UK Liberty

Sorry Henry but this is what shielding is for

Posted in database state, politicians on liberty, privacy, relates to ordinary people by ukliberty on March 30, 2009

Henry Porter in the Guardian:

.. If someone can without much trouble lift this data, does it not follow that databases like the national identity register and the children’s database, ContactPoint, are similarly insecure?

Even if Smith is unlikely to absorb this message now, MPs who worry about their personal information leaking to the press may like to think again about the merits of big, centralised databases. For that reason, we should welcome the Mail on Sunday’s scoop. Smith’s embarrassment is a fringe benefit, which we may think of as repayment to the taxpayer.

But special people will be ‘shielded’ by ContactPoint and we know that special people have “additional protection” from HMRC.  

Also, our representatives don’t want us to know where they live.

All for security purposes of course.

That many of us would like the same security is of no account, unless we can prove we are particularly vulnerable.

Otherwise we remain subject to a greater security risk than our representatives.

It really is a case of one rule for them and another for the rest of us.


Man watches Ocean’s 13… twice

Call for resignation.

Alix Mortimer makes a more sober comment:

… And why, you might ask, am I, um, handwringing over this in quite so prurient a fashion?

Simple. This is just the kind of happy little vignette that it’s apparently just fine for three hundred thousand civil servants and ministers to know about the rest of us. Every internet transaction, every site visit, every email.  So what if outrage, mortification and a publicly damaged relationship results? At least the government have been able to verify to their own satisfaction that you’re not doing anything wrong. …

Guido says they don’t like it up ’em:

Note that the anger MPs are feeling about the expenses revelations is directed not at those MPs who are abusing the system and bringing them all into disrepute, but at those who are exposing them. Labour MPs are convinced there is a “Tory mole”* in the fees office, others think that digitised versions of their soon to be released receipts are being shopped around the papers. …

And what about that ‘court of public opinion’, asks Mark Reckons:

When Harriet Harman was being questioned about Shred’s pension she said that although his contract may be enforceable by law, it is not enforceable in the “court of public opinion” and hence the government would “step in”. I wonder whether she takes a similar view about Jacqui Smith trousering over £100K by claiming that a room in her sister’s house is her main residence whilst she has a huge house in Redditch where her husband and children live. It is clear that is also not enforceable in the “court of public opinion. Is she now going to “step in”?

Shoddy detective work

Posted in database state, DNA database by ukliberty on March 30, 2009

[hat-tip FishNChipPapers]

The Police Professional:

A report that suggests a quarter of public sector databases are illegal under human rights or data protection laws has been criticised for inconsistencies and a lack of evidence.

Database State was published this week by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. The report assesses 46 databases across major government departments and suggests ten – including the national DNA database (NDNAD) – should be “scrapped or substantially redesigned”.

The report was criticised by Peter Neyroud, the chief executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), which manages the main police databases. Mr Neyroud said: “The report contains a number of inaccuracies and contradictions. It fails to mention the Police National Computer at all …

In fact there is a section on the PNC from page 21.

Back to Neyroud:

“The NDNAD detects a disproportionate number of serious crimes”

In fact the report says,

there is serious doubt about its effectiveness: doubling the number of people on the database from about 2m to about 4m has not increased the proportion of crimes solved using DNA, which remains steady at about 1 in 300. Indeed, in 2007 the number actually fell slightly.

Back to Neyroud,

“and to suggest that it should be scrapped is ludicrous.”

In fact the report does not suggest it should be scrapped. It says,

Red means that a database is almost certainly illegal under human rights or data protection law and should be scrapped or substantially redesigned.

For all but the most serious offences (sexual and violent offences), data must be forgotten after an appropriate period.

And given the European Court of Human Rights said it is currently unlawful, it seems implicit the database must be changed to make it lawful.

Regrets, they’ve had a few

Michael Wills in the Times:

Basic principles for protecting the use of data are that it should be proportionate and necessary. That goes for debate about it too. Databases are a fact of life in private and public sector alike – we don’t live in a database state as much as a database society. They deliver real benefits for the public and it skews debate about the challenge they pose to all of us if anyone ignores this or pretends otherwise.

No-one reasonable has claimed they don’t deliver real benefits.  The dispute is about the benefits vs. disadvantages.

