Wake up the sentinels

When I half remember good advice, it drives me to do a bit of research.  This week, watching all the questions being asked of Facebook, I couldn’t help but recall something I’d read more than 30 years ago.  Yes, going back that far does have relevance because fundamental questions are exactly that; fundamental.

It seems every time technology advances the law follows but several steps behind.  That’s law makers and those who sit in judgement trying to interpret tomes of law need to speed up.  It was starkly apparent to me that Facebook was getting an easy ride, as questioning politicians struggled to keep up.  Few question hit the mark or even attempted to look ahead.

For me, as for many, even research can’t be conducted without a heavy reliance on technology.  So, I searched with the fragments of what I’d remembered.  Typing into Google’s almighty search engine the two words “sleeping sentinels” because that’s what I thought was the name of a book.

Initially, I didn’t find what I wanted but what I did find was intriguing.  I wasn’t previously aware of the story of the “sleeping sentinel”.  A Union Army soldier during the American Civil War.  He fell asleep whilst on duty, was court-martialled and sentenced to be executed.  Harsh treatment indeed.  But after his death sentence was read, a pardon was read thus saving his life.  Lincoln had interceded on Scott’s behalf.

In this tale there’s an indication of the awakening of the idea of a “just culture”.  Today, people with safety related work are expected to report such a case as; falling asleep on the job due to fatigue.  In a “just culture” they should not be punished if others can learn from their experience.

I digress, since my aim was to rediscover an almost forgotten book on law.  Eventually, I came to a reference to a book called: “The Slumbering Sentinels: Law and Human Rights in the Wake of Technology”[1].  This was the paperback I remembered.

One of the tenants of the book is that the law is sleeping while technology is racing ahead.  Clear insight from the 1970s and 80s trying to consider the implications of personal commuters and alike.

Equally important to the case of understanding Social Media is the changing landscape of political campaigning.  Its only now that everyone is discovering the details of what happened in June 2016 in the UK.

Its Friday 13th and the news media is full of conflict and tension, but I hope this material gets well discussed.  It does amount to finding out, after the event, hugely significant facts about the referendum of 2016.


To quote: “192. If the Commission indeed refrains from even exercising a discretion as to whether to refer a matter to the police or prosecuting authorities until it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has been committed, this in our view would constitute an unlawful fetter on its regulatory discretion.”

What a dilemma.  If the Electoral Commission, police or prosecuting authorities do not respond then they are indeed Slumbering Sentinels.

If they do respond, the case could be made for invalidating the 2016 referendum.  To reassure them, as I have been saying in this article, they will not be the first to wake-up while technology is racing ahead.  It’s difficult to foresee how technology will be misused in the future especially when money is no object.  That said, we can’t ignore the facts.

[1] The Slumbering Sentinels: Law and Human Rights in the Wake of Technology (Pelican) Paperback – November 24, 1983 by C. G. Weeramantry


Author: johnwvincent

Our man in Southern England

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