UK Liberty

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.)

15 Responses

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  1. IanPJ said, on October 20, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    When I wrote about this nearly a year ago, I was branded a conspiracy nut.

    How nice it is to be vindicated in this way.

    However, the danger here is that now that its in the press, the politicians will pick up on this, Cameron will pledge to remove some of it, people will be relieved, but at the end of the day some 70pct will remain.

    It will be a strong Libertarian Party that will remove ALL of these databases, if people have the will to think outside of the 2 party system we now have.

    Ian Parker-Joseph
    Libertarian Party UK

  2. Roger Thornhill said, on October 20, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    This is what comes when you have people in government who forget that they work for us, that the State is not a force for good and that the State will tend towards monopoly in everything it does.

    We need more people in Government who understand right to the very core of their being that the State is at best a necessary evil and as such at all times the default answer to State involvement is “no” unless proven otherwise and even then one must work towards reducing its size and scope at every turn before, during and forever after a project appears.

  3. IanPJ said, on October 20, 2008 at 4:23 pm


    Our campaign to deliver a copy of ‘1984’ to every MP on November 5th, is to remind them that they do indeed work for us, and that the book was a warning, not an instruction manual.

  4. ukliberty said, on October 20, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Roger, I agree.

    IanPJ, I don’t believe they are competent enough to intentionally create a totalitarian state and I think you are wrong about the complicity of the opposition. I spend some time reading Hansard, reading the reports by Committees and the evidence giving to them, and looking at the results of divisions – there is no evidence of complicity. There is little to nothing the opposition parties can do against the majority Labour has in the Commons.

    They are managerialist (in the sense given to the word by Chris Dillow). We are victims of the Government’s rhetoric: they propagandised the threats from terrorism and identity fraud etc (that is not to say there are no threats, just they aren’t as big / important), and so they must appear to take on those threats in a highly visible way, and outdo the opposition parties; they have convinced themselves (and many of us) that technlogy provides all the answers ( “We rely on technology to provide us with solutions”, as Jacqui Smith herself said to the IPPR only last week), and so they intend to record every detail of our lives, no matter how inconsequential, on huge databases that lots of people will have access to, one-size fits all solutions (probably with profiling too, even though that doesn’t work), even though lots of smaller systems each specific to one particular problem would be more effective; and they convince themselves that their experts are more expert than independent experts, despite evidence to the contrary (for example Britain’s Simple Shopper), clearly because their experts agree with them.

    We are also victims of our deference to authority. Many people think that because people are in authority anything those people say must be true – again despite evidence to the contrary – and that they are more competent than any of us, and that technlogy has all the answers. I am not saying all public servants are stupid liars, far from it – but the only real difference between them and us is their level of access to information and advice. They are very jealous of this position, which is why they make it so hard for us to approach it. Much of the media is complicit in this – they too are jealous of their own position as brokers and interpreters of information.

    We employ these people to make new legislation and propose new measures, so we shouldn’t be surprised when they do – what is frustrating is that they very often don’t take a step back and say, actually that won’t work and we would be better off doing something else, spending our billions of pounds in a more effective way, and that the public hasn’t been better educated in terms of thinking critically.

  5. IanPJ said, on October 20, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    UKLiberty, I am truly surprised at the answer you have given. Without being rude I fear that you give our politicians to much benefit of the doubt. After 11 years, that is a lot of benefit.

    I too take a lot of time reading Hansard and a lot of other publications, but I have always maintained that politicians should not be judged on what they say, but on what they do.

    There is a huge disparity between what we see in Hansard, the content of the debates in the chamber, which we all know is open to public view, which often is the only part that is picked up and reported on, and the voting records on some of the most draconian of Acts that have passed in the recent 11 years.

    I do see from so many current and former MP’s that they say one thing, but then do another. So yes, I do maintain that there is a level of complicity, of Westminster theatre for public consumption.

    After 11 years, even the most poorly educated in this land see that this cannot any longer be bumbling stupidity on the part of either Ministers or advisor’s, especially when we see taxpayer funds being chanelled into Charities and pressure groups to mount campaigns so that Government can then respond with legislation that is disproportionate to any perceived problem.

    It also goes that reading the international press opens they eyes tremendously, and we see the same rhetoric, the same reasons given, the same excuses, the same responses, the same data losses, the same laws and the same results being enacted by government right across the Western World.

    This attack on our Liberties is not a uniquely UK problem, it is not even a European one, it is a global one.

  6. Watching Them, Watching Us said, on October 20, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    “the National Identity Register takes over at 18”

    If it is finally inflicted on us, the NIR will capture details from the age of 15 and 9 months onwards, in preparation for your mandatory ID card (as with your first National Insurance number) and database record from the age of 16 onwards.

    When Passports become “designated documents” under the Identity Cards Act 2006, then, effectively children of any age under 16, whose parents apply for Passports on their behalf, will also be on the same logical database system, even if the records are physically on various machines.

    You have missed out the extraordinary Financial information snooping powers which Gordon Brown granted himself as Chancellor.

    There is also the computerised link between what used to be entirely separate Tax and Social Security systems. These are now linked by a Statutory Gateway called the Department for Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study, which sounds like a one off statistical number crunching exercise, but actually a linkage of your 24 year tax history, with full names and addresses etc with the DWP social security, benefits and pensions data.

    The very first study wfir which this combined dataset was used, was to plot all the racial and ethnic minorities onto a Geographical Information System, for the politically correct purpose of checking on how well the DWP’s employment policies were working and whether they were complying with racial discrimination legislation or not.

