Tag Archives: civil liberties

Nothing To Fear; Move Along…

The British, like the sheep they raise, are generally a docile bunch and don’t seem to complain much when their civil liberties are trod upon.  This month, we found out that the Home Office are to resurrect plans for electronic surveillance. Originally conceived in 2008 by the previous Labour government, this entails tracking the details (but not content) of every website visited, text, phone call and email ever sent, it was dropped because of cross-party outcry over civil liberties. Now it’s back; and in real time. And with wider scope than ever.

I don’t want to look at the details of this proposal yet, I am developing an article on it currently and will release it when it is complete. However, I do want to look at to whom exactly we are entrusting these new powers, their track record and the shadow this casts over the future.

Data about communications made and received will also be available to 652 public bodies, including the police and councils. The Home Office said the content of calls and texts would not be read and insisted the move was vital to tackle serious crime and terrorism.

Security of the Data

Although not reported constantly in main stream media, there are data security breaches in government departments every week. Public confidence in the governments’ ability to look after data has been dented in recent years with many high profile failures, including the loss of a CD carrying all the personal details of every child benefit claimant.

“While the public is “sleepwalking” into a surveillance society, the government seems to have its eyes wide open although, unfortunately, to everything except security,” said Jamie Cowper, data protection expert at data protection firm PGP Corporation.

“The bottom line is – information of this nature should only be held if – and only if – it can be demonstrated that an appropriate system of checks and balances is in place and the security of the information being stored is of paramount concern,” he added.

Risks

 The more people who have access to it the more risks there would be 
Chris Mayers, Citrix Systems

It would extend the powers of RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) which currently allows hundreds of government agencies access to communications data. Some believe such legislation, which requires government authorities to request information from communication providers, is more than adequate for law enforcement purposes.

Personal Profiles

A person’s location can be pinpointed to within a few feet by identifying the mobile phone mast used to transmit their call. Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, said people were more concerned than ever about their personal privacy, especially how many bodies had access to their phone records.

“There are actually a very broad range of purposes for which this information about who we’ve been phoning and when can be revealed,” Ms Chakrabarti said. “It includes, for example, the Gaming Board, the Food Standards Authority and every district and county council in the country.” She said requests for information would not be limited to those concerning serious crime and national security. “We’re talking about a profile that can be built of your personal relationships on the basis of who you’ve been speaking to and when.”

Anti-Terror Laws

Police enforcement of the anti-terror laws has created some unintended consequences, including the shooting of the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes as he ran to catch a train. Others are just nutty, and the government’s proposals to deal with terrorism seem more designed to combat civil liberties than terror.

Since 7/7:

• A 34-year-old woman arrested for walking to work on a bike path, instead of cycling, in an area secretly designated a “designated area” and held under the “anti-terrorism act.”

• An 82-year-old man (and a younger man who jumped in to assist him) tossed out of the Labour conference for heckling Jack Straw.

 A French journalist held for hours after wearing a bulky jacket and neglecting to make eye contact.

 On the DLR, where a tourist was surrounded by police officers after taking videos.

• The establishment of a “no protest” zone which includes a vast swath around Westminster. You can’t say anything or wear anything that might be anti-goverment or considered protest.

Exuberant Authority

We have become objects of suspicion to institutions that used to make us feel secure: banks, councils, the police. In turn, we distrust them.

A report by Harriet Sergeant for Civitas describes the recent jump in complaints by law-abiding people against the police. A 19 year old student was arrested and detained for five hours for holding a Tube lift door open with his foot A man was nicked for pulling over to answer a phone call. Each example sounds silly, tabloid. But there are too many -to ignore. Surrey Police’s recent decision to abandon box-ticking is a measure of their concern about the corrosion of their relationship with the public.

Each new measure is justified in the same way -you have nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong, But that is no longer true. We have everything to fear from a State that has lost all sense of proportion. In a free society, rights and laws protect people from the government. In a tyranny, rights and laws protect government from the people. Often, the first thing people observe when visiting tyrannies are unpleasant and swaggering officials trying to impound passports. We don’t want to see them at the Eurostar.

