link to briefings documents at

Magna Carta Plus News

back to index page
orientation to the news at

short briefing dcuments at

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


NIS briefing document updated again

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:59 pm on 10 March, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Now the government has published its revised delivery plan for the National Identity Scheme, I’ve updated the briefing document to reflect the changes.

Roundup: Freedom of speech

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:23 pm on 9 February, 2008.
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics, US politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Now for another round-up, this time on freedom of speech related stories of which there have been a fair number in recent months.

  • Back in October, the Pub Philosopher pointed out how Britain’s new religious hatred law is beginning to bite:

    A number of people have already posted about Father John Hayes, the priest who was interviewed by police on suspicion of inciting racial hatred, after he expressed views about religious dress and radical Muslims in his parish newsletter. Esmerelda wondered whether, given that Father Hayes’s comments were made over a year ago, someone was taking advantage of the new Religious Hatred Act to make their complaint.

    This may give a clue to the response of the police. Usually, the police would look at the evidence in a complaint and then decide whether they thought a crime might have been committed before taking any further action. The problem is, you can’t do that with the Religious Hatred Act.

    Read Section 29B. It says:

    A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.

    And you can’t work out what someone’s intention was without talking to them.

    To establish whether Father Hayes had broken the law, the police had to judge whether he was a rabid Muslim-hater, hell bent on stirring up a religious war, or a harmless parish priest engaging in theological debate. Presumably, the senior officer who picked up this case decided that the only way this could be done was by sending two coppers to interview Father Hayes.

    As I said last year, this is one of the most worrying aspects of the new law. It is up to the authorities to decide what they think you meant. They can, if they choose, infer meanings from your words that had never occurred to you when you wrote or said them.

    The letter which led to Father Hayes being interviewed can be found here.

    This shows how laws that restrict what people can say can be used to intimidate someone via the mere threat of a prosecution, by someone who might simply dislike what the person said. This can have just as big an effect on free speech as any actual convictions brought under the such laws and such threats can be used without the speech concerned necessarily being proscribed by such laws.

  • Apparently, it is illegal for pub landlords to put up signs saying “FAGGOTS & MINCE NOT ON THE MENU”.
  • (more…)

Roundup: Britain’s National Identity Scheme

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:08 pm on 7 February, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

To catch-up on a backlog of material I’m doing a number of roundups. This one is on stories related to Britain’s National Identity Scheme over the last few months.

Online tax return system considered too risky for the famous

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:15 pm on 26 January, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

[Hat tip: Samizdata and Tim Worstall]

From a report in the Telegraph:

The security of the online computer system used by more than three million people to file tax returns is in doubt after HM Revenue and Customs admitted it was not secure enough to be used by MPs, celebrities and the Royal Family.

Thousands of “high profile” people have been secretly barred from using the online tax return system amid concerns that their confidential details would be put at risk.


From this year, anyone wishing to file a self-assessment tax return after October will have to do so online or face stiff penalties.

However, HMRC has a list of those excluded from the new rules who must send hard copies of returns for “security reasons”.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to use the electronic system to make the Jan 31 deadline this week.

Tax records contain bank details, national insurance numbers, salary and details on investments and savings - all valuable to fraudsters.

On Friday, senior accountants said they had concerns over the security of the system - apparently confirmed by the Revenue’s secret policy.

Mike Warburton, of the accountants Grant Thornton, said: “Either the Revenue have a system which can guarantee confidentiality for all or they should defer plans to force online filing. It is extraordinary that MPs and others can enjoy higher security.”

Mark Wallace, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “This double standard is unacceptable. If the online system is not secure enough for MPs, why should ordinary taxpayers have to put up with it?”

This is of course the same HMRC who lost 25 million child benefit records. Why should anyone, famous or otherwise, trust these people or their online system to keep their personal data safe?

What’s going on with Britain’s National Identity Scheme?

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:23 pm on 25 January, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Recently there have been a number of headlines related to Britain’s National Identity Scheme, apparently due to the Tories obtaining leaked Home Office documents relating to the scheme. The headlines concerned have suggested both delays, the possibility of the scheme being shelved and possible extensions to the scheme. Below are some examples:

So what is going on? Has the scheme been delayed? Has it been extended? Will it be shelved?

The Serious Crime Act 2007 and mens rea

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:57 pm on 19 January, 2008.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

This post is a belated response to a comment left by “Les” in the comments on this article, who wrote:

Under S45, the prosecution has to show that you BELIEVED that the anticipated offenced WOULD occur and that you BELIEVED that your act WOULD assist or encourage its commission, thus establidhing[sic] Mens Rea.

Without S47, the judge could direct the jury to return a guilty verdict. With S47, if you demonstrate that your act was reasonable, the judge should direct the jury to return a not guilty verdict.

I do not agree that the conditions in S45 are necessarily sufficient to establish mens rea. I raise two counter points:

  • Firstly, why provide the defence in S47 if the conditions in S45 are sufficient to establish mens rea?
  • Secondly, consider the following. If I sell a knife to you there’s a risk you might use it to commit an offence. Of course knowing there is this small risk does not imply that I believe you will commit the crime and my selling a knife to you in the absence of any reason to believe you will commit a crime with it is unlikely to meet the conditions in S45.

