Free Life 24, December 1995, Editorial Jottings, by Sean Gabb

From Free Life, Issue 24, December 1995
ISSN: 0260 5112 

Editorial Jottings
by Sean Gabb

One

One of the many disappointments of the 1990s has been the way in which the language of deception has changed. When I was younger, the average lie was almost transparent. Any country with words like "democratic" or "people" in its name was sure to be a despotism. Any measure called "progressive" was sure to involve a loss of freedom or a waste of public money or both. "Anti-racism" was a doctrine plainly intended to make life harder for whites without making it easier for blacks. And so on. The lies took in the Guardian readers – those, that is, who were not starting them. But people like me ran little risk of being taken in.

Times change, however. The eclipse of socialism has meant that the enslavement of humanity must now continue under liberal names, and be cheered on by Economist readers – that is, by people like me. Take free trade. For obvious reasons, I warm to anyone who supports this. I once published an article in favour of the latest GATT round – in Free Life No. 16, April 1992. I was relieved when the Treaty was signed and the world was saved the horrors of a trade war. I was surprised that something as simple as free trade was to have its own international body, but imagined the World Trade Organisation would be a committee of free marketeers, and spend most of its time tutting over textile quotas.

And then the thing bared its teeth, and left me feeling like one of those dupes in the 1930s who finally noticed that the happy smiling peasants on each collective farm were the same ones every time. The World Trade Organisation, it seems, is as much about free trade as the Soviet Union was about democracy. At the moment, it is considering what amounts to an international vitamin ban. The mechanics go something as follows:

The Treaty requires the dismantling of barriers to the free movement of foodstuffs. Obviously, tariffs must go. But so also must quality control laws that have the same effect. To ensure compliance, every signatory state must harmonise its regulations on food manufacturing and sale – so that whatever can be freely manufactured in one country can be freely imported into another. Harmonisation can be achieved in two ways. A signatory state can make its own regulations and submit these for approval to the World Trade Organisation. Or it can accept a set of regulations already approved called the Codex Alimentarius. Since getting approval is likely to be slow and expensive, and since standards significantly different from the Codex can be made an excuse for protectionism by other signatory states – and even fines by the World Trade Organisation – accepting the Codex is fast becoming the preferred option. But, directly or indirectly, what the Codex allows is of great and increasing importance.

Recently, the German delegates to the Codex Commission circulated a set of "Proposed Draft Guidelines for Dietary Supplements (Vitamins and Minerals)". If accepted, these will: reclassify any dietary supplement now used for preventive or therapeutic uses as a drug, and forbid its sale without a prescription; forbid the sale of any other dietary supplement in greater dosage levels than those set by the Commission; and make the Codex binding in this area on all signatory states, so preventing the limited derogations now possible. A further effect will be the banning of all new dietary supplements until such time as they are added to the Codex.

Why the Germans are so keen on having this I cannot say. Perhaps they have decided that since vitamins are not compulsory, they should be illegal. But they do look set to have their way. The Commission is presently reviewing their proposal at "step three stage" – which is a consideration of its details – and no other delegation is objecting. If carried, the regulation may send me off to my doctor wheedling like a heroin addict every time I want a pot of vitamin C tablets. Or it may let me continue buying them in Boots – but in such lowered doses that a half gram (7þ grain) tablet will need to be the size of a dustbin lid.

Yes – I was had. More fool me, I suppose, for not only reading The Economist, but also tending to believe it.

Two

Mentioning Boots brings me to the case of Julia Somerville, the newsreader raided last month by officers of the Paedophile and Child Protection Unit – better known as the Provisional Wing of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association. Apparently, her lover had asked Boots to develop some pictures of bathtime for their baby, and had been reported. This possibly says something about the stupidity of the Police – or perhaps about the shortage of real paedophiles to go chasing. Or it may tell us that the police state powers given by Michael Howard can and will be used against us, the respectable public; and that my mother should consider burning some of the pictures taken of me on the beach at Margate in 1963.

But to those of us who can afford £680 plus VAT, technology has already come to the rescue. The Times of last 1st November carries an advertisement for a digital camera available from Casio. The QV-10 needs no film, but instead uses a hard disk. This

stores 96 images which can be viewed on its built-in screen with either 1, 4 or 9 images enabling rapid scrolling. Any image can be easily deleted or you can download images to a PC or Macintosh via the software that comes with the QV-10….

Any image can be incorporated into documents. You can create visual databases…, send images via modem around the world and even include images on the Internet.

Sounds nice. Still better, the Taiwanese should soon have these cameras down to about £100. Then, nobody will need to trust their family or naughtier pictures to outside developers. And the use of pgp ("Pretty Good Privacy") or some other strong encryption may even send the Police back to the more legitimate, if less exciting, job of protecting life and property.

Of course, I do not wish to imply that Casio developed the QV-10 with Michael Howard in mind, or that it paid for or even knows about my puff. But anyone who wants to know more about this camera should call the QV-10 Dealer Hotline on 0181 893 2592. By all means, do mention Free Life. I am always willing to accept paid advertising – if only on my terms.

Three

Reading my Daily Telegraph (21st November 1995), I notice the Police have at last heard of pgp. According to Detective Chief Inspector Barry Drew of the National Criminal Intelligence Service,

[s]ome people are sending porn down the Internet together with the instructions as to how to use encryption to safeguard yourself. You need to know the key to unscramble it. It's being used more and more extensively for all sorts of things.

