Sunday, 3 February 2008

MPs and buggers

No, not the race of insectoid aliens intent on wiping out humanity. It's about Labour MP Sadiq Khan, who was apparently bugged by the police when visiting constituent Babar Ahmad in jail. Justice Secretary Jack Straw is now investigating matters. He's described it as "unacceptable" for an MP to be spied on when talking to a constituent - and he's on solid ground, since it's completely illegal for the police to carry out surveillance activities against an MP.

That's not how some of the public see it, though. Reading through the comments on BBC's "Have Your Say" can be a risky business for a liberal, as it has the potential to double your blood pressure within seconds. The opinions on the current fiasco are no different; these are currently the three top-rated comments:

MP's should have the same conditions in life as the people who elect them and be exempted from nothing.

Surely if they're doing nothing wrong they have nothing to fear or does that only apply to the public?

Am I exempt from police bugging? No i'm not, so why should an MP be exempt?

Maybe these goons don't realise it, but it's not the privacy of MPs we're talking about here. It's the privacy of their constituents. As anyone who's ever worked in an MP's office will tell you, much of their work involves looking after people who have fallen through the gaps, or been royally screwed over by the system. Some of it is genuinely heartbreaking. If police are bugging MPs' conversations with their constituents, then they are bugging us, at the most difficult and horrendous times in our lives. This isn't a special law to protect MPs - it's a special law to protect the general public.

It's quite similar to the exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act, which protect MPs' correspondence with their constituents, giving the lie to David Maclean's cynical and dishonest stunt last year.

And then there's this little gem:

Of course they [MPs] should [be bugged] when they are visiting such a person in Jail as Babar Ahmad. Has anybody given a thought to the families and friends of those killed by terrorist activities? No I thought not. All we ever hear these days is Human Rights - what about the rights of those killed and maimed?

Would this be the same Babar Ahmad who has been in jail for the past three years, despite never having been charged with a crime?

Of course I care about the families and friends of terrorist victims; of course I care about those who are killed and maimed. I believe those people deserve justice. But justice means not punishing people unless we can prove them guilty. Babar Ahmad hasn't been called to account in court, and there's been no evidence produced against him: how can you possibly know whether or not he's done something wrong?

People just do not seem to get the concept of what it means to have a right. A right is a fundamental entitlement, granted to every person, under a given legal system. Every time I hear someone bleating about how criminals and terrorists should "forfeit" their rights, I want to shout: No! You are wrong. You are illiterate. If it can be forfeited, then by definition, it isn't a right. It's a privilege.

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James Schneider said...

This Khan business is a red hearing. The public are unlikely to care about parliamentary privaledge, even though we fought a civil war over it. We should be finding out who the 1000 a day who are bugged and snooped on by Councils are. Inform those people and stop this gross invasion of privacy.

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