    But suppose I sell knives to the general public. If I sell a large enough volume of knives it’s virtually guaranteed that one or more of them will be used to commit a crime. Therefore isn’t anyone selling knives to the public, on a scale large enough that its virtually guaranteed that some of the knives will be used in crime and who also realises that fact, in a position of (a) believing that offences will occur and (b) believing their actions will assist in their commission?

    Now of course section 47 can be used by anyone selling knifes to argue that their actions are reasonable — one would hope a court would agree that it’s unreasonable to prevent people from selling cooking utensils after all!

    But my point is that a person in this position has the burden of proof reversed. It should be the up to the prosecution to prove negligence or recklessness on the part of this knife seller, not the knife seller to prove his actions were reasonable. And in this case it seems to me that the conditions in S45 do not establish mens rea.

    Note that similar arguments to the above could be applied to selling cars, computers, hammers, tools, software or just about anything!

Happy 2008!

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:42 pm on 5 January, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, political liberties, British politics, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

So a new year is now upon us.

Looking back I think one of they key developments of 2007 in Britain has been the increased awareness of the dangers of the database state, in the wake of numerous stories about how various departments of the British government have lost personal data, had it stolen and/or seriously mishandled it (e.g. sending unencrypted CDs through the post). The government has shown, beyond reasonable doubt to many people, that they cannot be trusted with our personal data.

As a consequence recent opinion polls have been showing a majority of people are now opposed to the national identity scheme. Given that this scheme involves collecting and sharing personal data on a far wider scale than is done currently, it is only logical to expect even more scope for the loss/abuse of personal data arising from the scheme. This point now seems to have penetrated the public consciousness. This development could spell the end of the identity scheme and make it harder for the government to pursue other schemes that involve collecting and sharing vast amounts of personal data. I hope it does.

On the civil liberties front more generally, there are of course many more developments that need to be fought, such as the extension of pre-charge detention and other draconian measures. For the first time, it seems to me that the public are becoming aware of the dangers of what’s happening. Hopefully this will help to prevent further losses of liberty and further erosion of the rule of law.

The British government’s record on keeping personal data safe

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:14 pm on 21 November, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state, accountability.
Edit This Permalink to this article

In light of the recent loss of CDs containing the personal details of 25 million people by HM Revenue and Customs, it seems appropriate to summarise this government’s recent record on losing personal data and identity documents:

Note that this is a topic I have covered before, the following list summarises the events previously reported:

Clearly, the government cannot be trusted with our personal data.

Finally, a comprehensive list of data abuse stories (including commercial cases) can be found at UK Liberty’s data abuse page.

British government abandons FOIA charges plan

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:16 pm on 19 November, 2007.
Categories British politics, accountability, freedom of information.
Edit This Permalink to this article

NB: This was mentioned in Gordon Brown’s speech “on liberty”, but I felt it deserved separate mention from my coverage of that speech.

The Register reported recently that the government has decided to back down on a proposal to revise the way charges are computed for freedom of information requests:

The UK Government has dropped controversial proposals that critics said would have neutered the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Changes to the charging structure that would have allowed bodies to refuse more requests will not now go ahead.

The move comes amid significant opposition from pressure groups and media companies, who say the changes would have hindered access to information about the activities of public bodies. Of the 324 people or organisations who responded to the Government’s consultation on the plan, 73 per cent objected to it, the Ministry of Justice said

NO2ID calls in “refuse to register” pledge.

Some time back, NO2ID ran a pledge for people to refuse to register for the national identity card and to pay £10 to a legal defence fund, assuming 10,000 others would join in. In the event, 11,361 people signed the pledge (1,361 over target).

Now, NO2ID are calling in this pledge. They argue now is the right time thus:

The Identity Cards Act 2006 is now law, and - despite growing opposition, significant delays and rising costs - the new Prime Minister shows no sign of calling a halt to the National Identity Scheme. In 2008, the government intends to pilot fingerprinting and to issue the first ‘biometric residence visas’ to non-EU foreign nationals as a precursor to registering British Citizens.

The legal powers to do these all these things will shortly begin to be applied. Now is the time to call in the legal defence fund part of the pledge.

If anyone wishes to contribute to this fund, whether or not they signed the pledge, there is a paypal button on the page linked to above, near the bottom (the one in the sidebar is for a general donation to NO2ID - the one at the bottom is specifically for the legal defence fund). Alternatively, NO2ID advices:

Please send your donation, by cheque made payable to ‘NO2ID’ to:

NO2ID (Legal Defence Fund)
Box 412
19-21 Crawford Street
London W1H 1PJ

« Previous PageNext Page »


© magnacartaplus.org2008, 2007, 2006 [1 December]

variable words
prints as variable A4 pages (on my printer and set-up)

abstracts of documents on UK Acts of Parliament click for news from orientation to orientation button links to other relevant sites links

Powered by WordPress