David House trolls the Wikileaks Grand Jury

Programmer invokes the fifth amendment 25 times in 50 minutes

David House, a friend of alleged Wikileaks source Private Manning, was called in June to the grand jury convened to determine whether anyone involved in the organisation should be indicted. House, a 23-year-old computer scientist from Boston, was apparently wary of incriminating not only his friend, but also himself, and seems to have been determined to disrupt the proceedings in whatever way he could.

As he told Forbes' Andy Greenberg:

I felt kind of powerless in there. Having a pen to write stuff down was the most subversive thing I could do.

House decided to make a transcript of his hearing, which, as he is informed, "is a violation of rule 6(e) of this grand jury." Nonetheless, he got away with it, and what remains is a document to the surprising effectiveness of sheer obstructiveness. Amongst other things, House invokes the fifth amendment to answer every question except his name and birthday:

PM: What is your birthdate?
DH: March 14, 1987
PM: Where do you live?
DH: Can you restate the question?
PM: What is your address?
DH: I invoke.
PM: What is your current occupation?
DH: I invoke.
PM: Were you a senior in computer science at Boston University in January 2010?
DH: I invoke.
PM: Isn’t it true that you told PBS Frontline that you were a senior at Boston University in January 2010?
DH: I invoke.
PM: Do you know what a hackerspace is?
DH: I invoke.
PM: Do you know what BUILDS is, the acronym?
DH: I invoke.

The full transcript can be found here. As well as invoking the fifth amendment 25 times in 50 minutes, House accidentally-on-purpose forces multiple short breaks, gets questions repeated, and is generally quietly, commendably, subversive. Now that is how to protest illegitimate crackdowns on free speech.

David House arrives to testify at the Wikileaks grand jury on June 15. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.