Thursday, 14 October 2010

An Open Letter to Manchester Airport About Body-Scanners

Dear Mr Harrison

Body Scanners at Manchester Airport

I write with regard to the announcement today that all three of Manchester Airport’s terminals will be permanently equipped with body scanners, and further that it is absolutely compulsory for passengers to pass through them. Refusal to do, as I believe, will result in the passenger being prohibited from boarding his/her flight.

Whilst I accept that the vast majority of people, in the interests of expedition, would prefer the body-scanners, surely these have not been introduced for mere populism. Of course, there are also the strong security benefits too.

As I am sure you are aware, there are however concerns about privacy, racial (and gender) profiling, and abuse of powers. The privacy issues are the most controversial, and I ask whether there has been due regard to children, the elderly and transsexuals who fear obloquy. Secondly, but no less germane, is the issue of racial and gender profiling. Can you assure passengers the scanners will be used in a lawful, proportionate and sensitive manner based on rational criteria rather than racial or religious bias? Similarly, that they will not be used by voyeuristic security staff?

Lastly, abuse of powers and the retention of the images. Will there be any legislation passed (primary or, more likely, subordinate) which deals specifically with the retention of such images?

I fully support any counter-terrorist measure which is undertaken to protect the citizen’s right to life. Nevertheless, the right to privacy is another human right, and I seek confirmation that this right has been fully considered and appreciated.

If you are amenable, I would be happy to come to the airport to talk to you personally about the efficacy of the scanners, and the other issues in this letter.

Kindest regards.

Yours faithfully

Zak Golombeck

Friday, 8 October 2010

Liu Xiaobo: Demanding change to anachronistic regime

Today’s announcement that Chinese human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize is no cause for merriment. It is a wake up call to all those who are either apathetic or na├»ve to the status quo in the People’s Republic of China, insulting as that name may be (Lui says it is the “people’s republic” under the “Party’s dominion).

First, some facts. Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an eleven-year sentence in a Chinese jail. The crime: demanding reform to an anachronistic system (non-violently, by the way). In December 2008, Xiaobo authored Charter 08, a revolutionary document in the form of an open letter, which called for broad constitutional and political reforms. As a Western democrat glancing at the sub-headings – protect human rights; election of public officials; freedom of expression – it illustrates the grave problems that China is currently faced with. To us it would be a tick-box exercise of the rights and freedoms we already enjoy, at times indistinguishable from our very own Human Rights Act.

Apologists of China’s regime cite their “economic reforms” of privatisation and “moves towards capitalism”. These may be true and at times they are welcomed, but beyond the economic policy there remains a totalitarian regime who maintain their flagrant violations of fundamental human rights. As is stated in the preamble of Charter 08, the inclusion in the Constitution regarding the respect and safeguard of human rights “stops at the paper stage…there are laws but there is no rule of law…there is a constitution but no constitution governance”.

What can we do?

-                     I call upon pre/post university students and others embarking on a trip to China to make other plans. Visit Tibet instead!
-                     Try not to buy Chinese goods in abundance (realistically, I understand the difficulty this may cause, but use your best endeavours not to)
-                     Lobby your MP to raise the issues of Tibet, Liu Xiaobo etc in Parliament
-                     Donate to charities for the welfare of Chinese animals (only reason this important issue was not expanded on in the main text is because I would have said things I would in turn regret)

Lastly, never take our rights and freedoms, bestowed to us by the European Convention on Human Rights and, more recently, the Human Rights Act, for granted. As the late Lord Bingham famously said, which of these human rights would we wish to discard? We may bemoan the inequities of our own system (as we have the ‘right’ to do), but we should realise how lucky we are.