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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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Number of local council snoopers clipped

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:01 pm on 15 November, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state, accountability.
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The Register report that the number of local council officials who can authorise use of surveillance powers under RIPA is set to be cut:

The number of local officials who can authorise access to communications records and order surveillance operations will be cut under changes to snooping regulations announced today.

The Home Office’s move follows repeated controversy over the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by local authorities probing trivial trangressions such as littering and people putting their bins out on the wrong day.

Only director-level officials will now be able to authorise use of RIPA powers, Alan Johnson said.

Whilst this may reduce some of the worst excesses and is a small step in the right direction, it fails to address the fundamental problem lying behind such powers, namely that officials are able to use them under their own authority without adequate oversight and there is no effective way of holding them accountable for the use of these powers. The use of these powers should require officials to obtain a warrant from a judge, where they must persuade the judge that the use of surveillance is both necessary and proportionate and must explain what evidence of criminal activity they expect to uncover. Parliament must also be able to exercise effective scrutiny, both via an annual report but also a committee that meets regularly to over see the system. More radically, I wonder whether people should be informed of the surveillance done on them, once the investigations are safely over, for how else is one to discover that such powers are being abused?

Petition against secret evidence.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 1:06 am on 7 November, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, accountability.
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David Mery has set up a petition against the use of secret evidence in British courts (e.g. in proceedings surrounding control orders).

Good news for once!

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:28 pm on 31 October, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, accountability.
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Jack Straw has rejected the proposals to cut the costs of elections reported in the Times.

Councils get power to seize assets over minor offences

The Times Online reports:

The right to search homes, seize cash, freeze bank accounts and confiscate property will be given to town hall officials and civilian investigators employed by organisations as diverse as Royal Mail, the Rural Payments Agency and Transport for London.

The measure, being pushed through by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, comes into force next week and will deploy some of the most powerful tools available to detectives against fare dodgers, families in arrears with council tax and other minor offenders.

The radical extension of the Proceeds of Crime Act, through a Statutory Instrument which is not debated by parliament, has been condemned by the chairman of the Police Federation. Paul McKeever said that he was shocked to learn that the decision to hand over “intrusive powers” to people who were not police was made without consultation or debate.

NB: The Proceeds of Crime Act allows police to seize assets from people without having to have them convicted of an offence, they merely need to persuade a judge that, on balance of probability, the assets were acquired “unlawfully”. Assets can be frozen prior to the court proceedings, thus preventing you from using your money to defend yourself.

Brighton residents face ID checks at home in run up to Labour conference

From The Argus:

During the conference, from September 27 to October 1, police will seal off a secure ‘island site’ around the Brighton Centre, Hilton Metropole, Grand Hotel and Russell Road car park.

But residents and workers further afield will also have to prove who they are.

Police working with Brighton and Hove City Council have already sent letters to businesses and homes around the conference centre which will be affected by Operation Otter.

Officers will visit homes and ask residents to show an identity document like a passport of driving licence, as well as confirming their address with a bank statement or utility bill.

The names will then be checked against the police national computer to check whether they are wanted or suspected of terrorism.

What if one of the residents has no passport and no driving licence with them?

Should MPs’ and candidates’ addresses be private?

I’ve been meaning to post on this for a while. The Register reported:

Members of Parliament have voted themselves the right to withhold their names and addresses from publication. Candidates at Parliamentary elections will get the same right.

This is perhaps less surprising than it ought to have been. Last May, the High Court ruled in a Freedom of Information case that MPs’ addresses should be public information. British citizens ought to be able to check on MP expense claims, or to monitor the living arrangements of individuals such as the Home Secretary.

In July, the government used an order in the House to overturn this, arguing that some personal information – particularly that relating to addresses and travel information – should be withheld from publication on the grounds of national security, and also the possibility that MPs would be harassed.

In October, Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East raised the matter in the Commons. He praised the Leader of the House, Harriet Harman MP, for her “decisive intervention” in respect of the High Court case.

He pointed out that the High Court’s “dangerous decision” to allow addresses to be revealed was based on the fact they were published every four or five years anyway and asked: “Can we now consider closing this loophole?”

There are a number of points one can make about this:

  • Anyone wishing to harass an MP merely has to wait for them at the House of Commons or their constituency office.
  • In order to vote this country’s elections, I have to register my details in the publicly accessible electoral roll, as does anyone (including MPs) who wishes to vote in an election. If MPs addresses are to be kept secret, why not voters? Surely this is equivalent to me hiding my address from my employer?
  • Contrast the attitude here with requirements on members of the public to register their details in numerous government databases, accessible to numerous public officials, and often run very insecurely, in legislation that these same MPs have voted for.
  • If the MP’s address is secret, how are voters to know if the MP is lying about living locally?

But there is a further issue. The MPs didn’t even debate the measure:

Second, and more worrying, was the way in which this measure was introduced into the House on Monday, as an amendment, with no debate permitted, to the Political Parties and Elections Bill.

No matter how desirable a new law, it might be thought that a debate about its desirability would be even more desirable.

In vain, backbench MP David Heath raised a point of Order as to “whether there is any precedent for taking a Division on a completely undebated new clause, which falls in a later group that we have not yet reached, which is in the hands of Back Benchers from an opposition party and which has not even been moved”.

Mindful of her responsibility to the House, and the weight of centuries of democratic tradition weighing down on her shoulder, Deputy Speaker, Silvia Neal replied: “I have made a decision, and given my ruling and the reasons why this vote has been taken. I have nothing further to add.”

If they’re not going subject legislation to scrutiny, and they wish to hide from the public, then I say sack the lot of them, for they serve no useful purpose.

Minister confirms U-turn on data sharing

Posted by James Hammerton @ 4:10 pm on 21 March, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state, accountability.
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The Register reports:

Justice minister Michael Wills confirmed to Parliament yesterday that clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill to provide ministers with unlimited inter-department data sharing has been removed.

But data sharing is not dead yet. We’ve won a battle, but the war continues:

Wills told the House the proposals would be redrafted and will be reintroduced at some point in the future - as predicted by our own Monsieur Ozimek ten days ago.

Australian Government adds Wikileaks to banned website list

Australian Government adds Wikileaks to banned website list:

The Australian communications regulator has issued a stark warning that websites who link out to ‘banned’ hyperlinks are liable to fines of up to Aus $11,000 a day.

The news comes after web forum Whirlpool was threatened with the fine for posting a hyperlink to a blacklisted anti-abortion website.

Wikileaks blacklisted

One of the newest additions to Australia’s ‘blacklisted hyperlinks’ list is Wikileaks; the website that publishes anonymous submissions of sensitive info on everything from corporations, religion and governments.

The blacklisting of certain pages of the site has come about after Wikileaks posted a list of websites at the tail end of 2008 that comprised the ’secret internet censorship’ list for Denmark. On this list were over 3,500 sites that were censored or banned in the country.

Seems Australia has taken the Chinese approach to controlling the internet.

List of official harrassment of photographers in UK

Further to my recent coverage of the war on photography, via UK Liberty I came across Matt Wardman’s list of incidents involving official harassment of photographers in Britain.

The Gateway Reviews for the National Identity Scheme are finally published

It seems it can take over 4 years to obtain information under the Freedom of Information Act, even when the Information Commissioner and Tribunal come out on your side. Discussion of the documents can seen on NO2ID’s forum. Philip Johnston also discusses this at the Telegraph blog site.

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