17 September 2009

What's Green, Biometric and Friendly?

India's Unique Identification Authority (UIDAI), an agency of the national Planning Commission with responsibility for implementing the Multipurpose National Identity Card, has indicated that some 600 million people are to be identified with a biometric card.

That initiative - variously hyped as a solution to government corruption, electoral fraud, illegal migration and terrorism - is estimated to cost around $3 billion and represents one of the world's most ambitious IT projects. Its proponents, undeterred by the collapse of similar super-projects in the UK and elsewhere (including recurrent proposals for a multipurpose Australia Card), envisage the new card scheme as a catalyst for improved delivery of public services and as something that will drive growth in India's IT sector. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given governmental infatuation with the IT industry, the UIDAI is headed by Nandan Nilekani, a software mogul who announced that
We are going to have to build something on the scale of Google but it will change the country … every person for first time [will] be able to prove who he or she was.
Being able to identify who he or she is, rather than was, is of course useful. The shift towards the dizzy heights of e-government via the Planning Commission's latest Five Year Plan might be facilitated if the Commission updated its online media releases (the latest of which dates from early 2007). Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee stated in July that establishment of the UIDAI is a major step in improving governance regarding public services and
marks the beginning of an era where top private sector talent in India steps forward to take the responsibility for implementing the projects of vital national importance.
Nilekani is reported in today's Guardian as indicating that the scheme will be particularly useful for India's poor, several million of whom this blogger notes are currently reliant on dried cow dung for heating and cooking, live in unsewered houses (if not in the street) and are illiterate.
This will mean maids and labourers … a hundred or two hundred million people – will be able to access welfare benefits for the first time without any questioning who they are.
They will presumably be reassured that the card will not feature caste or religious identification, although in the absence of meaningful privacy law (statutes and enforcement) there would appear to be scope for data matching as individual agencies deploy information associated with the cards. There are suggestions that much of the data storage/handling wil be outsourced. In August the Prime Minister's Office announced that the UIDAI Council had "resolved to provide a legal framework to the UIDAI in the course of time".

Nilekani explained that
We are not profiling a billion people. This will provide an ID database which government can access online. There will be checks and balances to protect identities.
But wait, there's more. He's reported as being in talks to "create a personalised carbon account so that all Indians might buy 'green technologies' using a government subsidy.

Improved service delivery is an excellent thing. Hype about national ID cards as a low-cost low-risk 'silver bullet' solution to diverse problems is however worrying. It is an echo of past enthusiasm from journalists, IT boosters and politicians for the Indian Simputer, a device that would supposedly revolutionise Indian life and fuel the growth of the nation's IT industry. Alas, bold forecasts about the Simputer (and an even bolder US$10 version of the OLPC) have not come to fruition.

Nilekani has elsewhere indicated that
This project is pro-poor and inclusive targeted mainly towards the poor. The middle class and the rich have some form of identity. People on the margins are getting lost because of lack of identity.
The UIDAI thus appears to be aiming to draw together data regarding the identification of some 80 million income tax payers with a Permanent Account Number (PAN), over 200 million account holders in public and private banks, some 500 million mobile phone consumers, over 600 million Indians who have election cards, Indian passport holders, along with databases (often manual) covering such things as cooking gas consumers and holders of public food distribution system cards.

Nilekani admits that validation of data is a challenge, given the "phenomenon of duplicates or fraudulent numbers" and the absence of identity documents for many people (who are for example not individually identified in official registers, don't have accounts with financial institutions and indeed may not have any papers whatsoever).

Wariness might be heightened by a lack of information about what is planned and how the scheme is supposed to work, with some reportage claiming that people will receive a unique number (so much for chatter about photo and fingerprint biometrics)rather than a card, with that number appearing on a plethora of identity documents such as election identity cards, PAN cards and bank account registers. That sounds like an Indian version of the US Social Security Number.

No, Sir Humphrey

From Mark Colvin's blog, in a review of Francis Wheen's Strange Days Indeed (London: Fourth Estate 2009), a book in which the 1970s are hyped as "the golden age of paranoia" -
Did you know - I certainly didn't - that Britain's top public servant, Sir William Armstrong, literally went mad at a country-house seminar in 1974? It's a story worth quoting at length:

"Sir William stripped off his clothes and lay on the floor, chain-smoking and expostulating wildly about the collapse of democracy and the end of the world ... In the middle of this hysterical sermon, as the naked civil servant babbled about 'moving the Red Army from here and the Blue Army from there', the Governor of the Bank of England happened to walk into the room."

