An emerging Libertarian Enclave in Cumbria?

The Independent are impressed by the independent spirit of the Cumbrians:

cyber-moorWhen BT refused to provide up-to-date internet without government subsidies, [the town of] Alston Moor set up its own community-owned co-operative, Cybermoor, to provide broadband. Residents bought shares in the company and local labour dug up the roads to install the fibre cable needed. In the next month, it is hoped 300 homes will have high-speed broadband.

When Nenthead’s shop closed down – making it difficult to get a pint of milk as the last bus leaves at 2.30pm – the community rallied round to raise funds to set up its own store, which has been running for five years. These are just two of almost 20 social enterprises in the parish – from a bakery and gymnasium to a community snowplough and heritage railway station, all run largely by volunteers



Image via Networx3.

When rights collide?

One of the angles not covered in the Old Holborn fall out is that of privacy.

For the uninitiated, firstly where have you been? And secondly the story is roughly as follows:

  1. Opinionated anonymous tweeter and blogger says some things that some people in Liverpool find highly offensive;
  2. People in Liverpool do some research and find out the name, address, workplace, phone number etc of tweeter, publish it, and there is some harassment such as phone calls, threats, mails and calls to his employer etc.
  3. The tweeter’s account is suspended – probably by the tweeter.
  4. The police are called – probably by both parties, but for different reasons.
  5. The tweeter comes back online.

The issue of general free speech has been the subject of much debate. But there is a specific angle which may split Libertarians: Is it acceptable to publicise someone’s name, address and other personal details – if they haven’t given permission, and especially if they have let it be known that they wish to be anonymous?

Let’s get rid of the easy answer first:

Where it’s someone “official” who has been provided with the personal information, they should not give it out – at least without a court order. This applies to the government, ISPs, utility companies etc. And where such information is collected from these people illegitimately though hacking, social engineering, or because someone knows some who works there, again it is patently wrong.

One of the above may have been true in this case. But some tweets have indicated that someone knew someone who had a sister who went to the tweeter’s wedding. By knowing the name and the spouse’s name they could do a little research, review old tweets for clues, do some Googling, some searching on LinkedIn and put together the full identity picture.

So at the end of the day, with the exception of the friend’s friend’s sister, it was all put together using public domain information.

We libertarians may rush to the libertarian gods for answers – the Rothbards, the Rands etc – but they pre-date the internet and aren’t very helpful. We can refer to rights and discuss whether our personal information is our property and therefore whether we need to give permission before it is published. But every day we may give our name to casual acquaintances and tell them where we live, and what our job is. Do we need to hand each of them a legal notice telling them that they must not pass this on without express permission?

It’s funny how even some of the most ardent the free speech advocates come down on the side of privacy – even though what is being disclosed is factual. Of course there are problems. Personal information can be used by ne’er-do-wells to hunt someone down and commit violence against them. But one of the challenges of being a free-speech purist is that there can be unfortunate consequences of unfettered speech.

Someone argued with me today that such information was not a part of speech, it was data, and therefore free speech arguments do not apply to it. I countered that free speech involves context, and that part of the context of any utterance is the identity of the speaker.

I would also argue that the risk of “exposure” is a control over the excesses of free speech. In a face to face situation, the control over offensive free speech is the risk that the offended party may initiate violence. This of course is wrong, but of scant comfort when you’ve got a bloody nose and the aggressor has scarpered. With online speech, there is no bloody nose – unless you’re outed to your foes and one of them has the balls to come calling.

As ever, there is never a perfect solution. It’s about balancing conflicting “rights”. Free speech is a natural right. I’m not convinced however, that rights exist in our personal data, except where data is given with the specific expectation that it should be entrusted. The risk of exposure for an anonymous blogger may help to curtail the most offensive excesses of their output.

But really, the main lesson is this: If you know you’re going to offend people online, and those people might come after you, you need to keep your real life and online personae totally separate – even from friends and family. If you wish to keep such personae apart from the “authorities” and from those who might be able to steal information from the authorities, then you’ll need to learn about TOR, proxy servers and other electronic anonymisation and obfuscation tools too.

  • James Rigby
  • Lives in Wickford, Essex
  • Information Security Consultant.

And doesn’t care who knows it. At least not when I’m not offending anyone.

Schadenfreude, Huhne and Justice

I’ve had a bit of a disagreement with several twitterers and FaceBook people over my views on Huhne’s potential custodial sentence. It seems that it’s pretty automatic for anyone convicted of perverting the course of justice to be sent down to meet Mr Big who runs D Wing and hands out the extra-slippery soap.

