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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


CCTV cameras pointing at people’s homes

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:37 pm on 19 December, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics.
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Big Brother Watch has been covering the issue of CCTV recently and in particular has highlighted two examples of CCTV cameras that are clearly pointed at people’s homes. Still, nothing to hide, nothing to fear eh?!

Libel reform campaign petition

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:57 pm on 13 December, 2009.
Categories freedom of speech, British politics.
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A petition for reforming England’s libel laws has been created by the Libel Reform Campaign. I’ve already signed it, I urge others to do so too.

ISA vetting to be watered down

The BBC reports:

Rules requiring about 11 million people working with children to register with a new agency and have criminal records checks are to be watered down.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has accepted recommendations of a review he ordered into the vetting and barring scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The checks will now involve only those working with the same children once a week, not once a month, for example.

It is thought the new rules will apply to about two million fewer people.

The checks, intended to protect children, had caused concern among teachers and parents.

This will of course still leave the ISA deciding who can work with children on the basis not merely of people’s criminal records but also “soft intelligence” such as unproven accusations. Even under the revised figures, 9 million adults may find themselves being subject to such vetting.

Tories: We’ll review control orders

Posted by James Hammerton @ 3:50 pm on 6 December, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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According to the Press Association:

Shadow security minister Baroness Neville-Jones said: “Control orders deny due process to the defendant, do not provide a reliable remedy to the security problem posed by terrorist suspects, and on top of all that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“A Conservative government would review the morally objectionable and costly control order regime with a view, consistent with the security situation, to replacing it by the trial of suspects through the normal court system.”

UK jails schizophrenic for refusal to decrypt files

The Register recently reported:

The first person jailed under draconian UK police powers that Ministers said were vital to battle terrorism and serious crime has been identified by The Register as a schizophrenic science hobbyist with no previous criminal record.

His crime was a persistent refusal to give counter-terrorism police the keys to decrypt his computer files.

The 33-year-old man, originally from London, is currently held at a secure mental health unit after being sectioned while serving his sentence at Winchester Prison.

The Eurostar terminal at St Pancras

In June the man, JFL, who spoke on condition we do not publish his full name, was sentenced to nine months imprisonment under Part III of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). The powers came into force at the beginning of October 2007.

New guidelines issued in using stop and search against photographers

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:43 pm on 5 December, 2009.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, accountability, culture of suspicion.
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Is Britain’s war on photography going to ease? The Independent reports:

Police forces across the country have been warned to stop using anti-terror laws to question and search innocent photographers after The Independent forced senior officers to admit that the controversial legislation is being widely misused.

The strongly worded warning was circulated by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) last night. In an email sent to the chief constables of England and Wales’s 43 police forces, officers were advised that Section 44 powers should not be used unnecessarily against photographers. The message says: “Officers and community support officers are reminded that we should not be stopping and searching people for taking photos. Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether from the casual tourist or professional, is unacceptable.”

3 studies of CCTV in Scotland suggest many failings

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:34 pm on .
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics.
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Update: The Scottish Government’s analysis at their website.

The Herald reports:

Three separate reports on CCTV were published yesterday, with the Scottish Government’s own analysis concluding that an “urgent” review of funding of the ageing systems was required.

There are more than 2225 public space cameras in Scotland. Glasgow has the highest concentration with 408, compared to 150 in Edinburgh.

Further research found that it will cost an extra £7 million to maintain CCTV provision in Scotland over the next three years. More than one third (38%) of cameras are over eight years old, with the lifespan of cameras typically seven to 10 years.

The report from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research said: “Funding for existing CCTV systems across Scotland should be urgently reviewed. Aside from advancing digital technology, across Scotland several CCTV systems are becoming technologically obsolete or beyond economical repair.”

Government research noted the value of CCTV to the police and the strong public support of the cameras are often seen as the “panacea” to problems of crime and anti-social behaviour.

However, a separate paper on the impact of CCTV on crime found there was “minimal” evidence that CCTV effectively deters crime, with convicted offenders suggesting cameras were not perceived as a threat, particularly in situations fuelled by alcohol.

Shoplifting and vehicle theft were the crimes most prevented by cameras, with the deterrent effect less likely in city centres.