It was left to the Prime Minister's Principal Private Secretary to ring the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, and tell him that the head of the civil service had been admitted to a mental hospital. Heath's reaction, that he "thought William was acting oddly", is either classic British understatement or a further testament to the overall lunacy of the times.
Denis McShane's review in The Independent asks
Did the Cabinet Secretary really take off all his clothes to lie down naked and start raving in the Cabinet Room? Yes he did, and was quietly led off to become Chairman of the Midland Bank as a suitable reward for going mad. Did Judge Argyle really ask George Melly to explain "cunnilinctus" in the trial of the journalists bringing out the now rather tame-looking Oz magazine?
The answer to those questions is yes, but we might question the pronouncement that
It was a very mad ten years, but enormously pleasurable as the 1968 generation indulged in sex, drugs, rock and roll and vacuous left-wing politics - in what surely was the most hedonistic, solipsistic decade in Western history.
So much for the 1920s ... or the 1890s if you had the wherewithal to party and were susceptible to mumbo jumbo from Madam Blavatsky & Co. What about the previous 'Age of Anxiety' ... and its precursors. Reds (or wobblies) lurking under the bed, ready to emerge and eviscerate the family moggie, socialise the means of production or fluoridate the water supply?

Bill Orr has meanwhile pointed to a cogent item by Greg Barns, author of What’s Wrong with the Liberal Party? (Carlton: Melbourne Uni Press 2003). In discussing selective compassion regarding bushfire victims and refugees Barns comments that
The true test of a nation's capacity for kindness and giving is not in an easy case like the Victorian bushfires, but when it confronts us. When we cannot readily identify with those who are suffering, but yet can let go of our fears and our hard-wired stereotyped thinking, and extend our generosity to them.

Recent history would suggest that we have some way to go in meeting that challenge.

As we do in understanding fundamental rights.
I've been reminded of his assessment in reading about what the great Paul Keating described as ministerial "jellyback", specifically irresponsibility on the part of the mass media and a governmental indifference to civil liberties in dealing with calls for the relocation from Ryde of convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson, who's inconveniently completed the sentence imposed by a Queensland court and appears unhappy with people leaving petrol bombs and a cardboard coffin outside his residence. Barns, on behalf of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, is quoted by the ABC as commenting that forced relocation could set a dangerous precedent and that Ferguson would be entitled to compensation if he is forced to move.
The basic principle [for] everyone in New South Wales, in every state in Australia, is that if you are living in a house and you are abiding by the law, then governments have no business in moving you to another area.

This is a policy that we would have expected to see in apartheid South Africa or in authoritarian countries, not in a democracy.

Now there's no evidence that Mr Ferguson is breaking the law residing as he does in Ryde, and simply because a few community vigilantes want him moved on doesn't mean that our politicians should buckle to their pressure.

I don't know of any law in New South Wales or any law around Australia which entitles governments to capriciously simply move people from one house to another on the basis of the complaints of a few vigilantes in a community.

Bikies and Belly-aches

A friend is working on what promises to be an exemplary PhD dissertation regarding law about outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMG), which as noted recently in this blog have been the subject of interesting new legislation in New Zealand and Australia in the grand tradition of moral panics and ailing governments "being seen to do something".

One criticism of such legislation is that it is unecessary, given the adequacy of existing law (especially law that particular governments have failed to implement). Another criticism is that new statutes are overly broad, are inappropriately oppressive or simply won't work. They are reactive, a way of distracting public attention from ministerial sex scandals, leadership speculation and intractable problems such as deficiencies in public transport networks. Appearing to beat up bikers is a way of making the political belly-ache go away for the day.

I was thus interested to read 'The Legislation We Had to Have?: The Crimes (Criminal Organisations Control) Act 2009 (NSW)' by Arlie Loughnan in 20(3) Current Issues in Criminal Justice (2009) 457-465, available from SSRN here.

Loughnan comments that
In the wake of several high-profile incidents of outlaw 'bikie gang'-related violence, including a fatal bashing at Sydney Airport, the New South Wales Government has introduced new laws to expand police powers relating to 'criminal organisations', membership, and association. This Comment provides a critical overview and analysis of the Crimes (Criminal Organisations Control) Act 2009 (NSW), with reference to recent related legislation in other States and at federal level. The Act contains a number of problematic aspects, as it creates what are in effect status offences and makes compromises regarding conventional rules of procedure, proof and evidence. [It] must be understood in the broad context of penal popularism and that it is symptomatic of the dominance of 'law and order' politics in NSW. Revealing a clear debt to anti-terrorism legislation, an emphasis on risk and prevention, and the curtailment of individual rights in the larger interests of security, the Act is an unfortunate if not unexpected step in the ongoing process of criminal law reform in NSW.
Her article appears at a time when the South Australian government appears to be proposing to reverse the onus of proof through legislation that extends the Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Act 2008 (SA). The new law would "require people to account for any unexplained wealth" and authorise the Police Commissioner and Crown Solicitor "to secretly investigate people", irrespective of criminal convictions, including "motorcycle gang members and people who associate with known criminals". The nature of the "secret" investigation is unclear.

