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Britain’s war on photography

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:44 pm on 13 February, 2009.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law, British politics, culture of suspicion.
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For some time now I’ve been gathering stories regarding the harassment and general suspicion of photographers in Britain. Note that the basic position in law is that it is perfectly legal in Britain to take photographs in public streets (though some erosion of this is occuring under “anti-terror” laws), yet it seems to me that photographers are increasingly finding themselves challenged by both the police and other officials.

A further issue is that people photographing or videoing protests are increasingly being obstructed or harassed by the police, as are the protestors themselves.

Finally, on February 16th a new law comes into force that the police may use to prevent people filming or taking photos of them. A mass protest against this law and the harassment of photographers has been organised for 11am on this date.

Below is a selection of various stories illustrating the problem, including some stories related to the legal situation and official campaigns that fuel suspicion about photographers:
(more…)

Momentum is building against the erosion of civil liberties in Britain

There definitely seems to be an increase in activity focused on the erosion of civil liberties in Britain.

Not only do we have the government backing down on trying to make MPs expenses secret after a concerted web campaign against the proposal, the Liberal Democrats launching a commission on privacy and the upcoming Convention on Modern Liberty, but now the Guardian has launched a new Comment is Free site, called Liberty Central, dedicated to discussing the erosion of civil liberties. Georgina Henry explains:

On the plus side, however, there is a growing number of journalists, bloggers, lawyers, MPs and civil liberties and human rights groups who tirelessly track this process, trying to unravel its complexities and stay on top of the relentless march of legislation. Their belief that we are at a particularly dangerous moment in the erosion of our fundamental rights is the driving force behind the Convention of Modern Liberty, called for the end of February (see below for details).

It’s also the reason why today we’re launching a new Comment is free site, liberty central, both to reflect and focus the debate, and as a resource to keep you abreast of legal and political developments.

The site will be the home of Henry Porter’s blog and his columns from the Observer, where for the past three years he has forensically and ferociously tracked the assault on civil liberties, in the process becoming the best informed writer on these issues, as well as a must-read for those interested in the debates. (Reread his first campaigning piece, published three years ago, on the growth of state power in the name of the so-called “war on terror”.)

The site will also contain an A to Z of key legislation of the last decade – ie all published and enacted by the Labour government – which will act as a constant reference point for readers. Read the Guardian’s legal correspondent, Afua Hirsch, on the importance of such a guide and what you can expect to find in it.

We’re also, with many thanks to the civil and human rights organisation Liberty, hosting a weekly clinic, where their specialist lawyers have agreed to answer readers’ queries.

Campaigners win battle to stop MPs from making their expenses secret

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:32 pm on 21 January, 2009.
Categories political liberties, British politics, accountability, freedom of information.
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The British government has cancelled a vote on proposals to make MPs expenses secret.

Blogger’s summit at the Convention on Modern Liberty

Logo for Convention on Modern Liberty

Sunny Hundal, blogging at Liberal Conspiracy, has posted his own take on the Convention on Modern Liberty. In particular he highlights the Blogger’s Summit:

So, what does this mean for you?

openDemocracy have been kind enough to offer a special panel discussion for bloggers, which will be organised by Liberal Conspiracy. I would like to give an activist feel, not just a space for a calm talking-heads discussion with people coming out more frustrated than they went in.

Over the coming weeks, we need to ask:
- how we should look at privacy differently;
- how different powers affect our liberties, uniting football fans, clubbers, Muslims and even technologists.
- what can be done about it.

Ideally, I’d like to see a situation where, by the time we get to the event, we are looking to get organised and move forward, not just reiterate the issues that could have been discussed online anyway.

In my view the Convention has the potential to be a turning point leading to the halting and reversal of the erosion of civil liberties over the past 10 to 15 years in the UK. If people think hard about what needs to come out of the Convention, as Sunny suggests here, it will help to ensure that the Convention will become such a turning point.

[Thanks to Guy Aitchison, for alerting me to Sunny’s article.]

