UK Liberty

Jack Straw

Posted in Coroners and Justice Bill, law and order, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on March 3, 2009

In denial the Guardian attacking the Convention on Modern Liberty.

There are a number of ad hominem attacks.

He reiterates his well-worn claims that because the asylum seekers of his constituency tell him they preferred to come to the UK over anywhere else, and because he has no “recent correspondence” from constituents relating “to fears about the creation in Britain of a “police state” or a “surveillance society””, it is “daft” for anyone else to be concerned about such issues.  

He claims that “since 1997, we have done more to extend freedoms than any government before”.  On the one hand, perhaps they have – but on the other, they have surely eroded them too.  More accurately, they have extended some ‘freedoms’ and eroded others.  The proof is in the legislation on the statute book. He claims his opponents  “assume the loss of a golden age of liberty”.  Well, I certainly don’t.  Indeed think I’ve written here that we never had one.  But that is not to say that things today are great, is it?

He asserts that the Human Rights Act is an “overriding and systematic protection for people’s rights and liberties”.  This is a ridiculous  falsehood – it does not override the will of Parliament, which retains ultimate sovereignty.  If for example primary legislation is found to be contrary to the Human Rights Act our courts may only make a declaration of incompatibility. And by then it is too late for that person to the extent that his rights and liberties have already been interfered with – and may have been interfered with (such as being indefinitely detained without trial) for months if not years, bearing in mind how long it takes for these issues to go through our legal system.  Even adverse judgements handed down from the European Court of Human Rights may not promptly be responded to if they are not in accordance with political will.

He again claims the HRA implies “obligations in the way we exercise our rights” but neglects to provide explicit specifics.

Even the convention rights enshrined in the HRA are not absolute. The right to liberty itself can be taken away in a variety of circumstances – not least if you are convicted of a serious crime. This gets to the heart of the debate about modern liberty. Can individual rights ever be restricted in the name of the common good? I believe there are times when it is necessary to impose restrictions on some aspects of individual liberty in the interests of wider security. That is one of the central tasks of government.

And thus the leap of logic is made from a reasonable restriction on liberty in the case of a convicted criminal to restrictions on the liberties of everyone.  This is the sort of person in Government.  Be concerned – be very concerned.

He mentions that after all the criticism they have received that they will rethink the data sharing provisions in the Coroner’s and Justice Bill.  Well great, but the provisions shouldn’t have been drafted in the first place – they are obviously a Bad Thing.  Also, they shouldn’t be tagged on to the end of a very long bill, in itself a supermarket trolley of provisions, that is otherwise wholly irrelevant to personal data.

And there is of course an ultimate check on executive power – democracy. Talk of Britain sliding into a police state is daft scaremongering, but even were it true there is a mechanism to prevent it – democratic elections. People have the power to vote out administrations which they believe are heavyhanded.

Well that’s great in theory, but when only a fifth of the population voted for the party that formed the Government, one surely has to wonder how great our democracy actually is.

When people come to assess the choices available at the next election, I will stand proudly on Labour’s record, from the Lawrence inquiry, which reported 10 years ago this week, progressive legislation on race and gender, to devolution, the Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information and much more, and be ready to be judged on it. I hope that in the final reckoning even some of our harshest critics will concede that this Labour government has done more than any before it to extend liberties and to constrain government.

Well, the first comment on the article says it all for me:

An end to peaceful protest within a mile of Parliament.
ID cards.
Over 60 pieces of personal information before you can travel.
Internet monitoring.
Phone call monitoring.
The politicization of the police.
One-quarter of all the CCTV in the world.
Racist ID cards for non-EU nationals.
And you have the bare-faced cheek to say that you have extended liberties? You are a liar, Jack, and not a very good one. We want our freedom, and our country, back.

Well said.