SA Attorney-General Michael Atkinson is reported as commenting that the proposed legislation is 'aimed at catching people who have managed to evade the authorities' -
"The police and the public look at them and think 'How on earth did a bloke who appears to do no work or no legitimate work acquire hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cars or millions of dollars worth of real estate?" he said. "The answer is almost certainly drug dealing and extortion."
That has provoked queries by SA shadow Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, who says that she is worried about people needing to prove they are innocent.
"Normally you go along and the prosecution would set out their case and you'd have an opportunity to present the defence. The onus is on the prosecution," she said. "There is a reverse of onus here. So they come into court, the judge calls on the case and this is where it becomes 'Prove it or lose it'."
The reporting coincides with the Federal Attorney-General's announcement that the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill (No. 2) 2009 (Cth) will
strengthen existing laws by:
* introducing new criminal offences targeting those involved in organised crime;
* enhancing access to telecommunications interception for the investigation
of organised crime offences;
* enhancing money laundering, bribery and drug importation offences;
* enhancing search and seizure powers and the ability to access electronic data;
* strengthening criminal asset confiscation and anti-money laundering laws;
* improving the operation and accountability of the Australian Crime
Commission; and
* improving the operation of the National Witness Protection Program by
increasing protection for current and former participants and officers.
The announcement was wrapped in the usual references to a national security policy that addresses a pervasive and intangible threat from organised crime and terrorism.

Loughnan concludes that
The Crimes (Criminal Organisations Control) Act 2009 (NSW) contains a number of problematic aspects, as it creates what are in effect status offences and makes compromises regarding conventional rules of procedure, proof and evidence. [In] the broad context of penal popularism, it is representative of the triumph of 'law and order' politics in NSW. Beyond the global trends towards punitive and popularist criminal justice policies and practices which are amply illustrated in the new legislation, specific institutional and local factors relating to NSW must be taken into account. Particular domestic politico-economic structures, such as the two-party political system, are part of the conditions which foster the penal severity that the Act evidences, as both sides of politics pander to the ‘median’ voter. Further, in relation to the substance of the Act, it is clear that the new provisions owe a debt to anti-terrorism legislation, with its emphasis on risk and prevention and the curtailment of individual rights in the larger interests of security. This in turn suggests that terrorism has become something of a paradigmatic offence in the new criminal justice terrain.
The paper also coincides with Palermo On The Pacific Rim: Organised Crime Offences in the Asia Pacific Region, a 317 page UN study [PDF] by Andreas Schloenhardt that suggests "We must recognise the failure of the 'organised crime laws' to win the 'war on organised crime'".

It argues that
Offences designed to penalise criminal organisations constitute the most recent and perhaps most ambitious strategy to fight organised crime. The common feature of these offences is that they are designed to target the structure, organisation, members, and associates of organised crime groups. Their shared rationale is the view that disrupting criminal activities and arresting individual offenders does not dismantle the criminal organisations that stand behind these illegal activities.
Schloenhardt characterise four main types of organised crime offences in the region:
1. The conspiracy model, found in the Convention against Transnational Crime and in jurisdictions such as Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, and several Pacific Island nations;

2. The participation model stipulated by the Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, and also adopted in Canada, New Zealand, New South Wales, PR China, Macau, Taiwan, the Pacific Islands, and California;

3. The enterprise model based on the US RICO Act, which is also used in many US States, and the Philippines;

4. The labelling/registration model of Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, New South Wales, and South Australia.

16 September 2009

Netizens Redux

One of the cuter - or, if you're a dyspeptic grinch such as myself, sillier - memes regarding the internet is the notion that being online will somehow make us all smarter, wiser, nicer and oh so very democratic (or merely allow us all to be rich, hip and tanned through 'friction-free e-commerce'), an expression of a millennial capitalism debunked by Richard Barbrook's famous The Californian Ideology and Paulina Borsook's Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech (New York: PublicAffairs 1999).

