link to briefings documents at magnacartaplus.org
 

Magna Carta Plus News

back to magnacartaplus.org index page
orientation to the news at MagnaCartaPlus.org

short briefing dcuments at MagnaCartaPlus.org

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

Google
 
Web magnacartaplus.org

Charles Clarke claims ID cards will control “Big Brother”!

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:36 pm on 26 November, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

According the Guardian, Charles Clarke claims the government’s ID card scheme will help us control the “big brother” society:

“They are not creating, or even extending, the ‘Big Brother’ society,” said Mr Clarke.

“They are an effort to control it and to give every individual a greater right to control the use of their own identity, in a world where many wish to abuse it.”

He added: “Identity cards are only one way to contest those criminals who wish to abuse our identity in these and many other ways.”

Consider the following:

  • Under Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act, section 9 the National Identity Register (NIR) will include the particulars of every occasion in which its information about you is provided to someone else and every person to whom such information is provided.

    When your ID is checked against the NIR, the NIR’s information about you will be given to the checker so that the ID can be verified against it — section 12 of the Act makes it clear this is how an identity check will be done.

    Thus a record of each identity check will be created on the NIR which will thus build up a detailed record of who you’re doing business with. In addition to government bodies and public services, the government’s web site on identity cards lists the following organisations as examples of people they envisage might wish to use the identity verification service:

    • banks and building societies
    • Royal Mail and other delivery and courier services
    • libraries and video/DVD rental companies
    • mobile and fixed line phone companies and service providers
    • travel agencies and airlines
    • universities and colleges of higher education
    • retailers of all kinds, including internet-based companies
    • property rental companies
    • vehicle rental companies

    These form the vast bulk of the organisations people have to deal with in their daily lives.

    Thus the ID card + NIR form a system that records everyone’s every day activities for the government to use, i.e. it is a system of mass surveillance.

  • The NIR entries will each hold a unique National Identity Registration Number, or NIRN, that will eventually index into entries in other public databases and any private databases that use it. By doing so, it will make it a lot easier for those with access to the databases to obtain all the information held about an individual by different organisations.
  • Section 11 of the Identity Cards Act gives the Home Secretary the power to cancel and/or require the surrender of an identity card, without appeal. Given that the card will, if the government has its way, become necessary for everything from getting medical care to opening a bank account, this effectively means that Home Secretary can withdraw access to the services we need to live our lives at any time. The Act does require the issue of a new card in these circumstances, but all it would take would be long delays in reissuing and/or repeated cancellation of a card in order to seriously disrupt someone’s life.

In summary, the card will become essential for living your life, the government can take it away or cancel it at any time and they will use it and the NIR to record who you do business with and to enable all the data held about you to be drawn together to create a comprehensive picture of your life. What could be more “big brother” than that?

Response to Tony Blair’s press conference on ID cards

Recently Tony Blair gave a press conference defending ID cards and attacking the opponents. The UK Liberty blog, just recently created, has taken Blair’s speech apart here. This is well worth reading in full.

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006

Posted by James Hammerton @ 1:09 pm on 24 November, 2006.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law, British politics, accountability.
Edit This Permalink to this article

The Abolition of Parliament Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill was passed by Parliament back in October and is now the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006(LRR Act).

The Save Parliament weblog has responded with a post suggesting that, whilst they still had concerns, the final approved Act was much improved on the Bill and far less dangerous. Thus they argue it no longer deserved the Abolition of Parliament Bill label that various critics, myself included, had been using:

“(David Howarth) described the Bill in its earlier stages as the abolition of Parliament Bill,but now it is not. It has been filleted, dissected, deconstructed and reconstructed. It is now a better Bill because … lame-brained arguments … have been abandoned by the Government. … At that time, it was a thoroughly bad Bill that did things that were way beyond its stated scope. Now, it has been brought back under control.”

As he points out, the Bill is vastly better than it was when it was first proposed, and we have you to thank for that. This Bill was not just fixed by MPs discussing in Parliament, it was fixed by you, the general public, applying pressure to your representatives, and raising the profile of this Bill so that it could not be ignored. You should all be very pleased that we got as much fixed as we did.

So does this mean we need not worry about the LRR Act any longer? A hint that all might not be well can be seen in one of the comments, from someone called Dave Gould, on Save Parliament’s weblog:

I shall be getting my MP to write to David Howarth to find out why he thinks it’s now “under control”.

