Posts Tagged ‘Privacy’

Trump Passes Law Allowing Gene Testing by Bosses

March 14, 2017

This is another, very chilling step towards genuine Fascism by Trump, who’s surrounded himself with Fascists and White Supremacists. In this piece from the David Pakman Show, the host and his producer, Louis, reveal how Trump introduced legislation that would permit employers to demand their employees take genetic tests and hand over information about the DNA. This was slipped past Congress when the public had their attention on the colossal mess that is Trumpcare. This overturns previous legislation which prevented employers from demanding such information, not least under US privacy laws. The legislation permits US employers to do this if they are running ‘wellness’ programmes. Pakman states that this is all about employers having the ability to charge people more for their healthcare, if they find out they have certain genetic conditions.

This is exactly what the authors Ruth Hubbard and Elijah Wald wished to expose and counter in their book, Exploding the Gene Myth (Boston: Beacon Press 1997).

The book is subtitled ‘How Genetic Information Is Produced and Manipulated by Scientists, Physicians, Employers, Insurance Companies, Educators and Law Enforcers’. It’s about the way the above have tried to link illness and criminality to heredity since the 19th century, and how this has led to eugenics legislation in which the ‘genetically unfit’ were sterilised and institutionalised in order to prevent them breeding. Or else it was used as pretext to prevent the passage of welfare legislation. The argument here was that it would be a waste of resources supporting those, who were unable to work as their illness was down to their own faulty biological heredity, not the terrible working conditions and industrial hazards of the time.

Eugenics was a favourite topic amongst the European and American chattering classes from the late 19th century until it was discredited by the horrors of the Nazi regime during World War II. But Hubbard and Wald warned that it was coming back with the drive to find a genetic basis for illnesses like schizophrenia and other traits. The book has the following chapters

1. Of Genes and People
The Role of Genetics in Our Lives
Genes for Deafness, Genes for Being Raped
A Word about Scientists
Heredity and Environment
What Are Genes?

2. Genetic Labelling and Old Eugenics
The Birth of Eugenics
Genetic Labelling
Involuntary Sterilisation
Eugenic Immigration Policies.

3. The New Eugenics: Testing, Screening and Choice
Overt and Subtle Eugenics
Parenting, Disabilities and Selective Abortion
Genetic Screening
Fallacies of Genetic Prediction.

4. A Brief Look at Genetics
Heredity and Genes
The Beginning: Gregor Mendel, “Traits” and “Factors”
From Mendel to the Double Helix
Genes and Proteins
How Chromosomes and Genes Are Duplicated
X and Y: The Sex Chromosome
From DNA to RNA to Proteins
How Genes Function
Sequencing the Human Genome
RFLPs: Linking DNA with Traits

5. Genes in Context
Definitions of Health and Disease
Individualisation of Health and Illness
Genes as Blueprints
Geneticisation
Diagnostic Labeling

6. “Inherited Tendencies”: Chronic Conditions
Some Underlying Assumptions
Conditions that Run in Families
Diabetes
High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease, and Strokes
Cancer
Oncogenes and Anti-Oncogenes
Cancer Prevention and Cancer Screening
Breast Cancer
Cancer Prevention versus Cancer Therapy

7. “Inherited Tendencies”: Behaviours
Which Behaviours?
Homosexuality
Alcoholism
Problems of Linking Genes to Behaviour
Pitfalls of Behavioural Research: The XYY Fallacy

8. Manipulating Our Genes
Conventional Treatments for Inherited Conditions
Modifying DNA: Somatic Cell Manipulations
“Germ-Line Gene Therapy”: Changing Future Generations

9. Genes for Sale
Funds for Research, Profits for Biotechnology
Commercialisation and Conflicts of Interest
Owning the Genome
What to Do?

10. Genetic Discrimination:
Education, Employment and Insurance

Genetic Testing and the Schools
Genetic Discrimination in the Workplace
Measures in Counter Employment-Related Discrimination
Genetic Discrimination in Insurance

11. DNA-Based Identification Systems, Privacy, and Civil Liberties
DNA and the Criminal Justice System
Scientific Problems with DNA Profiles
Genetic Privacy and Civil Liberties
Employment- and Health-Related Issues
Controlling Genetic Information.

