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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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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.

Labour’s misleading claims on DNA

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:22 pm on 11 April, 2010.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Over at my personal blog, I cover Labour’s misleading claims about the DNA database and plans to restrict the retention of DNA of those arrested but never convicted of an offence.

There is no need to retain the DNA profiles of all arrestees

Over at my personal blog, I argue that Gordon Brown is wrong to use the Jeremiah Sheridan case to justify retention of those arrested, but not convicted of a crime.

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.

Britons to be asked for NI number, date of birth and signature to get right to vote

The Telegraph reports:

Currently returning officers only require an adult at an address to certify that the people living in the household are over 18 and can vote.

However, after July electoral registration officers will be able to ask all householders to hand over three “personal identifiers “ - their signatures, dates of birth and NI numbers - as part of a new “individual elector registration” (IER) scheme, along with names and addresses.

There are fears that this could be expanded to include identity cards and even people’s finger-prints because of a special allowance in the legislation used to bring in the change.

The new way of registering to vote could be compulsory within five years. A briefing note from the Electoral Commission says: “IER is expected to replace the current practices of household and rolling registration by July 2015”.

There are already concerns about the plans. The Association of Electoral Administrators suggested that some of the extra information could be sold to anyone who buys copies of the electoral register.

John Turner, the association’s chief executive, said: “People should have concerns if their personal data is made available for anyone with a big enough cheque. The more personal data on the register, the more sensitive they will become.”

Campaigners questioned whether it was worth the risks of storing this extra personal information to deal with what they said was the relative small problem of electoral fraud.

Less than a third of ‘innocents’ get DNA removed

The Telegraph recently reported:

The public also face a postcode lottery on having their profiles deleted with some forces refusing all requests while others grant almost every one, research by the Conservatives reveals.

It shows chief constables are still rejecting the majority of demands to remove the DNA of people who have never been charged or convicted with a crime despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights last year that a blanket retention policy is unlawful.

There are up to one million innocent people on the national database and the Tories are today launched an online petition calling for the DNA of people who have committed no offence to be removed.

The removal of DNA is at the discretion of individual chief constables but a survey of police forces found, on average, only 30 per cent of requests are granted.

Across the 34 forces that replied to Freedom of Information requests, some 1,372 requests of deletion were made in 2008/09 but only 411 were granted.

The study also revealed large difference from one area to another with six forces refusing all requests. In contrast, South Yorkshire and Wiltshire granted 80 per cent of more while Cleveland and Cumbria granted 70 per cent and 79 per cent respectively.

Equality and Human Rights Commission to develop “livestyle” database

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:32 pm on 23 December, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state, freedom of information.
Edit This Permalink to this article

[Hat tip: Big Brother Watch]

Old Holborn, who filed the relevant freedom of information requests, quoting from a Daily Mail article:

Details of the plan emerged after the EHRC, led by chairman Trevor Phillips, began the tendering process for establishing the database. Freedom of Information requests, obtained by the Old Holborn blogger, then revealed what the scheme involved. Equalities bosses have decided they must work out whether citizens are suffering inequality based upon various different factors. These include age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion and belief, transgender status, ethnicity and social class. Citizens’ characteristics will be checked through their answers to various government surveys and information on whether they need hospital care or have called the police.

It will allow bureaucrats to check different groups are not more likely to die young, be murdered, suffer illness, or violent crime. Checks will also be made of happiness, healthy living standards and educational attainment. Any minority groups considered to be losing out can then be targeted for Government help. It will not be possible to identify individuals from the information on the database. But what is alarming campaigners is the way the information will be compiled. Staff are planning to take data which is given to a list of 45 different sources by members of the public.

This includes their A&E records, the British Crime Survey, the British Election Study, the Census, Childcare and Early Years Parents’ Survey and the Citizenship Survey. The information is not provided in the knowledge it will be handed over to an equality quango. But the EHRC’s report on the way the database should be established says the sexual identity question should become a standard part of major surveys ‘as soon as practicable’. An EHRC spokesman said: ‘Crime rates, poor hospital treatment, lack of childcare places and inadequate housing are some of the things that British people are worried about. ‘Looking at each of these problems in isolation doesn’t tell the whole story, as these factors may combine together to have a bigger effect on our lives.

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.

Telegraph: Criminal checks for all sixth formers

The Telegraph reports:

The Government has pledged that all 16 to 18 year olds will complete 50 hours of community work as part of its move to raise the school leaving age.

In the speech announcing the plan, which will be a Labour manifesto pledge, Gordon Brown specifically mentioned that teenagers would make a difference by “helping in an old people’s home or tutoring younger pupils”.

But under the Government’s strict new vetting regime, anyone over the age of 16 working with children or vulnerable adults will have to start registering with the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) from November next year.

Critics of the reach of the controversial new vetting and barring scheme said half a million teenagers a year could be forced to undergo criminal checks.

Whilst those whose voluntary work does not involve children or vulnerable adults could in theory escape vetting, in practice it is likely that schools and organisations hosting volunteers will find it easier to take a blanket approach and vet everyone.

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.

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