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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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Hackers fighting back against the onslaught on privacy

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:26 pm on 7 January, 2006.
Categories political liberties.
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Wired News recently reported on an interesting conference:

BERLIN — When the Austrian government passed a law this year allowing police to install closed-circuit surveillance cameras in public spaces without a court order, the Austrian civil liberties group Quintessenz vowed to watch the watchers.

Members of the organization worked out a way to intercept the camera images with an inexpensive, 1-GHz satellite receiver. The signal could then be descrambled using hardware designed to enhance copy-protected video as it’s transferred from DVD to VHS tape.

The Quintessenz activists then began figuring out how to blind the cameras with balloons, lasers and infrared devices.

And, just for fun, the group created an anonymous surveillance system that uses face-recognition software to place a black stripe over the eyes of people whose images are recorded.

Quintessenz members Adrian Dabrowski and Martin Slunksy presented their video-surveillance research at the 22nd annual Chaos Communication Congress here this week. Five hundred hackers jammed into a meeting room for a presentation that fit nicely into CCC’s 2005 theme of “private investigations.”

Amongst topics discussed were how to find CCTV cameras on the internet using Google, the retention of communications data, the provision of secure communications and anonymity technologies.

30,000 people wrongly matched to names on US terrorist watch list

I have a backlog of items I wish to mention on this weblog, the first of which is this one…

On 6th December 2005, an article from ZDNet reported that:

WASHINGTON–About 30,000 airline passengers have discovered since last November that their names were mistakenly matched with those appearing on federal watch lists, a transportation security official said Tuesday.

Moreover the article states:

After submitting their notarized forms and identifications, and waiting for evaluations, the vast majority of the people mistakenly matched to names on the watch list have now been added to a “clearance” list. That doesn’t mean their names are erased from the watch list. In fact, travelers who go through the paperwork are told, Kennedy said, that “it will not quote ‘remove’ you from the list because the person we’re still looking for is out there.”

Instead, their names are put on the separate clearance list, which means they typically can’t check in for flights at an unmanned kiosk and must approach the ticket counter to explain their situation and have an airline employee match their name to the clearance list.

So, after being repeatedly hassled by security staff at airports, you find that your name mathces one on a government watch list. You tell the government there must be some mistake. They get you to fill in a form requiring 3 notarized forms of identification and wait for 45 to 60 days for them to evaluate your case. After which, if they conclude that there is indeed some mistake, your name gets put on another list, and you still find yourself having to explain things to the airport staff each time you travel.

And it could be worse. If you’re really unlucky you might find yourself detained, schackled, beaten, photographed nude and injected with drugs simply because your name matches that on someone’s list.

Some much for the innocent having nothing to fear from such measures.

One would have hoped the global war on terror was conducted by people who realise that a name might be shared by more than one person…

See Bruce Schneier’s article for further discussion.

The rise of Big Brother Britain

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:19 pm on 3 January, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, political liberties.
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Firstly, I wish a Happy 2006 to all the readers of Magna Carta Plus and apologise for the lack of posting on the blog recently.

But now to the main purpose of this post. It is clear that Britain is developing the infrastructure for the mass surveillance of the general public, with almost every aspect of their lives coming under surveillance — and other countries have made their own steps down this road. This trend stretches back to the rise of CCTV in towns and shopping centres during the 1990s, but the trend is now accelerating. There are several lines of development:

  • The monitoring and storage of communications data. By the term “communications data” I mean the data covered by Section 21(4) of Britain’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act(RIPA) 2000. This data includes information about who you communicate with and even the location of your mobile phone when switched on. Under RIPA, the security services (MI5, MI6, GCHQ), the inland revenue, customs & excise and the police can monitor this information on their own authority, however the “Snooper’s Charter” extended such powers to local authorities and numerous quangoes (see the discussion of the “Snooper’s Charter” here).

    Thus far we merely have a broad power to monitor individuals who are under suspicion, but under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, the British government asked communications providers to store communications data for upto 2 years for retrospective trawling, under threat of bringing in a compulsory scheme for such retention if they failed to cooperate. Then, during the recent British presidency of the EU (which ran through the last 6 months of 2005), they pushed the EU to adopt a directive requiring the retention of this data for 6 months to two years across the EU. This directive was adopted in December. This means that data about who you communicate with electronically will be stored for upto 2 years, regardless of whether you’re suspected of a crime, and made available for retrospective trawling.

