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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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1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005

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Privacy and surveillance roundup

Continuing in catch-up mode, here’s a round-up of recent privacy and surveillance related stories:

  • Back in July, it was reported that the LTI 20.20, the police’s favourite speed gun, can lie. Amongst it’s many feats, were a recording a bicycle 66mph, a parked car doing 22 mph and a brick wall doing 40mph…
  • [Hat Tip: IanPP]Highlighting just how leaky public bodies can be when it comes to personal data, ZDNet reported in September that an inquiry was being held to find out how a hard drive containing NHS patient data ended up being sold on eBay.
  • The UK’s DNA database currently holds the samples of those who have been investigated of crime, whether they’re charged or cleared or not. This has led to some sections of society being disproportionately represented in the DNA database. Lord Justice Sedley thinks this is unfair. His solution? Every UK resident, plus all visitors to the UK, should be required to have their DNA put on the database. Surely the unfairness would be reduced if only those actually convicted of crime had their DNA permanently stored?
  • The Daily Mail reports that, as of 1st October, all phone companies are required to store information about which people you phone, how long for, from which numbers and in the case of mobile phones, from which location for a minimum of a year. Access to this information must be provided to some 795 public bodies ranging from your local council, the tax authorities and government deparments through to the Food Standards Agency, the Immigration Service and the Charities Commission. This is all down to Statutory Instrument 2199, implementing the European Union’s Data Retention directive. Trevor Mendham comments on this proposal at this blog. Note that in 2009 the plan is for information about your internet communications to be subject to a similar regime, i.e. storing who you email, who emails you, which websites you visit, who visits your website, etc.
  • Part III of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIP Act) was finally brought into force, starting on the 1st October, via this Statutory Instrument. The significance of this is that it means that the police can demand that you provide the encryption key to encrypted data found in your possession, under section 51 of the RIP Act. Note that if you ever knew/had the key to the encrypted data you are presumed to still know/have the key subsequently. Bruce Schneier comments on this policy here. The Strange Stuff blog has created an article which, if you read it on your computer, could lead you to falling foul of this law… How are you going to prove you don’t have the key?
  • The Telegraph reports that scientists have developed a method of tracking people on CCTV that can take account changes such as removing jackets or changing appearance:

    The new system plugs the surveillance gap by enabling an operator to choose a suspect and follow him through dense crowds, and any subsequent changes in appearance.

    It works by attaching about 30 “tags” on small clusters of pixels on the footage, fixing them on different parts of the subject. It then “locks on” to these tags, and as the subject is filmed, the computer is able to follow his or her exact progress on the film, as the target moves about.

    The system has been developed by scientists at the defence company BAE Systems, the University of Reading and Sagem, a French telecoms company.

    Andrew Cooke, the project manager, said: “This kind of technology would allow us to track someone like Bourne.”

    Present CCTV surveillance “hits a brick wall” when a suspect mingles in a crowd or even takes off his jacket. The new system will even be able to pass information from one CCTV camera to another and can be programmed to pick out potential criminals by detecting suspicious body language.

  • The Home Office is currently running a trial of a scheme for fingerprinting airline passengers as they enter the UK at Gatwick Airport, ostensibly as a means of preventing illegal immigration. Such a scheme entails recording every air passenger’s visits to the UK, and is thus yet another form of mass surveillance.

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