UK Liberty

Intercept at inquests

Posted in law and order, surveillance society by ukliberty on November 24, 2008

Consultation on National Identity Scheme

Posted in ID Cards, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on November 21, 2008

The Home Surveillance Office:

A consultation has been launched, paving the way for the next step of the government’s national identity scheme.

The introduction of the first identity cards for British citizens moved forward today as the government began a 12-week consultation (new window) on the finer detail of the scheme’s next phase.

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) (new window) has invited comment on secondary legislation needed to ensure the first cards for British citizens become a reality and are issued to airside workers and a number of volunteers at the end of 2009.

The problem du jour:

Protecting citizens from identity fraud

The national identity scheme (new window) will provide people with an easy and convenient means of proving that they are who they say they are, and protecting citizens from identity fraud.
While the Identity Cards Act set out the framework for a national identity register (NIR) and biometric identity cards, this secondary legislation will establish procedures for issuing cards that mirror those in place for issuing passports.
The consultation will shape the draft legislation to be put before Parliament, most likely in the spring of next year.

The legislation, in the form of statutory instruments, will cover a number of elements required for the early phases of the scheme including:

  • who is eligible to apply for a card
  • the procedures for making an application
  • the sources of information against which a person’s identity will be checked
  • how the accuracy of the NIR will be maintained
  • how information may be provided from the NIR
  • the information on the front of the card

The consultation document also formally reiterates previous commitments including the intention to set the fee for a card in 2009-10 at £30 and not to show the NIR number and addresses on the front of the card for confidentiality reasons.

Home Office Minister’s statement

Home Office Minister, Meg Hillier, said, ‘The national identity scheme will bring real and recognisable benefits for British citizens by offering a more convenient way of proving identity and helping protect people from identity fraud.

‘The scheme will reassure us all that workers in positions of trust are who they say they are; help protect the country from illegal immigration; and make it harder for criminals to use false identities and thus help protect us all from crime and terrorism.’

First identity cards

The national identity scheme gets underway within days with the first identity cards issued to non-EEA foreign nationals on 25 November. Around 40,000 cards are expected to be in circulation by April 2009.
As announced by Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, earlier this month, the first cards for critical workers will be issued to airside workers at Manchester and London City airports from autumn 2009 ahead of a nationwide roll out.
In a speech on 6 November the Home Secretary also paved the way for a small number of citizens to get an identity card next year ahead of the general population and for people to register an early interest.
From 2010 young people will be offered the chance to sign up for cards to help them as they start out their adult lives. And from 2012 the national identity scheme will begin to roll-out for the general population with identity cards issued in high numbers – building on the six million passports issued each year.

Notes to editors 

The legal framework for the national identity scheme was established by the Identity Cards Act 2006 (new window) which received Royal Assent on 30 March 2006.

While the Identity Cards Act creates the legal basis for the scheme it does not specify certain details for their introduction. These are being set out in the secondary legislation. Copies of the Identity Cards Act Secondary Legislation Consultation can be found on the IPS website.

The consultation closes on 13 February 2009. Any changes to the draft Statutory Instruments will be made before being laid before Parliament. It is expected they will be considered in both Houses between March to May 2009 with all final legislation in place well ahead of the issue of the first cards. 

The delivery and timetable of the national identity scheme was revealed by the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith on 6 March this year in the national identity scheme delivery plan (new window) and updated by the Home Secretary earlier this month.

For more information please contact Sam Matthews in the Home Office press office on 020 7035 3839 or the newsdesk on 020 7035 3535.

The Subtleties of Surveillance

Posted in law and order, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on November 21, 2008

Targeted Surveillance vs. Mass Surveillance

There is a clear and obvious difference (I hope!) between ‘targeted surveillance’ for a particular purpose, which people like myself generally don’t have a problem with provided it is necessary, proportionate, and they have proper authorisation, and ‘mass surveillance’ in the hope that we might be able to one day catch some unknown person planning or doing something unknown at some unknown point in time.

An example of targeted surveillance is the intercept of communications of a person suspected of criminal offences – say, bugging his phone.  Or covertly following or watching him.

In general there is nothing wrong with that provided the surveillance team has the proper authorisation (e.g. a warrant), there is no reasonable alternative, and it is an appropriate and not excessive response to the activity you suspect the target of being engaged in.

An example of mass surveillance is the recording of all the details of electronic (i.e. Internet and telephone) communications, except for content, of everyone in the UK; or the recording of the details of every transaction involving the identity he has been assigned by the state. Or lots of CCTV cameras along a public highway.


Proportionality means that the measures used to combat an undesirable activity should be necessary and not go too far, should be appropriate.

That is to say you wouldn’t intercept the communications of everyone in a particular street if you are interested in only Mr Smith at number 72, and you would only intercept Mr Smith’s communications if you suspected him of committing an offence for which interception (breach of his privacy) was a reasonable response and there was no alternative means of gathering sufficient evidence.