What irks is that “they” don’t know us, only our data.

Why should we worry? The terrorists are out to get us; what’s the loss of a few civil liberties? We’re all willing to pay a price, aren’t we, for security?

Unfortunately, draconian laws don’t make us safer: When a young man is arrested for “walking while Muslim” and sent to jail for three months without charges being filed, and his family is visited by Muslim extremists trying to convince them the real enemy is the British government, and his little brother listens to their arguments, and he joins a terrorist cell to “get even”…then we’re not safer.

When police are allowed to arrest anyone, anytime, and conveniently mark it up to the anti-terrorism laws, we’re all in danger, even if we didn’t do the heckling or walk down a path intended for bicyclists.

Remember: when the police state arrests your neighbour, it’s not a far walk to your house.

Who Let the Dogs Police Us?

by Tom Whipple
Full Article: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6060244.ece?Submitted=true 

As dusk fell on the City of London last Wednesday, an elderly woman remonstrated with a policewoman. “Why won’t you let us out?” she asked, slumped against the Bank of England between two puddles of urine.

The policewoman responded that she was only following orders. Even as the Metropolitan Police press office was telling newspapers that protesters were being released, it was clear that no one was being allowed to leave.

If, as yesterday’s footage seems to imply, just half an hour later a policeman struck Ian Tomlinson from behind, the police have an obvious response. The policeman involved was a bad apple who has let everybody down. It was an isolated incident. He was disobeying orders.

Last week, after spending seven hours as a journalist locked into an increasingly small cordon, after watching police officers charge with truncheons and shields and after watching peaceful protesters retreat bloodied, I wrote about my experience.

After the article was published, Sara McAlpine – who said that she had happened to pass a demonstration the following day to mark Mr Tomlinson’s death – sent me an e-mail. There is no way to corroborate her account, except that it tallies with so many others. “This is what I witnessed myself in 15 minutes standing near the Bank of England,” she said. “The police split the protest into two groups on two cornering streets, not letting anyone leave. Suddenly, a policeman threw a punch at the face of a male, who raised his right arm to try and block the punch (no retaliation, merely a block). Immediately, three officers threw him up against the scaffolding, knocked him to the ground and beat him with their batons. They then carried him horizontally away.

“A photographer on the spectator side of the cordon tried to capture it. An officer ran over and grabbed him, trying to force him into the cordon. He escaped but the officer came after him and squared up to him (who was right next to me at this point) shouting, ‘Do you want a piece of this, huh, do you want to come and get some?’ He was then called back by another officer.

“A few minutes later, a girl no more than 10 metres away from me, who was on the front line of the cordon, was suddenly shoved up against a wall and kicked repeatedly by a policeman. He left her as she stayed cowering.”

“At that point, five police surrounded us (as quite a crowd had amassed in horror by now) and told us that we would be arrested if we didn’t move along. One guy said he had a right to stand there and watch and the policeman threatened him in no uncertain terms that he would either be arrested or thrown in the cordon if he didn’t move. He did. I left.”

Hers was not the only e-mail. Steven McManus, who says he is a barrister and a former special constable, was in Threadneedle Street on Wednesday. “At around 6pm I was outside the Royal Exchange chatting with some officers. I was between the officers and the protesers. The atmosphere was calm and non-confrontational. I shared a few jokes with one officer and was just generally chatting.

“A short while later the line began to move forward. The officers began to shout that we should all move back. I turned towards the crowd and began to move off in that direction. As I was walking away I was struck from behind by a baton and pushed forward towards the steps of Bank Underground.

“I was more than a little shocked at having been hit. The officer who had struck me was one I had been chatting to moments earlier, who knew about my City Police connection, and to whom I had my back turned. I remonstrated with the officer as to why he had hit me – his reply being: “F*** off, move back”. He said he could not help but be reminded of the manner of the attack on Tomlinson.

