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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

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Some resistance to the database state

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:15 pm on 13 September, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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Computer Weekly reports on the Trades Union Congress voting to resist the National Identity Scheme “with all means at its disposal”:

The TUC in Brighton this week has pledged to resist the national ID card scheme “with all means at its disposal”, including industrial and legal action.

The motion, tabled by pilots’ union BALPA, was carried overwhelmingly by TUC delegates.

The government plans to introduce national ID cards for airside workers from next year, but BALPA said that carrying a national ID should not be obligatory for employees.

The TUC motion puts unions on a collision course with the government over civil liberties.

Local councils adopting “Allegations Management Systems”

The Telegraph recently reported:

Local authorities around the country are setting up databases to hold records of accusations made about anyone from teachers and doctors to Scout leaders and private tutors.

They are employing staff just to look into the claims - which can be made anonymously - who are required to contact police, social services or the adult’s employer and then keep track of the case.

Details of the allegation will be kept on the accused’s personnel file until they retire so they can be seen by potential employers, and in a reversal of the basic tenet of English law they will only be deemed innocent if they can prove it.

The system was introduced in the wake of the Soham murders to make sure authorities keep track of anyone suspected of child abuse.

But critics claim it gives too much power to unaccountable council officers, creates extra red tape for bosses and will lead to innocent professionals having their careers blighted by malicious allegations.

They also warn it will drive people - particularly men - out of working with children for fear of being labelled a paedophile. Already just 2 per cent of teachers of the youngest primary school pupils are male.

It comes on top of the new vetting system being implemented for everyone who works with under-16s, the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which will lead to 11.3 million adults having their backgrounds checked.

The Pub Philosopher also reports on this.

So if you work with children, you’ll work in a world where one anonymous allegation made against you can, even if groundless, haunt you for the rest of your working career (of possibly ‘just’ a decade if the Pub Philosopher is correct), as it’ll be kept on file, shared with employers, social services and the police. This is in addition to the requirement of everyone working with children to undergo mandatory criminal records checks.

Thus the culture of suspicion marches on.

Telegraph: Council officials told to question adults in public park without children

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:53 pm on 9 September, 2008.
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics, culture of suspicion.
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Update: UK Liberty has some good commentary on this story.

Fancy going for a stroll in a public park? Apparently, if you do so in the Telford and Wreckin council area, and fail to bring any children with you, you may find yourself questioned about what you’re doing and asked to leave, ostensibly in order to protect children from paedophiles. The Telegraph reports:

The policy came to light after two environmental campaigners dressed as penguins were thrown out of Telford Town Park when caught handing out leaflets on climate change.

Rachel Whittaker and Neil Donaldson, of the Wrekin Stop War pressure group, were told they had to leave the park because they had not undergone Criminal Records Bureau checks or risk assessments before being allowed near children.

David Ottley, Telford & Wrekin’s sports and recreation manager, said in a letter to them: “Our Town Park staff approach adults that are not associated with any children in the Town Park and request the reason for them being there.”

“In particular, this applies to those areas where children or more vulnerable groups gather, such as play facilities and the entrances to play areas.”

However Miss Whittaker, 34, said: “I’m outraged that my concern for the planet and for the future of all children can be turned into petty bureaucracy.

“It is dangerous as well as frightening people, it could start a hysterical society and punishes people who have done nothing wrong while giving an outlet for those with sinister motives a way of getting around it.

“I think they are reacting to what was is essence an expression to public expression of free speech - and how many child molesters dress up as penguins anyway?”

And so the culture of suspicion marches on…

M&C Saatchi reported to be hired to promote British National Identity Scheme

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:38 pm on 7 September, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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According to the Mail on Sunday newspaper:

The Government is paying a top advertising agency to ‘sell’ its controversial £20billion ID card scheme to the public.

The Home Office has employed M&C Saatchi to mount a marketing blitz ahead of the National Identity Scheme’s launch in November.

ID cards will allow the Government to hold the personal details of 60million citizens - including fingerprints and iris patterns - on a central database.

But there are fears that fraudsters, terrorists or blackmailers could steal the information and use it for criminal purposes.

Despite this, the Home Office has ordered that all non-EU workers living in Britain hold an ID card as of November.

M&C Saatchi will begin the campaign with TV adverts and posters explaining the cards’ ‘benefits’ to a sceptical public.

The firm is also believed to be behind a Home Office website, www.mylifemyid.org, which has been advertised on social networking sites Facebook and Bebo since July.

The site invites youngsters to sign up for ID cards on a ‘purely voluntary basis’.

If Saatchi are indeed behind the MyLifeMyId website, this can only be good news for the opponents of the national identity scheme:

Trust Britain’s youth to be characteristically ungrateful. The Government goes to all the effort of making a website for 16 to 25- year-olds to express their views on identity cards, and all they get in return is a solid mixture of scorn, sneering and scepticism smattered across their fancy new forums.

