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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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Spy centre will track you on holiday -Times Online

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:06 pm on 8 February, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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The Times Online reports:

THE government is building a secret database to track and hold the international travel records of all 60m Britons.

The intelligence centre will store names, addresses, telephone numbers, seat reservations, travel itineraries and credit card details for all 250m passenger movements in and out of the UK each year.

The computerised pattern of every individual’s travel history will be stored for up to 10 years, the Home Office admits.

The government says the new database, to be housed in an industrial estate in Wythenshawe, near Manchester, is essential in the fight against crime, illegal immigration and terrorism. However, opposition MPs, privacy campaigners and some government officials fear it is a significant step towards a total surveillance society.

Privacy in Germany

Ralf Bendrath providers a useful overview of the struggles for privacy in Germany in 2008.

Banks doubt usefulness of ID card scheme

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:39 pm on 7 February, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

Silicon.com reports:

While the Home Office is hoping ID cards will one day be used for everything from claiming benefits to opening bank accounts, the UK financial services industry has its doubts over how useful the cards will prove.

The UK payments association Apacs - whose members includes the UK’s major high street banks - is worried that security features that would have made the card useful for checking identity in large money transfers and online transactions have been stripped from the scheme.

Head of security for Apacs Colin Whittaker told a conference hosted by the BCS Security Forum yesterday: “Some of the features we were expecting in the ID card are not going to be present for the foreseeable future.

“There’s nothing in the middle tech range which is where a lot of the user case scenarios - particularly in the financial sector - are going to give more value. For example, doing a high-value cash withdrawal, a counter-based withdrawal, where a financial institution asks you to put the ID card in a reader, checks it’s a valid card and takes a pin number.

“The online capabilities that we were hoping were going to be present are unlikely to be there for the foreseeable future.”

ID cards are here - but the police cannot read them.

[Note: The original version of this article stated that no cards readers exist, however the situation reported is that the police don’t have any. Apologies for the earlier error]

Last year, the government started issuing ID cards to the foreign workers, hailing it as the first step in implementing the National Identity Scheme(NIS).

However, the cards cannot currently be read by the police as there are no card readers for them to check people’s identity against the National Identity Register (NIR) yet.

It thus looks as if the key infrastructure for the scheme to work as intended is not yet in place. Whilst that is so, all that’s changed is that people who needed a visa to reside in the UK now have to get a card. The NIR is a critical component in the government’s plans as are the readers and infrastructure required to check people’s identities against the NIR. Until this infrastructure is in place, the NIS will thus be operating in name only.

Only one government department has system for correcting database errors

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:54 pm on 1 February, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

Part of the danger from the database state is that as more and more aspects of life become dependent on data held by the state being used to decide how people are treated, errors in that data will lead to more and more people being mistreated as a result. A government that was sensitive to this issue would be ensuring that personal data is secured and as accurate as possible.

The British government’s record on securing personal data is lamentable. Now, so it seems is its record on ensuring the accuracy of its data. From www.publicservice.co.uk:

All but one government department has no system in place to correct data errors, an investigation has revealed.

Tom Ilube, the chief executive of the identity management company Garlik, revealed that just one department has a procedure in place to correct errors within its databases. Ilube discovered this after submitting a Freedom of Information request to each central government department asking if they have a system in place to correct data errors.

The education watchdog Ofsted is the only organisation to get a clean bill of health, with major government departments like the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health admitting to no procedure in place.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “When you see it written down in department after department, ‘no we haven’t been audited, no we don’t have any written policies, no we don’t have a budget, no there are no statistical information,’ it does take you aback.

“What it says to me is that these departments are not taking looking after personal information seriously. [Government is] really getting to dangerous levels of complacency in [its] ability to look after our personal information.”

Yet this government proposes to enable wide spread sharing of personal data to achieve policy objectives, thus magnifying the impact such errors will have. They should concentrate instead on securing and validating the data they currently collect.

YouTube - David Cameron - Repealing The Identity Cards Act

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:40 pm on 31 January, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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[Hat Tip: A poster to a thread on the NO2ID forums.]

David Cameron has repeated his pledge to abolish the National Identity Register.

