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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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Local councils adopting “Allegations Management Systems”

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:56 pm on 13 September, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state, culture of suspicion.
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The Telegraph recently reported:

Local authorities around the country are setting up databases to hold records of accusations made about anyone from teachers and doctors to Scout leaders and private tutors.

They are employing staff just to look into the claims - which can be made anonymously - who are required to contact police, social services or the adult’s employer and then keep track of the case.

Details of the allegation will be kept on the accused’s personnel file until they retire so they can be seen by potential employers, and in a reversal of the basic tenet of English law they will only be deemed innocent if they can prove it.

The system was introduced in the wake of the Soham murders to make sure authorities keep track of anyone suspected of child abuse.

But critics claim it gives too much power to unaccountable council officers, creates extra red tape for bosses and will lead to innocent professionals having their careers blighted by malicious allegations.

They also warn it will drive people - particularly men - out of working with children for fear of being labelled a paedophile. Already just 2 per cent of teachers of the youngest primary school pupils are male.

It comes on top of the new vetting system being implemented for everyone who works with under-16s, the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which will lead to 11.3 million adults having their backgrounds checked.

The Pub Philosopher also reports on this.

So if you work with children, you’ll work in a world where one anonymous allegation made against you can, even if groundless, haunt you for the rest of your working career (of possibly ‘just’ a decade if the Pub Philosopher is correct), as it’ll be kept on file, shared with employers, social services and the police. This is in addition to the requirement of everyone working with children to undergo mandatory criminal records checks.

Thus the culture of suspicion marches on.

International day of protest against surveillance 11 October - Freedom not Fear

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:25 pm on 8 September, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state.
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[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

From Stoppt die Vorratsdatenspeicherung:

Surveillance, distrust and fear are gradually transforming our society into one of uncritical consumers who have “nothing to hide” and - in a vain attempt to achieve total security - are prepared to give up their freedoms. We do not want to live in such a society!

We believe the respect for our privacy to be an important part of our human dignity. A free and open society cannot exist without unconditionally private spaces and communications.

The increasing electronic registration and surveillance of the entire population does not make us any safer from crime, costs millions of Euros and puts the privacy of innocent citizens at risk. Under the reign of fear and blind actionism, targeted and sustained security measures fall by the wayside, as well as tackling peoples’ actual daily problems such as unemployment and poverty.

In order to protest against security mania and excessive surveillance we will take to the streets in capital cities in many countries on 11 October 2008. We call on everybody to join our peaceful protest. Politicians are to see that we are willing to take to the streets for the protection of our liberties!

And:

Our demands

  1. Cutback on surveillance
    • no blanket registration of all air travellers (PNR data)
    • no information exchange with the US and other states lacking effective data protection
    • no secret searches of private computer systems, neither online nor offline
    • no blanket surveillance and filtering of internet communications (EU Telecoms-Package)
    • abolish the blanket logging of our communications and locations (data retention)
    • abolish the blanket collection of our biometric data as well as RFID passports
    • abolish the blanket collection of genetic data
    • abolish permanent CCTV camera surveillance and automatic detection techniques
    • scrap funding for the development of new surveillance techniques
  2. Evaluation of existing surveillance powers

    We call for an independent review of all existing surveillance powers as to their effectiveness and harmful side-effects.

  3. Moratorium for new surveillance powers

    After the homeland armament of the past few years we demand an immediate hold to new homeland security laws that further restrict civil liberties.

  4. Guaranteeing freedom of expression, dialogue and information on the Internet
    • Ban the installation of filtering infrastructure on ISP networks.
    • Only independent and impartial judges may request the removal of Internet content.
    • Create a full right to quote multimedia, today indispensable to public debate in democracies.
    • Protect common internet places of expression (participatory sites, forums, comments on blogs) today threatened by inadequate laws encouraging self-censorship (chilling effect)

M&C Saatchi reported to be hired to promote British National Identity Scheme

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:38 pm on 7 September, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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According to the Mail on Sunday newspaper:

The Government is paying a top advertising agency to ‘sell’ its controversial £20billion ID card scheme to the public.