Fair warning

Posted in control freakery, Coroners and Justice Bill, database state by ukliberty on February 2, 2009

Lee Griffin at LC:

So, let’s keep this short and simple. Tomorrow and Thursday the Coroners and Justice Bill enters its committee stage where two days are set aside to take evidence from all relevant parties and whittle the bill down to something that is likely to be sailed through the third reading stage. Fat chance, then, that we can expect any significant changes or removal of the absolutely awful changes to the data protection act; this is why it is extremely important that you keep writing to your MP (it’s a simple online form, takes 5 minutes) and tell them that you oppose any introduction of sections 152-154 of the Coroners and Justice bill. …

Red rag and smuggle

Posted in Coroners and Justice Bill, database state by ukliberty on January 27, 2009

David Howarth (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

The other principle of legislative drafting that the [Coroners and Justice] Bill seems to follow is that of the red rag and the smuggle. A red rag is a provision in a Bill that is designed to attract the attention of hot-headed Members of this House, and about which the Government do not, in reality, care very much either way, while they smuggle in, largely unnoticed and unchallenged, a lot of significant stuff that otherwise might attract severe criticism. The problem with this Bill is that it is not entirely clear which provisions are the red rags and which are the contraband. Working on the general principle that to avoid scrutiny in Committee, the usual tactic is to put the contraband at the end and the red rag at the start, my guess is that the provisions on data sharing are the contraband and those on secret inquests are the red rag.

Coroners and Justice Bill debate

Posted in Coroners and Justice Bill, inquest without jury by ukliberty on January 26, 2009

Commons Today – text will change tomorrow 27 Jan so this post will be updated to reflect that.

Can now be read on TheyWorkForYou.

The data sharing bit starts on this page

Jack Straw: If I may, I want to make some progress, as I have already been on my feet for getting on for 50 minutes.

The Bill also deals with better supervision of knives by the court, which has also been drawn to the attention of the House, and with the issue of profiting from criminal memoirs.

Let me turn finally to the provisions relating to changes to the Data Protection Act 1998. In an age of instantaneous electronic information, it is fundamental that data held on individuals are secure and properly protected. That plainly has not always been the case. At the same time, provided security and scrutiny are guaranteed, better data sharing can greatly work in the interests of the public. It can help to improve opportunities for the most disadvantaged, provide better public services, reduce the burden on businesses, implement policies more effectively and detect fraud.

At present, when a family is bereaved they often have to contact Government Departments and local authority departments many times over to make the necessary arrangements, often providing the same information. Responsible data sharing between the relevant agencies would reduce the number of people who would need to be notified of a death, thereby helping to relieve distress at a difficult time.

Last year, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked Professor Mark Walport and the Information Commissioner,Richard Thomas, to conduct an independent review of data protection and data sharing. The review recommended stronger safeguards to protect data and upgraded arrangements for data sharing. It said, in particular, that

“there is a lack of clarity about what the law permits or prohibits.”

So, alongside new powers, clause 152 provides a new scheme for data sharing. Under those powers, an order may be made only in circumstances where sharing the information is in the public interest and proportionate to the impact it may have on the person affected. The Information Commissioner will provide independent oversight of the process, scrutinising draft orders and laying before Parliament a report of his findings. Every single order will have to be debated and approved by Parliament.

Dominic Grieve: With his characteristic skill, the Secretary of State reduces a seismic change in the relationship between the state and the citizen to something utterly benign. Is it not the case that a great deal of the information that the state acquires from individuals is acquired for specific purposes that Parliament has set down? The Government are proposing to drive a coach and horses through the duty of confidentiality that the state owes to individuals in any case where a quite nebulous concept of public good decides to trump the private right. That is surely not a matter that we should be considering in a portmanteau Bill of this sort. It ought to be contained in separate stand-alone legislation. It has enormous implications for civil liberties and it is not right that the Government should come to the House and ask us to have it as a little add-on to another complex piece of legislation.

Jack Straw: The hon. and learned Gentleman does nothing for his case with his gross exaggeration of the provisions. The measures follow the Walport-Thomas review, which was rather widely welcomed, as I recall. There was then a period of consultation. The Government published their detailed response, which effectively accepted what the highly independent reviewers had proposed, and that has now found its way into the Bill.

