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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


Is the Magna Carta British or English?

Posted by Administrator @ 3:41 pm on 28 February, 2007.
Categories site news.
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We have received the following comment from one of our readers. There is some disagreement amongst the MCP contributors as to whether the commenter has a point. Thus, with some amusement, we place the on-going discussion here.

The responses from our contributors continue in the comments - you can of course add your own 5s18d.


“I object to the national origin with which you have attributed the Magna Carta (1215) and the Bill of Rights (1689). You have branded them as being of a Great British origin.

“This is inaccurate rubbish, Great Britain didn’t even exist when these 2 great documents were drafted and signed.

“They are both English in origin. Drafted for the benefit of the people of England, living in the country of England. The Magna Carta is an English document, the Bill of Rights is an English document.

“There, that wasn’t too hard was it?

“It is VERY IMPORTANT that people should NEVER try to rewrite history. You should correct these two glaring inaccuracies on your web site sources without delay….”

Freedom of information roundup — UK act to be completely gutted

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:17 pm on 27 February, 2007.
Categories accountability, freedom of information.
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I’ve been meaning to catchup on a number of freedom of information related stories, and finally I’ve got the chance:

  • Firstly, back in September, the Register reports that Privacy International published a survey showing that 70 countries have now enacted freedom of information laws, over half of which were adopted within the last 10 years:

    Almost 70 countries have now adopted freedom of information (FOI) laws, according to civil liberties group Privacy International. Over half of those have been adopted in the last 10 years, according to a survey just published.

    “The previous two years have been an exciting time for those promoting and using the right of access to information,” said the report’s author, David Banisar, in its foreword. “Countries on every continent have adopted laws. Others have amended and improved their laws. International rights and duties through the UN and other international bodies have emerged. Innovation has flourished.”

    The report found that FOI laws are used across the world to ensure that governments are open and accountable. It also found, though, specific instances where the laws have been used for very specific ends beneficial to citizens.

    In India, the report found, FOI laws are used to gather data on food vendors to find out which vendors are not providing government-subsidised food to the poor. The food distribution system has changed as a result.

    However, not all is rosy with this picture:

    The report also found some significant problems with FOI laws across the world.

    “There is much work to be done to reach truly transparent government,” said the report. “The culture of secrecy remains strong in many countries. Many of the laws are not adequate and promote access in name only. In some countries, the laws lie dormant due to a failure to implement them properly or a lack of demand. In others, the exemptions and fees are abused by governments. New laws promoting secrecy in the global war on terror have undercut access.”

    The report itself can be found here.

  • This blog reported earlier on plans to change the basis on which the cost of processing FoI requests is calculated that would hobble Britain’s FoI Act. Draft regulations implementing these changes have been published and a consultation is open on them (and has been since 14th December) until the 8th March. A debate of these draft proposals in Parliament took place recently and is covered here by UK Liberty.

    It is worth noting that the draft regulations will be introduced to Parliament via the negative resolution procedure (see page 5 of the consultation document), which means that the regulations will be enacted unless one of the Houses of Parliament votes against it — there need not be a vote in favour and if a vote isn’t called, the regulations pass.

  • There is also a private member’s bill going through Parliament, introduced by Tory Party Whip, David MacLean that would exempt both Houses of Parliament plus all correspondence between MPs and public authorities from the Freedom of Information Act’s provisions.

Between them, it seems the government and the Tory party are about to gut Britain’s Freedom of Information Act to the point of making it useless. Other articles about the government’s attacks include this from the Times and this from the First Post . UK Liberty commented on the private member’s bill here.

Bruce Schneier on ID cards

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:10 pm on 26 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state.
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Bruce Schneier, a cryptography and security expert, recently wrote a critique of America’s “Real-ID Act”. Many of the points apply equally well to the ID scheme Britain is in the process of implementing, for example:

But even if we could solve all these problems, and within the putative $11 billion budget, we still wouldn’t be getting very much security. A reliance on ID cards is based on a dangerous security myth, that if only we knew who everyone was, we could pick the bad guys out of the crowd.

In an ideal world, what we would want is some kind of ID that denoted intention. We’d want all terrorists to carry a card that said “evildoer” and everyone else to carry a card that said “honest person who won’t try to hijack or blow up anything.” Then security would be easy. We could just look at people’s IDs, and, if they were evildoers, we wouldn’t let them on the airplane or into the building.