The Home Office has employed M&C Saatchi to mount a marketing blitz ahead of the National Identity Scheme’s launch in November.

ID cards will allow the Government to hold the personal details of 60million citizens - including fingerprints and iris patterns - on a central database.

But there are fears that fraudsters, terrorists or blackmailers could steal the information and use it for criminal purposes.

Despite this, the Home Office has ordered that all non-EU workers living in Britain hold an ID card as of November.

M&C Saatchi will begin the campaign with TV adverts and posters explaining the cards’ ‘benefits’ to a sceptical public.

The firm is also believed to be behind a Home Office website, www.mylifemyid.org, which has been advertised on social networking sites Facebook and Bebo since July.

The site invites youngsters to sign up for ID cards on a ‘purely voluntary basis’.

If Saatchi are indeed behind the MyLifeMyId website, this can only be good news for the opponents of the national identity scheme:

Trust Britain’s youth to be characteristically ungrateful. The Government goes to all the effort of making a website for 16 to 25- year-olds to express their views on identity cards, and all they get in return is a solid mixture of scorn, sneering and scepticism smattered across their fancy new forums.

In a bid to get the country’s youngsters on board the controversial scheme, the Home Office has launched MyLifeMyId.org, where 16 to 25 year olds “can have their say about identity issues in the UK.”

But anyone browsing the discussions on the site would be hard pushed to find a single positive comment, with contributors branding the controversial scheme as “creepy,” “dirty” and “illegal” and the website itself as an “online propaganda machine”.

One contributor writes: “I think it’s pretty disingenuous of the government to come out and say “hey, yo, cool dudes! If you sign up for our hip hoppin’ ID card scheme you’ll never have to carry a heavy s*** passport to prove your age to some wack bartender again” or however it is they think we talk.” Meanwhile, amcs1983 had this to say: “So far the stats look like 100% say no to ID cards. Time to lose these results in a train station…..”

At the time of writing, the discussion forums of MylifeMyID.org still seem to be dominated by commenters who are sceptical, if not hostile, to the National Identity Scheme.

US media reports that Bush plans to make permanent some temporary erosions of US civil liberties

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:28 pm on 21 August, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, democracy and the rule of law, US politics.
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The Register reports:

US citizens could be investigated without just cause under a new plan from the Justice Department, while those who choose to leave the country will have their records kept for 15 years and available to any litigious attorney.

The Justice Department plan won’t be unveiled in detail until next month, but the New York Times is reporting that the plan will to allow the FBI to open an investigation into anyone without clear suspicion, and that’s got civil liberty groups understandably concerned.

Meanwhile the Department of Homeland Security has been quietly building a database of every border crossing by a US citizen, claims the Washington Post, and intends to hang onto the data for 15 years - foreigners will have their data stored for 75 years. All this information sits in a database which will be exempted from the 1974 Privacy Act, which would require individuals to be informed if lawmen request the data.

Both these moves are about solidifying temporary powers that were put into place following the terrorist attack in New York in September 2001, and doing so before Bush leaves office and is replaced by someone who may be less hard-line.

China develops Police State 2.0

[Hat tip: The Pub Philosopher]

Naomi Klein has written some articles on how China, with the help of Western technology companies, has been building up a sophisticated surveillance infrastructure such as this one in Rolling Stone:

In 2006, the Chinese government mandated that all Internet cafes (as well as restaurants and other “entertainment” venues) install video cameras with direct feeds to their local police stations. Part of a wider surveillance project known as “Safe Cities,” the effort now encompasses 660 municipalities in China. It is the most ambitious new government program in the Pearl River Delta, and supplying it is one of the fastest-growing new markets in Shenzhen.

