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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


UK Terrorism bill threatens blogs and websites.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:57 pm on 31 October, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance, political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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Update: I got it wrong on timing of the committee stage of the bill. It takes place over 2 days, the 2nd and 3rd of November respectively. See this link. Sorry for the mistake.

The blog, a British weblog concentrating on civil liberties and surveillance, berates the British blogosphere for failing to cover and/or analyse the Terrorism Bill 2005, which passed its second reading last week in the Commons, with the support of the opposition Tory Party (though the Lib Dems opposed). have their own detailed analysis of this bill split across this article, this article and this article.

In this article, I’ll concentrate mainly on the threat to freedom of speech identified by in the second of the above articles, in particular the threat to websites and weblogs in the UK. I intend to do a fuller analysis of my own later.

The threat arises from section 1, section 2 and section 3 of the bill:

  • Section 1 makes it an offence for someone to publish a statement that its intended audience are likely to understand as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to instigate, prepare or commit acts of terrorism. This is punishable by upto 7 years in jail.
  • Section 2 makes it an offence for someone to publish or distribute a “terrorist” publication. A terrorist publication includes publications that directly or indirectly encourage or incite acts of terrorism and publications that are useful to those preparing, instigating or committing acts of terrorism. Again this offence carries upto 7 years in jail.
  • A defence in both sections is that the user published the article only in the course of providing an electronic service, was unaware of its nature and did not endorse the publication in question.
  • Section 3 specifically relates to the internet. It gives a police constable the power to issue a notice to someone declaring that in his opinion material they’ve published electronically is “unlawfully terrorism-related” (i.e. falls under the categories covered in sections 1 and 2). The notice may order the person concerned to remove the article or alter it so that it is no longer “unlawfully terrorism-related”. The person has 2 days to comply with the notice. Failure to do so is deemed to be an endorsement of the article in question.

The threat to freedom of speech comes from the following aspects of these sections:

  • The vaguely defined nature of the offences. E.g. what constitutes “indirect encouragement or inducement”? What counts as “preparation”? Taking the words literally, it seems that to have a prima facie case under section 2, all the govt/police need to claim is that:
    • the article in question contains information useful to terrorists,
    • that those who read it are likely to understand it as being contained in the publication wholly or mainly to be useful to terroris.

    Note that the publisher’s intent is not relevant to these judgements.

  • The ability of a constable to demand an article be removed or modified with 2 days based on his personal opinion, combined with the publisher being deemed to have endorsed the article if he fails to comply in the allotted time. This effectively makes the constable’s word law since failure to comply means you’ve committed an offence. It is a recipe for abuse/bullying by unscrupulous police officers.

To see how wide an application this could have consider that articles analysing and dissecting anti-terror laws could be deemed to be useful to those wishing to commit acts of terrorism. If a police officer sends a notice on this basis, you have to comply within 2 days or face a prosecution and upto 7 years in jail.

There are many other disturbing features of this bill such as upto 90 days detention without charge for those suspect of terrorist offences, I intend to cover these later. In the meantime, as well as the above articles, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals are trying to raise awareness of the threat this legislation poses to libaries.

Note that the committee stage of this bill will be over on Wednesday 2nd November. Time to make use of WriteToThem

Juries to be dropped in British fraud cases

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:19 pm on 30 October, 2005.
Categories democracy and the rule of law.
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The Telegraph reports that the British government has laid a draft order before Parliament which if passed will enable judges to sit alone in fraud cases:

A draft order was laid before Parliament to implement provisions allowing judges to sit alone in serious or complicated fraud cases. If the order is approved, it will apply to defendants tried from Jan 1.

The move is expected to affect between 15 and 20 cases a year. It will apply only to cases where the judge considers that the trial is too “burdensome” for a jury and the Lord Chief Justice has given his approval.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat MP, said yesterday that the Government’s move would be opposed in the Lords.

“Juries are the best people to be the judges of fact, and have the overwhelming confidence of the public to do the job,” he said.

More on Australia’s draft anti-terror bill

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:07 am on 29 October, 2005.
Categories democracy and the rule of law.
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Following on from my earlier article on Australia’s version of control orders, more information can be found via
Bruce Schneier’s report on the draft anti-terror bill.

A draft of the bill can be found here.

According to this ABC news article, the Australian government has been justifying the legislation as being no different to that passed in the UK, however this is disputed since Australia does not have an equivalent of the UK’s Human Rights Act:

A British legal expert says the Federal Government’s proposed new anti-terrorism laws offer limited protection against human rights violations, in comparison to UK laws.

Prime Minister John Howard has acknowledged that the British anti-terrorism laws have influenced what he is proposing for Australia.

Australian-born human rights barrister Dr Angela Ward has told ABC’s Lateline program the key difference in the laws lies in the fact that the UK terrorism legislation is subject to review against its Human Rights Act.

“That vests judges with powers to review conduct of the authorities that are really much broader than the Australian powers,” she said.

“So what I find most worrying about Mr Howard’s assertions that the Australian legislation is just like the UK regime, it really only tells half the story because the UK legislation can not be read in a vacuum.”

