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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


On the consequences of the European Arrest Warrant

Update: In the original version of this article, I wrote that the European Arrest Warrant allows for extradition to take place if the offence is punishable by 1 year or more in prison in the country requesting extradition. This is only true if the offence exists in both jurisdictions, i.e. if dual criminality applies. As section 64(2) of the Extradition Act 2003 makes clear, extradition where there is no dual criminality requires the offence to be punishable by 3 years or more in prison. I have altered the article to correct this. Apologies for the mistake.

On the 1st October, Dr Frederick Toben, an Australian citizen, landed at Heathrow Airport whilst on a journey from America to Dubai.

He did not complete that journey.

Instead, he was arrested via a European Arrest Warrant, on a charge of ‘holocaust denial’, at the behest of the German government.

I strongly disagree with this man’s views, but he has as much right to express his views as I do. I am opposed to making holocaust denial an offence for the simple reason that it is contrary to freedom of expression. I also think it is wrong to prevent people, by law, from expressing scepticism or doubt about the generally accepted accounts of an historical events, since there is no guarantee that those accounts have managed to capture all the evidence surrounding those events or evaluate it fully and objectively. The best guarantee one can have is to allow people to make their arguments and to test each other’s arguments. Outlawing the expression of points of view that are in opposition to an officially accepted view means you hinder further advances in knowledge about the subject matter, not because the outlawed points of view are correct but because the debates and challenges that arise from allowing them to be expressed may lead to new insights or new evidence being discovered. Making an official point of view sacrosant turns history into dogma.

But this case is not merely about freedom of speech, or freedom of historical enquiry. It is also about the rule of law, and there are no British laws against holocaust denial.

So why has Toben been arrested? Because:

  • Toben runs a website that denies the holocaust happened.
  • Britain signed up to the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which allows for fast-track extradition between EU states without any evidence being presented to the courts of the country performing the extradition and where there is no requirement that the conduct be an offence in both countries. The conduct needs only to be an offence in the country requesting extradition, so long as the offence falls into one of a broadly defined set of categories, and is punishable by 3 years or more in prison; Toben is apparently facing upto 5 years in a German prison.
  • With the internet, many countries, Britain included, are applying the principle that once someone downloads material in a particular jurisdiction (e.g. by reading a web page with their browser), that material has been published in that jurisdiction. Germany will therefore be claiming that Toben’s website has been published in Germany, even though he runs it from Australia, where there are also no laws making holocaust denial an offence, and thus that Toben committed an offence falling under the “Racism and Xenophobia” category that enabled them to request extradition under the EAW in the first place.

If Toben is extradited, then it will confirm that anyone (who is accused of) publishing, on the internet, any articles questioning the holocaust could be extradited to Germany from any other EU country without their local courts even getting a chance to see any evidence against them, regardless of whether their internet publications were legal in their own country or the country where the website is run from.

More generally, it means that one’s internet publications are effectively subject to the union of all the laws applying in the EU, where the offence is punishable by 3 or more years in prison, and which fall under the “Racism and Xenophobia” banner or any of the other 31 categories (e.g. “computer-related crime”), and you could be extradited to any other EU state on the accusation that your publication violated those laws. Anyone living in or travelling through any EU country can potentially be targetted with this legislation.

Open Rights Group/NO2ID photocall: Capturing the database state

The Open Rights Group is asking people to submit photos that embody “the database state, and the UK’s world-famous surveillance society”. Together with NO2ID, they will use the photos to create a live collage that will be shown in Parliament Square on the 11th October:

…we’ll gather underneath the statue of Winston Churchill on Parliament Square in London to build an image showing where the incremental invasions of our privacy you’ve been documenting will eventually lead British society. We need ten or so people to help, so if you’d like to offer a hand, email info [AT] and let us know.

Note that the 11th October is the day of action selected for the “Freedom not fear” campaign.

Amnesty International’s petition against “42 days”

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:16 pm on .
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

Amnesty International have launched an online petition against the British government’s proposals to allow people to be detained for up to 42 days without charge if they’re suspected of terrorism. At the time of writing, it has 2856 signatures.

Meanwhile, The Times is reporting that the government have decided not to use the Parliament Act should the 42 days proposal be defeated in the House of Lords. The Counter Terrorism Bill returns to the Lords later this week.

The state, encryption and data loss.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:09 pm on 27 September, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

By now, most Britons will be aware of at least some of the numerous cases of data loss by the government and public bodies that seem to occurring on a regular basis, (for example see UK Liberty’s data loss page). It seems the most frequent means by which the data goes missing involve one of the following:

  • Someone loses laptops, CDs or memory sticks in the course of their activities.
  • CDs or memory sticks go missing in the post.
  • Laptops, memory sticks or CDs get stolen.