But the cameras that Zhang manufactures are only part of the massive experiment in population control that is under way here. “The big picture,” Zhang tells me in his office at the factory, “is integration.” That means linking cameras with other forms of surveillance: the Internet, phones, facial-recognition software and GPS monitoring.

This is how this Golden Shield will work: Chinese citizens will be watched around the clock through networked CCTV cameras and remote monitoring of computers. They will be listened to on their phone calls, monitored by digital voice-recognition technologies. Their Internet access will be aggressively limited through the country’s notorious system of online controls known as the “Great Firewall.” Their movements will be tracked through national ID cards with scannable computer chips and photos that are instantly uploaded to police databases and linked to their holder’s personal data. This is the most important element of all: linking all these tools together in a massive, searchable database of names, photos, residency information, work history and biometric data. When Golden Shield is finished, there will be a photo in those databases for every person in China: 1.3 billion faces.

This article of Klein’s at the Huffington Post illustrates how the Olympic games have been used as cover to build the infrastructure mentioned above:

As for those Chinese citizens who might go off-message during the games — Tibetan activists, human right campaigners, malcontent bloggers — hundreds have been thrown in jail in recent months. Anyone still harboring protest plans will no doubt be caught on one of Beijing’s 300,000 surveillance cameras and promptly nabbed by a security officer; there are reportedly 100,000 of them on Olympics duty.

The goal of all this central planning and spying is not to celebrate the glories of Communism, regardless of what China’s governing party calls itself. It is to create the ultimate consumer cocoon for Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cell phones, McDonald’s happy meals, Tsingtao beer, and UPS delivery — to name just a few of the official Olympic sponsors. But the hottest new market of all is the surveillance itself. Unlike the police states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China has built a Police State 2.0, an entirely for-profit affair that is the latest frontier for the global Disaster Capitalism Complex.

Chinese corporations financed by U.S. hedge funds, as well as some of American’s most powerful corporations — Cisco, General Electric, Honeywell, Google — have been working hand in glove with the Chinese government to make this moment possible: networking the closed circuit cameras that peer from every other lamp pole, building the “Great Firewall” that allows for remote internet monitoring, and designing those self-censoring search engines. By next year, the Chinese internal security market is set to be worth $33-billion. Several of the larger Chinese players in the field have recently taken their stocks public on U.S. exchanges, hoping to cash in the fact that, in volatile times, security and defense stocks are seen as the safe bets. China Information Security Technology, for instance, is now listed on the NASDAQ and China Security and Surveillance is on the NYSE. A small clique of U.S. hedge funds has been floating these ventures, investing more than $150-million in the past two years. The returns have been striking. Between October 2006 and October 2007, China Security and Surveillance’s stock went up 306 percent.

Much of the Chinese government’s lavish spending on cameras and other surveillance gear has taken place under the banner of “Olympic Security.” But how much is really needed to secure a sporting event? The price tag has been put at a staggering $12-billion — to put that in perspective, Salt Lake City, which hosted the Winter Olympics just five months after September 11, spent $315 million to secure the games. Athens spent around $1.5-billion in 2004. Many human rights groups have pointed out that China’s security upgrade is reaching far beyond Beijing: there are now 660 designated “safe cities” across the country, municipalities that have been singled out to receive new surveillance cameras and other spy gear. And of course all the equipment purchased in the name of Olympics safety — iris scanners, “anti-riot robots” and facial recognition software — will stay in China after the games are long gone, free to be directed at striking workers and rural protestors.

What the Olympics have provided for Western firms is a palatable cover story for this chilling venture. Ever since the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, U.S. companies have been barred from selling police equipment and technology to China, since lawmakers feared it would be directed, once again, at peaceful demonstrators. That law has been completely disregarded in the lead up to the Olympics, when, in the name of safety for athletes and VIPs (including George W. Bush), no new toy has been denied the Chinese state.

Both articles are worth reading in full.

DNA database profiles sold to private firms

Posted by James Hammerton @ 4:24 pm on 26 July, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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From a recent report in the Telegraph:

Papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that on five occasions since 2004 private firms with police contracts have successfully applied to use the database to help them develop computer programs.

