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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


Responding to Tony Blair’s email: The £1.7 billion worth of identity fraud claim

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:04 pm on 24 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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Tony Blair’s email to anti-ID card petitioners included a claim that identity fraud costs Britain £1.7 billion per year:

Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually.

This figure has been used repeatedly by the government in its literature and statements on identity fraud and its justifications for the identity card scheme, and comes from this document produced in February 2006. From 2002 until Feb 2006, the government was claiming the amount was £1.3 billion pounds per annum.

I contend that these two figures are bogus. They include figures that are not related to identity fraud per se and figures that are outright guesses. Also, no detail is given on how the government arrived at any of the figures, and it’s not clear that any effort has been made to avoid some obvious risks of double counting. I’ve illustrated these points in the following breakdown of the figures which add up to a total £1.72 billion attributed to “identity fraud”:

Responding to Tony Blair’s email: The information in the national identity register

In his recent email to those who signed this petition against the government’s identity card scheme, Tony Blair said that the National Identity Register (i.e. the database that forms the core of the identity card scheme) will:

…contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card…

I have several points to make in response to this:

  • Store cards are voluntary, where registering on the national identity register will eventually be compulsory under the government’s plans. Indeed starting in April 2007, some first time applicants for passports will be required to register, and eventually (in 2009 according to current plans) all applicants for passports will be required to register, before finally extending the scheme to all permanent residents of Britain.

    It is disingenuous to compare an entirely voluntary scheme, with one that passport applicants, and eventually all permanent residents, will be legally required to sign up to, and provide data for.

  • The retail company that issues a store card cannot legally share store card data with other parties without the customer’s consent, and the retailer will only get information about that customer’s shopping habits at their stores (or perhaps any allied stores that allow their card to be used).

    E.g. the Tesco store card won’t record purchases made with other store cards, credit cards or with cash - you are thus in complete control over how much you let Tesco know about your shopping habits, being able to choose whether to have a card, whether to use Tesco at all, and whether to use the card for any particular purchase.

    However, the information on the National Identity Register can legally be shared with the police, security services and public bodies without your consent. Indeed some of the data, including your fingerprints and National Identity Registration Number (NIRN), will be shared with anyone who checks your identity in order to carry out the ID check. The NIRN will also enable entries in the NIR to be cross referenced with other databases held by public authorities and government departments.

    Note that there are also moves afoot to enable general sharing of personal data across government departments when it is deemed by the government to be “in the public interest”.

    Finally, Blair’s email itself implies some sharing of NIR data with other governments:

    Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

  • The Store Card will not store the following information that will be in the NIR (see Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 for the complete list of information):
    • Every address you’ve ever lived at.
    • Every name you’ve ever been known by.
    • Every immigration status you’ve ever held.
    • Your fingerprints.
    • The number of every official identity document issued to you, such as driving licences, passports, visas, etc.
    • The details of every occasion on which your identity is checked, and thus a record of, for example, each time you register with a doctor/clinic, sign up for benefits, enroll your kids in a state school, open a bank account, apply for a credit card or take out a mortgage (to provide a selection of the situations where the government envisage you needing to provide your identity card to access a service).

Tony Blair emails anti-ID scheme petitioners

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:34 pm on 23 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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On Tuesday 19th of February, I received an email from the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Mr Blair has apparently written to all 28,000 people, myself included, who signed this petition against the government’s identity card scheme. His letter to petitioners is also up on the Downing Street website.

There have been several detailed responses to this email from various commentators, illustrating the tendentious nature of Blair’s attempted defence of the scheme:

NO2ID Comedy Gig in Glasgow

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:53 pm on 16 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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NO2ID, in conjunction with Ha Ha Comedy, are organising a comedy gig as part of the international comedy festival currently in progress in Glasgow, Scotland. It’s organised for the 24th March, 8pm, at the Old Fruitmarket. Tickets £10 or £8 for concessions.

See here for full details.

