26 November 2016

Defend Free Movement

The free movement of EU citizens between member states was a major gain for ordinary working people. Brexit and Labour’s right-wing threaten it.

“I refuse to imagine a Europe where lorries and hedge funds are free to cross borders but citizens are not,” Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, October 2016.

In 2004 the New Labour government was one of only three in the EU to permit the immediate right of citizens from the new member states of central and eastern Europe to live and work in their country. Blair and Brown's decision in the matter was motivated by neither love nor international solidarity, but by a desire to dampen wage pressure in Britain’s inflated and credit-fuelled economy. East European migration into Britain was a policy of New Labour.

Yet, in the wake of the Brexit referendum leading right wing Labour MPs, including Rachel Reeves, Stephen Kinnock and Chuka Umunna, have called for Labour to end free movement. After Brexit, EU citizens will be able to move, live and work freely across the European continent, but the UK should, in their view, be locked out of free movement.

The hypocrisy and political bankruptcy of these right wingers is breathtaking. After rightly campaigning for EU membership, which guarantees freedom of movement, they subsequently underwent a conversion, now arguing that EU nationals should lose the right to live and work in the UK. Such an outcome would affect not only future arrivals, but also the million plus people already resident. Their reasoning is that the presence of people of other nationalities in the community prompted the Brexit vote; and the way to garner votes is to outflank UKIP and the Tory right by falling into step with the slogan, “Stop them coming; kick them out.” They probably know that such a policy by Labour would inflame xenophobia and further the racist attacks already taking place, but they presumably don’t care.

In their desire to curtail the free movement of people, these right wingers ignore a key fact. It was not those areas with the highest concentrations of non-British EU citizens (e.g. London, Manchester, Bristol) which voted for Brexit. The existence of strong multicultural communities did not lead to Brexit support. On the contrary, it was where xenophobic and racist propaganda was accepted and believed that a majority plumped for Brexit. The right wingers are not responding to a demand by those in places of high non-British EU settlement - they are accepting and building on the xenophobic and racist propaganda put out by UKIP and the far right, and are seeking to exploit prejudices and misinformation to their political advantage.

Socialists should condemn the whole mindset of these people. We should celebrate and support the fact that today people in the EU, including ourselves, can live and work in any EU country we choose. We need to defend that right for everybody, not undermine it. And as socialists in Britain, we should support workers and people in the community, be they English, Irish, Polish or whatever. Their idea propagated that we should favour one nationality and have others thrown out of their jobs, homes and the country is utterly repugnant. And fortunately, thanks to the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, the ideas put forward by these Labour MPs will have no support from the leader of the Labour Party.

24 November 2016

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016: a threat to privacy and freedom

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 is a threat to people's privacy and freedom. Yet, it was never effectively opposed and challenged.

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 passed into law in the UK, “with barely a whimper,” according to The Guardian (19-Nov-2016). In the words of Edward Snowden: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

Broadly speaking, the Act enables state snoopers to bulk collect our electronic data, to have ready access to all metadata (who is speaking to whom and when) and to hack into our devices.

Most distressing is the low level of interest among the liberal left, with Labour in Parliament nodding in favour and merely requesting a few minor tweaks here and there. Outside Parliament, campaigning against the Act was lacklustre, with GHCQ itself apparently surprised at the ease with which it managed to enlarge its powers. Equally disappointing has been the low level of interest among left-wing activists in encrypting their communications, by using such services as Signal, Tutanota and Tor.

With the Trump victory in the US and Britain's post-Brexit lurch to the right, we may come to regret our indifference.

20 November 2016

In praise of Tutanota

The Tutanota email service provides end-to-end encrypted email. Gmail provides the functionality and Tutanota the confidentiality.

Today, post Snowden, the major email service providers, Google, Yahoo, Outlook, etc. all encrypt the content of our email between their servers and our browsers, even if some of the smaller providers don’t. But, despite that security, the Internet giants themselves still have access to everything passing through their servers, so they could potentially do anything they wished with our private data. Here are the main problems I have with what is actually happening:

1. Advertising: the content of our mail is trawled though, so that targeted advertising can directed at us. Discuss a death in the family and you will receive funeral related advertising. Or the information can be used for other commercial purposes (e.g. pricing car or medical insurance).

2. State snooping: The police and security services can obtain access to the content of an account. Worse still, there is periodic, if not perennial, mass surveillance: Recently, a copy of all email passing through Yahoo's servers was made available to the NSA. State surveillance is secret, so we cannot know its extent, nor how the acquired information is used. But the information can be used to prosecute us, discriminate against us, or interfere with the causes we support.

3. Mass hacking: the servers of the email providers, and also any organisation which receives copies of our emails, can be hacked, with the email content of millions of people stolen. Criminals can use the data for a variety of purposes (e.g. identity theft), or the content can be simply put up on the net for its embarrassment value.

The solution is end-to-end encryption, so that the encryption takes place on the sender's device and decryption on the recipient's. Anybody in between is shut out.

The Tutanota email provider, based in Hannover in Germany, has implemented end-to-end encryption, so email content flowing through Tutanota's servers is encrypted in transit and is inaccessible even to Tutanota itself. But end-to-end encryption can only take place if both parties use Tutanota.

Tutanota does not rely on advertising. A free account is adequate for most purposes; a premium account costs EUR 12 a year. I’m neither a technical specialist, nor a salesman for Tutanota, so please google “Tutanota” and find out more for yourself. Tutanota can accessed here.

There is no need to abandon your Google Account: but give yourself the option of choosing between Gmail and Tutanota, when you send email.

1 November 2016

Against gender segregation in education

Gender segregated schools do not prepare children for real life

Schools are about preparing children and young people to function in life. Real life consists of a symbiotic relationship between males and females. The education of girls apart from boys and vice versa is highly detrimental to both sexes. The only other institution that separate the sexes in this way is prisons.

If girls suffer discrimination in mixed schools, then that is a matter that needs addressing in the mixed schools; it is not solved by segregation.