UK Liberty

Incisive commentary on David Davis

Posted in database state, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on June 18, 2008

James Hammerton:

By resigning his seat and fighting the by-election on a civil liberties platform, David Davis has created an opportunity for this idea to be challenged, and the political climate changed, before the next general election is held, thus giving an incoming Tory government a freer hand to strengthen civil liberties than would otherwise have been the case.

Thus the opportunity here is to alter the political landscape that the shadow cabinet and probable next government will be operating in, to strengthen the hand of those who believe in civil liberties. This seems to me to be Davis’s intention.

Because it involves thinking and acting outside the currently normal parameters of the Westminster “bubble”, I think those in the media and in politics who have been attacking him are misunderstanding the nature of what he is doing (or possibly understand too well and don’t like it).


Gordon’s civil liberties speech to the IPPR

Gordon Brown delivered a speech yesterday (see also FishNChipPapers and Henry Porter). How anyone with his record could have delivered it without a smile on his face… I guess you have to admire his chutzpah.

That said, an acquaintance directed me to an amazingly apposite quote from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself.

That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.

Some comments…

Gordon began, as did Tony Blair in his day, by talking about the “new and unprecedented threats” of “terrorism, global organised crime, organised drug trafficking, and people trafficking.”

But these have been going on for centuries. Crime gangs may be larger now, more organised, globalised, but these are issues of scale rather than novelty. There has been international crime since the invention of the nation!

It is worth remembering the scale of the Provisional IRA campaign. They were supplied with money, weapons and logistical support by, among others, Irish Americans and Libyans. They were responsible for around 1800 deaths. They were involved in organised crime, extortion, drugs and weapons smuggling.

Today’s suicide bombers may well have less concern for their own lives, but we should remember that they have to make their own weapons. They do not rob banks. They do not smuggle Czech guns via the Netherlands. They do not extort money from the rest of the public. Do they merit the same fear?

Gordon said that “one of the greatest challenges of the modern world: how in the face of global terrorism and organised crime we can best ensure the security, safety and liberties of the British people.”

He said of new technologies that,

we need to employ these modern means to protect people from new threats, [but] we must at the same time do more to guarantee our liberties.

We lock you up without charge in order to protect your right to a fair trial. We destroy the village in order to save it. It is the state vs. the individual, not just the terrorist vs. the citizen. We should be wary of both. Indeed, the state has far greater powers at its disposal.

Gordon mentioned September 11th as if it was the first terrorist attack the world had ever seen. He reeled off the usual numbers: “even today, the security service estimate there are at least 2000 known terrorist suspects, [excuse me, that should be suspected terrorists] 200 organised networks and 30 current plots”.

“Even today”? Back in May 2007, possibly before, MI5 were watching 2,000. Are these the same 2,000, I wonder?

Gordon said,

there are other, new security issues that also help define the modern world. … Drug trafficking too is an ever more sophisticated international business – stretching from the Helmand Valley … through international networks, to the streets of our own cities. And so too is organised illegal immigration – a problem faced by the entire developed world – which we see at its worst in the callous contempt for life of people traffickers who smuggle women and children across the globe for sexual exploitation.

We don’t in fact have much of a clue about people trafficking, particularly for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Of course it goes on, but we do not know its scale. So, putting that aside for now, are we limited to merely creating new legislation, giving the police more money and developing new technologies?

Of course not. People immigrate – legally or illegally – because they think they will have a better life here, or they can make money here that will go further in their own country than what they could earn there. A Government that “must work out how it best discharges its duty to protect people” must, surely, be thinking about such motivations – how to influence illegal immigrants to either immigrate legally or stay at home.

Shouldn’t we think rationally about the motivations of drug traffickers and illegal immigrants? If for example we helped improve a country, that might reduce the flow of illegal immigrants from it.

But no, all we seem to get is “tough” measures (there should be a law against it). Can’t we do better than Daily Mail policies?

Gordon talked about fear:

Today, while in many ways we are more secure as a country than at most times in our history, people are understandably fearful that they may become victims of terrorist attack. While overall crime is a third lower than ten years ago, people are understandably fearful of guns or knives on our streets.

Just a moment – Gordon didn’t mention the statistics he based that claim on and he conflated violent crime (increasing) with overall crime (falling). Crime statistics can be found on a government website – you may get a different impression from that which he aimed to give.

