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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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Britons to be asked for NI number, date of birth and signature to get right to vote

The Telegraph reports:

Currently returning officers only require an adult at an address to certify that the people living in the household are over 18 and can vote.

However, after July electoral registration officers will be able to ask all householders to hand over three “personal identifiers “ - their signatures, dates of birth and NI numbers - as part of a new “individual elector registration” (IER) scheme, along with names and addresses.

There are fears that this could be expanded to include identity cards and even people’s finger-prints because of a special allowance in the legislation used to bring in the change.

The new way of registering to vote could be compulsory within five years. A briefing note from the Electoral Commission says: “IER is expected to replace the current practices of household and rolling registration by July 2015”.

There are already concerns about the plans. The Association of Electoral Administrators suggested that some of the extra information could be sold to anyone who buys copies of the electoral register.

John Turner, the association’s chief executive, said: “People should have concerns if their personal data is made available for anyone with a big enough cheque. The more personal data on the register, the more sensitive they will become.”

Campaigners questioned whether it was worth the risks of storing this extra personal information to deal with what they said was the relative small problem of electoral fraud.

Less than a third of ‘innocents’ get DNA removed

The Telegraph recently reported:

The public also face a postcode lottery on having their profiles deleted with some forces refusing all requests while others grant almost every one, research by the Conservatives reveals.

It shows chief constables are still rejecting the majority of demands to remove the DNA of people who have never been charged or convicted with a crime despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights last year that a blanket retention policy is unlawful.

There are up to one million innocent people on the national database and the Tories are today launched an online petition calling for the DNA of people who have committed no offence to be removed.

The removal of DNA is at the discretion of individual chief constables but a survey of police forces found, on average, only 30 per cent of requests are granted.

Across the 34 forces that replied to Freedom of Information requests, some 1,372 requests of deletion were made in 2008/09 but only 411 were granted.

The study also revealed large difference from one area to another with six forces refusing all requests. In contrast, South Yorkshire and Wiltshire granted 80 per cent of more while Cleveland and Cumbria granted 70 per cent and 79 per cent respectively.

Another CCTV camera pointing at someone’s home

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:45 pm on 23 December, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

The Register reports on a CCTV camera that at the time was clearly pointed at someone’s bedroom, the picture being viewable from the Transport for London website.

Equality and Human Rights Commission to develop “livestyle” database

[Hat tip: Big Brother Watch]

Old Holborn, who filed the relevant freedom of information requests, quoting from a Daily Mail article:

Details of the plan emerged after the EHRC, led by chairman Trevor Phillips, began the tendering process for establishing the database. Freedom of Information requests, obtained by the Old Holborn blogger, then revealed what the scheme involved. Equalities bosses have decided they must work out whether citizens are suffering inequality based upon various different factors. These include age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion and belief, transgender status, ethnicity and social class. Citizens’ characteristics will be checked through their answers to various government surveys and information on whether they need hospital care or have called the police.

It will allow bureaucrats to check different groups are not more likely to die young, be murdered, suffer illness, or violent crime. Checks will also be made of happiness, healthy living standards and educational attainment. Any minority groups considered to be losing out can then be targeted for Government help. It will not be possible to identify individuals from the information on the database. But what is alarming campaigners is the way the information will be compiled. Staff are planning to take data which is given to a list of 45 different sources by members of the public.

This includes their A&E records, the British Crime Survey, the British Election Study, the Census, Childcare and Early Years Parents’ Survey and the Citizenship Survey. The information is not provided in the knowledge it will be handed over to an equality quango. But the EHRC’s report on the way the database should be established says the sexual identity question should become a standard part of major surveys ‘as soon as practicable’. An EHRC spokesman said: ‘Crime rates, poor hospital treatment, lack of childcare places and inadequate housing are some of the things that British people are worried about. ‘Looking at each of these problems in isolation doesn’t tell the whole story, as these factors may combine together to have a bigger effect on our lives.

CCTV cameras pointing at people’s homes

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:37 pm on 19 December, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Big Brother Watch has been covering the issue of CCTV recently and in particular has highlighted two examples of CCTV cameras that are clearly pointed at people’s homes. Still, nothing to hide, nothing to fear eh?!

ISA vetting to be watered down

The BBC reports:

Rules requiring about 11 million people working with children to register with a new agency and have criminal records checks are to be watered down.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has accepted recommendations of a review he ordered into the vetting and barring scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The checks will now involve only those working with the same children once a week, not once a month, for example.

