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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

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Britons to be asked for NI number, date of birth and signature to get right to vote

The Telegraph reports:

Currently returning officers only require an adult at an address to certify that the people living in the household are over 18 and can vote.

However, after July electoral registration officers will be able to ask all householders to hand over three “personal identifiers “ - their signatures, dates of birth and NI numbers - as part of a new “individual elector registration” (IER) scheme, along with names and addresses.

There are fears that this could be expanded to include identity cards and even people’s finger-prints because of a special allowance in the legislation used to bring in the change.

The new way of registering to vote could be compulsory within five years. A briefing note from the Electoral Commission says: “IER is expected to replace the current practices of household and rolling registration by July 2015”.

There are already concerns about the plans. The Association of Electoral Administrators suggested that some of the extra information could be sold to anyone who buys copies of the electoral register.

John Turner, the association’s chief executive, said: “People should have concerns if their personal data is made available for anyone with a big enough cheque. The more personal data on the register, the more sensitive they will become.”

Campaigners questioned whether it was worth the risks of storing this extra personal information to deal with what they said was the relative small problem of electoral fraud.

Less than a third of ‘innocents’ get DNA removed

The Telegraph recently reported:

The public also face a postcode lottery on having their profiles deleted with some forces refusing all requests while others grant almost every one, research by the Conservatives reveals.

It shows chief constables are still rejecting the majority of demands to remove the DNA of people who have never been charged or convicted with a crime despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights last year that a blanket retention policy is unlawful.

There are up to one million innocent people on the national database and the Tories are today launched an online petition calling for the DNA of people who have committed no offence to be removed.

The removal of DNA is at the discretion of individual chief constables but a survey of police forces found, on average, only 30 per cent of requests are granted.

Across the 34 forces that replied to Freedom of Information requests, some 1,372 requests of deletion were made in 2008/09 but only 411 were granted.

The study also revealed large difference from one area to another with six forces refusing all requests. In contrast, South Yorkshire and Wiltshire granted 80 per cent of more while Cleveland and Cumbria granted 70 per cent and 79 per cent respectively.

British government reforms of English libel law

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:41 pm on .
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Last year, the Guardian reported:

Signalling his desire for reforms, Straw insisted that the changes can be introduced “without the need for primary legislation”.

Straw highlighted the plans amid concern at the way huge payouts awarded to claimants are attracting “libel tourists” to Britain, and what the minister described as the “chilling effect” of existing libel laws on democracy.

The government’s decision to look again at the libel system follows threats by overseas publishers to abandon sales in the UK because of the fear of libel.

In an interview in tomorrow’s New Statesman magazine, Straw says the rise of “no-win no-fee” arrangements threatens free speech by making it prohibitively expensive for publishers to defend themselves.

Research by Oxford University has revealed that the cost of a defending a libel action in England and Wales is now 140 times greater than the average in other European countries, according to the New Statesman.

Straw added: “Our libel laws are having a chilling effect. By definition, it’s not hitting the most profitable international media groups, News International or Associated Newspapers and so on, though it’s not good news for them.

“It is hitting the press that is vital to our democracy but whose finances are much more difficult, and that includes magazines, one or two of the nationals, and regional and local newspapers, and it’s really bad for them. That’s why I will be changing the law on defamation costs.”

Whilst reducing the payouts may help, it seems to me that reforming it to place the onus the proving the libel on the prosecution, rather than the defence would be a better way to approach this issue.

Atheist Ireland Publishes 25 Blasphemous Quotes

To launch their campaign for the repeal of a new Irish law that criminalises blasphemy, Atheist Ireland have published 25 blasphemous quotations:

From today, 1 January 2010, the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.

This new law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic States led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.

We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilised society, people have a right to to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.

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