#MyTramExperience – Grounds for arrest?

[Warning- Video contains swearing and racist, abusive language]

A woman has been arrested and charged after a video entitled ‘My Tram Experience’ went viral, sparking off widespread outrage across the internet.

If you haven’t seen the video, I’ve linked it above. Less than a day old, the video has already gathered over 2,500,000 views, due, in part, to it being spread around social media websites like wildfire. In the video, the woman in question launches a tirade of abuse and racist comments at fellow passengers, ranting about how Britain is “no longer British” and focusing her attention on passengers of ‘ethnic’ origin who she claims are not actually British. Such inflammatory quotes from the woman include:

“You’re black; you ain’t British. Go back to where you came from.”

“None of you are f**king English. Get back to your own country. Sort your own countries, don’t come and do mine.

“What has this country come to? … with loads of black people and a load of fucking Polish. You ain’t English either. None of you are fucking English. Get back to your own fucking, d’you know what?”
The video was posted online and was quickly spread around, with internet users quick to demonise her and assert their own moral standpoints. I was glad that there was such a public outrage to such blatant, harrowing racist abuse against docile passengers on public transport, and I actually thought it was a good thing that the video was made publicly available for people to criticise and discuss. It is encouraging to see the heightened level of public outcry at such racism.
And then I began to feel uneasy… The public outcry and the condemnation, I felt, was a good thing. Racism should not be tolerated. But I was uneasy about the extent of the backlash and the calls from members of the public for her to be arrested.
Piers Morgan even got involved, commenting on the video via Twitter and calling for the woman to be named and shamed, and deported – quite where she would be deported to remains a mystery:
“Most disgusting thing I’ve watched in years. I want this woman arrested, and deported. Makes me ashamed to be British”
“That video’s all over Twitter now. Someone must know the repulsive racist wretch. Name and shame her.”

The problem is, many of the tabloids will report this and shame the woman, despite the fact that many of her ill-informed, racist views regarding ethnicity and immigration will no doubt be fuelled by the right-wing media. Tabloids won’t ever pause and reflect on whether their biased reporting and twisted use of statistics has contributed to such examples of racist rants.

Also, the woman in the video seems a bit ‘odd’, to use a term. I don’t know her background or anything, but it seemed to me as if she was drunk, on drugs, or even mentally ill. Not because of the racism, but because of her demeanour and speech… But this is precisely it: we don’t know her, or her background, and neither do we know what led up to the video. The video begins when she is already ranting, we don’t know what set her off or what happened prior to the beginning of the recording. Now, racism is never justified and her ranting is disgraceful and shameful, but the moral outcry has negative as well as positive aspects.

The internet outcry reminded me of the backlash to the London riots this summer, which at the time shocked me, to be honest. There were calls for the rioters/looters to have their benefits removed (after being imprisoned), for them to be evicted from council housing (whole families, even if their son/daughter was the only one who was involved in the riots)… there were calls for martial law, for live ammunition- for protestors to be shot on sight, for the military to be drafted in alongside the police… calls for water cannons, tear gas… calls for social media websites to be shut down in a bid to censor the internet, and much more. Essentially, the public outcry was almost as shocking as the actual riots themselves. Thankfully, the rioting stopped without any draconian measures, backed by public calls, to be implemented, though the outcry (I believe) contributed to the harsh sentences passed on convicted rioters – designed to send a “message” rather than to dole out justice.

The issue with the woman on the tram is complicated. On the one hand, she has a right to freedom of speech. This is an important right that people often ignore; freedom of speech, it seems, is fine unless someone says something you do not agree with, or they say something inflammatory. On the other hand, she clearly was being abusive and there are laws against hate speech and the like. What is worrying is just the extent and the lengths of the public outcry at such ‘events’ – it is often reactionary, ill-informed and short-sighted, I feel.

