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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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Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:28 pm on 31 October, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, accountability.
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Jack Straw has rejected the proposals to cut the costs of elections reported in the Times.

Threat to voting in cut-price poll plan

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:37 pm on .
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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The Times reports:

Thousands of polling stations would be closed and voting hours reduced under a plan to cut the cost of elections.

Other proposals include cutting staff, replacing polling cards with e-mail requests, increasing candidates’ deposits, fixed-term parliaments and reducing security at election counts.

The options, outlined in a working paper drawn up by the Ministry of Justice for the Treasury, are designed to save up to £65 million. They were condemned last night as a “threat to democracy that would save peanuts”.

Critics said that they would lead to even lower election turnouts when the standing of MPs is at an all-time low after the expenses scandal. Voter turnout has been falling steadily over the decades. Only 61 per cent of the electorate voted in the 2005 general election compared with 84 per cent in 1950.

The plan to close stations and lay off staff could have an impact as soon as next year’s general election as it does not require legislation. Councils may decide not to put up hundreds of temporary polling stations that allow voters to cast their ballot paper within walking distance of their home. Laws would have to be introduced to change voting hours or remove polling cards.

Councils get power to seize assets over minor offences

The Times Online reports:

The right to search homes, seize cash, freeze bank accounts and confiscate property will be given to town hall officials and civilian investigators employed by organisations as diverse as Royal Mail, the Rural Payments Agency and Transport for London.

The measure, being pushed through by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, comes into force next week and will deploy some of the most powerful tools available to detectives against fare dodgers, families in arrears with council tax and other minor offenders.

The radical extension of the Proceeds of Crime Act, through a Statutory Instrument which is not debated by parliament, has been condemned by the chairman of the Police Federation. Paul McKeever said that he was shocked to learn that the decision to hand over “intrusive powers” to people who were not police was made without consultation or debate.

NB: The Proceeds of Crime Act allows police to seize assets from people without having to have them convicted of an offence, they merely need to persuade a judge that, on balance of probability, the assets were acquired “unlawfully”. Assets can be frozen prior to the court proceedings, thus preventing you from using your money to defend yourself.

Photographer threatened with arrest over jet ski photos

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:05 am on .
Categories British politics, culture of suspicion.
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Amateur Photographer reports:

Garry had stopped in a lay-by after seeing a picture opportunity at Glyn Neath Lakes - a watersports centre adjacent to the A465 in South Wales.

He said he had been taking photos from a public area for ‘ten minutes’ when a man claiming to be the lake’s landowner approached. ‘A guy came over and said “stop photographing the children,”‘ said Garry. ‘He said you need permission to take photographs of children.’

The photos sent to Amateur Photographer (AP), clearly taken from a distance, show a man and a boy on the back of a jet ski, both dressed in wetsuits.

The man then complained to police who arrived shortly afterwards. ‘They checked the images on the camera. They were fine. He [the officer] then phoned my employer.’

Police had demanded identification and asked for details of Garry’s employers, a nearby foster carer agency.

Officers also ran his name through a police computer database.

‘Everything checked out fine,’ said Garry who had taken the pictures for his own portfolio and said he did not plan to publish any of them.

The officer then told Garry: ‘If you take another picture you will be arrested for, at the least, breach of the peace [under the Public Order Act].’

AP understands that concerns had been raised because there were children changing, into wetsuits, near the lake which is used for ‘youth engagement activity’.

However, Garry told us that he was not aware of children changing nearby. He said he could only see the lake and the treeline from where he was standing.

Garry added that, at the time, this matter had not been raised by the landowner, or the police officer who was called to the scene.

Political activists’ details recorded on databases of “domestic extremists”.

Apparently, entirely peaceful, legal protest can lead to your details being recorded on databases of “domestic extremists”:

An investigation by the Guardian can reveal:

• The main unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), runs a central database which lists thousands of so-called domestic extremists. It filters intelligence supplied by police forces across England and Wales, which routinely deploy surveillance teams at protests, rallies and public meetings. The NPOIU contains detailed files on individual protesters who are searchable by name.

• Vehicles associated with protesters are being tracked via a nationwide system of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras. One man, who has no criminal record, was stopped more than 25 times in less than three years after a “protest” marker was placed against his car after he attended a small protest against duck and pheasant shooting. ANPR “interceptor teams” are being deployed on roads leading to protests to monitor attendance.

• Police surveillance units, known as Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) and Evidence Gatherers, record footage and take photographs of campaigners as they enter and leave openly advertised public meetings. These images are entered on force-wide databases so that police can chronicle the campaigners’ political activities. The information is added to the central NPOIU.

• Surveillance officers are provided with “spotter cards” used to identify the faces of target individuals who police believe are at risk of becoming involved in domestic extremism. Targets include high-profile activists regularly seen taking part in protests. One spotter card, produced by the Met to monitor campaigners against an arms fair, includes a mugshot of the comedian Mark Thomas.

• NPOIU works in tandem with two other little-known Acpo branches, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (Netcu), which advises thousands of companies on how to manage political campaigns, and the National Domestic Extremism Team, which pools intelligence gathered by investigations into protesters across the country.

And:

Anton Setchell, who is in overall command of Acpo’s domestic extremism remit, said people who find themselves on the databases “should not worry at all”. But he refused to disclose how many names were on the NPOIU’s national database, claiming it was “not easy” to count. He estimated they had files on thousands of people. As well as photographs, he said FIT surveillance officers noted down what he claimed was harmless information about people’s attendance at demonstrations and this information was fed into the national database.

He said he could understand that peaceful activists objected to being monitored at open meetings when they had done nothing wrong. “What I would say where the police are doing that there would need to be the proper justifications,” he said.

Cameron agreeing to repeal the Identity Cards Act 2006

YouTube - David Cameron - Repealing The Identity Cards Act

This is unequivocal!

Armed police to permanently patrol some London streets

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:27 am on 24 October, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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Armed officers placed on routine foot patrol for first time - Telegraph:

A hand-picked team from CO19, the Metropolitan Police’s elite firearms unit, will walk the beat in gun crime hotspots where armed gangs have turned entire estates into “no go” zones.

Local politicians and anti-gun campaigners have reacted with anger at the news that the officers will carry Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns – capable of firing up to 800 rounds-per-minute – and Glock semi-automatic pistols.

So now, one of the defining features of the British police, that they did not routinely carry guns, is being overturned.

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