Update: Confirmed performers for this event include: You owe me glue, Glen Wool, Patrick Monahan, Toby Hadoke, Des Mclean and Lucy Porter.

Tories tell Cabinet Secretary they’ll scrap ID cards if they win the next election

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:11 pm on 7 February, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state.
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As reported in Iain Dale’s diary, shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP, has written to Cabinet Secretary:

I am writing to you in relation to the Government’s planned roll out
of its national identity card scheme, commencing this year. You will be aware
that there is a longstanding convention that one Parliament may not bind a
subsequent Parliament. As you will also be aware, the Conservative Party has
stated publicly that it is our intention to cancel the ID cards project
immediately on our being elected to government. You are now formally on notice
of our position and fully appraised of the contingent risks and associated
liabilities arising from the national identity card scheme.

In light of these risks, I urge you to consider very carefully the
government’s position, in advance of the roll-out of the scheme later this year.
As a matter of financial prudence, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that
public money is not wasted, and contractual obligations are not incurred,
investing in a scheme with such a high risk of not being implemented.
In particular, I would be interested to know what provision, if any has, been made
in the relevant contractual arrangements to protect the Government - and public
funds - against the costs that would be incurred as a result of early
cancellation of the scheme.

Furthermore, the Tories’ website now has an official anti-ID card campaign page.

Clearly the Tories think there are votes to be had in opposing this scheme, to the extent that they are now in a position where failure to follow through in government will lead to credible accusations of doing a U-turn, or of misleading voters. They are publicly warning civil servants that they’ll scrap the scheme if they win, which means they will need to act on this pledge if they’re not to appear dishonest.

However, there is no specific pledge to scrap the national identity register, the most intrusive and sinister part of the project, though the web page states “A Conservative Government will scrap the ID cards scheme”.

There is still some semantic room for them to drop the bits of plastic whilst continuing to develop the database, e.g. by linking it to biometric passports instead (which would gradually morph into a defacto ID card later on).

A commitment to repeal the Identity Cards Act 2006 would go a long way to removing this ambiguity in their statements.

Finally there seems to be an error on their web page which, near the bottom, states:

“From 2009, unless you opt out, when you renew your passport you will have to visit a Government ‘interview centre’ and give the Government your fingerprints in order to get an ID card.”

From 2009, all applicants for passports will have to go to an interview centre and give their fingerprints. The “opt out” is only for getting the physical ID card — i.e. you still have to be interrogated if you “opt out” and the details stored for when the ID card is made compulsory. You’ll also still have to pay for the ID card despite opting out. All “opting out” does is delay the day when you have to get the bit of plastic.

Serious Crime Prevention Orders: punishing people who haven’t broken any laws

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:45 pm on 18 January, 2007.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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Readers may recall the proposals for Serious and Organised Crime Prevention Orders being discussed here last year.

Now, as commented on in the Telegraph, the British government has published the Serious Crime Bill, Part 1 of which introduces this measure (under the revised term “Serious Crime Prevention Orders”).

According to the Telegraph article:

Until yesterday, we fondly believed that only a jury could decide whether any of us had committed a serious crime. That fundamental principle was torn up when the Government published its Serious Crime Bill.

This allows judges, sitting without juries, to make orders which, if breached, would put us in prison for five years.

Two conditions must be satisfied before the court can make a serious crime prevention order. First, the judge must be satisfied that someone has been “involved in serious crime” — anywhere in the world.

To be “involved”, you do not have to have committed a serious offence, or even helped someone else to have committed it. All you need to have done is to conduct yourself in a way that was likely to make it easier for someone to commit a serious offence, whether or not it was committed.


The second condition for a serious crime prevention order is that the court has reasonable grounds for believing it would prevent, restrict, or disrupt involvement by a person in a serious crime in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.


Personal data to be shared across govt departments

According to the BBC:

A giant database of people’s personal details could be created at Whitehall under government plans which ministers say will help improve public services.

Tony Blair is expected to unveil the proposal in Downing Street on Monday.

