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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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Gordon Brown and civil liberties — Parliament’s exclusion zone to be lifted?

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:08 pm on 25 June, 2007.
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics.
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That’s why I want a new constitutional settlement for Britain. And the principles of my reforms are these: Government giving more power to Parliament; both government and Parliament giving more power to the people; Parliament voting on all the major issues of our time including peace and war; civil liberties safeguarded and enhanced; devolution within a Union of nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – a Union that I believe in and will defend; local government strengthened with new powers – local communities empowered to hold those who make the decisions to account; and with community ownership of assets – greater power for more people to control their lives. (emphasis added)

The passage above is from Gordon Brown’s speech on his taking over as the leader of the Labour Party. The question about his statement about safeguarding civil liberties is whether he means it or not. After all, this government has engaged in the most systematic and sustained assault on civil liberties in modern times (e.g. see here for an albeit incomplete record of the attacks), and Gordon Brown has been in a position where he could have blocked much of it if he really wanted to.

However, if media reports are to be believed, he does seem willing to throw a bone to those concerned about civil liberties. The Sunday Times reports that he may be planning to lift the ban on spontaneous demonstrations within 1km of Parliament Square:

GORDON BROWN is to make a symbolic gesture to critics of the Iraq war by allowing antiwar protesters to demonstrate and march outside parliament.

This will reverse legislation introduced by Tony Blair two years ago to restrict the rights of people to camp on Parliament Square and install banners criticising the government.

This will be a welcome development if Brown is indeed planning this, and I will give Gordon credit for it if so. However when evaluating his claim to wish to safeguard civil liberties, this development would simply be one small step to restoring civil liberties to be balanced against the determined onslaught we’ve seen over the last decade, and various proposals that would continue that onslaught.

It is also worth remembering that this is the same Gordon Brown who said “at no point will our British traditions of supporting and defending civil liberties be put at risk” when describing plans to increase the amount of time terror suspects can be held without charge beyond the current 28 days. The very policy he’s considering would erode civil liberties (as did the increase from 7 to 28 days that we’ve already seen under this government), and the safeguards he talks about would at best simply blunt that erosion a bit.

“Nothing to hide, nothing to fear”, database security and Britain’s national identity scheme

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:22 pm on 2 June, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state, US politics.
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A common slogan used by many of those who support measures that put the general population under surveillance, such as CCTV and the British national identity scheme, is “if you’ve got nothing to hide, there’s nothing to fear”. I’ve criticised this slogan before, as have Samizdata (e.g. here, at their sister blog White Rose and here), UKLiberty and the No2ID weblog.

However a particularly compelling illustration of why the slogan “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is so wrong-headed, and how law abiding people can be put at risk by those who gather information about them is provided by the spate of recent stories involving large (often governmental) organisations losing, or otherwise publicly exposing, personal details of the people who deal with them:

The above are just a handful of recent stories, and I’m aware of other examples going back years. For example numerous cases of organisations losing, public exposing or abusing the personal information they store are also documented in UK Liberty’s article on data abuse.

In each of these cases, the personal details of law abiding citizens, often numbered in thousands or tens of thousands, have been compromised and may have fallen into the hands of those who might try and impersonate them or otherwise use the information against them. So much for “nothing to hide, nothing to fear”.

The British government claims its national identity scheme will help combat identity theft, but it seems to me that it is more likely to enable identity theft because not only will it store all all the information needed for someone to pretend to be you in one place, but its National Identity Registration Number will end up indexing both your national identity register entry and your entries in other databases both private and public. The NIRN and much of your personal information on the NIR will be shared with many public and private sector organisations and be accessible by thousand and thousands of officials.

It beggars belief that lapses in security similar to those reported above would be minimised by such a system or that the opportunities for stealing the information would be minimised either. And, unlike the systems above, your participation (if you’re a permanent resident of Britain) in the scheme will not be voluntary if the government gets its way.

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