… people are understandably fearful about people traffickers or illegal workers. These are new threats, they are real concerns. People feel less safe and less secure as a result, and I understand that.

I don’t know of anyone “fearful” of “people traffickers” or “illegal workers”, nor would I understand why they are fearful of them. I know some people are annoyed by “illegal workers”.

That aside, perhaps people are more afraid than they otherwise would be because Gordon & co. keep telling them things like “there are at least 2000 known terrorist suspects, 200 organised networks and 30 current plots”.

Perhaps the best way to deal with fears is not to announce a new piece of legislation every day and reel off more worrying statistics, but to stop telling people such things and to educate them about reality.

Consider Dhiren Barot (see also SpyBlog) for example: “The prosecution did not dispute claims from the defense that no funding had been received for the projects, nor any vehicles or bomb-making materials acquired. Nevertheless, it was recognised that it was his intention that hundreds, if not thousands of people should die.”

We should not confuse real, imminent danger with lunatic intentions. Of the “30 current plots”, how many have any chance of success? Of the 2,000 known suspected terrorists, how many have any chance of blowing themselves (and us) up?

Gordon said,

I believe that the tools we have to deal with organised crime must be proportionate to the damage done. But these new risks to our security – no respecters of traditional laws or borders, and more complex and global than ever before – cannot solely be managed by the old, tried methods and approaches.

A straw man. No-one is saying that they should “solely be managed by the old, tried methods and approaches”. Ironically it is Gordon & co. who try the “old, tried methods and approaches” – those of throwing money and legislation at the problem, trying to look tough and be populist. These often fail and are often counterproductive.

It could be said that for too long we have used nineteenth century means to solve twenty first century problems. Instead we must have twenty first century methods to deal with twenty first century challenges.

Something borrowed from Tony Blair’s speeches, and just as wrong now as it was then.

So I want to focus today on the use of modern technology in fighting crime and protecting our borders – and focus on the argument that new laws or new technologies threaten the rights of the individual.

Put it this way: while the old world was one where we could use only fingerprints, now we have the technology of DNA.

While the old world relied on the eyes of a policeman out on patrol, today we also have the back-up of CCTV.

While the old world used only photographs to identify people, now we have biometrics.

Of course all these new technologies raise new problems and I will discuss them today. But the answer is not to reject the new 21st century means of detecting and preventing crime – but to simultaneously adopt the new technologies where they can help – and to strengthen the protection of the individual:

Another straw man. No non-Luddites wholly reject DNA or CCTV or biometrics. What people reject is what they see as the disproportionate use of such technologies: a DNA database covering not only the guilty but the innocent; CCTV on every corner of every street, sometimes looking in their windows, unregulated and varying in quality; a biometric database covering the entire population.

These are reasonable things to object to – it does not mean you are against “21st century methods” if you do. You can be for 21st century methods at the right place and at the right time. Gordon’s ilk don’t want you to think for yourselves – they want you to be afraid, to place your trust and security in their hands, they don’t want you to imagine that genuinely proportionate use of new technologies is compatible with freedom.

  • never subjecting the citizen to arbitrary treatment,
  • always respecting basic rights and freedoms,
  • and, wherever new action is needed, matching it with stronger safeguards and more transparency and scrutiny.

Regular readers will know that the words “never” and “always” are misplaced. People who have been keeping up with the detention without charge proposals will be aware that “stronger safeguards” is something of a misnomer, and it’s a bit rich of Gordon to talk about transparency and scrutiny. The only transparent things are his motivations – remaining in power through the use of populist policies, fearmongering, anything expedient.

there is, in my view, a British way of meeting this challenge.

Aha! A call to all you patriots. You are not British if you don’t believe in the same things as Gordon.

The British way cannot be a head-in-the-sand approach that ignores the fact that the world has changed with the advent of terrorism which aims for civilian casualties on a massive scale and which respects not only no law, but also no recognisable moral framework.

Another straw man, no-one is advocating a head-in-the-sand approach. Even an advocate for no change isn’t arguing for a head-in-the-sand approach.

