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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


Tony Blair emails anti-ID scheme petitioners

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:34 pm on 23 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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On Tuesday 19th of February, I received an email from the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Mr Blair has apparently written to all 28,000 people, myself included, who signed this petition against the government’s identity card scheme. His letter to petitioners is also up on the Downing Street website.

There have been several detailed responses to this email from various commentators, illustrating the tendentious nature of Blair’s attempted defence of the scheme:

NO2ID Comedy Gig in Glasgow

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:53 pm on 16 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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NO2ID, in conjunction with Ha Ha Comedy, are organising a comedy gig as part of the international comedy festival currently in progress in Glasgow, Scotland. It’s organised for the 24th March, 8pm, at the Old Fruitmarket. Tickets £10 or £8 for concessions.

See here for full details.

Update: Confirmed performers for this event include: You owe me glue, Glen Wool, Patrick Monahan, Toby Hadoke, Des Mclean and Lucy Porter.

Tories tell Cabinet Secretary they’ll scrap ID cards if they win the next election

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:11 pm on 7 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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As reported in Iain Dale’s diary, shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP, has written to Cabinet Secretary:

I am writing to you in relation to the Government’s planned roll out
of its national identity card scheme, commencing this year. You will be aware
that there is a longstanding convention that one Parliament may not bind a
subsequent Parliament. As you will also be aware, the Conservative Party has
stated publicly that it is our intention to cancel the ID cards project
immediately on our being elected to government. You are now formally on notice
of our position and fully appraised of the contingent risks and associated
liabilities arising from the national identity card scheme.

In light of these risks, I urge you to consider very carefully the
government’s position, in advance of the roll-out of the scheme later this year.
As a matter of financial prudence, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that
public money is not wasted, and contractual obligations are not incurred,
investing in a scheme with such a high risk of not being implemented.
In particular, I would be interested to know what provision, if any has, been made
in the relevant contractual arrangements to protect the Government - and public
funds - against the costs that would be incurred as a result of early
cancellation of the scheme.

Furthermore, the Tories’ website now has an official anti-ID card campaign page.

Clearly the Tories think there are votes to be had in opposing this scheme, to the extent that they are now in a position where failure to follow through in government will lead to credible accusations of doing a U-turn, or of misleading voters. They are publicly warning civil servants that they’ll scrap the scheme if they win, which means they will need to act on this pledge if they’re not to appear dishonest.

However, there is no specific pledge to scrap the national identity register, the most intrusive and sinister part of the project, though the web page states “A Conservative Government will scrap the ID cards scheme”.

There is still some semantic room for them to drop the bits of plastic whilst continuing to develop the database, e.g. by linking it to biometric passports instead (which would gradually morph into a defacto ID card later on).

A commitment to repeal the Identity Cards Act 2006 would go a long way to removing this ambiguity in their statements.

Finally there seems to be an error on their web page which, near the bottom, states:

“From 2009, unless you opt out, when you renew your passport you will have to visit a Government ‘interview centre’ and give the Government your fingerprints in order to get an ID card.”

From 2009, all applicants for passports will have to go to an interview centre and give their fingerprints. The “opt out” is only for getting the physical ID card — i.e. you still have to be interrogated if you “opt out” and the details stored for when the ID card is made compulsory. You’ll also still have to pay for the ID card despite opting out. All “opting out” does is delay the day when you have to get the bit of plastic.

Personal data to be shared across govt departments

According to the BBC:

A giant database of people’s personal details could be created at Whitehall under government plans which ministers say will help improve public services.

Tony Blair is expected to unveil the proposal in Downing Street on Monday.

Strict regulations currently prevent one part of government sharing personal information it holds with another.

Ministers argue the data-sharing rules are “overzealous” but the Conservatives say relaxing them would be “an excuse for bureaucrats to snoop”.

So-called citizens’ panels will gauge public reaction to relaxing privacy procedures so people do not have to repeat personal information to different public bodies - particularly at times of stress such as a family death.

Officials think current rules are an obstacle to improving public services.

But such data-sharing is controversial. As well as criticism from the Conservatives, the information commissioner - the data watchdog - has warned Britain may be “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”.

