Pirate Party UK – 5 years old today

About four years ago I blogged about my first year as a member of the Pirate Party. Two years ago I blogged about the three year anniversary of the founding of the Pirate Party.

As I seem to be in the habit of blogging odd-numbered anniversaries, it is that time again!

Today the Pirate Party UK is 5 years old.

PPUK's official registration date - pefonline
PPUK’s official registration date – pefonline

Let me first deal with predictions. I predicted that the 2013 or 2014 conference would be huge. Well I’m wrong so far on that. The 2013 conference was still an intimate affair. Noticeably at this equivalent point in time the 2012 conference had already been scheduled, unlike the 2014 one which is still to be arranged. I suspect at this point the 2014 conference isn’t going to be huge. But there are a few reasons for thinking it might be the biggest so far.

I also anticipated a period of external quiet as we focused on building internal structures and rapid growth. We haven’t managed this. We have had problems attracting volunteers, with further problems in organising and utilising them. It is very much worth noting however that in the past two-and-a-bit months we had attracted the most volunteers ever. The bulk of these came from high profile campaigning during the EU2014 elections. We have had a dedicated person to deal with incoming volunteer requests, finding out where volunteers were best used and then passing them to the corresponding next points of contact. I worry that the second step of utilising the volunteers and turning them into regular active members of the team is still not the efficient process we need it to be.

From a personal perspective, I’m still a Governor. One of only three of the original group elected. I’m currently, reluctantly, heading up the social media team. Reluctantly because I’d like to pass this on to someone else to help expand the pool of people doing essential work. I am also, in the vaguest and weakest possible sense assisting with leading the Press team, which has been a bit of a mess for some time. If I make a list of priorities at some point in this blog post, getting the Press team sorted out with a new pro-active and efficient Press Leader will appear very highly upon it.

What has happened (in no particular order) in the past 2 years…


The Snowden revelations have been a huge wake up call. For those who thought online civil liberties were irrelevant and/or not at risk, the leaks about NSA and GCHQ activities have blown this issue wide open.

It is in the digital online space that we have now seen the most significant attack on our privacy and rights has taken place. No longer can anyone argue that digital online rights are a second class concern, rather they should now be placed strongly at the front of the civil liberties we should be fighting for.

The Pirate Party hasn’t been alone in advocating for these rights, but it has been at the forefront and will continue to do so, showing how relevant and necessary the Pirate Party is.


After several, arguably incompetent and disastrous, PPI General Assemblies and a continued lack of progress from PPI in providing any benefit to its members, PPUK’s leadership believed PPI to no longer be fit for purpose and not only a waste of valuable time but also a liability.

With that in mind PPUK members were offered a vote to change the relationship with PPI. The options were to drop from full to observer membership, to leave completely, or the status quo. The members voted to continue to hold full PPI membership, though the vote was close.

This led to a renewed vigour in the relationship with PPUK officials seeking to fix several of the glaring continuing issues within PPI: namely having no control over its finances and not providing a useful role in getting Pirates together for collaborative work.

After significant investment of time and effort form PPUK’s side these efforts have largely fallen flat and there is fresh belief that if offered a straight vote between staying a member of terminating membership that PPUK members would vote for the latter.

Porn Filters

Last year the government got a bee in its bonnet about the necessity of filtering all internet connections due to their sudden knee-jerk ‘fear’ that children might be exposed to pornography. This led to heavy government pressure for a ‘default on‘ porn filter to be provided by ISPs.

This inevitably led to a confusion about adult filters actually covering a wide range of subject matter and not just pornography. Inevitably we then also saw the fallout with indiscriminate web blocking preventing access to certain charity’s websites (arguably blocking access to NSPCC’s website could do far more harm to children than not blocking porn) and even the website of the filters’ greatest advocate.

It will be no great surprise that this transparent effort to get all ISPs to provide a nice easy way to censor what their customers could access was opposed by PPUK. who’d rather leave parenting to parents and provide internet users with all the information they want and may desperately need.

Needless to say there was much opposition to these filters and they have been found to be largely unpopular with their intended audience with, in some cases, as few as 4% opting to enable them.

Manning Sentencing

The case against Manning leaking material to wikileaks dragged on and eventually had a result. It was disappointing, but not a surprise, to see a lengthy custodial sentence. Manning was sentenced to 35 years. Time served was credited against this with a further (pitiful!) reduction of ‘112 days in recompense for the harsh conditions of his initial confinement’.

