UK Liberty

Home Office attempts to persuade unions on ID cards

Posted in ID Cards, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on October 20, 2008

The Guardian:

The Home Office is in active talks with trade unions in an attempt to persuade them to abandon opposition to the imminent introduction of compulsory ID cards for airport workers.

Meg Hillier, the minister in charge of ID cards and passports, today promised there would be no delays to the £4.7bn programme despite the threat of a UK economic recession.

In an interview with the Guardian ahead of a conference on biometric security checks in London tomorrow, she said many unions privately disapproved of a motion adopted by the TUC last month.

But clearly there was insufficient disapproval to prevent the motion from being carried.

…ID cards would save employers money by speeding up security checks for airside workers. “Some are now paying up to £180 for checks on [potential] members of staff, whereas with ID cards it’s all done,” Ms Hiller said.

You’d be mad to wholly trust the database particularly if you run an airport or airline or another ‘sensitive’ organisation. Note also that the Home Office itself has a problem with employing illegal immigrants (May 2006, November 2007, December 2007), so I’m not entirely sure why they think they should be trusted.

The first ID cards, for [non-EEA !!!!] foreign nationals, will be introduced next month followed by those for airport workers in 2009. Young people will be targeted in 2010 and from 2012 everyone applying for a passport will be put on the national identity register. …

The enrolment procedure can use facial imaging if there is a problem with fingerprints – for example officials confirmed that some racial groups, particularly those from Polynesian islands in the Pacific, have less pronounced ridges in their fingerprints. Face recognition technology relies chiefly on detecting the distance between people’s eyes – a characteristic that cannot be altered even by plastic surgery.

The Home Office has been studying work carried out by the US port authorities on reading the fingerprints of dock workers whose fingers have been worn smooth by hard manual labour.

Yes – having unclassifiable fingerprints may result in the loss of your job. I wonder if the unions would like that.

(Incidentally the New England scannersc check the fingerprint against the fingerprint on the chip, not a central database, and facilities continue to use their own ID cards.  It has also been called a Steel Door for a Grass Hut/)

Hillier said that trials of automated facial recognition gates at Manchester airport have been successful.

Was it?

Any chance of seeing the data so we can come to our own conclusions?

…Asked about the cost of the government’s ID programme, Hillier said the programme was largelyself-financing

– i.e. no wholly self-financing, so we pick up the rest of the tab –

– through the cost of enrolling in the scheme – and no savings would be made by cancelling it.

Shurely shome mishtake?

Is Hillier really claiming the scheme requires no capital investment – that is, no money upfront, to run trials, prototypes, set it up, run exhibitions and propaganda?

Not to mention that the estimate only covers the setting up and running of the scheme, not the cost of anyone trying to use it.  See the NHS IT budget, for example.

Not to mention that we would each save £30 by not having to buy at least an identity card! Scrapping the scheme would save money – it would save at least £5bn, or whatever it’s estimated to cost this week.


Posted in accountability, database state, nhs records, state-citizen relationship by ukliberty on October 20, 2008

Tony Collins of Computer Weekly has discovered some council staff have been given live NHS data for training purposes:

There has been some interest in an article on this IT Projects blog about Elizabeth Dove who went to her GP about suspected depression and found her medical records being shared with a local council in the Isle of Wight.

It transpires that it’s routine for GPs to refer patients to primary care trusts that share some online health records with local councils. It’s done in the interest of patients. But Dove hadn’t expected her health records to be looked at by council staff. …

Now a former employee at Isle of Wight Social Services has contacted the IT Projects blog to say that she trained on the Swift system in question – which links the council and primary care trust – and was offered the use of live data.

No thought seems to be spared for ordinary members of the public, does it?

The data is not regarded as our data but the government’s.  The data is shared routinely and I don’t think it’s not so much a case of “so what if someone else sees it” as a case of them not thinking even that far – it is because it is of no personal value to them that they spare no thought about it.

Of course, when it does affect them personally they are all for increased protection: shielding on  (or should that be ‘from’?) ContactPoint, for example.

Tony also wrote,

Often it’s only when things go wrong that we learn what decisions have been taken. That’s one reason Computer Weekly and the IT Projects blog campaign for more openness and honesty in the NHS and government – and local government – decision-making.