With modern technology, devices that store huge volumes of data can be carried around in our pockets. E.g. I have a 4 GB memory stick that’s only a few centimetres in length and about 1.5cm wide, and about 0.75 cm thick. Modern mobile phones, PDAs and laptops will also store large amounts of data. It is inevitable that large organisations will lose these devices, and that some of them will suffer from the theft of such devices.

The loss or theft of these devices would not matter so much though, if it weren’t for the fact that the data is not encrypted.

For example when the child benefits database, containing personal information about every family with a child in Britain (at the time) went missing in the post, had the data been properly encrypted, the risk of the data being misused by someone who finds the CDs would be minimal because without the password to decrypt the data, they simply would not have been able to read the information. Of course doing this does not make the data 100% secure, but it does greatly reduce the risks from the loss of such devices.

The advice for any organisation that needs to transfer data in a secure manner is simple. Do not download it onto a CD, laptop, memory stick or any other portable device without encrypting it. But is this advice being followed by the government? Well, with regards to the Home Office, it appears the answer is “no”. Their policy is that they do not always encrypt data before transferring it by disk.

What this means is that we cannot trust the Home Office to take adequate precautions to protect our personal data.

There is no excuse for this. There are numerous encryption packages available, including free open source products such as the GNU Privacy Guard, and for that matter the government itself has helped to develop encryption techniques, e.g. GCHQ pioneered public key encryption. And this bunch of jokers propose to create a national identity scheme, that will record who we do business with throughout our lives, whilst enabling the linking together of disparate databases of personal information and widespread sharing of such data, whilst claiming it will be secure. And that’s just one of their mass surveillance schemes.

Order allows public bodies to pass our confidential information to private organisations

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:16 pm on 14 September, 2008.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
Edit This Permalink to this article

[Hat tip: Spy Blog]

The government recently issued a statutory instrument specifying the following organisations for the purposes of section 68 of the Serious Crime Act 2007:

  • Experian Limited
  • Insurance Fraud Investigators Group
  • N Hunter Limited
  • The Insurance Fraud Bureau
  • The Telecommunications United Kingdom Fraud Forum Limited.

The impact of this is to enable public bodies to share any data they hold about you, including confidential data, to any of the above organisations for the purposes of the detection, prevent or prosecution of fraud. E.g. section 68 reads:

(1) A public authority may, for the purposes of preventing fraud or a particular kind of fraud, disclose information as a member of a specified anti-fraud organisation or otherwise in accordance with any arrangements made by such an organisation.

(2) The information—

(a) may be information of any kind; and

(b) may be disclosed to the specified anti-fraud organisation, any members of it or any other person to whom disclosure is permitted by the arrangements concerned.

(3) Disclosure under this section does not breach—

(a) any obligation of confidence owed by the public authority disclosing the information; or

(b) any other restriction on the disclosure of information (however imposed).

(4) But nothing in this section authorises any disclosure of information which—

(a) contravenes the Data Protection Act 1998 (c. 29); or

(b) is prohibited by Part 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (c. 23).

Note that information of any kind can be disclosed even where an obligation of confidence exists. How long will it be before CDs or memory sticks holding such information go missing in transit to/from the organisations above?

Peter Clark and “the surveillance society”

Peter Clark, writing recently in the times, argues that “the surveillance society” has enabled the conviction of several people plotting to set off bombs, created out of liquid explosives and disguised as soft drinks:

We have what is probably the most effective counter-terrorist machinery in the world. The organisations involved have been at full stretch for years, and despite the gainsayers, the legal and ethical standards of the counter-terrorist effort are incredibly high - the British public demands and deserves no less.

They also deserve a better quality debate about the relationship between individual liberties and collective security.

Take this case. To save the lives of the innocent and convict the would-be killers we used all the tools in the security armoury. Deeply intrusive surveillance, informants, CCTV, DNA, telephone call data and so on. This was not about collecting information for its own sake - it was to secure evidence to put before a court.

Some critics fail to understand that sophisticated, modern evidence gathering has allowed the most complex terrorist conspiracies to be tried in our criminal courts in front of a jury. No need for military commissions or the juryless Diplock courts of Northern Ireland.

The series of terrorist convictions in recent years has been a victory for the rule of law and sends out a strong, positive signal to all communities. But it couldn’t have happened if things that used to be buried deep in the world of intelligence were not now brought blinking into the light of the courtroom.

And what if we had failed? What if the prosecution case was right, and half a dozen American airliners were to be brought down by British terrorists, operating from Britain and in effect using the UK as a launch pad for an attack on the United States? What would have happened to the UK and indeed the global economy? What would the impact have been on UK/US relations? What about the pressure it would have placed on Muslims in the UK? A very senior politician, at the time of the arrests, told me he thought it could have led to a breakdown in the community cohesion that had survived the attacks in 2005.

