British Politics’s Blog

The ravings of an individual, UK voter frustrated with our politicians

Posts Tagged ‘privacy

Is government the servant or master?

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Gordon Brown says that banks should be the “servants of the economy and society and never its master“. What a pity he does not apply that same logic to government, because lets face it, that was supposed to be how things were. Instead, we have had nearly 12 years of a government that has lectured, cajoled, bullied and mislead its people.

This government has made promises to the people that is has not delivered on, then, quietly shelved the initiative without telling us. This government in general and Gordon Brown in particular has consistently failed to deliver on its financial targets. Whether we are referring to the economy, or something like child poverty. Rather than admit that they have failed, they simply re-write the rule book, no apology, no explanation, just carry on as if nothing has happened.  Just take a look at UK Plc’s debt mountain to see how government has manipulated the figures, with countless examples of ‘off-balance sheet’ accounting. PFI, public sector pensions etc.

When it comes to our civil liberties and right to privacy, this government has driven a coach and horses through everything that our forefathers fought for and we valued, all in the name of protecting us against the threat of terrorists. This, in spite of the fact that this country faced 30 years of terrorism from the IRA, without the need for draconian legislation. Now, as a result of this government believing that it knows best, or to put it another way, government is the master, not the servant, we can do little without being tracked by faceless government officials.

We have 4.2m CCTV cameras watching our every move, ANPR cameras tracking individual movements of cars and if you have an Oyster card, your movements will be recorded and retained. The details of every call, text message and email will be recorded and retained for use by government officials. As will your internet browsing habits. If you go on holiday, the government will now record where you went, for how long, how you paid and where you were seated. If you have young children, our government will record every detail of their educational needs, welfare, carers, psychological well-being and education results. This government wants to record the DNA of of every individual in the country that is questioned by the police, irrespective of whether they are subsequently charged, they then want to retain that information, even if the individual is acquitted.

This government wants to introduce ID cards, even though most people don’t want them. They want to use biometrics and even include a chip that could potentially record the movement of every citizen with a card. This government has allowed 780 individual government agencies and/or private companies access to our most private information, with little or no oversight. There are now 250 agencies that can legally break into our homes. This is a government that believes that it is the master and not the servant of the people.

Like it or not, this Labour government, with the tacit approval of any MP who failed to speak for the people, has run roughshod over the people of this country. Even now, no major party will speak up for the people, yes, they may make the odd comment, but they do nothing about it. None of the major parties have included in their policy an agreement to review and if necessary, repeal legislation that has wrecked our liberty and right to privacy. It is high time the people of this country said that enough was enough, members of parliament are supposed to serve the public, government is the servant, not the master and we demand the return of our liberty and our right to be free from an overbearing, know it all state.

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Gordon Brown on Civil Liberties

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Whilst browsing the No.10 website, I came across a transcript of a speech given by Gordon Brown on the 25th October 2007 at the University of Westminster. I make no apologies for being selective in what I have reproduced because they are his words, not mine. Readers are then free to decide which, if any, of these commitments he has delivered on, or reneged on in light of recent announcements and laws on the subject of liberty, freedom and privacy. Over to Gordon Brown, the unelected prime minister of Great Britain…

I believe that together we can chart a better way forward. In particular, I believe that by applying our enduring ideals to new challenges we can start immediately to make changes in our constitution and laws to safeguard and extend the liberties of our citizens

To include:

respecting and extending freedom of assembly, new rights for the public expression of dissent

respecting privacy in the home, new rights against arbitrary intrusion

in a world of new technology, new rights to protect your private information

“…crucible of great events, have, in my view, forged over time a distinctly British interpretation of liberty —— one that asserts the importance of freedom from prejudice, of rights to privacy, and of limits to the scope of arbitrary state power, but one that also rejects the selfishness of extreme libertarianism and demands that the realm of individual freedom encompasses not just some but all of us

So instead of invoking the unique nature of the threats we face today as a reason for relinquishing our historical attachment to British liberty, we meet these tests not by abandoning principles of liberty but by giving them new life

To claim that we should ignore the claims of liberty when faced with the needs of security would be to embark down an authoritarian path that I believe would be unacceptable to the British people.”

In my view, the key to making these hard choices in a way that is compatible with our traditions of liberty is to, at all times, apply the liberty test, respecting fundamental rights and freedoms, and wherever action is needed by government, it never subjects the citizen to arbitrary treatment, is transparent and proportionate in its measures and at all times also requires proper scrutiny by, and accountability to, Parliament and the people.”

First, it is the British way to stand up for freedom of assembly, speech and press.”

