Civil liberties groups are warning that the details of every Briton could soon be on the national DNA database, raising fresh concerns of a ‘surveillance society’. Controversial plans being studied by the government would see the DNA of people convicted of even the most minor, non-imprisonable offences, such as dropping litter, entered on the national database.
The proposals are part of a wide-ranging government review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace), which campaign groups warn may have profound ramifications for society. …
NEW anti-terrorism laws are to be pushed through before Tony Blair leaves office giving “wartime” powers to the police to stop and question people.
John Reid, the home secretary, who is also quitting next month, intends to extend Northern Ireland’s draconian police powers to interrogate individuals about who they are, where they have been and where they are going.
Are they expecting someone to reply, “My name is Osama bin Laden, I just picked up a bomb and I’m on the way to blow something up?”
Under the new laws, police will not need to suspect that a crime has taken place and can use the power to gain information about “matters relevant” to terror investigations.
Anyone remember the ‘sus law’?
If suspects fail to stop or refuse to answer questions, they could be charged with a criminal offence and fined up to £5,000. Police already have the power to stop and search people but they have no right to ask for their identity and movements.
No general police power to stop and question has ever been introduced in mainland Britain except during wartime.
Indeed, an extreme situation requiring extreme measures – that were occasionally abused.
Civil liberties campaigners last night branded the proposed measures “one of the most significant moves on civil liberties since the second world war”.
Ironically, the stop and question power is soon to be repealed in Northern Ireland as part of the peace agreement. Home Office officials admitted, however, that the final wording of the new power to stop and question in the rest of the UK might have to include a requirement for reasonable suspicion.
Indeed, why should the police be allowed to stop me going about my business if they don’t have a reasonable suspicion I’m involved in criminal activity?
The disclosure coincides with a rare attack by Blair on Britain’s judges for emasculating his antiterrorism legislation.
Sorry, what was that? “Rare?” New keyboard please, I just sprayed some tea on it. I didn’t know the Sunday Times was venturing into satire.
Ministers will seek to justify the new powers on the grounds that they will be “useful” for the police and “less intrusive” than the current measure to stop and search, which they will not need to use so often. Officers often have to spend hours filling out paperwork after making stops and searches.
Presumably some sort of record-keeping will be required under this proposed law as well?
Reid is planning to push through a counter-terrorism bill next month before he and Blair leave office. As well as the power to stop and question individuals, the home secretary also wants to introduce two new police powers in the name of of combating Islamic terrorism: the power to take documents away for examination even if their value as evidence is not immediately obvious; and the power to remove vehicles in order to examine them.
Jane Winter, director of British Irish Rights Watch, said: “This is one of the most significant moves on civil liberties since the second world war, a sledgehammer to crack a nut. This looks like a return to the ‘sus’ laws, except even then the police needed to have some suspicion.”
Shami Chakrabati, director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: “The police should not have powers to run around questioning people willy-nilly.”
Liberty also raised concerns that a unit set up last year to identify individuals who pose a security threat to VIPs, including the cabinet and royal family, could use the Mental Health Act to detain people without trial.
The Fixated Threat Assessment Centre, which is run by Scotland Yard and whose staff includes psychiatrists and police, can authorise the indefinite detention of people it identifies as mentally unstable and potentially dangerous.
“There is a grave danger of this being used to deal with people where there is insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution,” said Liberty’s Gareth Crossman. “This blurs the line between medical decisions and police actions.”
I think Tony and John need to read about “policing by consent“.
Several key lenders at the centre of the cash for honours affair have been asked by Labour to roll over their loans to save the party from being forced into receivership. Sir David Garrard, who was due to be repaid £2.3m last month, and Dr Chai Patel who was owed £1.5m in August, have decided not to call in the loans. Both men are understood to have given the party more time to repay. In 2008 the party will have to make millions of pounds more in loan repayments, including £1m to Barry Townsley, who was proposed for a peerage by Tony Blair.
Opposition politicians said the party would have been told to stop trading if it were a company. Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, a Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman, said: “If this was a commercial company the auditors would be warning the directors they should call in the receivers.”
Senior Labour figures fear that the party’s auditors, who are now examining the accounts, will not be able to sign the party off as a going concern because Labour does not have enough money to pay back its debts. The party was due to pay back almost £10m in loans this year.
Members of the party’s governing body, the National Executive Committee, will become personally liable for the party’s debt if the auditors refuse to say that the party is a going concern.
One member of the NEC said: “The only way our accounts will be signed off is if the lenders give us more time to pay or turn the loans into donations.”
Or of course if they raid the public purse, to the tune of £25m pa.
[hat-tip: ARCH blog]
New Statesman on the Children’s Index:
I firmly believe that before committing any of this information to a national database, the public must be assured that it is secure.
The children’s index is, after all, a system that will store the details of 11 million children and be available to teachers, social workers and others with a “need to know”. The checks and balances, we are told, include ensuring all users undergo training and an enhanced criminal records bureau check. Every request will be audited.
But if these security fears are groundless, why has the education minister, Lord Adonis, said: “Children who have a reason for not being traced, for example where there is a threat of domestic violence or where the child has celebrity status, will have their details concealed”?