Thursday, 20 November 2008

Privacy and the left - A reply to Sunny Hundal

. I have been involved in two debates this week which have drawn together broadly similar themes. One was over on Liberal Democrat Voice on it's popular thread reporting on the Baby P case and the second one has been on Liberal Conspiracy in response to the leaked British National Party membership lists.

Let's start with the 'naming and shaming' of the parents of Baby P. Of course, what these people did does make them 'cruel viel killers' but, as David Osler rightly points out on his blog;

"reporting restrictions in court cases are usually imposed for good reasons, including the need to ensure that the judicial process is fair, and to avoid a hysterical lynch mob atmosphere that could see innocent relatives or even people with similar surnames beaten up or worse."

Similar arguments apply to the now infamous BNP list, although it is taken as a given that the BNP are being hypocritical because of past involvement with Redwatch, the restrictions on it's release were put in place for good reason. It seems to me that since these lists are not even that current there is a related danger of innocents being targeted. Maybe the person who is reported in The Guardian as saying;

"I've never had anything to do with them. I don't know why my name was on that list"

was too ashamed to admit the truth but I think there is enough room for reasonable doubt (combination of out-of-date data and tendency of the internet to perpetuate 'Chinese whispers'). All of this is not to mention the inclusion of children and teenagers on the list as part of the BNP's 'family membership'. We simply cannot assume that everybody reading such things will behave in a responsible and humane way.

In the first instance opposition to privacy was couched mostly by people who felt that the severity and barbarity of the crime committed merited the stripping away of basic human rights. The second instance saw opposition to privacy come from people who basically feel that political engagement with the BNP is a waste of time. Sunny expressed it thus;

"Ever tried to engage BNP people in a civilised political debate? I have. Let me tell you, its not a pretty sight.
But its nice to see naivety on this site once in a while."

Nobody is talking about 'engaging' and trying to 'win' hard-core BNP ideologues. However, people like the one quoted below, again from The Guardian, can and should be engaged with;

"I'm not prejudiced but they are letting too many immigrants in, it's stupid and it's not going to be Britain no more."

People like this are soft-core supporters of the BNP. They are frustrated with their own conditions and basically swallow without question the BNP's propaganda that it is 'immigrants fault'. They do this based on an assessment of their own surroundings which maybe happen to be well-populated by immigrants. However, well-targeted agitation and propaganda aimed at undermining the BNP's myths would easily see them won away from the politics and ideology of the BNP.

This is unlikely to be the case however if we invade their privacy or even show signs of supporting that; so, we can point to the BNP's hypocrisy on privacy but not support a volition of it; unless we want to harden their feelings of powerlessness. Liberal Conspiracy has run a serious campaign against 42 days detention without charge; however, a defence of rights must be universal if it is to mean anything. If it is not then realistically these rights mean nothing in practice.

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