Jamie Grace wrote this article.

On Saturday the 28th of February at the Institute of Education in London, the UK consensus on a fight-back against intrusions into privacy finally gets going with the inaugural Convention on Modern Liberty.


The Convention is a bringing-together of notable speakers, organizations,
bloggers (and perhaps most importantly, 1,000 members of the public)
for a one-day symposium on the contemporary issues that face our
society of surveillance. The aim of the Convention is to prompt real
change in UK Government policy on key topics.

The notion of ‘modern liberty’ here is plainly one defined by a coalition
of campaigning groups; each concerned with a specific issue or civil
right concerning inroads into privacy.

The existence and organisation of the Convention reflects the way that
disparate groups concerned with discrete issues can be motivated and
organised along the lines of generic morality – here the concept of
‘modern liberty’ that unites them all and underpins their separate
calls for action in changing policy and practice with regard to
questions of privacy.

This is somewhat ironic – each separate group is broadly concerned with some
aspect of State (or private) surveillance of individual use of modern
technologies such as the Internet, or the compulsory interaction by
citizens with the sorts of e-governance initiatives that are now
empowered and facilitated by those selfsame technologies (such as the
National Health Service patient records project, or the National ID
Card scheme).

And yet it is chiefly the use and rise of the Internet as
a medium for politicized protest and demonstration – not to mention as
the most speedy and therefore vital forum for public debate and
information – that allows an event or phenomenon such as the first
Convention on Modern Liberty to be organised across several locations
simultaneously across one nation.

We could be seeing the emergence of a new sectarianism that is driven by
millions of voices all frustrated with similar problems; and with so
much political opinion harnessed so quickly and efficiently, this is a
democratic, peaceful sectarianism for a century of fundamental change.

It appears that Britain is learning quickly from the Internet-driven,
‘grassroots’-participation model of political pressure harnessed and
mobilized by President Barack Obama.

I hope to be able to attend some of the plenary sessions of the
Convention – and I hope to report on any future impact the Convention
makes in the form of affecting policy changes here in this Panopticonic
blog
.

9 Comments

  1. Fine article, Jamie!
    Are these “conventions” for show only or is there something binding and permanent in the resolutions and expressions provided from the public to the government expected to serve them?

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  2. Unfortunately David you hit on the crux of the matter there – there is nothing ‘binding’ about the outcome of the proceedings with regard to actions that the UK government will undertake. On the positive side, some very prominent politicians and ‘government’ lawyers, including David Davis MP and Lord Bingham of Cornhill, have endorsed this first Convention.

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  3. It’s a fascinating concept, Jamie, and I like the effort to include — but your article immediately reminded me of Hillary Clinton’s “listening tour” around NYState when she started running for her Senate seat. She’d go into communities, “listen” to their outrage, and then do nothing about it in the end. The press loved it because it showed “she cared” but nothing ever came of it for those doing the complaining.

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  4. It sure would be helpful to have a government listen to people but I think it’s all a pony show with ribbons. It is preety to look at and and attend but in the end it doesn’t add much substance

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  5. Great post. Very interesting point about the paradox of the internet and new technology being both a threat to liberty and a tool to defend and expand it.
    I look forward to seeing you at the Convention.
    Guy

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  6. These comments go to the heart of the matter. The event has not been convened by government or anyone acting on its behalf. It is to hold the debate Parliament won’t, or no longer can: to assess the damage and consider what should be done. That is why it is a convention and not a conference. This is a direct challenge to Parliament. What matters is what springs from it. It succeeds only if it galvanises people and organisations across the country to resist and reverse the last decade’s extensions of executive power, so that this government and its successors understand we will not tolerate it. The Convention is no more than the first step in rallying opposition.

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  7. Well OK Anne, but you have to start somewhere and this seems quite a good effort. And where would doing nothing get anyone? Too early to start carping surely?

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  8. Interesting article Jamie and a very good read too.
    I am curious to see the outcome, “listening” is good but “acting” on it is better I guess.

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