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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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Updated page about Magna Carta on www.abelard.org

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:09 am on 29 January, 2015.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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The page with the English translation of the Magna Carta has been updated both here on Magna Carta Plus and over at www.abelard.org.

It’s been tidied up and with expanded definitions, accessible now on the same page via hovering.

MPs’ barrage of criticism of “Snooper’s Charter”

A committee set up to scrutinise the coalition’s Draft Communications Bill has finally reported and is highly critical of the bill.

Note that these proposals are the latest incarnation of the intercept modernisation program that the previous Labour government tried to introduced and would require internet service provides to record information about who you communicate with on the web including messages sent via web mail, instant messaging, online chat within video games, etc. The police and other authorities would then get access to this information on their own authority without a warrant. Currently much of this information is not recorded and what is proposed extends mass surveillance of the internet to new degree.

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition government has said his party would block the plans unless there was a “fundamental rethink”, whilst the Prime Minister has promised a rewrite.

It seems to me that what should happen here is that the police should be allowed to demand ISPs to record this information about specified individuals or specified accounts, once they’ve persuaded a judge that they need to perform such surveillance to investigate or prevent serious crime. I.e. they should be required to get a warrant. The technological aspect - how deep does the surveillance go - is then down to whether the level of intrusion is necessary and proportionate for investigating/preventing the suspected serious crimes concerned.

However the Home Office is intent on mass surveillance of everyone’s internet activity with the information accessible to the police and other law enforcement authorities via self authorisation.

Summary of Leveson proposals

Over at my personal blog I’ve summarised how the new press regulator proposed by the Leveson inquiry would work.

Manchester police ordered drivers with previous convictions to turn around.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:28 pm on 14 August, 2011.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, accountability.
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The Manchester Evening News reported:

Officers stationed on key routes into the city have been instantly checking registration plates of vehicles against a string of national databases. Known criminals have been intercepted and ordered to turn around.

On Wednesday evening alone, 50 vehicles were turned away from Manchester by officers determined to keep the streets trouble-free.

Chief Constable Peter Fahy told the M.E.N: “We were instructing anyone with a previous conviction that they had to leave the city. Quite a number of them had serious previous convictions.”

The policy will be repeated if trouble flares again.

Numerous points and questions can be raised over this:

  • What legal power do police have to tell someone to leave a city when there’s no evidence they are doing anything illegal or intend to do so?
  • Did they do this for any person with any conviction? Trivial or otherwise? Violent or otherwise? Spent or otherwise?
  • Surely anyone intent on riot would simply have gone to another venue, got a friend to give them a lift or returned in a different vehicle?
  • What about drivers using their spouse’s, parent’s or relative’s car? Would they have been turned away due to the owner of the car having a decade old conviction for petty theft?
  • Having a previous conviction does not mean one is intent on riot.
  • What if someoe turned away actually lived in the city and was trying to get home? What do the police expect them to do?

Constituents threatened with their children being taken away if they speak to their MPs!

[Hat tip: Anna Racoon via abelard]

See House of Commons Hansard Debates for 17 Mar 2011 (pt 0001):

John Hemming: …I will now look in more detail at Andrew France’s case. I have some of the documentation with me, including a county court order-for proceedings that have now completely ended, so it is a public document, and there is no issue of privilege. The document is there in the courts. In the recitals, it states:

“upon the first and second Respondents agreeing that they will make no further disclosure in respect of this matter to any third party, including in particular the media and John Hemmings MP.”

It is somewhat surprising that I am such a threat to the system that so much effort will go into stopping one of my constituents speaking to me. He was wrongly imprisoned on a made-up allegation of rape, so he went through a serious process. He won his criminal appeal but he complained about a social worker in the process, so the authorities decided to start proceedings in the family courts. Luckily, an excellent judge junked it in the bin, because it was transparently such nonsense, and everything ran smoothly for the family. However, my constituent was under no illusion that had he not agreed to those recitals in the court order, the council would have taken action-he was told-which would have been to apply for a care order taking his four-year-old daughter into care.

Mr Bacon: For the benefit of the House, can my hon. Friend clarify, in case anyone did not notice? Is he saying that a court order was made prohibiting a constituent from talking to him as a Member of Parliament?

John Hemming: Exactly.

Note: The family courts in England and Wales operate largely in secret, though some inroads have been made in recent years allowing some reporting to occur.

Does Obama want to execute citizens secretly without judicial oversight?

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:19 pm on 28 September, 2010.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, accountability, US politics.
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Glenn Greenwald writes:

At this point, I didn’t believe it was possible, but the Obama administration has just reached an all-new low in its abysmal civil liberties record. In response to the lawsuit filed by Anwar Awlaki’s father asking a court to enjoin the President from assassinating his son, a U.S. citizen, without any due process, the administration late last night, according to The Washington Post, filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims. That’s not surprising: both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly insisted that their secret conduct is legal but nonetheless urge courts not to even rule on its legality. But what’s most notable here is that one of the arguments the Obama DOJ raises to demand dismissal of this lawsuit is “state secrets”: in other words, not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are “state secrets,” and thus no court may adjudicate their legality.

The executive power to secretly execute citizens without any judicial oversight is surely the power of a tyranny rather than a constitutional republic. There would be no way of holding the POTUS accountable for his exercising of such power. It negates the rule of law.

Don’t leave your car window open…

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:18 pm on 6 June, 2010.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, accountability.
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…in case it gets removed by the police and they demand £150 for its return.

If I tried to do what the police did here, it’d be regarded as theft now matter how insecure the car was. Which begs the question: Why should it not be regarded as theft when the police do it?

Britain’s coalition government promises to strengthen civil liberties

From Section 10 of the coalition agreement between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats:

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.

This will include:

  • A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
  • The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.
  • Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
  • The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
  • Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
  • The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
  • The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
  • The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
  • Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
  • Further regulation of CCTV.
  • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.
  • A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

If they’re as good as their word, this will be a promising start to ending and reversing the onslaught on civil liberties Britain has seen over the last 15 to 20 years or so.

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.

Tory Peer in bid to limit officials’ right to entry homes « James Hammerton’s Blog

Tory Peer, Lord Selsdon, has launched a bill to limit the right of officials to enter homes. See my personal blog for more details.

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