There are two key respects in which the terrorist threat has changed:

  • the threat of suicide attacks without warning and mass casualties, requiring the police and security services to intervene earlier to avert tragedy, but without necessarily having the evidence to charge,

We don’t need to charge someone in order to “intervene” in a plot. Admissible evidence is not needed even for arrest! We should however have evidence enough to charge in order to keep someone in prison until their trial, if detention is a proportionate response to the suspected offence.

  • the increasing complexity of plots – with many thousands of exhibits having to be examined, far in excess of IRA investigations in the past – and networks spanning the globe, requiring days and weeks to pursue and unravel.

I don’t want to dwell too much on such arguments as I have been over them before.

I didn’t touch on this, however:

These are the arguments which led us to propose a procedure under which in only the rarest circumstances – a grave and exceptional terrorist threat – detention before charge could be extended from 28 to 42 days.

As the Joint Committee on Human Rights put it,

the definition of a “grave exceptional terrorist threat” is extraordinarily broad and includes events or situations which fall well short of constituting a genuine emergency in any meaningful sense of that word. A terrorist threat is always grave, given the seriousness of the harm which it might cause, and there is nothing in the definition of “grave exceptional terrorist threat” to confine the reserve power to situations such as “two or three 9/11s on one day” or the other extreme scenarios which the Government has said it wishes to ensure are provided for.

Back to Gordon, on his alleged desire for more safeguards:

But I stress the central point: the safeguards cannot lie in measures that make it impossible for the police to complete an investigation into terrorist activities – something which would in the end harm all our civil liberties – but must lie instead in ensuring that the civil liberties of a person detained are protected by clear rules and by proper accountability.

What some people don’t seem to understand is that it matters not one jot to the innocent individual detained if there are “clear rules” and “proper accountability” (whatever that means) – he will not be thanking the authorities for protecting his “civil liberties” while he is locked away for 28, 42, 60, 90 days. His mental and physical health will suffer, his relationships will suffer, his reputation will suffer, he may lose his job, and some people may always think that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”.

Great, the Government has offered compensation of £3,000 per day should he turn out to be innocent – a tacit admission they what they are doing is wrong.

(An acquaintance suggested the individual receive 1p on the 15th day, 2p on the 16th, 4p on the 17th, and so on. Work it out!)

As for Parliamentary scrutiny, it amounts to nothing – Parliament will not be given sufficient information to make an informed decision, any vote will be whipped, it will be made in the heat of the moment, and elected politicians are not the best people to decide whether or not suspected terrorists should be locked up.

Gordon on ID cards:

People’s identity is precious and needs to be secure. But is a simple fact that the scale of identity fraud is increasing

Notice the lack of evidence. It is “a simple fact” – who needs evidence?

– that more people are facing distressing and disruptive attempts to steal their identity, and technology has made it far easier for people to perpetuate that fraud. But new technology offers us an opportunity to redress the balance. So one of the best examples of how we can confront the modern criminal while respecting liberties is the use of biometrics, already planned to be introduced into passports across the world, but also offering us the opportunity to protect individuals’ identities in their everyday lives.

Well, it seems to me the overall best thing (in comparison) is a cross-cut shredder: they are relatively inexpensive, the Government could supply every household in the UK for about £220m, over twenty-five times less than the ID card scheme; they are easy to use; and they don’t involve an over-specced central government database that tracks every transaction involving your identity card or biometric!

No one is suggesting that an identity card scheme will stop terrorist attacks overnight. But if it can make it harder for people not just to travel across borders with multiple identities, but also to raise money or rent safe houses or buy sensitive material – all anonymously – it can potentially disrupt the operations of terrorists and other criminals – something we must surely be making every effort to do.

No, that’s absolutely wrong. We should not “be making every effort” – we should only be doing that which is proportionate and cost-effective. The ID Card and National Register scheme is neither.

Opponents of the identity card scheme like to suggest that its sole motivation is to enhance the power of the state – but in fact it starts from a recognition of the importance of something which is fundamental to the rights of the individual: the right to have your identity protected and secure.

Oh look, Gordon’s talking about imaginary rights again.

This is why, despite years of exaggeration about its costs and its implications for liberty, public support for it remains so strong.

No, public support remains strong for the principle of ID cards, not this particular Government scheme. Indeed, the more people learn about the scheme the more likely they are to dislike it.

People understand the value of secure identity. In banking, to protect their money, people were happy to move from signatures to PIN numbers.

Maybe people just don’t know enough?