    The fact that this is also exactly the same analysis which anyone thinking about implementing a policy of ethnic cleansing or genocide would also be interested in (with the added bonus of realtime maps and directions to help the death squads find their victims efficiently) seems to have escaped the politicians and civil servants who have created this “rod for our own backs” in the future.

  7. ukliberty said, on October 20, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Ian, you make a very good point about the disparity between what is said in Hansard and what happens behind and in front of the scenes. But I don’t think there is a conscious, intentional attack, in a general sense, that is – clearly individual liberties are attacked all the time. I suppose an analogy might be criminal offences where there is the distinction drawn between intent and criminal negligence or recklessness.

    I think it is only a global problem because politicians across the world are in the same boat – their motivations are identical, in terms of empire-building, maintenance of control, incentivising re-election and so on. What Professor Ross Anderson says about this in his book seems very reasonable.

    Time may prove me terribly naive!

  8. Guthrum said, on October 20, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    We can no longer rely on our politicians

    Please support the 1984 campaign.

  9. ukliberty said, on October 20, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    I must add, I suppose I’m more inclined to believe Sir Bernard Ingham’s idea of cock-up vs.conspiracy – but then again, he might be in on it – or Hanlon’s Razor. Look at for example the transcripts of the Stockwell Inquest.

  10. IanPJ said, on October 20, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    I truly believe that politicians and civil servants do not make laws unless there is the intent to use them.

    It may be that our current crop of mopsies in Parliament have no such big brother desires, but by laying the foundations, when people accept this as the norm, it will be future governments that can just flick all the right switches.

    We must never give them that opportunity.

  11. ukliberty said, on October 20, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    I truly believe that politicians and civil servants do not make laws unless there is the intent to use them.

    This may be the root of our disagreement – I believe many of our laws are made because politicians want to be seen to be doing something. And of course because we pay legislators to legislate, rather than not legislate.

    Take terrorism for example: the majority of suspects charged are charged not under terrorism legislation but under murder and explosives offences (including conspiracies), grievous bodily harm, firearms offences, fraud, false documents offences; likewise the most convictions are not under terrorism legislation but under the latter. But can you imagine a Home Secretary coming to Parliament and saying, “we resist the opposition’s calls for more terror offences – we are doing very well with offences that have existed since 1884 and before”?

    I totally agree with the rest of your comment though. You are absolutely right about that – and to those that say, “a truly totalitarian government wouldn’t bother with legal niceties”, I reply, “why make it easy for them?”

  12. IanPJ said, on October 20, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    [Quote]This may be the root of our disagreement – I believe many of our laws are made because politicians want to be seen to be doing something. And of course because we pay legislators to legislate, rather than not legislate.[/Quote]

    I fear we may disagree on this also.

    My understanding of the role of Government is to Govern, not to rule.

    Legislation should be a last resort of Governing, not the first.

  13. James Hammerton said, on October 20, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    Firstly, congrats on producing a very a useful page.

    Secondly, regarding the discussion here, I’d like to add my own 2 cents.

    It seems to me that at least part of the purpose of the legislation is as form of propaganda. Not only, as ukliberty points out, is producing legislation and pushing it through Parliament a way being seen to “do something” about whatever problems are generating headlines, but it’s also a means of keeping the opposition on the back foot.

    E.g. ISTM this government is quite find of doing the following: Produce legislation you know the opposition will oppose, ostensibly to deal with problem X, and then paint the opposition as being “soft” on X, where X = crime, terrorism, paedophilia or whatever bogeyman of the month is in play.

    All governments have done it to some degree, but ISTM that over the last decade to fifteen years, we’ve seen it deployed specifically in the context of legislation that attacks the most basic protections of the rule of law and democracy.

    But ISTM there’s a stronger reason to doubt that all the legislation we see is deliberately put in place to be used (though no doubt that much is). There is so much legislation flowing through the Parliamentary machine that one cannot hope to keep up with it. This tactic itself may be deliberate (it allows plenty of room to hide things in) but it does make me wonder how well the government understand their own legislation when they produce so much that even a dedicated full time team of researchers would be unable to keep up with it all.

    That said, I think the onslaught on civil liberties over the last decade has been systematic and across the board, and thus most likely deliberate, though whether it is because the government has dark plans, or is simply impatient with anything that restrains its actions is an open question. The consequences however are the same either way.

    Finally, a point regarding the “truly totalitarian government wouldn’t bother with legal niceties” argument.

    If you spend a decade passing legislation that progressively undermines individual rights, you’ll create a culture where the violation of people’s rights is seen as not merely legally permissible, but as the norm, as officially sanctioned behaviour, with the state’s officials believing they are *entitled* to run roughshod over people’s rights so long as they fill in the paperwork. You thus create opportunities for people who really do wish to turn the country into a totalitarian state to use the power of the state against those who’d oppose them.

    In other words, it’s not just that you’d make it easy for a would-be Hitler, once elected, to exercise tyranny, but you make it easier for such people to gain power in the first place. The attacks on civil liberties are thus paving the way for tyranny, even if the government currently engaged in them has no such intentions.

  14. […] October, 2008 · No Comments Here. And that’s all we’ve spotted so […]

  15. ukliberty said, on October 20, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    I agree James.

    With regard to your point about the onslaught, I get a sense of impatience rather than malignancy. Some of them really do not appear to appreciate / recognise the importance of things like the criminal standard of proof, due process, fair trials and so on. These are inconveniences to be dispensed with for their own sake, not for some evil end.

    I would add that I also get a sense of a preference for ‘showiness’ rather than effectiveness. Again, wouldn’t £12bn spent on the NHS save more lives than the Intercept Modernisation Programme?

    And thanks.

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