Saturday, 11 August 2007

British Civil Liberties Deteriorate Further

In previous postings on this blog, 'Combating Terrorism - Responding to Whose Agenda?' and 'Return of the Sus Laws', I have outlined how the fear of terrorism has been used to pass harsher and harsher legislation in the UK, eroding civil liberties and yet doing nothing to reduce the risk of terrorism. The erosion of civil liberties has taken a further step this week. BAA (formerly British Airport Authority, the largest controller of airports in the UK, including the three main ones in London) moved to get injunctions against climate change protestors complaining the expansion of Heathrow Airport, London's largest, would seriously worsen CO2 emissions and so worsen global warming. This comes at a time when even world leaders are beginning to pay attention to pollution and its effects on the climate. These protestors are not violent, they simply want to stand outside the airport with banners and chant. BAA claimed that this would be a threat to security and allow terrorists to get in and act. Of course, the real reason is because BAA does not want the embarrassment of legitimate protest against its activities.

There have been injunctions made against named protestors, but now things have gone further and anti-terrorist legislation is being used to stop and search protestors. Two women simply cycling past Heathrow airport were arrested and held for 30 hours without charge under the legislation. It was claimed that they were attempting to record information which could be used in a terrorist attack, but they had no cameras or equipment and have been charged now with 'conspiracy to cause a nuisance'. Clearly just keeping your eyes open when passing a publicly-accessible airport is recording vital information and cycling is a public 'nuisance'. What is happening is a poweful company is simply using very harsh laws to get annoying people or even just passersby out of its way.

It is a human right that you are not held in prison without charge. However, first the time was increased from 72 hours to 7 days to 28 days to 56 days. How long will it be when people can simply be taken off the streets and held indefinitely. That is what happened under the Nazi regime, under the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, that is what happens in China and numerous other dictatorships. Amnesty International has campaigned for decades against such laws across the world and now this situation is happening in the UK.

Airports have always had strict security. People tend to forget that before September 11th 2001, the UK had experienced terrorist activity for thirty years as had Germany, France and Italy. Thus, airports have long been secured. They are the only places in the UK where police habitually carry firearms. However, airport and airline companies have quickly caught on to the fact that they can blur the line between legitimate protest and terrorism. Since the early 2000s people making complaints about treatment on airlines are now often told they have to move away from the desk or will be fined on the spot. If they do not then they are branded a terrorist threat by the airline companies and are hauled off by police. This has had a great benefit for the airline companies who see their complaints fall away, though in many cases their customer service quality has deteriorated.

Airline companies will go further than simply having complainers removed by police. In 1993 a former policeman, John Gorman (not to be confused with Sir John Gorman, a regional manager of British Airways 1969-79), complained when he found a piece of glass in a drink that he bought on a British Airways flight from New York. For the next five years he was intimidated by British Airways, charges were brought against him for trying to defraud British Airways, though these were later dropped. His car was attacked and his house was broken into. Throughout British Airways said he was a 'professional claimant', though if he had been, given how long it took to get to court (in 1998) he would hardly be making much money out of the business.

What is clear is that large corporations are using the government's foolish adoption of ill-thought out anti-terrorist legislation, to keep any criticism out of their way. In the 1990s they had to use intimidation, but in the late 2000s they do not have to bother, they can simply brand someone a terrorist, without any evidence required at all, and have the government do all the intimidation for them. In 1998 the Human Rights Act finally brough the European Convention on Human Rights (which was established in 1950 by the Council of Europe, a body the UK was part of; it is a different thing to the European Union) into British Law, but since then our human rights have rapidly deteriorated. Whilst Gordon Brown's premiership has introduced some good new policies, his unwillingness (or inability) to stop the deterioration of civil liberties in the UK which are now being used to suppress legitimate protest (a key part of a democracy and something Brown's Labour Party was found on), is alarming and a disgrace. Read this now, before the UK authorities bar me from the internet!

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