In a different field, it isn’t proportional to keep people subject to control orders in their houses for most of the day because they haven’t been convicted of a criminal offence.

Function creep

Function creep is when a measure designed and promoted for one particular purpose is used for other purposes.

A recent real-life example is the use of the freezing measures in part II of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001: David Blunkett, when he was Home Secretary, persuaded Parliament that the financial controls were to halt the funding of organised crime and terrorism; of course, recently there has been a big fuss over these same measures being used against the UK assets of an Icelandic company.

Glossing over the subtleties

Hugo Rifkind, writing in the Times, glosses over these subtleties, conflating targeted and mass surveillance, and proportionate and disproportionate use of surveillance, and all the purposes of surveillance (he makes no distinction between watching for poorly timed bin bag placement and monitoring of sound levels from noisy neighbours).

Big Brother only wants to help you

The ‘Town Hall Stasi’ have been pilloried by politicians for tracking our every move but, as Hugo Rifkind discovers, the eyes behind the surveillance cameras can be a force for good — tackling everything from noisy neighbours to dog mess

I’m under cover with some spies, about to plant a bug. Or rather, to be more precise, I am in a stylish, modern flat in a riverside block in Newcastle, with a man called Ed and a man called Ian, and a young couple who have barely slept in six months.

The target lives in a neighbouring flat. He has a stereo in his living room and a stereo in his bedroom. He goes clubbing twice a week, and usually brings the club home. Every time Manchester United play, he has a party. “I think he’s also got a new drum kit,” adds the husband, helplessly. He has never spoken to this neighbour. He was going to once. Another neighbour got there first. It sounded as though there was going to be a fight.

Ed asks for silence, so that he can calibrate the machine. Outside, we can hear cars and seagulls. And then, bang on cue, there is a thump. The wife gives a nervous laugh.

Depending on who you ask, Ed Foster and Ian Cross are “snoopers” (most newspapers), “Town Hall Stasi” (one newspaper), “instruments of a creeping Orwellian state” (Chris Huhne, the Lib Dems’ home affairs spokesman) and “eroding our fundamental freedoms” (Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary). These are the people that David Davis was so concerned about, the ones whom the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph insist are hell-bent on misusing “anti-terrorist legislation” and turning Britain into a bleak facsimile of Cold War East Germany.

Noise pollution – say, a neighbour regularly spoiling the peaceful enjoyment of your home with loud music – is serious and can be very distressing.  I would say that a reasonable response, if he does not respond to complaints or if you are uncomfortable about approaching him, is to call the council and ask them to setup monitoring equipment.  That is targeted surveillance and a proportionate response. I doubt anyone has specifically referred to such surveillance as being Stasi-like or eroding our fundamental freedoms.

Rifkind makes light of all this in the next three paragraphs.


The fuss about surveillance, or at least the latest round of it, kicked off earlier this year, in Poole. Remember that? It concerned school applications. For a period of weeks, officials had been studying the movements of parents, to establish that they lived where they claimed they did. Cue media fandango.

One family was monitored for three weeks because the parents were (wrongly) suspected of lying about living in a particular school catchment area.  It was targeted surveillance but the council eventually agreed it was disproportionate surveillance.

The surveillance was conducted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), invariably otherwise known as “anti-terror legislation”. Of which more later.

Speaking to a House of Lords committee on Wednesday, Vernon Coaker, the Policing Minister, finally agreed to crack down on local authority surveillance. There have been too many stories, peers felt, about town halls spying on people who put their bins out on the wrong day, or who let their dogs poo where a dog should not. “We have to stop some of these other things happening,” said Coaker, to growls of approval.

Perhaps you’re growling yourself. Perhaps even my vignette above, from Newcastle, made you shudder. The Lives of Others. Surveillance society. Stasi Britain. All that. A land where neighbour denounces neighbour, CCTV cameras watch our every move and robots trawl through our dustbins, looking for mouldy aubergine in the recycling section.

A spokesman for the pressure group Liberty called the Poole affair “hugely intrusive”. In time, it emerged that many councils were using RIPA powers, some of them quite frequently. Newspapers began campaigns, Keith Vaz, MP, the chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, declared himself “personally shocked” and various people began to promise that various things would be done. And, in Newcastle, the council leader, John Shipley, began to grow alarmed.

His officers didn’t use covert surveillance in investigations connected to schools, bins or dog poo, but they did use it in plenty of other areas.

Including noisy neighbours, anti-social behaviour, and breaches of tenancy conditions – all proportionately responded to, on the face of it.

And yet Councillor Shipley was confident that they weren’t doing anything wrong, or even anything that would sound wrong. So, whereas most local authorities prefer to keep quiet about their RIPA use, he decided that Newcastle should come clean. He demanded full details of all surveillance activities, and he made sure that all of his fellow council members knew about them as well. Then, before anybody asked him to, he explained it all to the local press. No other council in Britain thought to do this. If the public tend to be frightened about surveillance, this could give us a clue as to why.

