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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


Primer on the attacks on British liberty

David Mery, who commented on an earlier post, has produced a useful primer on the attacks on liberty in the UK.

The Great Repeal Act/Freedom Bill

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:07 pm on .
Categories political liberties.
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A good idea from the Liberal Democrats (Hat tip: Spy blog).

They’ve asked people to nominate legislation they think should be repealed and have a list of 10 pieces of legislation they’d repeal to start with, including the Civil Contingencies Act, Identity Cards Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (which gave us control orders…) and the exclusion zone around Parliament within which you need prior permission to organise a protest.

Repealing the legislation on the list would certainly be a good start at rolling back the assaults on British liberty we’ve seen over the past 10 to 15 years.

I’ve suggested they add the Sidelining and Undermining of ParliamentLegislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006.

Privacy roundup.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:45 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state.
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Here’s a round-up of various recent privacy related stories, not including stuff about ID cards or the uploading of medical records into a database on the NHS, both of which I’m treating separately to this round up:

British authorities noticing weblogs

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:29 pm on 6 December, 2006.
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics.
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Update: UK Liberty has an excellent response to Matthew Taylor’s comments below.

Three recent stories suggest the British authorities are noticing weblogs (and thus might decide to try and control them):

  • Firstly, Matthew Taylor, formerly Tony Blair’s chief strategy adviser, is reported to have said the following (Hat Tip: Anomaly UK):

    The internet has immense potential but we face a real problem if the main way in which that potential expresses itself is through allowing citizens to participate in a shrill discourse of demands.


    What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It’s basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

    The internet is being used as a tool of mobilisation, which is fantastic, but it only adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government

    Could it be that Mr Taylor simply doesn’t like the extra scrutiny coming from blogs?

  • More recently still, Tim Toulmin, the director of the Press Complaints Commissioner has called for a voluntary code of conduct for weblogs:

    Press Complaints Commission director Tim Toulmin told a London conference on race: “We’re not in favour of regulating the internet. You can’t regulate it.

    “But unless there is a voluntary code there are no forms of redress. The flow of information should not be regulated by the government.”

    Hat Tips: Samizdata and Guido Fawkes.

    There are 3 things I say in response to this:

    • It is not unusual for governments to tell people to adopt or toughen up supposedly voluntary codes, under threat that they might legislate a non-voluntary code if they do not — Mr Toulson is, wittingly or otherwise, providing a pretext for the government to do just that with weblogs.
    • Mr Toulson’s simply wrong when he says that without a voluntary code there is no redress. If you don’t like what some website/blogger is saying then you can go to, or alternatively (to name just two of the many free blogging sites), and set up your own blog to respond.

      And that’s before considering the fact that many weblogs have a comment facility allowing you to respond directly to their posts and allow trackbacks whereby a link to your response automatically appears with the article that offended you.

    • Readers may note this site has a comments facility. It seems to me provision of such, plus endeavouring to be honest/accurate and to correct mistakes should be all that’s required of anyone.
  • Apparently, the Home Office is employing 12 librarians to monitor weblogs, as Guido Fawkes reports:

    Karen George, head of the Home Office library told them how the blog monitoring was done -

    “In July 2005 they had a meeting with the press office to set up a montoring service on a trial period of six months.

    “As news of what we were doing for the press office spread we were asked by lawyers, IT and all areas of Home Office made requests. Issues like ID cards produce a peak in blogs. In November of this year we already on 1888 alerts. We have 12 librarians that monitor blogs on a daily seven day week basis. These come in as feeds, the tools make the job easier, they cannot replace the skills of the professionals. Fundamental information professional skills of knowing your audience really comes to light. In just over a year it has become a key part of our department service, the benefits include a public enquiries unit that we can alert to media campaigns that are Home Office issues. There is now an enquiry department that is ahead of the news. As a result the department has a better relationship with its users.”

    That the government is monitoring weblogs should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone with half a brain cell and a smidgeon of knowledge about how governments have operated through the ages, but Guido Fawkes points out that, perhaps, the Home Office might have found a cheaper means of doing so:

    12 blog monitoring librarians working seven days a week? You Mongs! What a waste of the taxpayers money. Ever wondered how Guido found out about this story within hours of you mentioning it? Guido uses Google Alerts, Blogpulse and Technorati to track every mention of him on the web. Total cost £0.00. (Final emphasis added)

    Surely the Home Office can’t really be wasting money now, can it?

Amnesty International’s “Irrepressible.Info” campaign

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:47 pm on .
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech.
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I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while.

Amnesty International has launched a campaign, called “Irrespressible.Info”, to highlight and to combat attacks on people’s online freedom of speech. There is a pledge to sign:

I believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference.

I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the Internet – and on companies to stop helping them do it.

You can also help combat attempts to silence bloggers and other internet activists by signing up to publish censored material on your website. Amnesty international compiles a database of censored material and each time someone loads your site into their browser a database entry will be displayed on the page.

As I write this, the Irrepressible.Info page claims 56677 peopled have signed the pledge.