Elsewhere in the city, other groups were reporting similar incidents. Richard Howlett was at Climate Camp, a separate demonstration in Bishopsgate that – after 12 hours of non-violent protest – was cleared by riot police in the early hours of Thursday, April 2. “They moved in and blocked us in from both ends. Utterly unprovoked, the police then pushed forward in full riot gear using their truncheons and shields to beat people indiscriminately. Friends of mine were beaten and there were several injuries,” he said.

“Climate Camp responded in a totally peaceful manner. We sat down and chanted, ‘This is a peaceful protest, this is not a riot’. It was incredibly saddening to see the police resort to totally disproportionate tactics in dealing with totally peaceful protesters.”

Any inquiry into policing at the G20 protests must look beyond the circumstances surrounding Mr Tomlinson’s death. Because if the rest of the operation – both the tactics employed and the officers deployed – is ignored, then there is a good chance an individual tragedy will have been compounded by a wider travesty.

Police Attacking Liberty?

Every day there is more revealed about the totalitarian behavior of our police force with regard to protestors, in particularly the April 1st G20 demonstrations. Those who have followed my blogging will know of my passion for civil liberties. For a long time I feel those of us trying to voice our opinions on this have been cast as loony liberals, scaremongers, and such like. I am now sensing a stir in public opinion, a realization that if you are innocent you should still watch your back.

Later on I will post articles and comments I have read today, but I will leave you with a link to David Aaronovitches comment in The Times today “Police attitudes to protesters must change”. 

Please leave your comments and thoughts.

A nation of traffic wardens (The Times)

Every new agency, every new initiative that is set up increases the distrust that we feel for the State

Camilla Cavendish, The Times page 27, 12th June 2008

Why don’t we lock up the Cabinet for 42 days? That would stop them spending our money. I was talking to an education spokeswoman last week about the decline in the rigour of GCSEs. She replied, as if it answered the question, that Ofqual had just been set up to monitor exams. What’s happened to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, I asked. It used to do that. The QCA’s still there, she said. I felt like handing myself in to Oftrolley.

It’s not just the cash. Every new agency, every new initiative, nudges down the ratio of normal citizens to busybodies. Britain is starting to feel like a nation of traffic wardens. The mentality of officialdom is increasingly malevolent.

A week ago a senior businessman whom I know was shocked to be treated like a criminal by British Transport Police at the Gare du Nord in Paris. Clutching a business-class Eurostar ticket but unable to find the right queue, he ducked under a barrier. The CCTV chirruped. “Sit down!” screamed a policeman. “Give me your passport!” My friend tried to explain. No one listened. “You have no right!” shouted a hatchet-faced woman, also British, in an unreadable uniform.

Five minutes later the officer returned, all smiles. My friend’s knighthood had done the trick. But, as he says, it shouldn’t have. Such people should never be so rude to any taxpayer who pays their salaries.

I agree, having recently been humiliated by a screeching official at Victoria station. Taller than me, he called for “back-up” on his walkie-talkie because I, with my two small children and our heavy bag, was “obstructing” an empty walkway. We were there because my husband had gone to buy tickets for a train that we were going to miss after Screecher Man had refused our pleas to let us pay on board.

It was his cold hatred that unnerved me, and the acute pleasure he took in making us miss our train. We weren’t trying to slip unnoticed across an international border. We were catching the 14.32 to Sutton.

We have become objects of suspicion to institutions that used to make us feel secure: banks, councils, the police. In turn, we distrust them.

A report by Harriet Sergeant for Civitas describes the recent jump in complaints by law-abiding people against the police. A 19″year old student was arrested and detained for five hours for holding a Tube lift door open with his foot A man was nicked for pulling over to answer a phone call. Each example sounds silly, tabloid. But there are too many -to ignore. Surrey Police’s recent decision to abandon box-ticking is a measure of their concern about the corrosion of their relationship with the public.

