'We were raised by a generation of hypocrites'

Monday, 15 August 2011

Young Deacon is angry. The 17-year-old south London rapper watched his peers wreak havoc across the city last week in a frenzy of fire and destruction. In part of the borough where he lives, Wandsworth, a group of an estimated 1000 ransacked shops and clashed with police for several hours. Similar scenes took place in neighbouring Brixton and Peckham.

As the city was burning, at home in his bedroom Deacon wrote and recorded a song. Though he did not approve of the destruction on his streets, he felt he understood why it was happening. The rioters were filled with rage – and so was he.

Titled “Failed by the System”, the song – which can be heard here – touches on the Iraq war, unemployment, and criticises the media (“We’re branded alot / As rioters, looters / Murderers, yobs / Knifers, shooters / Depicted as the worst / On your news and computers”). It references budget cuts, crime rates and accuses the government of not having a grasp on why the riots happened (“You're focused on an issue / But you don’t know what the issue is / We were raised / By a generation of hypocrites”).

A debate has raged across Britain about whether the riots were just an expression of mere opportunistic criminality or a symptom of something much deeper – rooted in societal inequalities. For Deacon it is unquestionably the latter. His lyrics tap in to a sense, reflected in interviews with young people involved in the rioting, that something at the core of our society is broken or at least failing to function the way it should:

Don’t give up on the kids / They’re in need of support / Better role models / Not leaders at war / It takes a whole community / To raise a single child / So please think twice / Before you blame him 'cause he’s wild / If only he had that / Little bit of guidance / Maybe he wouldn’t be / Running from the sirens / Maybe he wouldn’t be / Adding to the violence / And maybe he wouldn’t be / Out in the riots

So what compelled Deacon to record the song? “The same reason why large amounts of young adults took to the streets that very same night, intent on causing havoc and destruction – the reason is anger,” he says.

“Like so many others my age, I feel as though I have been dealt an injustice within the society I live, or in other words, the sense of being ‘Failed by the System’. This idea is grounded not only in the rising of tuition fees [for university], but also within the spending cuts including youth club activities, and even through the stereotypical generalisation we – as a generation – receive from public authorities such as the Metropolitan Police.”

But it is not just politics or economics that is the root of Deacon’s grievance. The media, he believes, also has a significant role to play. He mentions a peaceful protest the black community staged at Scotland Yard two months ago that received no news coverage, referred to by another young man in Tottenham last week.

“As unfortunate as it is, the young generation have come to the realisation that in this day and age, those with power only respond to violence and destruction,” he says. “It [the media] is there to selectively filter the thoughts and opinions of a whole nation. This may seem like a whole different discussion, but nevertheless is part of an important issue that led up to the outbreak of riots, and therefore needs to be addressed.”

Quoting a friend, he adds: “We steal a pair of trainers, and the youth are in the media spotlight. A banker breaks the economy, and receives bonuses.”

On Wednesday, Deacon plans to release an album – “Poetic Justice” – for free download that he says will address the circumstances that led to the rioting. He invites people to listen to his music to “experience the system through the eyes of the failed.”

As for the future, he warns more trouble could be on the horizon, though remains somewhat hopeful that things could change for the better.

“I believe that the riots Britain faced this week are but a ‘small’ spillage of a boiling pot,” he says. “Save the youth, save the future."

This article originally appeared at: http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/ryan-gallagher/raised-by-a-generation-of-hypocrites-youth-riots-london

America, Extradition and 'Policing the Internet'

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Not often do US officials pay visits to students in Sheffield. But after building a website that allegedly shared links to pirated TV shows and movies, 23-year-old Richard O’Dwyer became a wanted man.

Accused of criminal copyright infringement, the Sheffield Hallam University undergraduate now finds himself at the centre of an extraordinary story. US authorities are attempting to extradite him so that he can be tried and imprisoned in America.

The threat of extradition came as a serious and unexpected shock to the O’Dwyer family. Richard’s mother, Julia, has since been forced to take sick-leave from work because of the stress it has caused her, and now spends her days trawling the internet to research the law.

“The effect of all this upon our family is immense,” she said earlier this month. “The thought of having my only son taken thousands of miles away to face an unknown legal system and without being able to monitor what is happening or to be able to advocate for him fills me with terror.”

