UK Liberty

OGC High Court Appeal

Posted in freedom of information, ID Cards by ukliberty on February 28, 2008

I wondered in an earlier post if the House of Commons would appeal the decision made by the Information Tribunal on the expenses system. In case you think that might be a bit cynical, I’ll point you to a SpyBlog post:

OGC High Court Appeal against FOIA disclosure of ID Cards Programme Gateway Reviews now set to start this Monday 3rd March 2008

Why is the Government wasting public money on this High Court Appeal, which they must surely lose, and then be forced to comply with the rulings of both the Information Commissioner and of the Information Tribunal, to fully disclose to the public, the now out of date Home Office Identity Cards Programme early Gateway Reviews ?

All the possible legal arguments were gone into in exhaustive detail, by the barristers and FOIA legal professors, during the 4 day Information Tribunal hearing back in March 2007, which ruled in favour of full disclosure. …

As in the decision on expenses, the original FOIA request here was made over three years ago.

I fear Ben Leapman, Heather Brooke, and Michael Thomas, still have some way to go, but wish them (and indeed SpyBlog) all the best.

Extraordinary Early Day Motion

Posted in politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 28, 2008

EDM 982 – 72 signatures so far:

Burgon, Colin

That this House commends the achievements of Fidel Castro in securing first-class free healthcare and education provision for the people of Cuba despite the 44 year illegal US embargo of the Cuban economy; notes the great strides Cuba has taken during this period in many fields such as biotechnology and sport in both of which Cuba is a world leader; acknowledges the esteem in which Castro is held by the people and leaders of Africa, Asia and Latin America for leading the calls for emancipation of the world’s poorest people from slavery, hunger and the denial of human rights such as the right to life, the right to shelter, the right to healthcare and basic medicines and the right to education; welcomes the EU statement that constructive engagement with Cuba at this time is the most responsible course of action; and calls upon the Government to respect Cuba’s right to self-determination and resist the aggressive forces within the US Administration who are openly planning their own illegal transition in Cuba.

And presumably for making the trains run on time.

On the other hand, the EDM does not note that Cuba retains the death penalty nor the following:

At the end of the year, 69 prisoners of conscience continued to be held for their non-violent political views or activities. Twelve others continued to serve their sentences outside prison because of health concerns. No releases of prisoners of conscience were reported during the year.

• Orlando Zapata Tamayo was sentenced to three years in 2003 on charges of showing “contempt to the figure of Fidel Castro”, “public disorder” and “resistance”. In November 2005 he was reportedly sentenced to an additional 15 years for “contempt” and “resistance” in prison. In May 2006, he was again tried on the same charges and sentenced to an additional seven-year term. He was serving a prison sentence of 25 years and six months.

Scores of people continued to be held without charge on suspicion of counter-revolutionary activities or on unclear charges. Their legal status remained unclear at the end of the year.

• Prisoner of conscience Oscar Mariano González Pérez, an independent journalist who was arrested in July 2005 as he was about to take part in a demonstration in front of the French embassy, remained in detention without charge or trial.

Severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association persisted. All print and broadcast media remained under state control. There was a rise in the harassment and intimidation of independent journalists and librarians. People suspected of links with dissident groups or involved in promoting human rights were arrested and detained. There was an increase in arrests on charges of “pre-criminal dangerousness”. Access to the Internet remained severely limited outside governmental offices and educational institutions. Journalist Guillermo Fariñas staged a seven-month hunger strike to obtain access to the Internet, without success.

• Armando Betancourt Reina, a freelance journalist, was arrested on 23 May as he took notes and photographs of evictions from a house in the city of Camagüey. He was charged with public disorder. Armando Betancourt was reportedly held incommunicado for a week at the police station before being transferred to Cerámica Roja prison in Camagüey on 6 June. He was awaiting trial at the end of the year.

There was an increase in the public harassment and intimidation of human rights activists and political dissidents by quasi-official groups in so-called acts of repudiation.

• Juan Carlos González Leiva, President of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, was reportedly the target of several “acts of repudiation” – involving government supporters reportedly acting with the collusion of the authorities – at his home in the city of Ciego de Avila. He and his family were repeatedly threatened by demonstrators. Juan Carlos González Leiva, who is blind, was arrested in March 2002 for “disrespect”, “public disorder”, “resistance” and “disobedience” and spent two years in prison without trial. In April 2004 he was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, to be served at his home.