As the news was released PPUK Leader Loz Kaye was actually being interviewed by Russia Today and was able to give his view on the sentence, which amounted to a clear attack on whistleblowers.

Changes in Leadership

While we have had a continued strong core in the Party leadership we have seen changes in some positions within the NEC. The regular churn of Treasurer continued with Shaun Daley resigning last year and Sam Clark stepping in as Finance Officer.

With regular full NEC elections due to clash with EU election work these were brought forward to the end of 2013. We saw the Party Secretary (Leanne Cooke née Ainsworth) and Nominations Officer (Phil Cooke) both stand down at this time.

With a view to including Deputy Leader as a fully elected NEC position ‘some time soon’ we included an elected but non-voting position of Deputy Leader in this election. This position was strongly contested and eventually won by Sephy Hallow.

With Sam standing for and being elected to Treasurer, Ed Geraghty being elected as Secretary, and Jason WInstanley being elected as Nominations Officer we had a new NEC with a good mix of regular faces (Loz and Andy respectively continuing as Leader and Campaigns Manager), new faces (Jason and Sephy), and new-to-the-NEC* but well established faces (Sam and Ed).

*not new to working with the NEC, but rather new to holding a voting NEC position for the first time

Regrettably after six months in post both Jason and Sephy have resigned. All NEC positions are high-stress and the breadth and volume of the work is not to be underestimated. It isn’t a surprise, given the nature of volunteers, that we can’t keep the same NEC for a significant length of time – but it is something we need to significantly address by taking as much advantage as we can from those who do volunteer.

We have in the past been bad at leveraging such offers of help. We do now have in place a better process for initially engaging with volunteers and steering them into the departments they can assist. I think things still fall down at that point with next steps still being ad-hoc and inconsistent.

On the Board side of things we have also seen regular steady turnover and currently have three vacancies. I’m pleased to be able to say that I am still on the Board, and even did a 12 month stint as the Board Chair.

NHS Care.Data

Earlier this year the government began a process to release NHS medical data. This was branded as NHS Care.data with information be be made available to the public via a leaflet to every home.

The communication about this roll-out was disastrous and completely mishandled. The concept of collating anonymised data and sharing to organisations who can data-mine for medical research purposes is laudable and beneficial. However the scheme as designed did not take sufficient care to fully anonymise data (tagging your record with date of birth, gender, and full post code is hardly anonymous) and information on how to opt-out was limited. The important information leaflet sent to every home didn’t even have an opt-out form leading some to design their own.

With this being an important privacy issue PPUK provided information about the scheme and actively campaigned to highlight issues with the implementation.

We were pleased to see that due to mounting concerns Care.data was delayed and hope that this doesn’t come back in the same form and slip in under the radar.

This is something to keep our eyes open for in the coming months.

Local Elections

With the fickle winds of fate Loz had the opportunity to contest quite a few local elections in Manchester (2012-11-15, 2012-05-04 2013-10-10 2013-12-05, and  2014-05-22).

We held our first ever local election in London (Mark Chapman). This gave me my first opportunity to get fully involved with an on-the-ground campaign from leafleting, to attending the count.It was a fascinating and rewarding experience and I highly recommend everyone to have the experience at some point. It really does reinvigorate one’s sense of the importance of the democratic process. Unfortunately it does also show how seriously disjointed the average citizen is from the political processes.

New Web Platform (NWP)

One of the highest profile changes for the Party has been the long-awaited change in our website. This year we finally switched over to our New Web Platform (NWP) which has seen many improvements, not least on the back-end swapping a confusing undocumented django set-up for a more mainstream drupal setup. The system is now far more integrated, press releases can be added to the system as content items and then get magically emailed to those subscribed to receive them. The one disjoint between the old system and the new one is the forum. We don’t have any replacement for the forum in the NWP, though the old one is still available on the legacy website and will eventually be available directly via NWP (though the user database will not be integrated and will require a separate login).

EU 2014

We (Maria Aretoulaki, George Walkden, and Jack Allnutt) contested our first European Elections in the North West region (both 2012-05-22).

The European Elections were a stark contrast for me. I was able to get heavily involved with that (at the same time as being involved in the local election in London), but in an online perspective only in my capacity of leading the social media team for the Party.

It was an amazing and tiring experience. I was shattered by the end of it, and knowing that others put even more time and effort in was frankly inspiring/horrific (take your pick). The back-office work to manage the reddit IAMA was intense and it was great to be part of that. We also ran our largest ever continuous social media campaign to date – another pleasure to be part of.