Fans have claimed that blog tools will turn us all into authors or citizen journalists. (Anyone who's read a batch of undergrad law essays might question the idea that access to a keyboard = readability.) Social Network Services (SNS) such as Facebook and MySpace will supposedly bring us all together. A mousepad will banish the woes of capitalism and disadvantage. Lou Rosetto thus said that
the idea that we need to worry about anybody being 'left out' is entirely atavistic to me, a product of that old economics of scarcity .... mass communication, mass production, mass poverty, mass markets, mass society, mass media, mass democracy - that's history. Ford and Marx are well and truly dead.
If you have a keyboard & connectivity you are eligible to become a Netizen, described by advocate Izumi Aizu as "global citizens".
... Netizens have direct knowledge and rich experience of most issues caused by the use of the Internet. If you are the parents, quite often your children know much better about using the Net than you are. ... Netizens are flexible, work more efficiently than many incumbent institutions where protocols and procedures take up too much time and act as barriers for timely decisions. ... Netizens are global citizens, not constrained by national boundaries. There are many communities of interest, spread globally, irrespective of geographic or other existing social boundaries. Netizen participation will increase diversity.

Netizens will counter economic balance, not dominated by large corporate interest, but adding non-profit, non-governmental forces. It will also provide cultural diversity, with multilingual environment. It will reduce the magnetization of the minority, too. By encouraging the Netizens to participate, affirmative efforts to listen to the minority groups, persons with disabilities, women in vulnerable situations, linguistic minorities, all will have more opportunities for their voices to be heard. Netizens share the view with technical community that freedom at the edge of the network is the core value of the Internet.
I was thus interested to read claims by one Australian pundit that Facebook is "the New Global Spokesman" -
The Lack of interpersonal politics on Facebook appears to inspire peace and harmony. It would appear that Facebook are achieving what all the great statesmen have been unable to achieve. That is, creating a Global level playing field whilst at the same time apparently removing distrust and promoting "joy de verve".
Better, I suppose, than Joi de veuve. The same author claims that
With Now 400 Million Users, Should Facebook Qualify for a seat in the United Nations

Facebook has done more for détente and political stability than any other single group of individuals. It has attracted 400 million users. The Applications have encouraged perfect strangers to extend trust and comradeship in the pursuance of a common goal. It has given those users a platform to express themselves freely ... Thats a lot of people with a common purpose. To be entertained in a socially enjoyable environment and not be bludgeoned to death with editorial opinion or advertising.
A Harvard Business School note offered a somewhat gloomier view, with the comment that
they enable a form of voyeurism. In real life there is a strong norm against prying into other people's lives. But online enables "a very delicate way for me to pry into your life without really prying," the researcher says. "Harvard undergrads do it all the time. They know all about each other before they meet face to face. 'Oh, you're that guy that did that internship in D.C. last summer.'"

Piskorski has also found deep gender differences in the use of sites. The biggest usage categories are men looking at women they don't know, followed by men looking at women they do know. Women look at other women they know. Overall, women receive two-thirds of all page views.
That's been reflected in comments about Facebook Stalking. Visions of Facebook and Twitter as blessedly free of editorial and advertising and unpolluted by commerce are naive. Facebook is commodifying its users and presenting those users with advertisements. Twitter's management has recently indicated that marketing may be a future feature of that service.

Assertions that Facebook's brought us all together may well get media coverage - and some snarky responses such as this post - but are about as credible as assertions that the BBC (or 'The Book' or 'Television' or 'The Printing Press') should get a seat at the UN, that realm of amity and understanding. If Facebook gets a seat, why not The Daily Telegraph, or the Canberra Raiders, or the Church of Scientology?

A sceptic would also question enthusiasm about online population figures, noting reports of substantial churn among Twitter and other social network services (which typically count everyone who's signed up as a member, even if membership lasts less than the lifespan of a gnat). Facebook coincidentally announced today that it had signed up 300 million members ... but what's a discrepancy of a 100 million or so when you're having fun.

Sexting

John Humbach's paper on ''Sexting' and the First Amendment' offers a US perspective on the phenomenon of minors using mobile phones to take, view and distribute what are deemed to be intimate photos of themselves or others.

The term 'sexting' derives from texting, ie SMS. The activity is facilitated by the roll-out of 3G networks and consumer uptake of MMS, along with the proliferation of mobile phones ... now increasingly held by K12 students, often in response to parental fears about strangers and perceptions that a mobile will provide a digital lifejacket for vulnerable kids. Data about the incidence and seriousness of sexting is at best problematical, with questions about the accuracy of a handful of surveys or extrapolation from reported abuses and lack of capacity on the part of telecommunication service providers to monitor and report on what happy snaps are being generated/disseminated by kids.

