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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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1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005


Roundup on Britain’s national identity scheme

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I hope to post more regularly in future. For the moment I’ll be in catch-up mode, rounding up stories in particular areas. Today’s round up is on Britain’s National Identity Scheme:

  • Under a recent statutory instrument, invoking section 38 of the Identity Cards Act 2006, the Identity and Passport Service(IPS) can now employ credit reference agencies, such as Experian, to verify identity information given during passport applications. The IPS will also be in charge of issuing identity cards (eventually all passport applications will involve registering on the NIR). So it looks like credit reference agencies are likely to be employed to verify data for ID card applications as well.
  • The Register reports that from 2008, the General Register Office, currently part of the Office for National Statistics, will be transferred to become part of the Identity and Passport Service. This means that the IPS will beceome responsible for the register of births, deaths and marriages. The Register comments:

    The government has followed up the effective merger of the ONS’ population register with the NIR by subsuming the GRO in the IPS Borg, and the uncontentious register that previously existed will, as of next April, be run by an organisation which proposes to make money out of compiling and continually updating the “biographical footprint” of every live individual in the UK (see here for more detail on the identity verification service and its roots in IPS’ Personal Identification Project, PIP).

  • At their annual conference, the Tory party re-affirmed their commitment to scrap the identity cards. Both David Davis and David Cameron, the Tory leader, included this pledge in their speeches. However they haven’t yet gone as far as the Liberal Democrats in pledging to repeal the Identity Cards Act 2006 and rolling back other surveillance state measures.
  • As of 2nd October, had been waiting for over 1,000 days for a disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act relating to government reports on the ID card scheme, despite both the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal ruling that the reports should be disclosed. The government is appealing the decision to the High Court. The High Court has set March 4th & 5th 2008 for the hearing.

2 new sections added to the identity cards briefing document

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:42 pm on 29 July, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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I’ve added two new sections to my briefing document on the government’s identity scheme, a section describing the obligations individuals will have under the scheme and a section describing the legal powers the government has over individuals under the Identity Cards Act 2006.

I welcome any constructive feedback on the content of these sections, or indeed on the content of the rest of the document.

Glasgow No2ID fundraising gig

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:30 pm on 16 July, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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Glasgow’s No2ID group, campaigning against the government’s national identity scheme, have organised a fundraising music gig for the 26th July at Barfly, 260 Clyde Street, Glasgow, doors open at 8pm. Tickets are £5 in advance, £6 on the door. You can buy them here.

The gig takes place on both floors at Barfly, downstairs featuring rock/metal and upstairs for acoustic/experimental music.

Bands appearing include: Mama Mayhem, Serpico, Marshan, Stonesthrow, Warped Memories and Traquair.

See also the No2ID music site on myspace.

“Nothing to hide, nothing to fear”, database security and Britain’s national identity scheme

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:22 pm on 2 June, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state, US politics.
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A common slogan used by many of those who support measures that put the general population under surveillance, such as CCTV and the British national identity scheme, is “if you’ve got nothing to hide, there’s nothing to fear”. I’ve criticised this slogan before, as have Samizdata (e.g. here, at their sister blog White Rose and here), UKLiberty and the No2ID weblog.

However a particularly compelling illustration of why the slogan “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is so wrong-headed, and how law abiding people can be put at risk by those who gather information about them is provided by the spate of recent stories involving large (often governmental) organisations losing, or otherwise publicly exposing, personal details of the people who deal with them:

The above are just a handful of recent stories, and I’m aware of other examples going back years. For example numerous cases of organisations losing, public exposing or abusing the personal information they store are also documented in UK Liberty’s article on data abuse.

In each of these cases, the personal details of law abiding citizens, often numbered in thousands or tens of thousands, have been compromised and may have fallen into the hands of those who might try and impersonate them or otherwise use the information against them. So much for “nothing to hide, nothing to fear”.

The British government claims its national identity scheme will help combat identity theft, but it seems to me that it is more likely to enable identity theft because not only will it store all all the information needed for someone to pretend to be you in one place, but its National Identity Registration Number will end up indexing both your national identity register entry and your entries in other databases both private and public. The NIRN and much of your personal information on the NIR will be shared with many public and private sector organisations and be accessible by thousand and thousands of officials.

It beggars belief that lapses in security similar to those reported above would be minimised by such a system or that the opportunities for stealing the information would be minimised either. And, unlike the systems above, your participation (if you’re a permanent resident of Britain) in the scheme will not be voluntary if the government gets its way.

David Davis to Gordon Brown: “Will you restore the freedoms we lost under Blair?”

Writing in the Independent, David Davis, the Tories’ Shadow Home Secretary states:

As Tony Blair reflects on his legacy, Taking Liberties, a film released on 8 June, documents how New Labour has undermined our ancient British freedoms over the past decade.

The Government says the rules of the game have changed: the terrorist threat has escalated and we must trade some freedom for our security. That assessment is superficial. New Labour has undermined our freedoms, but the most damning indictment is the liberty taken with our security in the process. Each shortcut the Government takes with our freedoms masks a shortcoming in its counter-terrorism strategy.


In the present control order crisis, the Home Secretary blames the opposition, the courts and human rights for three terror suspects escaping. He complains he has one arm tied behind his back. The truth is he has been sitting on both hands.

More than a third of control order suspects are on the run. Reid’s latest buck-passing masks three mistakes, all his responsibility. Why did he not use all the existing powers available, including tagging, if these individuals were as “dangerous” as he says? Why, when they disappeared, did the Government wait two days to release their names, allowing them to flee the country through Labour’s lax border controls? And why is Reid suggesting we need extra pre-charge detention before exhausting all other avenues, including seeking a derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights, if necessary?