In a bid to get the country’s youngsters on board the controversial scheme, the Home Office has launched MyLifeMyId.org, where 16 to 25 year olds “can have their say about identity issues in the UK.”

But anyone browsing the discussions on the site would be hard pushed to find a single positive comment, with contributors branding the controversial scheme as “creepy,” “dirty” and “illegal” and the website itself as an “online propaganda machine”.

One contributor writes: “I think it’s pretty disingenuous of the government to come out and say “hey, yo, cool dudes! If you sign up for our hip hoppin’ ID card scheme you’ll never have to carry a heavy s*** passport to prove your age to some wack bartender again” or however it is they think we talk.” Meanwhile, amcs1983 had this to say: “So far the stats look like 100% say no to ID cards. Time to lose these results in a train station…..”

At the time of writing, the discussion forums of MylifeMyID.org still seem to be dominated by commenters who are sceptical, if not hostile, to the National Identity Scheme.

EU-wide powers for “trial in absentia” proposed

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:41 pm on 3 September, 2008.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, European Union politics.
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[Hat tip: abelard]

The Times reports:

British citizens could be convicted in their absence by foreign courts for traffic, credit card or other criminal offences under plans approved in principle by the European Parliament.

The proposals would allow citizens to be extradited automatically under fast-track procedures at the request of another European Union country on the basis of a decision by the foreign court.

The overwhelming adoption by the Parliament of the proposals, which now go to the Council of Ministers, was condemned yesterday as “throwing habeas corpus out of the window”.

Philip Bradbourn, the Conservative justice and home affairs spokesman in the European Parliament, said: “This initiative would enable courts to pass judgments in absentia. It goes against one of the most fundamental corner-stones of British justice – that the accused has a right to defend himself at trial. If other EU countries want to go ahead with this proposal that’s their choice, but the British Government should have no part [of it].”

The proposal has been put forward by seven EU countries, including Britain, to strengthen procedural safeguards in the European Union and mutual recognition of processes in criminal proceedings. Countries can opt out from the proposals even if they are adopted by the Council of Ministers.

Thus you could be tried and found guilty in another EU country and the first you’d know about it is when the fast-track extradition warrant is served against you. Note that EU states can extradite people under the European Arrest Warrant without any evidence being presented to the courts of the country that the person is being extradited from.

DNA database profiles sold to private firms

Posted by James Hammerton @ 4:24 pm on 26 July, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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From a recent report in the Telegraph:

Papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that on five occasions since 2004 private firms with police contracts have successfully applied to use the database to help them develop computer programs.

The DNA database contains records of 4.2 million people, of which a million have never been convicted of an offence. Records are rarely deleted, even if a person is not charged.

The disclosure comes ahead of a hard-hitting report from the Government’s genetics watchdog next week which will call for more safeguards on how the database is run.

Ministers say the database is a crucial tool in solving crimes. But when it was set up, there was no suggestion that profiles would be made available to private businesses for commercial purposes.

The companies involved were not given the identities of the people whose DNA profiles they analysed and used them for research that could be useful to the police. But critics said it was unacceptable that profiles had been handed over secretly without any public debate or the consent of those concerned.

NO2ID Nine: All charges dropped.

See my personal blog.

Freedom of speech roundup

There have been a number of freedom of speech related stories recently that I’ve only just got round to covering, ranging from the UN Human Rights Council’s recent decision to gather information about “abuses” of freedom of speech to a prominent British blog being sued by an individual connected to Hamas. All over the world it seems to me that freedom of speech is being attacked. The details of these recent stories can be found below:

(more…)

The erosion of the rights of the accused: Terror suspects

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:31 pm on 16 July, 2008.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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Update: The Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill was passed by Parliament on Wednesday 16th July.

In Britain, if you are accused of terrorism:

Why civil libertarians should back Davis’s re-election

Earlier I wrote an article arguing that David Davis’s resignation and by-election campaign opened up an opportunity to alter the political climate to be more friendly to civil liberties. I’ve seen various arguments put forward attacking Davis’s campaign, from people committed to civil liberties, and this article is a response to them. The arguments I’ve seen are as follows:

  1. It’s a safe Tory seat, and the second placed party is not standing anyone against him, so Davis is bound to win and therefore it’s not important. One person arguing this suggested the logical vote is therefore simply to stay at home.
  2. Davis’s record on civil liberties is not perfect and/or other candidates have stronger stances on civil liberties, so we should back them instead.
  3. It’s just a stunt from a politician seeking attention.

Below I tackle each of these points in turn and argue that:

  • Davis has already done the cause of civil liberties some service in helping reposition the Tory party and, with his resignation, in generating debate and publicity about the erosion of civil liberties.
  • If we’re to avoid a potential set-back on civil liberties, we need to ensure Davis is returned with more votes than he won last time round, and with a decent turnout.

(more…)

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