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Columnists

Surfers' paradise

Dixe Wills

dixe.jpgI confess I'm not really a one for yin and yang. I enjoy shadow and light as much as the next man - as long as the next man isn't Caravaggio - but it's the whole polar-opposites-making-a-whole that has never appealed. Which is why this column is going to be such a disappointment to me this month, for it is one of good news and one of bad news. Why, it's positively ataleoftwocitiesian in its dichotomy.

So, the good news: Paul Chambers, of whom I wrote in Summer 2010, has won his appeal against a conviction for sending a menacing tweet. To refresh your memory, he tweeted facetiously about blowing up Nottingham's Robin Hood Airport if it didn't re-open speedily. Apparently, the Director of Public Prosecutions  insisted on opposing the appeal. If one wanted to be charitable one could say he hoped that a ruling in favour of Chambers would send a message that people who send tweets that are self-evidently silly should not be prosecuted. The affair cost the public something in the region of £80,000, which is why you've been feeling a little poorer lately.

Now, my friends, for the yang. The government has published a draft communications data bill requiring internet and phone companies to keep records of internet and mobile usage for 12 months. The police and intelligence agencies can then require them to hand over information on who's communicated with whom, and when and where they did so. With a Home Secretary warrant they can read texts, emails and any web-based communications. And, so the argument goes, the battle against the terrorists /organised crime shall be won. (The staggering 550,000 requests for communications data made last year having failed to defeat them.)
The government would foot the entire bill for this which, over the next ten years, would be at least £1.8bn or, to put it in old money, 360,000 kidney machines.

But the cost, huge though it be, is rather less important than the message sent out: the war on terror - for let us not kid ourselves, this gives the legislation 99% of its raison d'être - is more important than our right to private communication. It's an admission of a battle lost. If one of the aims of the terrorist is to damage the enemy's way of life, this is clearly a victory. (They can chalk it up on one of those ground-to-air missiles currently nestling on east London blocks of flats.)

Home Secretary Theresa May has called those criticising the proposals 'conspiracy theorists'. This is interesting because she, along with her party (and the LibDems) vehemently opposed Labour's plans to bring in almost exactly the same measures back in 2009. The self-proclaimed protectors of civil liberties (©2010) appear to have gone somewhat Stasi on us.
The fightback starts here - I'm off to send some tweets about heavenly fire and brimstone raining down on the government. #Joke. 

Dixe Wills