as "causes harassment and distress" or "inciting racial hatred" for example, has to be left to the police to implement in a sensible way. And by and large, they do a good job.
posted by derbs at 5:20 AM on August 3, 2004


"has to be left to the police to implement in a sensible way."

Huh? You're counting on police to interpret a law so that it doesn't unfairly trample on people's rights? I don't think that's the role of police, and I certainly wouldn't trust them to be in charge of such decision making.
posted by Outlawyr at 5:56 AM on August 3, 2004


Social liberal that I am, I'm all for giving the police the power to deal with these mobs.

And I thought Americans were naïve.
posted by jpoulos at 6:45 AM on August 3, 2004


I wonder...is there any such thing as a free country anymore?

No, and in many respects there never was. As soon as you add religious and political edicts your freedom is immediately curtailed.

Do yourself a favour and vote against Blair and/or Bush. With somebody else in power perhaps both countries have a better chance against state repression.
posted by ashbury at 7:30 AM on August 3, 2004


They are, j-po. Silly wabbit.

But that said. Isn't there some sort of semi-independent watchdog organization (like the ACLU in the States) that at least nominally keeps a watch on abuse of laws such as this one? This can't be the first law on the books that could be left open to arbitrary interpretation.
posted by chicobangs at 7:33 AM on August 3, 2004


There's Liberty in the UK, not really the same profile as the ACLU but we still have the remnants of an adequate legal aid system so some laws get tested that way rather than just imposed and abused as police see fit.
posted by biffa at 7:52 AM on August 3, 2004


LIBERTY.

how idiotic. The Police already define all crimes that are observed by them.

Then they are expected to convince the Crown Prosecution Service, the Magistrate or Judge, and where serious enough - a jury.

If I was an Oxford scientist whose family had been treatened by a mob, I'd be cheering thisnew law, which is subject to the same safeguards (Inc. Human Rights legislation) as all UK laws.

Panic over, George. Back to bed now.
posted by dash_slot- at 8:01 AM on August 3, 2004


"include material deemed to cause concern or needless anxiety to others" - That's a rather wide net, a regular swiss-army knife of a qualification, a net that's close to infinitely expansible to meet virtually all conceivable contingencies and needs of a kind and well meaning national security state.

It's akin to the drag-net "fishing" practiced by the giant fishing vessels that now scour the seas, laying waste to the ecology of the ocean floor and pulling up all local sea life in their vast nets, to leave behind an aquatic desert.

That net would pull in Metafilter, no doubt : in physical world terms, It'd drag your grandmother right out of her church pew - for the color of her hat, snatch up your yappy barking dog, and yank out your kitchen sink - with all of the plumbing down to the basement still attached and dragging behind. It'd pull out your teeth and snip off any and all of your bodily assymetries - even, perhaps, your head - and methodically pare you down to a shapeless lump to be fed into the hopper and reprocessed as Chicken McNuggets.
________________

verstegan - Although I only agree partially with the second part of your comment, in the sense I get that Monbiot sometimes practices the "disturbing political story of the day" approach which seems to me at times to amount to an unsatisfactory, rote gloss - I've got some very strong feelings about your first observation on Monbiot's attitude, which you categorize as - "All political parties are the same. Don't bother voting in the next election, it's a waste of time. Let's all go on a protest march instead."

I like a lot of Monbiot's writing, but I don't disagree with that depiction of yours, and the whole subject tends to make me roll my eyes and gnash my teeth in frustruation :

I've some minor experience with a bit of one crowd Monbiot associates with - the people who run and contribute to "Resurgence" ( a suberb, and beautiful magazine in my opinion ) - and overall, with some very notable exceptions, I have to accuse these sweet, goodhearted people (who hold the noblest of ideals) of a major and crippling disconnect from the ways in which political constituencies can be built, public attitudes shaped (or, better still, informed), coalitions stitched together, and the strategy and tactics - overall - by which groups achieve and sustain political power.

These folks might profit from a close study of the methods by which the ascendant new US conservative movement came to power and moved American political and cultural attitudes a fair distance rightward since the 1960's .

I get the sense that many on the left view such an approach - and the methods themselves - with considerable distaste as they yearn and pray for a new florescence of the sort of mass public energy which fed the US Civil Rights movement, to advance ecological and other agendas.

But - in this - they would be forgetting the enormous and often unsung contribution, by many thousands of individuals, sometimes over decades of organizing, activism and struggle, to attend to the nuts and bolts - the mechanics of building a movement - and in general to lay the substrate which enabled Martin Luther King to emerge and lead the way forward. But, King had been noticed prior to his emergence as a national figure - by other leaders guiding the movement - for his charismatic and brilliant oratory, and the forces he came to lead and inspire had been carefully and patiently built up over decades.

____________________________________

At a major environmental conference last year, I posed a question, during the conference's concluding ceremony, to one famous activist from the Resurgence group ; I said it as almost an aphorism, very compressed -

"You, who run this conference - the "experts" - and sit up there on the stage talking and lecturing to us : and we, those who sit here and listen. What can be done ?"

