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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.
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Britons to be spied on, without judicial supervision, by foreign police

Posted by James Hammerton @ 2:12 pm on 26 July, 2010.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, accountability, European Union politics.
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The Telegraph reports:

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will today announce she plans to sign up to the so-called European Investigation Order (EIO), The Daily Telegraph understands.

It comes despite concerns by fair trial campaigners and has angered backbench Tories.

It raises the prospect of personal details of individuals being passed on without their knowledge in the most minor of cases, such as leaving a restaurant without paying.

Foreign police officers would also be able to come to the UK and work alongside police here in investigating individuals, although they would not have any powers of arrest.

The EIO is designed to help law enforcement agencies in EU states share information and be more effective in combating cross border crime.

But Fair Trials International (FTI) said it could result in disproportionate requests, such as demands for the DNA of plane loads of British holidaymakers following a murder in a resort they had visited.

A report by FTI said: “This could include requests to interview suspects or witnesses or obtain information in real time, by intercepting and monitoring telephone or email communications or by monitoring activity in bank accounts.

“States could also be required to obtain or analyse DNA samples or fingerprints and send the information to the issuing state within fixed deadlines.”

Police would not be able to argue that the request or alleged offence being investigated is disproportionate.

Previous examples of minor criminal offences already pursued around Europe include a carpenter who fitted wardrobe doors and then removed them when the client refused to pay him and the Polish authorities requesting the extradition of a suspect for theft of a dessert.

Big Brother Watch have also covered this issue. Note that there will be no judicial oversight and such surveillance may be performed for “crimes” which are not recognised in Britain.

The EU want to keep a record of every internet search - Big Brother Watch

Big Brother Watch reports:

As reported on the Register, more than 300 MEPs in the European Parliament are set to lobby the EU to keep a log of every internet search made in Europe, under the dubious logic of cracking-down on paedophilia.

Does the EU give a damn about the rule of law?

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:48 pm on 15 November, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, European Union politics.
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Christopher Booker writing in the Telegraph claims:

On October 31 the five-year term of all the Brussels Commissioners expired. Under the Treaty they should therefore have stepped down. But because of the hiatus before the newly-ratified Constitution comes into force next month, the existing Commissioners simply decided to stay on until a new Commission is appointed. When Lord Willoughby pointed out that there is no authorisation for this in the Treaty and that they are therefore acting illegally, the former Commissioner Lord Kinnock leaped up to claim that the Commissioners were perfectly entitled to stay in office under Article 216 of the Treaty.

Had Lord Windbag actually looked at the Treaty before opening his mouth, he would have seen that the sole purpose of Article 216 is to lay down that any Commissioner found “guilty of serious misconduct’ or who “no longer fulfils the conditions required for the performance of his duty” must be “compulsorily retired”. Since the current Commissioners “no longer fulfil the conditions required”, they should all thus be retired immediately.

The Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009 come into force on 6th April 2009

Spy Blog reports:

This Mandatory Data Retention is regardless of whether an Internet Service Provider or Telecommunications Company has any business need for this data any more , and which would therefore have been destroyed or anonymised under the Principles of Data Protection under the Data Protection Act. This data is not data identified as being useful for a particular targeted criminal investigation, but is mass surveillance snooping on the vast majority of the 450 million innocent people in the European Union.

The first part of this EU Directive, regarding landline telephones and mobile phones has already been in force in the UK since October 2007.

Remember that none of the “serious crime” or”terrorism” cases which were trotted out in support of this Data Retention policy actually involved any investigations which needed out of data communications traffic data as old as 12 months. The Soham murders investigation and the tracking of the July 2005 failed terrorist bomber who fled from London to Italy, all used current, Communications Traffic Data no more than a few days old or even in “real time”, which would not yet have been deleted by the telcos in the normal course of their business anyway.

And:

This EU Mandatory Data Retention is not the same as the the Home Office’s evil plans for snaffling all such Communications Data logfiles into a centralised, secret database, something which they appear to be trying to bolt on to the existing Interception Modernisation Programme plans for new equipment etc. for GCHQ - i.e. the recipe for yet another Government IT project cost and delivery overrun in the making.