What this means is that any information you give to e.g. the inland revenue will be on the same databases used by e.g. the department for work and pensions, or the DVLA or the passport office. Thus information you give to government bodies will be accessible by thousands of civil servants across different bodies, simply for the convenience of the government.

The government is thus demanding more and more information about you and to use it as it sees fit, at the same time is it tries to further restrict your weakly enshrined right to know about what the government is doing.

Two US privacy related stories

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:23 pm on 5 January, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state, US politics.
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A friend has sent me links to two privacy related stories from the US:

  • Apparently, the US Justice Department is building a database that will store case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and other federal law enforcement agencies, that will be made available to local police forces around the country:

    The system, known as “OneDOJ,” already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said.

    The database is billed by its supporters as a much-needed step toward better information-sharing with local law enforcement agencies, which have long complained about a lack of cooperation from the federal government.

    But civil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes.

  • Another story highlights the use of CCTV to capture a killer. The amount of footage obtained from various sources in this cases suggests to me that the US is beginning to catch up with Britain in the pervasive use of CCTV.

Both cases illustrate how modern technology is driving considerable changes with regards to privacy, including enabling people to be surveiled in increasing detailed as they go about their lives, and enabling information to be shared easily amongst many thousands of law enforcement officers.

The CCTV example shows that there are benefits to the increasingly pervasive use of CCTV, and the easy sharing of information between federal and local police forces may also allow easier coordination of efforts in cross-jurisdictional cases.

The main question is how best to enable these benefits to be tapped whilst protecting people from the abuses that such systems can enable. If the police can trace an individual’s movements when solving a crime, it is clear they could also do so for more sinister purposes. Likewise, the easy sharing of case files between federal and local police enabled by the database carries a danger of the information being misused.

It is worth noting though that the plans for sharing case files are far less intrusive, and far less of a danger than many of the database schemes currently being proposed or implemented by the British government, which typically involve sharing information related to the entire population across government departments, without regard to innocence. Case files are at least limited to those who have been investigated for crime.

Primer on the attacks on British liberty

David Mery, who commented on an earlier post, has produced a useful primer on the attacks on liberty in the UK.

Privacy roundup.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:45 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state.
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Here’s a round-up of various recent privacy related stories, not including stuff about ID cards or the uploading of medical records into a database on the NHS, both of which I’m treating separately to this round up:

Whither Britons’ medical privacy? NHS patients privacy concerns to be officially ignored

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:19 pm on 5 December, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

Britain’s NHS is currently in the process of uploading patients’ medical records onto a central database that can be accessed by NHS staff. Patients concerned about potential violations of their privacy (after all, these are sensitive records) have been attempting to opt out of the system using a clause in the data protection act.

The government’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has written to GPs asking them to forward on the details of those who are trying to opt out so that he can write to the patients explaining why he won’t let them opt out. According to the Sunday Telegraph:

More than 60 per cent of GPs fear that the £20 million NHS computerisation project, which has been beset by difficulties and is over budget, will be vulnerable to hackers, meaning that sensitive details on up to 50 million patients could be leaked.

The first records will be uploaded to a central NHS computer next spring from a small number of GP practices.

An eight-page letter outlining how patients’ opt-out requests are being rejected was placed on the website of NHS Connecting for Health – the Government agency responsible for the computer scheme – on Friday night.

Earlier in the day, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, had faced fierce criticism from the British Medical Association for demanding that GPs should “shop” patients who say no to the database.

Yesterday, it became clear that Sir Liam wanted the names and addresses of objectors in order to write to them to tell them that their request would not be granted because their reasons were not “genuine”. Many patients who wanted to opt out had cited a clause of the Data Protection Act, saying that uploading their information on to the summary care record – also known as the Spine – would lead to “substantial and unwarranted distress”.

The Department of Health says that only minimal patient information, such as allergies, acute and repeat prescriptions and adverse reactions will “initially” be uploaded on to the summary care record, which will not contain any diagnoses or medical problems.

A covering document on the Connecting for Health website says: “The Department’s response … explains it will not agree to their request to stop the process of adding their information to the new NHS database.

“The Department does not believe that processing their information in this way is a genuine reason linked to substantial and unwarranted distress.”

