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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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1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005

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MPs call for default internet censorship of “adult” content that you have to opt out of

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:21 pm on 18 April, 2012.
Categories freedom of speech, British politics, censorship.
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The BBC reports:

The inquiry said that internet service providers (ISPs) and the government should work together to draw up guidelines to make it clearer to parents what safety settings were available on their home computers and other internet-enabled devices.

And:

Other recommendations included:

  • A government review of an opt-in filter to access adult material on the internet
  • Accelerated implementation of content-filtering system Active Choice for new internet customers
  • ISPs to roll out within 12 months network filters that provide one-click filtering for all devices connected to the same internet account
  • Public wi-fi networks to have a default adult-content bar

The report itself can be accessed here, and clearly favours a system where you have to opt-in to see what the filters deem to be “adult” content (which means you have to opt out of the censorship) and calls for the government to run a consultation on the idea.

It seems to me that:

  • In a free, democratic society, adults should not be required to opt out of censorship of otherwise legal material.
  • Once you have “network level” filters that censor out adult content by default, then assuming the filters work, you have built an infrastructure that can be easily (ab)used for censorship per se in place.
  • It is far better to educate parents and guardians about what tools are available to help with supervising children’s access to the net than it is to implement such filtering.
  • If this goes ahead, it will inevitably be worked around by those who know how and it will inevitably block content that should not be blocked.

See also: The Open Rights Ggroup’s press release on these proposals.

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?

Shutting down social media is the wrong approach

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:48 pm on .
Categories freedom of speech, British politics.
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British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in response to the London riots, said:

Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.

And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.

So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

Tory MP Louise Mensch proposes having a “kill switch” to temporarily switch off social media sites during riots. The Guardian reports:

Mensch, the MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire and a novelist, used Twitter to call for a “brief temporary shutdown” of Twitter and Facebook to stop unfounded rumours being spread, as she said had occurred in Northamptonshire last week during the riots that spread from London to several cities across England.

It seems to me that such a measure would be counter productive, as well as being an attack on freedom of speech of those legitimately using social media when it gets shut off as proposed. There are several reasons for this:

  • By shutting down a communication service being used by suspected rioters, the police would be depriving themselves of valuable intelligence that could be used to preempt the rioters or subsequently to prosecute the rioters.
  • The social media also enable those trying to avoid the rioters and those concerned about each other to keep in touch, give each other advice, and reassure friends and relatives that they’re OK. Shutting down such services will hamper innocent people’s abilities to keep clear of the riots and increase pressure on more traditional services such as the phone system.
  • The likely response of those using social media to organise riots will simply be to choose other means such as email, text messages, phones, news groups, etc, thus making the approach ineffective unless you’re going to try shutting down communications in general, which would involve even more collateral damage in terms of people’s ability to avoid or counter the rioters, or otherwise carry on with their lives. Also it’s not as if it’s beyond the wit of people to organise riots via coded messages or even without using social media at all.
  • The existence of such a power would be a serious temptation for an unscrupulous government to abuse in order to distrupt attempts to organise peaceful protests or other peaceful means of political opposition to its policies.

It would be far better for the police and security services to have the capability to monitor the social media during a riot in order to keep one step ahead of the rioters and figure out who they are and where they’re going. There are civil liberties aspects to this too, but so long as the powers were kept specifically for riots, this would seem less open to abuse than the “kill switch”.

Finally, it seems to me that the use of social media by rioters is unlikely to have been crucial to the temporary loss of control of the streets in the first place. That was more down to failures of police tactics in the early stages of the riots, failures which were soon corrected.

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.

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.

Big Brother is watching your car journeys

Big Brother Watch, via a FOI request made by HMP Britain, have found that 7.6 billion journeys have been logged by Britain’s Automated Number Plate Recognition camera network. In response to a question about how long the data is retained for the reply stated:

ANPR read data is stored only for as long as is operationally necessary and not routinely more than two years.

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.

Don’t leave your car window open…

…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?

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