May was a busy month for social media.
May was a busy month for social media.

If we zoom in to May…

The closer to election day, the greater the activity. Until it went totally nuts.
The closer to election day, the greater the activity. Until it went totally nuts.


TTIP is another one of those 4-letter acronym secret deals that, if you listen to proponents, will make the world a better place.

The obvious question is, who for?

If agreed this would be the biggest free trade agreement ever. If agreed it could boost the EU’s economy by £120 billion and the US economy by £75 billion over 10 years.

Sounds fantastic.

On the flip-side, recent reports suggest that the deal will end up focusing on non-conventional ‘trade barriers’ like cutting the regulations around fracking, Genetic Modification, and finance whilst tightening laws (e.g. copyright) that harm innovation and culture.

The agreement could also bring worrying legal processes like ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement‘ (ISDS) making it harder for governments to protect the interests of their citizens and legislate to protect the environment and workers.

Read this PPUK review of TTIP for more details.

Net Neutrality

With Net Neutrality under serious threat in the US it was refreshing to see the EU take an opposite approach.

In April 2014 the EU took a strong stance in favour of Net Neutrality with MEPs voting to establish Net Neutrality in the EU as part of the Telecoms Single Market Regulation.

It turns out the UK Government wasn’t so keen on this and trotted out the crazy argument that Net Neutrality would prevent them being able to block child abuse images.

This still doesn’t make sense to me.

Here’s Loz being interviewed by RT on this very issue!

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers

Bursting onto the scene from nowhere was the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) bill.

In April 2014, after CJEU ruled data retention laws were unlawful in their current state, one could be forgiven for thinking some sense had prevailed. The lack of response from the Government could even be seen as tacit admission that wholesale and indiscriminate retention of ‘meta’ data for all citizens was unreasonable.

Not so, it turned out.

Then in July, with little warning, the Government decided to table emergency legislation. With this having been agreed behind closed doors by the Government and opposition the process through parliament was ridiculously short on scrutiny and completely lacking in democratic character.

In one short week the legislation was passed and signed into law.

This was no way to legislate on such an important issue. The Government stressed that there were no substantial changes to what they regarded as already permitted, but the very nature of the rush leaves that in doubt. Already there are multiple challenges that suggest DRIP is incompatible with human rights.


With the Digital Economy Act’s full power still to see the light of day those in the copyright industry had to make alternative plans. Thus we saw Vcap announced.

This is a scheme to send ‘education’ emails to those ‘caught’ engaging in online piracy. The plan is to send a series of letters, and if this doesn’t change behaviour… nothing. On one level this could be seen as a mini-victory, and indeed was incorrectly hailed by some as the decriminalisation of online piracy.

This is far from the case, and when these toothless warning letters make little change to the behaviour of ISP’s customers I am concerned how the copyright industry will act. It would not surprise me if they tried to claim access to the details of all those to have received ‘education’ emails.

With their being no judicial process involved to send these emails, to receive one of these emails and, no doubt, be added to a list somewhere, is a serious attack on privacy. This assaults the very basic expectation of being treated as innocent until found guilty by fair and transparent judicial processes.


More taxpayers’ money wasted on spam email

I’m often so frustrated at the ‘public’ who seem to go along with what the copyright monopoly wants, buying into their propaganda without questioning in.

When I see people who ‘get it’ (it’s nicer still when they recognise Pirate Party UK’s work in this area) it gives me confidence in society – we will eventually build up a critical mass and change the narrative on copyright issues.

Jake gets it, and I had to share.

The following is reblogged from http://seriousseverity.wordpress.com

Continue reading “More taxpayers’ money wasted on spam email”

greasemonkeying towards a better Moodle

This isn’t going to turn into another rant about how frustrating Moodle 2 is … honest! Rather let’s instead take the position that any web-page that hasn’t been custom designed for a specific individual will always, no matter how good it is, leave something to be desired.

This, for me, is where greasemonkey comes in.

This is a good moment for a slight aside. Greasemonkey is fantastically revolutionary. It allows you the user to define some stuff (javascript) that should run (client side) on a webpage after it loads. I am strongly of the opinion that every website in the world should be devoid of style, and formatting, and simply consist of well marked up code requiring all users to use their own user scripts to turn into something usable. A minimum bar to using the web, as it were. I’m not sure this will catch on…

So, there are things Moodle does that I wish it did slightly differently. So this is where greasemonkey comes in. I write some scripts to make it behave differently for me.


