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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


Britain to track all vehicle movements and store them for upto 2 years.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:00 pm on 24 November, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts this month, things have been rather busy lately.

Secondly, and to start on the backlog of items that cought my attention recently, it seems that the steps towards a big brother state in Britain are moving on fast. According to this report from the Register:

A “24×7 national vehicle movement database” that logs everything on the UK’s roads and retains the data for at least two years is now being built, according to an Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) strategy document leaked to the Sunday Times. The system, which will use Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), and will be overseen from a control centre in Hendon, London, is a sort of ‘Gatso 2′ network, extending. enhancing and linking existing CCTV, ANPR and speedcam systems and databases.

Which possibly explains why the sorcerer’s apprentices in ACPO’s tech section don’t seem to have needed any kind of Parliamentary approval to begin the deployment of what promises to be one the most pervasive surveillance systems on earth.

The control centre is intended to go live in April of next year, and is intended to be processing 50 million number plates a day by year end. ACPO national ANPR co-ordinator John Dean told the Sunday Times that fixed ANPR cameras already exist “at strategic points” on every motorway in the UK, and that the intention was to have “good nationwide coverage within the next 12 months.” According to ACPO roads policing head Meredydd Hughes, ANPR systems are planned every 400 yards along motorways, and a trial on the M42 near Birmingham will first be used to enforce variable speed limits, then to ‘tackle more serious crime.’

So yet again the British government is opting for a system of indiscriminate surveillance of the public at large. I predict a burgeoning market in fake registration plates developing once this in place…

UK Terrorism bill threatens blogs and websites.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:57 pm on 31 October, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance, political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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Update: I got it wrong on timing of the committee stage of the bill. It takes place over 2 days, the 2nd and 3rd of November respectively. See this link. Sorry for the mistake.

The blog, a British weblog concentrating on civil liberties and surveillance, berates the British blogosphere for failing to cover and/or analyse the Terrorism Bill 2005, which passed its second reading last week in the Commons, with the support of the opposition Tory Party (though the Lib Dems opposed). have their own detailed analysis of this bill split across this article, this article and this article.

In this article, I’ll concentrate mainly on the threat to freedom of speech identified by in the second of the above articles, in particular the threat to websites and weblogs in the UK. I intend to do a fuller analysis of my own later.

The threat arises from section 1, section 2 and section 3 of the bill:

  • Section 1 makes it an offence for someone to publish a statement that its intended audience are likely to understand as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to instigate, prepare or commit acts of terrorism. This is punishable by upto 7 years in jail.
  • Section 2 makes it an offence for someone to publish or distribute a “terrorist” publication. A terrorist publication includes publications that directly or indirectly encourage or incite acts of terrorism and publications that are useful to those preparing, instigating or committing acts of terrorism. Again this offence carries upto 7 years in jail.
  • A defence in both sections is that the user published the article only in the course of providing an electronic service, was unaware of its nature and did not endorse the publication in question.
  • Section 3 specifically relates to the internet. It gives a police constable the power to issue a notice to someone declaring that in his opinion material they’ve published electronically is “unlawfully terrorism-related” (i.e. falls under the categories covered in sections 1 and 2). The notice may order the person concerned to remove the article or alter it so that it is no longer “unlawfully terrorism-related”. The person has 2 days to comply with the notice. Failure to do so is deemed to be an endorsement of the article in question.

The threat to freedom of speech comes from the following aspects of these sections:

  • The vaguely defined nature of the offences. E.g. what constitutes “indirect encouragement or inducement”? What counts as “preparation”? Taking the words literally, it seems that to have a prima facie case under section 2, all the govt/police need to claim is that:
    • the article in question contains information useful to terrorists,
    • that those who read it are likely to understand it as being contained in the publication wholly or mainly to be useful to terroris.

    Note that the publisher’s intent is not relevant to these judgements.

  • The ability of a constable to demand an article be removed or modified with 2 days based on his personal opinion, combined with the publisher being deemed to have endorsed the article if he fails to comply in the allotted time. This effectively makes the constable’s word law since failure to comply means you’ve committed an offence. It is a recipe for abuse/bullying by unscrupulous police officers.

To see how wide an application this could have consider that articles analysing and dissecting anti-terror laws could be deemed to be useful to those wishing to commit acts of terrorism. If a police officer sends a notice on this basis, you have to comply within 2 days or face a prosecution and upto 7 years in jail.

There are many other disturbing features of this bill such as upto 90 days detention without charge for those suspect of terrorist offences, I intend to cover these later. In the meantime, as well as the above articles, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals are trying to raise awareness of the threat this legislation poses to libaries.