The police already have laws in place to deal with this sort of thing, and should we be so quick to call for a woman to be arrested or even deported because of an argument? It is a touchy subject, and I in no way endorse her racism. I think it is disgusting, and like I stated I am actually happy that so many have come out to decry racism in this country, but we have to be very careful we do not set a precedent with this matter. Should all people who hold racist views be imprisoned? Should we prevent people with inflammatory or ill-informed views from speaking their mind, infringing on their right to freedom of speech? The benefit, and problem, of social media and the internet today is that such videos, events, etc., can spread virally within seconds. Public ‘campaigns’ can be created and disseminated within minutes; the first UK government e-petition to reach the 100,000 mark needed for parliamentary debate was the petition for convicted London rioters to lose any benefits that they were receiving, which I felt would do nothing to deter future looting nor would it help ‘rehabilitate’ convicted rioters back into society. As Sunny Hundal wrote:

“…to criminalise simply being offensive or swearing in public would have half of Britain in jail.”

I agree with Sunny, who also said:

“I would much prefer such racism to be open and visible because there are still far too many Westminster commentators who think racism is a thing of the past”

It is very encouraging that the video was disseminated online and in the public domain. It opens it to public debate, and does help to show that racism is very much still alive, especially in ‘tolerant’ Britain. My issue arises with the way the online discussion is conducted, and the way some people seem more keen to assert their moral standpoint than actually denouncing racism. Calls for the woman to be deported, for example, are ridiculous, and should we be so keen for the police to arrest people? To imprison people we do not agree with? You cannot consistently lock people up because you feel insulted, or because you disagree with their comments… So I feel uneasy about the whole affair. On the one hand, perhaps she should be arrested for hate speech. On the other hand, perhaps she should be entitled to freedom of speech, to speak her mind, whether her views are ill-informed or shameful. Is it not enough that this woman is publicly shamed online? Is it not enough that fellow passengers stood up to her and disagreed with her comments?

It is a difficult issue, no doubt.

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Can we trust the police to hold our information?

The end of an era! (Day 266 of 365)

Image by Gene Hunt via Flickr

The recent scandal that engulfed the News of the World and led to its closure has much wider implications, many of which are still coming to light.

The police have come under scrutiny after Rebekah Brooks revealed that journalists paid police for information. The former News of the World editor told a Commons committee in 2003 that journalists “had paid police for information in the past”, although last week Brooks denied that she had any “knowledge of any specific cases”.

The fallout from the phone-hacking scandal is affecting trust in the police, already leading to Met Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates‘ resignation after growing pressure. The Met’s director of public affairs, Dick Fedorcio, has also come under fire. Fedorcio was responsible for employing Neil Wallis, former News of the World deputy Editor, who was arrested last week on suspicion of intercepting voicemail messages. Fedorcio was allegedly wined and dined by News of the World journalists on at least seven occasions. On one occasion in 2006, the Evening Standard reports, “Mr Fedorcio and former Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman met then NoW editor Andy Coulson and his deputy, Mr Wallis, for dinner at Soho House private members’ club in Covent Garden. At the time, Mr Hayman was in charge of the phone-hacking probe.”

Chris Bryant, MP, said: “A judge sitting in a court case on the newspaper would not be dining with its editors and I don’t see why members of Scotland Yard should have done either.”

The issue here is greater than that of a corrupt media empire which resorts to underhanded, illegal activities to sell sleazy stories. The real worry is the image of a corrupt and untrustworthy police force in an age of greater police power and surveillance. The police are continually expanding their powers and surveillance but they have not been able to show that they are to be trusted with such power and information.

Rebekah Brooks has alleged that journalists paid police for information. If this is true, as well as being an outrage, it would also destroy all trust in a service that is continually looking to increase its surveillance and create large databases of information on the public, many of whom have never been convicted of a criminal offence. Big Brother Watch reported that a new Police National Database has been launched which will be accessible by over 12,000 people. This database will link together 150 computer systems with intelligence from all 43 police forces in England and Wales, including other policing organisations such as the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Taking eight years to finalise, the scheme was initiated by technology firm Logica – with contributions from other agencies including IBM Initiate, Huntsman, Microsoft Fact, Northgate, Oracle and Sunguard

This database will hold information over up to 15 million people, 6 million of whom are innocent or have been the victims of crime. Recent allegations and such scandals as the NotW phone-hacking affair have shown that the police force is not infallible. If Brooks’ allegations are true, then it shows that private information held by the police can be bought for a price.