Such a a database would then allow them to evade even the weak scrutiny by the Interception of Communications Commissioner , Rt. Hon. Sir Paul Kennedy (who only has the power to audit a small sample of the requests made by the list of intelligence agencies, police forces, Whitehall Departments and quangos and Local Government Councils for requests to Communications Services Providers, and to evade any of the restraints on excessive snooping and on speculative mass data trawling through innocent people’s data, which the existing system of having to pay for each request, something which attracts external financial and budgetary scrutiny by senior management of the financial audit trail.

None of this has yet been spelled out in any detail, in spite of the promise of a Communications Data Bill in the Queens Speech in November 2008 (delayed) or a public consultation in January 2009 (delayed), promised by Home Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, back last October.

Philip Johnston on the Wilders case

Posted by James Hammerton @ 2:11 pm on 15 February, 2009.
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics, European Union politics.
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Philip Johnston has an excellent article in the Telegraph on the Geert Wilders case:

What, then, possessed the Home Office to ban Wilders – an unprecedented action against a democratically-elected politician from a European state, who is entitled to free movement within the EU? By any measure, it was an extraordinary decision; yet it was not even raised in parliament, the supposed guardian of our freedoms, though some MPs have commented on the ban, largely to support it.

Were Wilders a terrorist preaching violence against particular groups, it could be understood on public order grounds. The order issued by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, read: “The Secretary of State is of the view that your presence in the UK would pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society. The Secretary of State is satisfied that your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewhere would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the UK.”

Yet what possible threat to public security is posed by a Dutch MP showing a film, in private, to a smattering of peers on a Thursday afternoon in February? Of itself, the film does not call for violence against Muslims; indeed, it suggests that Islam is a cause of violence, a view with which you are entitled to agree or feel strongly about, but not to prohibit.

The reason for the ban appears to have been the possibility of protests by some Muslim organisations against Wilders’s visit. In other words, his freedom to express a view and the liberty of peers to hear it in an institution supposedly devoted to free speech, were set aside in the face of intimidation – the opposite of what happened in the Rushdie case, even if that author was forced into hiding.

What is particularly insidious is the application of double standards. One of those most opposed to Wilders’s visit is the Muslim peer Lord Ahmed, though he denies allegations that he warned parliamentary authorities that 10,000 demonstrators would take to the streets. Yet two years ago, Lord Ahmed invited Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian previously detained on suspicion of fundraising for groups linked to al-Qaeda, to Westminster to meet him. When he was criticised for doing so, he said it was his parliamentary duty to hear Rideh’s complaints. He does not appear to see any contradiction with the position he now adopts against his fellow peers.

Geert Wilders: some links

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:21 pm on 14 February, 2009.
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics, European Union politics.
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By now most readers will probably have heard of the upcoming prosecution of Geert Wilders for his views on Islam (e.g. as expressed in Fitna) and of him being banned from entering the UK. Unfortunately, my time is pressed so I’ve not been able to cover this in the way I’d like to.

My position is that if Wilders has not been inciting violence then there is no case for either the prosecution or the ban on him entering the UK. As far as I can tell, he has not been inciting violence.

I disagree with his desire to ban the Koran on precisely the same grounds as I disagree on prosecuting him for expressing his views of Islam. I believe in freedom of speech, and regard the causation of offence as insufficient grounds to ban the expression of someone’s views.

Anyway here are various links to articles covering the story:

The Guardian: Foreign 6-year-olds are being fingerprinted on entry to the UK

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:12 pm on 1 February, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, European Union politics.
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The Guardian reports:

Two months ago, the UK Borders Agency began fingerprinting foreign children over six years old, from outside the European Economic Area and resident in Britain. At the time Jacqui Smith was congratulated for her tough line on issuing identity cards to foreign residents and no one, not even parliament, noticed that the biometric requirements applied to children of six. And parliament didn’t know because it was never asked to approve the policy.

Nowhere in the world are you more powerless than at a border. As a foreigner you also enjoy far fewer rights than locals. Do you think these children or their parents dare to speak up against the bureaucracy of the UK Borders Agency? In fact, no one has called the Borders Agency to account. Home Office officials I have talked to outside the agency were shocked that official government policy is now to fingerprint children.