Barcode Nation

Barcode Nation seems to be the latest blog dedicated to covering the erosion of liberty in the UK, joining stalwarts such as Spy Blog and UK Liberty.

The Convention on Modern Liberty in Glasgow and Belfast

I blogged earlier about the Convention on Modern Liberty.

The Convention website has since published details about the Glasgow Convention and the Belfast Convention.

Those living elsewhere in Britain can check out the Across the UK page to see what’s happening near them.

The Convention on Modern Liberty: 28th February 2009

The Convention on Modern Liberty is a convention being organised for the 28th February 2009. To quote from the website:

A call to all concerned with attacks on our fundamental rights and freedoms under pressure from counter-terrorism, financial breakdown and the database state

This looks like it will be an interesting set of events, with conventions planned in London, Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Glasgow, Manchester, Southampton and Swansea.

I’ll post more news when I get it.

Freedom of speech and anti-terror law stories from 2008

Still in catching-up mode, here are some stories I didn’t manage to cover on Labour’s anti-terror laws and freedom of speech from 2008:

  • First off is the case of the student arrested for downloading a document, an alleged al-Qaeda training manual, for his research, that was freely available on a US government website. UK Liberty, Samizdata and Harry’s Place all covered this story. The Register went into the case in some detail:

    An issue that refuses to go away is whether some academic research now needs a license from the local police. Regular readers may remember the case of Hicham Yezza and Rizwaan Sabir, which we reported on in May.

    This kicked off when Mr Sabir, a postgraduate student at Nottingham University, asked Mr Yezza to help him out by downloading a document described as an “Al Qaeda Training Manual”.

    Bad move. The matter was reported to the University authorities, who informed the police. They arrested the two and held them for the best part of a week. At the end of that time Rizwaan Sabir was released but Hicham Yezza was transferred to the custody of the immigration authorities for deportation. Inquiries had turned up some irregularities in his status.

    Outwardly, this is unfortunate but explicable. The University authorities decided that they were not a competent body to investigate, so involved the police, and the police did their job. Events hinge on section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which makes it an offence to possess material that might be useful to someone planning to carry out terrorist offences. But never fear, “it is a defence for a person charged … to prove that he had a reasonable excuse for his action or possession”.

    So here we see the impact of part of the Terrorism Act 2000 on the ability of students to access materials for their research, i.e. on academic freedom. The Register goes on:

    …It is what follows – and the entire thrust of the law - that is questionable. First, the law: If you possess dodgy material, it is for you to explain why. Parliament could have legislated the other way around - it could have made it a crime to possess such material “with intent”. But it didn’t, so now you must prove yourself innocent.

    Following Mr Sabir’s release, the police wrote to him. Allegedly, they warn that he risks re-arrest if found with the manual again and add: “The university authorities have now made clear that possession of this material is not required for the purpose of your course of study nor do they consider it legitimate for you to possess it for research purposes.”

    And:

    What the Police appear to be saying is that you can be given the all-clear as a bona fide researcher of terror material in the morning – then re-arrested the same evening for the same offence. Surely not, one might think, but that possibility is within the bounds of the Law.

    It doesn’t help that the list of materials that could assist a terrorist is very wide. It would certainly encompass broad swathes of chemistry, physics and biology – as well as current military training. This has therefore provoked the accusation, in some quarters, that the Act is likely to be applied in a selective and racist fashion – with individuals whose skin is not quite white being far more likely to be asked to justify what is on their bookshelves or hard drive.

    A subsequent case, that of Samina Malik, the “lyrical terrorist”, involved the appeal court quashing her conviction for offences under section 58:

    Is the “al-Qaeda manual” still an easy get into jail card? The UK Court of Appeal yesterday quashed the conviction of Samina Malik, aka the “Lyrical Terrorist”, for possession of information useful for terrorist purposes under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, but the Crown Prosecution Service still views this and other widely circulated documents as prima facie evidence of wicked intent.

