UK Liberty

Why is photography still a problem?

Posted in control freakery, law and order, relates to ordinary people, stupid by ukliberty on December 7, 2009

John Ozimek at the Register:

The government’s own anti-terror advisor, Lord Carlile of Berriew, believes that the police are over-using and misusing anti-terror laws to crack down on photographers. …

Craig Mackey, speaking for the Association of Chief Police Officers on this issue, blamed lack of awareness by officers as to how best to use “complex” legislation. He said: “It goes back to the issue of briefing and training of staff and making sure they are clear around the legislation we are asking them to use.” …

Apparently there is an “internal urban myth” that photography is not allowed in particular areas.  This is despite the fact that “there are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place.”

The fear, expressed within the ranks of senior police officers, is that a backlash against perceived heavy-handedness could lead to members of the public becoming more aware of their rights, less co-operative, and ultimately far more difficult to police.

Although the focus of public debate is currently on photographers being stopped and searched under terror legislation, the issue goes far wider and highlights a growing confusion both on the part of police and public as to what police may do – and when they may do it. …

It is hard enough for the public to keep abreast of this maze of legislation – and therefore not at all surprising if some police forces are also unable to keep their officers fully trained in the nuances of the law.

I take the point but this seems the wrong way round – surely the police ought to be more aware of the law than the public.

In any case, we (society) do have a hard time navigating our way through the ridiculous amount of legislation that has been churned out in recent years.  But it’s odd that this was not nipped in the bud far sooner – i.e. when the first photographer was stopped for doing something perfectly normal and reasonable and lawful.

What’s interesting to me as well is the question as to why people invent these “internal urban myths” – e.g. photography in s44 areas is not allowed – in the first place.

Perhaps it is because their superiors provide a fertile environment in which such ideas may flourish?

Has the Commons lost all power?

Posted in control freakery, politicians on liberty, separation of powers by ukliberty on December 1, 2009

Andrew Whittam Smith in the Independent:

The Committee of MPs set up to examine the procedures of the House of Commons in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal has finally reported on something much worse, the emasculation of members. In its account, the Committee unconsciously describes this state of affairs almost as the dictionary has it. For emasculation can mean “rendering a male less of a man”, or “making a male feel himself to be less of a man by subjecting him to humiliation”.

In just this way, backbench MPs feel themselves ineffective and regularly reminded of their unimportance. That is why the Committee, led by Dr Tony Wright, observes: “At present many Members (of Parliament) do not see the point in attending debates or making the House the primary focus of their activities.” …

Why is this? Because ordinary Members of Parliament have no control of the agenda of the House. The timetable of business is arranged by the government of the day down to the last five minutes. It is obvious: if you can only discuss and debate what the Government says you may discuss and debate, then there is no reason at all to turn up. …

Smith makes some interesting points, but there is something missing in his article about what the problem is.

Ordinary Members of Parliament do ultimately have control of the agenda of the House.  After all, it is they who decide the composition of Government – the Government is usually formed by the party with the majority of seats in the Commons, it is not a wholly distinct body, and if a majority of MPs decided a different Government should be formed, then that is the Government that will be formed.

It is because those MPs prioritise their Government over day-to-day control of the Parliamentary timetable that they do not have day-to-day control.  In other words they have surrendered that power for the sake of their Government.  Other MPs of course can legitimately feel emasculated, but not those who help form the Government.




Hmm, in retrospect the above is a bit idealistic and doesn’t take into account the complexities of party constitution and structure…

Hang on

Posted in control freakery, database state, DNA database, stupid, surveillance society by ukliberty on November 30, 2009

Sean O’Neill, Crime and Security Editor of the Times:

If the civil libertarians, the conspiracy theorists and the Conservatives had their way, Abdul Azad would probably never have been caught. Azad was convicted of a brutal stranger rape in Stafford in July 2005 after fragments of his skin were recovered from under his victim’s fingernails and yielded a DNA profile matching his record on the national database.

This is an example of ‘marketing’ the database by drawing attention to a terrible crime they claim to have solved by using it.

But critics of DNA retention, the latest being the Human Genetics Commission, would not want Azad’s profile to be on the database to provide the crucial match. His DNA had been taken five months before the rape, when he was arrested and gave a DNA sample after police were called to a violent incident at his home in Birmingham.

Azad was, however, released without being charged. Under the current British rules his DNA was retained on the database and provided the crucial piece of evidence that would convict him of rape months later.

Under the DNA rules that exist in other countries and which opponents of the database want replicated here, however, Azad’s profile would have been expunged when he was released without charge for the domestic violence incident.

