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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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Proposal for Royal Mail to intercept mail on behalf of HMRC

Henry Porter comments on these proposals:

The last days of this dreadful government are being accompanied by an attack on rights and privacy that seems unprecedented during Labour’s 13-year rule.

The government is now drawing up plans to amend the Postal Services Act to allow tax inspectors to intercept and open people’s mail before it is delivered. Given the state’s ambitions to collect all communications data this is hardly surprising, but we must ask ourselves how many more rights are seized by government and its agencies before Britain becomes the GDR’s most obvious European imitator.

Currently postal workers have the right to intercept suspicious letters and packages and pass them to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and then at an agreed moment the item is opened in front of the addressee. The change in the law will mean that HMRC will be able to open whatever it likes without the addressee being present or being made aware of the interception.

As usual, the government and HMRC public relations people underplay the wide-ranging and dangerous nature of this proposal by insisting that the new measure is simply designed to deal with the problem of tobacco smuggling. But the change, disclosed in a document published with the budget, means that HMRC will be able to trawl through private mail pretty much at will.

Britain’s Stasi state rolls on…

Interesting article on stop and search

Our Kingdom have written an excellent overview of the use of and legal battles over the stop and search powers from Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Tory Peer in bid to limit officials’ right to entry homes « James Hammerton’s Blog

Tory Peer, Lord Selsdon, has launched a bill to limit the right of officials to enter homes. See my personal blog for more details.

There is no need to retain the DNA profiles of all arrestees

Over at my personal blog, I argue that Gordon Brown is wrong to use the Jeremiah Sheridan case to justify retention of those arrested, but not convicted of a crime.

Banned from working with vulnerable people because the ISA thinks you’re lonely?!

The Telegraph recently reported:

Controversially, managers have also been told to pass on names of staff they have prevented from working with vulnerable people for fear they could “pose a future risk” - even though no incident has occurred.

Guidance seen by The Sunday Telegraph, which has been given to more than 100 case workers at the ISA reveals that those referred could be permanently blocked from work if aspects of their home life or attitudes are judged to be unsatisfactory.

It says case workers should be “minded to bar” cases referred to them if they feel “definite concerns” about at least two aspects of their life, which are specified in the document.

It means, for example, that if a teaching assistant was believed to be “unable to sustain emotionally intimate relationships” and also had a “chaotic, unstable lifestyle” they could be barred from ever working with children.

If a nurse was judged to suffer from “severe emotional loneliness” and believed to have “poor coping skills” their career could also be ended.

ISA’s case workers, who have no minimum qualification or experience, make their decision about whether someone should be barred from working with children or vulnerable adults without ever seeing the person.

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.

British government reforms of English libel law

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:41 pm on .
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Last year, the Guardian reported:

Signalling his desire for reforms, Straw insisted that the changes can be introduced “without the need for primary legislation”.

Straw highlighted the plans amid concern at the way huge payouts awarded to claimants are attracting “libel tourists” to Britain, and what the minister described as the “chilling effect” of existing libel laws on democracy.

The government’s decision to look again at the libel system follows threats by overseas publishers to abandon sales in the UK because of the fear of libel.

In an interview in tomorrow’s New Statesman magazine, Straw says the rise of “no-win no-fee” arrangements threatens free speech by making it prohibitively expensive for publishers to defend themselves.

Research by Oxford University has revealed that the cost of a defending a libel action in England and Wales is now 140 times greater than the average in other European countries, according to the New Statesman.

Straw added: “Our libel laws are having a chilling effect. By definition, it’s not hitting the most profitable international media groups, News International or Associated Newspapers and so on, though it’s not good news for them.

“It is hitting the press that is vital to our democracy but whose finances are much more difficult, and that includes magazines, one or two of the nationals, and regional and local newspapers, and it’s really bad for them. That’s why I will be changing the law on defamation costs.”

Whilst reducing the payouts may help, it seems to me that reforming it to place the onus the proving the libel on the prosecution, rather than the defence would be a better way to approach this issue.

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.

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