    So the jury’s still out, as it were. The Court of Appeal ruled in Malik’s favour because it felt there was “a very real danger that the jury became confused”, and that her conviction was therefore unsafe. The prosecution conceded this, but Sue Hemming of the CPS counter-terrorism division said that although some of the 21 documents that had been used in Malik’s trial could no longer be seen as giving practical assistance to terrorists, “other documents in her possession, including the al Qaeda Manual, the Terrorist’s Handbook, the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook and several military manuals, clearly retain that potential.”

    Hemming added that Malik had already spent time on remand and would be likely to receive a non-custodial sentence if a further trial were pursued, and said that the CPS had therefore decided not to seek a retrial. Which you might well take to mean ’she’s guilty as hell, but we’re not going to bother with her, so there.’

    Section 58 covers the collection or holding of information likely to be useful for terrorism, but doesn’t require any specific terrorist intent, and is therefore particularly useful for sweeping up small fry, wingnuts and thought criminals. The three documents referred to by Hemming are all widely distributed on the Internet (sometimes, indeed, by the US Department of Justice), and have been used frequently in UK terrorist prosecutions.

    In yesterday’s judgment, Lord Phillips said that an offence would only have been committed if the material was likely to have provided practical assistance to a person preparing an act of terrorism, and that mere propaganda wasn’t covered by Section 58. The Court of Appeal has therefore clarified the law, ruling out documents that are just plain nasty, but leaving in ones that are probably nasty, and at least arguably practical.

    It seems to me an A to Z of London, or any other city, would provide “practical assistance” to someone preparing an act of terrorism.

  • Back in August, the UN’s Human Rights Committee criticised the British government for enacting laws that restrict freedom of speech:

    The government has been accused of creating laws that have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the UK in a sharply critical report from the United Nations’ committee on human rights. The report calls for the reform of Britain’s libel laws and controls introduced under recent terrorism laws.

    The government’s use of the Official Secrets Act to prevent issues of public interest being published is also condemned in an intervention from the UN which warns that public servants are being gagged even where national security is not at risk.

    The criticisms are made as part of the committee’s analysis of a report which the UK is required to submit to the UN every three years, appraising human rights in its jurisdiction.

    Among the problems identified, the UN says:

    · Terrorism Act 2006 provisions covering encouragement of terrorism are too broad and vague, and should be amended so that their application does not lead to “a disproportionate interference with freedom of expression”.

    · Libel laws should be reformed to end so-called “libel tourism”, whereby wealthy foreigners have gone to the high court to sue over articles that would not warrant action in their own country.

    · Powers under the Official Secrets Act have been “exercised to frustrate former employees of the crown from bringing into the public domain issues of genuine public interest, and can be exercised to prevent the media from publishing such matters”.

    The committee also warns that, in the age of the internet, Britain’s unduly restrictive libel laws create the danger of affecting freedom of expression worldwide, contrary to a UN covenant on civil and political rights which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and to exchange ideas and information “regardless of borders”.

  • Spy Blog covered a clause in the Counter Terrorism Bill that looks as if it may impact on journalists, bloggers and photographers.

    The clause is now on the statute books as clause 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008. It amends the Terrorism Act 2000 with a new section 58A that makes it an offence to elicit or attempt to elicit information about an individual who is or has been a member of Her Majesty’s forces, a member of any of the intelligence services or a constable, and where that information is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. It also makes it an offence to publish or communicate such information. It is a defence for a person charged with the offence to prove they had a reasonable excuse for their action.

    Note that we’ve seen similar wording for the offence of possessing information in section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Again we have a broadly defined, vague offence where you are required to show your action was reasonable, rather than the presumption of innocence applying. Note further that a photograph of a police officer is useful to someone committing or preparing an act of terrorism. As Spy Blog points out:

    “attempts to elicit information” is an excessively wide, “catch all” power, and should never have been allowed into the wording of the Act, but Parliamentary scrutiny , such as it was, was successfully diverted by the Government towards the controversial “42 days internment without charge” debate, allowing this, and other controversial sections of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 through without opposition.

