Don't trust the government's citizenship-stripping policy

Even if depriving dangerous individuals of their citizenship can be right in principle, can we really trust governments to use such a power prudently in practice?

Should British nationals suspected of terrorist offences or other serious international crimes be stripped of their citizenship? The British government thinks so. Over the past ten years, UK governments have passed legislation that makes it easier to strip citizenship from UK dual nationals when the home secretary deems their citizenship to be “not conducive to the public good”.

Now things have taken a more radical turn. In an amendment just passed by parliament, the government intends to extend denaturalisation powers to naturalised citizens even if it would make them stateless. This is no idle threat. No fewer than 37 UK nationals have been stripped of citizenship since the Conservative government came to power in September 2010, a figure that dwarfs the handful of people who lost citizenship when Labour was in power.

The moral case for such powers is easy to summarise. At first glance, it hardly seems right that an individual who threatens to destroy or undermine a society’s basic institutions should continue to enjoy citizenship of that society. If we presume —- as “contractualist” theories of the state would have it —- that the state is analogous to civil society associations, withdrawal of membership seems particularly appropriate. Virtually all organisations, from golf clubs to churches, have a recognised right to kick out members who set themselves at odds with the key principles of the association in question. We have a rich vocabulary to capture such procedures: associations “expel”, “excommunicate”, or “strike off the register” members who threaten their continued existence or basic norms.

The problem is that the state is not like other organisations, because individuals have no choice but to live under the authority and power of a state. If they are deprived of citizenship and made stateless, they continue to be subject to state power but without the basic protections against it offered by citizenship, including security of residence (protection from deportation), political rights, and a host of entitlements and privileges (including access to education and employment) often reserved solely for citizens.

It was for this reason that, in 1954, the US Supreme Court struck down a law which allowed the American government to take away citizenship as a punishment. Judging denaturalisation to be cruel and unusual, the court argued that “the punishment strips the citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself… [He] has lost the very right to have rights].”

Unequal treatment

Another concern is that laws to strip citizenship often apply only to some citizens. In the UK, for example, only naturalised citizens could lose their citizenship before 2002; after that, only dual nationals could (because only they would not become stateless). This means that under current British law, if a dual national and a single national commit the same offence (or more accurately, are suspected of committing the same offence), only the dual national could lose her citizenship. This kind of differential treatment undermines the fundamental concept of citizenship as a status with no gradations or rankings.

Even the British government accepted this idea when it introduced new denaturalisation legislation in 2002. Ministers argued, albeit somewhat disingenuously, that by making native-born British nationals (with a second citizenship) subject to the same denaturalisation powers as naturalised citizens, they were ensuring the equal treatment of naturalised Britons.

But even if denaturalisation powers were evenly applied to all, they would still be morally questionable. This is because it may be wrong to conceptualise citizenship simply as a “privilege” dependent on good behaviour. Long-term residents of a state (including those who entered illegally as children) have a moral right to be recognised as citizens based on the social ties and connections they have established in the course of their stay. As the political theorist Joseph Carens writes, there is “something deeply wrong in forcing people to leave a place where they have lived for a long time. Most people form their deepest human connections where they live. It becomes home.”

If social connections and ties constitute a reason for admitting people into citizenship, they are also a reason for not taking citizenship away once it has been acquired. We recognise this principle when we punish common criminals, who may well pose a threat to society, without withdrawing their citizenship.

An unjust policy

A different concern is that denaturalisation laws like the ones active in the UK are simply arbitrary, and for that reason unjust. Our legislation does not require that an individual be convicted of a crime in a court of law; indeed, one of the attractions of the current legislation for British governments is that it allows the home secretary to get rid of individuals without going through the difficult process of providing the evidence necessary for criminal conviction. To be sure, there is a statutory right of appeal, but given that most Britons are stripped of their citizenship when outside the UK, the chances for an effective appeal are minimal. Current laws define the grounds for deprivation so broadly that a successful appeal on the merits of a decision is highly unlikely.

If these moral concerns about stripping of citizenship fail to convince, there is one final and compelling reason why we should look askance at this power. Even if depriving dangerous individuals of their citizenship can be right in principle, can we really trust governments to use such a power prudently in practice? I think not.

Since the Conservative government came to power, they have denaturalised more people than any UK government since before World War II, and they now propose to extend powers so that even statelessness is not a bar. Initial government assurances that this power would be used sparingly and constrained by human rights considerations now seem risible. The key question supporters of denaturalisation need to ask is not whether it can in principle be right to strip citizenship (on that there may be room for debate), but whether it is wise to entrust denaturalisation to a government that has not hesitated to broaden the scope of its use

Matthew J. Gibney does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Home secretary Theresa May. Photo: Getty

Matthew J Gibney is Associate Professor of Politics and Forced Migration at University of Oxford.

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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.