This is, of course, ridiculous; so we rely on identity as a substitute. In theory, if we know who you are, and if we have enough information about you, we can somehow predict whether you’re likely to be an evildoer. But that’s almost as ridiculous.

Even worse, as soon as you divide people into two categories — ­more trusted and less trusted people — ­you create a third, and very dangerous, category: untrustworthy people whom we have no reason to mistrust. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; the Washington, DC, snipers; the London subway bombers; and many of the 9/11 terrorists had no previous links to terrorism. Evildoers can also steal the identity — ­and profile — ­of an honest person. Profiling can result in less security by giving certain people an easy way to skirt security.

There’s another, even more dangerous, failure mode for these systems: honest people who fit the evildoer profile. Because evildoers are so rare, almost everyone who fits the profile will turn out to be a false alarm. Think of all the problems with the government’s no-fly list. That list, which is what Real IDs will be checked against, not only wastes investigative resources that might be better spent elsewhere, but it also causes grave harm to those innocents who fit the profile.

Enough of terrorism; what about more mundane concerns like identity theft? Perversely, a hard-to-forge ID card can actually increase the risk of identity theft. A single ubiquitous ID card will be trusted more and used in more applications. Therefore, someone who does manage to forge one — ­or get one issued in someone else’s name — ­can commit much more fraud with it. A centralized ID system is a far greater security risk than a decentralized one with various organizations issuing ID cards according to their own rules for their own purposes.

I recommend reading the whole thing.

Applying for a British passport? Then (soon) you must attend an interview and give your fingerprints…

The British government’s identity card scheme will involve interviewing people and taking their fingerprints when they register for the scheme. However, initially the government is piggybacking this scheme onto the process of applying for a passport.

On the 26th March, the first of 69 new interview centres will be opened, and from April onwards, some first time passport applicants will find they have to travel to one of these centres to be interviewed before getting their passport.

Later in the year, the collection of fingerprints during this process will commence. Eventually all first time applicants will be called for interview, and then from 2009 onwards the plan is that everyone applying for a new passport will be called for interview, and their details will be entered onto the national identity register. They will also get an ID card unless they “opt out”.

However “opting out” merely means you don’t get the ID card — the info is still collected and store on the NIR. Moreover the government plans to make it compulsory for everyone to register and get a card after the next general election, should they still be in power.

See the following for more info:

Responding to Tony Blair’s email: The £1.7 billion worth of identity fraud claim

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:04 pm on 24 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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Tony Blair’s email to anti-ID card petitioners included a claim that identity fraud costs Britain £1.7 billion per year:

Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually.

This figure has been used repeatedly by the government in its literature and statements on identity fraud and its justifications for the identity card scheme, and comes from this document produced in February 2006. From 2002 until Feb 2006, the government was claiming the amount was £1.3 billion pounds per annum.

I contend that these two figures are bogus. They include figures that are not related to identity fraud per se and figures that are outright guesses. Also, no detail is given on how the government arrived at any of the figures, and it’s not clear that any effort has been made to avoid some obvious risks of double counting. I’ve illustrated these points in the following breakdown of the figures which add up to a total £1.72 billion attributed to “identity fraud”:

Responding to Tony Blair’s email: The information in the national identity register

In his recent email to those who signed this petition against the government’s identity card scheme, Tony Blair said that the National Identity Register (i.e. the database that forms the core of the identity card scheme) will:

…contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card…

I have several points to make in response to this:

  • Store cards are voluntary, where registering on the national identity register will eventually be compulsory under the government’s plans. Indeed starting in April 2007, some first time applicants for passports will be required to register, and eventually (in 2009 according to current plans) all applicants for passports will be required to register, before finally extending the scheme to all permanent residents of Britain.

    It is disingenuous to compare an entirely voluntary scheme, with one that passport applicants, and eventually all permanent residents, will be legally required to sign up to, and provide data for.

  • The retail company that issues a store card cannot legally share store card data with other parties without the customer’s consent, and the retailer will only get information about that customer’s shopping habits at their stores (or perhaps any allied stores that allow their card to be used).

    E.g. the Tesco store card won’t record purchases made with other store cards, credit cards or with cash - you are thus in complete control over how much you let Tesco know about your shopping habits, being able to choose whether to have a card, whether to use Tesco at all, and whether to use the card for any particular purchase.

