you have to see it [PNR] in the wider context. We tend to focus very much on what is right in front of us and that is the PNR proposals but, if you look at the wider context, let us start with anything to do with travel and passenger movements. We are talking about the collection of fingerprints, not one but ten. We are talking about an entry/exit system. We are talking about an electronic travel authorisation scheme, and for all modes of travel, not just air travel. People are beginning to look at train travel, boats, car. I do not know about the UK but in the Netherlands we are introducing a kind of congestion charge system which will register cars.
We have a public transport system which will work with a chip card which will register your movements as well.
Is it like Oyster?
Then, if you look at all the other sectors, it is not only about PNR because then you will say, “Oh, okay, if it is used for the right purposes —”, but there are telecommunications data, including the contents of our communications, postal data, medical data, bank data, credit card data, there are smart cameras, smart microphones, satellite surveillance, you name it.
- National identity card and National Register scheme -
They are literally working on cameras which can look through walls, so basically they know everything about us. And then you go to back to PNR then and you ask yourself, “Is it actually going to make our lives safer?”, because that is the stated purpose. I do not know.
Frankly, I am getting the feeling that citizens are increasingly under surveillance and the right to hold the executive to account is being eroded rapidly.
Maybe I should conclude on a more philosophical remark, which seems a bit exaggerated but still it makes me think. Everybody is looking at China now. The government of China, as we know, is obliging companies such as Google and Yahoo to submit their customer records to the authorities for national security purposes. We say, “That is outrageous. They are a dictatorship”. Western governments are obliging Google and Yahoo to submit their customer records for national security purposes and we can no more hold our governments to account than the Chinese can. We still live in a democracy and I would like to keep it that way.
Why is that exaggerated or outrageous? I don’t understand why it is evil that China keeps its citizens under surveillance but it is good that the UK keeps us under surveillance. The only difference seems to be the purported system of government and the outcomes of surveillance.
Well, ok, I’m not going to claim that we are in an equivalent situation to the Chinese. But we’re relying on goodwill / faith / trust that today’s (or a future) government is benign.
Q27 Lord Mawson: Does this mean, eventually, when you go sailing off the south coast to France and back that there will be some system introduced for those people so that you are able to monitor where they are going? Is that going to happen?
Mr Dodd: Yes, this is obviously something that we are working on in the e-borders programme and with the supplier, and about which we will be consulting relevant interested parties. What we are looking at is some sort of web-based registration system whereby if you are a sailor and you are going to France for the weekend, you would need to register your details on line, such that we could then, if need be, check that against our databases, etc.
I think we should also have to tell them when we leave the house, for example when we go to the supermarket or to work. It will be worth it, if 0.00042 % of our movements result in an arrest.
Lawyers acting for Binyam Mohamed [Wikipedia, Reprieve], a British resident incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay [he's been detained for six years], are asking the high court to order the government to disclose information that, they say, would show the evidence against him was obtained by torture.
The government is fighting the case. Of course, it does not want to reveal what Britain’s security and intelligence agencies knew about the US secretly transporting
people suspected of being
“enemy combatants” to places where they were likely to be tortured, the practice known as extraordinary rendition.
Or, kidnapping – a troublesome issue in itself.
To bolster its case, it has used its last resort, hoisting the flag of “national security”.
The government says that Britain’s national security depends on the intelligence the US gives us in what it appears to admit is an entirely one-sided relationship. Actually, it goes further. It implies that only by being subservient to the US can Britain defend its national security. So what is meant by our “national security”? The interests of our security and intelligence agencies? They are in a uniquely privileged position. They have sight of information that may save lives if it is used to thwart a terrorist attack. They also, as in the Mohamed case, have access to information that could save a man’s life and help to put a stop to torture. The government’s argument is that to protect our “national security”, we need to kowtow to the US. It is in this context that we should consider government statements, notably by the foreign secretary, David Miliband, about US assurances over rendering suspects through UK territory. Twice the government has had to correct assurances given to parliament. Now Time magazine reports that, despite repeated denials by Washington, an (anonymous) former senior US official has said that the US imprisoned and interrogated one or more suspects on Diego Garcia, the main island of the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Lord Justice Thomas, who heard the case, and plans to give his ruling later this month, said it raised some “very troublesome issues”. It certainly does.
44. Most significant of all, Ms Hillier’s letter ["to explain the success of the use of PNR by the Home Office pilot for the e-Borders scheme, Project Semaphore"] contains no reference to terrorism, and none of the examples she lists bears any relation to terrorism. Likewise, in oral evidence she was unable to give an example of the successful use of PNR in relation to a terrorist-related offence.
She did assert that PNR “has absolutely been a tool in tackling terrorism”, and explained the problems of sharing information about this in public (Q 28).
However such a statement is unpersuasive when not accompanied by even a claim that PNR has succeeded in preventing, or assisting in the prevention of, a single terrorist attack, or bringing to justice the perpetrators of such an attack.
Although the Committee says later on that “We are [now] persuaded that PNR data, when used in conjunction with data from other sources, can significantly assist in the identification of terrorists, whether before a planned attack or after such an attack”, no-one seems to be able to say how useful it is – in other words, what contribution it makes.
Similarly, Mr Hustinx told us that when the US Secretary of Homeland Security was addressing the European Parliament “he was careful to annex a list of some 20 or so examples to his speech and it was all about drugs and people evading paying taxes and things like that, but there was very little in terms of precision on terrorism” (Q 170).
45. Ms Hillier represents the view that PNR data are but one in an arsenal of weapons which can be used to deal on a day-to-day basis with crimes, not all of which would be regarded as particularly serious, and with combating illegal immigration even when this is unrelated to a criminal offence (QQ 2, 10, 15). Ms Sophie in’t Veld MEP put to us the opposite view: that the capture and use of PNR data by the authorities should be used wholly exceptionally, and only where it can be shown to have helped in combating terrorism or other organised crimes of similar gravity.
46. Ms in’t Veld looks not just for assertions that PNR data have been of assistance in tackling terrorism, but for evidence of this. So far she has not found it; nor has Mr Hustinx, who described such evidence as there was as “scanty” and “anecdotal” (Q 167). As Ms in’t Veld said: “If the people who are proposing this are so convinced that it is useful then I am sure they have all the supporting evidence … It is just that they have never produced it and every time you get the same argument, ‘Oh, no, we cannot tell you that for security purposes’ … All we have asked for, for example, is facts and figures which would not give away any operational details … all you get are horror stories by Mr Chertoff which impress his audience, but, sorry, we are legislators. If I put my stamp of approval as a Member of Parliament on the law then I want to be absolutely sure that it has a solid justification, and we just never get any proper evidence” (QQ 96-97). Ms Verkleij saw no reason to exclude parliaments from this kind of debate (Q 155).
Round of applause for Ms in’t Veld, I think.