Note that the committee stage of this bill will be over on Wednesday 2nd November. Time to make use of WriteToThem

3rd online pledge set up to oppose ID cards.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:39 pm on 27 October, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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Back in June, Phil Booth of No2ID set up an online pledge for people to sign pledging to refuse to register for the card/database the British government are proposing and to pay £10 to a legal defence fund, so long as 10,000 others joined in. The pledge reached its total of 10,000 signatures by the 18th July and reached a total of 11,368 by the time it closed on the 9th October.

A second pledge was set up for people who felt they couldn’t afford the fines/risk of going to jail but who opposed ID cards to donate £20 pounds to the legal defence fund. It’s target is 50,000 signatures by the end of March 2006. It currently has 728 signatures.

Now a new pledge, similar the first has been set up, aiming for 15,000 signatures by 8th January 2006. Again it involves pledging to refuse to register and to pay £10 to the legal defence fund.

British residents who oppose ID cards and haven’t already signed one of the pledges are invited to sign up to either of the current pledges (i.e. the 2nd and 3rd pledges).

Do not sign the pledges if you’ve already signed an earlier pledge though.

Identity Cards Bill - Third Reading - How MPs voted

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:57 pm on 19 October, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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The Public Whip lists, by party, how (and whether) MPs voted.

The following Labour MPs voted against the bill and thus rebelled against the government:

Dianne Abbot, Michael Clapham, Jeremy Corbyn, Gwyneth Dunwoody, Mark Fisher, Paul Flynn, Neil Gerrard, Ian Gibson, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Glenda Jackson, Lynne Jones, Robert Marshall-Andrews, John McDonnell, Albert Owen, Linda Riordan, Clare Short, Alan Simpson, Geraldine Smith, John Smith, David Taylor, Robert Wareing, David Winnick, Mike Wood

The following Labour MPs were absent:

Russell Brown, Martin Caton, Frank Cook, Claire Curtis-Thomas, Jim Devine, Frank Dobson, Jimmy Hood, Brian Jenkins, Andrew Love, Ian McCartney, Michael Meacher, Austin Mitchell, Madeleine Moon, George Mudie, Geoffrey Robinson, Denis Skinner, Rachel Squire, Mark Todd, Paul Truswell, Rudi Vis

This earlier article lists absent Tory and Lib Dem MPs, the rest of the MPs from those parties all voted against the bill.

U-turn on children’s database

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:41 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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The Guardian reports that the chairman of the Victoria Climbié Inquiry has backtracked on his call for a database that would contain details of all children under 16 in the UK:

Plans for a multi-million pound computer system containing every child’s details are “too complex to be effective”, the chairman of the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié said today.

Lord Laming had previously recommended the creation of a universal database - containing details of children under 16 - in a bid to improve multi-agency working and record sharing to safeguard children. But he today backtracked on the call and suggested such a system would be unworkable.

The Laming inquiry followed the death of eight-year-old Victoria, who was murdered by her great-aunt and the aunt’s boyfriend. The inquiry found serious failings by health staff, education officials, the police and social workers.

The Department for Education and Skills is currently reviewing Lord Laming’s recommendation to develop a database that would contain the details of every child in the UK, which could be accessed by child protection professionals such as social workers, police officers and doctors.

Staff would be able to record notes about a child and flag up concerns they have.

But experts have already warned the cost of developing the system could run into hundreds of millions of pounds and it could be swamped with concern warnings.

Lord Laming has now joined the ranks of doubters as he suggested the recommendation, made two years ago, was unworkable and likely to breach data protection rules, according to an interview published today on social care and health professionals’ information website, Care and Health.

It was more important that frontline child protection staff in different agencies met regularly, he said.

Professionals should instead work to ensure every child is registered with their school and GP, with a home address, and make clear what each organisation should do.

Note that the Children Act 2004 enabled the creation of such a database, as well as enabling local authorities to create databases of their own.

Data retention compromise mooted by EU Ministers

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:25 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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The register reported recently that a compromise on data retention is being mooted by EU ministers:

European Justice Ministers have agreed not to immediately force through plans for an EU-wide data retention scheme, but opted to negotiate with the European Parliament instead. MEPs had objected to the proposal, claiming that it breaches civil rights laws.

MEPs had even threatened to take the Council of Ministers to court if they were not allowed to participate in the legislative process, according to reports.

