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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

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Identity Cards Bill passes its third reading.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:38 pm on 19 October, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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Last night, the British government’s identity cards bill passed its third reading:


Labour rebels last night slashed the government’s majority to 25 on the identity cards bill’s last reading in the Commons, despite a series of last-minute concessions. Twenty-five backbenchers lined up with the Tories and Liberal Democrats to vote against the plan, passed by 309 votes to 284. The unexpectedly slim margin will embolden critics when the legislation reaches the House of Lords.

Opponents complained that the government had timetabled the third reading to coincide with the results of the first ballot in the Conservative leadership election. But while the result was conveniently overshadowed by Kenneth Clarke’s defeat, it was still a surprise and an embarrassment for ministers. So was the opposition of three senior Labour figures: Gwyneth Dunwoody, Ian Gibson and David Winnick - none is a serial rebel.

The bill will now go up to the House of Lords.

Launch of the European Civil Liberties Network

Today marks the launch of the European Civil Liberties Network.

From the launch statement:

Civil liberties and democracy are under attack as never before and the need for a collective response to counter these threats has never been greater.

We share common objectives of seeking to create a European society based on freedom and equality, of fundamental civil liberties and personal and political freedoms, of free movement and freedom of information, and equal rights for minorities. This entails defending, extending and deepening the democratic culture - a concept not limited to political parties and elections but embracing wider values of pluralism, diversity and tolerance. And we share too a common opposition to racism, fascism, sexism and homophobia.

The defence of civil liberties and democracy also requires that positive demands are placed on the agenda. For example, respect and rights for all people, cultures and their histories, for the presumption of innocence and freedom from surveillance and the freedom to protest and demonstrate.

To these ends the European Civil Liberties Network (ECLN) has been established.

There are many groups across Europe working on associated issues, such as, legal rights, human rights, refugee and migrants’ rights, globalisation and peace. The ECLN seeks to work with, and complement, these groups by concentrating its efforts on civil liberties, freedom of information and democracy at the European level.

Their website includes a selection of essays defending civil liberties.

How to get Britain’s anti-terror laws used against you

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:02 pm on 18 October, 2005.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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Fancy falling foul of Britain’s anti-terror laws? There’s no need to carry a bomb, or a fake bomb, a guide to how to make a bomb, or even to mention the word “bomb”. Here are some methods that have worked recently:

What a country.

George Monbiot on civil liberties

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:02 pm on 12 October, 2005.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
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George Monbiot, in an article he wrote for the Guardian, notes the impact recent government legislation has had on peaceful protestors in Britain. For example:

No act has been passed over the past 20 years with the aim of preventing antisocial behaviour, disorderly conduct, trespass, harassment and terrorism that has not also been deployed to criminalise a peaceful public engagement in politics. When Walter Wolfgang was briefly detained by the police after heckling the foreign secretary last week, the public caught a glimpse of something that a few of us have been vainly banging on about for years.

On Friday, six students and graduates of Lancaster University were convicted of aggravated trespass. Their crime was to have entered a lecture theatre and handed out leaflets to the audience. Staff at the university were meeting people from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Shell, the Carlyle Group, GlaxoSmithKline, DuPont, Unilever and Diageo, to learn how to “commercialise university research”. The students were hoping to persuade the researchers not to sell their work. They were in the theatre for three minutes. As the judge conceded, they tried neither to intimidate anyone nor to stop the conference from proceeding.

They were prosecuted under the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, passed when Michael Howard was the Conservative home secretary. But the university was able to use it only because Labour amended the act in 2003 to ensure that it could be applied anywhere, rather than just “in the open air”.

And:

Had Mr Wolfgang said “nonsense” twice during the foreign secretary’s speech, the police could have charged him under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Harassment, the act says, “must involve conduct on at least two occasions … conduct includes speech”. Parliament was told that its purpose was to protect women from stalkers, but the first people to be arrested were three peaceful protesters. Since then it has been used by the arms manufacturer EDO to keep demonstrators away from its factory gates, and by Kent police to arrest a woman who sent an executive at a drugs company two polite emails, begging him not to test his products on animals. In 2001 the peace campaigners Lindis Percy and Anni Rainbow were prosecuted for causing “harassment, alarm or distress” to American servicemen at the Menwith Hill military intelligence base in Yorkshire, by standing at the gate holding the Stars and Stripes and a placard reading “George W Bush? Oh dear!” In Hull a protester was arrested under the act for “staring at a building”.

And:


But the law that has proved most useful to the police is the one under which Mr Wolfgang was held: section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This allows them to stop and search people without the need to show that they have “reasonable suspicion” that a criminal offence is being committed. They have used it to put peaceful protesters through hell. At the beginning of 2003, demonstrators against the impending war with Iraq set up a peace camp outside the military base at Fairford in Gloucestershire, from which US B52s would launch their bombing raids. Every day - sometimes several times a day - the protesters were stopped and searched under section 44. The police, according to a parliamentary answer, used the act 995 times, though they knew that no one at the camp was a terrorist. The constant harassment and detention pretty well broke the protesters’ resolve. Since then the police have used the same section to pin down demonstrators outside the bomb depot at Welford in Berkshire, at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, at Menwith Hill and at the annual arms fair in London’s Docklands.

Note that Walter Wolfgang was thrown out of the recent Labour party conference for shouting “nonsense” during a ministerial speech and then had Terrorism Act 2000 used against him to prevent him re-entering the conference.

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