Monday, 26 May 2014

Help for disenfranchised Europeans living in the UK?

The EU election is over, but not for all of us. We have been disenfranchised forcibly, and we would like something to be done about it. People are beginning to share their stories, but please don't let this news be forgotten, particularly in light of the EU election results.

I have created a group where we are looking for answers, exploring actions that can be taken. If you would like to help in some way, please do. - Blog

Saturday, 24 May 2014

My EU vote disenfranchisement

My friends have been very good the past few weeks, putting up with my endless rattling on about the elections and the media. I'll admit I have fallen fowl to the trap of providing UKIP with an unwarranted platform, and contributing, in however small a form, to the spread of its image. No publicity is bad publicity, it seems, for the UK Independence Party. As a European citizen, this worries me. I'd had rathered the media focused more on the Greens, for example, who have both an MP and MEPs. Regardless, I was looking forward to making use of my vote.

I received a voter registration form and a separate EU registration form.

My council's website only lists one form, this states that it is the only necessary form, and their website makes no mention of any other form:

I returned the European electoral registration form and confirmed the information on my general form.

When I received my polling card only the local elections were listed, so I telephoned to confirm that I would be able to vote in the European election. I was told that this would be the case. ​ ​ ​

On May 22 I was turned away at the polls as I had a G next to my name. I was told that I was not entitled to vote in the European election. I produced my Portuguese national ID card and they called someone at the council election office, who told them that I hadn't returned my form in November. ​I am not registered to vote in Portugal.

I have registered at my consulate and in my country as being resident abroad and as voting here.

This is a particularly important election which has a direct impact on my life, and it is proportional representation, so unlike in other elections my vote actually stands a chance to mean something. Even if it did not, this would be no justification for my forced disenfranchisement.

I have no choice now but to take this up with the relevant parties, and sit by and wait for the election results on Sunday.

Edit 26/5/14: I have taken this up with Colchester election office and my returning officer. No reply as yet, but of course it is a bank holiday.

Edit 27/5/14: My reply from the Colchester Borough Council elections office:

Dear Magarida,

Thank you for your message. I was very sorry to read about the problem that you experienced on polling day.

I can only apologise if you received the wrong advice from our customer contact centre. It should have been clear to whoever you spoke with that there was a “G” marker against your name on the Register of Electors, which meant that you were only entitled to vote in the local government elections and not the European Parliamentary elections.

With regard to your observation about ensuring equal treatment for citizens of other Member States of the EU, the second form that we sent you is essentially a declaration that the voter wishes to register to vote at the European Parliamentary election in the United Kingdom and that they will not use any residual right to vote that they may have in their home country. There is also a space on the form for the constituency in the applicant’s home country where they were registered to vote in their home country and we are obliged to exchange this information with the home countries with a view to ensuring that the person cannot vote more than once at the election. Since we receive information from other Member States, as well as send it, I assume that the rights to vote are exactly the same for British citizens living in other Member States. In any event, these requirements have been set by the national government.

I do understand your frustration. However, I am not convinced that there was any advantage in placing the second form on the Council’s website. This is because a personally addressed form had already been sent to everyone who had registered as an elector and who had indicated that they were citizens of any other Member State of the European Union. A personally addressed form and explanatory letter was considered to be a much better way of communicating the requirement for citizens of other Member States to complete the second form if they wished to vote here in the European Parliamentary election. As we did not receive a second form from you, you were not registered to vote here in the European Parliamentary election.

You say that you returned that form but, as I say, we have no record of it being received. Under the circumstances, all I can do is apologise again for the difficulties that you faced and for the disappointment that you must have felt in not being able to vote on Thursday. - Blog

Friday, 17 January 2014

GDL Blog

I was asked to write an article for a magazine. As luck would have it, the article was never published so I have posted it here.

Written 12 December 2012:

I have myopia and astigmatism and I have worn glasses since the age of 11. I still remember the first day I left the house with my new glasses on: rather than feeling awkwardness at the structure resting on my nose I felt an overwhelming joy at being able to perceive the detail on the trees and their leaves, on the contours of streets and pavements, and the expressions on the faces of passers-by. This joy is re-lived, albeit more modestly, each time I come back from the opticians with a new prescription that is properly adjusted to the changes in my eyes and that once again allows me to marvel at the detail present in the things around me.

