Introducing Mental Health Week

Each day this week, the New Statesman website will be hosting a blog exploring mental health issues.

In the course of a single year, one in four people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health problem. And yet it’s a subject we’re only just beginning to talk about with any kind of openness. For instance, it wasn’t until last year, with the help of the Backbench Business Committee, that a whole debate in Parliament was dedicated to mental health issues, and it took until earlier this year to get a law passed that prevents people being disqualified as MPs if they suffer from a mental illness.

The reason for this silence is well-known, and can be expressed in a single word: stigma. The social stigma attached to being public about mental illness is so great that nine out of ten people with mental health problems say it has had a negative effect on their lives. The fear of discrimination in the workplace, from strangers, and even from colleagues, friends or partners prevents people from feeling comfortable speaking about their problems. This in turn can even make things worse – having to keep an illness secret and feeling like you are isolated without support is a terrible state to live in.

It’s for this reason that the New Statesman is hosting a week of blogs exploring and debating mental health issues. It feels as though we’re beginning to approach a point where lazy stereotypes are starting to give way to more informed discussion and substantive progress, and we want to do everything we can to push this forward faster. The umbrella topic of “mental health” informs everything from decisions in our individual lives to government policy, and we’ve tried to reflect that in the pieces we’ve commissioned for this week. There’s everything from novelist Rebecca Wait’s personal memoir of depression and language to Holly Armstrong’s discussion of gender balance and suicide rates to Willard Foxton’s experiences of living with post-traumatic stress disorder, and a lot more besides.

The aim of the week is to tell stories that might have remained untold in the past because of fear and discrimination, as well as discussing the policy steps we should be taking to improve things for people suffering from mental illness. We’re trying to start a conversation – practically, we can’t represent every single aspect of the subject, but we hope you’ll find something worth reading and discussing in the comments and on social media.

Each day, we’ll be posting the links to the new blogs on this page, so check back to read the latest posts.

Monday The darkness beyond language by Rebecca Wait and You can't make schizophrenia nice by Glosswitch

Tuesday Mental health and the myth of the "crazy lesbian" by Eleanor Margolis; Is writing online bad for your sanity? by Martin Robbins

Wednesday Domestic violence and mental illness by Faridah Newman and Not sleeping is awful beyond belief by Nicky Woolf

Thursday Living with PTSD by Willard Foxton and The uncomfortable truth about gender inequality on suicide by Holly Baxter

Friday Depression and austerity by Frances Ryan

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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7 problems with the Snooper’s Charter, according to the experts

In short: it was written by people who "do not know how the internet works".

A group of representatives from the UK Internet Service Provider’s Association (ISPA) headed to the Home Office on Tuesday to point out a long list of problems they had with the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (that’s Snooper’s Charter to you and me). Below are simplified summaries of their main points, taken from the written evidence submitted by Adrian Kennard, of Andrews and Arnold, a small ISP, to the department after the meeting. 

The crucial thing to note is that these people know what they're talking about - the run the providers which would need to completely change their practices to comply with the bill if it passed into law. And their objections aren't based on cost or fiddliness - they're about how unworkable many of the bill's stipulations actually are. 

1. The types of records the government wants collected aren’t that useful

The IP Bill places a lot of emphasis on “Internet Connection Records”; i.e. a list of domains you’ve visited, but not the specific pages visited or messages sent.

But in an age of apps and social media, where we view vast amounts of information through single domains like Twitter or Facebook, this information might not even help investigators much, as connections can last for days, or even months. Kennard gives the example of a missing girl, used as a hypothetical case by the security services to argue for greater powers:

 "If the mobile provider was even able to tell that she had used twitter at all (which is not as easy as it sounds), it would show that the phone had been connected to twitter 24 hours a day, and probably Facebook as well… this emotive example is seriously flawed”

And these connection records are only going to get less relevant over time - an increasing number of websites including Facebook and Google encrypt their website under "https", which would make finding the name of the website visited far more difficult.

2. …but they’re still a massive invasion of privacy

Even though these records may be useless when someone needs to be found or monitored, the retention of Internet Connection Records (IRCs) is still very invasive – and can actually yield more information than call records, which Theresa May has repeatedly claimed are the non-digital equivalent of ICRs. 

Kennard notes: “[These records] can be used to profile them and identify preferences, political views, sexual orientation, spending habits and much more. It is useful to criminals as it would easily confirm the bank used, and the time people leave the house, and so on”. 

This information might not help find a missing girl, but could build a profile of her which could be used by criminals, or for over-invasive state surveillance. 

3. "Internet Connection Records" aren’t actually a thing

The concept of a list of domain names visited by a user referred to in the bill is actually a new term, derived from “Call Data Record”. Compiling them is possible, but won't be an easy or automatic process.

Again, this strongly implies that those writing the bill are using their knowledge of telecommunications surveillance, not internet era-appropriate information. Kennard calls for the term to be removed, or at least its “vague and nondescript nature” made clear in the bill.

4. The surveillance won’t be consistent and could be easy to dodge

In its meeting with the ISPA, the Home Office implied that smaller Internet service providers won't be forced to collect these ICR records, as it would use up a lot of their resources. But this means those seeking to avoid surveillance could simply move over to a smaller provider.

5. Conservative spin is dictating the way we view the bill 

May and the Home Office are keen for us to see the surveillance in the bill as passive: internet service providers must simply log the domains we visit, which will be looked at in the event that we are the subject of an investigation. But as Kennard notes, “I am quite sure the same argument would not work if, for example, the law required a camera in every room in your house”. This is a vast new power the government is asking for – we shouldn’t allow it to play it down.

6. The bill would allow our devices to be bugged

Or, in the jargon, used in the draft bill, subjected to “equipment interference”. This could include surveillance of everything on a phone or laptop, or even turning on its camera or webcam to watch someone. The bill actually calls for “bulk equipment interference” – when surely, as Kennard notes, “this power…should only be targeted at the most serious of criminal suspects" at most.

7. The ability to bug devices would make them less secure

Devices can only be subject to “equipment interference” if they have existing vulnerabilities, which could also be exploited by criminals and hackers. If security services know about these vulnerabilities, they should tell the manufacturer about them. As Kennard writes, allowing equipment interference "encourages the intelligence services to keep vulnerabilities secret” so they don't lose surveillance methods. Meanwhile, though, they're laying the population open to hacks from cyber criminals. 


So there you have it  – a compelling soup of misused and made up terms, and ethically concerning new powers. Great stuff. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.