In Australia and overseas the phenomenon has been reflected in
+ calls for special anti-sexting law and for measures such as child protection orders;
+ something approaching a moral panic among the mass media, parts of officialdom and advocacy groups;
+ perceptions that any image of an unclothed or partly-clothed minor is necessarily 'sexualised' and thus deserving criminal sanctions, evident in the furore discussed in David Marr's The Henson Case (Scribe, 2008);
+ ad hominem attacks on analysts such as Peter Cumming who have urged a nuanced and fact-based response to popular anxieties and institutional legitimation; and
+ debate about the appropriateness of action under existing child pornography or other criminal law.
The latter is of particular concern in regimes that fail to discriminate between naive 'naughtiness' on the part of 12 or 16 year olds and exploitation of minors by adults, eg where any conviction results in placement on a lifetime - and publicly-accessible - sex offender register.

Humbach argues that
'Sexting' and other teen autopornography are becoming a widespread phenomenon, with perhaps 20% of teenagers admitting to producing nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves and an ever greater proportion, perhaps as many as 50%, having illegally received such pictures from friends and classmates. It is, moreover, beginning to result in criminal prosecutions, and the statutory penalties are severe. Given the reality of changing social practices, mores and technology utilization, today’s pornography laws are a trap for unwary teens and operate, in effect, to criminalize a large fraction of America’s young people. As such, these laws and prosecutions represent a stark example of the contradictions that can occur when governmental policies and initiatives built on past truths and values collide with new and unanticipated social phenomena.
Those contradictions in Australia are currently being explored by a UC Law Honours student.

Humbach considers sexting in relation to US First Amendment protection for expression, broader than that in Australia where the High Court has found a limited right of political communication under the Constitution but moved to freeing most expression.

Humbach comments that
The focus of anti-pornography enforcement in recent years has been the child pornography laws. The landmark cases of New York v. Ferber and Osborne v. Ohio have established and defined a categorical exclusion that denies First Amendment protection to sexually explicit visual depictions of minors. Even though Ferber and Osborne may not strictly speaking require a conclusion that sexting and other autopornography are unprotected speech, at least some lower courts and prosecutors appear to regard them that way.

By contrast, the language and reasoning of the more recent case of Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition gives strong reason to believe that the scope of the categorical exclusion for child pornography should be closely aligned with the governmental objectives that Ferber and Osborne relied on - which would mean constitutional protection for teen sexting and autopornography that occur on the teens’ own initiative.
He notes that
Ashcroft strongly implies that the exclusion of free speech protection should be limited to materials "produced by means of criminal child abuse and exploitation" and suggests that current standards of strict scrutiny for content-based regulation "would probably prevent (on the present state of the studies and research) self-produced teen materials from being subsumed into the Ferber categorical exclusion".
He notes that "how this issue will be decided, however, remains to be seen". The same might be said of Australia, where media coverage of sexting and warnings by bodies such as the NSW Education Department have outweighed actual prosecutions of minors.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (aka CC) has announced release of Defining "Noncommercial": A Study of How the Online Population Understands "Noncommercial Use".

The report covers research initiated in September last year that explore differences between 'commercial' and 'noncommercial' uses of online content in terms of how that use is perceived by different online 'communities', in particular recognition of the Creative Commons NC license.

Creative Commons provides model free copyright licenses to creators who want to grant the public certain permissions to use their works, in advance and without the need for one-to-one contact between the user and the creator. Its NC license is one of four license terms that creators may choose to apply to CC-licensed content. NC licensing precludes use of a work "in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation".

The research is US-centric. It draws on online surveys of US content creators and users, open access polls of global 'Creative Commons Friends and Family', "interviews with thought leaders" and focus groups with content creators/usersthe world who create and use a wide variety of online content and media. Most respondents (87% of creators, 85% of users) indicated that the NC definition was "essentially the same as" (43% of creators, 42% of users) or "different from but still compatible with" (44% of creators, 43% of users) theirs. Some 7% of creators and 11% of users indicated that the definition was "different from and incompatible with" their definition.

The report also includes rating by content creators and users of different uses of online content as either "commercial" or "noncommercial" on a scale of 1-100 (1 is "definitely noncommercial" and 100 is "definitely commercial". Creators (84.6) and users (82.6) rated uses regarding online advertising as "commercial", although on an instasnce by instance basis that interpretations is usually fact-specific. Creator and user perceptions of what is 'commercial' were lower where the use was by not-for-profit entities. Both creators (24.3) and users (16.0) rated "personal or private" use as noncommercial. Creative Commons, unsuprisingly, notes that perceptions outside the US were different. It cautions that "direct empirical comparisons may not be drawn from these data". The researcher responsible for the study commented that
we were particularly interested to see that—contrary to what many might believe—there is little variation between creators and users in the perceived ‘commerciality’ of particular uses of copyrighted content. Furthermore, where they do differ, users tend to have a more conservative outlook than creators.