Dr Ward says human rights provisions, such as those requiring the humane treatment of people in preventative detention, must be extended to apply to all sections of the legislation.

She says major changes are needed to meet the demands of state and territory leaders for adequate parliamentary and judicial review of the laws.

“At the moment it’s only being dedicated to specific elements of the national security legislation and what’s really needed is much broader legislative reform before the type of protection that COAG [the Council of Australian Governments] would like to see is actually put in place,” she said.

A key point to note from this is the example of British legislation being used as a reference point by other countries. Clearly, the impact of British legislation is not confined to the UK.

So when the UK authorities pass legislation that weaken or remove fundamental protections, such as the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, they not only weaken the rights of British residents, they also make it easier for other democracies to do so, especially those that were former colonies and/or draw from similar legal traditions as Britain.

Another point to note is the view of the Human Rights Act as a check on the British legislation. Whilst I do not think this is a particularly strong check — it can only be invoked once the legislation is used against someone, i.e. after the fact, and the rights defined are weak, in most cases being full of exceptions — it is perhaps the main legal defence for someone finds themselves wrongly placed under a control order. The British government has removed most of the other protections that existed prior to the HRA.

I shall provide a summary of the proposed Australian legislation once I’ve had a chance to digest it.

Religious Hatred Bill amended in House of Lords

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:47 pm on 27 October, 2005.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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The BBC recently reported that the Religious Hatred Bill was amended, against the British government’s wishes, in the House of Lords:

Peers voted by a majority of 149 in favour of a cross-bench move to put freedom of speech safeguards into the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.


Opponents of the bill argue that people can choose their religion, unlike their race, and so should not be protected against offence or criticism.

Ministers reject claims that the current bill would stop free speech.

But comedian Rowan Atkinson has called it “draconian”.

Last week a group of opponents, including him and former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, suggested a series of amendments.

These include making sure nobody is found guilty of religious hate crimes unless it is proved they intended to stir up hatred.

Only “threatening words” should be banned by the bill, not those which are only abusive or insulting, they added.

Note that the government could force the issue by invoking the Parliament Act to force the bill through unamended, though this would take another year.

3rd online pledge set up to oppose ID cards.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:39 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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Back in June, Phil Booth of No2ID set up an online pledge for people to sign pledging to refuse to register for the card/database the British government are proposing and to pay £10 to a legal defence fund, so long as 10,000 others joined in. The pledge reached its total of 10,000 signatures by the 18th July and reached a total of 11,368 by the time it closed on the 9th October.

A second pledge was set up for people who felt they couldn’t afford the fines/risk of going to jail but who opposed ID cards to donate £20 pounds to the legal defence fund. It’s target is 50,000 signatures by the end of March 2006. It currently has 728 signatures.

Now a new pledge, similar the first has been set up, aiming for 15,000 signatures by 8th January 2006. Again it involves pledging to refuse to register and to pay £10 to the legal defence fund.

British residents who oppose ID cards and haven’t already signed one of the pledges are invited to sign up to either of the current pledges (i.e. the 2nd and 3rd pledges).

Do not sign the pledges if you’ve already signed an earlier pledge though.

Australia proposes its own version of control orders

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:21 pm on 23 October, 2005.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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The Australian reports that the Australian government is proposing its own version of control orders:

UP to 80 Australian Muslims could immediately be placed under effective house arrest under the Government’s proposed anti-terror laws.

The laws mean they could each be required to wear tracking devices, or prevented from working, or using the telephone or internet, or communicating with certain people.

For the first time, the laws will cover the estimated 80 Australians who have received or provided training with a listed terrorist organisation before 2002.

Previously, the Government has had no effective powers over these people, almost all of whom are Muslims, because laws prohibiting training with terrorist groups came into force only in July 2002 and were not retrospective.

However, under the proposed new laws, such people can be subjected to tough so-called control orders if authorities still believe they pose a security risk.

The provisions, which until now have escaped public scrutiny, are aimed at helping authorities monitor people who have trained with terror groups and are still deemed to pose a potential risk.

However, they will anger critics of the laws, who will argue they can be misused to “heavy” anyone purely on the basis that they have had past links with groups that are now illegal.

The Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network slammed the proposed laws yesterday as “a backdoor way to limit the freedoms of people who can’t be found guilty of a crime”.

The laws will apply to anyone who has trained overseas with any of the 17 banned terror groups, including al-Qa’ida, Jemaah Islamiah, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Abu Sayyaf and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The intent of the law is that authorities leave these people alone if it is considered they no longer pose a security risk.

But if they are deemed to be a threat, the Government can impose a wide range of restrictions on their freedoms.

These include requiring that a person be fingerprinted and photographed and that they report to specific places at specific times. They may be fitted with a tracking device and banned from going to certain places or speaking with certain people or groups. They may also be banned from working or from using the internet or leaving Australia.

(Lead from Samizdata).

Identity Cards Bill - Third Reading - How MPs voted

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:57 pm on 19 October, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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The Public Whip lists, by party, how (and whether) MPs voted.