    A mainstream media outlet, freelance journalist or blogger, political activist, street or demonstration photographer or any innocent member of the public, might be able to claim that their research or photograph (or conceivably, even their perfectly legal Freedom of Information Act 2000 request) etc. was in the public interest, but, once they have been arrested on a Terrorism charge, it will be too late to continue with a normal life - they will have been branded as terrorists, even if they are entirely innocent.

    The threat of forced arrest, perhaps via a dawn raid by armed Counter Terrorism Police, followed by DNA sampling, fingerprinting, photography, and searches of your property, confiscation of your computer equipment (often for months on end, whilst it awaits forensic examination) and the subsequent blacklisting as a “terrorist suspect” on UK and foreign government and police databases, must surely frighten many people from daring to comment or publish on this, or similar stories.

    This Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 should never be commenced, and should be repealed as quickly as possible.

    It does nothing to deter real terrorists, and will be used to harass political opponents and to try to suppress embarrassing facts about military, intelligence agency or police personnel, forces and agencies, especially those with lax or inept or treasonous operational or computer or communications security. Similarly, based on previous scandals, it will be used to try to hide or cover up individual or institutional corruption or other abuses of power, from public scrutiny.

Some internet related stories from 2008

Posted by James Hammerton @ 1:18 am on .
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics.
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Here’s a round-up of some internet related stories I didn’t manage to cover in 2008:

  • The Telegraph reported in November on plans to set up a watchdog to protect internet users from abusive or malicious content (note that libel and privacy laws can already deal with the cases referred to in the article):

    Internet users will be protected from abusive bloggers and malicious Facebook postings under proposals to set up an independent internet watchdog, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

    The body, made up of industry representatives, would be responsible for drawing up guidelines that social networking sites, the blogosphere, website owners and search engines would be expected to follow.

    The recommendation is one of several that the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee is expected to make tomorrow (Thurs) in its long-awaited report on harmful content on the internet and in video games.

    Under the proposals, the new internet watchdog would operate in a similar way to other industry bodies such as the Press Complaints Commission, which enforces a code of practice for the UK newspaper and magazine industry, covering accuracy, discrimination and intrusion.

    The watchdog would not have any statutory powers to impose fines but would investigate complaints and most likely publish its decisions in instances when its guidelines have been breached.

    It is understood that it would also be able to order bloggers and social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace to take down offensive messages or photographs.

    Thanks to They Work For You, you can read the Parliamentary debate online, in which the MPs seemed mainly focused on how to regulate the internet and not whether it should be regulated. The UK Liberty blog provided pertinent commentary on this debate, as did John Ozimek at the Register. The Report on Harmful Content on the Internet can be found at the 2007-2008 publications page for the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport. I’ll return to this report in a later post.

  • In September, The Guardian reported that the Thai government tried to shut down 400 websites during a state of emergency:

    Thailand’s Information and Communications Technology Ministry sought court orders yesterday to shut down about 400 websites and advised internet service providers to block 1,200 sites it considers are disturbing the social order or are a danger to national security.

    ICT minister Mun Patanotai said the department had advised ISPs to immediately block these websites, which it claimed were detected between March and August this year, and had sought court actions against them under article 20 of Thailand’s Computer Crime Act.

  • Also in September, Spy Blog reported on some attempts to use the threat of libel action to force bloggers to remove material they had posted:

    We have been challenged by the Miserable Old Fart blogger in Wales to support a Labour blogger Kezia Dugdale in Scotland, who has been forced to take down a blog article at short notice, as a result of bullying legal threats from Glasgow based “media lawyers” Bannatyne Kirkwood France & Co hired by a millionaire Scottish Nationalist Party Councillor Jahangir Hanif, even though there has, as yet, not been any libel action or court order.

