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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.
Archive of old news service:
2002 - 2004

1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005


Spy centre will track you on holiday -Times Online

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:06 pm on 8 February, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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The Times Online reports:

THE government is building a secret database to track and hold the international travel records of all 60m Britons.

The intelligence centre will store names, addresses, telephone numbers, seat reservations, travel itineraries and credit card details for all 250m passenger movements in and out of the UK each year.

The computerised pattern of every individual’s travel history will be stored for up to 10 years, the Home Office admits.

The government says the new database, to be housed in an industrial estate in Wythenshawe, near Manchester, is essential in the fight against crime, illegal immigration and terrorism. However, opposition MPs, privacy campaigners and some government officials fear it is a significant step towards a total surveillance society.

Privacy in Germany

Ralf Bendrath providers a useful overview of the struggles for privacy in Germany in 2008.

Britain’s legislative incontinence

Via UK Liberty, I found John Ozimek’s article in the Register, describing the problems the courts are having in keeping up with the law:

Late last year, an appeal in R. v. Chambers [2008] EWCA Crim 2467 was halted at the 11th hour when it turned out that the regulation which the defendant was appealing and under which he had previously been found guilty had in fact been superseded by new law… some seven years previously.

This only came to light when a draft judgment on the case was passed to a lawyer at Revenue and Customs, who spotted the error and instantly alerted the court. Confusion all round, and while the court dialogue didn’t quite match exchanges regularly heard under the jurisdiction of the infamous Justice Cocklecarrot, it is possible to detect prosecution counsel shrivelling beneath the displeasure of Lord Justice Toulson

Echoing recent comments by Lord Phillips, head honcho in our legal system, Lord Justice Toulson blamed this chaos on four factors - first, that “the majority of legislation passed today is secondary legislation”. That is, it is not passed directly by parliament, but is the result of Ministers laying regulations before parliament (statutory instruments).

Then, “the volume of legislation has increased very greatly over the last 40 years”. In 2005 alone, there were “2868 pages of new Public General Acts and approximately 13,000 pages of new Statutory Instruments” – to which should be added another 5,000 pages of European Directives and Regulations, plus the outpourings of our new devolved assemblies.

Assuming a page can be read every 5 minutes, then an MP would have to spend 79430 minutes reading the Acts of Parliament and the SIs for 2005 alone. That’s over 55 days of continuous reading, or over 165 days of reading continuously for 8 hours (almost 30 devoted to the Acts), just to read each of 2005’s SIs or Acts once. How on earth can MPs provide even remotely adequate scrutiny of legislation given such volumes of it to read? SIs of course are given the barest minimum of scrutiny - they cannot be amended, and (at best) there is only one vote in each House to approve them after a 90 minute debate.

The above calculation excludes European Directives and the explanatory notes that accompany Acts of Parliament and SIs. In his book “How to Label a Goat”, Ross Clark notes (on page 239 at the start of Chapter 18) that in the year starting June 1 2005 there were 29 Acts of Parliament, with 3592 SIs. Once you included the explanatory notes for this legislation, you had a total of 100,000 pages to read.

That’s equivalent to over 1041 working days worth of continuous reading. Even if you could reach a page per minute, it’s still over 208 working days of reading. And that’s just 1 year’s worth of legislation and supporting documentation.

And they say ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Banks doubt usefulness of ID card scheme

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:39 pm on 7 February, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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[Hat tip: UK Liberty] reports:

While the Home Office is hoping ID cards will one day be used for everything from claiming benefits to opening bank accounts, the UK financial services industry has its doubts over how useful the cards will prove.

The UK payments association Apacs - whose members includes the UK’s major high street banks - is worried that security features that would have made the card useful for checking identity in large money transfers and online transactions have been stripped from the scheme.

Head of security for Apacs Colin Whittaker told a conference hosted by the BCS Security Forum yesterday: “Some of the features we were expecting in the ID card are not going to be present for the foreseeable future.

“There’s nothing in the middle tech range which is where a lot of the user case scenarios - particularly in the financial sector - are going to give more value. For example, doing a high-value cash withdrawal, a counter-based withdrawal, where a financial institution asks you to put the ID card in a reader, checks it’s a valid card and takes a pin number.

“The online capabilities that we were hoping were going to be present are unlikely to be there for the foreseeable future.”

ID cards are here - but the police cannot read them.

[Note: The original version of this article stated that no cards readers exist, however the situation reported is that the police don’t have any. Apologies for the earlier error]

Last year, the government started issuing ID cards to the foreign workers, hailing it as the first step in implementing the National Identity Scheme(NIS).

However, the cards cannot currently be read by the police as there are no card readers for them to check people’s identity against the National Identity Register (NIR) yet.