“I have seen nothing that has caused me concern,” shrugs Councillor Shipley, in a wood-panelled boardroom in Newcastle Civic Centre. “And we have had no complaints. Zero. None. Not one.” Shipley and his officers crack a few jokes about my Dictaphone, and then began to school me in the legal technicalities of directed surveillance – “the covert surveillance of a particular person, or for the purposes of a specific investigation, where private information about any individual is likely to be obtained”.

But perhaps he hasn’t had any complaints because his council hasn’t covertly surveilled people suspected of – shock horror – putting out their bin bags half an hour too early.

… Most newspapers seem incapable of referring to RIPA without dubbing it an “anti-terror law”, as though its employment by local authorities is inevitably some sort of heavy-handed abuse. On Wednesday, in that House of Lords committee, their lordships did the same. As any council officer, lawyer or unhysterical crime journalist will wearily tell you, this simply isn’t the case. In 2000, true enough, it applied only to the police and security services. As Home Secretary in 2003, David Blunkett extended the law to apply to local authorities and other public bodies, to be used for exactly the purposes that are now, suddenly, so controversial. …

Right.  Because when it was being pushed through Parliament, it was on the grounds that it would be used to combat serious crime, terorism, and paedophilia…


Victims of crime hampered by red tape

Posted in law and order, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on November 21, 2008

The BBC:

Victims of violent crimes are put off claiming compensation by complex forms and too much bureaucracy, MPs suggest.

Less than 5% of those eligible for sums of up to £500,000 are applying, the Commons public accounts committee said.

Two-thirds of victims are unaware of the scheme which covers England, Wales and Scotland, it added.

The committee said that last year there was a backlog of more than 80,000 cases. But the government claimed the system had improved since 2006. …

The report from the Public Accounts Committee can be downloaded from their website.

(Why the BBC, nor indeed other mainstream media outlets, never link to such things, I will never know. Quite frustrating.)

MPs on the Internet and video games

Posted in law and order, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on November 20, 2008

John Ozimek, at the Register:

The times, they may be changing on the internet, but if our Parliament has anything to do with it, that change is unlikely to be for the better. The problem is that far too many MP’s not only don’t get it when it comes to the net, they actively bask in their ignorance of new technology. 

… last week’s Westminster Hall Debate on the Report on Harmful Content on the Internet, released earlier this year by the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport was chock-full of parliamentary courtesy.

Middle-aged speaker after middle-aged dinosaur lumbered up to make the same quaintly prehistoric self-deprecating joke about their technological incompetence and how little experience they had of the internet or computer gaming. …

Yet the self-admittedly ignorant and incompetent were debating how (not whether) to regulate such activities.

Last word to a committee member who did not speak in the debate, but who did speak toThe Register. Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders said: “Government – of whatever stripe – is happiest with traditional models of topdown publishing run by properly constituted enterprises that it can control and regulate.

It finds the conversational anarchy on the web difficult to understand and definitely very difficult to deal with. Hence the authoritarian tendency in government thinking on the internet, which is never that far from the surface.

The debate can be read on TheyWorkForYou.

John Ozimek also quotes Edward Vaizey (Shadow Minister, Culture, Media & Sport; Wantage, Conservative):

In his response to Keith Vaz, he has implied that “Kaboom” is somehow a legitimate video game that breaches the boundaries of taste, but it is not. It was created by an individual in his bedroom. To say that we should ban “Kaboom” is, with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, slightly missing the point.”Kaboom” is not subject to any legal constraints. It cannot be submitted to a regulator to be classified, because it is made by an individual, effectively illegally, outside the mainstream, just as violent pornographic films or child abuse photographs are. It is not at all part of the mainstream video games industry.

This is quite extraordinary: activities are only illegal if they are prohibited by law.  It is because Vaizey disagrees with the content and the manner of its production – “it was created by an individual in his bedroom”, as if that has any bearing on whether something is ‘legitimate’ – that he considers it ‘effectively’ illegal – of course it is nothing of the sort.  What’s even more absurd about this is that the video games industry was born from bedroom programming.

They have a profound distaste for it because they cannot control it.

Keith Vaz has changed his tune:

What we need first of all from the industry is responsibility and partnership. We are all on the same side. We are saying clearly that for someone who is over 18, there should be no censorship or attempt to stop them seeing or doing whatever they want as far as video games are concerned. My interest has always been to protect those who are under 18. Some are our children, of course, but it goes beyond protecting our own children. That is my only concern—not to stop adults buying games but to ensure that harmful games do not fall into the hands of young people and children.

He campaigned to ban Manhunts 1 & 2, which – ironically – increased sales.

Well, there’s plenty of other guff in there.  It’s a pity that they feel they have a right to control the Internet and video games even though they admit to being incompetent and ignorant.

Does anyone remember the episode of Thomas the Tank Engine, Henry’s Bad Day, when Henry is bricked up in a tunnel?  ‘Effectively’ buried alive?