    This political censorship seems to have been as a result of Kezia being one several bloggers who published what seems to be the full letter from Noor Hanif , the 17 year old daughter of Jahangir Hanif, to the leader of the SNP Alex Salmond, which paints her father as a violent, devious, domineering bully, as well as puncturing some of the spin and gloss put out by him regarding the AK-47 incident in Pakistan, for which he has been temporarily suspended from the SNP. Parts of the letter have been quoted in National and Scottish newspapers and it has been referred to in debate in the Scottish Parliament.

    This letter was removed from this site after Councillor Hanif’s solicitors intimated their intention to raise a summons in the Court of Session for interim interdict. The firm of Bannatyne, Kirkwood, France and Co., gave this site 15 minutes to remove the letter.

    15 minutes ? Such bullying is reminiscent of the notorious Schillings in London or Lavely & Singer in Los Angeles.

    See Tim Ireland’s write up of some the recent media coverage of the Jahangir Hanif scandals.

    We are a bit unclear about the differences between libel law in Scotland and in England & Wales. There certainly have been cases where an English High Court Injunction has been perfectly legally broken by newspapers in Scotland, so, presumably, the reverse must also be true.

    The libel laws in the United Kingdom, which allow expensive lawyers to bully poor people, especially those expressing their right of free speech on the internet, despite the guilt of their rich clients, must be reformed as soon as possible.

    When will rich clients demand their money back, with interest and damages, after hiring “media lawyers” who only succeed in stirring up the Streisand Effect, and spreading the information which they are trying to suppress on the internet, to a much wider audience, than if they had simply ignored it ?

  • Several stories appeared relating to the EU and blogs. EU Referendum, Pub Philosopher and the Telegraph have covered various stories about how the EU intends to regulate blogs, including disciplining a UKIP press officer, working in the European Parliament, for writing an EU sceptic blog. The European Parliament also discussed banning anonymous blogs.
  • The Open Rights Group reported on the banning of a Wikipedia page by the Internet Watch Foundation:

    The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) confirmed yesterday that it had added a Wikipedia web page to its blacklist, having assessed the image according to specified guidelines, and considered it to be a potentially illegal, indecent image of a child. The image depicted cover artwork of a 1976 album by the German heavy-metal band Scorpions. The album was originally distributed in the UK with a different cover.

    The announcement confirmed evidence gathered by concerned internet users throughout the day that links to the image were returning 404 error messages through a variety of major internet service providers. Matters were confounded as a side effect of the operation to block the image emerged, resulting in all UK users of ISPs who employ the IWF blacklist appearing to Wikipedia servers to come from only a handful of IP addresses. That meant users from the affected ISPs – a large majority of UK internet users – were blocked from editing Wikipedia anonymously or creating new editing accounts, since one user committing vandalism could not be distinguished from all the other people on the same ISP.

    People from the UK who wanted to log in to Wikipedia are thus trapped between two mutually incompatible content regulation systems. Their traffic is re-routed through one of only a handful of servers in an attempt by their ISP to protect them from what the IWF believes is “bad content”. Then they arrive at one of the most popular websites in the world only to be blocked from entering thanks to the methods employed there to protect users from what Wikipedia believes is “bad content”.

    For many, the episode will have brought into focus for the first time the IWF’s work identifying URLs that link to illegal images, as well as the fact that most consumer ISPs have now agreed to block content on the IWF list. And those who already knew about this system, but thought it would not affect them, will today be thinking again. The question is how far this episode challenges current UK practice around censoring content online.

    Note that the IWF eventually unblocked the offending page. However this episode has raised questions about how the IWF carries out its functions.

  • The Register has been covering the story of how the Australian government plans to put filters in place on the internet down under:

    Regular readers will be aware of the Australian Government’s plans to clamp down on the internet down under. These, the brainchild of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, have been bubbling away since last year, and began, as so many half-baked government schemes do, with the plea that someone “think of the children”.

    The scheme would put in place a server-level content filtering system, to block material unsuitable for children. The cat was put well and truly amongst the pigeons with the recent claim by Internode network engineer Mark Newton that there will be no opt-out from filtering for parents.

    Rather, there will be a blacklist that parents can opt into to “protect their children”.