Talking(sic) Liberties charts Tony Blair’s legacy. The question is where does Gordon Brown stand in this debate. It is a sign of the leadership to come that he has said nothing on these issues.

Liberty and security are not tradable commodities. We cannot defend our freedoms by sacrificing them.

Taking Liberties, The Movie

Taking Liberties is a documentary film charting the erosion of civil liberties since 1997 has been produced and is due to be released in cinemas on June 8th. There’s also a book accompanying this. It’ll be interesting to see how much of mountain of the liberty eroding legislation this government has produced gets covered.

2 new sections added to ID cards briefing document

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:13 pm on 8 April, 2007.
Categories site news, privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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I have added two new sections to the identity cards briefing document I produced earlier. These sections cover how one gets an ID card and when you will have your identity checked under the scheme.

EU and british government to fingerprint kids

I realise I’ve been a bit slow on reporting on this but here goes anyway. Early in March, The Register reported that the government apparently plans to take the fingerprints of children as young as 11 for biometric passports:

Home Office minister Liam Byrne told ITV1 television’s The Sunday Edition that the Identity and Passport Service wanted to fingerprint all children over the age of 11 and keep their particulars on a database.

The reason, he said, is because it is currently possible get a 10 year passport without biometrics while a child and still be carrying it validly at age 17, the age at which a biometric passport would be issued to someone who applied afresh for their travel permit.

According to this article, the European Union has already agreed to fingerprint children as young as 12:

A Home Office spokesman said it is bound by the rules of the European Schengen agreement, which Britain isn’t signed up to, but has vowed to mirror, to introduce biometric fingerprints to British passports by 2009.

The spokesman said the Europeans hadn’t decided on a minimum age for demanding that someone proffer their biometrics at border control.

However, the European Council pretty much already agreed last summer that children as young as 12 would be stored on Europe’s fingerprint database.

New briefing document: The British National Identity Scheme

Magna Carta Plus has a series of briefing documents that cover specific topics in more detail than is usually the case with news/blog articles, and which may be updated periodically. They can be found here, or via the lower button to the left of the main title bar above.

A new briefing document on the British government’s identity card scheme has just been added. Comments are welcome on both this and the other briefing documents.

Royal Academy of Engineering reports on “Big Brother”

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:45 pm on 30 March, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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The Royal Academy of Engineering has published a report into the increasing amount of surveillance and data gathering/sharing going on in Britain. According to Henry Porter:

“There is a choice,” say the authors of the report, “between a Big Brother world where individual privacy is almost extinct and a world where the data are kept by individual organisations or services and kept secret.”

No one seems to ask, as Professor Nigel Gilbert does, why supermarket loyalty cards include your name. “Does it [the card] need to identify you? No, it just needs authentication that you’ve bought the goods. It is the same for Oyster cards on the tube, some of which you have to register for.

Add to this the frantic construction of government databases - the NHS spine, the ID card scheme’s National Identity Register (NIR), the police DNA data base and the now total surveillance of British motorways and town centres by a system that retains journey details for two years - and you realise that the surveillance society is not so much imminent as a clear and present danger. It should take no imagination to see that apart from fundamentally altering the human experience, a surveillance society reduces individual liberty and makes each one of us much more open to abuse from the state and big corporations.

This report is to be welcomed because it is produced not by politically motivated liberals, but by scientists who understand the power and reach of surveillance technology. Richard Thomas, the information commissioner said much the same thing in an excellent report last November that criticised the NIR. And there are signs that the penny is beginning to drop on all sides of the house. The cross-party home affairs select committee is to look into the impact of widespread CCTV, the NIR and the police DNA database.

It is little appreciated that each generation must fight for its freedom and the freedom of its children in distinct ways. We have become complacent about our liberties as though they were in our blood, part of a gene pool of democratic virtues that very few other nations are fortunate enough to possess. But it is no exaggeration to say that among all western societies, Britain’s democracy is the most vulnerable from a kind of internal dissolution.

The Register also comments on this report:

The academics and security consultants behind the Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance report, released this week, reckon it’s wrong to believe that increased security means more collection and processing of personal information.

They argue that, providing the right engineering systems are put in place, it’s possible have both increased privacy and more security.

We live in an era of ubiquitous CCTV surveillance, identity cards, and corporate databases - to say nothing of the assault on privacy that has accompanied the War on Terror. The report’s authors reckon that engineers have a key role in making sure privacy safeguards are built into systems. For example, services for travel and shopping can be designed to maintain privacy by allowing people to buy goods and use public transport anonymously.

“It should be possible to sign up for a loyalty card without having to register it to a particular individual - consumers should be able to decide what information is collected about them,” said Professor Nigel Gilbert, chairman of the academy working group that produced the report.

However they also state:

The aims of the report’s authors are noble, but some of their suggested solutions, such as protecting personal information by methods “similar to the digital rights management software used to safeguard copyrighted electronic material like music releases”, fly in the face of evidence that such technologies have proved ineffective. In addition, there’s little evidence that governments or large corporations have paid much heed to privacy concerns in implementing systems to date.

Another serious problem, which the report only partially addresses, is that many privacy-invading technologies have already been put into action without the safeguards the academy would like see applied. Chief among such technologies is camera surveillance. The report calls for more research into how public spaces can be monitored while minimising the impact on privacy.

Authors of the study are holding a free evening event at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre in London on Tuesday 27 March.

Again, I intend to comment directly on this report in due course.

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