The following is the text of a letter I sent to the editor of the Irish Times on the 11th March, 2005. To my knowledge, the Irish Times didn’t publish it.
The Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven and the Birmingham Six were all imprisoned for lengthy sentences on terrorist charges that were eventually shown to have been false.
In November 2004, at the behest of the Governments of Italy and Switzerland, the FBI raided the data centre of the Indymedia organisation in the UK, under the pretence of a counter-terrorism investigation. The disks confiscated appear to have contained information relating to Indymedia’s investigations of Italian and Swiss police agents who are alleged to have been attempting to stir-up violence during so-called anti-globalisation protests.
In March of 2004, Adam McGaughey, of the fan website SG1Archive.com was charged with breaking U.S. federal copyright laws. The USA PATRIOT Act was used to facilitate the FBI investigation. Intended as a measure to protect the public from terrorist threats, the USA PATRIOT Act allows investigators to operate in ways that would be prohibited under other legislation. Its measures are, one by one, being invalidated as being counter to the US Constitution. Yet, the provisions were used to investigate a copyright case, and at the behest of MGM and the Motion Picture Association of America.
In 1996, the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) demanded royalty money from, among others, Girl Scouts for singing songs around campfires.
The proposed anti-terrorism law in the UK will give the UK and other governments greater powers of detention and looser definitions of the crimes against which it wants to protect the British public. In the context of the examples above, the following could be extrapolated:
The Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven and the Birmingham Six would all still be under some sort of detention if this proposal was in place at the time of their initial arrests; there being no need to prove the charges in a court of law.
At present, a country can ask to have the investigative arm of another country conduct operations in a third country. How long are we from people being detained in the third country by an agency of the second country on suspicions of breaking the laws of the first?
Copyright infringement seems now to be classed as a terrorist crime in some agencies of the United States of America. How long is it before I can be arrested by the FBI in Dublin for skipping through the ads when watching a recording of my favourite TV programme?
Will my baby daughter be at risk of long-term house arrest because she and her friends will probably sing popular songs in school, on the bus, around campfires, etc.?
A nation’s security concerns often conflict with the liberties of that nation’s citizens. However, the guardians of the nation are also the guardians of those liberties. Also, those guardians, as lawmakers, often listen more to the industry organisations who can “provide jobs” than to those who protest the effect of these organisations’ policies. We must watch those legislators and their sponsors who “speak out of both sides of their mouths.” Would we really be safer if we give authorities who already abuse their powers more of those powers?