UK Liberty

Openness and accountability

Posted in accountability, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 22, 2008

Computer Weekly:

John Pattison was put under pressure to act quickly after he joined Tony Blair, Cabinet ministers, policy advisers and IT suppliers in a meeting at Downing Street on 18 February 2002. The meeting gave birth to what became the world’s biggest civil IT programme.

Pattison was the Department of Health’s headquarters director of research, analysis and information. After the meeting, he was asked to produce an implementation plan for what became the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT). He was also asked by the end of May 2002 to report on the programme’s standards, specifications and governance proposals. Only a month later the NPfIT was formally announced.

Downing Street papers released to Computer Weekly last week, after a three-year campaign, show why it was such a rush. Blair had asked repeatedly for the programme’s three-year timetable to be brought forward.

The article goes on to explain why the Government fought to keep the information out of the public domain. I would love to say it is an extraordinary tale, but unfortunately it seems quite ordinary.

I say that because poorly thought out and rushed proposals seem all too common, and it is no surprise that there is a lot of money flowing down the IT drain in order to make it look like the party in Government is doing something worthwhile – in other words, money for votes.

Real freedom of information would help to address this, which is why we won’t ever have it.

See also Tony Collins’ blog.

What will be the error rate in the National Identity Register?

Posted in ID Cards, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 22, 2008

Mark Hoban (Fareham, Conservative) | Hansard sourceTo ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate her Department has made of the likely error rate in the national identity database.

Meg Hillier (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Identity), Home Office) | Hansard source

Meg Hillier, famed on the NO2ID forum for sending identikit letters to newspapers, is to give evidence on the 26th:
On Tuesday 26 February 2008 oral evidence will be taken on:
Identity Cards: data security issues

The Home Affairs Committee will hold a single evidence session on this subject on Tuesday 26 February. The Committee will take evidence from Meg Hillier MP, Home Office Minister responsible for Identity.

At approximately 11.30 am in the Wilson Room, Portcullis House

  • Meg Hillier MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office

The session will be open to the public on a first come, first served basis. There is no system for the prior reservation of seats in Committee Rooms. It is advisable to allow about 20 minutes to pass through security checks. Committee room and timing are subject to change.

The Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

“The use of id cards is one of the most important security issues of this year. We will question the minister on the whole issue of data security and the way in which this information is relayed not only between agencies in Britain but also with our European colleagues. Members will be seeking assurance that the security of the information that the public submits is being treated as a high priority.”

Lord Carlile’s Third Report on Control Orders

Posted in control orders, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 22, 2008

  has been published (473Kb PDF), three days before the annual ‘debate’ on the renewal of the legislation, and the Joint Committee of Human Rights published its report this week too, confusingly titled “Tenth Report: Counter–Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (Ninth Report): Annual Renewal of Control Orders Legislation 2008“.

Among other things, Lord Carlile’s report has some very useful summaries of the court cases thus far, and the obligations under each of the control orders.

Now, as Lord Carlile says, he has access to all the information the Home Secretary has when deciding to issue a control order, so this particular point is interesting:

I should like to see further detail given to the Home Secretary in every case as to why additional investigation, or different forms of evidence gathering,might not enable a criminal investigation.

Also,

Nobody, least of all those who have to administer and enforce them, likes control orders. Other measures may be more appropriate – perhapsAnti-Social Behaviour Orders, or civil proceedings for an injunction against specified activities.

Nevertheless, Lord Carlile remains of the view that

as a last resort (only), the control order system as operated currently in its non-derogating form is a justifiable and proportional safety valve for the proper protection of civil society.

– and that he would have issued a control order in every case in which the Home Secretary has done so.

Some highlights from the debate:

Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East, Conservative) | Hansard source

I should be grateful if the Minister continued to take interventions, which would allow us to tease out the Government’s strategy on countering terrorism, because I understand that we have not had a proper debate. If this is it, I am afraid that one and a half hours does not do the issue justice. To bring him back to my question, he says that he does not have time to talk about what the threat in Britain is, but surely that is the starting point. The House should understand and debate what that threat is before renewing any more orders.