For the first half hour after the news broke, I shared the schadenfreude. Rejoice! An MP politician will be sent to jail. Only 649 to go!

But then I asked myself , who was the victim here?

Maybe his ex-wife is the victim. It seems he may have put her under pressure to accept the points on her licence. But she was, it seems, a willing victim. He may even have paid her fine. The only harm she would have suffered is a number being appended to her driving licence, perhaps increased insurance premiums (which maybe he paid), and a record on a computer system somewhere in Swansea. It seems to me that she was not an unwilling victim, nor was she harmed, her property violated, or anything else.

Maybe “society” is the victim. After all, if people get together with friends and family and decide who will take the rap for someone else’s crime, then society is not getting the justice from the criminal that it demands. This is true when it comes to murder, rape, burglary etc. But remember, we’re talking about points on a licence here.

Maybe it’s road users who are the victims. After all, if everyone did this, then more dangerous drivers would be out on the roads putting us all in peril. But remember, there was no accident, no one was killed, no child injured. So there was no victim.

It’s even been put to me that some general crime victims are the real victims in this, as their crimes weren’t given the priority they deserve as the police were focussing on Huhne’s crime instead of theirs. I would argue that it’s the police who were wasting time on this trivia, rather than putting the fault at Huhne’s door.

My thoughts on this put me at odds with many people who I consider to be sound libertarians. Maybe I’m missing something?

I consider it to be one of the basics of libertarianism that the state should not deprive someone of their liberty without a very good reason indeed. The default position, for me, is to not incarcerate someone unless absolutely necessary for the protection of the public or to send a clear deterrent message to others who might be encouraged to try the same.

Lying to the police and courts is not a good thing – and must be discouraged. But at the end of the day, no one was harmed, no one had their “rights” abused. I believe the punishment must have regard to the nature of the “crime” about which justice was perverted. Speeding is just about the lowest level of “crime” that we have. It is victimless. As such, no matter what we might think of politicians, a custodial sentence would seem to be the genuine perversion of justice in this case.

As I said, I seem to be in a minority of one on this. Maybe I’ve missed something here….

Pro Liberty Announcement

Those who use bus services will be familiar with the scenario: You wait ages for a bus, and then three come along at once. The same happens to be true of libertarian political parties in the UK.

Last night at the Rose & Crown in Southwark, Pro Liberty was founded. This is a political party which is being registered with the Electoral Commission to fight elections in England and Wales. The party aims to spread the libertarian message within the media – both traditional and social – and through think tanks, the political system and wherever else we can reach a wide audience.

Not only is the party about promoting libertarianism, it is itself designed to be libertarian. There are no restrictions on membership such as forbidding simultaneous membership of other political parties. Nor will there be membership fees until and unless they can be justified. There is also no restriction on what members can or can not say in the media or elsewhere. Members may not state that they are speaking on behalf of the party, but apart from that anything goes. If we are to promote libertarianism to others, we must be able to at least demonstrate our libertarian credentials in the way we organise our own party.

A party constitution is being submitted to the Electoral Commission. This is a legal requirement. We have designed the constitution to be basic and to last for a year. We want the views of libertarians on what the constitution should contain for future years. There are some very basic legal requirements, but the remainder of the party’s constitution is flexible. And it will be down to you, potential member, to help shape the party to be something that you will be happy to support.

The party will begin a series of debates shortly to help with the process of creating a party that most libertarians can support. We also plan to engage with other libertarian organisations and sympathisers, to have candidates stand for elections, to make a noise in the media, and generally to get the message out there and wake this country up from its century-long sleepwalk.

It won’t be easy. But as Confucius say, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so get on with it’. We’ve taken such a step, and I hope many of you will join us.

Clarissa, James, and Richard

Several people have been involved with advice, ideas, money, and the hard work required to get things moving. I don’t want to mention them by name because I’m bound to miss someone out. But if you discover yourself talking to someone and they mention they were involved, buy them a drink, they’ve earned it. Three interim officers are being formally registered with the electoral commission. These are: James Rigby – Party Leader; Richard Carey – Party Treasurer; and Clarissa Clement – Nominating Officer.

Going back to where this article started: Lovers of analogies who are also aware of libertarian political parties may wish to ponder whether there was a bus that either crashed or veered off the road a year ago and is still limping along. Maybe you were on it. We hope you weren’t too injured. We can assure you of a safer journey on the Pro Liberty express.

All aboard. Hold on tight. Next stop Corby?