14 September 2009

Australian crime stats

The Australian Bureau of Statistics new Recorded Crime - Offenders report indicates that the nation's police proceeded against 295,600 alleged offenders during 2007-08, equivalent to 1,800 offenders per 100,000 people aged 10 years and over. Police initiated 303,000 court actions against alleged offenders during 2007-08.

The report identifies the number and characteristics of alleged offenders aged 10 years and over for selected states and territories, complementing existing ABS publications relating to victims, criminal courts and corrective services.

Young, male and causing injury

Young people (between 10-19 years) accounted for one third (33%) of all offenders proceeded against by police. The 15-19 age group had the highest offender rate for any age group (5,900 offenders per 100,000 people aged 15-19 years). 78% of all offenders were male.

Some 26% of offenders were proceeded against more than once during the year, with 4% being proceeded against five or more times.

The most common principal offences were:
o Acts intended to cause injury (330 offenders per 100,000 people aged 10 years and over);
o Public order offences (315 offenders per 100,000 people aged 10 years and over);
o Theft and related offences (240 offenders per 100,000 people aged 10 years and over)
o illicit drug offences (both at 240 offenders per 100,000 people aged 10 years and over).
The Whiteness of Reporting?

Works such as The Power of Large Numbers: Population, Politics & Gender in Nineteenth Century France (Ithaca: Cornell Uni Press 2000) by Joshua Cole and Labelling People: French Scholars on Society, Race & Empire, 1815-1848 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's Uni Press 2003) by Martin Staum illustrate the way that nations and their statisticians have constructed 'suspect identities'. The ABS report indicates that ethnicity remains of significance in crime reporting, with special recognition of offences by (and, implicitly, among) Indigenous people. The Australian state constructs criminal identities, through the ABS report, in terms of age, gender, jurisdiction and 'Whiteness'.

Data on crime, prosecution and incarceration is consistent with past studies regarding the reported incidence of offences (and of victims) among Indigenous people (eg the 1987 national Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody), underpinning disagreement about causation and responses, such as Peter Sutton's The Politics of Suffering Indigenous Australia and the end of the liberal consensus (Carlton: Melbourne Uni Press 2009).

The ABS report notes that people who self-identified as being Indigenous accounted for more than six out of every 10 offenders (61%) in the Northern Territory. For New South Wales, 10% of offenders self-identified as being Indigenous, while the proportion in South Australia was 9%. Those figures are disturbing, given that as at 30 June 2008, the proportion of people aged 10 years and over who were Indigenous was 27% in the Northern Territory, 2% in New South Wales and 2% in South Australia. For all three jurisdictions, acts intended to cause injury was the most prevalent principal offence for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous offenders.

The ABS had earlier reported that as of 30 June 2006 there were 25,790 prisoners (sentenced and unsentenced) in Australian prisons, an imprisonment rate of 163 prisoners per 100,000 adult population. Of the total prisoner population, 93% were men and 7% were women. Unsentenced prisoners include prisoners awaiting a court hearing or trial and convicted prisoners awaiting sentencing. Unsentenced prisoners comprised 22% of the total prisoner population. Most (57% or 14,676) prisoners (both sentenced and unsentenced) had served time in an adult prison prior to the current episode.

A US point of reference is provided by the Crime in the United States, 2008 (CIUS 2008) report from the Federal Department of Justice. The US reportedly accounts for around 25% of the world's prisoners, imprisoning 756 people per 100,000 residents (with roughly one in every 31 adults either in prison or on parole and 55% of the federal prison population serving time for drug-related offences). African Americans have a one-in-three chance of being imprisoned at some point in their lives.

Private Security

The Australian Institute of Criminology has meanwhile noted that private security personnel now outnumber police by more than two-to-one. In Australia during 2006, some 52,768 personnel were employed full-time in the private security industry, compared with 44,898 police. During that year there were 266 security providers and 226 police per 100,000 population, a much lower rate than the estimated global average of 348 private security officers and 318 police (with upwards of 900 security personnel per 100,000 population in South Africa).

Both the police and private security industries have similar ratios of male to female employees (approximately 76% to 24% respectively). Security personnel frequently occupy an older age demographic than police, with the police being more highly educated and bette paid. Available data indicates there are over 5,000 security and investigative businesses registered in Australia (with over 110,000 licenses, issued mainly to individuals)there is substantial concentration: five companies account for nearly half of the security industry market share. Four of the five companies are foreign-owned.

