Friday 15 November 2013

Open government - you're having a laugh

In the buildup to the 2010 General Election David Cameron and the Tories made numerous pledges that they would lead the most open and transparent government ever. When they came to power thanks to the backing of the Liberal Democrats, they reiterated this pledge in the Coalition Agreement.

Here are a few quotes:

"We need to harness the internet to help us become more accountable, more transparent and more accessible - and so bridge the gap between government and governed. The democratization of access to eroding traditional power and informational imbalances." - George Osborne March 2007 [source for quote]
"The Government believes that we need to throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account."
(Coalition Agreement p20, 2010)

"Information is power. It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats. It gives people new choices and chances, allowing them to make informed judgments about their future." - David Cameron - "We are creating a new era of transparency" June 2011
There are many indicators that this 'open and transparent government' agenda is nothing more than a hollow propaganda narrative. Here are just a few of them.

The Royal Family
[Main article  - Do the Royals really make us richer?]

After using a spurious justification in order to dismiss a Freedom of Information request into how members of the royal family had been using secretive powers of veto to interfere with government legislation, the Tories decided to do away with the problem once and for all in January 2011 by exempting the royal family and their staff from Freedom of Information legislation, even if the information happens to be in the public interest.

This was the reaction of Ian Davidson (a former member of the Public Accounts Committee):
"I'm astonished that the Tory led Government should find time to seek to cover up royal finances. When I was on the PAC, what we wanted was more disclosure not less ... Every time we examined royal finances we found extravagance and indulgence as well as abuse of expenses by junior royals ... Everywhere we looked, there were savings to be made for the Government. This sends the wrong message about public disclosure and accountability."
[Main article - Letter to the Information Commissioner]

One of the longest running campaigns in the Tory "war on accountability" is their refusal to comply with numerous Freedom of Information demands that they release information on which companies are involved in their economically illiterate mandatory unpaid "Workfare" schemes. The astonishing justification for this refusal to comply with their statutory obligation to release the information is that disclosure of the involved companies would lead to a public backlash against them, causing them to abandon their involvement with Workfare and resulting in the collapse of these Tory unpaid labour schemes.

The quite extraordinary argument against disclosure is that if the public knew the truth, the Tories wouldn't be able to continue what they are doing.

Is this, "we can't reveal what we're doing, otherwise we wouldn't be able to continue doing it" argument in any way compatible with Tory claims that they want to democratise information and make government more transparent?

Secret Courts
[Main article - Secret Courts and the very Illiberal Democrats]

In march 2013 the coalition government passed legislation to introduce secret courts, a move which provoked international condemnation from human rights groups across the globe.

For those of you that are not familiar with this legislation -
As it now stands, defendants (or claimants in civil cases) can be excluded from the hearings where their fates are decided; they will not be allowed to know what the case against them is; they will not be allowed to enter the courtroom; they will not be allowed to know or challenge the details of the case; and they will not be allowed representation from their own lawyer, their own lawyer will not be allowed to know the case or evidence against them, nor enter the courtroom - but they will instead be represented (in their absence) by a security-cleared government appointed 'special advocate'.
In order to introduce this totalitarian legislation in the way they intended it, the coalition had to carefully unpick several amendments added to the bill in the House of Lords, and then they had to vote down an amendment tabled by Caroline Lucas of the Green party to put an obligation on judges to at least consider "public interest in the fair and open administration of justice" before launching any secret court proceedings.

Does it seem like the action of a government with a commitment to openness and transparency to vote down an amendment to ensure that secret courts can only be used on the condition that judges first consider public interest in the fair and open administration of justice?

Raped by the state

One of the reasons for the introduction of repressive secret court legislation is that the government and the police are absolutely desperate that outrageous cases like the Mark Kennedy agent provocateur affair (the policeman that infiltrated an environmental movement, acted as an agent provocateur and formed sexual relationships with several women) and the Bob Lambert case (a policeman that stole the identity of a dead child to infiltrate an animal rights group, is accused of participating in a terrorist bomb attack, fathered a child with an activist and then abandoned them completely - paying no child support at all - when his deployment came to an end in 1989) being heard in open court.

In my view the public, and especially the women that bore children to these agent provocateurs have a right to know exactly who authorised these operations, who in government know about them, whether such operations still continue and what is going to be done to punish those responsible for these crimes. However, the public, and the victims of this state orchestrated abuse not get to find out because the decision has been made that such cases will be heard in secret tribunals.

Some commitment to transparency eh?

"Nothing to hide, nothing to fear"
[Main article - David Cameron's witch hunt against truth and openness]

In June 2013 the Foreign Secretary William Hague used the Orwellian "nothing to Hide - Nothing to Fear" argument in a desperate attempt to defend the anti-democratic mass surveillance operations of the state. Here's precisely what he said:

"If you are a law abiding citizen of this country going about your business and your personal life, you have nothing to fear—nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the contents of your phone calls or anything like that." [Video clip]
 Over the following months the Edward Snowden leaks have revealed numerous things that demonstrate that not only was William Hague guilty of misappropriating an Orwellian argument, but that he was also being dishonest too. here are some of the revelations:
  • The UK secret services routinely steal millions of private communications and store them on a vast database.
  • The UK secret services allow the United States secret services access to this stolen information.
  • Hundreds of thousands of private sector contractors in the US also have access to this stolen information.
  • Many of the data stealing projects operated by the UK secret services were instigated without parliamentary approval, or parliamentary oversight. No bills were passed to authorise such schemes, and the Joint Intelligence Committee (the ones that are supposed to "watch the watchmen") were kept completely in the dark about the existence of several enormous data stealing operations.
  • Several members of the intelligence services gave unreliable, and in some cases, downright misleading evidence to the Joint Intelligence Committee.
  • GCHQ spied on numerous foreign politicians, who were clearly just "law abiding citizens" [of other countries] going about their business, but the UK surveillance state decided to use their anti-terrorism powers to steal their private data. If they are prepared to risk international condemnation by stealing the data of foreign leaders, what makes you think they would think twice about hacking into your emails, Facebook account or Skype conversations.
Even if all of these revelations are not enough to demonstrate that Hague's "nothing to hide - nothing to fear" argument is hopeless, then a simple appeal to "Tory logic" is enough to utterly destroy it.

The Tories are always desperate to tell us that the state is inherently inefficient in order to justify their ideological privatisation agenda - but to claim that we have nothing to fear is to imply that there is absolutely no incompetence and absolutely no corruption in the secret services, and that the secret services have a perfect system of oversight!

Either the state is inherently inefficient or the state is perfect. It simply can't be both.

In my view the opportunities for corruption and incompetence are stunningly obvious given that the Joint Intelligence Committee (who are supposed to be the ones that provide oversight) were kept completely in the dark about the existence of entire data stealing programmes.

In my view, Hague's misappropriated Orwellian "nothing to hide - nothing to fear" argument can easily be reversed and aimed at the intelligence community. If they have nothing to hide, they why on earth did they fear admitting the existence of entire data stealing operations to the Joint Intelligence Committee?

How have David Cameron and the Tories reacted to these shocking revelations? They've started a witch hunt against the newspaper that revealed the information of course. They're not bothered about the bypassing of parliament by the secret services in order to conduct unlawful data stealing operations, they're too busy trying to shoot the messenger!

Censoring the internet
[Main articles - A serious look at David Cameron's Internet Firewall & A satirical look at David Cameron's Internet Firewall]

In July 2013 David Cameron announced plans to roll out mass censorship of the Internet. He used the "Moral Trojan Horse"of protecting children from pornography to champion a Internet Firewall system which is run by a gigantic Chinese corporation (Huawei) in order to filter traffic for TalkTalk.

Cameron wants all Internet Service Providers to install similar Firewalls to all inteernet connections in the UK. It is important to note that the Chinese operated Firewall system David Cameron has been championing doesn't just filter out pornographic material, it also filters several other categories too, which include "games", "social networking", "dating", "drugs and alcohol" and "suicide and self-harm". It has been suggested that Cameron's firewall will also be used to block content that is described as "Extremist", "Esoteric" and "web forums".

It is absolutely clear that this is an effort to control the internet with a "net nanny" for every home. It is worth noting that Another Angry Voice is routinely blocked by "net nanny" software. If Cameron's Internet Firewall is rolled out, you'll either have to put yourself on a list of non-conformists by opting out of most of the filters, or you'll have to do without sites like mine, what is exactly what the Tories want. To them the Internet is way too open and free, they want to return to the days when the majority of the public got their news drip-fed to them by the corporate media, and the best way to achieve that is to censor the internet to ensure that the public never actually get to visit independent sites like my own.

Hiding the evidence 

In November 2013 Computer Weekly revealed that the Tory party have conducted a purge of their website in order to erase from history records of all of their speeches for before the 2010 election. The reason for such a purge seems to be quite obvious, they don't want people pointing out the lies they told before the 2010 General Election because they don't want people like me digging up embarrassing stuff to illustrate their dishonesty/hypocrisy - in the way that I did with the Lib-Dem energy minister Ed Davey last month.

The Tories claim that this purge of their website was just a "tidy up", but that interpretation is blown out of the water by the fact that they also introduced a special bit of code to ensure that the speeches are also erased from the Internet Archive. If this mass deletion of information was just a houskeeping exercise as the Tories would like us to believe, one is left wondering why they went to such efforts to ensure that the records of these speeches were also erased from the Internet Archive too.

It is quite remarkable that a party that bragged on and on about their commitment to open government and claimed that the Internet is a great tool for holding politicians to account, have gone to such lengths to erase their speeches (not only from their own website, but from the Internet Archive too) in order to prevent the public from holding them to account for their lies, misrepresentations and broken promises.


Given the wealth of evidence I've presented, it is absolutely clear that the Tory claims that they are creating a "new era of transparency" are just more Tory lies. That Tory politicians would spout entirely misleading propaganda narratives is hardly an earth shattering conclusion (if you haven't learned to distrust Tory politicians by now, you really are utterly beyond hope), so I'll add something else too.

The fact that the Tory propaganda narrative that they are creating an open and accountable government is totally contradicted by their actions (Secret Courts, their plans to censor the internet, their contempt for Freedom of Information rulings and their attempts to hide their lies by purging their own website and deliberately blocking the Internet Archive ...) yet there are still plenty of Tories queuing up to defend them, illustrates the astonishing levels of cognitive dissonance that tribalist Tories are able to tolerate. The tribalist Tory is so infatuated with the party that they render themselves completely incapable of spotting even the most blatant mutual contradictions in what the Tory party say and do.

There isn't the slightest chance that we will ever be able to convince these people (they are as immune to our facts, evidence and logical consistency as we are to their rhetoric, assumptions and outright lies) which means that our only hope is that we can outnumber them.

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The Tory "War on Justice"

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