It still looks like ANY amendments/revoking of our constitution can be make by secondary legislation with the small proviso that it has to be passed by a committee of hand-picked Labour MPs first.

The argument that constitutional changes eg abolishing elections can be blocked in a judicial review is dubious at best. And who is going to fund these judicial reviews?

The crucial question then is what does the LRR Act (which has Royal Assent now) actually say? The following is an overview of the main points of the LRR Act as it relates to legislative power:

  • Section 1 sets out a broad power for Ministers to make any provision they consider would serve the purpose of removing or reducing a burden or reducing the overall burdens of any person affected by a piece of legislation. A burden means any of the following:
    • A financial cost,
    • An administrative inconvenience,
    • An obstactle to efficiency, productivity or profitability,
    • A sanction, criminal or otherwise, which affects the carrying out of a lawful activity.

    On the face of it, this is a very broad power. E.g. could abolishing jury trial in favour trial by judge, be considered as a measure to reduce burdens (both financial and administrative) on jurors and those running the courts? However there are “safeguards” to consider…

  • Section 3 sets out pre-conditions that the Minister must consider satisfied before making orders under the Act. These are:
    • that the policy objective cannot be achieved without legislation,
    • that the effect of the provision he makes is proportionate to the policy objective,
    • that the provision strikes a fair balance between the public interest and the interests of anyone adversely affected by it,
    • the provision does not remove any necessary protection,
    • the provision does not prevent any person from continuing to exercise any right or freedom which that person might reasonably expect to continue to exercise,
    • the provision is not of constitutional significance.

    A key point to note about this is that all of these preconditions are a matter for the Minister’s judgement, thus he must consider that these preconditions are met. However, they do provide scope for opposition when the orders are scrutinised and any judicial review might be able to argue the preconditions were not met. The key question in considering the impact of section 3, is therefore how much scope for scrutiny and judicial review will there be?

  • Section 4 restricts the power to delegate legislative functions such that they can only be delegated to government ministers, people who have had legislative power delegated to them in prior legislation or office holders or bodies created by the orders. It also restricts such delegation of legislative powers such that they have to be exercised via statutory instrument if they are delegated or confered on ministers of the crown.

    Note that an order under this LRR Act can confer legislating powers on office holders or bodies created by the order itself, thus cutting Parliament out of the loop completely.

  • Section 5 prevents orders being used to create, abolish or vary taxes, however it explicitly allows their application to be varied. E.g. it would be possible to extend VAT to items not currently taxed this way for example.
  • Section 6 prevents criminal penalties of more than 2 years in jail or a fine of level 5 being imposed by an order.
  • Section 7 prevents powers authorising forcible entry from being enacted via the Act.
  • Section 8 protects the Human Rights Act (HRA) and part 1 of the LRR Act itself (all sections up to section 20). This brings the LRR Act into line with the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) which has similar protections for the HRA and the CCA itself, and was not originally in the bill.
  • Sections 9, 10 and 11 prevent the LRR Act from being used to legislate in areas devolved to the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh assemblies.
  • Sections 12 to 18 set out the procedure to be followed. The Minister must first consult with various people he considers appropriate (big deal), and then lay out a draft order in both Houses of Parliament with an explanatory document and recommendation for which of the following procedures to following:
    • The negative procedure. Parliament has 40 days to object before the order is made, either by one House passing a resolution against it or for a committee of either House to recommend rejecting it, whereupon it will fall unless the same House rejects the recommendation. The committee can only report with its recommendation after 30 days and before 40 days have passed.
    • The affirmative procedure. Parliament has 40 days to approve the order in both Houses. A committee of either House can, after 30 days and before 40 days, recommend abandoning the order in which case a resolution rejecting the recommendation is required.
    • The super-affirmative procedure. Parliament has 60 days to approve the order, or recommend changes. The Minister can enact a revised order if Parliament approves, or the original order if Parliament approves.

    Note that the Minister can recommend a procedure but either House can insist on a more stringent procedure, e.g. if the Minister recommends the negative procedure, either House can insist on the affirmative procedure or the super-affirmative procedure. If he recommends the affirmative procedure they can insist on the super-affirmative procedure. 30 days are allowed for each House to change the procedure otherwise the Minister’s recommendation applies.