Increasingly they are moving to biometrics – for example, many people now have laptops activated by finger-scans.

Wow! Suddenly there is the evidence I needed for a central, national database that tracks our every transaction! Why didn’t they mention laptop “finger-scans” before? I am convinced! Hallelujah!

Why haven’t banks moved to biometrics on their own? Maybe they aren’t cost-effective?

But as with our proposals on terrorist legislation, we must match our efforts to improve our security with stronger safeguards on liberty. We have no plans for it to become compulsory for people to carry an ID card.

The card is irrelevant because we will be carrying our biometrics – the database is what matters.

We have made this clear in the legislation: that the identity card scheme will not be used to place new requirements on people,

So they won’t help with illegal working, benefit fraud, NHS tourism and so on.

The new generation of passports will require travellers to register their biometrics to protect against passport fraud— digital photographs, finger-scans and in some cases iris scans – and this is happening across the world.

That’s a lie. The minimum standard is a photograph on a chip.

I welcome the report of the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee on 5 June, which – based not on knee-jerk reactions but a year of thorough and impartial research – firmly rejected the characterisation of Britain as a “Surveillance Society”

In fact they rejected (my emphasis italicised) “crude characterisations of our society as a surveillance society in which all collections and means of collecting information about citizens are networked and centralised in the service of the state.”

As far as I’m aware, no-one says all means of collection are all for the state, and the Committee said nothing about sophisticated characterisations, but one can reasonably infer that there are some.

– but warned at the same time against complacency, and called for both practical measures and principled commitments from the Government to ensure the balance of liberty and security is maintained.

I think we are living in a surveillance society – its arguable but surveillance is nevertheless increasing. The Committee itself called “on the Government to give proper consideration to the risks associated with excessive surveillance”, an implicit accusation that the Government hasn’t.

I believe that the new plan for the ID card scheme announced by the Home Secretary in March included important steps in the direction of the “principle of data minimization” which the Committee recommends.

The Committee nevertheless called on the Government to “commit to a principle of data minimisation for the National Identity Scheme” – a clear implication that the Government has not explicitly done so, if at all.

We have redesigned the scheme so that people’s names and addresses will be kept separately, on a separate database, from their photographs and biometrics.

It makes no difference! There is still effectively one database – the records will still relate to each other. Besides, the original plan to use a new, “gold standard” database was thrown out in favour of using an existing database (that by the way doesn’t work at peak times) and add on a fingerprint and photo database. It’s nothing to do with noble motivations.

So let us not pretend that CCTV is intrinsically the enemy of liberty.

No-one does. Again it is a matter of proportion. Gordon loves his straw men, doesn’t he?

Used correctly, with the right and proper safeguards, CCTV cuts crime, and makes people feel safer – in some cases, it actually helps give them back their liberty, the liberty to go about their everyday lives with reassurance.

Another novel liberty I hadn’t heard of until yesterday.

And it is a measure of the emphasis that we place on at all times advancing the liberties of the individual


that we have in the past year done more to extend freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of information. To summarise, we have given people new rights to protest outside Parliament,

The Labour Government under Blair took that away that freedom in the first place (s132-138 SOCPA). The Labour Government under Brown has proposed the repeal of s132-138 in the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill (another misnomer) – but if they were serious they could simply rescind Statutory Instrument 2005 No. 1537.

made it easier for people free of charge to exercise their right to Freedom of Information

Well, it’s really the Freedom of Information if we don’t mind the public having it Act. You’re in for a long fight if you want to know something they don’t want you to know (example), and the Information Commissioner’s Office hasn’t been granted enough resources to deal with complaints in a timely manner.

And I agree with those who argue that the very freedoms we have built up over generations are the freedoms terrorists most want to destroy. And we must not – we will not – allow them to do so. But equally, to say we should ignore the new demands of security – to assume that the laws and practices which have applied in the past are enough to face the future, to be unwilling to face up to difficult choices and ultimately to neglect the fundamental duty to protect our security – this is the politics of complacency.

Another straw man. You would be forgiven for thinking that Gordon Brown has nothing but straw men in his quiver.

Last year when I took on this job I said it was my earnest hope that agreeing the answers to these questions could be above party politics. And the Home Secretary, Justice Secretary and I have sought and appealed for a consensus on these issues

And a consensus was formed, but against Gordon, so he decided to cajole, bribe, arm-twist, threaten until he won the vote on detention without charge by nine votes (thank you very much DUP MPs).