A year ago a respected group of midwives, obstetricians and researchers called the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services wrote to the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson. Their letter said that “there is now no health professional, or official help line that parents feel they can safely ask for help”: They described people who avoid health visitors, because they see them as “health police”. They told of mothers with postnatal depression who will not go to the doctor for fear of alerting social services. They said that an incr~asing number of children are taught at home because “the educational system is now seen as part of the surveillance process”. Their letter made 15 points, many devastating.

Did Sir Liam question such alarming evidence? Did he ask for more detail? Did he launch an inquiry into whether the joining up of childrens’ services is breaking trust between parents and professionals?

No. He thanked them for the letter -two months later. He said that he shared many of their concerns. And he said how lucky they were that the Department for Children. Schools and Families had been set up.

That was Standard Reply I: “Not my responsibility.” Standard Reply 2 is: “Thanks for your letter, but things are getting better: let me tell you about them at length, even though they don’t relate to your concern.” I don’t know if there is an SR3, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to get any sense out of Whitehall.

Many of us hav~ complained about the lack of “joined-up government”. Now we are seeing the disadvantages of read-across. The Children’s Database, which will contain the personal details of every child. is justified on the grounds that it will make children safer. An absurd claim, given the number of people who will be able to use it at will. Who will be responsible for inputting information on “difficulties in the parents’ relationship”, and “ways in which the family’s income is used”?

The latest proposal by Home Office officials, to hold every telephone call and e-mail in the UK,described as a “crucial tool” for protecting national security and preventing crime, is wholly disproportionate.

Each new measure is justified in the same way -you have nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong, But that is no longer true. We have everything to fear from a State that has lost all sense of proportion. In a free society, rights and laws protect people from the government. In a tyranny, rights and laws protect government from the people. Often, the first thing I’ve seen when visiting tyrannies are unpleasant and swaggering officials trying to impound my passport. I don’t want to see them at the Eurostar.

What irks me most is that “they” don’t know us, only our data. Getting to see my GP requires tenacious redialling and extended grovelling. An appointment lasts seven minutes. But the practice regularly writes to query my children’s vaccinations. They seem unable to accept that these are done by my father-in-law. That doesn’t fit their box.

One day, I fear, they11 compare notes with Victoria station Screecher Man: “Subversive … wild-eyed … suspiciously large handbag.” If “incitement to hatred by officials” becomes an offence, I’ll be first to go down. Let’s not get that far.
Feed Shark

Government wins vote on 42 day limit

“For the House of Commons to vote in this way is replacing the work of the Courts … The reason we put people before the courts is because they are independent – the juries independent, but if you have a vote in the House of Commons [to extend detention for suspects] is a corruption of a basic principle  which we have boasted of for so many hundreds of years.”

Tony Benn former MP, 11th June 2008, speaking on BBC NEWS after the results of the vote.

37 Labour MPs joined forces with Conservative and Lib Dems to vote against the proposals was not enough to stop the Government winning the vote on extending the maximum time police can hold terror suspects to 42 days. The bill was passed by 315 MPs to 306 votes, a majority of just 9 votes.

Veteran former Labour MP Tony Benn said: “I never thought I would be in the House of Commons on the day Magna Carta was repealed.” He also called it “Bin Laden’s biggest victory”, adding that it is a “bad law, bad for us, bad for the people and for Britain’s position in the world”. He said he hoped it would be overturned in the House of Lords. Mike Blakemore of Amnesty International says the government’s concessions to win the vote on terror detentions are “essentially meaningless”.

“Only Clauses 1, 9 and 29 of the Magna Carta remain unrepealed. Clause 29 says that no freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or have his liberties removed but by lawful judgment of his peers. Detention for 42 days without trial essentially abrogates this clause and removes 800 years of a basic civil liberty: the right to due process.”
Matt Platts, Reading, UK, BBC NEWS website