The Council of Ministers would prefer to have the cooperation of the European Parliament in creating the legislation but does not actually need it. UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke, on behalf of the EU Presidency – held by the UK until January – warned yesterday that he would push the measure through if MEPs have made no progress by the end of the year.

“We have reaffirmed that we will have agreement on measures to deal with telecoms data by the end of the British presidency,” he told the BBC. “We have agreed we will seek to join the European Parliament in that approach if we can.”

Meeting in Brussels, Ministers agreed to a compromise deal that would oblige ISPs and telcos to retain fixed and mobile telephony data for a minimum period of 12 months, and IP-based communications data for a minimum period of six months.

The proposals allow for a maximum retention period of two years, although Member States, such as Ireland and Italy, who already have national retention periods going beyond that, will be allowed to stick to their existing timescales.

43 MPs absent during vote on ID cards bill

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:53 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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The Europhobia blog notes that 43 MPs were absent during yesterdays vote on the identity cards bill. The majority was only 25, thus these MPs could potentially have swung the vote.

The Tory absentees are listed as:

David Davies (Monmouthshire), Quentin Davies (Grantham & Stamford), Roger Gale (North Thanet), Michael Gove (Surrey Heath), Greg Hands (Hammersmith & Fulham), Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury & Atcham), Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harpenden), Michael Mates (East Hampshire), Richard Ottaway (Croydon South), Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex), Anthony Steen (Totnes), Gary Streeter (South West Devon), Ian Taylor (Esher & Walton), Edward Vaizey (Wantage), Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone & The Weald), George Young (North West Hampshire).

Note that David Davies Tory MP for Monmouthshire is not to be confused with David Davis Tory MP for Haltemprice and Howden, the Tory leadership contender. The Tory leadership contender is not the one listed here.

An explanation for Peter Lilley’s absence can be found in this article at the England Project weblog.

Two Lib Dem MPs were also absent, John Hemming and John Thurso. John Hemming was in hospital.

Identity Cards Bill passes its third reading.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:38 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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Last night, the British government’s identity cards bill passed its third reading:

Labour rebels last night slashed the government’s majority to 25 on the identity cards bill’s last reading in the Commons, despite a series of last-minute concessions. Twenty-five backbenchers lined up with the Tories and Liberal Democrats to vote against the plan, passed by 309 votes to 284. The unexpectedly slim margin will embolden critics when the legislation reaches the House of Lords.

Opponents complained that the government had timetabled the third reading to coincide with the results of the first ballot in the Conservative leadership election. But while the result was conveniently overshadowed by Kenneth Clarke’s defeat, it was still a surprise and an embarrassment for ministers. So was the opposition of three senior Labour figures: Gwyneth Dunwoody, Ian Gibson and David Winnick - none is a serial rebel.

The bill will now go up to the House of Lords.

Launch of the European Civil Liberties Network

Today marks the launch of the European Civil Liberties Network.

From the launch statement:

Civil liberties and democracy are under attack as never before and the need for a collective response to counter these threats has never been greater.

We share common objectives of seeking to create a European society based on freedom and equality, of fundamental civil liberties and personal and political freedoms, of free movement and freedom of information, and equal rights for minorities. This entails defending, extending and deepening the democratic culture - a concept not limited to political parties and elections but embracing wider values of pluralism, diversity and tolerance. And we share too a common opposition to racism, fascism, sexism and homophobia.

The defence of civil liberties and democracy also requires that positive demands are placed on the agenda. For example, respect and rights for all people, cultures and their histories, for the presumption of innocence and freedom from surveillance and the freedom to protest and demonstrate.

To these ends the European Civil Liberties Network (ECLN) has been established.

There are many groups across Europe working on associated issues, such as, legal rights, human rights, refugee and migrants’ rights, globalisation and peace. The ECLN seeks to work with, and complement, these groups by concentrating its efforts on civil liberties, freedom of information and democracy at the European level.

Their website includes a selection of essays defending civil liberties.

Compulsory ID cards in the Netherlands: 50,000 fined for not carrying ID

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:26 pm on 30 September, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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In the Netherlands, since 1st January 2005, it has been compulsory for people to carry either a passport, driving licence or a national identity card. The No2ID News Blog comments on a report by the Telegraph, about how 50,000 people have so far been fined €50 for not carrying the cards:

The Dutch experience also begs the question - aside from the 50,000 guilty of a crime that didn’t exist a year ago, how many terrorists, fraudsters or other baddies has their ID scheme discovered or convicted?

It is worth noting that Spain also had compulsory ID cards and this did not prevent the Madrid bombings.

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