The DNA database contains records of 4.2 million people, of which a million have never been convicted of an offence. Records are rarely deleted, even if a person is not charged.

The disclosure comes ahead of a hard-hitting report from the Government’s genetics watchdog next week which will call for more safeguards on how the database is run.

Ministers say the database is a crucial tool in solving crimes. But when it was set up, there was no suggestion that profiles would be made available to private businesses for commercial purposes.

The companies involved were not given the identities of the people whose DNA profiles they analysed and used them for research that could be useful to the police. But critics said it was unacceptable that profiles had been handed over secretly without any public debate or the consent of those concerned.

NO2ID Nine: All charges dropped.

See my personal blog.

Loss of liberties in the US since 9/11

One of the things I’d like to do with this blog is to shift it towards being less UK-centric. This is difficult given the sheer volume of anti-civil liberties legislation being generated in the UK, but occasionally I do get a chance to cover some non-UK material. For example, this website is dedicated to documenting the loss of civil liberties in the USA since 9/11. I’ve not yet read it in detail but it may be of interest to readers wishing to catch up on the US situation and/or compare it to the UK or elsewhere.

Why civil libertarians should back Davis’s re-election

Earlier I wrote an article arguing that David Davis’s resignation and by-election campaign opened up an opportunity to alter the political climate to be more friendly to civil liberties. I’ve seen various arguments put forward attacking Davis’s campaign, from people committed to civil liberties, and this article is a response to them. The arguments I’ve seen are as follows:

  1. It’s a safe Tory seat, and the second placed party is not standing anyone against him, so Davis is bound to win and therefore it’s not important. One person arguing this suggested the logical vote is therefore simply to stay at home.
  2. Davis’s record on civil liberties is not perfect and/or other candidates have stronger stances on civil liberties, so we should back them instead.
  3. It’s just a stunt from a politician seeking attention.

Below I tackle each of these points in turn and argue that:

  • Davis has already done the cause of civil liberties some service in helping reposition the Tory party and, with his resignation, in generating debate and publicity about the erosion of civil liberties.
  • If we’re to avoid a potential set-back on civil liberties, we need to ensure Davis is returned with more votes than he won last time round, and with a decent turnout.

(more…)

Nine NO2ID protestors arrested in Edinburgh

On Monday, 9 protestors, including me, all involved with the NO2ID campaign, were arrested in Edinburgh and charged with breach of the peace.

You can see some reports and discussion about this at the following links:

This STV report
This report in the Herald
This BBC Scotland report
A thread on NO2ID’s forums
Guy Herbert’s Samizdata article
Another thread on NO2ID’s forums

At this time, I’ll make the following points:

  • we were all peaceful at all times during the protest
  • only 1 protestor sneaked into the meeting. Geraint Bevan, the coordinator of NO2ID Scotland got into the meeting at the start under the cunning ruse of walking up to the registration desk and claiming to be one of the people named on the badges on display.
  • prior to entering the hotel, we were protesting peacefully outside, causing curiosity, amusement and the occasional message of support from the passing public.
  • when the hotel manager approached us and asked us to leave, Geraint (by this time physically thrown out of the meeting) asked if it were OK for us to leave after STV had conducted an interview with him. The manager agreed.
  • when the interview was over, we made to leave immediately, only to find the police had been called. At no point prior to this were we given any intimation the police were called or were going to be called. Prior to the hotel manager asking us to leave, we were not told by any member of staff that we should leave.
  • when we entered, we entered peacefully, quietly, carrying placards, with an STV camera crew in tow. The people at the head of our procession did not wear masks.
  • we were officially arrested at 12.30 (after a considerable length of time when the police took our details).
  • we regard this charge as a ridiculous jumped up charge.
  • we will be fighting this charge.
  • Geraint faces a separate charge related to events in the meeting. This will also be fought.
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