Virgin Media to trial filesharing monitoring system • The Register

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:34 pm on 29 November, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics.
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Virgin Media to trial filesharing monitoring system reports the Register:

Virgin Media will trial deep packet inspection technology to measure the level of illegal filesharing on its network, but plans not to tell the customers whose traffic will be examined.

The system, CView, will be provided by Detica, a BAE subsidiary that specialises in large volume data collection and processing, and whose traditional customers are the intelligence agencies and law enforcement.

The trial will cover about 40 per cent of Virgin Media’s network, a spokesman said, but those involved will not be informed. “It would be counter-productive because it doesn’t affect customers directly,” he said.

CView will operate at the centre of Virgin Media’s network on aggregate traffic, the spokesman emphasised, and seek only to determine the proportion of filesharing traffic that infringes copyright.

The system will look at traffic and identify the peer-to-peer packets. In a step beyond how ISPs currently monitor their networks, it will then peer inside those packets and try to determine what is licensed and what is unlicensed, based on data provided by the record industry.

This is analogous to the post office opening and reading random letters and parcels to see if any copyrighted material is being illegally distributed across the postal network.

Telegraph: Criminal checks for all sixth formers

The Telegraph reports:

The Government has pledged that all 16 to 18 year olds will complete 50 hours of community work as part of its move to raise the school leaving age.

In the speech announcing the plan, which will be a Labour manifesto pledge, Gordon Brown specifically mentioned that teenagers would make a difference by “helping in an old people’s home or tutoring younger pupils”.

But under the Government’s strict new vetting regime, anyone over the age of 16 working with children or vulnerable adults will have to start registering with the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) from November next year.

Critics of the reach of the controversial new vetting and barring scheme said half a million teenagers a year could be forced to undergo criminal checks.

Whilst those whose voluntary work does not involve children or vulnerable adults could in theory escape vetting, in practice it is likely that schools and organisations hosting volunteers will find it easier to take a blanket approach and vet everyone.

More on the Digital Economy Bill

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:32 pm on 24 November, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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Further to my earlier article about the Digital Economy Bill, I shall now consider the disconnection scheme set out in sections 4 to 14 (which amend the Communications Act 2003) in more detail:

  • Section 4 requires internet service providers to notify subscribers of reported infringements of copyright where the copyright owner has provided an IP-address and a time for the alleged infringement. (The copyright owner isn’t necessarily told who the subscriber is at this point.) “Notification” is deemed to have occurred if the ISP has sent an email to the email address they have for the subscriber or sent a letter to the postal address they have.
  • Section 5 requires an ISP to send information to copyright owners indicating which of the owners’ infringement reports relate to which subscriber.
  • Sections 6 to 9 set out the details of how the “initial obligations” codes (sections 4 and 5 operate under these codes, i.e. an ISP must be subject to such a code for section 4 and 5 to apply), will operate.
  • Section 10 sets out how the Secretary of State must go about assessing whether to require an ISP to limit or suspend the internet access of particular subscribers.
  • Section 11 allows the Secretary of State to impose obligations on an ISP to limit or suspend some subscribers’ internet access.
  • Sections 12 and 13 set out how codes relating to the obligations to limit internet access are drawn up.
  • Section 14 allows the Secretary of State to impose a fine of upto £250K on ISPs that contravene obligations to inform subscribers or limit their access.

There are several points to note about this:

  • The copyright owner need not provide evidence of the infringement, merely the IP address and the time at which it happened. That’s all that’s required for the ISP to be obliged to send notifications to a subscriber.
  • Copyright owners can make such reports to ISPs if it appears to them that the subscriber to an internet access service has infringed copyright or if the subscriber allowed such infringement to occur. This may have implications for internet cafes, people providing anonymous access to the internet and anyone who provides public access to wi-fi, since they may be deemed to be “allowing” copyright infringement.
  • There seems to be no allowance for the possibility that someone’s machine has been compromised and used for copyright infringement, or for the fact that IP addresses don’t always indicate which machine downloaded a particular file.
  • The sending of notifications and the limiting of access can all occur without taking someone to court. The Secretary of State decides whether or not subscribers’ internet access should be limited, after a period where warnings have been sent. This opens the door to politically motivated decisions.

Further reading:

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