Tony McNulty (Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office) | Hansard source

I dispute the hon. Gentleman’s tail-end point, but this is most profoundly not the occasion on which to have that wider debate. … I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s introductory point in part, which is why I have tried to reiterate what I think everyone in the House knows anyway, which is the serious nature of the threat. However, in respect of his broad comments about how we should have that wider debate with regularity, I am happy that that should be the case.

Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield, Conservative) | Hansard source

… The background history to this matter is, in a sense, engraved on my heart, given that it started with a marathon 36-hour sitting of the House in 2005. It is significant that much of what was proposed by the Government in an effort to reach a compromise at the end of the stand-off between the House of Commons and the House of Lords has not really occurred. At the time, it was intimated in debate that these powers were required to deal with several hundred people. That is what the then Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, said; it was one of the strongest arguments advanced. We now know, however, that a maximum of 31 individuals have been dealt with under this procedure.

The JCHR’s report points out,

The Committee continues to support the policy professed by the Government of preferring to prosecute as a first resort. However, the fact that no individual who has been made the subject of a control order has subsequently been prosecuted for a terrorism offence calls into question the extent to which priority is given to criminal prosecution in practice. After the House of Lords judgment in the case of E, the Committee considers that changes to the control orders legislation are necessary to ensure that prosecution is treated as a priority and recommends amendments, including a new requirement that, except in urgent cases, the Secretary of State may only make a control order where she is satisfied that there is no reasonable prospect of a successful prosecution for a terrorism-related offence (paragraphs 60-76).

It also says of Lord Carlile’s report that it

differs from his previous reports on control orders: he has now reached the view that only in rare cases can control orders be justified for more than two years, and he recommends that there should be a presumption against extension of a control order beyond two years, save in genuinely exceptional circumstances.[23] This is significant because seven of the 15 individuals who are currently the subject of control orders have been so for more than two years, and of those seven, two have been on control orders for three years and, presumably, before that were detained for more than three years in Belmarsh under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. We comment on this in more detail in chapter 6 of this Report.

Also that the opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of the legislation has been limited, perhaps deliberately so.

Would the EU respect the outcome of a referendum?

Posted in politicians on liberty, state-citizen relationship by ukliberty on February 22, 2008

England Expects:

 Amendment 32 of the Corbett Report on the Lisbon Treaty was a simple amendment calling for people to respect the result of the Irish referendum. Looking at the roll call votes for this amendment tells us all we need to know about what British politicians do when they are away in Brussels/Strasbourg thinking that nobody is watching. Worse still is the voting on Amendment 34 which called for a referendum. Guess which party had no votes in favour, yup, the Tories.

-2a. Undertakes to respect the outcome of the referendum in Ireland.

Pretty non controversial you would have thought. After all everybody here in the Parliament reckons themselves democrats. So how can it be that the result of the vote was this…

129 in favour

499 Against

33 Abstentions.

The Foreign Secretary’s statement in full

Posted in law and order, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 22, 2008

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, unless you want to be renditioned [members laugh] I would like to make a statement on those US rendition operations that no-one is supposed to know about. On 12 December 2005, in response to a parliamentary question from the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who hasn’t been since, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), then Foreign Secretary, updated the House on the subject of terrorist suspects and state-sponsored kidnapping – I mean, rendition, stating:

“Very careful research by officials has been unable to identify any occasion since
11 September 2001, or earlier in the Bush administration, when we received a request for permission by the United States…for a rendition through UK territory or airspace, nor are we otherwise aware of such a case, nor would we tell you if we are aware of such a case.”—[ Official Report,
12 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 1652W.]

That was supplemented by two further statements in January 2006 and a letter of 6 February 2006 to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

In March 2007, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that paragon of honesty, that shining exemplar of the truth, gave an assurance to the Intelligence and Security Committee that he was satisfied that the US had at no time since 9/11 rendered an individual through the UK or through our overseas territories, but that if they had he didn’t want to know about it and wouldn’t have told us if he did. In its report on rendition of 28 June 2007, the ISC said:

“We are satisfied that there is no evidence, because no-one who has the evidence will give us it, that US rendition flights have used UK airspace (except the two cases in 1998 referred to earlier in this Report, and eye-witness statements including air traffic controllers) and that there is no evidence of them having landed at UK military airfields… let’s not talk about normal airfields.