It is thought the new rules will apply to about two million fewer people.

The checks, intended to protect children, had caused concern among teachers and parents.

This will of course still leave the ISA deciding who can work with children on the basis not merely of people’s criminal records but also “soft intelligence” such as unproven accusations. Even under the revised figures, 9 million adults may find themselves being subject to such vetting.

UK jails schizophrenic for refusal to decrypt files

Posted by James Hammerton @ 3:44 pm on 6 December, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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The Register recently reported:

The first person jailed under draconian UK police powers that Ministers said were vital to battle terrorism and serious crime has been identified by The Register as a schizophrenic science hobbyist with no previous criminal record.

His crime was a persistent refusal to give counter-terrorism police the keys to decrypt his computer files.

The 33-year-old man, originally from London, is currently held at a secure mental health unit after being sectioned while serving his sentence at Winchester Prison.

The Eurostar terminal at St Pancras

In June the man, JFL, who spoke on condition we do not publish his full name, was sentenced to nine months imprisonment under Part III of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). The powers came into force at the beginning of October 2007.

3 studies of CCTV in Scotland suggest many failings

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:34 pm on 5 December, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Update: The Scottish Government’s analysis at their website.

The Herald reports:

Three separate reports on CCTV were published yesterday, with the Scottish Government’s own analysis concluding that an “urgent” review of funding of the ageing systems was required.

There are more than 2225 public space cameras in Scotland. Glasgow has the highest concentration with 408, compared to 150 in Edinburgh.

Further research found that it will cost an extra £7 million to maintain CCTV provision in Scotland over the next three years. More than one third (38%) of cameras are over eight years old, with the lifespan of cameras typically seven to 10 years.

The report from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research said: “Funding for existing CCTV systems across Scotland should be urgently reviewed. Aside from advancing digital technology, across Scotland several CCTV systems are becoming technologically obsolete or beyond economical repair.”

Government research noted the value of CCTV to the police and the strong public support of the cameras are often seen as the “panacea” to problems of crime and anti-social behaviour.

However, a separate paper on the impact of CCTV on crime found there was “minimal” evidence that CCTV effectively deters crime, with convicted offenders suggesting cameras were not perceived as a threat, particularly in situations fuelled by alcohol.

Shoplifting and vehicle theft were the crimes most prevented by cameras, with the deterrent effect less likely in city centres.

Virgin Media to trial filesharing monitoring system • The Register

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:34 pm on 29 November, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Virgin Media to trial filesharing monitoring system reports the Register:

Virgin Media will trial deep packet inspection technology to measure the level of illegal filesharing on its network, but plans not to tell the customers whose traffic will be examined.

The system, CView, will be provided by Detica, a BAE subsidiary that specialises in large volume data collection and processing, and whose traditional customers are the intelligence agencies and law enforcement.

The trial will cover about 40 per cent of Virgin Media’s network, a spokesman said, but those involved will not be informed. “It would be counter-productive because it doesn’t affect customers directly,” he said.

CView will operate at the centre of Virgin Media’s network on aggregate traffic, the spokesman emphasised, and seek only to determine the proportion of filesharing traffic that infringes copyright.

The system will look at traffic and identify the peer-to-peer packets. In a step beyond how ISPs currently monitor their networks, it will then peer inside those packets and try to determine what is licensed and what is unlicensed, based on data provided by the record industry.

This is analogous to the post office opening and reading random letters and parcels to see if any copyrighted material is being illegally distributed across the postal network.

Telegraph: Criminal checks for all sixth formers

The Telegraph reports:

The Government has pledged that all 16 to 18 year olds will complete 50 hours of community work as part of its move to raise the school leaving age.

In the speech announcing the plan, which will be a Labour manifesto pledge, Gordon Brown specifically mentioned that teenagers would make a difference by “helping in an old people’s home or tutoring younger pupils”.

But under the Government’s strict new vetting regime, anyone over the age of 16 working with children or vulnerable adults will have to start registering with the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) from November next year.

Critics of the reach of the controversial new vetting and barring scheme said half a million teenagers a year could be forced to undergo criminal checks.

Whilst those whose voluntary work does not involve children or vulnerable adults could in theory escape vetting, in practice it is likely that schools and organisations hosting volunteers will find it easier to take a blanket approach and vet everyone.

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