Category Archives: Politics

State Snooper’s Ignore Our Legal Privileges

007 POL snoop

Pol Clementsmith on why the rule of thumb overrides the rule of law in the latest revelations surrounding the illegal activities of our snooper secret services.

The UK government has conceded that it may have breached the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by secretly intercepting legally privileged communications between lawyers and their clients. This intelligence gathering, by our unelected security services, which has been going on since 2010, might also have been used to prepare the government’s own legal defence against the very people who are suing them.

Lawyers for a Libyan politician, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who was abducted in a joint operation by the CIA and MI6 are currently suing the UK Government over his rendition back to Libya in 2004. Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Bouchar, were secretly flown to Tripoli, along with Sami al-Saadi and his family, where they were tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s security services. It is also believed that British intelligence officers took part in these interrogations.

The government’s concession, which is as damaging as it is embarrassing, follows on from another investigation by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) who recently concluded that the regulations covering the retrieval and retention of our private emails and phone conversations, intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and by Britain’s communications intelligence agency (GCHQ), were also a breach of our right to privacy.

The civil liberties group Reprieve has revealed, in papers passed to them, that our intelligence services have accessed sensitive and legally privileged communications between lawyers and their clients and may have used this normally protected information to prepare a case against them. Communications between lawyers and their clients enjoy a specially protected status under UK law.

Government sources are refusing to confirm or deny whether the Libyans were the subject of an interception operation. They insist the concession does not concern the allegation that actual interception took place and say it will be for the IPT to determine the issue.

Rachel Logan, of Amnesty UK, stated that: “We are talking about nothing less than the violation of a fundamental principle of the rule of law – that communications between a lawyer and their client must be confidential.

MI6 office pol

“The government has been caught red-handed. The security agencies have been illegally intercepting privileged material and are continuing to do so. This could mean they’ve been spying on the very people challenging them in court.”

Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and one of the Belhaj family’s lawyers said: “For too long, the security services have been allowed to snoop on those bringing cases against them when they speak to their lawyers. In doing so, they have violated a right that is centuries old in British common law. Today they have finally admitted they have been acting unlawfully for years.

“By allowing the intelligence agencies free reign to spy on communications between lawyers and their clients, the government has endangered the fundamental British right to a fair trial.

“Reprieve has been warning for months that the security services’ policies on lawyer-client snooping have been shot through with loopholes big enough to drive a bus through.”

A government spokesperson said that: “The concession the government has made today relates to the [intelligence] agencies’ policies and procedures governing the handling of legally privileged communications and whether they are compatible with the European convention on human rights.

“In view of recent IPT judgments, we acknowledge that the policies adopted since 2010 have not fully met the requirements of the ECHR, specifically article 8 (the right to privacy). This includes a requirement that safeguards are made sufficiently public.

NSA Pol“It does not mean that there was any deliberate wrongdoing on the part of the security and intelligence agencies, which have always taken their obligations to protect legally privileged material extremely seriously. Nor does it mean that any of the agencies’ activities have prejudiced or in any way resulted in an abuse of process in any civil or criminal proceedings.”

Cori Rider believes that: “It looks very much like [the government] has collected the private lawyer-client communications of two victims of rendition and torture, and possibly misused them.

“While the government says there was no ‘deliberate’ collection of material, it’s abundantly clear that private material was collected and may well have been passed on to lawyers or ministers involved in the civil case brought by Abdel hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar, who were rendered to Libya by British intelligence.

“Only time will tell how badly their case was tainted. But right now, the government needs urgently to investigate how things went wrong and come clean about what it is doing to repair the damage.”

The actions of our security services are a clear violation of Article 8 ECHR and subsequently Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial). How is anyone supposed to mount a robust defence or a strong prosecution against this kind of government sanctioned eavesdropping?

The goal posts of legal privilege have been moved to a secret location. Our government is no longer operating within the rule of law. Do not phone, or take calls from, your lawyer. Never email them. Always meet your brief on a secluded park bench. If you do have to venture into your lawyer’s office use only coded gestures and prearranged signals. This may currently be the only way to ensure that your privacy isn’t breached.

Heads down, thumbs up, eh

Telescopic Evolution

Telescopic Evolution: The Biological, Anthropological and Cultural rEvolutionary Paradigm:

If you’re looking at the highlights of human development, you have to look at the evolution of the organism, and then add the development of the interaction with its environment.