In this year gone by something else has given me a similar feeling of wonder and enjoyment, and a glow from realising that there are subtle details in the world that I could not previously perceive. This feeling was given to me when I embarked on my first year of a part-time GDL back in January 2012. Whilst it would be inaccurate for me to say that I was blind before, my “new glasses” allow me to see the world in a new way.

Many times we will buy a gadget or appliance and promptly discard the manual that comes with it. Or, similarly, we will start playing a game before reading the rulebook. We are born into a social contract which we implicitly accept (without offer, acceptance, and intention to create social relations) and with many terms that we do not fully comprehend even after prolonged study. From birth we are bound by national and supra-national codes in which we have had no say, and that through our lives may help or hinder us, which we may staunchly defend or strongly oppose or even be completely oblivious to. There are laws that require and restrict certain behaviours, that create expectations and provisions, lay out formalities, and affect not only our own undertakings, but those of every individual, corporation and nation that surrounds us.

My previous studies of economics, and also politics, are well supplemented by having working comprehension of UK and international law, as the elements of a powerful triumvirate that shape most aspects of our lives.  And, whilst the picture is ever-developing and may never be fully clear, there is still great pleasure to be had in understanding the written and unwritten rules that guide us, and their origins and potential.

I cannot go back to my mindset before I started to study law; I cannot take my new glasses off. I would have previously told you that I believe that every person should to some extent, of their own initiative if not out of social and historical obligation, equip themselves with basic principles of economics and political thought; to this list I now add, at a minimum, a concept of how law develops and exists, so that we may be more than Scarman LJ’s “simple peopleunaware of the subtleties of [law]” and better understand own world and possibilities. - Blog

Saturday, 3 August 2013

What's so wrong with being offended? #FreedomToOffend

Steve Hughes makes an excellent point on "what's so wrong with being offended?". It's worth watching from 3m22 to 5m22, but the whole 7m48 is very amusing. Spoiler: "nothing happens" - Blog

Monday, 29 July 2013

#FreedomToOffend is not #FreedomToThreaten

In my earlier post about Deyka Hassan I recounted how she went to the Police to report threats of violence and abuse against herself and how she was instead prosecuted for her own tweet. It is not known that any action was taken against those who abused her. She received such messages as: 

@blaysefleckney tweets: @Deyka you ought to be hunted down, gang raped with a handsaw then fed too (sic) the pigs you fucking scumbag"

Deyka's tweets were also retweeted to the Metropolitan police to request action be taken against her.

I have also discussed how Ben Townsend's racist tweets were reported to Gloucestershire Police via Twitter itself (more screenshots in the article), and he was subsequently arrested: 

Today we see a slightly different case in which MP Stella Creasy repeatedly retweeted her recieved abuse to Waltham Forest MPS who told her to report it to a station. Official Police Twitter accounts across the country will all say that they are not to be used to report emergency crime as they are not monitored 24/7, and this is very understandable. What should be noted however is that there ought to be consistency amongst these services. It is also undeniable that as a whole this picture needs to change with urgency. 

Tweets to MP Stella Creasy threatening rape at a specific time near her house
Montage property of London Evening - Blog

Friday, 26 July 2013

The Great P--- Debate

This post is a round-up of the main points made so far in The Great P--- Debate, following the news on 22 July that online pornography is to be blocked by default.

The Great P--- Debate is rather like a super injunction: we will struggle to talk about what we cannot discuss because the same filters designed to stop you from seeing pornography and discussing simulated rape scenes will also be the ones that keyword search blogs and filter out posts like these, as demonstrated by Paul Bernal's post My porn-blocking blog post got porn-blocked!.

Deborah Orr, in The Guardian phrased the issue as such:
A roar of libertarian outrage greeted David Cameron's announcement this week that the government was going to talk to internet service providers about installing opt-in rather than opt-out filters for pornography, as if computer access to hot and cold running arousal aids was some kind of basic human right. Is this really such a big deal? 
Orr states that it "irks" her that she has had to write her article and that the idea is "perfectly reasonable" but she fails to grasp the real crux of the "libertarian outrage" of the past week. The one thing that should be made very clear is that The Great Porn Debate is not about pornography. It is about censorship, civil liberties, and a damaging misunderstanding of technology and the Internet. 