Whither Britons’ medical privacy? NHS patients privacy concerns to be officially ignored

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:19 pm on 5 December, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

Britain’s NHS is currently in the process of uploading patients’ medical records onto a central database that can be accessed by NHS staff. Patients concerned about potential violations of their privacy (after all, these are sensitive records) have been attempting to opt out of the system using a clause in the data protection act.

The government’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has written to GPs asking them to forward on the details of those who are trying to opt out so that he can write to the patients explaining why he won’t let them opt out. According to the Sunday Telegraph:

More than 60 per cent of GPs fear that the £20 million NHS computerisation project, which has been beset by difficulties and is over budget, will be vulnerable to hackers, meaning that sensitive details on up to 50 million patients could be leaked.

The first records will be uploaded to a central NHS computer next spring from a small number of GP practices.

An eight-page letter outlining how patients’ opt-out requests are being rejected was placed on the website of NHS Connecting for Health – the Government agency responsible for the computer scheme – on Friday night.

Earlier in the day, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, had faced fierce criticism from the British Medical Association for demanding that GPs should “shop” patients who say no to the database.

Yesterday, it became clear that Sir Liam wanted the names and addresses of objectors in order to write to them to tell them that their request would not be granted because their reasons were not “genuine”. Many patients who wanted to opt out had cited a clause of the Data Protection Act, saying that uploading their information on to the summary care record – also known as the Spine – would lead to “substantial and unwarranted distress”.

The Department of Health says that only minimal patient information, such as allergies, acute and repeat prescriptions and adverse reactions will “initially” be uploaded on to the summary care record, which will not contain any diagnoses or medical problems.

A covering document on the Connecting for Health website says: “The Department’s response … explains it will not agree to their request to stop the process of adding their information to the new NHS database.

“The Department does not believe that processing their information in this way is a genuine reason linked to substantial and unwarranted distress.”

So here we have the British government demanding that patients’ medical records, containing sensitive information(*) are uploaded onto a database regardless of patients’ consent and GPs’ concerns about the security of the system concerned.

The above situation pertains to the NHS in England, I understand it a similar system is being implemented in Scotland (health is a devolved matter) and I’m currently investigating the present state of play there.

(*) Note that your repeat prescription history, mentioned in the above quotation about the Emergency Care Summary, could indicate what diseases you’ve had, or are currently suffering from. For example, a prescription for lithium might indicate you’re being treated for depression, other medicines may indicate a sexual problem.

Further info at the following links:

Fingerprint Mania

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:05 pm on 3 December, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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Revised Update: It appears I got things wrong when I first updated this article.

David Mery, in the comments on this article, points out that you can be fingerprinted, and your DNA to be taken, and kept indefinitely, regardless of whether you’re charged or convicted, when arrested for a recordable offence.

In January this year, most criminal offences were made recordable, and arrestable without a warrant. Beforehand the offence had to carry more than 5 years in prison if you were to be arrested without a warrant. I.e. this is another avenue for the government to get your prints and other biometrics. The relevant legislation is Section 110 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Many thanks to David for correcting me on this point.

Should the British government make its ID cards compulsory for everyone (which Labour plan to do in 2010, with those renewing passports having to register for the cards from 2009), they’ll get the fingerprints from every permanent resident of Britain stored in the National Identity Register.

In the meantime, it seems the authorities are coming up with all sorts of schemes to get hold of them anyway:

At this rate, how long will it be before your fingerprint is required routinely for everyday tasks?

Interestingly, Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner has made the fingerprinting of school kids illegal, offering us the spectacle of (admittedly a liberal province of) China starting to protect privacy more seriously than Britain does.

Guardian: Met Police request powers to arrest people who use “offensive” slogans at protests

According to a recent report in the Guardian, the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Tarique Ghaffur, wants the police to be able to arrest protestors who use “offensive” chants or slogans:

Police are to demand new powers to arrest protesters for causing offence through the words they chant and the slogans on their placards and even headbands.

The country’s biggest force, the Metropolitan police, is to lobby the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, because officers believe that large sections of the population have become increasingly politicised, and there is a growing sense that the current restrictions on demonstrations are too light.

Trouble at recent protests involving Islamic extremists has galvanised the Met’s assistant commissioner, Tarique Ghaffur, into planning a crackdown. His proposals are due to be sent to Lord Goldsmith, who is reviewing how effective the current laws are in tackling extremists.


The police want powers to tackle a “grey area” in the array of public order laws. At present, causing offence by itself is not a criminal offence.

“There must be a clear message that we will not allow any extremist group to display banners or make public statements that clearly cause offence within the existing law,” the document says.

This would be the definitive end of the right to protest in Britain if it comes to pass.

Freedom of speech, if it is to mean anything, must mean the freedom to express what you believe to be true, even if it is unpopular and causes offence to someone.

If this proposal is enacted, then it will effectively end the right of political protest in Britain — the powers that be will likely become “offended” when it suits them to shut down a protest.


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