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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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1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005

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Government plans to hobble FoI act

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:07 pm on 22 October, 2006.
Categories British politics, accountability, freedom of information.
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As reported here, here and here, the British government are planning to change the grounds on which freedom of information act requests can be refused.

Currently, if a request is going to cost £600 pounds or more, then the request can be refused, but this calculation does not factor in reading time, consultation time or consideration time, and the government wishes to add these factors in. Tim Worstall notes (3rd link above) that this will make it very easy for requests to be turned down:

Consultation time’ ? So, we have a committee meeting to discuss how to collate the information. There are plenty of civil servants who are on the salaried equivalent of £30 or £40 an hour. Ten of them in a meeting taking two hours: Ooops! sorry, no information for you!

This will eviscerate the Act. Which is the point, of course.

Inland Revenue cocks up, causing a bankruptcy but is not liable for its mistakes

Hat Tip: Tim Worstall

Another example of how unaccountable the various organs of the British state can be, in this case the Inland Revenue which is apparently immune from prosecution and therefore cannot be held liable for its mistakes. From this report in the Telegraph (emphasis mine):

Andrew Simmonds, QC, said that the Inland Revenue had been responsible for a 52-day “negligent” delay that had helped push a builder to the brink of bankruptcy.

However, he ruled that the tax office is immune to prosecution by individuals and businesses, unlike other public services such as hospitals and police forces. Neil Martin, 38, became the first person to sue the Inland Revenue, now known as Revenue & Customs, for alleged negligence or administrative incompetence.

The builder, from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, said that his business had been plunged into a cash flow crisis after a delay in processing a crucial form.

Without the form, part of 1999 anti-fraud legislation called the Construction Industry Scheme, contractors could not pay their bills without subtracting tax at source, which caused a cash crisis for the company.

Mr Martin now faces personal bankruptcy after being left with a swingeing tax bill of £250,000 along with substantial legal costs.

So it seems that if the taxman screws up, the victim of said screw up pays the bill, end of story.

Gordon Brown grabs more power for the treasury

Hat tip: Spy Blog.

Gordon Brown has recently introduced a statutory instrument granting the Treasury sweeping powers ostensibly targetted at terrorist financing. Spy Blog’s comments indicate just how far reaching these powers are (emphasis mine):

However, the previous Orders referring to such resolutions specifically against the Taliban and Al Qaida, have been revoked by this Order, so this is, in fact a new, infinite General Power, which the NuLabour Government has grabbed for itself, without any debate about the details in Parliament.

Are they also intending to use it to “freeze the financial assets” of Northern Irish terrorists or so called animal rights extremists, since there is nothing whatsoever in this Order to prevent them from doing so ?

A worrying aspect of this Order is that according to Schedule 1 Evidence and Information the Treasury is only obliged to “take such steps as they consider appropriate”

The Treasury can “designate” anybody, and they are the only judges of what they consider to be terrorist activity or association, for which they do not have to gave any actual hard evidence.

By invoking this Order, the Treasury can demand any document or record from any British citzen or corporate person i.e. banks and financial institutions with subsidiaries in the UK, under a criminal penalty of up to 2 years in prison.

The Treasury can also hand this data over to any foreign Government.

There is also a secrecy provision, if they choose to only tell certain people or financial institutions, and not the general public about the freezing of assets, backed up by a criminal penalty of up to 2 years in prison.

There is a penalty of up to 7 years in prison for people who delliberately continue to allow funds transfers etc. in contravention of the Designation orders by the Treasury.

More over, as SpyBlog notes, section 7 of the order seems to provide a carte blanche to exempt the use of these powers from the restrictions of the Data Protection Act, the Common Law duty of confidentiality, and other protections of the privacy/confidentiality of financial data:

7. An action done under this Schedule is not to be treated as a breach of any restriction imposed by statute or otherwise.

For further details, see the original Spy Blog article and the order itself.

3 articles summarising Blair’s ongoing attack on British liberty

Articles in the mainstream media highlighting the attacks on civil liberties in Britain are becoming more common. Three recent articles that collectively summarise just how far this process has gone are as follows:

You can find much of the legislation documented on this site, e.g. a detailed summary of much of it can be found here, and the Abstracts link at the top of the page will tell you more.

Round up on ID cards and the National Identity Register

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:29 pm on 7 October, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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As promised in my previous article, here is my round up of developments related to the British government’s plans for an ID card with associated national identity register:

In summary, it seems that more and more problems with the scheme are being highlighted, but the government wishes to press on, whilst the opposition increases and hardens. The ID card and national identity register are but the most visible and intrusive of various schemes where the government wishes to capture, use and share data about the mass population, my next article will thus be round-up of more general developments in privacy and the use of personal data.

Freedom of speech in Britain roundup

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:12 pm on 2 October, 2006.
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics.
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Sorry for the long gap in posting, things got busy there for me, and still are(!), but I think I’ve got a better handle on it all now and I hope to be able to post more frequently from now on. Anyway there’s been a lot going on, so I’m going to do a few “roundup” articles in order to catch up. This one focuses on freedom of speech in Britain.

Unfortunately, that’s all for now. However, roundups on other topics such as various recent developments on privacy and data sharing, and the latest state of play regarding the British govt’s ID cards plans are coming up.

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