When creating a backup of a Moodle course there are a series of pages with checkboxes with different options. I always use the same options – which aren’t the defaults. So a little bit of javascript later and each page will tick or untick according to my preference every time I use the backup feature. With ‘next’ buttons appearing at the bottom of the page I even made the page scroll to the bottom for me.


As with backups, I want reset to use my defaults, so a script does this for me too.

Advanced search

When searching for users in Moodle the default filter is the user full name, with other fields hidden. When showing the other fields there are so many it obscures the ones I want (email and username).

Moodle 2 user searchA tiny bit of scripting and application of some CSS rules, and now the default shown filters include email and username.

Improving assignments

When students submit assignments the assignment submission box lists their names, with their files etc. It does not list some of their other more useful profile fields. For handy user identification we populate the field ‘department’ via ldap with student ID numbers. Unfortunately this field is near invisible in the VLE and not much use.

Moodle 2 submissions no-scriptA bit of (rather complicated) javascript and jquery later, we now look at the name column and get the URL it links to. This URL includes the student’s Moodle database number. We then do an ajax background request to the edit profile for the given user which exposes the department field. We return back that id, and strip it down to just the 9 digit number. We then insert a new cell in the table following the name containing the students ID number.

Moodle 2 submissions with scriptThis isn’t fast, as each new cell requires an ajax call pulling back a whole page of Moodle (slow), and then stripping it down to the bit we want. But this is a darn sight faster than copy/pasting what’s on the screen, dumping into a spreadsheet, and then manually looking up student numbers and hoping you don’t have two students in the same course with the same name.

Non-greasemonkey javascript

In addition to the above I also use javascript in bookmarks to do certain things. When in a Moodle course if I want to make a backup I can hunt down where the backup link is. Or I can just click my ‘Moodle Backup’ bookmark.


This is rather trivial, it just changes the URL replacing ‘course/view’ with ‘backup/backup’. So for the URL https://subdomain.domain.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=192 it takes me to https://subdomain.domain.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=192 which is of course the exact right place for taking a backup.

I use a similar bookmarklet script for Moodle course resets.


Pirate Party UK – 3 years old today

Ever since I first heard of the Swedish Pirate Party, I thought to myself that the UK needed something like that, and that if it had something like that I would love to be a part of it. I didn’t however investigate sufficiently or I might have come across the several attempts to do just that which never quite got off the ground.

However finally it did, and on 30th July 2009 the Pirate Party UK became an official ‘registered with the Electoral Commission’ political party. [1]

2009-07-30 PPUK registration
2009-07-30 PPUK registration

The first I knew of this was a Slashdot article posted on 13th August 2009 [2]. I was abroad on my Summer holiday at the time, but that didn’t stop me from immediately following the link and signing up.

A few days later I was already trying to get involved and help. I created a Facebook group for South East members (which was eventually replaced with a Facebook page).

I am proud to be able to say that on September 5th 2009 I was at the Treehouse talk [3] [4], the first official public speech by then leader (and current Governor) Andy Robinson. I remember the gentle teasing on the train ride up (with Tuoni and Semanticx) for bringing along a flask of tea. The three of us had our own custom black, name on the back, polo shirts made up which receive compliments to this day.

Copyright Andy Bloomfield BY-NC - http://www.flickr.com/photos/andybroomfield/3907168877/sizes/m/in/set-72157622207295663/
© (NC-BY) Andy Broomfield

I vividly remember all of us attending (especially those proudly wearing PPUK-logo polo shirts and no coats) shivering as the evening set in to chill us to the bone. Finally, I remember the satisfaction of being able to drink hot tea from my flask! That evening I posted the following to Facebook:

Good meeting today. Turnout could have been larger, but I predict that in a few years time the number of people who claim to have ‘frozen in the tree house’ will be significantly more than really did.


In May 2010 I decided to become even more involved. Nominations opened for Regional Admin Officers and I nominated myself for the South East vacancy [5] [6]. I held that position until 2011 when, after structural changes, the RAO positions were removed.

That same May nominations opened [7] for the Board of Governors for which I also nominated myself [8]. I was proud to have been elected to both offices, the latter one still held today. Proud both because of the trust I felt that members had placed in me, and proud also to know I was able to help the Pirate Party UK grow and develop.