Strict regulations currently prevent one part of government sharing personal information it holds with another.

Ministers argue the data-sharing rules are “overzealous” but the Conservatives say relaxing them would be “an excuse for bureaucrats to snoop”.

So-called citizens’ panels will gauge public reaction to relaxing privacy procedures so people do not have to repeat personal information to different public bodies - particularly at times of stress such as a family death.

Officials think current rules are an obstacle to improving public services.

But such data-sharing is controversial. As well as criticism from the Conservatives, the information commissioner - the data watchdog - has warned Britain may be “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”.

What this means is that any information you give to e.g. the inland revenue will be on the same databases used by e.g. the department for work and pensions, or the DVLA or the passport office. Thus information you give to government bodies will be accessible by thousands of civil servants across different bodies, simply for the convenience of the government.

The government is thus demanding more and more information about you and to use it as it sees fit, at the same time is it tries to further restrict your weakly enshrined right to know about what the government is doing.

Ministers expect the police to apply for super-ASBOs against 300+ people per year, without those people needing to do anything illegal

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:01 pm on .
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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[Hat tip: Tim Worstall]

The Times reports:

TONY BLAIR is to mount a final assault on Britain’s thug culture by introducing restrictions that will curb potential yobs’ movements even before they have committed an offence.

After attempting to tackle antisocial behaviour, he is proposing to introduce a “violent offender order” (Voo) targeted at those whom police believe are likely to commit violence.

These new “super-Asbos” will be aimed not only at people who have a history of violent behaviour or who have just left prison but also those who may not yet have committed an offence.

According to a Home Office document outlining the plan, to be published next month, the measures will ban potential trouble-makers from certain areas or mixing with certain people, alert police when they move house and possibly force them to live in a named hostel, give details of vehicles they own and impose a curfew on them.

The orders will last for at least two years, with no upper limit. Any breach could lead to up to five years in jail. Ministers believe police will apply for 300 to 450 Voos each year.

In other words, despite having acted perfectly lawfully, if the police think you might at some unspecified future point commit a violent offence, they can apply for you to be banned from certain areas, tell you who you can associate with, impose curfews or force you to live in a specific hostel.


Two US privacy related stories

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:23 pm on 5 January, 2007.
Categories privacy and surveillance, the database state, US politics.
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A friend has sent me links to two privacy related stories from the US:

  • Apparently, the US Justice Department is building a database that will store case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and other federal law enforcement agencies, that will be made available to local police forces around the country:

    The system, known as “OneDOJ,” already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said.

    The database is billed by its supporters as a much-needed step toward better information-sharing with local law enforcement agencies, which have long complained about a lack of cooperation from the federal government.

    But civil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes.

  • Another story highlights the use of CCTV to capture a killer. The amount of footage obtained from various sources in this cases suggests to me that the US is beginning to catch up with Britain in the pervasive use of CCTV.

Both cases illustrate how modern technology is driving considerable changes with regards to privacy, including enabling people to be surveiled in increasing detailed as they go about their lives, and enabling information to be shared easily amongst many thousands of law enforcement officers.

The CCTV example shows that there are benefits to the increasingly pervasive use of CCTV, and the easy sharing of information between federal and local police forces may also allow easier coordination of efforts in cross-jurisdictional cases.

The main question is how best to enable these benefits to be tapped whilst protecting people from the abuses that such systems can enable. If the police can trace an individual’s movements when solving a crime, it is clear they could also do so for more sinister purposes. Likewise, the easy sharing of case files between federal and local police enabled by the database carries a danger of the information being misused.

It is worth noting though that the plans for sharing case files are far less intrusive, and far less of a danger than many of the database schemes currently being proposed or implemented by the British government, which typically involve sharing information related to the entire population across government departments, without regard to innocence. Case files are at least limited to those who have been investigated for crime.

Happy New Year

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:35 pm on 1 January, 2007.
Categories site news.
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I hope the readers of Magna Carta Plus have had a good Xmas and wish you a Happy 2007!

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