The investigating officer in Azad’s case had no doubt of the value of retaining this innocent man’s DNA. “We would never have caught him had his DNA not already been on the database,” he said. “He didn’t even live locally so we had no intelligence leads either.” …

OK so it’s helped with catching one man – great.  What harms has it caused?  What risks are associated with the DNA database?

O’Neill neglects to say.

See, the difference between O’Neill and me is that I’m prepared to weigh up the benefits and the costs and change my mind.  But there has been no such weighing up in government.

As Nigel Hawkes of Straight Statistics put it,

The Home Office plans to retain [DNA] profiles for six years, but has so far failed to produce persuasive evidence that doing so is justified by any increases it will bring in the clear-up rate. Why not? The information is available. It simply needs independent analysis.

Or as NO2ID put it,

That DNA is involved in the detection of less than 0.5% of all recorded crime suggests that it is far from cost-effective. In order to make a judgement about cost-effectiveness, the public must be told exactly how much is being spent on DNA collection, processing, matching and retention. Until these figures are regularly published and properly audited, there is no way to determine cost effectiveness.

Or as GeneWatch put it,

…although there are limitations to current evidence, it is already sufficient to demonstrate that current policy and legislation is disproportionate to the need to tackle crime, because the recent massive expansion in the size of the DNA Database has failed to increase the proportion of crimes detected using DNA.

And as the Nuffield Council on Bioethics said,

Statistics about ‘matches’ to unconvicted people on the Database do not tell us whether these cases actually resulted in a conviction, or whether DNA evidence was essential to the case

Which is why Mark Craik, Chief Constable, Northumbria Police, was a bit silly to send his letter* to the Times:

When the issue is so important, surely it behoves the technical advisers, be they police or scientists, to stick with the evidence and facts.

Because the police and government haven’t stuck to the evidence and facts.

Back to O’Neill:

The same voices that sow alarm over DNA also complain loudly about the spread of the “surveillance society”. They fret about the rising number of CCTV cameras, quoting the guesstimate of 4.2 million cameras as fact. [it’s true that is a guesstimate]

And they stoke up fear over proposals to create a central log of mobile phone and e-mail traffic, something that law enforcement refers to as the intercept modernisation programme [IMP] but which has become better known as the “Big Brother database”.

What fear is being stoked up, aside from the fear of O’Neill et al that rapists will be free to rape if we are more thoughtful about when and where such technology should be used?

It seems to me that critics are merely reminding everyone to consider the risks associated with such things.

These battles being fought (and won) under the banner of liberty and privacy threaten to have serious consequences in terms of the ability of the police to investigate serious crime. If we curtail the use of DNA, slash the number of CCTV cameras and abandon the collation of phone and e-mail records then we are asking detectives to try to catch the most dangerous criminals with one hand tied behind their backs. ….

I could argue from the extreme: surely we should have a camera in every room of every home and electronically tag every person?  No?  But rapists will be free to rape if we don’t!

Finally there is the issue of logging phone calls and e-mails. Anyone who has sat in a Crown Court recently will be familiar with the evidential value of phone logs — massive spreadsheets drawn up to show the patterns of connection and communication between defendants accused of murder, terrorism, people trafficking, drug smuggling, kidnap and armed robbery.

Would police investigating the child abuse at Little Ted’s nursery in Plymouth have been able to trace the links between Vanessa George, Angela Allen and Colin Blanchard without access to records of her phone and computer activity?

It seems dishonest of O’Neill to conflate such targetted surveillance with mass surveillance (e.g. the IMP).

The proposed Big Brother database is a way of centrally organising information to which the police already have access but which is currently held by Vodafone, Yahoo! and others. Yet we seem to mind less about personal detail held by the private sector.

In fact people are concerned about data held by the private sector but it is dishonest to point to its nature as being the same as that held by the public sector: for one thing, private sector data is usually of a voluntary kind; for another, there are strict rules about its collection and retention that the public sector is not equally subject to.

We should, of course, be wary of the authoritarian tendency to extend draconian powers of surveillance or asset seizure from the police to local councils, quangos and other ill-equipped bodies. But to tell detectives investigating murder, rape, kidnap and other crimes of violence that they cannot harness the full power of DNA, CCTV or phone-tracing is senseless.

A false dichotomy: no-one is suggesting that detectives cannot use such things.

Far from sleepwalking into a surveillance society, we are marching, mad-eyed and paranoid, into a situation where those who would seek to protect us from the most dangerous criminals would be denied the ability to do so.

That’s really quite bizarre:

  1. We already live in a surveillance society (it is now a matter of degree or extent, i.e. I can’t say we are as badly off as the East Germans); and,
  2. It’s O’Neill and other supporters of the government’s idiot schemes who have been stoking fear about rapists and terrorists running amok if the police aren’t allowed to use the DNA database (which of course no-one has suggested).