So let’s remember the benefits of the “surveillance society”. We should draw satisfaction that due to terrorist convictions in our courts, thousands of people are alive today because those who wanted to kill them could be bugged and burgled - within the Rule of Law and for the common good.

The problem with this argument is simple. Peter Clark is not talking about “the surveillance society” at all. He is talking about targetted surveillance against those whom the police have reason to believe may pose a serious threat.

I have no problem with “all the tools in the security armoury” being used to investigate those whom the authorities have reason to believe are up to no good, so long as safeguards are in place to ensure such intrusive surveillance really is directed against such people and isn’t abused. Clark and I might have a real argument about precisely what those safeguards should be, but that is beside the point. The point is that Clark is conflating targeted surveillance with “the surveillance society”, the latter of which involves routine mass surveillance of the general public. Such routine mass surveillance is completely unnecessary for the sort of targetted surveillance Clark is talking about and is not supported by the successes of surveillance targeted against suspected terrorists.

UK Liberty also has some good comments on Clark’s article.

Google mapping Britain’s erosion of civil liberties

[Hat tip: UK Liberty]

This looks like an interesting project

Some resistance to the database state

Computer Weekly reports on the Trades Union Congress voting to resist the National Identity Scheme “with all means at its disposal”:

The TUC in Brighton this week has pledged to resist the national ID card scheme “with all means at its disposal”, including industrial and legal action.

The motion, tabled by pilots’ union BALPA, was carried overwhelmingly by TUC delegates.

The government plans to introduce national ID cards for airside workers from next year, but BALPA said that carrying a national ID should not be obligatory for employees.

The TUC motion puts unions on a collision course with the government over civil liberties.

Local councils adopting “Allegations Management Systems”

The Telegraph recently reported:

Local authorities around the country are setting up databases to hold records of accusations made about anyone from teachers and doctors to Scout leaders and private tutors.

They are employing staff just to look into the claims - which can be made anonymously - who are required to contact police, social services or the adult’s employer and then keep track of the case.

Details of the allegation will be kept on the accused’s personnel file until they retire so they can be seen by potential employers, and in a reversal of the basic tenet of English law they will only be deemed innocent if they can prove it.

The system was introduced in the wake of the Soham murders to make sure authorities keep track of anyone suspected of child abuse.

But critics claim it gives too much power to unaccountable council officers, creates extra red tape for bosses and will lead to innocent professionals having their careers blighted by malicious allegations.

They also warn it will drive people - particularly men - out of working with children for fear of being labelled a paedophile. Already just 2 per cent of teachers of the youngest primary school pupils are male.

It comes on top of the new vetting system being implemented for everyone who works with under-16s, the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which will lead to 11.3 million adults having their backgrounds checked.

The Pub Philosopher also reports on this.

So if you work with children, you’ll work in a world where one anonymous allegation made against you can, even if groundless, haunt you for the rest of your working career (of possibly ‘just’ a decade if the Pub Philosopher is correct), as it’ll be kept on file, shared with employers, social services and the police. This is in addition to the requirement of everyone working with children to undergo mandatory criminal records checks.

Thus the culture of suspicion marches on.

Telegraph: Council officials told to question adults in public park without children

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:53 pm on 9 September, 2008.
Categories political liberties, freedom of speech, British politics, culture of suspicion.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Update: UK Liberty has some good commentary on this story.

Fancy going for a stroll in a public park? Apparently, if you do so in the Telford and Wreckin council area, and fail to bring any children with you, you may find yourself questioned about what you’re doing and asked to leave, ostensibly in order to protect children from paedophiles. The Telegraph reports:

The policy came to light after two environmental campaigners dressed as penguins were thrown out of Telford Town Park when caught handing out leaflets on climate change.

Rachel Whittaker and Neil Donaldson, of the Wrekin Stop War pressure group, were told they had to leave the park because they had not undergone Criminal Records Bureau checks or risk assessments before being allowed near children.

David Ottley, Telford & Wrekin’s sports and recreation manager, said in a letter to them: “Our Town Park staff approach adults that are not associated with any children in the Town Park and request the reason for them being there.”

“In particular, this applies to those areas where children or more vulnerable groups gather, such as play facilities and the entrances to play areas.”

However Miss Whittaker, 34, said: “I’m outraged that my concern for the planet and for the future of all children can be turned into petty bureaucracy.

“It is dangerous as well as frightening people, it could start a hysterical society and punishes people who have done nothing wrong while giving an outlet for those with sinister motives a way of getting around it.

“I think they are reacting to what was is essence an expression to public expression of free speech - and how many child molesters dress up as penguins anyway?”

And so the culture of suspicion marches on…

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