Evolution of the organism will begin with the evolution of life, proceeding through the hominid, coming to the evolution of mankind: neanderthal, cro-magnon man. Now, interestingly, what you’re looking at here are three strains: biological, anthropological (development of cities, cultures), and cultural (which is human expression). Now, what you’ve seen here is the evolution of populations, not so much the evolution of individuals. And in addition, if you look at the time-scale that’s involved here: two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, a hundred-thousand years for mankind as we know it, you’re beginning to see the telescoping nature of the evolutionary paradigm. And then, when you get to agriculture, when you get to the scientific revolution and the industrial revolution, you’re looking at ten thousand years, four hundred years, a hundred and fifty years. You’re seeing a further telescoping of this evolutionary time.

What that means is that as we go through the new evolution, it’s going to telescope to the point that we should see it manifest itself within our lifetimes, within a generation. The new evolution stems from information, and it stems from two types of information: digital and analog. The digital is artificial intelligence; The analog results from molecular biology, the cloning of the organism, and you knit the two together with neurobiology. Before, under the old evolutionary paradigm, one would die and the other would grow and dominate. But, under the new paradigm, they would exist as a mutually supportive, non-competitive grouping independent from the external. Now what is interesting here is that evolution now becomes an individually-centered process eminating from the needs and desires of the individual, and not an external process, a passive process, where the individual is just at the whim of the collective.

So, you produce a neo-human with a new individuality, a new consciousness. But, that’s only the beginning of the evolutionary cycle because as the next cycle proceeds, the input is now this new intelligence. As intelligence piles on intelligence, as abilty piles on ability, the speed changes. Until what? Until you reach a crescendo. In a way, it could be imagined as an almost instantaneous fulfillment of human, human and neo-human, potential. It could be something totally different. It could be the amplification of the individual – the multiplication of individual existences, parallel existences, now with the individual no longer restricted by time and space. And the manifestations of this neo-human type evolution could be dramatically counter-intuitive; That’s the interesting part. The old evolution is cold, it’s sterile, it’s efficient. And, it’s manifestations are those social adaptations. We’re talking about parasitism, dominance, morality, war, predation. These will be subject to de-emphasis. These will be subject to de-evolution.

The new evolutionary paradigm will give us the human traits of truth, of loyalty, of justice, of freedom. These will be the manifestations of the new evolution, and that is what we would hope to see from this, that would be nice.

Eamonn Healy, Professor of Chemistry at St. Edward’s University, Texas

Digital Rights and Wrongs

Pol Clementsmith argues that where the principles of free speech, privacy and responsible anonymity are concerned, an open web, free from legislative back door snooping, is an essential digital right.

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The first widely known document concerning the protection of a class of people against interference from the State was the Magna Carta. This year is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Great Charter in 1215 after King John’s defeat at the hands of some of his more rebellious Barons. However, as soon as John was a sword’s length away from the negotiating table he immediately petitioned Pope Innocent III who, upon realising the potential power of the document to unseat autocrats, of which he was undoubtedly one, absolved John of any duty to observe the terms of the document, accepting the King’s pleading that he had been cajoled into stamping the document under duress.

Lord Denning has described the Magna Carta as “the greatest constitutional document of all times […] the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”, and whilst the Magna Carta has been hailed as the inspiration for much of today’s citizen rights’ legislation (including America’s Declaration of Independence, the 1791 Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948), it was never actually signed at Runnymede. King John merely put his seal to it. It then went through so many edits, additions and revisions that it became a much altered, skinnier version of itself only becoming statute in 1297, a full eighty two years after its inception.

Fast forward nearly 800 years and we find ourselves at the opposite end of the law making spectrum where legislation-stuffing, often carried out at breakneck speed, is the new normal. Legislation aimed squarely at allowing the State to steamroll over our human rights with the noble aim of protecting us from the war on terror.

Following on from reaction to the recent attacks in Europe, we have witnessed yet another assault by our own Palace of Westminster on our right to online privacy. A House of Lords debate on the inclusion of the Snooper’s Charter into the waistline of the already bulging Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill (CTSB) has, for the time being, delayed the ongoing erosion of our right to communicate freely online and without fear of state intervention.

Four senior cross-party peers led by the aptly named Lord King launched a last ditch attempt (carved up as eighteen pages of amendments to the CTSB), to reintroduce the Snooper’s Charter before the general election which would allow our security services unbridled access to everyone’s web and phone use.

open rights group 2

The Open Rights Group has stated that the amendments contain a “series of threats to [our] digital rights” and are “nearly identical” to the failed draft Communications Data Bill of 2012 (the original Snooper’s Charter) which was rejected by a parliamentary committee who concluded that it was woefully inadequate legislation.