    Also, orders cannot be amended by Parliament, only accepted or rejected, and even the super-affirmative procedure keeps the government in control of what finally appears in a revised order.

Overall it seems to me that the Act is a mild improvement on the Bill, e.g. its legislative powers can’t be used to amend the foregoing powers and procedures, and the Human Rights Act is protected. The powers are drawn more tightly, but unfortunately are still framed to a large degree in terms of the judgement of the Ministers creating the orders. The level of scrutiny afforded to LRR Act orders is about the same as that in the original Bill, though House committees can report on such orders they’re likely to be controlled by the government and the timescales themselves will prevent adequate scrutiny. The ability to use LRR Act orders to cut Parliament out of the legislative loop is still there, if more difficult to use.

I see nothing to stop the abolition/curbing of jury trials being enacted via these orders, other than a vigilent Parliament (the European Convention on Human Rights applies to many countries that don’t have jury trial, thus the HRA isn’t going to stop that). By the time a judicial review comes into play it’s a fait accompli to be overturned only if the Minister is found to have acted outside his powers.

I think the LRR Act now deserves the label “Undermining and Sidelining of Parliament” Act. It should be repealed. If Parliament is having difficulties coping with the legislative load that’s an argument for cutting down on the amount of legislation pushed through it, not making it easier to push legislation through by reducing the opportunities for scrutiny and for amendments to be made.

“Yes they ARE watching you” — increasing notice taken of big brother Britain

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:19 pm on 23 November, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Increasingly the mainstream media are taking notice of the steady erosion of privacy that’s occurring in Britain, some of the latest examples are:

  • Iain Hollingshead, writing in the Telegraph:

    It’s not just the paranoid who are nervous. The sanguine figure of Parliament’s Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, yesterday attacked the Government’s planned £224 million children’s register, which will contain the details of every child in Britain, saying it will not only devalue parents but “shatter” family privacy. The volume of personal information held on children has already reached unprecedented levels and is “set to increase dramatically”.

    Meanwhile, motorists now face the threat of being fingerprinted at the roadside. Yesterday 10 police forces across England and Wales started using handheld gadgets to check speeding motorists against a fingerprint database of 6.5 million crime suspects.

    If the scheme, which will be voluntary, becomes compulsory, the day may not be too far away when laws could be introduced that would mean criminal penalties for drivers who refuse to let their fingerprints be checked. That is, of course, assuming you haven’t already been hauled in for failing to produce your ID card on demand or supplying a sample to the police DNA database. I jest. Or do I?

    Earlier this month a report published by the human rights group Privacy International gave Britain a similar privacy ranking to Russia and China, placing us at the top of a European surveillance league. The fears voiced by the Information Commissioner that we have “sleepwalked into a surveillance society” seem to be confirmed.

    The full article is well worth reading for a primer as to just how much information is gathered about us during our daily lives. The Privacy International rankings referred to can be found here. More info on this report here.

  • Henry Porter writing in the Observer:

    The most shocking part of Britain’s frantic rush towards a fully fledged surveillance society is not so much the threat to personal liberty, although that is important; it is the lack of security in the systems that are confidently held up to be the solution to the problems of 21st-century crime and terrorism.

    While each of us is required to give more and more information about ourselves to the government’s various centralised databases, and submit to increasing surveillance in our daily lives, almost no one seems to consider the risk to us if these systems are breached.

    For some time now, I have been warning about the menace that these systems may come to represent in the hands of future governments, the nature of which we cannot know. But having spent the last few months making a film, Suspect Nation, with the director Neil Ferguson - about the growth of surveillance since 9/11 - I realise that the threat exists in the present. Both of us were astonished at the gaps in security that we found and the insouciance of government.

    Suspect Nation was shown on More 4 on Monday 20th November and has already appeared on YouTube. It will be shown again on More 4 at 7.05pm on Saturday the 25th November. It is well worth the hour’s viewing time.

email feedback@magnacartaplus.org

© magnacartaplus.org2008, 2007, 2006 [1 December]

variable words
prints as variable A4 pages (on my printer and set-up)

abstracts of documents on magnacartaplus.org UK Acts of Parliament click for news from magnacartaplus.org orientation to magnacartaplus.org orientation button links to other relevant sites links

Powered by WordPress