Letter to my MP: Objection to stop and search powers and banning marches

I have just written to my MP to object to the use of Section 60 and 60AA stop and search powers and to the banning of protest marches by the home secretary. If you think that these powers are excessive and dangerous then I urge you to do the same. Remember, if you are ever arrested for protesting, the judge will ask you if you wrote to your MP first. Make sure that you can say that you did.

This is the email that I have sent to my MP.

Dear Peter Luff,

I write to express my extreme concern about the use of section 60 and 60AA stop and search powers across the whole of London, and about the banning of protest marches across five London boroughs for an excessive period of 30 days.

I strongly object to the use of section 60 stop powers granted under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which enable the police to stop and search anyone across the whole of London. I believe that in being applied to the whole of London they are being applied excessively in a way that was not intended when this legislation was created. In addition I am concerned that the use of these powers can be abused by the police and used to intimidate people and suppress protest. Everyday powers to stop and search people under suspicion are ample for the purposes of detecting crime and public safety and should suffice in all circumstances.

I also object to the use, in any circumstances, of section 60AA Powers requiring the removal of disguises. The forced removal of masks or clothing in order to identify people is excessive and again only used to intimidate and to build up a visual record or protesters, particularly by Forward Intelligence Teams. Should a person be arrested then the police may check their identity. Otherwise, the police are abusing their power by building up this visual record of innocent protesters.

Finally, and most of all, I object to the banning of marches by the home secretary under the Public Order Act 1986. While I am glad that the home secretary recognises the unalienable right to static protest, I believe it to be a severe violation of rights to ban protest marches. Most of all I object to the fact that this ban is 30 days in length and applies to all marches. I believe this to be a massive abuse of power by the home secretary and a gross violation of our rights in a democracy.

I dislike the EDL intensely but their right to protest must not be stopped. Should they be violent or commit some other crime then by all means have them arrested, but in suppressing political messages the government and the police have crossed a line.

Yours sincerely,

Latentexistence

Freedom to be offended

Freedom of speech. An absolutely essential human right, and yet it seems to be such a difficult concept for many to grasp. People think free speech applies to themselves and no one else. Anyone that opposes them is fair game to be silenced.

To paraphrase Morbo the news monster, “Censorship does not work like that!”

According to reports, yesterday Facebook removed the EDL’s page. The EDL Facebook page had been “Liked” by some 80,000 people, and was frequently home to comments showing racist, bigoted views and discussing some quite disgusting concepts and behaviour. Even so, I cannot celebrate its removal. How is it right that people on the left complain when Facebook pages for anti-cuts protests and events are removed, yet celebrate when the same thing happens to the EDL?

In discussions about this some people have pointed out that the EDL page hosted discussions of illegal behaviour. It might have done. “Hate speech” is now illegal in the UK. Beating up people and harassment are illegal too. But is it right to shut down discussions, even of illegal behaviour? That sounds like thought crime to me. We have a right to freedom of association, to freedom of religion, and freedom of speech. By extension, we have a right to hold whatever opinions we want, even if they are repellent to most people. Surely freedom to associate with whoever we like must mean that we have freedom to discuss whatever we like? How can discussion of a crime be a crime? Even if someone is discussing plans for a crime, they have not actually done anything, and I believe they should not be arrested until they show that they are about to commit those actions and not just fantasise about them.

I must also point out that the various Facebook pages set up to organise anti-cuts protests have also sometimes discussed illegal behaviour. Civil disobedience in various forms often means breaking the law – by definition illegal! Yet people rail against the removal of these pages by Facebook but demand the removal of the EDL page. It does not work like that!

The issue of government censorship versus private censorship is a problem. Facebook is a privately owned platform and many people are quick to point out that freedom of speech does not apply as everyone that uses it had in theory to agree to the terms and conditions. This is true, but while in law obligations to facilitate free speech usually only apply to government, I think when a service becomes as large as Facebook and a de-facto standard, different rules must apply. While we have private services that host so much public discourse, this is something that we must address. I suspect that censorship on private services happens as much out of a fear of being sued as of a desire to shut down opposing views.

I worry that here in the UK we are losing our freedom of speech. We have the European Convention of Human Rights, but right-wing politicians like to blame it for all our ills and demand that we scrap it. Now we have laws against hate speech, and I can see the reasons for preventing harassment and bullying, but if those are already crimes, why do we need laws to make it illegal to voice disagreement with someone?

Ultimately, freedom of speech applies to all or it applies to no one. There is no middle ground. If someone decides to censor what some people say, then there is no guarantee that anything at all can be said. Someone somewhere has to make the decision on what to censor, and that decision will be shaped by their own opinions and political views. The alternative to freedom of speech is suppression of dissenting views by whoever is the most powerful. If you have a view that the establishment doesn’t like, you cannot celebrate censorship without endangering your own cause.