Not only does it show that the police are susceptible to payments but recent hacking by the NotW and organisations such as LulzSec and Anonymous show that no information held on a website/database/mobile phone/etc is truly secure, so should we trust the police force and its obsession with ever-encompassing databases? Its obsession with ever-increasing mass surveillance?

I recently reported that the Met have bought have bought a security programme which can track suspects and their associates in the digital world, called Geotime. The security program is used by the US military. As I reported, ‘It can collate digital data and can be used to generate a three-dimensional graphic,  showing an individual’s movements and communications with other people. It can collect the information from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions.’

And, as I reported in the article, Alex Hanff, the campaigns manager at Privacy International, said: “Once millions and millions of pieces of microdata are aggregated, you end up with this very high-resolution picture of somebody, and this is effectively what they are doing here. We shouldn’t be tracked and traced and have pictures built by our own government and police for the benefit of commercial gain.”

Clearly, this sort of power, information and surveillance is not trusted in the hands of an organisation that is embroiled in scandal at the present time. What assurances are there that corrupt journalists, most likely from Murdoch’s empire, will not pay police in the future to gain access to such information? Software such as Geotime that can collate such private digital data is clearly more intrusive than hacking someone’s voicemails.

Sean Hoare, the former News of the World showbusiness reporter who was the first named journalist to allege that Andy Coulson was aware of phone hacking by his staff, has been found dead at at his home yesterday. Adding further fuel to the blazing fire that is engulfing the press, Parliament and the police, Hoare’s death is currently not being treated as suspicious by the police, but the timing is certainly odd. Hoare recently had told the New York Times that NotW journalists were able to use police technology to locate people using their mobile phone signals, in exchange for payments of course.

Hoare said journalists were able to use “pinging”, which measured the distance between a mobile handset and a number of phone masts to pinpoint its location. Hoare described how reporters would ask a news desk executive to obtain the location of a target: “Within 15 to 30 minutes someone on the news desk would come back and say ‘Right, that’s where they are.'”

Given these allegations, what assurances do we have that, in the future, journalists will not be able to use even more advances police technology to track people? As stated, software such as Geotime can generate a 3D graphic showing an individual’s movements and communications, and collate information from ‘social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions’. If the wide-reaching NotW scandal erupted because of the hacking of mobile phones, what sort of implications would emerge once journalists paid police for information regarding an individual’s social networking sites, their IP logs, financial transactions, etc? When technology such as ‘pinging’ begins to look archaic and instead corrupt journalists can pay for a 3-dimensinal graphic showing an individual’s complete movements, their communications with others, etc?

The police need to prove, somehow, that they are trustworthy and responsible enough to handle such private and personal information. They need to show that they can securely and safely use software such as Geotime, which has many dangerous implications if used by corrupt individuals.

“Now is the winter of our discontent…”

Sitting on the Police van - London students pr...

Image by chrisjohnbeckett via Flickr

– Richard III, William Shakespeare. 1594

So on Thursday 9th December, 2010, Parliament voted to raise the cap on tuition fees and condemn future generations to a lifetime of debt. All the protests, marches, demonstrations and petitions thus far have clearly had no impact on the government, which begs the question – how do people get the government to listen to their pleas?

This is our winter of discontent. The winter that has begun with London burning – images of fires and smoke trailing into the night sky as Big Ben watches over the chaos. Winston Churchill standing hunched over his cane, hand in pocket, as metal fences litter the pavements and graffiti is sprayed on stone monuments. Shattered windows and broken buildings highlight the less-obvious damages  – the damage done to the people, an electorate who believed in the lies they were fed, the false promises and pledges from a party that wanted “an end to broken promises”.

The cuts have not even started to bite yet, but already mass movements have been generated from the ground-up – bringing sympathisers from various movements under one shared cause.  Trade unionists, socialists, anti-war protestors, UK uncut demonstrators, students, sixth formers, school kids, teachers, lecturers, anarchists… all  have shown their faces at recent demonstrations.

