Sunday, June 3, 2018

Tommy Robinson exposes the dark underbelly of the GDPR: censorship

Well, that didn't take long.

On Friday, 25 May 2018, the European Union's sweeping privacy-oriented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect. On that day, faced with sudden exposure to steep, even crippling fines for potential "breaches" of user privacy, many Internet and social media sites ceased or suspended their European operations, and "went dark" across the continent.

That same day, British activist and citizen journalist Tommy Robinson was arrested, and--in the space of less than six hours--sentenced to 13 months in prison for "breaching the peace", the charge brought on by his online reporting of the trial proceedings of a rape gang trial in the the UK city of Leeds. In the same proceeding that whisked Tommy Robinson off to prison, the court declared a media ban on all reporting surrounding Tommy Robinson, his detention, trial, and 13-month sentence. So emphatic was the ban that regular British media outlets such as The Independent have actually scrubbed their websites of news articles published immediately following his arrest. 

Note: The media ban was lifted a few days later, thanks to the efforts of the Rebel Media and others, although mainstream media coverage of Tommy Robinson's arrest and incarceration remains virtually nonexistent.

I am not going to comment on the propriety of his arrest other than to say that a number of notable citizen journalist, members of the so-called "alternative media", or "alt-media", have expressed a fair amount of horror and dismay, believing the charge to be essentially a manufactured one, one used with the specific and sinister intent of silencing a dissenting voice and critic of UK government policy. I am not in the UK, I am hardly an expert on UK law, so I leave the legal particulars of the matter to those more qualified in that subject than I.

Similarly, I am not going to comment on Tommy Robinson's activism. My opinion on his activism can best be summarized by Clark Gable's classic closing line from Gone With The Wind: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Tommy Robinson is a man with a point of view and a political agenda, no more but certainly no less. His views can and should be investigated, critiqued, even criticized. That he should be heard is certain; more than that is a choice each of us should make in the privacy of our own conscience.

However, I am going to comment on the propriety of the media ban and the efforts of the UK government to muzzle any and all mention of Tommy Robinson, his arrest, detention, and incarceration. Rather, I point out the complete lack of propriety, of respect for the principles of free speech and a free press that are essential to sustain any level of freedom in any society. It may very well be within the scope of UK law for the courts to declare Tommy Robinson a non-person; it is not within the scope of decency, of ethics, or of any respect for fundamental civil liberty. Whether or not Tommy Robinson is guilty of a crime, whether or not Tommy Robinson's political views or agendas are in keeping with the aims of either the British government or the British people, he is still retains the basic human right to be heard, as do those who would advocate on his behalf. That right has been summarily eradicated by the British courts.

Coincidentally--or perhaps intentionally--the Brussels diktat known as the GDPR is aiding and abetting this deplorable deprivation of civil liberty. British media sites of course are complying with the media ban decreed by the courts--and the stifling confines of the GDPR's "privacy" protections have ensured that few other media sites, mainstream or alternative, are available to give Tommy Robinson or his supporters the voice that is their due. The platforms that would otherwise be the natural vehicles for those voices are suddenly less available. Fear of the GDPR's onerous penalties and the fascistic EU bureaucracies charged with levying them is creating a great silence where the voices of dissent otherwise would be. Regulation enacted to "protect" Internet users has almost immediately been turned into a tool with which to silence them. The price of privacy, at least in Europe, is the cessation of free speech--indeed, the cessation of civil liberty itself.

To the avowed libertarian such as myself, this comes as no surprise. In all of human history, there are no examples where an expansion of government power produces an expansion of human freedom, and there are far too many examples where the expansion of government power produces an expansion of human misery. The regulatory power of government, being coercive rather than persuasive, flowing solely from the barrel of a gun, is by its very nature antithetical to individual liberty. Regulation which inhibits or controls speech is by its very nature a diminution of the free speech that is essential to the preservation of individual liberty in any society. As Thomas Jefferson is oft quoted as having said: "When government fears the people, there is liberty. When people fear the government, there is tyranny." The GDPR is tyranny.

Free speech matters more than the technical proceedings of a court. Free speech matters more than the particulars of any law in any one nation. Ultimately, free speech must matter more than technical concerns regarding privacy. Free speech is the essence of free society. It is the basis by which we have free markets. It is the cornerstone of free enterprise. When free speech is attacked, freedom and all the blessings thereof are diminished. When free speech is attacked, we are all diminished. Without free speech, personal privacy is rendered meaningless.