But, like all technologies, databases can do damage if misused.

Their very existence may also do damage: there is a chilling effect, for example, by recording the details of people who attend protests, and the details of journalists who report on protests.

The issue is not whether to have them

Yes, it is.

but how they can be deployed without damaging privacy. It’s a question of balance and the challenge is how to strike it.

Databases help to deliver public services efficiently and effectively. They can also help to detect and prevent crime and put right miscarriages of justice by exonerating the innocent.

I’d love to know which database has helped exonerate the innocent.

Of course, these obvious benefits shouldn’t be used as an excuse for negligence in protecting the basic right to privacy. And this Government has brought in new protections for the individual with the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act, and by setting up the Information Commissioner’s Office, to which we are now giving further powers.

It is also the Government that has so far ignored S & Marper v UK, the judgement of the European Court on Human Rights that says the DNA and sample database used by England and Wales is unlawful – in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.

And neither the Data Protection Act nor Human Rights Act prevent damage – they only allow people to seek remedies once damage has been caused.

Regrettably neither private nor public sector always gets it right.

But it is possibly easier to remedy private sector damage.

Mistakes happen in all areas of life. The important point is to recognise them, correct them and learn lessons for the future. When the Government gets it wrong, we hold our hands up and take immediate steps to put it right.

This is beyond parody.  In fact what happens is this: 

  1. the Government smears the people who stick their heads above the parapet (as was seen with, for example, Simon Davies and the LSE report on the National Identity Scheme, and now the authors of the FIPR report on the Database State);
  2. the Government prevaricates, procrastinates, launches lots of inquiries that take years to finish and the results are often confidential, and if there is legal action it fights it every step of the way, all the way to the European Court of Human Rights;
  3. the Government takes an age to respond to the outcome of the inquiries and judgements.

The loss of HM Revenue & Customs disks triggered reforms of data security in government. When we recognised that data-sharing provisions in the Coroners and Justice Bill had been too widely drawn, we immediately withdrew them.

When you ‘recognised’, you withdrew them – we recognised they were a Bad Thing when we saw them.

Actually you withdrew them when you realised that a significant number of people were against them.

But they should not have been present in the first place.

A Government truly interested in privacy and security would not have drafted those dreadful provisions.

But to reject all the benefits that databases offer the public simply because a mistake might be made is to strike the balance in the wrong place. Should we really avoid trying to do all we can to prevent another Soham tragedy?

It depends.

It depends on what we mean by “do all we can” – we could prevent a “Soham tragedy” by not letting children leave our homes.

Or stop doctors accessing vital medical records?

It depends.

Or fetter the provision of welfare entitlements, such as free school meals, for the most vulnerable?

It depends.

Scrutiny helps to ensure mistakes are avoided and the basic right to privacy isn’t damaged.

But, sadly, the Rowntree report this week didn’t do all it might have done to help the Government get the balance right. It’s not clear how they made their judgments or how they used evidence to make these judgments.

Well, learn how to effing read and learn what footnotes mean. 

Perhaps the FIPR should have monosyllabically spelled out in big letters exactly what to do with each database (where ‘exactly what to do’ doesn’t mean ‘bin it’).  But then their report would have been ten if not a hundred times as long.

In contrast, the independent review by Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, and Mark Walport was thorough and meticulous and, as a result, provided invaluable proposals for change, which the Government is now delivering.

Um… they didn’t quite say what you claim they said, though – did they?

We’re never complacent about databases – the challenge in getting the balance right is evolving as fast as the technologies themselves – and whenever changes need to be made, we will make them.


You want to churn out databases – just as you churn out criminal justice legislation – because it makes you look like you’re doing something, not because you’ve genuinely had a think about whether its right or wrong and what the consequences might be and whether its really worth it.

Very good!

Posted in database state, DNA database, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on March 27, 2009

inJustice Minister Michael Wills in the Times:

Regrettably neither private nor public sector always gets it right. Mistakes happen in all areas of life. The important point is to recognise them, correct them and learn lessons for the future. When the Government gets it wrong, we hold our hands up and take immediate steps to put it right. 

S & Marper v UK – the judgement that says the England and Wales DNA and sample database is unlawful – was handed down in December 2008, about three months ago.

What steps has the Government taken to make the database lawful?