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This page provides occasional items, linked to the original articles, as we attempt to keep up with the rapidly changing situation on civil liberties.
Archive of old news service:
2002 - 2004

1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005

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Momentum is building against the erosion of civil liberties in Britain

There definitely seems to be an increase in activity focused on the erosion of civil liberties in Britain.

Not only do we have the government backing down on trying to make MPs expenses secret after a concerted web campaign against the proposal, the Liberal Democrats launching a commission on privacy and the upcoming Convention on Modern Liberty, but now the Guardian has launched a new Comment is Free site, called Liberty Central, dedicated to discussing the erosion of civil liberties. Georgina Henry explains:

On the plus side, however, there is a growing number of journalists, bloggers, lawyers, MPs and civil liberties and human rights groups who tirelessly track this process, trying to unravel its complexities and stay on top of the relentless march of legislation. Their belief that we are at a particularly dangerous moment in the erosion of our fundamental rights is the driving force behind the Convention of Modern Liberty, called for the end of February (see below for details).

It’s also the reason why today we’re launching a new Comment is free site, liberty central, both to reflect and focus the debate, and as a resource to keep you abreast of legal and political developments.

The site will be the home of Henry Porter’s blog and his columns from the Observer, where for the past three years he has forensically and ferociously tracked the assault on civil liberties, in the process becoming the best informed writer on these issues, as well as a must-read for those interested in the debates. (Reread his first campaigning piece, published three years ago, on the growth of state power in the name of the so-called “war on terror”.)

The site will also contain an A to Z of key legislation of the last decade – ie all published and enacted by the Labour government – which will act as a constant reference point for readers. Read the Guardian’s legal correspondent, Afua Hirsch, on the importance of such a guide and what you can expect to find in it.

We’re also, with many thanks to the civil and human rights organisation Liberty, hosting a weekly clinic, where their specialist lawyers have agreed to answer readers’ queries.

Campaigners win battle to stop MPs from making their expenses secret

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:32 pm on 21 January, 2009.
Categories political liberties, British politics, accountability, freedom of information.
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The British government has cancelled a vote on proposals to make MPs expenses secret.

The Convention on Modern Liberty in Glasgow and Belfast

I blogged earlier about the Convention on Modern Liberty.

The Convention website has since published details about the Glasgow Convention and the Belfast Convention.

Those living elsewhere in Britain can check out the Across the UK page to see what’s happening near them.

If you’re trying to get round China’s internet firewall…

[Hat tip: Samizdata]

…you might want to steer clear of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium.

They apparently provide details of their clients to “vetted” companies to personalised advertising. Should the Chinese authorities manage to set up a front company then it could have calamitous results for said clients.

FoI request guidance demands “real names”

Posted by James Hammerton @ 4:34 pm on .
Categories British politics, accountability, freedom of information.
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UK Liberty reports that new guidance from the Information Commissioner advises organisations to require that a real name be given when making FoI requests:

The use of the phrase “the name of the applicant” in section 8(1)(b) indicates that the real name of the applicant should be used when requesting information and not any other name, for example, a pseudonym.

MPs to vote to keep their expenses secret

Posted by James Hammerton @ 4:17 pm on .
Categories British politics, accountability, freedom of information.
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From The Times:

Details of MPs’ claims for plasma televisions, furniture and cleaning bills will be kept secret after Harriet Harman bowed to backbenchers’ pressure to stop expenses claims being published.

MPs are preparing to pass a new law next week that will exempt them from parts of the Freedom of Information Act, meaning that they will never again be forced to publish receipts for their claims, in defiance of an order by the High Court. This would make MPs the only public sector employees with special privileges to protect them from disclosing their expenses.

At the same time, the Speaker’s committee revealed that it had watered down tough restrictions on what MPs could claim for. A new regime was promised after Derek Conway, a Conservative Member, was found to be abusing the system. The plans for rigorous external audits, however, have been diluted and a ban on buying furniture and electrical items has been scrapped.

MPs will be allowed to continue using public funds to buy “white goods”, electrical equipment, sofas, chairs, tables, decoration, cleaning, insurance and security. Controversially, MPs will also be able to claim additional sums on their mortgage for “refurbishment”, plus £25 for each night spent away from their main home, without receipts.

A document from the committee led by Michael Martin, the Commons Speaker, said: “It has been argued that it would be excessively burdensome for Members to have provided receipts for all transactions and that additional costs incurred . . . would be likely disproportionate.”