I have discussed social media based technological misunderstandings and challenges for legislators and shocking ongoing decisions being made in cases related to Twitter and Facebook, but The Great Porn Debate has highlighted this epidemic of technological illiteracy and disregard for civil liberties to a far greater extent. The premise is simple: individuals are to have their Internet search results and direct access to certain websites, on their own private home connections, blocked and filtered at the source by their ISPs (Internet Service Providers also commonly known as "broadband providers").

I have been reluctant to write anything on this issue so far because there are several good blog posts on the matter already. The aforementioned Paul Bernal wrote 10 questions about Cameron's 'new' porn-blocking, which explores important questions such as: what is pornography? Who decides what is covered, and how? and culminates in the key question of whether the action will really address the expressed intention: do you really think these plans will stop the 'corrosion' of childhood?

Tom Pride also explained How Cameron's plans to block on-line porn could also block political sites. This has serious implications because we are then not only blocking pornography but we are also blocking ideas, and with a block in place there is no way for the consumer to know what she does not have access to, because, like with the super injunction, any allusion to it is also blocked.

Jules Mattsson's Tumblr shows how over-zealous filters remove access to websites such as the Queer Youth Network and Marie Stopes, and have the potential to remove access to a series of support and guidance websites that provide information to children and young adults who might not otherwise have access to or knowledge of them, thus continuing to defeat the purpose of protecting and helping "our children". The Open Rights Group, in their discussions with ISPs, have suggested that we are Sleepwalking into Censorship and that the filter may also extend to the following arbitrary areas:
violent material
extremist and terrorist related content
anorexia and eating disorder websites
suicide related websites
web forums
esoteric material
web blocking circumvention tools
But there are far more serious and worrying implications here, and the biggest seems to be that legislators do not understand technology. David Cameron can't protect us from child porn because he doesn't understand the internet (Mic Wright) says an article in The Telegraph, which is in line with another in The Independent: This Government doesn't understand technology. The attempt to block porn proves it (Chris Ward), and The Guardian: Why David Cameron's war on internet porn doesn't make sense (by Tom Meltzer).

The recent misadventures of MP Claire Perry bring us new concerns. Pirate Party UK blog contributor Jerry Barnett has already very eloquently expressed his view on Why is the UK the Most Censored Nation in Europe? and on how Claire Perry's "Porn Filter" Is Internet Censorship v1.0. In this latest post Barnett makes several good points and reveals a "darker side" to this censorship:
UK mobile phone companies already have filtering on their 3G networks: subscribers are required to age-verify their accounts to disable the filter. Numerous cases have been documented of non-adult material being blocked by mobile companies. The obscenity law specialist Myles Jackman tells me that his blog, which tackles legal issues about sexuality, is blocked by some mobile networks. The Open Rights Group reports that the British National Party’s web site was also blocked on some networks. I’m certainly no fan of the BNP, but official censorship of political web sites gives me even more cause for concern.
The same day of that blogpost we saw Perry misunderstand screenshots and hacking, as she took to Twitter to accuse Guido Fawkes of "hosting a link that distributed porn via [her] website". It doesn't take a particularly technical knowledge of hosting, links, or websites to understand that the phrase itself does not actually mean anything as it does not describe a possible action. At the time of writing this these tweets remain online, but the full story has been captured and shared by the Ministry of Truth. Perry's misunderstanding has been widely criticised in the media, as far and wide as blogs such as that of the Adam Smith Institute. Fawkes is now looking to sue.

There will certainly be lots more to say on the topic as its impact is felt and the consequences are noted. In the meantime I recommend following  @PornPanic / Sex and Censorship for more developments.

Updated 27 July to include Open Rights Group information. - Blog

Friday, 19 July 2013

On #FreedomToOffend - Part II

The UK has a Twitter problem that we may think only affects countries far away. It has been said that Turkey has a Twitter problem: as we watch the protests unfold in Istanbul and Ankara, protesters take to Twitter to relay in real-time the police brutality and and the situation on the ground before it gets to the main media. According to the Global Post, Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan called social media "a menace to society", and the police have "raided [...] dozens of addresses" to arrest those posting photos of protests onto Twitter.

It may seem disproportionate to lead into a discussion of Twitter-related arrests in the UK by introducing the case of a Turkey in turmoil, however, to this accusation I have two retorts:

1. Unlike Iran and Egypt, Turkey is seeking membership of the European Union, and discussions of its accession are ongoing. Turkey is "closer to home" than some might initially think.

