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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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2002 - 2004

1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005


Serious Crime Prevention Orders: punishing people who haven’t broken any laws

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:45 pm on 18 January, 2007.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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Readers may recall the proposals for Serious and Organised Crime Prevention Orders being discussed here last year.

Now, as commented on in the Telegraph, the British government has published the Serious Crime Bill, Part 1 of which introduces this measure (under the revised term “Serious Crime Prevention Orders”).

According to the Telegraph article:

Until yesterday, we fondly believed that only a jury could decide whether any of us had committed a serious crime. That fundamental principle was torn up when the Government published its Serious Crime Bill.

This allows judges, sitting without juries, to make orders which, if breached, would put us in prison for five years.

Two conditions must be satisfied before the court can make a serious crime prevention order. First, the judge must be satisfied that someone has been “involved in serious crime” — anywhere in the world.

To be “involved”, you do not have to have committed a serious offence, or even helped someone else to have committed it. All you need to have done is to conduct yourself in a way that was likely to make it easier for someone to commit a serious offence, whether or not it was committed.


The second condition for a serious crime prevention order is that the court has reasonable grounds for believing it would prevent, restrict, or disrupt involvement by a person in a serious crime in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.


Personal data to be shared across govt departments

According to the BBC:

A giant database of people’s personal details could be created at Whitehall under government plans which ministers say will help improve public services.

Tony Blair is expected to unveil the proposal in Downing Street on Monday.

Strict regulations currently prevent one part of government sharing personal information it holds with another.

Ministers argue the data-sharing rules are “overzealous” but the Conservatives say relaxing them would be “an excuse for bureaucrats to snoop”.

So-called citizens’ panels will gauge public reaction to relaxing privacy procedures so people do not have to repeat personal information to different public bodies - particularly at times of stress such as a family death.

Officials think current rules are an obstacle to improving public services.

But such data-sharing is controversial. As well as criticism from the Conservatives, the information commissioner - the data watchdog - has warned Britain may be “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”.

What this means is that any information you give to e.g. the inland revenue will be on the same databases used by e.g. the department for work and pensions, or the DVLA or the passport office. Thus information you give to government bodies will be accessible by thousands of civil servants across different bodies, simply for the convenience of the government.

The government is thus demanding more and more information about you and to use it as it sees fit, at the same time is it tries to further restrict your weakly enshrined right to know about what the government is doing.

Ministers expect the police to apply for super-ASBOs against 300+ people per year, without those people needing to do anything illegal

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:01 pm on .
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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[Hat tip: Tim Worstall]

The Times reports:

TONY BLAIR is to mount a final assault on Britain’s thug culture by introducing restrictions that will curb potential yobs’ movements even before they have committed an offence.

After attempting to tackle antisocial behaviour, he is proposing to introduce a “violent offender order” (Voo) targeted at those whom police believe are likely to commit violence.

These new “super-Asbos” will be aimed not only at people who have a history of violent behaviour or who have just left prison but also those who may not yet have committed an offence.

According to a Home Office document outlining the plan, to be published next month, the measures will ban potential trouble-makers from certain areas or mixing with certain people, alert police when they move house and possibly force them to live in a named hostel, give details of vehicles they own and impose a curfew on them.

The orders will last for at least two years, with no upper limit. Any breach could lead to up to five years in jail. Ministers believe police will apply for 300 to 450 Voos each year.

In other words, despite having acted perfectly lawfully, if the police think you might at some unspecified future point commit a violent offence, they can apply for you to be banned from certain areas, tell you who you can associate with, impose curfews or force you to live in a specific hostel.


Two US privacy related stories

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:23 pm on 5 January, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state, US politics.
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A friend has sent me links to two privacy related stories from the US:

  • Apparently, the US Justice Department is building a database that will store case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and other federal law enforcement agencies, that will be made available to local police forces around the country:

    The system, known as “OneDOJ,” already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said.

    The database is billed by its supporters as a much-needed step toward better information-sharing with local law enforcement agencies, which have long complained about a lack of cooperation from the federal government.

    But civil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes.

  • Another story highlights the use of CCTV to capture a killer. The amount of footage obtained from various sources in this cases suggests to me that the US is beginning to catch up with Britain in the pervasive use of CCTV.

Both cases illustrate how modern technology is driving considerable changes with regards to privacy, including enabling people to be surveiled in increasing detailed as they go about their lives, and enabling information to be shared easily amongst many thousands of law enforcement officers.

The CCTV example shows that there are benefits to the increasingly pervasive use of CCTV, and the easy sharing of information between federal and local police forces may also allow easier coordination of efforts in cross-jurisdictional cases.

The main question is how best to enable these benefits to be tapped whilst protecting people from the abuses that such systems can enable. If the police can trace an individual’s movements when solving a crime, it is clear they could also do so for more sinister purposes. Likewise, the easy sharing of case files between federal and local police enabled by the database carries a danger of the information being misused.

It is worth noting though that the plans for sharing case files are far less intrusive, and far less of a danger than many of the database schemes currently being proposed or implemented by the British government, which typically involve sharing information related to the entire population across government departments, without regard to innocence. Case files are at least limited to those who have been investigated for crime.

Happy New Year

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:35 pm on 1 January, 2007.
Categories site news.
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I hope the readers of Magna Carta Plus have had a good Xmas and wish you a Happy 2007!


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