UK Liberty

Moron

Posted in database state, ID Cards, stupid by ukliberty on December 3, 2009

Angela Epstein, Manchester Evening News:

I’M so proud I could almost burst I haven’t felt this good about cradling something small and pink since my daughter Sophie was born.

All right, so I’m exaggerating a bit. But honestly, when you’re the first member of the public to be issued with a brand spanking new national identity card, it’s a seminal moment.

Well, it is for me, anyway. You may not agree. After all, in a city of two and a half million, only 1,386 have actually applied for these hotly-disputed ID cards. But more of that later.

The fact is that when the scheme, which is being trialled here in Manchester, opened for business on Monday morning, I was thrilled to be invited to be first in the queue (well, small queue) to apply for one.

And how did I manage to bag poll position? Thanks entirely to this column, which I’ve had the privilege to use as a platform from which to venture encouraging opinions on the introduction of voluntary ID cards.

Yep.  Not because of first come first served, which would be fair, but because Epstein shills for the Government.

Though taking this view has always triggered furious debate, I didn’t realise that I was such a minority voice. But the Home Office did.

Really?  They’ve been telling us even since the scheme’s inception that it was really popular…

Which is why they asked me if I wanted to lead from the front. Such is the power of this fine newspaper.

I won’t rehash all the arguments in favour of ID cards – that they are a small, convenient and portable way to prove identity. Nor will I try and convince opponents that they are not an infringement of English civil liberties. Everyone is entitled to their view.

Instead, let me tell you what I actually had to do to get one.

Actually it nearly didn’t happen. Thanks to a small burn on my index finger (roast potatoes can be lethal) the plaster I was wearing scuppered my prints, foxed the scanner and baffled the interviewing officer at Manchester’s Passport and Identity Service in Piccadilly. But we put our heads together and agreed that removing it (the plaster, not the finger) would resolve the situation.

Now we can all sleep soundly in our beds.

Incidentally, Epstein was interviewed by the BBC t’other day (skip to 42mins) and she implied something quite different about what happened as a result of her burned finger.

However before we got to this stage, I’d filled in a form, not dissimilar to a passport application, which was checked over and imputed into a computer by a charming but slightly nervous lady whose badge said Pauline – was that her ID, I wondered?

I think she means Pauline inputted, not imputed, which means something else.

I was then asked to choose five ‘password’ questions from a list of 20 which were unique to me and could subsequently prove who I was. They included name of first pet, favourite song and best subject at school. Cute but slightly bonkers, perhaps.

She also said in the BBC interview that one of the questions is “what is your favourite food?”

Thanks for sharing that with the Internet and increasing the risk of ID compromise.

After this I was taken to a curtained booth to have biometric particulars taken down: not as saucy as it sounds but simply my photo, prints and electronically recorded signature.

The card normally takes four to 10 working days, but because I was first and there’s no backlog I was told I’d get it the same day. Actually it wasn’t ready until the following morning as it had to come via, er, Chadderton, but I won’t split hairs.

So it was late.

When I went to pick it up a Roy Cropper wannabe complete with diagonally placed bag was eagerly awaiting his turn while a middle-aged man with a nice wax jacket did the crossword. No apparent need for crash barriers.

Even though only three people went through the process.

You may think the £4.7bn scheme is a waste of money and I would admit that the thinking has been flawed in parts. But that’s the beauty of a voluntary scheme and a democratic society.

What is?  That a government in power on the basis of votes from 22% of the electorate has wasted £4.7 bn on a scheme that won’t work as advertised but will infringe our liberties?

Yes, that’s the ‘beauty’ of democracy.

You can choose to have one or not.

We can’t choose to be on the database or not.

We will be forced to be on the database if Labour has their way.

The Tories have pledged to junk them if they win. And when I had a shmooze with home office minister Meg Hillier on Monday she wouldn’t say whether I’d get my 30 quid back if that happened.

But I genuinely felt proud and excited when I was finally handed my card. I loved seeing my name, face and the words British citizen on this tiny piece of plastic. That’s who I am, and why shouldn’t anyone know?

Don’t people already know who you are?  Your family, friends, the people who read your stupid articles?

As I’ve said before I understand why people have their reservations, but I personally can’t see what there is to lose if you’re a law abiding citizen with nothing to hide.

Of course.  I look forward to Epstein volunteering to have all her communications monitored, her home filled with CCTV cameras, and her medical records spread about the public sector.

And if it’s another weapon in the fight against identity fraud, illegal workers and terrorism, then that can only be for the good.

Really?  No consideration of necessity or proportionality?  If it is of some help it is absolutely the right thing to do?

Slipping it into my purse and slinking off into the gloom of an icy winter afternoon, I felt like I was pocketing a piece of history.

Thank god it will be history when the new government comes into power.

(Fingers crossed.)

Weirdly, in the same BBC piece, Home Surveillance Office Minister Meg Hillier claims ID cards can’t be revoked.  Erm.. what happens when they are compromised or stolen, Meg?

Advertisements

That Swiss referendum

Posted in state-citizen relationship, stupid by ukliberty on December 1, 2009

Not particularly relevant to the UK except that people claiming to be supporters of freedom are crowing about the victory and wishing that we had a similar system of referenda here.

It seems to me that any supporter of freedom ought to be concerned about the tyranny of the majority and the proper exercise of power.

And anyone interested in democracy ought to be concerned that a third of those eligible to vote is sufficient to make constitutional change – in relation to uh… planning law.

Quite, quite bizarre that these ostensible supporters of freedom think the result is wholly wonderful news.

£5bn for proof of age card = money well spent?

Posted in database state, ID Cards, politicians on liberty, stupid by ukliberty on November 30, 2009

The Guardian:

The home secretary, Alan Johnson, showed off his [identity card] as he travelled to Brussels for a meeting of EU ministers yesterday.

“The many benefits of the national identity card can now be enjoyed by members of the public in Manchester,” he said.

“The first applicants will soon be taking advantage of the voluntary card as a means to prove and protect their identity in a quick, simple and secure way.

“It can be used by young people as a convenient and universal proof of age and as a credit card-sized alternative to the passport when travelling in Europe.”

It’s really popular in Manchester, too*:

Since applications opened a fortnight ago, 1,386 people out of an eligible population of 1.7 million [or 0.08% – ukliberty] in the area have requested an application form.

Weirdly,

The scheme’s launch was overshadowed by the revelation that the cards are only available to people who already have a passport or whose passport expired this year.

Anyone else wanting a £30 card will first have to sign up for a passport at a cost of £77.50.

So it will cost you £107.50 to have an identity card…

More details of the Manchester scheme on SpyBlog.


* sarcasm.

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.