– not just on the terrorism legislation currently before Parliament, but on constitutional reform and on the broad range of issues covered in our first ever National Security Strategy published in March, and on specific questions such as the use of intercept evidence. Why? Because I believe that, while we may be Labour or Conservative or Liberal Democrat or some other party or none, we are first of all citizens of one country, with a shared story and a common destiny.

But much as consensus is important, we cannot ignore another fundamental responsibility – to take the actions that are necessary. Our proud history was not built out of a refusal to confront new challenges, but forged from a willingness to engage with fundamental questions – and to do so with principle and pragmatism.

Pragmatism is the enemy of principle.

New challenges require new means of addressing them. But at all times the enduring responsibility remains the same – both protecting the security of all and safeguarding the individual’s right to be free.

Boring, vacuous, dishonest, logical fallacies, annoying.

Safeguard: 14 times

Liberty: 14 times

Protect: 22 times


In a comment on this article, David Mery has linked to a Genewatch article (for some reason the comments field breaks the URL) on Gordon’s claims about the DNA database:

I say to those who questioned the changes in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, which allowed DNA to be retained from all charged suspects even if not found guilty: if we had not made this change, 8,000 suspects who have been matched with crime scenes since 2001 would in all probability have got away, their DNA having been deleted from the database. This includes 114 murders, 55 attempted murders, 116 rapes, 68 other sexual offences, 119 aggravated burglaries, and 127 drugs offences.

(notice how he conflated the number of crimes with the number of criminals)


Gordon Brown has stooped to a new low to claim that 114 murderers “would in all probability have got away” if innocent people’s DNA records were deleted.” said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. “This claim is both ridiculous and entirely false. DNA matches are not solved crimes – many matches occur with victims and with passers-by, or are false matches. People are not stupid – they know that keeping their children’s DNA when they’ve done nothing wrong is not helping to solve crimes“.

Numerous Members of Parliament have sought information on the numbers of crimes that have been solved as a result of the retaining DNA profiles from innocent people on the National DNA Database. In each case, ministers have replied that this information is not available. [or they handwave!]

Only some DNA matches – known as DNA detections – involve sufficient evidence to prosecute someone for a crime. Recent figures show that the chances of detecting a crime using DNA have not increased over the last 5 years, despite a doubling in size of the DNA Database. …

Flash in the pan

Posted in politicians on liberty by ukliberty on June 18, 2008

The Guardian:

The Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie is now not expected to stand against David Davis in next month’s byelection over the issue of 42-day terror suspect detention, with News International executives understood to be wary of such a move.

MacKenzie’s revelation late on Thursday night that he had discussed standing in the byelection with Rupert Murdoch prompted a flurry of media coverage at the end of last week about a possible contest between the Conservative candidate Davis and the former Sun editor in the forthcoming Haltemprice and Howden byelection.

However, executives at the Sun, which MacKenzie originally said might back his candidacy, and its owner, News International, are understood to have cooled on the idea and sources said it is unlikely to proceed.

Maybe not only because they don’t want to annoy the Tories but also because the media has not gauged the public mood on Davis’s stand and are now backtracking:

I’ll give them their due: the entire British media may have utterly misjudged the significance and impact of David Davis’s shock resignation last Thursday, but they’re revising and reversing today for all they’re worth. Which, given the astonishing lack of insight displayed by apparent political insiders over this past few days, might not be much.

The Indy now realises that DD has captured the public’s imagination, the Times’s William Rees Mogg admits his own failure to grasp the strength of public feeling and here at the Guardian, Jackie Ashley figures out what Cif’s punters knew within moments of Davis’s announcement – that Davis’s main goal may well be to entrench Conservative support for civil liberties, directly confronting the kind of focus-group friendly policies favoured by the other Dave. …

OK, I’ve had my fun, I’ve blown my own trumpet (14 minutes? Well yeah, but I only heard the news at 10 past…), but does this matter? You bet. If the fourth estate can’t mediate between the political class and the public, then what’s the damn point of it? If the press cannot siphon off rage or see an unmet requirement, if it can’t act as the go-between, then the disconnect between people and politicians that we all recognise can only spiral further out of control.