Liberty campaigns for civil liberties and human rights in the UK. Our members have been holding the powerful to account, changing the law and making the news for 80 years. Make your voice heard and join us.
— Shami Chakrabarti - Director of Liberty



author. Ashleigh Howells
image. Liberty website


As the world’s most dangerous woman according to the Sun (2007) enters the room the bowling green tent is filled with a tense respectful silence. A petite woman whose first day in office as Director of Liberty, her ‘blue sky thinking’ role, was followed 24 hours later by the 9/11 attacks pushing her role under tensions of a country of fear. Previously working as a lawyer in the home office, a place she refers to jokingly as Mordor- the tower of darkness, Chakrabarti has sure mastered the art of powerful persuasive language. She has eyes that could pierce through any metal it seems and she dominates the room, but yet, she feels very human and she is open and prepared to present herself on familiar terms. I am a strong supporter of this woman. But never have I heard her speak live and I’m reduced almost to tears with her articulate, fluid and faultless performance; one that speaks the truth speaks easily and I am awed by the woman, not only making a stand for human rights but also making a stand for women in a male dominated arena. She stands strong.

The surveillance state she begins; a real terror that we live at risk of today. In this war against terror she argues, we will lose all rights and freedoms in the process of fighting. This is not a fictional happening it is the reality of the world we live in. I am led to wonder here what the future of our communities are when doctor confidentiality is non-existent in a fishbowl state. How can there be a fair trial when there is total transparency? How can there be a private ballot for voting? What is the future for anonymous sources in policing ad journalism? And, on the topic of journalism, what is the future for it at all when everybody’s story is everybody’s news. Where lies the scoop?

Indeed Chakrabarti continues, none of us can deny that the importance of national security in a world of terrorism and malicious hacking is of paramount importance, and again, who can deny that the policing and monitoring of suspicious activity and communications is again of great importance to protect the wellbeing and safety of our civilians and communities. No one here is saying that that is in any way wrong. In this world of technology it is even more apparent that the web is a hub for malicious activity and the need for interception to alleviate or at least reduce the threat of any upcoming plots and acts is clear. But, and this is the real question, where do we draw the line?

This target security is giving way Chakrabarti argues to wider surveillance, the so called blanket surveillance. This seemingly Orwellian state will intrude into our everyday lives and conversations and will be supported by the mentality that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. A chilling statement that left the room silent in reverie.

As human beings we have this innate feeling that privacy is our right Chakrabarti argues. Our dignity requires privacy or there is no trust she states. This goldfish bowl state allows for none of that and what are the issues here? The real problem is that once this blanket security absorbs information from all aspects of our lives we become more vulnerable to hackers who can tap in to this great honey pot of everyday people’s personal details. These issues of human rights; the right to privacy she suggests; is not something that can be fought in a courtroom she boldly states. You need culture to make a movement. The legalities are just grim and wordy. And this is where I feel she really fits in here. Culture is what Port Eliot is all about. Culture is something Port Eliot understands. Be it music, arts, crafts or community, this shared sense of belonging is epitomised here. We are strong.

I was surprised to experience such a heavy and disturbing discussion at such a relaxed and airy festival such as Port Eliot but the tent was packed out. People sat on floor space between the chairs and aisles if seats were not available. Others leaned their heads into small gaps in the canvas walls straining their ears to hear her speak and join in with her debate. It seems to me that this woman reminded everyone of the stark reality in contrast to the frivolities at Port Eliot. Whilst this weekend feels a sanctuary and an opportunity to become reclusive to the mundanities of working home life, the fear still remains. The uncertainty of this country’s future and the state of our uncompassionate political figureheads leading our war on terror. Chakrabarti hit home. Perhaps not something that was to be expected when the attendees of Port Eliot were there to escape that very thing.