Mr Drew is not calling for a ban on encryption software. But since he is moaning about its alleged use by paedophiles, that is what he is preparing us for. I do not condone paedophilia – by which I mean sex between adults and pre-pubescent children. But I doubt if there are more than a few thousand paedophiles in this country. I doubt if many of these bother with encrypting and sending jpeg images through the Internet. And I doubt if any of those who do are ever likely to lay hands on a child. This being so, the current fuss can only be part of a job-creation scheme for the Police, or an excuse to meddle with our lives, or both.

As Mr Drew concedes, not everyone who uses pgp is a paedophile. It is used increasingly to safeguard commercial secrets, and to protect against the intrusions of authority. So far, letters have been kept fairly safe by sending them in sealed envelopes. Millions are sent every day; and the cost of opening and reading even a small fraction of them is prohibitive. So far, our papers have been fairly safe at home, because of limitations on the right to enter and search without showing probable cause. The routing of post through the Internet is bringing down the cost of interception and analysis. The gradual abolition of due process is opening our homes to quite casual searches. Software like pgp reverses these tendencies. There is nothing sinister about it. All it does is restore the privacy that we used to take for granted. Checking its spread will hurry us into a society without privacy, and therefore without freedom.

Some friends tell me that no ban will succeed. It would require more surveillance than is possible. I am not so sure of this. A barrage of child pornography scares can give encryption a bad name. Use itself could then be made illegal, with stiff punishments for those caught with encrypted data. A few years of this, and strong encryption would be used only by criminals and by the authorities. It would be just like handguns. Possession of these is hard to restrict, but almost everyone obeys. The best response is not complacency, but to ensure that the software is spread as widely as possible, as quickly as possible. On the one hand, this will reveal the scare stories for the nonsense they are. On the other, it will raise a lobby of "legitimate" users to fight any proposed abolition of privacy.

With this in mind, I and my Friend and Proprietor Chris R. Tame are delighted to make a unique Christmas offer. Anyone who sends us an unformatted 3«" high density disk, together with a stamped addressed envelope, will receive the following:

A complete version of pgp 2.61, with installation and operating manuals. This user-friendly program is effectively unbreakable. It allows both public key encryption, for sending data through the Internet to recipients not previously contacted, and private key encryption for protecting data kept on disk. It is classified by the American Government as munitions, and its export from the United States may be illegal. So far as I can tell, there is at the moment neither criminal law nor copyright restriction to prevent its free distribution and use in the United Kingdom. I downloaded my copy from a site in Finland.

A copy of SecureDrive, again with all documentation. Unlike pgp, which encrypts only individual files, this encrypts whole areas of a hard disk, preventing unauthorised access to perhaps hundreds of files. I have never used this software, or investigated the claims made on its behalf. But I am told that it is at least as secure as pgp. Again, I am unaware of any restrictions on its distribution and use in the United Kingdom.

A basic version of Steganography, with basic documentation. This takes an encrypted file and merges it into a graphics file. I read that a merged file is currently undetectable. Its value is chiefly to anyone who does not wish to be seen using encryption software. I have never used it. I forget where I obtained it. Once again, though, I believe its distribution and use to be legal in the United Kingdom.

Various text files yet to be decided. I have things by John Stuart Mill, David Hume, and John Locke – as well as more recent documents about cryptography and the Internet.

If needed, we can recommend consultants able to install and demonstrate this software.

At the moment, we can only supply software for PCs. We also require a signed declaration that anyone who writes in is over the age of 18, and is not intending to use any of the above software for any criminal purpose. Finally, so far as the laws of the relevant jurisdiction shall allow, we disclaim all civil liability that may arise from any failure of the software to work as described, or from any legal action arising from its possession or use, or from any other damage to hardware or software, or to life, liberty or property, traceable to taking up any or all offers made herein.

Happy Christmas!

Four

But not yet. I have something more to say. Mr Tame has passed me this letter:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am a student in Accountancy at Paisley University and I am currently researching my Honours Year Dissertation, which is entitled: To what extent has [sic] recent changes in Local Taxation altered people's perceptions of Local Government.

It would be of enormous benefit if you could intimate to me the current position of your party as regards the format of Local Taxation favoured and how this policy has been altered and influenced in the past.

Could you also give me an idea of the authors behind the formation of such ideology and the thought that supports it.

Could you please relate the entire process to the idea of the position of Local Government in the decision making process and subsequently what the perceived status will be in the next century.

Yours sincerely,

David Noble

The Libertarian Alliance receives many such letters. Some are less illiterate. Some, unlike this one, are signed. But the request is always the same.

Well, when Mr Tame and I were undergraduates, we were expected to do our own research. And we had to do it without CD-ROMs and on- line catalogues and the Internet. Indeed, when I wrote my life of Sir Leoline Jenkins – the first since 1718 – I had to spend weeks in front of a microfilm reader that went out of focus every time I breathed. I never once thought I could post off a hundred letters in the hope that others would do the work for me.

We did think of complaining to Paisley University. But why bother? What would once have been a sending down offence appears to have become normal – and perhaps recommended – practice in some of the more obscure universities. Therefore, we reprint the letter, offering it as further proof of the need to cut off all public funding of these places.

Yes, my dear readers, have a very happy Christmas!

© 1995 – 2017, seangabb.

Thanks for reading this. If you liked it, please consider doing one or some or all of the following:

1. Share it on social media – see buttons below;
2. Like my Facebook page;
3. Subscribe to my YouTube channel;
4. Sign up for my newsletter;
5. Click on a few of the discreet and tastefully-chosen advertisements that adorn this article;
6. Check out my books – they are hard to avoid.

Best regards,
Sean

Oh, and for those who may feel inclined to leave some small token of regard, here is the usual begging button:

Additional Related