  • The monitoring of car journeys. A number of systems which use CCTV and/or Automatic Number Plate Recognition(ANPR) to record every journey in a particular area have been developed, such as:

    However more ambitious and more worrying are plans to use ANPR to track people’s journeys and store the details for 2 years for retrospective trawling, as reported in the Independent and the Sunday Times. And in the longer term there are even proposals to track every single car journey made in Britain by requiring all cars to have satellite trackers in them (see also Spy.org.uk’s discussion).

  • The government’s Identity Cards Bill. If this goes ahead, every time your identity is checked, it’ll be recorded on the national identity register. The government intends identity checks to be required for everything from opening a bank account or enrolling your kids at school through to registering with a doctor — thus this database will record everyone’s activities in considerable detail.

The trend is clear. The government is collecting more and more information about us and storing it for future analysis, regardless of whether we’re suspected of doing anything wrong. It is moving us steadily closer to a state where we are under surveillance in all our activities 24/7. Yet there’s barely any protest about these developments and indeed some seem to welcome them.

Simon Hughes prepared to go to jail rather than carry ID card

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:46 pm on 27 November, 2005.
Categories political liberties.
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The Observer reports :

The Liberal Democrat president, Simon Hughes, yesterday vowed to go to jail rather than carry the proposed new national ID card.

The Bermondsey MP became the first senior politician to sign up to a civil disobedience campaign being mounted by opponents of the government scheme, which is facing strong opposition in the House of Lords. He told The Observer that he still hoped the bill would be defeated. But if not, he was ‘absolutely’ ready to go behind bars if necessary.

‘For me, it is a matter of fundamental principle,’ said Hughes, a former shadow home affairs spokesman. ‘I was born in this country and regard myself as a free man. I do not believe that I should have to identify myself as a matter of course.’ He added that if reported plans went ahead to link the ID card to people’s right to hold a passport, ‘I would also challenge that in court.’

His stand was welcomed by the cross-party group No2ID, which has been running an online campaign to enlist people to refuse to carry the card and to donate £10 each to a legal defence fund in support of anyone who was prosecuted. ‘We already have more than 11,000 people signed up to the pledge,’ No2ID director Phil Booth said. ‘I have no doubt that Simon Hughes’s forthright position will give a new boost to the campaign.’

The No2ID pledge can be signed online here. They’re looking for 15,000 signatures by January 8th, but no from people who have signed earlier pledges.

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 Spy.org.uk 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).

Spy.org.uk 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 spy.org.uk 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

Religious Hatred Bill amended in House of Lords

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:47 pm on 27 October, 2005.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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The BBC recently reported that the Religious Hatred Bill was amended, against the British government’s wishes, in the House of Lords:

Peers voted by a majority of 149 in favour of a cross-bench move to put freedom of speech safeguards into the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.

And:

Opponents of the bill argue that people can choose their religion, unlike their race, and so should not be protected against offence or criticism.

Ministers reject claims that the current bill would stop free speech.

But comedian Rowan Atkinson has called it “draconian”.

Last week a group of opponents, including him and former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, suggested a series of amendments.

These include making sure nobody is found guilty of religious hate crimes unless it is proved they intended to stir up hatred.

Only “threatening words” should be banned by the bill, not those which are only abusive or insulting, they added.

Note that the government could force the issue by invoking the Parliament Act to force the bill through unamended, though this would take another year.

Australia proposes its own version of control orders

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:21 pm on 23 October, 2005.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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The Australian reports that the Australian government is proposing its own version of control orders:

UP to 80 Australian Muslims could immediately be placed under effective house arrest under the Government’s proposed anti-terror laws.

The laws mean they could each be required to wear tracking devices, or prevented from working, or using the telephone or internet, or communicating with certain people.

For the first time, the laws will cover the estimated 80 Australians who have received or provided training with a listed terrorist organisation before 2002.

Previously, the Government has had no effective powers over these people, almost all of whom are Muslims, because laws prohibiting training with terrorist groups came into force only in July 2002 and were not retrospective.

However, under the proposed new laws, such people can be subjected to tough so-called control orders if authorities still believe they pose a security risk.

The provisions, which until now have escaped public scrutiny, are aimed at helping authorities monitor people who have trained with terror groups and are still deemed to pose a potential risk.