The second half of 2010 and the first half of 2011 saw me travelling around the South East trying to stimulate regional activity through monthly meetings. Some meetings were successful, others less so. The most successful were those that combined with the London region. These tailed off late 2011 and early 2012 as RAO positions got restructured away, but have seen a resurgence recently with one of the most successful meetings yet [9].

London July 2012 PPUK Social Meeting
London July 2012 PPUK Social Meeting

February 2011 saw the first ever Pirate Party UK national conference [10]. This took place in Glasgow and provided the first real opportunity for many of the active members to meet each other face-to-face and built both political and social ties. There were good talks from invited international Pirates (Pascal Gloor PP-Switzerland, and Rick Falkvinge PP-Sweden) as well as Loz (UK leader). I’m proud to also be able to say I too presented at conference, though my talk on the PPUK constitution was probably a gentle opener to allow members to catch a few extra moments of sleep.

Author delivering a presentation at PPUK 2011 national conference
Author delivering a presentation at PPUK 2011 national conference. © Andy Halsall

It has been a tough three years for a small group of idealists without too much real political experience trying to make a serious political party out of little more than hopes, dreams, visions of a better world, and a sprinkling of outrage.

In many ways it has been three years of pain. Birthing pains, and growing pains. We grew faster than we knew what to do with ourselves. I am sure many members were like myself who had always wanted to see a UK Pirate Party and joined immediately to make a statement of intent. Like myself I am sure many of those initial members were not sure what to do to help, and unsurprisingly at a time when we needed every member to know what needed to be done and be driven to do it we floundered as reality set in.

But we survived. While many members stayed on the periphery to observe a good number got stuck in. A few volunteered to help, got stuck in and did things, and gradually (perhaps making mistakes every step of the way) we made things work. We have had a few internal election cycles (some might say too many) and without criticism to those that came before, I think every cycle we’ve gotten stronger. Those that came before deserve praise for bringing us as far as they did, and those that came after deserve praise for dragging us further than we had gone before.

We have had successes, and we have had failures. I am saddened most when I see hard working individuals burn out and fade away because their load was not shared with others. I think we are still at that tipping point where too few do too much, but change is on the horizon. We are now teetering towards a different tipping point, the place where we now have many more volunteers and those few with the heavy loads have to try to shift that balance, negotiating the tricky challenge of taking time away from doing to spend time mentoring others on what to do.

I anticipate a period of quiet, where not quite so much work is seen to be done from the outside perspective as we internally work on a better organisation structure. But I hope this will then be followed by a rapid growth as a larger group of organised volunteers kick into gear and drive us further towards our goals.

Looking ahead, I am eagerly anticipating the PPUK 2012 national conference. This is being held in London on 16th September [11] and proposes to be a larger and more exciting event. I imagine this has a strong chance (although it will be a push) of being the last ‘intimate’ PPUK conference where it would be possible to meet everyone attending and forge friendships, as I foresee a 2013 or 2014 conference becoming so much larger and reaching 500+ attendees.

I’ve already bought my ticket and if you haven’t yet done so, do snap one up now [12] while there are still tickets available, I look forward to meeting more of my fellow Pirates.

Browsing through three years worth of subscribed forum posts one thread in particular caught my eye titled ‘BBC ignoring us’, which is certainly not something that could be said now [13]. If a measure is needed of how far we have come, perhaps this is as good as any.

[1] Announcement on the PPUK blog of the official registration of PPUK with the Electoral Commission
[2] Article on Slashdot about the official registration of PPUK
[3] Announcement on the PPUK blog of the Treehouse talk
[4] flickr image set by Andy Broomfield of the Treehouse talk
[5] Opening of RAO nominations on the PPUK forum
[6] Author’s self-nomination for RAO South East on the PPUK forum
[7] Opening of Board of Governors nominations on the PPUK forum
[8] Author’s self-nomination for Board of Governors on the PPUK forum
[9] Facebook image gallery for London July 2012 social meeting
[10] Facebook image gallery for PPUK 2011 national conference
[11] Information page for the upcoming PPUK 2012 national conference
[12] Registration page for the upcoming PPUK 2012 national conference
[13] Google search for BBC pages mentioning “Pirate Party UK”

Featured image – Some rights reserved by Omer Wazir

Pirate Party a single issue party?

In this ‘blog post I would like to challenge the perspective that calls the Pirate Party a single issue party.

Upon cursory inspection, that seems the case, but I hope that I can persuade readers that when you dig a little deeper there is more to the Pirate Party. I do not just mean the public Policy 2011 consultation that took place on reddit, nor the policy 2012 process that came from it. Nor am I being a little trite and referring to their three core policies of copyrights/patents, surveillance, and free speech.