There is also a preface, in which they give their reasons and aims for writing the book, a conclusion and afterword, as well as an appendix on mitochondrial DNA, notes, glossary and a bibliography and list of other resources.

There were a series of scandals regarding the enforced genetic testing of employees in the ’80s and ’90s, one of which was compulsory genetic testing of a set of recruits in the US army. They also make it very clear that the insurance companies wanted to introduce it as a way of charging those with ‘faulty’ genes higher premiums.

And from that, it’s a very short step to eugenics and then the mass slaughter of the congenitally disabled under the Third Reich’s Aktion T4.

The forcible genetic testing of US recruits is mentioned in one of the books that came out on the X-Files, as an example of how the paranoid fantasies of the show nevertheless had a factual basis in this instance. To be fair to the Christian Right in the America, they are very hostile to sterilisation and eugenics. However, it’ll be interesting to see if they oppose this noxious piece of legislation. In much of the rhetoric of the religious right, such legislation is linked to oppressive, totalitarian states, like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. It’ll be interesting to see if they oppose it when it’s introduced by an ostensibly democratic government (yeah, I know, it ain’t really), dominated by big business and which is bitterly hostile to any kind of Socialism.

I don’t think you’ll see a word against it. As Pakman explains, when it came to voting, all the Republicans voted for it, all the Democrats against. And I doubt the right-wing Conspiracy fringe will oppose it either. Alex Jones on Infowars has been pumping out pro-Trump propaganda since the Orange Nazi’s election campaign. He wants Americans to believe that Trump is somehow ‘anti-globalist’, despite the fact that he’s stuffed his cabinet full of globalists and monopoly capitalists.

This is truly terrifying, as it does bring us once step closer to the genetic dystopia of the film Gattaca.

And it’s yet more proof of the Nazism at the core of Trump’s administration.

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Vox Political: Report Recommends Commissioner to Protect People with Learning Difficulties

February 23, 2016

This is another fascinating piece from Vox Political. According to the Grauniad, Stephen Bubb, the author of a report on abuse of people with learning difficulties at a care home near Bristol, has recommended that a special commissioner should be appointed to protect them. See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/23/appoint-individual-to-protect-rights-of-the-vulnerable-report-suggests/

It’s an interesting idea. The piece points out that there is already a children’s commissioner, following the horrific maltreatment and death of Victoria Climbie. Continuing the Classical theme from my last post about Boris Johnson, there’s a kind of precedent for all this in Ancient Greece. I can remember reading in one of the books at College that one of the Greek city states – probably Athens – had an ‘archon for women’ – effectively a ‘minister’, to investigate causes of complaint raised by them. This followed a women’s strike or strikes similar to the sex strike portrayed in Sophocles’ Lysistrata. There was, I believe, also radical working class Communist movements, which formed the basis for another ancient Greek play, The Ekkleziae. In the case of women, today that’s resulted in calls for greater representation of women in parliament and politics generally, but that simply wasn’t considered in the very patriarchal political environment of the ancient world.

It’s an interesting idea, but I honestly don’t know how effective such a commissioner would be, even if one could be set up. The Tories don’t like bureaucracy, and especially not when it deals with disadvantaged groups. Mike’s undoubtedly correct when he says that there’s little chance of such a commissioner being appointed under Cameron. I feel that if a commissioner were appointed, it would only be a cosmetic measure. The institutions within the civil service which are supposed to be the government in check seem to be all too willing to bow to their every whim. For example, Mike had to fight long and hard to get the DWP to concede that it had to release the figures of the number of people with disabilities, who had died after being found fit for work. The Department did so only exceedingly grudgingly, and the Information Commissioner at many points seemed very willing to accede to the government’s wishes, rather than get them to release the information. Privacy and civil liberties groups have also expressed alarm at the way the government watchdogs, which are supposed to protect us from the massive expansion of the surveillance state and the intrusive acquisition of personal data by the state, have done no such thing, or have made only the flimsiest of protests.