Wherever and whenever there are question marks over the ability to express dissent I believe that the balance should be with those taking action to defend and extend the liberty of individuals and their freedoms to express their views within the law.”

“…there is a case for applying our enduring ideas of liberty to ensure that the laws governing the press in this country fully respect freedom of speech.”

When anything is provided without cost, it does risk being open to abuse. However the Government does not believe that more restrictive rules on cost limits of FoI requests are the way forward.”

The advancement of individual liberty depends upon the protection from arbitrary interference of the person and private property and, above all, the home. ”

I share the concerns about the need for additional protections for the liberties and rights of the citizen.”

And this is how he ended his address;

The challenge for each generation is to conduct an open debate without ever losing sight of the value of our liberties.  Indeed the character of our country will be defined by how we write the next chapter of British liberty – by whether we do so responsibly and in a way that respects and builds on our traditions, and progressively adds to and enlarges rather then reduces the sphere of freedom.

And as we make these decisions, we must never forget that the state and the people are not equivalent. The state is always the servant of the people. We must remember that liberty belongs to the people and not governments.

It is the challenge and the opportunity for our generation to write the next chapter of British liberty in a way that honours the progress of the past – and promises a wider and more secure freedom to our children.”

I can’t help wondering if the man that is running our country, is the same one that spouted these words, because to me at least, they seem incompatible with each other. You can make up your own mind!

Steady erosion of the rights of a UK citizen

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If you have ever felt that there is a steady erosion of the rights of a UK citizen, then an excellent article written by Shrewd Mammal will probably confirm your worst fears. The UN Charter of Human Rights outlines what we are entitled to expect from this Act, Shrewd Mammal has provided a summary of some of these rights together with his take on whether or not they apply to UK citizens. Shrewd Mammal – UN Charter of Human Rights.

For example, Article 9 states that “no one shall be entitled to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Now consider how this fits in with the new 42 day detention rule. This rule is supposed to be for suspected terrorists, but anyone that does not believe the authorities will not abuse or ‘work’ this ruling needs to look at the way our other rights have been diluted or eroded over time.

Now consider Article 12. “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” Now consider this in relation to interference with our right to privacy, there are more CCTV cameras in the UK than anywhere else in the world.  It is worth reminding ourselves, that the UK has 1% of the worlds population, but 20% of the worlds CCTV cameras. That is a staggering 4.2 million cameras, or 1 camera for every man, woman, child and politician in the UK.

Internet service providers are required to snoop on their customers regarding downloads and emails, mobile phone service providers are required to retain call details, text messages and even GPS data (if available) for a period of up to 12 months (2 years if the EU gets its way). Council workers are entitled to look inside your bins to see what type of rubbish you are throwing out. Private companies such as those parking or wheel clamping companies are entitled to obtain your personal details from the DVLA in return for a fee.

The police are seeking to persuade the government to allow them to obtain a DNA sample from every citizen in the UK. However, they already have close to 2m DNA samples because anyone arrested for a minor offence, must provide a DNA sample and even if they are not charged or found innocent, the records are retained. Some will argue that is you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear from DNA samples, that ignores both our fundamental and supposedly entrenched right to privacy, and it assumes that the DNA information will not be subsequently sold or leaked (see DVLA information), or perhaps lost in the post!

Of course these  additional state powers are not limited just to the police. Government departments such as Custom and Excise, the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency and the Financial Services Authority are also routinely requesting information on internet and mobile phone customers. Even local authorities are entitled to snoop, for example, Last year, councils and government departments made 12,494 applications for “directed surveillance”, according to figures released by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner. In one example, Poole Council authorised such a surveillance operation, where council workers subsequently spied on a family they suspected of living in the wrong school catchment area. This example truly places the whole thing into perspective.

The government wants to pry even further as it is trying to ensure that the next census, due in 2010 includes, for the first time, questions about income and people’s sexual habits. The supermarkets for example, are already tracing our buying habits through analysis of the ‘loyalty cards’ used by shoppers and of course, any information that is gathered and stored electronically must be released if required by a court order, or insom cases, depending on the government department, on demand. I won’t even bother covering the whole issue of ID cards.

But can we trust our government? It is woth noting that in 2006, a ‘world league table’ was published for the first time placing the UK at the bottom of the western democratic world and ranked alongside Russia for the poor protection of individual privacy, this did not take into account data losses. Interestingly the two worst-ranking countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China. More tellingly, the UK was the worst-ranking EU country and the only one in the black category, which defines countries demonstrating “endemic surveillance”. Also noteworthy, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering, is the fact that it is proposed the biometric data on new passports is stored on radio frequency microchips. This is the same technology which will be used for ID cards and could be used to eavesdrop. RESIST!

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