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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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Primer on the attacks on British liberty

David Mery, who commented on an earlier post, has produced a useful primer on the attacks on liberty in the UK.

Privacy roundup.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:45 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state.
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Here’s a round-up of various recent privacy related stories, not including stuff about ID cards or the uploading of medical records into a database on the NHS, both of which I’m treating separately to this round up:
(more…)

Whither Britons’ medical privacy? NHS patients privacy concerns to be officially ignored

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:19 pm on 5 December, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

Britain’s NHS is currently in the process of uploading patients’ medical records onto a central database that can be accessed by NHS staff. Patients concerned about potential violations of their privacy (after all, these are sensitive records) have been attempting to opt out of the system using a clause in the data protection act.

The government’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has written to GPs asking them to forward on the details of those who are trying to opt out so that he can write to the patients explaining why he won’t let them opt out. According to the Sunday Telegraph:

More than 60 per cent of GPs fear that the £20 million NHS computerisation project, which has been beset by difficulties and is over budget, will be vulnerable to hackers, meaning that sensitive details on up to 50 million patients could be leaked.

The first records will be uploaded to a central NHS computer next spring from a small number of GP practices.

An eight-page letter outlining how patients’ opt-out requests are being rejected was placed on the website of NHS Connecting for Health – the Government agency responsible for the computer scheme – on Friday night.

Earlier in the day, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, had faced fierce criticism from the British Medical Association for demanding that GPs should “shop” patients who say no to the database.

Yesterday, it became clear that Sir Liam wanted the names and addresses of objectors in order to write to them to tell them that their request would not be granted because their reasons were not “genuine”. Many patients who wanted to opt out had cited a clause of the Data Protection Act, saying that uploading their information on to the summary care record – also known as the Spine – would lead to “substantial and unwarranted distress”.

The Department of Health says that only minimal patient information, such as allergies, acute and repeat prescriptions and adverse reactions will “initially” be uploaded on to the summary care record, which will not contain any diagnoses or medical problems.

A covering document on the Connecting for Health website says: “The Department’s response … explains it will not agree to their request to stop the process of adding their information to the new NHS database.

“The Department does not believe that processing their information in this way is a genuine reason linked to substantial and unwarranted distress.”

So here we have the British government demanding that patients’ medical records, containing sensitive information(*) are uploaded onto a database regardless of patients’ consent and GPs’ concerns about the security of the system concerned.

The above situation pertains to the NHS in England, I understand it a similar system is being implemented in Scotland (health is a devolved matter) and I’m currently investigating the present state of play there.

(*) Note that your repeat prescription history, mentioned in the above quotation about the Emergency Care Summary, could indicate what diseases you’ve had, or are currently suffering from. For example, a prescription for lithium might indicate you’re being treated for depression, other medicines may indicate a sexual problem.

Further info at the following links:

Fingerprint Mania

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:05 pm on 3 December, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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Revised Update: It appears I got things wrong when I first updated this article.

David Mery, in the comments on this article, points out that you can be fingerprinted, and your DNA to be taken, and kept indefinitely, regardless of whether you’re charged or convicted, when arrested for a recordable offence.

In January this year, most criminal offences were made recordable, and arrestable without a warrant. Beforehand the offence had to carry more than 5 years in prison if you were to be arrested without a warrant. I.e. this is another avenue for the government to get your prints and other biometrics. The relevant legislation is Section 110 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Many thanks to David for correcting me on this point.


Should the British government make its ID cards compulsory for everyone (which Labour plan to do in 2010, with those renewing passports having to register for the cards from 2009), they’ll get the fingerprints from every permanent resident of Britain stored in the National Identity Register.

In the meantime, it seems the authorities are coming up with all sorts of schemes to get hold of them anyway:

At this rate, how long will it be before your fingerprint is required routinely for everyday tasks?

Interestingly, Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner has made the fingerprinting of school kids illegal, offering us the spectacle of (admittedly a liberal province of) China starting to protect privacy more seriously than Britain does.