Giving up essential liberty for the preservation of privacy is too high a price to pay. No matter how noble the intentions used to justify the GDPR, the silencing of dissidents such as Tommy Robinson is too high a cost. And there is no denying that the GDPR is helping to silence Tommy Robinson's dissent, merely by making alternative platforms by which his dissent might be heard too risky and expensive a proposition to sustain. When news sharing sites such as Instapaper block European viewers, when online advertising firms suspend their European operations, the availability of platforms for dissenting voices--for those contrarian views essential for a thriving marketplace of ideas--is immediately reduced. The draconian fines and byzantine compliance structures imposed by the GDPR have the inescapable--and I dare say intentional--effect of winnowing and reducing platforms by which dissent of all kinds can be heard.

For the sake of free speech, for the sake of us all, Tommy Robinson's dissenting voice must not be silenced. Shame to the British courts for silencing that voice, and double shame to the Brussels bureaucrats who authored the GDPR for aiding and abetting that silencing. The Internet was created as a tool for communications, for the free exchange of ideas; the GDPR is the expressed intent of too-powerful bureaucrats to bring that exchange to an end, and for proof of that evil intent we need look no further than the silencing of Tommy Robinson. That is reason enough to denounce the GDPR. That is reason enough to call for its immediate and permanent revocation.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Immigration: a question of law, not "justice".

Immigration is a contentious issue, not just in the United States but throughout the Western world. Immigration is a central theme of Hungarian President Viktor Orban's re-election campaign. Immigration is a major divide within the American polity, with states such as Texas and Arizona enthusiastically supporting President Trump's call for National Guard troops to protect the US border with Mexico, while states such as California applaud the efforts of state and local officials to thwart enforcement and deportation actions by ICE.

Amazingly, despite all the rhetoric coming from all sides of the immigration debate, very little attention is given to what should be the core of the debate--the state of immigration law.  More than any other public policy question, immigration is almost exclusively a matter of law, of what the law is, and what the law should be.

What the law is:

  • Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 4 of the United States Constitution explicitly charges the Congress with drafting immigration laws.

  • The body of US Immigration Law is codefied under Title 8, Chapter 12 of the US Code.

  • Every President, upon inauguration, swears an oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States", as mandated in Article 2 Section 1 of the Constitution. Every President is explicitly named as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces in Article 2 Section 2.

  • The Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. Article 6 of the Constitution makes this explicit, and explicitly binds all public officials to respect that supremacy.

Americans can--and should--debate what the substance of immigration law should be. That is our right and our duty as citizens.  Yet it is absurd and even asinine to ignore or deny what the substance of immigration law is. 8 USC §1151 establishes explicit numerical limits on immigration. 8 USC §1182(f) specifically empowers the President to bar certain classes of aliens "by proclamation" (meaning no Congressional involvement is required or even allowed). Whether these laws are good or bad, wise or unwise, just or unjust is immaterial. These are the laws we have. These are the laws government officials take an oath to enforce. On this point there can be no debate, there is no argument.

Nor can there be any debate that every US President has the right and responsibility to secure the borders of the United States. Every President is duty bound from his oath to defend the Constitution, and that necessarily includes defending the territory of the United States. Every President is explicitly named as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces in order to secure that defense.

No immigrant has any right or expectation of admission into the United States. 8 USC §1361 explicitly assigns to the immigrant the burden of proving he or she is eligible for admission. Lacking such proof, the mandate of the law is that said immigrant be denied entry into the United States. Congress has the power to alter that mandate, but thus far it has declined to do so.

No immigrant can simply cross the border into the United States, but must enter through established checkpoints. 8 USC §1325 makes it a crime to enter the United States but through established checkpoints. 8 USC §1326 enhances the sanctions for repeat violations of this statute. Congress can alter these statutes but thus far has declined to do so.

Laws can be changed. Where laws are seen as unjust one hopes they will be changed. Yet until they are changed, the laws on the books are the laws of this land, and, as such, they must be enforced. If we are to remain a nation of laws, these laws must be enforced until they are changed.

On this, there can be no debate.