Though Richard’s case is unusual, it is not isolated. Since 2004, 28 British nationals have been extradited to America, made possible by a treaty signed in 2003. Introduced to speed up the extradition of terrorist suspects, the treaty was negotiated by Tony Blair’s Labour government with the George W. Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11. It allows the US to request extradition of UK citizens without evidence and on the basis of “reasonable suspicion” alone.

Using the powers of the treaty to go after people for breaching copyright and other crimes not associated with terrorism, the O’Dwyer family believe, is a clear abuse of its purpose. By allowing American authorities to seek extraditions on such grounds, they claim that the UK government is failing to protect its citizens and that the treaty is imbalanced in America’s favour.

"If Richard has committed any crime, it was committed on UK soil, and we have sufficient copyright legislation over here so that he can be prosecuted in the UK,” said a family spokesperson. “To extradite a young man in the middle of his university studies is wholly disproportionate.

“Since the Extradition Act came into force in 2004, the US has agreed to the extradition to the UK of only three people with a claim to US nationality. So presumably the US would understand if Britain were equally as protective of its own in preferring to try British defendants in the UK ... Just because an extradition request is made, doesn't mean that the British authorities have to agree to it.”

At the heart of the issue is the internet and how it has changed the nature of crime. In the seven years since the UK-US extradition treaty was brought in to force, the internet has hugely expanded – and with it hacking, piracy and other so-called “cyber-crimes”.

Another British citizen, Gary McKinnon, finds himself in a similar situation. A Scottish computer hacker who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, McKinnon has been fighting extradition to the US since 2003. He admits hacking in to US government computer systems in order to try and find information about UFOs, but wishes to face trial in the UK. If sent to America, he could face a prison sentence of up to 70 years.

According to one of the UK’s leading experts on extradition law, Julian Knowles QC, the problem is that the extradition treaty does not contain a provision – known as “forum” – allowing courts to decide on balance whether each respective case is best heard in the UK or abroad. And because the internet has made it much easier for crime to be committed across borders at such a rapid pace – as well as change the nature of crime itself – the law has as yet failed to adapt.

“The law just doesn’t cater for this situation,” he said. “They [the Americans] will go after people who have committed crimes abroad with very little linkage to the US. And the English courts are powerless to say: ‘well, actually, the crime has been committed here in the UK.’ It’s the absence of that power that I think is the problem.

“What the McKinnon and O’Dwyer cases have indicated is that there can be real injustice in sending people back to the US to face very savage sentences – nothing like the sort of sentence that really matches the harm.”

A forum amendment, which would allow judges to consider whether McKinnon and O’Dwyer would be better tried in Britain, was tabled by politicians back in 2006. But it was not brought in to force at the time, Knowles says, because there is a “big dose of politics in extradition law making” and a reluctance to “upset the Americans”.

In June, a joint parliamentary committee on human rights recommended that urgent action was needed to make sure Britons were not extradited over alleged offences committed inside the UK or without any evidence being offered against them. “We wholeheartedly support the introduction of a forum safeguard,” the committee wrote. “It is difficult to understand why this has not yet happened.”

Isabella Sankey, director of policy for the human rights group Liberty, said that due to changes in technology there has been an upsurge in countries asserting jurisdiction over alleged actions that take place in other parts of the world. She agrees that it is in the interests of justice for a forum provision to be introduced.

“The Internet increases our risk of falling foul of the law, making it possible to commit an offence on the other side of the world without even leaving your bedroom,” she said. “[A forum amendment] would allow UK courts to bar extradition in the interests of justice where conduct leading to an alleged offence has quite clearly taken place on British soil.”

Earlier this month US authorities went further than ever before, claiming that anyone in any country who owns and runs a website with the .com or .net suffix is under their jurisdiction because these domains are by a technicality registered in the US state of Virginia.

Critics have branded this a clear attempt by America to “police the internet” as it struggles to control piracy of American-made films and television shows outside its own borders; the implications are severe. If the country was to try to prosecute every British individual with a .com or .net website linking to copyrighted content, it would put huge and unprecedented pressure on the UK’s extradition system.

In the meantime, US authorities continue to aggressively pursue both O’Dwyer and McKinnon, as well as nine other British nationals whose extradition cases are pending. McKinnon’s case is currently being reviewed by home secretary Theresa May, while O’Dwyer will face a preliminary hearing in September.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK's extradition arrangements are currently being reviewed by an independent panel to ensure they operate effectively and in the interests of justice. We expect the panel conducting the review to report at the end of the summer.”

This article first appeared in issue no.887 of Big Issue in the North.