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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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Another CCTV camera pointing at someone’s home

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:45 pm on 23 December, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics.
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The Register reports on a CCTV camera that at the time was clearly pointed at someone’s bedroom, the picture being viewable from the Transport for London website.

Names of arrestees will stay on police database indefinitely.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:37 pm on .
Categories political liberties.
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The Observer reports:

The government has been forced to scale back the way it holds the details of people held on the national DNA database, following a European Court ruling that retaining the profiles of people arrested but not charged with a crime or who were acquitted, was “disproportionate”. As a result, government plans – outlined in the crime and security bill going through parliament – will limit how long the DNA profiles of such people can be kept. In most cases it will be up to six years.

But the Observer has established that the records of their arrest will be held by police for an indefinite period. The 2005 National DNA Database Annual Report says: “It has become necessary to retain a nominal record of every person arrested for a recordable offence on the Police National Computer… to help the police identify and locate an individual following a match being obtained on the [DNA database].” Prior to the expansion of the DNA database, details were deleted on acquittal or if charges were dropped after 42 days.

“Keeping permanent records of arrest is unprecedented in British history and is open to serious abuse,” said Helen Wallace, director of the campaign group GeneWatch UK. “Failing to delete police records of people who are innocent means business as usual for the surveillance state.”

The office of the information commissioner has warned: “All records held on the [police national computer] are readily accessible to any serving police officer acting in his or her official capacity and this access is frequently used to run a ‘name check’ on individuals who come into contact with the police. Given this level of access, the commissioner is concerned that the very existence of a police identity record created as a result of a DNA sample being taken on arrest could prejudice the interests of the individual to whom it relates by creating inaccurate assumptions about his or her criminal past.”

Equality and Human Rights Commission to develop “livestyle” database

[Hat tip: Big Brother Watch]

Old Holborn, who filed the relevant freedom of information requests, quoting from a Daily Mail article:

Details of the plan emerged after the EHRC, led by chairman Trevor Phillips, began the tendering process for establishing the database. Freedom of Information requests, obtained by the Old Holborn blogger, then revealed what the scheme involved. Equalities bosses have decided they must work out whether citizens are suffering inequality based upon various different factors. These include age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion and belief, transgender status, ethnicity and social class. Citizens’ characteristics will be checked through their answers to various government surveys and information on whether they need hospital care or have called the police.

It will allow bureaucrats to check different groups are not more likely to die young, be murdered, suffer illness, or violent crime. Checks will also be made of happiness, healthy living standards and educational attainment. Any minority groups considered to be losing out can then be targeted for Government help. It will not be possible to identify individuals from the information on the database. But what is alarming campaigners is the way the information will be compiled. Staff are planning to take data which is given to a list of 45 different sources by members of the public.

This includes their A&E records, the British Crime Survey, the British Election Study, the Census, Childcare and Early Years Parents’ Survey and the Citizenship Survey. The information is not provided in the knowledge it will be handed over to an equality quango. But the EHRC’s report on the way the database should be established says the sexual identity question should become a standard part of major surveys ‘as soon as practicable’. An EHRC spokesman said: ‘Crime rates, poor hospital treatment, lack of childcare places and inadequate housing are some of the things that British people are worried about. ‘Looking at each of these problems in isolation doesn’t tell the whole story, as these factors may combine together to have a bigger effect on our lives.

Mass Gathering in defence of street photography - 12 Noon Saturday 23rd January 2010 Trafalgar Square, London

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:33 pm on 20 December, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, culture of suspicion.
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Spy Blog reports:

The I’m a Photographer Not A Terrorist ! campaign is organising a

Mass Gathering in defence of street photography

12 Noon
Saturday 23rd January 2010
Trafalgar Square

I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist! invite all Photographers to a mass photo gathering in defence of street photography.

Following a series of high profile detentions under s44 of the terrorism act including 7 armed police detaining an award winning architectural photographer in the City of London, the arrest of a press photographer covering campaigning santas at City Airport and the stop and search of a BBC photographer at St Pauls Cathedral and many others. PHNAT feels now is the time for a mass turnout of Photographers, professional and amateur to defend our rights and stop the abuse of the terror laws.

Trafigura gags the BBC

Posted by James Hammerton @ 2:26 pm on 19 December, 2009.
Categories freedom of speech, British politics.
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Richard Wilson writes:

Late last week the BBC chose to delete from its website a damning Newsnight investigation into the Trafigura scandal, following legal threats from the company and its controversial lawyers, Carter-Ruck.

Previously, other media outlets including the Times and the Independent, had withdrawn stories about the case, amid concerns that the UK press is choosing to engage in self-censorship, rather than risk a confrontation with such a powerful company in the UK’s archaic and one-sided libel courts.

The BBC is a dominant player within the UK media, and its independence – supposedly guaranteed by the millions it receives from licence-payers each year – is vital both to its public service function and its global reputation.

Freedom of speech means very little without an effective and independent media – if it’s true that the BBC’s independence can so easily be compromised by legal threats, then this sets a very dangerous precedent for the future.

The mainstream UK media has so far assiduously avoided reporting on the BBC’s climbdown. Yet it’s an issue that raises serious questions about the state of press freedom in Britain, at a time of unprecedented attacks on the media.

To help subvert this latest attempt to muzzle the press, please embed this video on your blog, and link to this PDF of the original story.


CCTV cameras pointing at people’s homes

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:37 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics.
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Big Brother Watch has been covering the issue of CCTV recently and in particular has highlighted two examples of CCTV cameras that are clearly pointed at people’s homes. Still, nothing to hide, nothing to fear eh?!

Libel reform campaign petition

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:57 pm on 13 December, 2009.
Categories freedom of speech, British politics.
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A petition for reforming England’s libel laws has been created by the Libel Reform Campaign. I’ve already signed it, I urge others to do so too.

ISA vetting to be watered down

The BBC reports:

Rules requiring about 11 million people working with children to register with a new agency and have criminal records checks are to be watered down.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has accepted recommendations of a review he ordered into the vetting and barring scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The checks will now involve only those working with the same children once a week, not once a month, for example.

It is thought the new rules will apply to about two million fewer people.

The checks, intended to protect children, had caused concern among teachers and parents.

This will of course still leave the ISA deciding who can work with children on the basis not merely of people’s criminal records but also “soft intelligence” such as unproven accusations. Even under the revised figures, 9 million adults may find themselves being subject to such vetting.

Tories: We’ll review control orders

Posted by James Hammerton @ 3:50 pm on 6 December, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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According to the Press Association:

Shadow security minister Baroness Neville-Jones said: “Control orders deny due process to the defendant, do not provide a reliable remedy to the security problem posed by terrorist suspects, and on top of all that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“A Conservative government would review the morally objectionable and costly control order regime with a view, consistent with the security situation, to replacing it by the trial of suspects through the normal court system.”

UK jails schizophrenic for refusal to decrypt files

The Register recently reported:

The first person jailed under draconian UK police powers that Ministers said were vital to battle terrorism and serious crime has been identified by The Register as a schizophrenic science hobbyist with no previous criminal record.

His crime was a persistent refusal to give counter-terrorism police the keys to decrypt his computer files.

The 33-year-old man, originally from London, is currently held at a secure mental health unit after being sectioned while serving his sentence at Winchester Prison.

The Eurostar terminal at St Pancras

In June the man, JFL, who spoke on condition we do not publish his full name, was sentenced to nine months imprisonment under Part III of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). The powers came into force at the beginning of October 2007.

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