It thus looks as if the key infrastructure for the scheme to work as intended is not yet in place. Whilst that is so, all that’s changed is that people who needed a visa to reside in the UK now have to get a card. The NIR is a critical component in the government’s plans as are the readers and infrastructure required to check people’s identities against the NIR. Until this infrastructure is in place, the NIS will thus be operating in name only.

The Guardian: Foreign 6-year-olds are being fingerprinted on entry to the UK

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:12 pm on 1 February, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, European Union politics.
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The Guardian reports:

Two months ago, the UK Borders Agency began fingerprinting foreign children over six years old, from outside the European Economic Area and resident in Britain. At the time Jacqui Smith was congratulated for her tough line on issuing identity cards to foreign residents and no one, not even parliament, noticed that the biometric requirements applied to children of six. And parliament didn’t know because it was never asked to approve the policy.

Nowhere in the world are you more powerless than at a border. As a foreigner you also enjoy far fewer rights than locals. Do you think these children or their parents dare to speak up against the bureaucracy of the UK Borders Agency? In fact, no one has called the Borders Agency to account. Home Office officials I have talked to outside the agency were shocked that official government policy is now to fingerprint children.

When asked why (question 226407), the Home Office itself offers a much more solid defence: that the EU requires it. What it does not admit is that the British government is almost alone in pushing the EU to ensure that the age when fingerprinting can start is so low. Home Office officials pushed the EU to establish a standard age of six, despite opposition within other European governments. The next time you hear a government official support the EU, it is not just because it is a vehicle for “peace, prosperity and freedom”, but also because it is a vehicle to push through policies that the UK government would prefer not to pursue through the legislature at home.

Only one government department has system for correcting database errors

[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

Part of the danger from the database state is that as more and more aspects of life become dependent on data held by the state being used to decide how people are treated, errors in that data will lead to more and more people being mistreated as a result. A government that was sensitive to this issue would be ensuring that personal data is secured and as accurate as possible.

The British government’s record on securing personal data is lamentable. Now, so it seems is its record on ensuring the accuracy of its data. From

All but one government department has no system in place to correct data errors, an investigation has revealed.

Tom Ilube, the chief executive of the identity management company Garlik, revealed that just one department has a procedure in place to correct errors within its databases. Ilube discovered this after submitting a Freedom of Information request to each central government department asking if they have a system in place to correct data errors.

The education watchdog Ofsted is the only organisation to get a clean bill of health, with major government departments like the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health admitting to no procedure in place.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “When you see it written down in department after department, ‘no we haven’t been audited, no we don’t have any written policies, no we don’t have a budget, no there are no statistical information,’ it does take you aback.

“What it says to me is that these departments are not taking looking after personal information seriously. [Government is] really getting to dangerous levels of complacency in [its] ability to look after our personal information.”

Yet this government proposes to enable wide spread sharing of personal data to achieve policy objectives, thus magnifying the impact such errors will have. They should concentrate instead on securing and validating the data they currently collect.

YouTube - David Cameron - Repealing The Identity Cards Act

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:40 pm on 31 January, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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[Hat Tip: A poster to a thread on the NO2ID forums.]

David Cameron has repeated his pledge to abolish the National Identity Register.

Jack Straw, bereaved families and data sharing

Posted by James Hammerton @ 11:22 pm on 27 January, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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Jack Straw MP, commenting on the data sharing proposals during the debate on the Coroners and Justice Bill stated:

At present, when a family is bereaved they often have to contact Government Departments and local authority departments many times over to make the necessary arrangements, often providing the same information. Responsible data sharing between the relevant agencies would reduce the number of people who would need to be notified of a death, thereby helping to relieve distress at a difficult time.

I’ve seen government ministers use this bereaved families scenario several times now, and it makes no sense whatsoever as a justification for giving the government the power to remove legal barriers to data sharing if it will serve their policy objectives.

The problem can be resolved easily, without new legislation, in a manner entirely in keeping with the Data Protection Act.

Each of the public bodies and government departments that need to be informed of a death could have a form specifically for the purpose of updating all the other organisations that need to know with the necessary information. By filling in the form, the bereaved would be agreeing to have that information shared for the purpose of updating the relevant organisations with the necessary information. Thus the collection and sharing of the data for the purpose of informing organisations of someone’s death would be agreed to by the people supplying the data.

Alternatively, whatever form each organisation has for notifying a death could have a question or a tick box asking if each other organisation should be informed as well.

Either way you get consent for sharing from those who wish to give it and thus enable a “one stop” notification process to take place if the bereaved wish it. No need for any legislation let alone this monstrosity.

ContactPoint launched today

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:04 pm on 26 January, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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ContactPoint, a database storing the name, address, date of birth, GP and school of every under 18 in England and Wales was launched today. It will also store the name and contact details of any professionals who work with the child and be accessible by hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

UK Liberty has excellent coverage as usual.

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