It’s a good idea, but I’m pessimistic about how it would work out. Even if Cameron appointed one in the first place. And I doubt he would. I think the home at the centre of the abuse scandal is privately run. Cameron definitely does not want anyone to take any action that might impugn the mighty efficacy of private enterprise. It’s why, after all, Nikki Morgan, the education minister, refused to answer Charlie Stayt’s question about how many privately run academies have had to be taken back into state management. The last thing Cameron and his crony capitalists want is another report stating that private enterprise doesn’t necessarily mean quality care, and the expansion of the powers of the state. The Tories are, after all, the party of Thatcher, and that’s what she hated the most. The frontiers of the state have to be rolled back, and who cares if the poor and the disabled are abused and victimised.

Police to Interview Suspects By Bodycam

November 17, 2015

According to an article in The Canary last week, the government is considering passing legislation to allow the rozzers to interview suspects in the street instead of in an interview room back at the cop shop. These interviews will, however, be recorded by bodycam.

The article begins

Pilot plans to allow police officers to interview suspects on the streets via body cameras, rather than at police stations, has raised concerns among civil liberties groups.

Currently, while the formal caution that police recite when arresting somebody states clearly that anything they say may be used in evidence against them, officers are not formally able to interview someone until they have been taken to a police station. Crucially, once at the police station, the suspect has the right to independent legal advice, and they are entitled to pre-interview disclosure.

This pre-interview disclosure is vitally important as it is designed to ensure the person and their legal representative understand why the person has been deprived of their liberty, the nature of the allegations made against them, and the reason why they have been arrested. Without this disclosure, and access to a solicitor, the suspect is extremely vulnerable, especially if unfamiliar with the complexities of the law.

Unsurprisingly, given the cuts to the police service, these proposals have nothing to do with access to justice, and are primarily concerned with saving money. Hampshire Chief Constable, and national police spokesman for body-worn video, Andy Marsh stated:

‘I think this will lead to swifter, fairer and more importantly cheaper justice.’

The emphasis seems to be most definitely on cheaper justice, with fairness coming a very poor second. The article quotes two critics of the scheme, who point out that current practice is based on decades of experience of the abuse of police powers. And that the people, who will suffer through this innovation won’t be the experienced, hardened crims, but inexperienced suspects unsure of their rights and the law.

The full article can be read at: http://www.thecanary.co/2015/11/11/fears-raised-cheaper-justice-policing-plans/

A number of points can be made here. Firstly, there’s the danger of serious breaches of justice in allowing the police to interview suspects away from the interview room and the presence of a lawyer to represent them. The government seems to think that allowing the interview to be recorded by bodycam will somehow be an acceptable substitute for removing established procedures involving formal, recorded interviews. It looks simply like they’re desperate to get convictions, and are willing to use this technology as a pretext for removing established judicial safeguards. Hey, it’s all recorded on camera, so it’s properly supervised. It can be wrong, can it?’ This seems to be the attitude.

It also shows how the government seems to be believe that increased surveillance technology is automatically a solution. Now, I’m very much aware that there is the view that Paris was targeted by ISIS for their butchery, instead of London, because the City of Light had much less CC TV coverage. But surveillance cameras, as the French also knew, carried their own dangers of creating a pervasive, surveillance state. Alan Moore when he wrote V for Vendetta in the 1980s placed surveillance cameras on the streets in his Fascist future Britain, thinking that this would really scare its readers. Well, it’s now thirty years or so after the strip, and surveillance cameras are everywhere and no one takes any notice, a fact the great man himself has remarked on. I’m sure surveillance cameras have an important use, but they should be adjuncts to, not substitutes for, traditional policing.

I also wonder what will be done about recorded interviews in which the individual is left off without charge. Will they still be retained? What about a person’s right to privacy, and not to have the state keep records on them when they are innocent? There have been cases where innocent citizens have found that the rozzers have continued to keep files on them even after they were released and declared innocent. I’m very much afraid something similar could happen here.

And there is the danger of the wider misuse of such technology as the Tories make Britain become ever more authoritarian and Fascistic. Way back in the 1970s the police were required to compile useful intelligence on potential suspects. This ended up with the bluebottles deciding someone was suspicious, based no more on the fact that they were a Punk, or a pregnant teenager. And one of Cameron’s brilliant ideas was for the cops to take the names and particulars of strikers on picket lines. He’s had to climb down on that, but given the backing the Tories have always received from rabidly anti-union groups, I doubt believe this has gone away. Not completely. So there’s a real threat to civil liberties there.