In supporting these reheated amendments, Lord King criticised those who called the measure a snooper’s charter as trading in “sanctimonious claptrap”, stating that, “we could easily see a Paris or a Belgium [attack happening in the UK]”. He then went on to expound that he was no “master of the internet”, and that, “I am not a Twitterer. I don’t know about Snapchat or Whatsapp, but the terrorists do…”.

King’s statements not only show his inability to understand the basic tenets of online communication but they expose his readiness to legislate the latest sound bite laws, like David Cameron’s impractical threat to ban encryption, without due care and attention to the fact that encryption is used everyday in thousands of transactions which keep us safe online and actually protect people who live under authoritarian regimes from torture and oppression. King eventually withdrew his amendments but added that he was likely to press the issue to a vote at next week’s report stage of the bill. We can only hope he didn’t Snapchat his intentions to the PM.

We have also witnessed similar sound bite scrambles by other European member states to allow greater access to our private communications by intelligence services – but last year the ECJ ruled that the controversial Data Retention Directive (DRD) was invalid citing an invasion of privacy by the State. Brought in to allow member states to compel communication service providers (ISPs) to collect and retain sensitive personal data, the DRD has been judged to contain a “wide ranging and particularly serious interference with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data”.

The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe has also stated, in a recent report on mass surveillance, that existing British laws, which give MI5 and GCHQ wide-ranging powers to monitor our communications, are incompatible with our human rights. It argues that British surveillance may be at odds with Article 8, the right to privacy, Article 10 the right to freedom of expression and Article 6, the right to a fair trial.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also shares my concern that in the wake of terrorist attacks, “we see governments moving swiftly to adopt new laws without consideration of the privacy rights being sacrificed in the process.” It is this swiftness to legislate-at-all-costs, as displayed in this week’s House of Lords debate that we should keep a weary eye on.

King John 1Meanwhile, the inventor of the world-wide-web, Tim Berners-Lee, believes that we need an online Magna Carta to “protect and enshrine” the independence of the medium he created and one that we all enjoy using today. His plan is part of an initiative called the Web We Want. It is asking for people to create a digital Bill of Rights in every jurisdiction; a statement of principles that would be supported by government officials, public institutions and corporations.

An outspoken critic of US and UK spy agency activity, in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, Berners-Lee has stated that, “unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture.”

When the Magna Carta was eventually made into statute it had gone through a series of changes which reflected the ongoing aspects of the Barons and the Monarch’s needs. Thankfully, the most important sections, originally numbered 39 and 40 at Runnymeade, were retained and these have gone on to form the basis of the most important human rights legislation we now enjoy today:

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

As Tim Berners-Lee insists, “It’s not naive to think we can have [a digital Magna Carta], but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.”

J.K. Simmons is on holiday.

To Green or Not To Green?

That really shouldn’t be the question.

Pol Clementsmith on why taking a stand against any form of hegemony is good for Scottish Politics.


Politics is a funny old game. I can only imagine what it must look like to the recently converted. Especially those who became involved during the Scottish referendum. The pro-yes parties, which included the Scottish Greens (SGP), the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), have all seen a surge in the number of new members signing up. Mostly as a result of the disappointment felt by many yes voters last September but also because of a desire to engage in the political process.

Some people are surprised to learn that the Scottish Green Party had (and still has) a substantial number of paid up members who voted no last September.

Just take a moment to let that sink in.

That’s the kind of party we are. A simple majority of our members wanted independence and so it was decided that this was the direction we would follow. That’s how we roll in the SGP. That’s how we politic. We’re very democratic that way. I’d go so far as to say we’re a lot more democratic than some of the other parties who conduct their business under a centralised whip. Every single member has a vote in the Green Party and everyone has a voice. Every local party is autonomous and is free to make its own decisions. It’s called bottom up politics or, to use a much maligned and misappropriated phrase, people power*.

That’s why I joined the Scottish Greens.

The upcoming General Election on 7th May is not another referendum. After the upset of losing such a polarised debate there were many discussions about the possibility of a Yes Alliance. A cross party deal designed to break the stranglehold of the mainstream parties at Westminster. With the Greens, SNP, SSP and independent candidates all standing on a joint ticket. Or not standing at all in order to let the party with the potentially largest majority have the best chance of success. The problem with these discussions was that most of them took place in local hostelries. I was always a tad wary of going to any meetings to discuss this mythical alliance, not because I didn’t want to be part of what would have been an amazing force of cooperation, but because deep down I couldn’t shake the slightly nauseous feeling that party politics just doesn’t work like that.