Instead I refer to the general Pirate philosophy which can be a lens through which to view any policy area (Rick Falkvinge has made efforts to define his take on this general philosophy that he calls a pirate wheel). In the same way that one might summarise in few words what a liberal, a socialist, or a conservative stands for, likewise you should be able to boil down a Pirate to our few core policies. That simple definition then helps inform a perspective on a much wider policy platform. There is a difference between having a core set of policies, and for those policies to be limited in scope. The Pirate viewpoint can be applied to any policy area, and as such Pirate politics is relevent to more than just a single issue.

Yes the Pirate Party needs manifestos covering a wider range of issues when they stand for election. They have created such manifestos in the past, and will do so in the future. But when trying to get their message across to those who have not heard of them, the most important thing they need to do is explain their philosophy as simply as possible.

Barring personalities and fluctuating popularity ratings many voters label themselves politically and vote accordingly, e.g. a ‘socialist’ constituent is likely to vote for a socialist party. They (I generalise) are not always ready to delve into manifestos and look at the details. They are looking for someone who advertises their party as socialist and expect to get someone who will (e.g.) tax the rich and build a welfare state.

So I say that the Pirate Party does not need a complicated in-depth manifesto to catch the interest of the voters (though I accept that they may need that to hold on to them after they have caught them). Instead they need to have such a simple message that voters redefine themselves.

Someone labelling themselves a liberal might look at the strong Pirate stand-point on individual rights and reducing surveillance and re-label themselves a Pirate. Someone labelling themselves a conservative may look on the Pirate copyright/patent stance and see a low-interventionist free-market approach and be all for it, re-labelling themselves as a Pirate. Someone labelling themselves a socialist might look on the Pirate copyright agenda as a redistribution of wealth from the few rich copyright companies to the many poor artists and decide to re-label themselves Pirate.

The Pirate Party needs to make it easy for a vast swathe of the electorate to be able to identify themselves as agreeing with core Pirate beliefs, and being ready to politically label themselves as Pirate. That does not come from having more policies. It comes from better explaining the core of what the Pirate Party stand for, and make it as easy as possible for the electorate to extrapolate for themselves how such a philosophy would deal with more diverse policy areas.

Pirates and Protecting Personal Privacy (a response)

In response to: http://ericjoycemp.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/pirates-and-protecting-personal-privacy/

As one of the Pirate Party members present for the excellent DEAPPG meeting (thank you!), I’ll try and respond to some of your comments Eric. I will emphasise however that my comments do not necessarily represent anyone else in the Party nor the Party itself 😀

I’m glad you were intrigued by us. I am glad you recognise that we are willing to engage in the debate, and that we do so intelligently rather than dogmatically. Holding a polemical view doesn’t necessitate an aggressive delivery of that message. Despite the name we are a serious political party (a phrase that sometimes seems to become our catchphrase), and by that I mean both that our issues are very serious and we wish to engage with national politics in a serious way.

I am happy to leave aside issues of copyright, because despite what some say we are not a ‘single issue party’, and I’ll try to respond to the 3 things which struck you about our argument.

Impossibility of stopping leaks

Taking a position that it isn’t possible to stop leaks – in response, I believe, to a straight question of ‘is it possible?’ doesn’t necessarily equate to a position on whether leaks are inherently good or bad. It is just a simple recognition of reality. My personal view would probably depend on context to some extent in the same way as the question about lying to and/or misleading Parliament.

If a full complete and truthful answer in Parliament might cause immediate harm (such as confession of an upcoming currency devaluation) then I could accept a misleading answer as long as it was followed as soon as possible by an honest and fully explained apology. If however Parliament was mislead over something that would only cause discomfort or embarrassment (keeping secret an agreement to allow cluster bomb munition on British soil in US) then no apology would suffice for the contempt with which Parliament was treated.

Likewise I would treat leaks the same way. If a leak would cause more immediate harm than good (admittedly difficult to assess at times), with no efforts to mitigate the harm (anonymising names or waiting for a vulnerable period of time to pass) I would likely regard that specific leak as ‘bad’. If however a leak reveals information that ‘is in the public good’ (again, can be hard to assess) even if it might be diplomatically or politically embarrassing, I’d be inclined to consider the leak ‘good’. This fairly arbitrary notion of good or bad doesn’t change whether we can stop it, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it should be legal/illegal to leak.