    But failing to opt into that list would merely switch users to an alternative filtering system, trapping content deemed unsuitable for adults.

    According to Newton: “That is the way the testing was formulated, the way the upcoming live trials will run, and the way the policy is framed; to believe otherwise is to believe that a government department would go to the lengths of declaring that some kind of internet content is illegal, then allow an opt-out”.

    Cue outrage from the leaders of three of Australia’s largest internet service providers — Telstra Media’s Justin Milne, iiNet’s Michael Malone and Internode’s Simon Hackett. They variously describe the scheme as “loony”, a “bugger to implement”, likely to slow down Australian access to the internet significantly, and quite possibly illegal.

    According to Justin Milne, group managing director for Telstra BigPond, “you would need to pass a lot of legislation, a huge packet of legislation” just to achieve this.

    Is this such an impossible task? We spoke to CensorNet, a UK company that provides software that enables official bodies to filter out content in the UK, and which is speaking to a couple of Australian ISPs about this project. Its view is that the slow down feared by ISPs is unlikely.

    However, the firm foresees two issues with any solution. Most filters tackle just the HTTP. But HTTP accounts for an average of 25 per cent of a user’s bandwidth, with the rest taken up by other traffic, including email, peer-to-peer and instant messaging.

    The other issue is about identifying the content to filter in the first place. Most filtering systems use a database that categorises content, and then blocks or filters webpages according to category. CensorNet uses the RuleSpace technology, which automatically classifies web content before filtering.

    At present, no automated classification works perfectly - no system can automatically detect content that is allegedly “illegal” - and RuleSpace is no exception. A popular implementation for, say, schools is to block specified categories and unclassified content. Whether adults would be happy with a solution that could block over half the internet from their screens is another matter.

  • Finally, late last year, the Telegraph reported that the British government may require websites to have cinema-style age ratings:

    In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham says he believes that new standards of decency need to be applied to the web. He is planning to negotiate with Barack Obama’s incoming American administration to draw up new international rules for English language websites.

    The Cabinet minister describes the internet as “quite a dangerous place” and says he wants internet-service providers (ISPs) to offer parents “child-safe” web services.

    Giving film-style ratings to individual websites is one of the options being considered, he confirms. When asked directly whether age ratings could be introduced, Mr Burnham replies: “Yes, that would be an option. This is an area that is really now coming into full focus.”

    ISPs, such as BT, Tiscali, AOL or Sky could also be forced to offer internet services where the only websites accessible are those deemed suitable for children.

    Mr Burnham also uses the interview to indicate that he will allocate money raised from the BBC’s commercial activities to fund other public-service broadcasting such as Channel Four. He effectively rules out sharing the BBC licence fee between broadcasters as others have recommended.

    His plans to rein in the internet, and censor some websites, are likely to trigger a major row with online advocates who ferociously guard the freedom of the world wide web.

    However, Mr Burnham said: “If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now. It’s true across the board in terms of content, harmful content, and copyright. Libel is [also] an emerging issue.

    “There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.”

    Mr Burnham reveals that he is currently considering a range of new safeguards. Initially, as with copyright violations, these could be policed by internet providers. However, new laws may be threatened if the initial approach is not successful.

    “I think there is definitely a case for clearer standards online,” he said. “More ability for parents to understand if their child is on a site, what standards it is operating to. What are the protections that are in place?”

Round up: Britain’s National Identity Scheme

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:00 pm on 23 November, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, political liberties, British politics, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Update (24/11/2008): I should of course emphasise that the fines for failing to update your details are upto £1000. My understanding is that they will start, for a first offence, at £125, according to a thread on the NO2ID forum.

Here’s a round up of recent news regarding Britain’s National Identity Scheme (NIS):

  • Starting on November the 25th 2008, all foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will be issued with a biometric identity card. The Register reported that the government estimates that it will issue 50,000 cards between November 2008 and April 2009.