 


* Incidentally, this bit from Craik’s letter is flawed both in its reasoning and its grasp of the facts:

The report does not seem to recognise that police collate and record only what it is currently lawful to collate and record. As ever, we act only according to the law as it currently stands.

In reasoning, because it is important that the police do what is right, as well as what is lawful: if it is lawful to shoot someone for stealing a pack of chewing gum, we wouldn’t say a police officer who did so was behaving appropriately, reasonably, or proportionately.

In fact, because the police themselves do break the law from time to time.  In relation to DNA samples, I wrote last year that,

until s82 Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 came into effect, retention of fingerprint and sample evidence was unlawful (under s64(3) Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984), yet the police retained the evidence.  I make no claim about the merits or otherwise of the retention of such evidence (it has certainly proved useful but its proportionality is disputed) – what I think is interesting is the assumption that neither the government nor the police would ever do anything unlawful, and not something found unlawful after the fact (e.g. after a court case) but something plainly unlawful according to the very clear law at the time.

And since then of course we had the European Court of Human Rights rule in S & Marper that blanket and indefinite detention of samples is unlawful.  Nevertheless the police continue to do it – yes, that’s right, they continue to do this unlawful activity.

Seriously, for Craik to claim that “as ever we act only according to the law as it currently stands”… well, it’s dishonest and/or ignorant, to put it mildly, and as Chief Constable he ought to know better.

Beyond parody

But no laughing matter.

Daily Telegraph:

The Government has pledged that all 16 to 18 year olds will complete 50 hours of community work as part of its move to raise the school leaving age.

In the speech announcing the plan, which will be a Labour manifesto pledge, Gordon Brown specifically mentioned that teenagers would make a difference by “helping in an old people’s home or tutoring younger pupils”.

But under the Government’s strict new vetting regime, anyone over the age of 16 working with children or vulnerable adults will have to start registering with the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) from November next year. …

So the teenagers will have to be checked.

Also surely the elderly or vulnerable will have to be checked too, because they will be in contact with these teenagers.

The vetting scheme was initially designed to protect children against abuse. More than 11 million people are expected to be vetted by 2015. Checks cost £64 but are free to volunteers.

The scheme is only supposed to apply to those who work with children or vulnerable adults on a frequent or intensive basis but many organisations take a “better safe then sorry approach”.

Critics have condemned the application of vetting to an ever-growing number of law-abiding helpers.
Parents who ferry children to football matches, adults who sit in with their youngsters at Sunday school and parents who occasionally help out at Scouts have all fallen victim to the zealous imposition of the checks.

Mounting opposition has led Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, to announce a review of the rules. Sir Roger Singleton, the chair of the ISA, will attempt to clarify who will be covered by the scheme. He will report next month.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said: “We have asked Sir Roger to advise on this issue as part of his check on who should have to register with the vetting and barring scheme.”

But why on earth wasn’t it made clear already?  Critics of the scheme since its inception, even if they broadly supported it in principle, predicted there would be such consequences. I wrote over a year ago that,

Parents are not being allowed into Christmas discos.  A large proportion of adults are being put off volunteer work – with consequences for children (e.g. 50,000 girls excluded from joining Girl Guides because of a shortage of adult leaders).  Adults are put off from reassuring children.

It’s harming civil society.  Did our beloved leaders include these consequences in their cost-benefit analysis of the scheme?

Oh, now I read that (hat-tip Andrew Watson),

Parents who want to accompany their children to Christmas carol services and other festive activities are being officially vetted for criminal records in case they are paedophiles. …

Among those affected are parents at a village primary school who have been told they must be vetted before they can accompany pupils on a 10-minute walk to a morning carol service at the local church.

Other primaries have instituted vetting for parents attending Christmas discos on school premises. Some schools require checks on parents who volunteer to walk with children from the school to post letters to Father Christmas.

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University and the author of a report on paranoia over child protection, said: “Once you institutionalise mistrust, you incite people to take these things further and further, finding new areas to implement criminal record checks.

It becomes a badge of responsibility and a symbolic ritual. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense.”

Quite.

Incidentally, from the first article I linked to above,

Some charities have criticised the plan and have said that its mandatory nature goes against the spirit of volunteering.

Er yes, because volunteering for something means you freely choose to do it.  By definition, you can’t be compelled to volunteer.  Jebus, it’s like ‘presumed consent’ for organ donation.

Another terrographer story

The Evening Standard:

A BBC photographer was stopped by police on suspicion of being a terrorist as he took pictures outside Tate Modern.

Jeff Overs, 48, was photographing sunset over St Paul’s Cathedral when a policewoman, with a community support officer, told him she was “stopping people who were taking photographs, as a counter-terrorism measure” and demanded his name, address and date of birth. …

Seriously, this is stupid and wrong.