    However, the information on the National Identity Register can legally be shared with the police, security services and public bodies without your consent. Indeed some of the data, including your fingerprints and National Identity Registration Number (NIRN), will be shared with anyone who checks your identity in order to carry out the ID check. The NIRN will also enable entries in the NIR to be cross referenced with other databases held by public authorities and government departments.

    Note that there are also moves afoot to enable general sharing of personal data across government departments when it is deemed by the government to be “in the public interest”.

    Finally, Blair’s email itself implies some sharing of NIR data with other governments:

    Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

  • The Store Card will not store the following information that will be in the NIR (see Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 for the complete list of information):
    • Every address you’ve ever lived at.
    • Every name you’ve ever been known by.
    • Every immigration status you’ve ever held.
    • Your fingerprints.
    • The number of every official identity document issued to you, such as driving licences, passports, visas, etc.
    • The details of every occasion on which your identity is checked, and thus a record of, for example, each time you register with a doctor/clinic, sign up for benefits, enroll your kids in a state school, open a bank account, apply for a credit card or take out a mortgage (to provide a selection of the situations where the government envisage you needing to provide your identity card to access a service).

Tony Blair emails anti-ID scheme petitioners

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:34 pm on 23 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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On Tuesday 19th of February, I received an email from the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Mr Blair has apparently written to all 28,000 people, myself included, who signed this petition against the government’s identity card scheme. His letter to petitioners is also up on the Downing Street website.

There have been several detailed responses to this email from various commentators, illustrating the tendentious nature of Blair’s attempted defence of the scheme:

NO2ID Comedy Gig in Glasgow

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:53 pm on 16 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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NO2ID, in conjunction with Ha Ha Comedy, are organising a comedy gig as part of the international comedy festival currently in progress in Glasgow, Scotland. It’s organised for the 24th March, 8pm, at the Old Fruitmarket. Tickets £10 or £8 for concessions.

See here for full details.

Update: Confirmed performers for this event include: You owe me glue, Glen Wool, Patrick Monahan, Toby Hadoke, Des Mclean and Lucy Porter.

Tories tell Cabinet Secretary they’ll scrap ID cards if they win the next election

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:11 pm on 7 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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As reported in Iain Dale’s diary, shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP, has written to Cabinet Secretary:

I am writing to you in relation to the Government’s planned roll out
of its national identity card scheme, commencing this year. You will be aware
that there is a longstanding convention that one Parliament may not bind a
subsequent Parliament. As you will also be aware, the Conservative Party has
stated publicly that it is our intention to cancel the ID cards project
immediately on our being elected to government. You are now formally on notice
of our position and fully appraised of the contingent risks and associated
liabilities arising from the national identity card scheme.

In light of these risks, I urge you to consider very carefully the
government’s position, in advance of the roll-out of the scheme later this year.
As a matter of financial prudence, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that
public money is not wasted, and contractual obligations are not incurred,
investing in a scheme with such a high risk of not being implemented.
In particular, I would be interested to know what provision, if any has, been made
in the relevant contractual arrangements to protect the Government - and public
funds - against the costs that would be incurred as a result of early
cancellation of the scheme.

Furthermore, the Tories’ website now has an official anti-ID card campaign page.

Clearly the Tories think there are votes to be had in opposing this scheme, to the extent that they are now in a position where failure to follow through in government will lead to credible accusations of doing a U-turn, or of misleading voters. They are publicly warning civil servants that they’ll scrap the scheme if they win, which means they will need to act on this pledge if they’re not to appear dishonest.

However, there is no specific pledge to scrap the national identity register, the most intrusive and sinister part of the project, though the web page states “A Conservative Government will scrap the ID cards scheme”.

There is still some semantic room for them to drop the bits of plastic whilst continuing to develop the database, e.g. by linking it to biometric passports instead (which would gradually morph into a defacto ID card later on).

A commitment to repeal the Identity Cards Act 2006 would go a long way to removing this ambiguity in their statements.

Finally there seems to be an error on their web page which, near the bottom, states:

“From 2009, unless you opt out, when you renew your passport you will have to visit a Government ‘interview centre’ and give the Government your fingerprints in order to get an ID card.”

From 2009, all applicants for passports will have to go to an interview centre and give their fingerprints. The “opt out” is only for getting the physical ID card — i.e. you still have to be interrogated if you “opt out” and the details stored for when the ID card is made compulsory. You’ll also still have to pay for the ID card despite opting out. All “opting out” does is delay the day when you have to get the bit of plastic.


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