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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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2002 - 2004

1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005

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Be careful what you tweet in jest or frustration

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:39 pm on 6 June, 2010.
Categories freedom of speech, British politics, culture of suspicion.
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David Mery reports on the case of Paul Chambers who tweeted “Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” in frustration at the possible disruption to his travel plans. This resulted in him being fined £1000.

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.

Proposal for Royal Mail to intercept mail on behalf of HMRC

Henry Porter comments on these proposals:

The last days of this dreadful government are being accompanied by an attack on rights and privacy that seems unprecedented during Labour’s 13-year rule.

The government is now drawing up plans to amend the Postal Services Act to allow tax inspectors to intercept and open people’s mail before it is delivered. Given the state’s ambitions to collect all communications data this is hardly surprising, but we must ask ourselves how many more rights are seized by government and its agencies before Britain becomes the GDR’s most obvious European imitator.

Currently postal workers have the right to intercept suspicious letters and packages and pass them to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and then at an agreed moment the item is opened in front of the addressee. The change in the law will mean that HMRC will be able to open whatever it likes without the addressee being present or being made aware of the interception.

As usual, the government and HMRC public relations people underplay the wide-ranging and dangerous nature of this proposal by insisting that the new measure is simply designed to deal with the problem of tobacco smuggling. But the change, disclosed in a document published with the budget, means that HMRC will be able to trawl through private mail pretty much at will.

Britain’s Stasi state rolls on…

Interesting article on stop and search

Our Kingdom have written an excellent overview of the use of and legal battles over the stop and search powers from Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Banned from working with vulnerable people because the ISA thinks you’re lonely?!

The Telegraph recently reported:

Controversially, managers have also been told to pass on names of staff they have prevented from working with vulnerable people for fear they could “pose a future risk” - even though no incident has occurred.

Guidance seen by The Sunday Telegraph, which has been given to more than 100 case workers at the ISA reveals that those referred could be permanently blocked from work if aspects of their home life or attitudes are judged to be unsatisfactory.

It says case workers should be “minded to bar” cases referred to them if they feel “definite concerns” about at least two aspects of their life, which are specified in the document.

It means, for example, that if a teaching assistant was believed to be “unable to sustain emotionally intimate relationships” and also had a “chaotic, unstable lifestyle” they could be barred from ever working with children.

If a nurse was judged to suffer from “severe emotional loneliness” and believed to have “poor coping skills” their career could also be ended.

ISA’s case workers, who have no minimum qualification or experience, make their decision about whether someone should be barred from working with children or vulnerable adults without ever seeing the person.

Mass Gathering in defence of street photography - 12 Noon Saturday 23rd January 2010 Trafalgar Square, London

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:33 pm on 20 December, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, culture of suspicion.
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Spy Blog reports:

The I’m a Photographer Not A Terrorist ! campaign is organising a

Mass Gathering in defence of street photography

12 Noon
Saturday 23rd January 2010
Trafalgar Square

I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist! invite all Photographers to a mass photo gathering in defence of street photography.

Following a series of high profile detentions under s44 of the terrorism act including 7 armed police detaining an award winning architectural photographer in the City of London, the arrest of a press photographer covering campaigning santas at City Airport and the stop and search of a BBC photographer at St Pauls Cathedral and many others. PHNAT feels now is the time for a mass turnout of Photographers, professional and amateur to defend our rights and stop the abuse of the terror laws.

ISA vetting to be watered down

The BBC reports:

Rules requiring about 11 million people working with children to register with a new agency and have criminal records checks are to be watered down.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has accepted recommendations of a review he ordered into the vetting and barring scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The checks will now involve only those working with the same children once a week, not once a month, for example.

It is thought the new rules will apply to about two million fewer people.

The checks, intended to protect children, had caused concern among teachers and parents.

This will of course still leave the ISA deciding who can work with children on the basis not merely of people’s criminal records but also “soft intelligence” such as unproven accusations. Even under the revised figures, 9 million adults may find themselves being subject to such vetting.

New guidelines issued in using stop and search against photographers

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:43 pm on 5 December, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, accountability, culture of suspicion.
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Is Britain’s war on photography going to ease? The Independent reports:

Police forces across the country have been warned to stop using anti-terror laws to question and search innocent photographers after The Independent forced senior officers to admit that the controversial legislation is being widely misused.

The strongly worded warning was circulated by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) last night. In an email sent to the chief constables of England and Wales’s 43 police forces, officers were advised that Section 44 powers should not be used unnecessarily against photographers. The message says: “Officers and community support officers are reminded that we should not be stopping and searching people for taking photos. Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether from the casual tourist or professional, is unacceptable.”

Total internet surveillance in Britain

Hat Tip: Samizdata

Britain’s slide into total surveillance will take another step soon as the Telegraph reports:

All telecoms companies and internet service providers will be required by law to keep a record of every customer’s personal communications, showing who they are contacting, when, where and which websites they are visiting.

Despite widespread opposition over Britain’s growing surveillance society, 653 public bodies will be given access to the confidential information, including police, local councils, the Financial Services Authority, the Ambulance Service, fire authorities and even prison governors.

They will not require the permission of a judge or a magistrate to access the information, but simply the authorisation of a senior police officer or the equivalent of a deputy head of department at a local authority.

Ministers had originally wanted to store the information on a massive Government-run database, but chose not to because of privacy concerns.

However the Government announced yesterday it was pressing ahead with privately-held “Big Brother” databases which opposition leaders said amount to “state-spying” and a form of “covert surveillance” on the public.

It is doing so despite its own consultation showing there is little public support for the plans.

Yet again, the government sets up a scheme of mass indiscriminate surveillance, yet again access to the information is given to numerous public bodies, with officials able to use them on their own authority and without any need for a warrant.

The Stasi would be proud of this sort of thing. Britain is becoming increasingly like a hi-tech version of East Germany.

The fallacy of “nothing to hide”.

[Hat tip: Tim Worstall]

Sometimes people justify draconian measures by suggesting that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. This is a slogan for the unthinking, it assumes the innocent have nothing to hide and that the authorities can always be trusted. It is patently false, as this report in the Telegraph illustrates:

A City lawyer, Lorraine Elliott, was fired from a £150,000-a-year job working on a Government contract after a vetting check showed that she had been wrongly accused of forging a signature on her daughter’s nursery application form.

Mrs Elliott, 42, had her details logged on the police national computer after she was wrongly accused by her estranged husband of signing his name on the form.

She was arrested but cleared within 24 hours, and checks at the school found no evidence of wrongdoing. However, officers kept details of her arrest – effectively giving her a record.

Mrs Elliott disclosed yesterday how the “black mark” caused her to fail a security check and cost her a job working on the National Identity Card scheme.

The mother of three, from Tenterden, Kent, said the arrest had potentially ruined her 25-year career. “It’s infuriating that details about me and my arrest are still retained on the police computer system for all to see despite the fact that I was never charged because there was no evidence,” she said.

It is deeply ironic that this should happen to someone who wished to work in the National Identity Scheme…

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