I'm not sure if he fully understood my question or not, but I did not sense the spirit of nonviolence at that moment - if looks could kill......
posted by troutfishing at 8:41 AM on August 3, 2004


mattd - Bamboozeled ? What real options do they have other than voting for the lesser of the two viable evils ?

Well, they could also initiate a 2-decade campaign, as did the US Right, to build up real political power.
posted by troutfishing at 8:45 AM on August 3, 2004


And I thought Americans were naïve.

Jpoulos, the UK has been the epitomy of police control since most of the country's streets became 24 hour personal activity monitoring zones (they like to call it 'CCTV', which is surprisingly close to 'CCCP'). You can barely move outside your home in the UK without being on police video tape, and, amazingly, most British like it that way. 20% of all such police spy cameras in use are in the UK presently. Presently the UK is considering using XRAY devices to "protect" children that will violate anti-pedophile laws as they will show underage children naked.

No, I don't understand it either. Thank God such systems are outlawed in Canada (just barely).
posted by shepd at 9:08 AM on August 3, 2004


'Home Demos,' as SHAC and their ilk call them, are unethical and should be discouraged among people of principle (especially anyone whose guiding principle is supposedly ahimsa), regardless of legal attempts to do same. Yes, this law is probably dangerously broad, but I blame the activists (and SHAC specifically) who practice techniques very close to terrorism for pushing the climate to such an extreme that something like this can sail through.

Businesses in public, urban areas are ripe for protest and that should be unfettered except for restraining any actual violence or damage; neighboring businesses are there as part of a market equation and have their own business-based recourses for any inconvenience. But residential areas are different: There's simply no excuse for denying me sleep and making my children afraid to leave the house just because my neighbor works for a company that sends money to some institution the mob in the street doesn't approve of.
posted by soyjoy at 9:10 AM on August 3, 2004


I wouldn't mind legislation like this if it were matched by equally wide ranging and vague laws designed to curb white-collar crime/monitor animal research facilities/inapropriate government contracts/mispending of government funds/etc. etc.

Which were enforced with the same vigour.
posted by asok at 10:42 AM on August 3, 2004


Unfortunately, my read of this man's interpretation of the law (no link to the law or to a rebuttal) does not read "no protesting in areas zoned as residential" (I think most of us would find that largely reasonable) but "no protesting outside homes."

We assume, and we must assume the framers of this legislation mean, "no protesting outside somebody else's home," but it could easily and expediently be interpreted as "protest in your own home, and don't come outside." I think this is the writer's fundamental fear. It could also be specifically construed to mean you can't protest outside 10 Downing Street, because it is the Prime Minister's home. No protesting outside Buckingham Palace as it is the Queen's home.

Yes, this is semantic mumbo-jumbo, but essentially, lawyers have jobs because most laws are built on semantic mumbo-jumbo.

I am also appropriately bothered by the idea that the Government might be able to "suggest remedies" for "offensive" websites. I mean, nobody wants to be ambushed by an "offensive" website, but nobody's forcing you to click on the link and make you read it either.
posted by ilsa at 11:25 AM on August 3, 2004


Jpoulos, the UK has been the epitomy of police control since most of the country's streets became 24 hour personal activity monitoring zones (they like to call it 'CCTV', which is surprisingly close to 'CCCP'). You can barely move outside your home in the UK without being on police video tape, and, amazingly, most British like it that way. 20% of all such police spy cameras in use are in the UK presently. Presently the UK is considering using XRAY devices to "protect" children that will violate anti-pedophile laws as they will show underage children naked.

Just a few things. While it's true that you can hardly walk out the door without being on video tape you'll probably find that most of that tape belongs to shops, factories, pubs, etc. Councils have been pushing surveilence on a mostly grateful local population. These are monitored by the council who have to call the police for any incidents they see. Not too useful really. They've found that the wave of publicity that introduces CCTV reduces crime but then people forget and go back to their old habits very soon after.

The only thing CCTV has done is introduce a wave of Cops style TV programmes. These only serve to show how useless CCTV is.

I wouldn't take the pedo-friendly x-rays too seriously. Firstly the sort of schools who would most benefit can't afford them and the rich schools don't need them. Apart from that though most teachers in this country would be fairly horrified at the notion.
posted by dodgygeezer at 12:03 PM on August 3, 2004


they like to call it 'CCTV', which is surprisingly close to 'CCCP'

How I love the meaningless throwaway aphorism. In this case the letters are even from two different alphabets and don't even sound remotely similar. Well done for adding nothing to the debate with this point. That's not too say they're aren't concerns about the use of CCTV, but your point is utterly pointless.
posted by biffa at 2:41 PM on August 3, 2004


they like to call it 'CCTV', which is surprisingly close to 'CCCP'

Also shockingly close to CCIV
you know, 204.
posted by soyjoy at 9:49 PM on August 3, 2004


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