    The government are selling this as the first step in setting up the NIS, however all that’s happening is that where people who needed a visa to live and work in Britain would get a stamp in their passport, they are now issued a biometric card. The National Identity Register (NIR) has not yet been set up, and thus whilst the applicants details are being centrally recorded, this is done on a database that will need to be merged with the NIR. A BBC report on the issuing of the cards to non-EEA nationals makes this clear:

    The cards partly replace a paper-based system of immigration stamps - but will now include the individual’s name and picture, their nationality, immigration status and two fingerprints.

    Immigration officials will store the details centrally and, in time, they are expected to be merged into the proposed national identity register. (emphasis added)

    The government has also suggested that people can pre-register their interest in getting a card and envisage handing out the first such cards in late 2009.

  • Until recently, the plan was that people would enroll for the identity scheme at a network of interview centres which would collect their details and biometric information. However the government has announced that it will be inviting the private sector to set up enrollment centres so that people could submit their biometrics via post offices, shops and other private firms. A consequence of this is that there will be price hikes for obtaining a card as firms charge for using their enrollment service. The extra charges are expected to be in the region of £20 to £40 pounds. Note that the cost of applying for a passport, which was £18 pounds when Labour came to power, £56 pounds in 2006 and £72 pounds earlier this year, is now set at over £100 pounds! The government claim this is to cover the cost of fingerprinting everyone. I suspect they are also paying for the NIS via the increased passport prices.

    A further consequence of this move is that now the biometric details will be collected separately from the rest of the registration process, raising questions about how secure the transmission of the data back to the government will be and how reliably they’ll be able to match up the correct biometrics with a given application. Naturally, the government assures us it will all be very secure, but they leak data like a sieve so why trust them?

  • Resistance to the ID card scheme seem to be growing amongst the trade unions, especially BALPA, the union for airline pilots. The government plans to start requiring airside airport works to enrol in the scheme from next year, but BALPA has expressed its opposition to this. According to the Register:

    News emerged today that government plans for a compulsory UK national ID card pilot scheme in the airline industry are deadlocked by industrial and union opposition, casting a blight over the unveiling of the cards’ design.

    The Financial Times reports this morning that the government’s intended rollout of the biometric ID cards among UK citizens - which was to start first among airport workers - is stalled. Both trade unions and industry bodies were adamantly opposed to the plans, and doubtful that the wider UK ID scheme would ever proceed given Conservative pledges to ditch it in the event of winning the next election.

    “We do not see the ID scheme bringing any security or business benefits,” Roger Wiltshire of the British Air Transport Association told the FT.

    “All we see is additional problems and costs.”

    Robert Siddall of the Airport Operators’ Association went further, telling the paper that the ID rollout “is not going anywhere, that’s for sure. You cannot run a pilot scheme in a sector where so many … are opposed.”

    Apart from air-transport management, it was also clear that unions were equally determined to resist the cards. The TUC has voted against them this month, and the airline pilots’ union Balpa threatened a legal challenge if the government tries to make ID cards compulsory for its members.

    More recently, the government announced that the issuing of cards to airside airport workers will only occur at 2 airports in 2009, namely Manchester and City of London, and BALPA are reported to be meeting to discuss how to ramp up their opposition.

  • NO2ID, the campaigning organisation devoted to opposing the NIS and other database state schemes, claims to have obtained Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s fingerprints surreptitiously. Guido Fawkes has also covered this.
  • The media have been helpfully reminding people that if they register on the NIR then they are required to keep their information accurate and uptodate on pain of a £1000 fine, e.g. see these reports at the BBC and the Guardian. E.g. failing to tell the Identity & Passport Service about a change of name or change of address could result in you paying up £1000 for the privilege.
  • The Scottish Parliament recently voted against the NIS, for the third time in a row. Although the Parliament can’t prevent the scheme being imposed north of the border, they can prevent Scottish public services from using the scheme and thus limit their use.
  • Finally, it has emerged that the government envisages that most biometric checks will not be done against the NIR, but merely with the biometrics stored on the card. The consequence of this is that a forged card is more likely to pass muster than if biometric checks were routinely done against the database.
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