This is only the beginning. Rather than discouraging demonstrators, the recent protests have actually inspired a generation who has found their voice – and found that they are not alone in their anger. The police violence of late has only served to fuel the cause, to promote solidarity amongst the groups, to educate the uninformed. These young protestors have had a crash-course in demonstrating – Protesting 101. They have had to learn quickly, and the results are beginning to be seen: protestors kettling the police, protestors breaking through the containments in small groups instead of large masses, bringing supplies and learning to hide their faces. There are those who show up just to cause trouble – from full-fledged anarchists to groups like the EDL who show up to cause trouble. Some “gang” members mugged several people on Thursday – stealing their phones or belongings whilst the police watched on, laughing or simply not giving a damn. But the protestors are learning. They do not stand for the violence, and ostracise those who incite it. Just like at Millbank when the fire extinguisher was thrown, the crowd turned on the culprits shouting: “Stop throwing shit!”. But what do you do when the ones instigating the violence are the police? Continue reading

WikiLeaks: Hero or Villain?

Logo used by Wikileaks

Image via Wikipedia

As of 17:26, 29th November 2010, WikiLeaks has released only a “handful” of the 250,000 strong cache of secret US embassy documents – a total of 243 at present. Yet already the international community has been set ablaze, with politicians condemning the release of the confidential reports – some labelled “Not for foreign eyes” (NOFORN).

Across the globe, governments and diplomats are taking action to limit the damage and to preserve foreign relations. Some are attempting to take action against WikiLeaks – Australia has launched a “whole-of-government” investigation into the website, perhaps partly due to the fact that the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is an Australian citizen. Australia’s attorney general Robert McClelland said: “We’re waiting for advice from the agencies as to appropriate course of actions that may be taken in response”. Downing Street has condemned the release, stating that the leaks have damaged “national security”. Pakistan has also criticised the release; it’s foreign ministry spokesman, Abdul Basit, said today: “We condemn the irresponsible disclosure of sensitive official documents”. China has censored local media, banning any reporting on the subject. The French government has described the leaks as an attack on democracy, pledging their support to the American administration. Naturally, US politicians and diplomats are vehemently condemning WikiLeaks and Eric Holder, the US attorney-general, explained that “there is an active, ongoing criminal investigation” whilst threatening that some members of the media will face “real consequences”. One US official is even calling for WikiLeaks to be branded as a “terrorist organistion”, though it does not appear as if many support this reactionist statement.

But how “treasonous” is WikiLeaks act?  Despite the fact that many of the cables have been marked “secret”, there are approximately 3 million Americans with the clearance to read the documents. It is clear that “secret” is a relevant classification in this sense. Continue reading

Broken Promises, Broken Buildings

A peaceful protest turns violent as protesters storm Conservative Party HQ, smashing windows and lighting fires

[This is a video montage that I created using footage of the student protest in London, November 10th. It includes video clips from several sources, and I have included footage of Nick Clegg filmed prior to the General Election. I in no way advocate the violence or the damage to property that occurred during the demonstration, however the aim of this video is to convey the emotions and feelings of the activists engaged in the protest in contrast to the promises made by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg prior to the election. This video is not-for-profit and I do not own the rights to the footage used. I will be happy to remove any or all footage if asked to by the owners.]

Over 50,00 students turned up in London on Wednesday to protest the government’s proposal to raise University tuition fees by more than 200%, which could leave many students paying back the debt for the rest of their working lives.

The student protest began peacefully despite the unanticipated scale of the demonstration and the underwhelming police presence. The demonstration marched from Horse Guards Parade, central London, and past Westminster, however when the march reached the rally point at Millbank, the protest took a turn for the worse.

At around 1.37pm it is reported that over a hundred protestors broke off from the crowd and stormed Millbank Tower, the Conservative party’s headquarters, occupying the lobbies and waving flags from the rooftops, shouting “Tory Scum!” and “Nick Clegg, we know you, you’re a fucking Tory too”, according to the Guardian’s Matther Taylor, who was present.

Workers were evactuated from the building shortly after as the protestors smashed windows, threw missiles, lit emergency flares, spray-painted anarchist logos and anti-Tory messages on the walls, Continue reading