Charles Clarke claims ID cards will control “Big Brother”!

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:36 pm on 26 November, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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According the Guardian, Charles Clarke claims the government’s ID card scheme will help us control the “big brother” society:

“They are not creating, or even extending, the ‘Big Brother’ society,” said Mr Clarke.

“They are an effort to control it and to give every individual a greater right to control the use of their own identity, in a world where many wish to abuse it.”

He added: “Identity cards are only one way to contest those criminals who wish to abuse our identity in these and many other ways.”

Consider the following:

  • Under Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act, section 9 the National Identity Register (NIR) will include the particulars of every occasion in which its information about you is provided to someone else and every person to whom such information is provided.

    When your ID is checked against the NIR, the NIR’s information about you will be given to the checker so that the ID can be verified against it — section 12 of the Act makes it clear this is how an identity check will be done.

    Thus a record of each identity check will be created on the NIR which will thus build up a detailed record of who you’re doing business with. In addition to government bodies and public services, the government’s web site on identity cards lists the following organisations as examples of people they envisage might wish to use the identity verification service:

    • banks and building societies
    • Royal Mail and other delivery and courier services
    • libraries and video/DVD rental companies
    • mobile and fixed line phone companies and service providers
    • travel agencies and airlines
    • universities and colleges of higher education
    • retailers of all kinds, including internet-based companies
    • property rental companies
    • vehicle rental companies

    These form the vast bulk of the organisations people have to deal with in their daily lives.

    Thus the ID card + NIR form a system that records everyone’s every day activities for the government to use, i.e. it is a system of mass surveillance.

  • The NIR entries will each hold a unique National Identity Registration Number, or NIRN, that will eventually index into entries in other public databases and any private databases that use it. By doing so, it will make it a lot easier for those with access to the databases to obtain all the information held about an individual by different organisations.
  • Section 11 of the Identity Cards Act gives the Home Secretary the power to cancel and/or require the surrender of an identity card, without appeal. Given that the card will, if the government has its way, become necessary for everything from getting medical care to opening a bank account, this effectively means that Home Secretary can withdraw access to the services we need to live our lives at any time. The Act does require the issue of a new card in these circumstances, but all it would take would be long delays in reissuing and/or repeated cancellation of a card in order to seriously disrupt someone’s life.

In summary, the card will become essential for living your life, the government can take it away or cancel it at any time and they will use it and the NIR to record who you do business with and to enable all the data held about you to be drawn together to create a comprehensive picture of your life. What could be more “big brother” than that?

Response to Tony Blair’s press conference on ID cards

Recently Tony Blair gave a press conference defending ID cards and attacking the opponents. The UK Liberty blog, just recently created, has taken Blair’s speech apart here. This is well worth reading in full.

“Yes they ARE watching you” — increasing notice taken of big brother Britain

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:19 pm on 23 November, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state.
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Increasingly the mainstream media are taking notice of the steady erosion of privacy that’s occurring in Britain, some of the latest examples are:

  • Iain Hollingshead, writing in the Telegraph:

    It’s not just the paranoid who are nervous. The sanguine figure of Parliament’s Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, yesterday attacked the Government’s planned £224 million children’s register, which will contain the details of every child in Britain, saying it will not only devalue parents but “shatter” family privacy. The volume of personal information held on children has already reached unprecedented levels and is “set to increase dramatically”.

    Meanwhile, motorists now face the threat of being fingerprinted at the roadside. Yesterday 10 police forces across England and Wales started using handheld gadgets to check speeding motorists against a fingerprint database of 6.5 million crime suspects.

    If the scheme, which will be voluntary, becomes compulsory, the day may not be too far away when laws could be introduced that would mean criminal penalties for drivers who refuse to let their fingerprints be checked. That is, of course, assuming you haven’t already been hauled in for failing to produce your ID card on demand or supplying a sample to the police DNA database. I jest. Or do I?

    Earlier this month a report published by the human rights group Privacy International gave Britain a similar privacy ranking to Russia and China, placing us at the top of a European surveillance league. The fears voiced by the Information Commissioner that we have “sleepwalked into a surveillance society” seem to be confirmed.

