Tag Archives: surveillance

Civil Liberties is a social justice issue

The rush to push through DRIP reminds me of the accelerated Immigration Bill, which, as it turned, out, also introduced powers to effectively turn doctors, lecturers and others into de facto border agents.

Sunny Hundal wrote a blistering piece today on Miliband’s civil liberties credentials and makes the point that “civil liberties are a social justice issue”:

“Civil liberties are a social justice issue too – a point some Labour MPs and activists don’t seem to have quite yet grasped. When the police or security services abuse their ever-growing powers, the victims are invariably ethnic minorities and/or the most marginalised in society. From stop-and-search to 90 days detention and even the Malicious Communications Act – it has always people from minority backgrounds or those with unpopular opinions who get harassed, spied on or arrested.”

This.

The Immigration Bill extended the policing of the national border into private life – and who is more likely to be considered foreign? To be stopped and questioned? To be suspected (because this is basically what we’re being asked to do, make a snap judgment on who might not belong) of being a foreigner?

Invariably, undoubtedly, overwhelmingly ethnic minorities.

What Sunny highlights so elegantly is how everything is connected and how efforts to compartmentalise lead to contradictions. (like how Theresa May can decry stop and search on the one hand, and champion immigration spot checks – which open the door to similar discrimination for ethnic minorities – on the other)

 

 

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Mission Creep

Be concerned. If like me you’re a little fuzzy on DRIP and why it matters, a group of internet law experts have published a really straightforward, clear open letter on the worrying power grab by the government in terms of surveillance and data retention.

“The legislation goes far beyond simply authorising data retention in the UK. In fact, DRIP attempts to extend the territorial reach of the British interception powers, expanding the UK’s ability to mandate the interception of communications content across the globe. It introduces powers that are not only completely novel in the United Kingdom, they are some of the first of their kind globally.”

Worryingly, this crucial legislation is being rushed through, potentially undermining parliamentary oversight.

Why the rush? We’re told it’s because it’s an emergency. But Open Rights Group has published a useful fact-check of these claims. First off, the government has had 3 months since the court ruling that precipitated the issue to do something about it, but now we’re told it has be rushed. “Legislate in haste, repent at leisure”, the saying should go.

There’s a sunset clause apparently – this “emergency” has a two-year life span. For starters, that’s a long emergency. And, if it can last that long, why not longer? Once this is on the books, renewing it (especially as all the parties are in lock step on the issue) won’t be too hard.

My thesis is on the securitisation of immigration and how it’s used as an excuse by the government to amass more powers. This is no different.

We are told we must be afraid all the time. And at risk of sounding like a woman with a tin foil hat yelling at Speaker’s Corner, we are passively allowing the growth of the surveillance state  under the pretext of security. We surrender more and more, but we never feel more safe. Meanwhile, governments and certain corporations profit off the political economy of securitisation.

And then, for good measure, we are encouraged to be sceptical about human rights.  In the name of independence, Euro-sceptics would have us pull up the drawbridge and burn down our own house, all to be free of the supposed jack boot of the European Court of Human Rights.

There’s definitely undue pressure to restrict our rights, and it’s not coming from the ECHR, that’s for damn sure.

 

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My Speech at the Open Generation Event

Well, these things never go to plan, but this is what I prepared…

What sort of country to do you want to live in?

I ask that question because one of the great fallacies of the government’s hostile environment campaign is that you can isolate a group of people – in this case, to hive off the undocumented migrants from everyone else.

First off,  I don’t believe we should seek to exclude a group people, some of whom will be extremely vulnerable to exploitation, simply because for one reason or another they don’t have papers. Immigration status is a complicated web of rules that seems designed to catch you out, speaking as a migrant here.

But secondly, I also believe that you can’t. Just as you can’t separate one group of migrants from another, you can’t introduce punitive legislation that intrudes so much on migrant’s private lives without the rest of society being sucked into the net.

We are told that because of health tourism – an issue that has been talked up and despite estimates, is hard to quantify, students and other categories of temporary migrants will have to pay to use the NHS. And changes to the rules on ‘ordinary residence’ could mean that until you have indefinite leave to remain – a process that can take roughly to six years – you’d be paying for the service, even if you’re working legally here and paying taxes including National Insurance.  Many believe that this is the thin end of the wedge in terms of introducing charges for the NHS – but it also introduces an administrative burden on health professionals to check everyone’s immigration status. Otherwise, how do you know who is a migrant?

The same question is being asked at Universities. When Media Diversified –  @WritersofColour if you’re on twitter, hosted a discussion on immigration, lecturers tweeted us about their discomfort at having to snoop on their students to comply with immigration rules, something that was raised in a letter sent to the Guardian newspaper by 160 academics last month.

International students are feeling it. In an NUS survey over 50% of international students said the UK government wasn’t welcoming. When asked to name specific measures that bothered them,  74 per cent cited the NHS levy, and 40 per cent cited moves to get landlords to check on their legal status.

Which brings me to my third example: housing. Last year the BBC uncovered routine discrimination against Black people by letting agents in the private rental market  – a situation which will likely be exacerbated if we ask landlords- who are not regulated – to start investigating people’s immigration status. For starters, the paperwork isn’t straightforward. But also, will they want to go to the trouble, or will it be easier to just turn away anyone who looks or seems foreign?

At the beginning of my little intervention I should really have asked, do you fancy working for the UKBA? Because that’s what the government proposes to ask doctors, nurses, lecturers and landlords – among others – to do.

We are all being asked to consider our neighbour as immigrants first and people second. And if you seem “foreign”, you’re probably more likely to be asked these questions. These policies risk driving a wedge of suspicion into communities and dragging a lot of ordinary people into a net of surveillance.

So – what kind of society do you want to live in? And more importantly, what are we, the young generation, the open generation, the future of this country, going to do about it?

I’m so honoured to be here with all of you, and those joining us online and around the UK, to ask these questions. And I’m grateful to Open Generation and the Migrant Rights Network for hosting this important conversation and for inviting me to take part, and for all the vital advocacy work that they do. Thank you very much.

 

 

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