· human rights
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This is not a new world, this is simply an extension of the old one. I’m not going to write here about sweeping changes that are happening now, but changes that have been taking place in plain sight for many decades. No one has flipped a switch, only tweaked and tuned variables here and there to lead us down this path. I’d like to reflect on where we are now but there is no way I could describe how it is we got here, the journey was far too complex and filled with ommissions, half-truths and outright lies. It’s likely we will never know what has brought us here.

I live in Scotland, a country that is a part of the United Kingdom and a member of the European Union. We have a Scottish Government, although certain matters are still handled by the UK Government. The European Government also handles some matters and these can take effect across the entire European Union. I do not feel that I can hold trust in any of these bodies anymore.

The European Convention on Human Rights was, for me at least, a beacon of hope. A series of fundamental rights guaranteed to be upheld for every person within the European Union. A series of fundamental rights that has been ignored by governments repeatedly:

  • 1999: it was held the UK had violated the human rights of several homosexual soldiers who had been dismissed from the armed forces because of their sexuality
  • 2002: it was held the UK had violated the human rights of a widower regarding entitlement to receive bereavement benefits who had been discriminated against on account of his gender
  • 2005: it was held that the UK violated the human rights of prisoners by denying them the ability to vote
  • 2010: the stop and search procedures used by the UK police pursuant to the Terrorism Act 2000 were considered illegal under the ECHR because they did not require the police to have grounds for suspicion before using them

This is not an exhaustive list, just select cross-sections of our recent history. It is important to remember that in each of these cases, it took a citizen to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. These rights were violated by the UK government until the actions were challenged, the legislation that allowed them was currently enacted into UK law without regard for the ECHR.

It should also be noted that the ban on prisoners voting is still in effect in the UK.

We’ve learnt that the ECHR is not an effective safeguard against the abuse of powers by government. The UK government also sees the Human Rights Act as a problem, although at least scrapping it has been delayed for now.

Much of these breaches of human rights are justified by the government as in the interest of the runaway train known as “national security”. I have recently had direct contact with one aspect of this during my journey home from 32c3. You can read about my experiences with airport security here and here.

My experiences at these airports angered me for a number of reasons. The first of which was that I was asked to expose my genitals as part of the routine screening, which I do not believe to be proportionate at all. At Luton, I was at the point where I was intending to leave the airport and take the train instead before I was allowed to excercise my right to opt-out of the nude body scanner.

Since these incidents, I have conducted some research into these scanners and started an article on the Open Rights Group wiki.

While the security officer at Luton had tried to tell me that the radio waves used could not penetrate clothing, they in fact can and this is the entire purpose of them. While the security officer at Luton told me that the machines did not generate an image, they are in fact doing exactly that, even if that image is processed by computer vision algorithms as opposed to being viewed by a human reviewer.

A leaflet by the Department for Transport, made available on the Aberdeen Airport website, also states that no image is created, and yet this is exactly how the scanners work. I have never seen this leaflet printed and available in the airport itself, although I admit I do not fly regularly and may have missed it. That said, it does not provide a true representation of the scan process and I would go as far to say it contains an outright lie.

In a document published by the UK Government titled “Response to the consultation on the use of security scanners in an aviation security environment”, they state:

"nearly all passengers, if they fully understand the procedures, would be unlikely to opt for [the alternative of a private search]"

Even with this display of confidence that they believe the public are happy with the invasion of privacy brought by the security scanners, they have still chosen to not fully inform the public in the way in which the scanner operates.

It is the lies that anger me the most. We claim to live in a democracy and you cannot have a democracy without transparency. It is not too late for the Government to earn back my trust, but for now, they haven’t given me good reason to believe anything they produce.

If you have read this article and you would like to support efforts for change in the United Kingdom, please consider joining the Open Rights Group and perhaps getting involved in their work.

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