I should also say to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield that this Bill is not about choosing between the private individual and the public good, as it were, but about helping private individuals, in many cases, through better data sharing. There are separate provisions for the use of anonymised data for statistical purposes, and the hon. and learned Gentleman needs to look at them.

David Heath: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Jack Straw: In the interests of proper debate, I am about to finish my remarks.

The safeguards in the Bill will be complemented by additional proposals in part 8 to strengthen the auditing and inspection powers of the Information Commissioner. This Government recognise the need to strengthen the protection of personal data, and to restore public confidence in its security. It is right to consider the risks of data sharing, but these should not blind us to its potential benefits.

And, later, a very good point:

Jenny Willott: Does the hon. and learned Gentleman share my concern at how the Government are presenting their case to the public? We saw an example this afternoon, when the Secretary of State talked about families suffering bereavement. I have also heard him give examples involving people moving house. That makes what is proposed sound like a very minor change, made just for people’s own convenience. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman share my concern that, if that is what is going to be done, a change in the law is not needed; people just need to be asked to give their consent? The Secretary of State is using minor examples to cover what is, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, a huge change.

Coroners and Justice Bill data sharing provisions

On Monday there will be the Second Reading of the Coroners and Justice Bill.

What might receive very little attention in this controversial* 232 page Bill are the data sharing provisions, in Part 8, clauses 151 – 154.  NO2ID explains:

NO2ID has been warning since 2006/7 about the stated intentions of government “to overcome current barriers to information sharing within the public sector” [1]. Now the Ministry of Justice has launched an extraordinary coup. It is about to convert the Data Protection Act into its exact opposite, a means for any government department to obtain and use any information however it likes.

Hidden in the new Coroners and Justice Bill [2] is one clause (cl.152) amending the Data Protection Act. It would allow ministers to make ‘Information Sharing Orders’, that can alter any Act of Parliament and cancel all rules of confidentiality in order to use information obtained for one purpose to be used for another.

This single clause is as grave a threat to privacy as the entire ID Scheme. Combine it with the index to your life formed by the planned National Identity Register [3] and everything recorded about you anywhere could be accessible to any official body.

The Database State is now a direct threat not a theory.

Quite apart from the powers in the Identity Cards Act, if Information Sharing Orders come to pass, they could (for example) immediately be used to suck up material such as tax records or electoral registers to build an early version of the National Identity Register. But the powers apply to any information, not just official information. They would permit data trafficking between government agencies and private companies – your medical records are firmly in their sights – and even with foreign governments.

Please write to your MP as a matter of great urgency and urge him or her to oppose these provisions.

They are not only objectionable in themselves but they have been tagged on to a very lengthy law and order bill that they have nothing to do with.  The reason for doing so is so that they will receive little to no Parliamentary scrutiny.  It is a really shabby way of going about things.

Some people will ask, “why does this matter?”

A paper on Patient Confidentiality and Central Databases by Professor Ross Anderson is handy here in terms of examples:

At present, a policeman who wants to see a suspect’s records has to locate the GP, get a Crown Court judge to sign a PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence) production order, then take it round to the surgery. This is rare at present. But once records are stored in a few server farms, life will become a lot easier for the policeman too.

This may be a real issue in drug and alcohol treatment; a judge could find it difficult to refuse the police access to all medical records in its region that contain admissions of drug use, as this is ‘actual evidence’ of crime; and ministers have just announced that that it will be a priority ‘to ensure that families affected by substance misuse are identified earlier’.

The confidentiality of patients who admit to under-age sexual intercourse may raise similar issues. Third, there’s mission creep. There are many plans in Whitehall to make use of health data once they are conveniently available – education officials want to identify children with welfare issues, while the Home Office has a system, ONSET, which tries to predict which children will offend. Both plan to make extensive use of health data – as described in the report to the Information Commissioner.

Also see Lee Griffin, SpyBlog, Justice, Privacy International, David Mery, and this thread.

* remember the inquests without juries and specially appointed  coroners?

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