Monthly Archives: March 2009

Silence, please

I usually condemn from this blog the Spanish penal code and the Spanish judicial system and its practices when they impose weak and slim sentences, but this time I have to applaud them (to some extent).

A bar owner in Barcelona has been sentenced to 5 years in jail for disrupting the lives of neighbors with the noise from the bar. The bar lacked operating permits, and did not comply with any regulation on soundproofing. Neighbors had to stand one year of loud noises at night, despite several formal complaints from neighbors to authorities about the noise.

Offenders like this bar owner know that the judicial system is slow and that sentences are rarely tough on them, so they risk skipping compliance with regulations, with their arrogant behaviour toward good neighbourly conduct: Problems started in 2005, and the bar owner has not been sentenced to jail until now (2009). There is ample room for improvement. The system must evolve to be able to put these people in jail from the first day of their offence. Everyone should be able to live quietly in their homes without interference of outside noise. Rest is of utmost importance for a healthy life and consequently a healthy society. Noise offences like in the case of this bar need to be much more swiftly restrained.

Silence is long forgotten as a virtue in today’s noisy society. People should learn to appreciate it and cherish it, and this includes respecting the space of others freeing it from our own noise.

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False privacy protection

Finland’s Parliament passed a law allowing companies to track workers’ e-mail messages, but not to read the messages themselves. With this law in effect, companies will be able to retain information about the e-mails, such as the sender, recipient, the sent and received time and date, and whether the email contained attachments [ref].

Even with such a weak law (it does not permit reading the content of messages), some opposed it arguing it “gives employers more powers than the police, and could lead to an erosion of Finland’s proud heritage as a world leader in human rights” [ref].

It is rumoured that Nokia was pushing for such a law to pass (for it was dubbed “Lex Nokia”). If it were so, they should be applauded for that, because opponents to that law are but yet another example of undue zeal for privacy.

There’s no privacy concern with work-related e-mail messages, or any other company communication material. All company communications, and all company communications channels should belong to the company, not to the workers. The company should have the right to access and read the contents of their worker’s e-mail at any time. The content of those communications are not private. They do not belong to the individual. Workers are dealing with company information when they exchange e-mails, phone calls or postal mail with any other party, and the company has the right to decide who that information can and cannot be shared with. For this reason, the company should also have the right to inspect all company e-mails if they wish to, for policy enforcement, or for whatever other reason. People should keep our private conversations separate from company e-mail systems, if we are so concerned about our privacy.

There is no violation of privacy with this new Finnish law, and neither there would be if the law allow companies full access to their own company e-mails. On the other hand, such “privacy protecting” laws are a refuge for damaging activity by harmful employees. The problem of information leakage in enterprises is more complex than what this Finnish law is addressing, but these “privacy protecting” laws for enterprise environments (in effect in Finland but also in Spain, for instance) only cause problems for business while delivering no benefits to anyone.

Take the law into one's own hands

After a bomb set off by criminal terrorists ETA (or their support groups, it’s all the same) last February 23 in Lazcano (Guipuzcoa) destroyed the home of Emilio GutiĆ©rrez, a local neighbour, Emilio went on a rampage against the local ETA-supporting bar, destroying part of it.

Emilio did what just about every spaniard ever wanted to do in reaction to ETA. It is not right to take the law into one’s own hands, but what are we to do when the State no longer guarantees security, ensuring protection from criminals?

ETA and its supporters roam about many towns in the Basque Country (and elsewhere), and the State does nothing to arrest them, close down their financing institutions (bars included), or remove their propaganda from the streets. The terrorist/criminal/mafia laden environment is permanently threatening and intimidating people, destroying public and private property, and hunting down (or even killing) anyone who publicly disagrees with their short-sighted moronic view of the world.

The State should be there to prevent all that criminal activity. The State’s mission is first and foremost to guarantee the security and freedom of people. When the State has failed in its mission, people have no other option than to resort to taking the law into their own hands. In Spain, the State is failing and is missing, and in such situation, Emilio did the right thing. It is up to the Government to reverse the situation, and start giving us, the people, the security and freedom that we expect it to protect.

Defenceless society

Life imprisonment: yes or no. This debate has briefly appeared on Spanish media in the last few days, after a young woman was murdered in Sevilla. The Spanish penal code does not consider life imprisonment for any type of crime.

Those against this type of sentence argue that the Spanish Constitution does not admin life imprisonment, but in fact the Constitution does not mention it at all. It is absolutely untrue that life imprisonment is incompatible with the Constitution. They argue that such sentence would be “degrading”, and this is not allowed by the Constitution. However, this is merely a matter of opinion: is a 30 or 40 year jail sentence “decent”? is life imprisonment “degrading”?. They can both be equally “decent” or “degrading”. The real problem is the Constitution’s and the penal code’s insistence on protecting and supporting criminals, rather than the society attacked by those criminals.

Laws should be primarily targeted at protecting society. Secondly, on a case by case basis, its target could be social rehabilitation of criminals. However, when the Spanish Constitution mentions liberty-curbing sentences, it only speaks about their social rehabilitation purpose, and fails to mention the protection of a society facing criminal individuals.

While the penal code continues exclusively focused on protecting criminals (as it does), we can forget about justice: Society and its individuals are not allowed to exercise self-defense, while the State (or nation) offers support and help to criminals (paid with tax money from society, by the way), and calls it a “sentence”.

The State must exist with one main objective, as expressed by Jefferson in his 1801 inaugural address:

“…a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement,…”

In order to avoid such injuries from occurring, the State must act in support of the injured party. That is, the offending party must see their liberties and rights restricted in a manner such that their actions may not entail new risks for other members of society. Such restriction may be temporary deprivation of liberty, life imprisonment, or even death penalty (as needed). Above all, the State ought to ensure that known criminals never injure society again. Social rehabilitation should be secondary. Regrettably, this is not the case in most of the western world’s penal systems.

Thanks to flimsy penal code in Spain, the killer of Marta del Castillo in Sevilla (if ever convicted) would be out of jail in a few years, posing a known threat to society. A campaign is underway to collect signatures and support to ask the Spanish Government to introduce life imprisonment in the penal code. I am absolutely certain that the Government will not listen to society, but it’s worth trying, to show there is strong demand for a stronger penal code.