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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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The British government’s record on keeping personal data safe

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:14 pm on 21 November, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state, accountability.
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In light of the recent loss of CDs containing the personal details of 25 million people by HM Revenue and Customs, it seems appropriate to summarise this government’s recent record on losing personal data and identity documents:

Note that this is a topic I have covered before, the following list summarises the events previously reported:

Clearly, the government cannot be trusted with our personal data.

Finally, a comprehensive list of data abuse stories (including commercial cases) can be found at UK Liberty’s data abuse page.

British government abandons FOIA charges plan

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:16 pm on 19 November, 2007.
Categories British politics, accountability, freedom of information.
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NB: This was mentioned in Gordon Brown’s speech “on liberty”, but I felt it deserved separate mention from my coverage of that speech.

The Register reported recently that the government has decided to back down on a proposal to revise the way charges are computed for freedom of information requests:

The UK Government has dropped controversial proposals that critics said would have neutered the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Changes to the charging structure that would have allowed bodies to refuse more requests will not now go ahead.

The move comes amid significant opposition from pressure groups and media companies, who say the changes would have hindered access to information about the activities of public bodies. Of the 324 people or organisations who responded to the Government’s consultation on the plan, 73 per cent objected to it, the Ministry of Justice said

NO2ID calls in “refuse to register” pledge.

Some time back, NO2ID ran a pledge for people to refuse to register for the national identity card and to pay £10 to a legal defence fund, assuming 10,000 others would join in. In the event, 11,361 people signed the pledge (1,361 over target).

Now, NO2ID are calling in this pledge. They argue now is the right time thus:

The Identity Cards Act 2006 is now law, and - despite growing opposition, significant delays and rising costs - the new Prime Minister shows no sign of calling a halt to the National Identity Scheme. In 2008, the government intends to pilot fingerprinting and to issue the first ‘biometric residence visas’ to non-EU foreign nationals as a precursor to registering British Citizens.

The legal powers to do these all these things will shortly begin to be applied. Now is the time to call in the legal defence fund part of the pledge.

If anyone wishes to contribute to this fund, whether or not they signed the pledge, there is a paypal button on the page linked to above, near the bottom (the one in the sidebar is for a general donation to NO2ID - the one at the bottom is specifically for the legal defence fund). Alternatively, NO2ID advices:

Please send your donation, by cheque made payable to ‘NO2ID’ to:

NO2ID (Legal Defence Fund)
Box 412
19-21 Crawford Street
London W1H 1PJ

Inchoate offences and freedom of speech

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:21 pm on 11 November, 2007.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law, freedom of speech, British politics.
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As promised, I have produced a briefing document on the Serious Crime Act(SCA) 2007. Thus far, it contains sections on Serious Crime Prevention Orders (a topic I’ll return to in a future post) and Inchoate Offences.

Following up on a point made by commenter “Les” in his comment on the SCA, I argue that the inchoate offences represent a threat to freedom of speech. Under Part 2 of the SCA, it is an offence to do an act capable of encouraging or assisting an offence where:

  • you believe the offence will occur, and
  • you believe your act will encourage or assist the offence.

Note that the encouraged/assisted offence need not actually occur. It is a defence however to prove that your act was reasonable.

Anyone who praises someone for planning unauthorised demonstrations within 1km of Parliament is encouraging the commission of an offence!

Anyone who publicises details of an upcoming unauthorised demonstration in Parliament Square would also be assisting the commission of an offence by giving out information that will help people join in the unauthorised demonstration!

For more detail on this argument, see the discussion in the briefing document.

The Serious Crime Act 2007

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:53 pm on 5 November, 2007.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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Last week, the Serious Crime Bill gained Royal Assent to become the Serious Crime Act 2007.

Spy blog comments on this development:

We are especially worried about the effect of the inchoate offences on potential Government whistleblowers, and on bloggers and journalists, because of the listing of the Official Secrets Act and the Terrorism Act 2006 as relevant Acts under the Serious Crime Act 2007.

The supposed defence of “reasonableness”, means that, yet again, the burden of proof is reversed i.e. you as a defendant have to prove that your actions were somehow reasonable, rather than the prosecution having to prove the opposite, which runs counter to the normal way in which English justice works.

The dilemma which law abiding people who publish “dual use” technical information now face is similar to the issues about the amended Computer Misuse Act and dual hacking / security audit tools .

If you publish some information on a website, such as our Hints and tips for whistleblowers guide, which lists some legal technical tactics and techniques for preserving your or your sources anonymity, can you honestly say that they might not, at some time, some where, be abused by someone with criminal intent ?

Are such publishers then at risk of being arrested (and given the severity of the possible penalties, that means the whole panoply of legal harassment through DNA sampling, fingerprinting, photography, retention of data until your 100th birthday, seizure of computer equipment, communications traffic data and interception etc.) for “encouraging or assisting” ?

If you welcome information from Government whistleblowers, does that put you at risk of arrest for “encouraging or assiting” a possible offence under the Official Secrets Act ?