When asked why (question 226407), the Home Office itself offers a much more solid defence: that the EU requires it. What it does not admit is that the British government is almost alone in pushing the EU to ensure that the age when fingerprinting can start is so low. Home Office officials pushed the EU to establish a standard age of six, despite opposition within other European governments. The next time you hear a government official support the EU, it is not just because it is a vehicle for “peace, prosperity and freedom”, but also because it is a vehicle to push through policies that the UK government would prefer not to pursue through the legislature at home.

Home Office denies adoption of EU remote snooping plan

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:07 pm on 11 January, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, European Union politics.
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The Register reports that the Home Office has denied reports suggesting it had adopted EU proposals to allow remote snooping of computers by the police:

The Home Office has denied it has made any change to rules governing how police can remotely snoop on people’s computers.

Any such remote hack - which normally requires physical access to a computer or network or the use of a key-logging virus - is governed by Ripa - and the rules have not changed. But European discussions on giving police more access are underway - we reported on the meeting of ministers in October. But despite this Sunday Times story, no change has yet been made. The paper claimed the Home Office: “has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain routinely to hack into people’s personal computers”.

A spokesman for the Home Office told the Reg that UK police can already snoop - but these activities are governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Surveillance Commissioner. He said changes had been proposed at the last Interior Ministers’ meeting, but nothing has happened since.

The German Interior Ministry explained at the time that “almost all partner countries have or intend to have in the near future national laws allowing access to computer hard drives and other data storage devices located on their territory”. But the Germans noted the legal basis of transnational searches is not in place and ministers were looking for ways to rectify this. (emphasis added)

The emphasised section implies British police already have this power.

ECHR throws out Prestige related case against Spain

The European Court of Human Rights has thrown out a case brought by the captain of the Prestige against the Spanish government:

SHIPPING industry officials have been left “shocked and disappointed” after a case against Spain by Prestige master Apostolos Mangouras was thrown out by the European Court of Human Rights.

In a unanimous decision, the Strasbourg court ruled that the €3m bail imposed on Capt Mangouras was not excessive given the seriousness of the 2002 oil spill. The time the Greek master spent in a Spanish jail — 83 days — was also short compared to comparable cases, the seven judges said in their ruling.

Representatives for the London Steamship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association, the Prestige’s insurers, are already understood to be considering launching an appeal against the ruling.

“This finding seems inexplicable,” ITF Seafarers’ section secretary Jon Whitlow told Lloyd’s List.

“The arrest of Capt Mangouras was a knee-jerk reaction by a flailing government. His continued detention was a politically-motivated attempt to shift blame in the face of a national disaster. Sounds familiar? The same kinds of forces are at play in the case of the Hebei Two, and it’s our hope that by fighting against this most recent scandal in Korea we and the rest of the industry can expose and end the injustice in the same way that we were all finally able to do in the case of Capt Laptalo.”

abelard argues that the Spanish authorities are to blame on the grounds that they ordered the damaged ship to sail away from the Spanish coast, into a storm, against the advice of the Captain. The result:

“The Prestige broke in two and sank, spilling tens of thousands of tonnes of residual heavy crude oil. She sank, but not in shallow waters, easy to access to salvage the remainder of the oil, quickly before further ecological damage was done.”

The Times: EU to allow warrantless hacking of computers

Update: The Telegraph also covers this story.

From The Times online edition:

The hacking is known as “remote searching”. It allows police or MI5 officers who may be hundreds of miles away to examine covertly the hard drive of someone’s PC at his home, office or hotel room.

Material gathered in this way includes the content of all e-mails, web-browsing habits and instant messaging.

Under the Brussels edict, police across the EU have been given the green light to expand the implementation of a rarely used power involving warrantless intrusive surveillance of private property. The strategy will allow French, German and other EU forces to ask British officers to hack into someone’s UK computer and pass over any material gleaned.

A remote search can be granted if a senior officer says he “believes” that it is “proportionate” and necessary to prevent or detect serious crime — defined as any offence attracting a jail sentence of more than three years.

However, opposition MPs and civil liberties groups say that the broadening of such intrusive surveillance powers should be regulated by a new act of parliament and court warrants.

They point out that in contrast to the legal safeguards for searching a suspect’s home, police undertaking a remote search do not need to apply to a magistrates’ court for a warrant.

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