The following Labour MPs voted against the bill and thus rebelled against the government:

Dianne Abbot, Michael Clapham, Jeremy Corbyn, Gwyneth Dunwoody, Mark Fisher, Paul Flynn, Neil Gerrard, Ian Gibson, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Glenda Jackson, Lynne Jones, Robert Marshall-Andrews, John McDonnell, Albert Owen, Linda Riordan, Clare Short, Alan Simpson, Geraldine Smith, John Smith, David Taylor, Robert Wareing, David Winnick, Mike Wood

The following Labour MPs were absent:

Russell Brown, Martin Caton, Frank Cook, Claire Curtis-Thomas, Jim Devine, Frank Dobson, Jimmy Hood, Brian Jenkins, Andrew Love, Ian McCartney, Michael Meacher, Austin Mitchell, Madeleine Moon, George Mudie, Geoffrey Robinson, Denis Skinner, Rachel Squire, Mark Todd, Paul Truswell, Rudi Vis

This earlier article lists absent Tory and Lib Dem MPs, the rest of the MPs from those parties all voted against the bill.

U-turn on children’s database

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:41 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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The Guardian reports that the chairman of the Victoria Climbié Inquiry has backtracked on his call for a database that would contain details of all children under 16 in the UK:

Plans for a multi-million pound computer system containing every child’s details are “too complex to be effective”, the chairman of the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié said today.

Lord Laming had previously recommended the creation of a universal database - containing details of children under 16 - in a bid to improve multi-agency working and record sharing to safeguard children. But he today backtracked on the call and suggested such a system would be unworkable.

The Laming inquiry followed the death of eight-year-old Victoria, who was murdered by her great-aunt and the aunt’s boyfriend. The inquiry found serious failings by health staff, education officials, the police and social workers.

The Department for Education and Skills is currently reviewing Lord Laming’s recommendation to develop a database that would contain the details of every child in the UK, which could be accessed by child protection professionals such as social workers, police officers and doctors.

Staff would be able to record notes about a child and flag up concerns they have.

But experts have already warned the cost of developing the system could run into hundreds of millions of pounds and it could be swamped with concern warnings.

Lord Laming has now joined the ranks of doubters as he suggested the recommendation, made two years ago, was unworkable and likely to breach data protection rules, according to an interview published today on social care and health professionals’ information website, Care and Health.

It was more important that frontline child protection staff in different agencies met regularly, he said.

Professionals should instead work to ensure every child is registered with their school and GP, with a home address, and make clear what each organisation should do.

Note that the Children Act 2004 enabled the creation of such a database, as well as enabling local authorities to create databases of their own.

Data retention compromise mooted by EU Ministers

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:25 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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The register reported recently that a compromise on data retention is being mooted by EU ministers:

European Justice Ministers have agreed not to immediately force through plans for an EU-wide data retention scheme, but opted to negotiate with the European Parliament instead. MEPs had objected to the proposal, claiming that it breaches civil rights laws.

MEPs had even threatened to take the Council of Ministers to court if they were not allowed to participate in the legislative process, according to reports.

The Council of Ministers would prefer to have the cooperation of the European Parliament in creating the legislation but does not actually need it. UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke, on behalf of the EU Presidency – held by the UK until January – warned yesterday that he would push the measure through if MEPs have made no progress by the end of the year.

“We have reaffirmed that we will have agreement on measures to deal with telecoms data by the end of the British presidency,” he told the BBC. “We have agreed we will seek to join the European Parliament in that approach if we can.”

Meeting in Brussels, Ministers agreed to a compromise deal that would oblige ISPs and telcos to retain fixed and mobile telephony data for a minimum period of 12 months, and IP-based communications data for a minimum period of six months.

The proposals allow for a maximum retention period of two years, although Member States, such as Ireland and Italy, who already have national retention periods going beyond that, will be allowed to stick to their existing timescales.

43 MPs absent during vote on ID cards bill

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:53 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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The Europhobia blog notes that 43 MPs were absent during yesterdays vote on the identity cards bill. The majority was only 25, thus these MPs could potentially have swung the vote.

The Tory absentees are listed as:

David Davies (Monmouthshire), Quentin Davies (Grantham & Stamford), Roger Gale (North Thanet), Michael Gove (Surrey Heath), Greg Hands (Hammersmith & Fulham), Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury & Atcham), Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harpenden), Michael Mates (East Hampshire), Richard Ottaway (Croydon South), Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex), Anthony Steen (Totnes), Gary Streeter (South West Devon), Ian Taylor (Esher & Walton), Edward Vaizey (Wantage), Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone & The Weald), George Young (North West Hampshire).

Note that David Davies Tory MP for Monmouthshire is not to be confused with David Davis Tory MP for Haltemprice and Howden, the Tory leadership contender. The Tory leadership contender is not the one listed here.

An explanation for Peter Lilley’s absence can be found in this article at the England Project weblog.

Two Lib Dem MPs were also absent, John Hemming and John Thurso. John Hemming was in hospital.

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