After years of campaigning for more transparency in the public have we made a real difference? Absolutely not.

I think he is doing himself a disservice.  This sort of thing requires political change, (well, it’s that or rope and lampposts) and I think political change only comes about when sufficient awareness has been raised. I believe Tony and his colleagues make a real difference to awareness.

Sir Ken MacDonald’s lecture

Coming Out Of The Shadows is now online.

Some good stuff, in particular:

Put simply, when the prosecuting authority exercises its vocal chords, it is axiomatic that it must be telling the truth.

This is a critical foundation of public trust.

And this leads to a conclusion which can also be controversial in some quarters: prosecutors must be wary of political rhetoric that cannot deliver. More than that, they must have the confidence to say no to it.

Let me give you a simple example.

I had only been in office a few weeks when, in early 2004, the then Prime Minister [one Tony Blair] and the then Home Secretary [David Blunkett] suggested publicly, and on the same day, that in serious crime cases the criminal standard of proof should be lowered.

Now this proposal was challenging on many fronts.

‘Challenging’ – effing ridiculous, I would say.

Firstly because it appeared to conflict rather crudely with our international obligations, being notably inconsistent with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Secondly, because it appeared to conflict equally crudely with our common law norms and with learning on the civil standard of proof in cases of particular import to individuals whose reputational rights are engaged by the issues in question.

Thirdly because it would inevitably mean sending men and women to prison for many years- in the face of reasonable doubts about their guilt.

I’d put the second and third things before our international obligations, but there you go – good that it was said.

So it seemed inescapable that I should, as head of the prosecuting authority, express my strong public disagreement with this proposal- and I did so.

It is often said that the government’s desire is ‘to re-balance the criminal justice system so as to put victims at its centre’.

Now these are obviously appealing words and all of us may easily identify with them. I myself have often spoken about the appalling history of our treatment of the victims of crime in criminal justice.

No one wants to be a victim of crime. Not many people would wish to witness a crime. Very few relish coming to court. For most that do it’s an unsatisfactory experience. It always will be.

So it is obviously important for us to do all we can, consistent with fairness to all parties, to make things as bearable as possible for those who become caught up in the processes of criminal justice. To treat them in a civilised way.

Yet we all know that what is really at the centre of the criminal justice system is fairness.

Naturally this means respecting the rights of all parties. Of course the government is absolutely right to stress this.

All parties to the criminal process do have rights, including Convention rights that need to be upheld.

But it will never be possible, in adversarial proceedings governed appropriately by Article 6, for the interests of victims to overcome those of defendants.

Rhetoric which suggests that this can be achieved will never deliver. It misleads and prosecutors should stay away from it.

In the case of 42 days, I think [the developing voice of the prosecuting authority] provided an essential practitioner element, beyond political calculation, and of fundamental assistance to Parliament in coming to its important conclusions.

Agreed, I think it was very helpful to have Sir Ken MacDonald and his colleagues claim that they didn’t think 42 days was warranted.

let me, in my final public speech as DPP, repeat my call for level headedness and for legislative restraint in an age of dangerous movements.

We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom’s back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security State.

Over the last thirty years technology has given each of us, as individual citizens, enormous gifts of access to information and knowledge. Sometimes it seems as if everything is at our fingertips and this has made our lives immeasurably richer.

But technology also gives the State enormous powers of access to knowledge and information about each one of us. And the ability to collect and store it at will. Every second of every day, in everything we do.

Of course modern technology is of critical importance to the struggle against serious crime.

Used wisely, it can protect us.

But we need to understand that it is in the nature of State power that decisions taken in the next few months and years about how the State may use these powers, and to what extent, are likely to be irreversible. They will be with us forever. And they in turn will be built upon.

So we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can’t bear.

we have been absolutely right to resist, whenever they have been suggested, special courts, vetted judges and all the other paraphernalia of paranoia.

Of course, you can have the Guantanamo model.

You can have the model which says that we cannot afford to give people their rights, that rights are too expensive because of the nature of the threats we are facing.

Or you can say, as I prefer to, that our rights are priceless. That the best way to face down those threats is to strengthen our institutions rather than to degrade them.