Arguing strongly for personal privacy

There are very clear conflicts between notions of pure free speech, and the respect of privacy, and I imagine that it is a fine line to legislate. I am reminded of something I read elsewhere once upon a time (regret to not remember where) discussing the outrage in the USA at the idea of their national flag being burnt despite it being legal to do under free speech*. The article discussed the dichotomy of this being a protected free speech while at the same time being abhorred by so many in society. The authors perspective was that the social outrage towards the flag burner was sufficient social punishment for the ‘crime’ and that the law didn’t need to provide further punishment, and thus could preserve free speech.

To my mind this is a way in which personal privacy and how to handle it could be dealt with.

Likewise legislatively there is a very clear difference between trying to criminalise the local neighbourhood gossip poking their nose into everyone’s private business, and having the position as a Government that the state should not intrude into the private lives of citizens by covering every square inch with CCTV cameras, holding DNA databases of innocent people, trying to impose national ID cards as well as integrating government databases with all sorts of personal information about us and then opening it up to everyone and their dog, and the list of government intrusions into our privacy could go on. Yes, we want our private data to be private. Yes, information can be easily leaked. Solution, stop putting all our private data into more and more government databases and start to respect our privacy as individuals.

The important thing to recognise is that it doesn’t matter if I, or you, or anyone else, thinks a leak is good or bad in terms of stopping that leak occurring in the first place. If someone is motivated to leak, they will. What is important, and needs more looking at is how you deal with leaks after the fact.

I would personally advocate in favour of a system where leaks and breaches of personal privacy can be prosecuted, because the law should not just be about what we can or can not enforce, it should also be about what we as society are asking of each other. That is exactly what I see laws as being, our social contract with each other over what we deem acceptable. I accept that leaks can be the right thing to do, I also accept that leaks can be bad, as such we need laws that are capable of prosecuting leakers when in the public good but with wiggle-room to protect whistle-blowers.

The very existence of laws to penalise leakers may be sufficient to stop those who may be inclined to leak frivolously. I personally believe that anyone that sees something bad going on and leaks despite the often harsh penalties of doing so is a hero.

Laws that punish leakers need to be crafted to accept that sometimes the public good trumps secrecy, needs to analyse motives and the intent of the leaker rather than just the embarrassment the leak may cause. Such shades of grey are hard to legislate, but we ought to aspire to manage it. We already have a system that is supposed to look at the public good before prosecuting a legal case against someone, so there is some ability to deal with the shades of grey between wrong/right before something comes to trial. I also have faith in the British public to judge between a good and bad leak.

More than any of this, I would prefer to live in a country where there were no nasty secrets being held back from the public, where the people and Parliament weren’t mislead for political/diplomatic convenience, where there weren’t any secrets that were in the public good to be leaked.

If the state should decide what is kept private

I don’t know that we ‘argued that the state did not have the right to decide what should be kept from the public’. In a sense we the public grant the state the right to make that decision. It is the state that has proven that it doesn’t respect the public to use that power fairly and responsibly. The rights of the state are rights that the public can take back. I think you call this anarchy Eric. I call it democracy.

You also mention Eric that there is a contradiction in the Pirate Party having policies that respect personal privacy while at the same time accepting and admitting that it is easier for information to spread than it is to contain it. There is no contradiction here. Recognition that information can be communicated is not acceptance that all information should be communicated. I think we all probably know people that gossip a little too freely with the private information of others. Gossiping is something we all engage in from time to time, but most people recognise that while gossiping can be irresistible, we’re not actually discussing matters of great intellectual significance, we’re not curing cancer, and we aren’t (no matter how much hot air we give out) sending rockets to the moon.

It is possible to distinguish between private and personal information about a person, and between information about the state, about that activities of government, etc. As to who should make that distinction, I agree with you Eric, it is the state. That is, the people that live in the state, the wider society, and not just those that choose to make the decisions behind closed doors. Governments should by all means have definitions of what they think should be public and secret, but those definitions should be open to society so we can choose if we agree or not. Government should then stick to those definitions and not deceive and manipulate us.

You wrote, Eric, that you put that question to us a number of times and we didn’t answer. I guess there are a number of reasons. Primarily I suspect it was because the discussion we were there to have wasn’t about the distinction between personal private information and state ‘secrets’. We were there to discuss the issue of state ‘secrets’ being put into the public domain and the clear revelation of quite how dirty some of those state secrets are. Those leaks have us question the honesty of those that purport to lead us and the real question was what should states do to deal with the threat of leaks. The answer is that states should behave with honour and dignity and have nothing to fear from such leaks. The secret face of our state should be one we aren’t ashamed to discover.