However, they will anger critics of the laws, who will argue they can be misused to “heavy” anyone purely on the basis that they have had past links with groups that are now illegal.

The Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network slammed the proposed laws yesterday as “a backdoor way to limit the freedoms of people who can’t be found guilty of a crime”.

The laws will apply to anyone who has trained overseas with any of the 17 banned terror groups, including al-Qa’ida, Jemaah Islamiah, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Abu Sayyaf and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The intent of the law is that authorities leave these people alone if it is considered they no longer pose a security risk.

But if they are deemed to be a threat, the Government can impose a wide range of restrictions on their freedoms.

These include requiring that a person be fingerprinted and photographed and that they report to specific places at specific times. They may be fitted with a tracking device and banned from going to certain places or speaking with certain people or groups. They may also be banned from working or from using the internet or leaving Australia.

(Lead from Samizdata).

Launch of the European Civil Liberties Network

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:23 pm on 19 October, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance, political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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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.

How to get Britain’s anti-terror laws used against you

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:02 pm on 18 October, 2005.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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Fancy falling foul of Britain’s anti-terror laws? There’s no need to carry a bomb, or a fake bomb, a guide to how to make a bomb, or even to mention the word “bomb”. Here are some methods that have worked recently:

What a country.

George Monbiot on civil liberties

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:02 pm on 12 October, 2005.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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George Monbiot, in an article he wrote for the Guardian, notes the impact recent government legislation has had on peaceful protestors in Britain. For example:

No act has been passed over the past 20 years with the aim of preventing antisocial behaviour, disorderly conduct, trespass, harassment and terrorism that has not also been deployed to criminalise a peaceful public engagement in politics. When Walter Wolfgang was briefly detained by the police after heckling the foreign secretary last week, the public caught a glimpse of something that a few of us have been vainly banging on about for years.

On Friday, six students and graduates of Lancaster University were convicted of aggravated trespass. Their crime was to have entered a lecture theatre and handed out leaflets to the audience. Staff at the university were meeting people from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Shell, the Carlyle Group, GlaxoSmithKline, DuPont, Unilever and Diageo, to learn how to “commercialise university research”. The students were hoping to persuade the researchers not to sell their work. They were in the theatre for three minutes. As the judge conceded, they tried neither to intimidate anyone nor to stop the conference from proceeding.

They were prosecuted under the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, passed when Michael Howard was the Conservative home secretary. But the university was able to use it only because Labour amended the act in 2003 to ensure that it could be applied anywhere, rather than just “in the open air”.

And:

Had Mr Wolfgang said “nonsense” twice during the foreign secretary’s speech, the police could have charged him under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Harassment, the act says, “must involve conduct on at least two occasions … conduct includes speech”. Parliament was told that its purpose was to protect women from stalkers, but the first people to be arrested were three peaceful protesters. Since then it has been used by the arms manufacturer EDO to keep demonstrators away from its factory gates, and by Kent police to arrest a woman who sent an executive at a drugs company two polite emails, begging him not to test his products on animals. In 2001 the peace campaigners Lindis Percy and Anni Rainbow were prosecuted for causing “harassment, alarm or distress” to American servicemen at the Menwith Hill military intelligence base in Yorkshire, by standing at the gate holding the Stars and Stripes and a placard reading “George W Bush? Oh dear!” In Hull a protester was arrested under the act for “staring at a building”.

And:


But the law that has proved most useful to the police is the one under which Mr Wolfgang was held: section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This allows them to stop and search people without the need to show that they have “reasonable suspicion” that a criminal offence is being committed. They have used it to put peaceful protesters through hell. At the beginning of 2003, demonstrators against the impending war with Iraq set up a peace camp outside the military base at Fairford in Gloucestershire, from which US B52s would launch their bombing raids. Every day - sometimes several times a day - the protesters were stopped and searched under section 44. The police, according to a parliamentary answer, used the act 995 times, though they knew that no one at the camp was a terrorist. The constant harassment and detention pretty well broke the protesters’ resolve. Since then the police have used the same section to pin down demonstrators outside the bomb depot at Welford in Berkshire, at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, at Menwith Hill and at the annual arms fair in London’s Docklands.

Note that Walter Wolfgang was thrown out of the recent Labour party conference for shouting “nonsense” during a ministerial speech and then had Terrorism Act 2000 used against him to prevent him re-entering the conference.

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