It is difficult to see who will maintain a cool head if governments do not. Or who will protect our Constitution if governments unwittingly disarm it.

The response to terror is, of course, multi-layered. It has to be that way.

In some contexts it is dealt with geopolitically, by engaging relations between sovereign states.

In others it is disrupted by intelligence and by other interventions. In still others the response must plainly be military.

But on the streets of our country, violent law breaking is dealt with as crime. It is taken through the courts as crime. It is confronted with in accordance with our Constitution.

In all the debates that have raged back and forth, Britain has been absolutely right to hold fast to this course.

We would do well not to insult ourselves and all of our institutions and our processes of law in the face of these medieval delusions.

As I say, the response to terror is multi-layered. But it should not include surrender.

The totality of surveillance proposals

Posted in database state, surveillance society by ukliberty on October 20, 2008

[updated 20 October 2008 to reflect the corrections and additions kindly contributed by WTWU in a comment below.]

Finally the mainstream, national media seems to be getting around to talking about the totality of the effects of surveillance and database proposals as well as merely looking at them individually:

Privacy campaigners believe the proposals form part of a “pentagon” of five huge databases, all linked together in real time to create the ultimate surveillance society.

– or “database state” –

This would include compulsory registration of all Britain’s 72m mobile phones, more than 40m of which are prepaid. Terrorists and criminals prefer to hide behind the anonymity of prepaid phones, so a communications database needs to include accurate details of prepaid subscriber details. (the Times, for example)

I don’t know what this particular “pentagon” consists of but I’m building my own list (these are just the major ones, there are loads of public sector databases):

  1. ContactPoint is to record our interactions with state agencies from the day we are born until we are 18;
  2. the National Identity Register takes over at 18 15 and 9 months (even earlier if the child is given a passport), recording our names, addresses, and so on, as well as every interaction that requires us to prove our identity (from collecting a parcel at the Post Office to getting a  new job to using non-emergency health care to crossing international borders) – also we will each be assigned an identity number, which will be used as an index in other databases (that is, if I am 10365 in the NIR, someone could draw together all the data on 10365 from all the other databases to find out everything about me – precedent suggests this isn’t a good idea);
  3. the Department for Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study links tax, social security, benefit, pension, ISA, TESSA, PEP information with names and addresses;
  4. the Intercept Modernisation Programme is to record every detail of our communications (except for the content, probably only because this would be practically impossible), who we talk to, when, for how long, and using what (see Article 5 European Data Retention Directive);
  5. the ANPR is to record all our vehicle journeys nationally and the PNR (see also this and this) is to record all our international journeys (currently its just journeys by air);
  6. the NHS medical records database, with our names, addresses, medical issues, health care workers etc;
  7. the CRB database and the Independent Safeguarding Authority database, which not only have details of our proven convictions (which I have no problem with) but also unsubstantiated allegations;
  8. the National DNA Database, which is recording the DNA of not only convicted criminals and suspects, but also innocent people including volunteers and witnesses, along with other details.

All adding up to an almost complete picture of our lives – and all for our own good, of course.

(Please see also Joining the Dots.)

Home Office officials not keen on uberdatabase?

Posted in surveillance society by ukliberty on October 20, 2008

The Times:

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, faces a revolt from her senior officials over plans to build a central database holding information on every telephone call, e-mail and internet visit made in the UK.

A “significant body of Home Office officials dealing with serious and organised crime” are privately lobbying against the plans, a leaked memo has revealed.

They believe the proposals are “impractical, disproportionate, politically unattractive and possibly unlawful from a human rights perspective”, the memo says.

Their stance puts them at loggerheads with the spy-masters at GCHQ, the government’s eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham, who have been driving through the plans.

Interesting that some opponents are prepared to be named:

This weekend a top law enforcement body further dented the government’s case for the database. Jack Wraith, of the data communications group of the Association of Chief Police Officers, described the plans as “mission creep”. He said there was an “inherent fear” of the data falling into the wrong hands.

“If someone’s got enough personal data on you and they don’t afford it the right protection and that data falls into the wrong hands, then it becomes a threat to you,” he said.