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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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Andy Burnham on Identity Cards

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:56 pm on 27 November, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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Home Office minister Andy Burnham recently wrote an article in the Guardian, defending ID cards. Whilst discussing the access to their personal information that people can obtain via the Data Protection Act 1998, he writes:

All databases holding personal information are covered by the limited exemptions to the act, such as where the police or security services have an ongoing investigation. The National Identity Register will be no different and imposes no further restriction. In reality, the basic information it holds will reveal much less than mobile phone or plastic card records that can already be requested by the police to aid a criminal investigation.

Three points:

  • Schedule 1 of the bill sets out the information to be stored in the NIR. Under section 9 of the schedule, every time information from the NIR about you is provided to another person, such as when your identity is checked, this fact is recorded. Since the card will become necessary for gaining employment, opening bank accounts, getting government services and many other transactions in peoples lives, this will effectively record the activities of individuals. Moreover all the government needs to do to bring an area of life under this surveillance is to require identity checks.
  • Also stored in the register are the details of every identity document you have been issued with, including such things as National Insurance numbers, passport numbers, etc. By obtaining these details one would have the key to access much of the information stored about you in other databases both public and private.
  • The bill will also create a National Identity Registration Number or NIRN, unique to each database entry and which will end up indexing into other databases. This will end up being a single key therefore that can be used to access all the information about you stored in the many databases held by both public and private organisations.

It seems to me quite clear that the NIR will enable people to obtain far more information about people than can be gleaned from mobile phone records or credit card records.

Simon Hughes prepared to go to jail rather than carry ID card

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:46 pm on .
Categories political liberties.
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The Observer reports :

The Liberal Democrat president, Simon Hughes, yesterday vowed to go to jail rather than carry the proposed new national ID card.

The Bermondsey MP became the first senior politician to sign up to a civil disobedience campaign being mounted by opponents of the government scheme, which is facing strong opposition in the House of Lords. He told The Observer that he still hoped the bill would be defeated. But if not, he was ‘absolutely’ ready to go behind bars if necessary.

‘For me, it is a matter of fundamental principle,’ said Hughes, a former shadow home affairs spokesman. ‘I was born in this country and regard myself as a free man. I do not believe that I should have to identify myself as a matter of course.’ He added that if reported plans went ahead to link the ID card to people’s right to hold a passport, ‘I would also challenge that in court.’

His stand was welcomed by the cross-party group No2ID, which has been running an online campaign to enlist people to refuse to carry the card and to donate £10 each to a legal defence fund in support of anyone who was prosecuted. ‘We already have more than 11,000 people signed up to the pledge,’ No2ID director Phil Booth said. ‘I have no doubt that Simon Hughes’s forthright position will give a new boost to the campaign.’

The No2ID pledge can be signed online here. They’re looking for 15,000 signatures by January 8th, but no from people who have signed earlier pledges.

On the progress of the UK’s Terrorism Bill

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:33 pm on 24 November, 2005.
Categories democracy and the rule of law.
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The Terrorism Bill has now reached the committee stage in the House of Lords, having passed its second reading.

Proposals to allow the police to hold terrorist suspects for upto 90 days without charge were defeated in the Commons, with the Blair government suffering its first defeat since being elected in 1997. However, the Commons accepted an amendment to hold the suspects for upto 28 days without charge, doubled from the time limit that came into force in 2004.

The offences of incitement and glorification of terrorism, raised as a concern by Spy blog, and this blog, remain however.

Clearly, despite the government’s defeat, this bill still represents yet another assault on civil liberties and is likely to do so even once the Lords have dealt with it.

Regarding the 90 days detention, Andy Hayman, the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police sent this letter to Charles Clarke outlining the case for the extended detention. The letter was often cited by those who supported the measure. Spy.org.uk have demolished his case here.

It seems to me that, given the numerous broad and vaguely defined offences available in existing British legislation, ranging from membership of a proscribed organisation to possessing information useful to someone who wishes to carry out acts of terrorism, it is highly unlikely that after 14 days, the police would not be able to charge anyone they have genuine reason to believe is involved in terrorism with something. Once charged with an initial offence, the suspect could be detained and questioned whilst they build a case for more serious offences.

There is also nothing to stop someone being quickly re-arrested if new evidence arrives or to keep that person under constant surveillance. And all this is without considering the use of control orders. Quite simply, the state already has more than enough legal weaponry for dealing with terrorists.

Britain to track all vehicle movements and store them for upto 2 years.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:00 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts this month, things have been rather busy lately.

Secondly, and to start on the backlog of items that cought my attention recently, it seems that the steps towards a big brother state in Britain are moving on fast. According to this report from the Register:

A “24×7 national vehicle movement database” that logs everything on the UK’s roads and retains the data for at least two years is now being built, according to an Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) strategy document leaked to the Sunday Times. The system, which will use Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), and will be overseen from a control centre in Hendon, London, is a sort of ‘Gatso 2′ network, extending. enhancing and linking existing CCTV, ANPR and speedcam systems and databases.

Which possibly explains why the sorcerer’s apprentices in ACPO’s tech section don’t seem to have needed any kind of Parliamentary approval to begin the deployment of what promises to be one the most pervasive surveillance systems on earth.

The control centre is intended to go live in April of next year, and is intended to be processing 50 million number plates a day by year end. ACPO national ANPR co-ordinator John Dean told the Sunday Times that fixed ANPR cameras already exist “at strategic points” on every motorway in the UK, and that the intention was to have “good nationwide coverage within the next 12 months.” According to ACPO roads policing head Meredydd Hughes, ANPR systems are planned every 400 yards along motorways, and a trial on the M42 near Birmingham will first be used to enforce variable speed limits, then to ‘tackle more serious crime.’

So yet again the British government is opting for a system of indiscriminate surveillance of the public at large. I predict a burgeoning market in fake registration plates developing once this in place…

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