• Cuba: Fundamental freedoms still under attack (AI Index: AMR 25/001/2006)

• Cuba: Fear for safety/Fear of torture/intimidation/harassment – Miguel Valdés Tamayo and Juan Carlos González Leiva (AI Index: AMR 25/002/2006)

– Amnesty International

Perhaps Colin Burgon et al are envious of the Castro regime?

The presumption of guilt and an attack on due process

Posted in law and order, politicians on liberty, rule of law by ukliberty on February 28, 2008

The Guardian:

[Home Secretary Jacqui] Smith defended plans to confiscate assets on arrest: “At the moment, we seize quite a large number of assets from drug dealers, but at the point of conviction. What sometimes happens between arrest and conviction is that these things can be salted away and disappear.

“I think taking them at the point of arrest is the right thing to do. Obviously, if somebody is completely innocent, then they can get their assets back.

‘Somebody’ is innocent in this country unless they have been convicted of a crime.

See also Transform’s blog.

Meg Hillier inadvertently misleading us about the NIR

Posted in ID Cards, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 27, 2008

At the Home Affairs Committee (1:08:00) in:

I just want to pick up, Mr Chairman, on this issue about the information being very different to what we currently hold. If you look currently at the passport database, the information on that is very much what the information will be on the National Identity Register. If you look at the current passport – I’ve got my old one here – the information that’s on the passport will be much the same that’s on the card. … the information on the identity card will be much the same as the information that’s on the current passport – the readable zone … the information on the database will include the national insurance number, update of address and a log of who has ever looked at the record. So that’s the information – I think it’s worth just nailing, Mr Chairman, as it was raised, this idea that there’s going to be a lot of different information. This information is routinely provided to people – by people to the government, it’s just that it will be held in one place.

Well, quite! That’s one of the objections to it – as opposed to little bits of this information being in lots of different baskets (hopefully held only for a specific and limited purpose, among the principles of the Data Protection Act).

What she says begs an obvious question, why do we need a new database if the information to be stored is “much the same” as on the passport database? Is it the same, or not? Of course, it is not, but she’d like you think it is.

If it is not, what else will be stored? See Schedule 1 of the Act or James Hammerton’s summary, or as NO2ID succintly put it,

50 categories of registrable fact are set out in the Bill, though they could be added to. Effectively an index to all other official and quasi-official records, through cross-references and an audit trail of all checks on the Register, the NIR would be the key to a total life history of every individual, to be retained even after death.

And why do the likes of Meg Hillier continue to obfuscate the differences, saying “it is much the same”? Oh, I am sure it is unintentional.

Later, (1:10:00):

Can I just emphasise again that the information held on the National Identity Register will not actually be 100% of people because it’s a voluntary scheme [Meg needs to read the IPS’s top ten FAQs] – it doesn’t include actually a great deal more information – well, it doesn’t include much more information than is currently held in many other databases. The benefit is that it’s held in one place, so it is really upgrading in a sense some of what we’ve already got by putting it in one place and of course the key thing is tying it securely to somebody’s identity.

Still later (1:15:00) Bob Russell points out that in earlier evidence given to the Committee,

some experts said it was more of a risk putting the information, all the eggs in one basket so to speak, but today you’ve stated that putting all the eggs in one basket is the best way of safeguarding the security of identity of people.

Indeed the Committee concluded in 2004 that “We do not think that there should be a central database with all information available to the Government on it”.

Political hot potato, Meg – catch!

Well, it’s actually eggs in two baskets if we’re using that analogy because there will be one database for fingerprints and facial image, and that will be separate to the database which will be built on the DWP database of biographical information, which is what is currently on the passport database plus those other points I mentioned.

Two? But earlier (“it will be held in one place”) you said it would be one.

Oh, that’s alright then. Forget I asked!

Of course this ignores the point that the biographical data will be held in one place, a quality source of supply for the market in personal information.

Update

Forgot to mention that Hiller said of the audit trail that they were damned if they had an audit trail and damned if they didn’t. Of course she frames the debate with the assumption that we must have a central database with all this information on it – there is no debate about that. The problem with the audit trail arises as a result of that. But you are not supposed to think about that.

An alternative to the NIR (if we are to have ID cards) is to have the information stored on the cards themselves. Then there would be no need for an audit trail. But then of course the Government wouldn’t have a database to trawl through and an audit trail to spy on what we have been up to.