Of course, another good reason why you might not have been given an answer to your question is that some of us (or maybe just me) are new to that sort of environment and need to take some time to observe and absorb rather than actively participate right off the bat. Some of us might not be natural politicians, and tongue-in-cheek slightly, maybe that’s a good thing.

Just because one Pirate argues that all information will come out, doesn’t make that person (or others in the movement) an anarchist. Rather perhaps just a realist? I’m not sure any of us want to kill the state. As a Party we are trying to enter mainstream politics. Not to kill it from within, but to fix those problems we see. Why did you and your colleagues enter politics? Hopefully for many of you it was because you perceived a problem and wanted to fix it! As a motivation I respect that, even where I may disagree with the perceived problem and solution (though having been a life-long Labour voter maybe not as much disagreement as others might have). Likewise I hope mainstream politics will respect us in the Pirate Party for holding that same willingness to try and right those wrongs we perceive.

You are very right Eric that those ‘with political, commercial … power now have a responsibility to question their own assumptions about information, creativity, communications, [etc]’. You are also right that Pirates need to understand people as well as technology. I worry that there is an implication that you think we don’t. I disagree. Some of us (it pains me to exclude myself) may be young and (happy to include myself) more technology aware than average, but neither of these characteristics should assume a lack of knowledge or experience with the real world. Of course some of us fit stereotypes, but many of us do not. From my reading of what you wrote you are asking us to decide if we like democratic values or regard them as irrelevant. I hope you didn’t mean it that way, but I point once more to us entering the democratic political process, as well as restating that recognition of the inevitability of something does not equate to support of it. We very much want our ideas to be part of the solution. I don’t think that will happen until a lot of the mainstream parties throw away a lot of their perceptions and truly engage with our policies.

*Burning in fact actually being the preferred way to dispose of worn US flags.

Featured image – Would Like To Use Your Current Location some rights reserved by Kai Hendry

One year anniversary

As of posting this, I have been a paid up member of the Pirate Party UK for a year.

It has been a rather busy year, and so much has happened both personally and for the party.

I’ve stood for and achieved uncontested victory as the RAO for the South East. I have also stood for election to the Board of Governors where, despite a strong field, I am proud to be amongst those chosen.

This of course is only the beginning, both of these positions require a lot of time and hard work on my part, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved with furthering the goals of a political party that I so strongly support.

Featured image – Some rights reserved by Omer Wazir

Policy discussion forums, open or closed?

When the PPUK’s policy discussion forums were closed I was aware of it, but as a paid-up member not really affected by it. At least that’s what I thought.

I should also confess that I didn’t pay any attention to the debate surround the issue before or after the decision was made, and have blissfully and ignorantly supported the decision retrospectively.

Having recently traded some communications with a non-member (i.e. signed up to the forum but didn’t pay to join the party) who was affected by the decision I decided to go back and look at the debate.

I find it quite telling that there are quite a few eager people who seem very supportive of the party’s aims that declared an intent to leave and not join over the issue. Their relatively low post totals does seem to indicate that they did indeed leave. Of those, it is also clear to me that some of them are clearly eloquent, well educated on our issues, and have essentially been driven away due to this decision.

Of course, to balance against that, I have all the ‘benefits’ of this decision being taken. But as those benefits are mostly invisible things like ‘prevent non-members coming into the forums and spamming and de-railing them’ they are really hard to measure. How many spammy derailing forum posts have been prevented? Who knows.

Over the past year I have seen the occasional clearly spam forum post (via the RSS feed) which have been pretty much nuked/quarantined/whatever well before I can see them in the actual forum. This tells me our forum admins are doing a great job in clearing away the junk. Could they have handled any spam in the policy forums? Probably. Of course that does raise the issue of do we want our admins nuking non-spam posts that derail policy discussions? I’m uncomfortable with that idea.

I don’t know whether or not there is much will amongst the rest of the party to revisit this issue, but if there is, ask yourself this: as paid up members, how are we affected by this decision?

My answer is this: I have missed out on the valuable contributions of those who want to engage with our party, want to engage with our issues, and who may be subsequently persuaded into joining and contributing further.

Featured Image NORAD blast doors, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. USAF photo. Public Domain.