And lastly, there’s the rather more fantastic threat that this is the start of something like the Borg. They’re the cyborg race from Star Trek, who have merged into a single, collective intelligence – a group creature, so that their society resembles a giant ant’s nest. We’re nowhere near that level of cybernetics yet, but one of the more interesting comments about the Google Glass computer spectacles was that it practically made the wearer one of the Borg. Google Glass were the hi-tech specs that allowed you to surf the internet while walking about, and for your on-line friends to see what you were seeing. I can remember back in the 1990s there was a similar experimental arrangement being tried out by the computer geeks at one of the American unis. A friend of mine, who played Shadowrun, a Dungeons and Dragons-type game based in the world of cyberpunk and computer hacking, seemed unsurprised when I told him about it. He called the technology and the people who used them ‘gargoyles’, which was the term used in the game for people, who used cyberspace technology to experience the sensations experienced by another person.

So, in the game’s parlance, this technology effectively makes the rozzers the justice ministry’s gargoyles. And with others seeing what they see, it’s almost ‘1984’ and the Borg. It’s just that they haven’t been mentally connected to the internet yet, so they aren’t yet like the Robomen of the Dalek Invasion of Earth.

But it’s early days yet. Give the Tories time. They are Borg. Resistance is futile. We will be assimilated.

In This Fortnight’s Private Eye: Daily Mail Journalists Lurking Outside Hospital

December 10, 2014

The ‘Street of Shame’ column in this week’s Private Eye for 12th-19th December 2014 reports that staff at St. George’s Hospital, Tooting, discovered a photographer with a long lens camera hiding in the bushes near Accident and Emergency. When he was asked what on Earth he was doing by hospital security, he replied that he was working for the Daily Mail. Janet Tomlinson, the Mail’s associate picture editor, confirmed this, when the hospital contacted her. She explained that the Mail had sent out photographers all over the country to snap ‘party people’. This means drunks about whom the Mail could publish long rant about how they were wasting NHS time and resources. According to the Eye, the hospital was spectacularly unimpressed by this and the Mail’s attitude, and threw the snapper off the premises on the grounds that the hospital was non-public regarding patient confidentiality.

Fleet Street as a very long and dishonourable history of violating the privacy and sanctity of hospitals. Either the Sun or the News of the World, as I recall, sent two of their journalists to burst into the hospital room where Gorden Kaye, the star of the WW II sitcom, ‘Allo, ‘Allo, was recovering following being struck down in the gales of 1989. As ‘Allo, ‘Allo featured the sort of bawdy innuendo common to a lot of the series written by Perry Croft, like Are You Being Served, one of the journos involved thought it would be a jolly lark to wave a cucumber around.

The press also burst into the hospital room of Russell Harty, when the BBC chat show host was dying of an AIDS-related illness. Even after they were thrown out and physically barred from the premises, they still continued to invade the privacy of the dying man by renting a room in the house opposite and snapping him through the window.

Recently I’ve posted a few pieces from Pride’s Purge, in which Tom Pride has described his own harassment by Mail journalists, who have tried to disclose his secret identity and threatened his friends. Just this week the good satirist has posted pieces about his complaint to the Daily Mail about their failure to protect adequately the identity of two children the Mail featured in a story about a family of ‘benefit scroungers’, who nevertheless still managed to spend £1,500 on Christmas. This was, of course, another hate piece on the unemployed and desperate. Given the tenor of the article, it was no surprise to read the remarks of another commenter on Tom Pride’s article that it had originally been written by the Sun, and the interview with the family had been obtained by deception. The family had been persuaded to give the interview, believing it would be a more neutral story about people on benefits and low incomes nevertheless finding ways to celebrate Christmas with style.