2. Whilst plausibly not in the same scale or with the same political motivation and severity, Twitter-related arrests and subsequent sentencing in Britain are problematic, not as rare as they may seem, and should cause as much indignation as similar arrests abroad.

In Part I I had a look at the case of Ben Townsend, 25, of Cheltenham, who tweeted racist abuse at footballers Adebayo Akinfenwa and Clarke Carlisle. I had a look at the offending tweets and the responses they received, the sentence he was given, and a variety of relevant legislation.

One of the most important points I make, and which I will elaborate on below, is that "s127 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to publish a grossly offensive message, thus allowing someone to be penalised for an action that is entirely (culturally, morally, personally) subjective". This is similar to the offense created by s1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988,  relevant in the case of Deyka Hassan (below), which states that
"any person who sends to another person
(a) a letter, electronic communication or article of any description which conveys — 
(i) a message which is indecent or grossly offensive [...]
is guilty of an offence if his purpose, or one of his purposes, in sending it is that it should, so far as falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above, cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated."
Deyka Ayan Hassan, 21, of Harrow, contacted the police "after receiving hundreds of vitriolic responses to the message on May 22, including threats to rape her and kill her by burning down her home", but was herself arrested when she told police that she had sent a tweet saying: "Anyone who wears a help for heroes t-shirt deserves to get beheaded tbh" (tbh means "to be honest").

The response was similar to that which Ben Townsend received, as "the Internet" is quick to respond with threats of violence and abuse. Responses (pictured below) included a call for her to die; to be gang-raped with a handsaw; and a suggestion to commit suicide:

@Chet_Sket tweets: "@Deyka_: Anyone who wears a help for heroes t-shirt deserves to get beheaded tbh" DIE U SCUM
@blaysefleckney tweets: @Deyka you ought to be hunted down, gang raped with a handsaw then fed too (sic) the pigs you fucking scumbag"
@ConnorNewhall tweets: <Deyka's quote> #wanker picture of a noose with the words "i bought you a necklace  here put it on"

Responses also included calls for the police to "deal with" and "take action about" her tweet:

@dannysj76 tweets: "@Deyka_: Anyone who wears a help for heroes t-shirt deserves to get beheaded tbh" @metpoliceuk please deal with this scum@chrisdeson tweets: "Deyka_: Anyone who wears a help for heroes t-shirt deserves to get beheaded tbh" @metpoliceuk Please take action about this?

Deyka was sentenced to 250 hours unpaid community service but she was told that she could have been jailed for the offence had the magistrates not been convinced that she had not known the victim of the Woolwich attack had been a soldier.

There are several points in this case which should concern us:

  1. Deyka's initial intention was to report messages of abuse directed against her person; she sought help from the police but was promptly arrested, with the messages of abuse against her being used as evidence of the impact of her own offence.  
  2. Chairman of the bench Nigel Orton is quoted as having said: "It had a huge impact and clearly caused offence and distress. We accept you didn't intend to cause harm and you felt it was a joke. Your act was naive and foolish and without regard to the general public at a time of heightened sensitivity.", despite the Malicious Communications Act 1988 requiring (as quoted above) that the purpose of the message be to: "cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated". 
  3. Deyka's tweet, although controversial, was a statement of opinion aimed at no-one in particular. The Malicious Communications Act 1988 requires states that the offence arises when "any person who sends to another person [...]", which seems to indicate again a rather liberal interpretation of the Act. 
  4. Whilst Twitter and its 140 character limitation may make it difficult for tone and jocularity to be appropriately conveyed, it seems that the sentence is greatly disproportionate to the act, particularly when regarding the entirely subjective nature of the word "offense". Furthermore, offense does not require a legal definition as "indencent or grossly offensive" are ordinary English words (Connolly v DPP [2007] 2 All ER 1012).
  5. It seems unthinkable that her knowledge of whether Lee Rigby was a soldier or not could be the difference between 250 hours of unpaid work and a jail sentence as this is not within the scope of the Act. And, if it were to be included in the Act, that in itself would be a point of great contention.
So whilst it should be evident that I am by no means implying that we are charging towards the state of Turkey, Egypt and Iran, these examples so close to home should trouble us and we should not ignore them. As the law struggles to understand and legislate social media we should defend our rule of law, be particularly aware of these cases and not allow them to pass undetected for fear of the precedents they set.  

Posts in this series:

On #FreedomToOffend - Part I
Hashtags and Timelines: New Challenges for Legislators - Blog