This could have a chilling effect on free speech and on political debate in the UK.

See also, Spy blog’s original comments on the bill made back in January 2007.

I intend to examine this legislation in more detail over a series of posts, as I build up a new briefing document on it.

Yesterday…

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:41 pm on 1 November, 2007.
Categories British politics, Humour.
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…the Queen met Darth Vader King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

[Someone should get a medal for that choice of background music…]

Gordon Brown and civil liberties

Last week, at the University of Westminster, Gordon Brown gave us a speech on liberty and what it means for Britain. I have responded to this speech below. Quotations from the speech are indented.

Addressing these issues is a challenge for all who believe in liberty, regardless of political party. Men and women are Conservative or Labour, Liberal Democrat or of some other party - or of no political allegiance. But we are first of all citizens of our country with a shared history and a common destiny.

And I believe that together we can chart a better way forward. In particular, I believe that by applying our enduring ideals to new challenges we can start immediately to make changes in our constitution and laws to safeguard and extend the liberties of our citizens:

* respecting and extending freedom of assembly, new rights for the public expression of dissent;
* respecting freedom to organise and petition, new freedoms that guarantee the independence of non-governmental organisations;
* respecting freedoms for our press, the removal of barriers to investigative journalism;
* respecting the public right to know, new rights to access public information where previously it has been withheld;
* respecting privacy in the home, new rights against arbitrary intrusion;
* in a world of new technology, new rights to protect your private information;
* and respecting the need for freedom from arbitrary treatment, new provision for independent judicial scrutiny and open parliamentary oversight.

Note here how Mr Brown is talking about giving us “new” rights to express dissent, “new” protections of privacy and “new” rights against arbitrary intrusion. The main reason we need “new” protections is precisely because this government has trashed many of the old ones!

(more…)

School uses RFID chips in uniforms to track pupils

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:21 pm on 22 October, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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A school in Doncaster seems willing to introduce its pupils to a world where all their movements are tracked. From the Register (again!):

A school in Doncaster is piloting a monitoring system designed to keep tabs on pupils by tracking radio chips in their uniforms.

According to the Doncaster Free Press, Hungerhill School is testing RFID tracking and data collection on 10 pupils within the school. It’s been developed by local company Darnbro Ltd, which says it is ready to launch the product into the £300m school uniform market.

IPS produces shortlist of ID scheme suppliers

A significant milestone has been reached on the British National Identity Scheme. The Register reports that the Identity and Passport Service has now produced a shortlist of 8 companies who will compete for work in implementing the National Identity Scheme. The companies are:

  • Accenture,
  • BAE Systems,
  • CSC,
  • EDS,
  • Fujitsu,
  • IBM,
  • Steria, and
  • Thales

It seems a change of government will definitely be required to scrap this scheme.

ACPO and Home Office propose integrated CCTV network

The Register has an article covering the National CCTV Strategy, a report jointly published by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers.

After complaining about issues ranging from poor quality of some images, through to the fact that most CCTV systems are privately owned and the police have to have access to the premisses to even establish if CCTV evidence is available from the cameras, the report goes on to propose that all CCTV systems be registered, and eventually, that both live and archived CCTV footage is available via a network, so that people/vehicles can be tracked automatically. The Register states (italics indicate quotations from the report):

This is actually worse than what Jason Bourne has to put up with, as the spooks would one day have no need to know where he was to start following him on camera. Rather, the second he drove the wrong car, used the wrong credit card - or maybe even just took down the top of his hoodie - ding! Nearby cams would swivel round and he would be followed in real time until the cold steel bracelets snapped shut on his wrists.

Honest, that’s the plan:

In future, as technology is developed… such a network will allow the use of automated search techniques (i.e. face recognition) and can be integrated with other systems such as ANPR, and police despatch systems… [there might also be links of] transport system cameras to travel cards [and] shop cameras to Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) systems… actions can be triggered by associated events and post event CCTV images can be quickly searched against other events/data…

Even the report’s authors note that people might be worried by this.

“Integrated systems significantly increase the capacity to undertake public surveillance,” they say, “and therefore needs to be carefully controlled by Information and Surveillance Commissioners’ guidance…”

Very few of us are in favour of truck bombs in London. The trouble is, this kind of kit - being so much cheaper and easier to access than surveillance teams, aircraft, fortified watchtowers etc. - can, and probably will, get used for many other purposes. The report admits as much.

In addition to the police, there are many other uses and users of CCTV, such as… insurance companies and solicitors… local authority officers… highways enforcement officers, dog wardens, health safety and licensing …

So, potentially your insurers, solicitors acting for your enemies, every petty official in the land, even the bloody dog warden can watch and track you. Unless of course you’re the kind of person who deals only in cash, wears his hoodie up at all times and mainly drives stolen, uninsured or unregistered cars.

I.e. yet another big-brother proposal that the Stasi would have been proud of.

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