Tom Pride’s complaint about the newspaper was in part provoked by the outrageous news that Paul Dacre, the foul-mouthed editor of the Mail, is now chairman of IPSO, the government body regulating press conduct. This reminds me of the joke in the Walter Matthau/ Jack Lemon comedy, The Front Page, about a journalist trying to track down and interview an escaped prisoner in the Chicago in the 1930s. Lemon plays the journalist hero, with Matthau as his sleazy, amoral editor. One of the final jokes in that movie is that Matthau’s character then goes on to become a lecturer in journalistic ethics at Harvard.

We’re in pretty much the same situation here, with Dacre as head of IPSO. Only unlike the great comedies made by the Hollywood duo, that ain’t no laughing matter.

Fabian View of the Necessity of Press Regulation

April 20, 2014

Fabian Book Pic

I’ve posted a few quotations today from Peter Archer’s paper on ‘The Constitution’ in Ben Pimlott’s collection of papers Fabian Essays in Socialist Thought (London: Heinemann 1984). There’s another section from the same paper, which is also extremely timely, in which he advocates better regulation of the press to protect the public against propaganda and distortion. He believes this is necessary, as we needed a well-informed electorate with access to reliable, unbiased information to make democracy properly work. Archer states

The second, and converse, problem which has accompanied the expansion of the news industry is what, if anything, can be done about the abuse by large sections of the press of their opportunities for manipulating opinion. Those who wield a giant’s strength, in the absence of a saint’s conscience, are likely to endanger the very values which they helped to nurture (as the media are never tired of reminding the trade unions).

Electors cannot exercise their power of decision in a vacuum. Inevitably those who have access to presses and microphones will be in a position to control the supply of facts and ideas. And however high their standards, there are limits to the degree of detail or profundity attainable. The attention earned by any pronouncement will depend less upon its importance than upon its sensation value. Sometimes the sacred right to free speech will be invoked on behalf of the spiteful and the trivial. What is not inevitable is the veritable absence of control over standards of accuracy and fairness, which in the 1983 election probably reached an all-time low.

There is of course a whole range of inhibitions upon the right of the media to report information which has come their way. any civilised community requires rules relating to contempt of court, to defamation, to privacy and to obscenity. It is arguable that in some respects they are too restrictive, and the reports of Royal Commissions and committees accumulating dust on departmental shelves bear witness to the reluctance of successive governments to lift even a corner of the lid from this Pandora’s box. Almost certainly the subject will need to be treated as a package, but these statutory restrictions are sufficient neither to guarantee an informed electorate nor to protect the privacy of individuals. Every annual report of the Press Council offers fresh evidence of the need for a code of conduct relating to respect for privacy, the correction of inaccuracies and misleading innuendoes, and redress for unfair selectivity. There is also a need for a body with power to impose statutory sanctions. Indeed, the more responsible sections of the press (not only the ‘quality’ papers) have supported the suggestion. Of course, such a body would have to be independent of government. It would need to respect the vitally important freedom to publish facts and express opinions. But the existence of the Press Council itself demonstrates the need for restraints which go beyond the present legal categories. And in their absence, a democratic electorate is like a navigator dependent upon distorted instruments.

Well, the Mail on Sunday, along with its week-day sister and much of the rest of the press smashed its moral compass long ago. Murdoch’s journos are in the dock because of the phone hacking scandal, which has itself resulted in state regulation of the press. And today the Mail on Sunday printed a disgraceful and shameful attack on food banks, largely because their rise embarrasses the government’s claim people aren’t starving under their austerity programme. Mike over at Vox Political has expressed misgivings about the campaign on Change.org to have the journalist, who wrote the article, sacked. The man was simply given a job to do by the editor. This does not excuse him, but the real responsibility for the story lies with the newspaper itself, and it and its editor should be subject to extreme censure.

For decades the British press was allowed a large degree of freedom to print its lies and bile because both Tory and Labour administrations felt they could use its support. John Major felt that he should have moved to limit Murdoch’s power after the newspaper magnate abandoned the Tories for Tony Blair. And Blair was constantly worrying about what Murdoch and Dacre would have to say about any of his policies. As a result the power of the press has grown, and journalistic standards become even lower. And this vile, partisan attack on food banks is the result.

The Mail on Sunday should be ashamed of itself, and held to account for its lies and falsehoods for attacking the one institution that now stands between many people and starvation.