Monday, 4 March 2013

London Evening Standard Editorial

THE blacklist of individuals regarded as troublemakers that was compiled by a body called the Consulting Association and revealed by the Information Commissioners after a raid in 2009 was disturbing in itself, and calamitous for the job prospects of more than 3,000 people whose names were on it and who were sometimes given short shrift by potential employers.

But until now it has been taken as read that the blacklist chiefly affected people working in the construction industry, including trade union activists and those who raised health and safety concerns at work. Now, the GMB union says that it included the names of 200 environmental activists.

One of them is John Stewart, who has led a good deal of the opposition to the expansion of Heathrow Airport. He is respectable, retired, with no criminal convictions and a reputation as a formidable campaigner. Two years ago, he was refused entry to the US, and escorted off a plane by armed guards with no reason given. He feels now that this may be because his name appeared on the list.

If this is true, the problem becomes very disquieting indeed. It’s hard to think of anything more inimical to the modern spirit of openness and transparency than the existence of a secret blacklist circulating between employers and institutions. And if it includes people whose only offence is to hold views or conduct campaigns that some companies or institutions find troublesome, it becomes downright frightening, particularly if it affects people’s basic rights, including freedom of movement. Totalitarian regimes have secret lists of troublemakers; Britain has the Freedom of Information Act.

It is not clear whether Mr Stewart was barred from America because he was classed as a potential agitator or for some other reason; the US does not give explanations. But he should know what use was made of his data. Plainly, the Government has some way to go to reinforce a culture of openness in private industry as well as public institutions. Good citizens must be free to engage in public-spirited campaigns without fearing for their rights.
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