Update 2

Uncorrected oral evidence now online.

Rings hollow

Posted in accountability, freedom of information, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 27, 2008

The Times:

British politicians yesterday attacked the decision to suppress the report of misuse of European Parliament allowances.

Supporters of the European Union and sceptics united in demanding the report’s publication.

Denis MacShane, the Labour MP and former Europe Minister, said: “Any reports on these matters should be in the public domain. End of story. MEPs, like MPs, do themselves no good by not being as transparent as possible as is the case with British MEPs from the mainstream parties.”

Kate Hoey, another Labour MP, who has led calls for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, said: “This is another example of the closed and secretive nature of the EU.”

Philip Davies, the Eurosceptic Tory MP, said: “People have long known it is a bit of a gravy train in the European Parliament and this will probably confirm their worst fears. This will further undermine people’s confidence in European institutions.”

Good for them saying it, but it does rather ring hollow given recent news about the battle to prevent us from scrutinising MPs’ expenses.

Also in the Times:

Senior members of the European Parliament turned their fire on a whistle-blower for disclosing the existence of a confidential report into widespread misuse of expenses yesterday as they voted for it to stay secret.

Can’t have the public knowing what their money is spent on, can we?

Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat who broke ranks to reveal that an internal auditor had found a number of scams being operated by MEPs, was attacked for misusing private information and for rarely turning up to committee meetings. MEPs on the Budget Control Committee voted by 21 to 14 not to publish the report, with the support of the two main groups in Parliament, the European People’s Party, which includes the Conservatives, and the Socialists, including Labour.

“We were crushed by the forces of darkness using procedural rules,” Mr Davies said. “I have been accused of bringing the Parliament into disrepute but I don’t think you should blame the messenger. It is those who practise activities akin to fraud who are bringing it into disrepute.”

Well said, and good on Mr Davies, who will no doubt now be persecuted for bring this to light.

The committee was supposed to cover the €¤107 billion (£80 billion) EU accounts, failed by the Court of Auditors for the thirteenth year in a row, but instead spent much of its time venting its spleen at Mr Davies and the auditor who wrote the report.

MEPs have been allowed a wide discretion over their annual assistance allowance of €185,952.  Mr Davies disclosed that an internal auditor had detailed various scams used by some MEPs, sometimes without technically breaking the rules, to line their own pockets. One MEP paid a Christmas bonus to an assistant worth 19 times his salary, several others set up arms-length companies to pay expenses to bogus staff and others seemed to funnel money to their political parties while claiming to be paying assistants.

In the secret report, available for MEPs on the committee to read only in a sealed room after taking an oath of secrecy, the auditor also set out a series of recommendations for changes to ensure probity and transparency.

José Javier Pomés Ruiz, a Spanish EPP member, led the attack. “Coming along and saying ‘publish’ when you have not been involved in the process, I do not think that is 100 per cent honest,” he told Mr Davies. “If you look at the headlines and look at the report, there are great differences. Passing information to the press is a misuse of information and a misuse of parliamentary obligations.”

Mr Pomés Ruiz said that the appropriate body to carry out any investigation was Olaf, the EU anti-fraud office. Mr Davies pointed out that Olaf would not have known about the secret audit if he had not alerted the world to its existence. The auditor who wrote the report was attacked for “going above his competences” by Szabolcs Fazakas, a Hungarian Socialist.

Herbert Bösch, an Austrian Socialist and committee chairman, told Mr Davies that he was wasting his time calling for the report to be published. Speaking afterwards Mr Bösch insisted that there were areas of MEP expenditure that should remain private. “I will refuse any demand to have a look at my journeys or trips because sometimes you have to meet people off the agenda,” he said.

The only British voice raised in Mr Davies’s favour was by Ashley Mote, the disgraced independent MEP recently released from prison for fiddling British benefit payments. Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory MEP, defied the EPP group line to vote for publication, calling the decision a huge missed opportunity.

Hans-Peter Martin, an Austrian MEP ostracised after he filmed some of his colleagues signing in for the day to collect their per diem allowance, then promptly leaving, said: “This Parliament is a paradise of unjustified privileges and possibilities for real cheats. It is a central problem for democracy and credibility in Europe.”

Let us also remember that the EU auditors refused in November 2007 to sign off the EU’s accounts for the 13th consecutive year.