This is taxpayers’ money they’re spending. Apparently they don’t believe we should know how they’re spending it. It is a disgrace.

The Convention on Modern Liberty: 28th February 2009

The Convention on Modern Liberty is a convention being organised for the 28th February 2009. To quote from the website:

A call to all concerned with attacks on our fundamental rights and freedoms under pressure from counter-terrorism, financial breakdown and the database state

This looks like it will be an interesting set of events, with conventions planned in London, Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Glasgow, Manchester, Southampton and Swansea.

I’ll post more news when I get it.

British government abandons FOIA charges plan

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:16 pm on 19 November, 2007.
Categories British politics, accountability, freedom of information.
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NB: This was mentioned in Gordon Brown’s speech “on liberty”, but I felt it deserved separate mention from my coverage of that speech.

The Register reported recently that the government has decided to back down on a proposal to revise the way charges are computed for freedom of information requests:

The UK Government has dropped controversial proposals that critics said would have neutered the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Changes to the charging structure that would have allowed bodies to refuse more requests will not now go ahead.

The move comes amid significant opposition from pressure groups and media companies, who say the changes would have hindered access to information about the activities of public bodies. Of the 324 people or organisations who responded to the Government’s consultation on the plan, 73 per cent objected to it, the Ministry of Justice said

Gordon Brown and civil liberties

Last week, at the University of Westminster, Gordon Brown gave us a speech on liberty and what it means for Britain. I have responded to this speech below. Quotations from the speech are indented.

Addressing these issues is a challenge for all who believe in liberty, regardless of political party. Men and women are Conservative or Labour, Liberal Democrat or of some other party - or of no political allegiance. But we are first of all citizens of our country with a shared history and a common destiny.

And I believe that together we can chart a better way forward. In particular, I believe that by applying our enduring ideals to new challenges we can start immediately to make changes in our constitution and laws to safeguard and extend the liberties of our citizens:

* respecting and extending freedom of assembly, new rights for the public expression of dissent;
* respecting freedom to organise and petition, new freedoms that guarantee the independence of non-governmental organisations;
* respecting freedoms for our press, the removal of barriers to investigative journalism;
* respecting the public right to know, new rights to access public information where previously it has been withheld;
* respecting privacy in the home, new rights against arbitrary intrusion;
* in a world of new technology, new rights to protect your private information;
* and respecting the need for freedom from arbitrary treatment, new provision for independent judicial scrutiny and open parliamentary oversight.

Note here how Mr Brown is talking about giving us “new” rights to express dissent, “new” protections of privacy and “new” rights against arbitrary intrusion. The main reason we need “new” protections is precisely because this government has trashed many of the old ones!

(more…)

Roundup on Britain’s national identity scheme

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I hope to post more regularly in future. For the moment I’ll be in catch-up mode, rounding up stories in particular areas. Today’s round up is on Britain’s National Identity Scheme:

  • Under a recent statutory instrument, invoking section 38 of the Identity Cards Act 2006, the Identity and Passport Service(IPS) can now employ credit reference agencies, such as Experian, to verify identity information given during passport applications. The IPS will also be in charge of issuing identity cards (eventually all passport applications will involve registering on the NIR). So it looks like credit reference agencies are likely to be employed to verify data for ID card applications as well.
  • The Register reports that from 2008, the General Register Office, currently part of the Office for National Statistics, will be transferred to become part of the Identity and Passport Service. This means that the IPS will beceome responsible for the register of births, deaths and marriages. The Register comments:

    The government has followed up the effective merger of the ONS’ population register with the NIR by subsuming the GRO in the IPS Borg, and the uncontentious register that previously existed will, as of next April, be run by an organisation which proposes to make money out of compiling and continually updating the “biographical footprint” of every live individual in the UK (see here for more detail on the identity verification service and its roots in IPS’ Personal Identification Project, PIP).

  • At their annual conference, the Tory party re-affirmed their commitment to scrap the identity cards. Both David Davis and David Cameron, the Tory leader, included this pledge in their speeches. However they haven’t yet gone as far as the Liberal Democrats in pledging to repeal the Identity Cards Act 2006 and rolling back other surveillance state measures.
  • As of 2nd October, Spy.org.uk had been waiting for over 1,000 days for a disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act relating to government reports on the ID card scheme, despite both the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal ruling that the reports should be disclosed. The government is appealing the decision to the High Court. The High Court has set March 4th & 5th 2008 for the hearing.
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