So here we have the British government demanding that patients’ medical records, containing sensitive information(*) are uploaded onto a database regardless of patients’ consent and GPs’ concerns about the security of the system concerned.

The above situation pertains to the NHS in England, I understand it a similar system is being implemented in Scotland (health is a devolved matter) and I’m currently investigating the present state of play there.

(*) Note that your repeat prescription history, mentioned in the above quotation about the Emergency Care Summary, could indicate what diseases you’ve had, or are currently suffering from. For example, a prescription for lithium might indicate you’re being treated for depression, other medicines may indicate a sexual problem.

Further info at the following links:

Fingerprint Mania

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:05 pm on 3 December, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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Revised Update: It appears I got things wrong when I first updated this article.

David Mery, in the comments on this article, points out that you can be fingerprinted, and your DNA to be taken, and kept indefinitely, regardless of whether you’re charged or convicted, when arrested for a recordable offence.

In January this year, most criminal offences were made recordable, and arrestable without a warrant. Beforehand the offence had to carry more than 5 years in prison if you were to be arrested without a warrant. I.e. this is another avenue for the government to get your prints and other biometrics. The relevant legislation is Section 110 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Many thanks to David for correcting me on this point.

Should the British government make its ID cards compulsory for everyone (which Labour plan to do in 2010, with those renewing passports having to register for the cards from 2009), they’ll get the fingerprints from every permanent resident of Britain stored in the National Identity Register.

In the meantime, it seems the authorities are coming up with all sorts of schemes to get hold of them anyway:

At this rate, how long will it be before your fingerprint is required routinely for everyday tasks?

Interestingly, Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner has made the fingerprinting of school kids illegal, offering us the spectacle of (admittedly a liberal province of) China starting to protect privacy more seriously than Britain does.

Charles Clarke claims ID cards will control “Big Brother”!

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:36 pm on 26 November, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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According the Guardian, Charles Clarke claims the government’s ID card scheme will help us control the “big brother” society:

“They are not creating, or even extending, the ‘Big Brother’ society,” said Mr Clarke.

“They are an effort to control it and to give every individual a greater right to control the use of their own identity, in a world where many wish to abuse it.”

He added: “Identity cards are only one way to contest those criminals who wish to abuse our identity in these and many other ways.”

Consider the following:

  • Under Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act, section 9 the National Identity Register (NIR) will include the particulars of every occasion in which its information about you is provided to someone else and every person to whom such information is provided.

    When your ID is checked against the NIR, the NIR’s information about you will be given to the checker so that the ID can be verified against it — section 12 of the Act makes it clear this is how an identity check will be done.

    Thus a record of each identity check will be created on the NIR which will thus build up a detailed record of who you’re doing business with. In addition to government bodies and public services, the government’s web site on identity cards lists the following organisations as examples of people they envisage might wish to use the identity verification service:

    • banks and building societies
    • Royal Mail and other delivery and courier services
    • libraries and video/DVD rental companies
    • mobile and fixed line phone companies and service providers
    • travel agencies and airlines
    • universities and colleges of higher education
    • retailers of all kinds, including internet-based companies
    • property rental companies
    • vehicle rental companies

    These form the vast bulk of the organisations people have to deal with in their daily lives.

    Thus the ID card + NIR form a system that records everyone’s every day activities for the government to use, i.e. it is a system of mass surveillance.

  • The NIR entries will each hold a unique National Identity Registration Number, or NIRN, that will eventually index into entries in other public databases and any private databases that use it. By doing so, it will make it a lot easier for those with access to the databases to obtain all the information held about an individual by different organisations.
  • Section 11 of the Identity Cards Act gives the Home Secretary the power to cancel and/or require the surrender of an identity card, without appeal. Given that the card will, if the government has its way, become necessary for everything from getting medical care to opening a bank account, this effectively means that Home Secretary can withdraw access to the services we need to live our lives at any time. The Act does require the issue of a new card in these circumstances, but all it would take would be long delays in reissuing and/or repeated cancellation of a card in order to seriously disrupt someone’s life.

In summary, the card will become essential for living your life, the government can take it away or cancel it at any time and they will use it and the NIR to record who you do business with and to enable all the data held about you to be drawn together to create a comprehensive picture of your life. What could be more “big brother” than that?

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