Burial and Belief

Given recent noise in the mass media about the burial of Kerry Packer and Michael Jackson, I was interested to read 'Court refuses exhumation for garden reburial' by Shiranikha Herbert, Legal Correspondent, in 7634 Church Times (10 July 2009).

Herbert notes that the Sheffield diocese Consistory Court has refused a widower's petition for a faculty (ie a licence/authorisation) to exhume his wife's remains from con­secrated ground so that they could be reburied in the rear garden of his house (and potentially removed to a cemetery thereafter). "The fact that at the time of the funeral he had been given inaccurate information about the prospects of burial in the garden did not make his case an exceptional one so as to justify the grant of a faculty." The decision illustrates the interaction of secular and clerical law in the UK, along with potential problems where people are interred on private property (in this instance land that has been consecrated - and in practice is thus controlled - by the Church of England rather than domestic real estate more commonly used for playing with Rover, drying the washing and growing veggies).

Mary Eunice Field died in February this year and was buried 11 days later in Rossington Cemetery, a location consecrated by the Church and thus not solely controlled by a secular entity. On 7 April her widower, Gilbert Field, sought the faculty for her exhumation. The couple's daughter shared their house and apparently decided that she would like her mother to be buried in that house's garden. Alas, there's no indication in the Church Times report or in the terser note from the Ecclesiastical Law Society as to the size of the garden ... rolling acres, complete with polo field or llamas, as at Packer's Elliston and Jackson's Neverland, or something not much bigger than a Law Faculty office?

The Fields had been informed by the undertakers that a burial in their garden would require a zinc-lined cof­fin, at a cost of about £3,000. They would also need planning per­mis­sion, which would involve delay and (although the Church Times is presumably too polite to say so) extra cost while Mrs Field was in storage. Her survivors accordingly decided to bury her at Ros­sington.

Her daughter is described as "not satisfied", going on to query Doncaster Council and the UK Environment Agency, which con­firmed (after considering the location of drains) that burial in the garden in a normal coffin was permissible. That would not the case in Australia, where there are restrictions on backyard burial of people, horses and even cats and dogs.

The Council was similarly obliging, informing Ms Field that planning per­mission was not required. Perhaps having read Jessica Mitford's mordant The American Way of Death or the Dead Citizens Charter (DCC), the Council was even willing to carry out the exhuma­tion without involving the under­takers. The garden was duly prepared "and the exhumation was only a day or so away", with Mr Field having obtained the requisite Home Office licence - akin to Australian provisions in for example the Cemeteries & Crematoria Act 2003 (ACT) s 24, Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2003 (Vic) s 121 and Burial & Cremation Act 2002 (Tas) s 38 - when the keepers of the consecrated ground expressed concern after receiving the petition for ex­huma­tion.

The Church had a special role under English law. The UK Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA), in its 2005 Guide For Burial Ground Managers [PDF], noted that
Section 25 of the Burial Act 1857 makes it an offence to remove buried human remains without a licence from the Secretary of State or, in relation to ground consecrated according to the rites of the Church of England, a faculty. The DCA takes the view that a licence is required for any kind of removal or disturbance, including relocating coffins in the same grave. Moreover, because it is always difficult to predict with confidence the condition and position of a coffin, a licence is recommended even where a grave is excavated, for example, simply to make a visual identity check from the coffin name plate. ...

The DCA will normally be prepared to issue a licence if an application is made for personal reasons and if all relevant consents have been given. For land that is consecrated, burial is regarded as permanent. Applications for a faculty to authorise exhumation are granted only in special circumstances.
Herbert notes that
Ecclesiastical law recognises that laying someone to rest in consecrated ground, whether in a cemetery or a churchyard, is normally final and per­manent, the remains being protected by the agencies of the State or by the Church, and secure, so far as human affairs have any certainty, for all time. Permission for exhumation will be given only where the chancellor is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances that make the case a special one.
The Rev John Carlisle, Rossington's incumbent, told the Court that Mr Field was personally content that in due course he should be buried with his late wife in the cemetery. Clearly there was some disagreement, with Herbert indicating that Field's
daughter Christine, however, had, to a quite unusual degree, a sense of continuing to communicate with her deceased mother. She said that she wanted her mother in the garden so that she could talk to her each day, and that the cemetery was closed in the evenings and she could not talk to her mother then. ... The matter was further com­plicated by the fact that the idea of burial in the garden was essentially the wish of Christine Field. Mr Field was quite content for the burial to be in the cemetery, but had been per­suaded by his daughter to present the petition for exhumation.
We shouldn't laugh: some of the very best people talk with the dead. William Lyon Mackenzie King PC OM CMG - an eminent Canadian Prime Minister and thus not a barking moonbat - for example famously conversed with his deceased mama and pet dogs. Substantial numbers of people in the US reportedly believe that Elvis is still alive or that they've been taken up to the mother ship by aliens for a spot of proctology. Fortunately their belief doesn't result in ambulatory cadavers. Others have eschewed the worm food routine in favour of innovations such as the mummification promoted by New Age guru Corky Ra.