The Government very much welcomed those conclusions in their response to the report in July 2007. Parliamentary answers, interviews, letters and trebles all round followed that evidence. I am very sorry indeed to have to report to the House the need to correct those and other statements on the subject, on the basis of new information passed to officials on 15 February 2008 by the US Government, which I offer to the House as a fig leaf to make it look like we are interested in doing the right thing.

Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia – that lovely island the Chagossians used to call their home before an older Government kicked them out and we compounded the injustice by abuse of power – I mean, for national security reasons we said they were neither entitled to return or compensation [nods to Jack Straw] and besides we’d shot all their pets – had not been used for rendition flights, recent US investigations have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when that had in fact occurred, which I can tell you I found quite shocking.

An error in the earlier US records search meant that those cases did not come to light. In both cases, a US plane with a single detainee on board refuelled at the US facility in Diego Garcia. The detainees did not leave the plane and the US Government have assured us that no US detainees have ever been held on Diego Garcia, although they haven’t said whether they held any other detainees there. US investigations show no record of any other rendition through Diego Garcia or any other overseas territory, or through the UK itself, since then, because they now use airboarding.

Yesterday, US and UK legal teams discussed the issue, and I spoke with Secretary Rice. We both agree that the mistakes made in those two cases are not acceptable, and she shares my deep regret that people found out about rendition in the first place. She emphasised to me that the US Government came to us with the information quickly after they discovered it.

The House and the Government will share deep disappointment at the news, and about its late emergence, because we didn’t want it to emerge at all. That disappointment is shared by our US allies. They recognise the absolute imperative for the British Government to provide accurate information to Parliament. I reaffirm the Government’s commitment to that imperative today. We fully accept that the United States gave its earlier assurances in good faith. We accepted those assurances, and indeed referred to them publicly, also in good faith even though we knew that all sorts of rotten business was going on – I mean, for national security reasons.

For the avoidance of further questions, I have asked my officials to compile a list of all the flights where we have been alerted to concerns regarding rendition through the UK or our overseas territories. Once it is ready we will be sending the list to the US and seeking their specific assurance that none of those flights was used for rendition purposes.

Our counter-terrorism relationship with the United States is vital to UK security. I am absolutely clear that there must and will continue to be the strongest possible intelligence and counter-terrorism relationship with the US, consistent with UK law and our international obligations so long as those consistencies are consistent with our wishes.

As part of our close co-operation, there has long been a regular exchange with the US authorities, in which we have set out, first, that we expect them to seek permission to render detainees via UK territory and airspace, including overseas territories; secondly, that we will grant that permission only if we are satisfied that rendition would accord with UK law and our international obligations; thirdly, how we understand our obligations under the UN convention against torture; and fourthly, how we can circumvent all those obligations.

Secretary Rice has underlined to me the firm US understanding that there will be no rendition through the UK, UK airspace or overseas territories without express British Government permission, consistent with their assurances, but they might airboard people from time to time.

The House will want to know what has become of the two individuals in question. There is a limit to what I can say, but I can tell the House the following. The US Government have told us that neither of the men was a British national or a British resident. One is currently in Guantanamo Bay. The other has been released into Guantanamo Bay. The House will know that the British Government’s long-standing, albeit quiet and not making too much fuss position is that the detention facility at Guantanamo should be closed when the US decides it has no further use for it.

My officials and their US counterparts continue to work through all the details and implications of this information. We will keep procedures under review to ensure that they meet the standards that we have set, and I will, of course, keep the House updated, if it suits us to do so.

Lessons have been learned, and multiple inquiries have been launched, which will take years to conclude, by which time this story will be of no interest because there will be rumours of much worse things taking place that we don’t officially know about and will initially claim that it’s all the wild imaginings of loony conspiracy theorists [nods to Jack Straw again].

[standing ovation]

Foreign Secretary David Miliband