A recent misconception, which is gaining ground amongst some political newbies (as well as some not so newbies), seems to suggest that the ‘non-SNP’ parties should call a halt to their political aspirations to give the SNP a clear run at challenging the most seats in May. Some of the Yes groups have even expressed their dismay that the SGP are even considering running candidates in certain constituencies. How dare the SGP continue to let their voters keep on voting for them? Some of these voices are quite vociferous in their belief that everyone else should take a back seat so that one single party can rule the political roost. I don’t agree with that position. Why should we work together to unseat a political hegemony in Westminster just to replace it with another one in Scotland? Even Lesley Riddoch agrees with my view that this might not be a good thing.

Whilst the referendum was an opportunity to join together and take a stand (over what was essentially a constitutional question about self governance) a general election is a very different beastie indeed. It was the SNP who drew a line under any kind of cross party alliance and decided to contest the election on its own. But when you think about it this makes perfect sense. We live in a democracy. We should all be allowed to vote for the party we most believe in. It might not be the same party that you believe in but hey, that’s politics.

The SNP and the Scottish Green Party are very different political animals (although you might not notice from the amount of Green policies that the SNP, and others, have decided to adopt). But as Mr Wilde once said, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness’, which only reinforces how popular Green policies are with the voting public. This can be seen on the Vote For Policies website which has placed the Greens as the most popular party after more than half a million people responded to their survey (try the questionnaire yourself). Although many people ideologically agree with the Greens, they don’t always vote that way – either because they are unaware of the fact that they are covert Greenys, or they feel that under the current First Past The Post system, a vote for the Greens might not count for much.

Compare this natural public affinity towards Green policies and devolved people power with the SNP’s style of government. They maintain a very strict party whip that controls every SNP MP and MSP’s move. They only want to wield power at an executive level and, according to a recent Cosla report, they are the most centralised government in Europe. They are also a party of big business as usual. Hence, the SNP are the antithesis of the SGP. We want more devolution so that local councils and communities can raise their own taxes and make their own decisions on how that money is best spent. We have been inviting our members to make policy since we were called the People’s Party and we let our members vote on every aspect of party business. We’re campaigning for a universal citizens income, a minimum wage of £10 an hour (by 2020), and a Land Value Tax to replace the out-dated, and unfair, Council Tax. We don’t accept donations from big business and corporations (so that once we form a government we won’t be at the behest of these companies) and we rely solely on member contributions and fees and fundraising events, which is why we can’t stand candidates in every constituency. But hey, that’s our kind of politics. It’s called Radical Democracy and it’s coming to a polling station near you, in May. No more bland sound bite politicking, regurgitated and rebadged for mass consumption whenever an election rolls around. It’s time for real, tangible engagement (aka people power), exercised in our communities, by you.

Not voting Green because you think it will hinder another party’s progress is like agreeing to build more and more nuclear weapons until someone else decides to ban them.

It’s mutually assured hegemony.

We’ve all got one vote in May. Make sure yours is unilateral.

Pol Clementsmith is Campaigns Co-ordinator for the Dundee & Angus Green Party

* Democracy is a composite Greek term, stemming from the words Demos (people) and Kratos (power),  literally; people power.

Society is a Fraud

If the world that we are forced to accept is false and nothing is true, then everything is possible:

On the way to discovering what we love, we will find everything we hate, everything that blocks our path of what we desire.

The comfort will never be comfortable for those who seek what is not on the market.

A systematic questioning of the idea of happiness.

We’ll cut the vocal chords of every empowered speaker. We’ll yank the social symbols through the looking glass We’ll devalue society’s currency.

To confront the familiar.

Society is a fraud so complete and venal that it demands to be destroyed beyond the power of memory to recall its existence.

Where there is fire, we will carry gasoline.

To interrupt the continuum of everyday experience and all the normal expectations that go with it.

To live as if something actually depended on one’s actions.

To rupture the spell of the ideology of the commodified consumer society so that our repressed desires of a more authentic nature can come forward.

To demonstrate the contrast between what life presently is and what it could be.

To immerse ourselves in the oblivion of actions and know we’re making it happen.

There will be an intensity never before known in everyday life to exchange love and hate, life and death, terror and redemption, repulsions and attractions.

An affirmation of freedom so reckless and unqualified, that it amounts to a total denial of every kind of restraint and limitation. *

*excerpt from Richard Linlater’s Telescopic Evolution: Chapter 12: Society is a Fraud.

noun: excerpt; plural noun: excerpts
  1. 1.
    a short extract from a film, broadcast, or piece of music or writing.