The ELS comments that the petition was refused.
No thought had been given as to what would happen to Mrs Field when her daughter died and what access future generations would have to Mrs Field's grave as it would no longer be in the security of consecrated ground but in private hands.
The Court held that a mistake could be regarded as an exceptional circumstance justifying ex­humation (eg where under­takers made a mistake and put the coffin into the wrong grave), with consideration of whether misleading information said to have been given by the undertakers about burial in the garden might be treated as a relevant mistake. Herbert notes that
Christine Field was quite unconcerned about what would happen to her mother’s remains when she, Christine, died, and by the thought that there might be a further exhumation and another reburial, presumably back into Ros­sington Cemetery. That would be for others to sort out.

The Chancellor was troubled by the evident lack of concern about the longer-term future of Mrs Field’s remains, their location “being essen­tially to satisfy the emotional needs of her daughter, in at least this stage of the bereavement process”. He was being asked, the Chancellor said, to allow the removal of a body from its secure resting place just over a mile from the family home to an insecure resting place in the rear garden of that home.
The Chancellor indicated that if he had been minded to grant the peti­tion for exhumation, he would have sought the views of other members of the family in the area and the views of Mr Field's next-door neighbours.

13 September 2009

Dog Time

I'm supposed to be helping someone with a grant application but instead am listening to the prelude of Bernard Herrmann's score for Fahrenheit 401 and reading reviews.

Cathleen Schine, in a New York Times review of Alexandra Horowitz's Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (New York: Scribner 2009), suggests that
A human being experiences a rose as a lovely, familiar shape, a bright, beautiful color and a sublime scent. That is the very definition of a rose. But to a dog? Beauty has nothing to do with it; the color is irrelevant, barely visible, the flowery scent ignored. Only when it is adorned with some other important perfume — a recent spray of urine, perhaps — does the rose come alive for a dog. How about a more practical object? Say, a hammer? "To a dog", Horowitz points out, "a hammer doesn't exist. A dog doesn't act with or on a hammer, and so it has no significance to a dog. At least, not unless it overlaps with some other, meaningful object: it is wielded by a loved person; it is urinated on by the cute dog down the street; its dense wooden handle can be chewed like a stick." Dogs, it seems, are Aristotelians, but with their own doggy teleology. Their goals are not only radically different from ours; they are often invisible to us.
She goes on to comment that
Dogs do not just detect odors better than we can. This sniffing "gaze" also gives them a very different experience of the world than our visual one gives us. One of Horowitz’s most startling insights, for me, was how even a dog's sense of time differs from ours. For dogs, "smell tells time", she writes. "Perspective, scale and distance are, after a fashion, in olfaction — but olfaction is fleeting. ... Odors are less strong over time, so strength indicates newness; weakness, age. The future is smelled on the breeze that brings air from the place you're headed." While we mainly look at the present, the dog's "olfactory window" onto the present is wider than our visual window, "including not just the scene currently happening, but also a snatch of the just-happened and the up-ahead. The present has a shadow of the past and a ring of the future about it."

A dog's vision affects its sense of time, too. Dogs have a higher "flicker fusion" rate than we do, which is the rate at which retinal cells can process incoming light, or "the number of snapshots of the world that the eye takes in every second." This is one of the reasons dogs respond so well to subtle human facial reactions: "They pay attention to the slivers of time between our blinks.") It also helps explain those ­eerily accurate balletic leaps after tennis balls and Frisbees, but Horowitz lets us see the implications beyond our human-centric fascination with our pets. This is more than a game of fetch; it is a profound, existential realization: "One could say that dogs see the world faster than we do, but what they really do is see just a bit more world in every second."
I may have to spend some time looking at Jakob von Uexküll's notion of the Umwelt.

On time there's a broadly positive review of Shaping the Day: A History of Timekeeping in England and Wales, 1300-1800 (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2009) by Paul Glennie & Nigel Thrift.