Jack Straw, bereaved families and data sharing

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:22 pm on 27 January, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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Jack Straw MP, commenting on the data sharing proposals during the debate on the Coroners and Justice Bill stated:

At present, when a family is bereaved they often have to contact Government Departments and local authority departments many times over to make the necessary arrangements, often providing the same information. Responsible data sharing between the relevant agencies would reduce the number of people who would need to be notified of a death, thereby helping to relieve distress at a difficult time.

I’ve seen government ministers use this bereaved families scenario several times now, and it makes no sense whatsoever as a justification for giving the government the power to remove legal barriers to data sharing if it will serve their policy objectives.

The problem can be resolved easily, without new legislation, in a manner entirely in keeping with the Data Protection Act.

Each of the public bodies and government departments that need to be informed of a death could have a form specifically for the purpose of updating all the other organisations that need to know with the necessary information. By filling in the form, the bereaved would be agreeing to have that information shared for the purpose of updating the relevant organisations with the necessary information. Thus the collection and sharing of the data for the purpose of informing organisations of someone’s death would be agreed to by the people supplying the data.

Alternatively, whatever form each organisation has for notifying a death could have a question or a tick box asking if each other organisation should be informed as well.

Either way you get consent for sharing from those who wish to give it and thus enable a “one stop” notification process to take place if the bereaved wish it. No need for any legislation let alone this monstrosity.

ContactPoint launched today

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:04 pm on 26 January, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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ContactPoint, a database storing the name, address, date of birth, GP and school of every under 18 in England and Wales was launched today. It will also store the name and contact details of any professionals who work with the child and be accessible by hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

UK Liberty has excellent coverage as usual.

Momentum is building against the erosion of civil liberties in Britain

There definitely seems to be an increase in activity focused on the erosion of civil liberties in Britain.

Not only do we have the government backing down on trying to make MPs expenses secret after a concerted web campaign against the proposal, the Liberal Democrats launching a commission on privacy and the upcoming Convention on Modern Liberty, but now the Guardian has launched a new Comment is Free site, called Liberty Central, dedicated to discussing the erosion of civil liberties. Georgina Henry explains:

On the plus side, however, there is a growing number of journalists, bloggers, lawyers, MPs and civil liberties and human rights groups who tirelessly track this process, trying to unravel its complexities and stay on top of the relentless march of legislation. Their belief that we are at a particularly dangerous moment in the erosion of our fundamental rights is the driving force behind the Convention of Modern Liberty, called for the end of February (see below for details).

It’s also the reason why today we’re launching a new Comment is free site, liberty central, both to reflect and focus the debate, and as a resource to keep you abreast of legal and political developments.

The site will be the home of Henry Porter’s blog and his columns from the Observer, where for the past three years he has forensically and ferociously tracked the assault on civil liberties, in the process becoming the best informed writer on these issues, as well as a must-read for those interested in the debates. (Reread his first campaigning piece, published three years ago, on the growth of state power in the name of the so-called “war on terror”.)

The site will also contain an A to Z of key legislation of the last decade – ie all published and enacted by the Labour government – which will act as a constant reference point for readers. Read the Guardian’s legal correspondent, Afua Hirsch, on the importance of such a guide and what you can expect to find in it.

We’re also, with many thanks to the civil and human rights organisation Liberty, hosting a weekly clinic, where their specialist lawyers have agreed to answer readers’ queries.

Blogger’s summit at the Convention on Modern Liberty

Logo for Convention on Modern Liberty

Sunny Hundal, blogging at Liberal Conspiracy, has posted his own take on the Convention on Modern Liberty. In particular he highlights the Blogger’s Summit:

So, what does this mean for you?

openDemocracy have been kind enough to offer a special panel discussion for bloggers, which will be organised by Liberal Conspiracy. I would like to give an activist feel, not just a space for a calm talking-heads discussion with people coming out more frustrated than they went in.

Over the coming weeks, we need to ask:
- how we should look at privacy differently;
- how different powers affect our liberties, uniting football fans, clubbers, Muslims and even technologists.
- what can be done about it.

Ideally, I’d like to see a situation where, by the time we get to the event, we are looking to get organised and move forward, not just reiterate the issues that could have been discussed online anyway.

In my view the Convention has the potential to be a turning point leading to the halting and reversal of the erosion of civil liberties over the past 10 to 15 years in the UK. If people think hard about what needs to come out of the Convention, as Sunny suggests here, it will help to ensure that the Convention will become such a turning point.

[Thanks to Guy Aitchison, for alerting me to Sunny’s article.]

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