    The full article is well worth reading for a primer as to just how much information is gathered about us during our daily lives. The Privacy International rankings referred to can be found here. More info on this report here.

  • Henry Porter writing in the Observer:

    The most shocking part of Britain’s frantic rush towards a fully fledged surveillance society is not so much the threat to personal liberty, although that is important; it is the lack of security in the systems that are confidently held up to be the solution to the problems of 21st-century crime and terrorism.

    While each of us is required to give more and more information about ourselves to the government’s various centralised databases, and submit to increasing surveillance in our daily lives, almost no one seems to consider the risk to us if these systems are breached.

    For some time now, I have been warning about the menace that these systems may come to represent in the hands of future governments, the nature of which we cannot know. But having spent the last few months making a film, Suspect Nation, with the director Neil Ferguson - about the growth of surveillance since 9/11 - I realise that the threat exists in the present. Both of us were astonished at the gaps in security that we found and the insouciance of government.

    Suspect Nation was shown on More 4 on Monday 20th November and has already appeared on YouTube. It will be shown again on More 4 at 7.05pm on Saturday the 25th November. It is well worth the hour’s viewing time.

Gordon Brown grabs more power for the treasury

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:28 pm on 22 October, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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Hat tip: Spy Blog.

Gordon Brown has recently introduced a statutory instrument granting the Treasury sweeping powers ostensibly targetted at terrorist financing. Spy Blog’s comments indicate just how far reaching these powers are (emphasis mine):

However, the previous Orders referring to such resolutions specifically against the Taliban and Al Qaida, have been revoked by this Order, so this is, in fact a new, infinite General Power, which the NuLabour Government has grabbed for itself, without any debate about the details in Parliament.

Are they also intending to use it to “freeze the financial assets” of Northern Irish terrorists or so called animal rights extremists, since there is nothing whatsoever in this Order to prevent them from doing so ?

A worrying aspect of this Order is that according to Schedule 1 Evidence and Information the Treasury is only obliged to “take such steps as they consider appropriate”

The Treasury can “designate” anybody, and they are the only judges of what they consider to be terrorist activity or association, for which they do not have to gave any actual hard evidence.

By invoking this Order, the Treasury can demand any document or record from any British citzen or corporate person i.e. banks and financial institutions with subsidiaries in the UK, under a criminal penalty of up to 2 years in prison.

The Treasury can also hand this data over to any foreign Government.

There is also a secrecy provision, if they choose to only tell certain people or financial institutions, and not the general public about the freezing of assets, backed up by a criminal penalty of up to 2 years in prison.

There is a penalty of up to 7 years in prison for people who delliberately continue to allow funds transfers etc. in contravention of the Designation orders by the Treasury.

More over, as SpyBlog notes, section 7 of the order seems to provide a carte blanche to exempt the use of these powers from the restrictions of the Data Protection Act, the Common Law duty of confidentiality, and other protections of the privacy/confidentiality of financial data:

7. An action done under this Schedule is not to be treated as a breach of any restriction imposed by statute or otherwise.

For further details, see the original Spy Blog article and the order itself.

3 articles summarising Blair’s ongoing attack on British liberty

Articles in the mainstream media highlighting the attacks on civil liberties in Britain are becoming more common. Three recent articles that collectively summarise just how far this process has gone are as follows:

You can find much of the legislation documented on this site, e.g. a detailed summary of much of it can be found here, and the Abstracts link at the top of the page will tell you more.

Round up on ID cards and the National Identity Register

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:29 pm on 7 October, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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As promised in my previous article, here is my round up of developments related to the British government’s plans for an ID card with associated national identity register:

In summary, it seems that more and more problems with the scheme are being highlighted, but the government wishes to press on, whilst the opposition increases and hardens. The ID card and national identity register are but the most visible and intrusive of various schemes where the government wishes to capture, use and share data about the mass population, my next article will thus be round-up of more general developments in privacy and the use of personal data.

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