British Politics’s Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘surveillance

Democracy has already disappeared

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Much has been said over the weekend regarding the Damian Green affair, with most commentators suggesting that our democracy is damaged, at stake or in peril. I would not argue with any of these descriptives other than to say our democracy was under threat a good deal earlier than this high profile incident.

Whether it is detention without charge, law officers being able to store telephone call details, text messages, email content and web browsing habits, or the ability of the police to take DNA off a subject even if they haven’t been charged. All of these new laws have been brought in, ostensibly to aid the fight against crime and terrorism, but as we have already witnessed, neither the police nor the government are shy of using anti-terror laws in completely inappropriate circumstances. As each new piece of legislation has been passed, so we have had to wave a fond farewell to some of the fundamental rights that we have lost in the process. Rights that we have enjoyed for hundreds of years. Yet crime is not falling and terrorism remains the same threat as it was before.

The government has become the ‘bitch’ of the police service, giving them have whatever they want, whether it be detention without charge, 30,000 taser guns or the ability to monitor telephone calls on the say so of a senior officer rather than a judge. Opposition parties, by contrast, have acted like the governments lapdogs, providing a less than spirited defence of the rights of the individual. In an effort to preen themselves in front of the TV cameras, or gain a few column inches from a compliant newspaper, members of parliament have forgotten that they are responsible for upholding the rights and liberties of the citizens of this country. They have failed miserably….look at how many departments that have been labeled “not fit for purpose”, now consider how this label could be identified with most of the government and a large number of other MP’s!

As a consequence of this governments preoccupation with gaining more and more state control, we as a people have become all the poorer. Not in economic terms (that was for different reasons), but in terms of freedom. Our right to privacy has gone forever, because this government has allowed nearly every aspect of our lives to be monitored and/or recorded and then allowed upwards of 800 agencies, both public and private, access to that information. It is an outrage. Worst of all, every MP that failed to speak up for the people of this country on this issue have been complicit in our demise, further, every newspaper editor that has failed to raise these issues for fear of losing scoops from a minister have failed their readership.

Of course you can’t get the genie back into the bottle, but members of parliament on all sides should seek to use the Damian Green affair as a signal that a complete review is now needed of all legislation passed that has provided government and the police service with unprecedented powers over the people of this country. British citizens are supposed to be the masters, not the servants, New Labour policies have dispensed with this long held tradition. Purists may say I am wrong, but it is my contention that when so much power has been passed to government and the tools or agents of government, such as the police service, security services and so on, the people of this country become the servants of state, not the other way around.

We may retain the vote, but little else and if we allow further removal of our rights, we could end up being a basket case like Zimbabwe, with question marks over our entire electoral system. Melodramatic maybe, possible most certainly, after all, Hazel Blears has already indicated that she wants the legal power to prevent publication of certain stories in the mainstream media and has pointed out that she is not in favour of bloggers. Who 20 years ago would have guessed that we could lock people up for a month with no charge, seize the assets of another country using anti-terror laws, monitor and store every telephone call, text message and email, force identity cards on a reluctant public? The list goes on, but you get the picture, it isn’t just possible, we are already well on our way.

If ever there was a justification for a public enquiry, something I do not normally advocate, it is now. It should be wide ranging and concentrate on the legislation that has been drafted by this government which as a consequence of its introduction, has removed, reduced or eroded the civil liberties and rights of the people of this country. Further, they must look at what the original intention was and find out how these laws have been used, abused or mis-used. This enquiry must then have the power to order that government introduce legislation to allow either an amendment to, or the repeal of any legislation that is not as intended or has simply gone too far.

David Cameron could lead this charge and I suspect he will have a great deal of support, certainly from the public and most likely from the LibDems and a few Labour backbenchers. Or, he could let the opportunity pass by and be picked up by Nick Clegg. For as sure as night follows day, there will be a massive public backlash when it starts to sink in just how many of our rights have been sacrificed in a fight against terrorism, something, incidentally that this country has faced for most of its existence.

If as a consequence of the Damian Green affair members of parliament only seek an exemption for MP’s, then I think the public will have a very good idea who our elected members look out for and it would most certainly not be us. They could be reminded of this at the ballot box assuming we manage to retain that right. Don’t laugh, it could happen, just look at our ruling elite!

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Welcome to Big Brother Britain

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Well all is not as it seems. This is not a sign in the arrivals hall at Heathrow, although it probably should be, instead it is a big welcome to the new political blog Big Brother Britain & Civil Liberties. The initiative of the author of Power to the People, with contributions from David Davis, it is destined to become a leading site for resisting and highlighting attempts by the Labour government to do away with our long held and highly prized civil liberties.

There are quite a few blogs that deal with civil liberty issues and political blogs that touch on so called Big Brother issues, however, this particular blog is intended, as I understand it, to bring all of these topic under a single umbrella. The author has made it clear that he is keen to have as many people as possible contributing posts and comments in order that it can quickly become an authorative reference site and be used as a campaigning blog.

I have agreed to write posts for the Big Brother Britain blog and I would urge others to offer similar tangible support. Together with the RESIST initiative introduced by Shrewd Mammal, there is a real opportunity for some momentum if people with similar concerns get behind this initiative and support, contribute to and visit the blog.

Big Brother Britain by Stealth

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Proof, if any were needed, that this Labour government will bring in ID cards by any means necessary was provided by a recent statement given by Home Office Minister, Meg Hillier at the Biometrics Conference.

She was quoted as saying that there was “nothing to stop” drivers’ licences or other documents from being designated to work as ID cards and went on to say “In time it is possible to designate the driving licence or other documents to be counted as an ID card.” The only conciliatory note in her comments was that there were no plans to do so before 2012. Cold comfort for those who believe, as I do, that this Labour government is simply obsessed with gaining more and more control over the views, activities, intentions and minds of the electorate.

As Cornelius Tacitus, senator and historian of the Roman Empire was quoted as saying “In a free society, the rights and laws protect the individual from the government. In a dictatorship, the rights and laws protect the government from the people. The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.”

Hillier explained that once an ID Card system was in place, it would be used for proof of age, criminal records bureau checks, for bank loan applications, for employers, as well as maternity allowances, tax returns, TV licences and incapacity or unemployment benefit claims. Of course, we all know that this will also include biometric data.

Under the Identity Card Act 2006, the Home Secretary can designate documents that will require anybody applying for them to be placed on the National Identity Register (NIR), the backbone of the ID card scheme. In other words, they could refuse to issue, for example, passports, drivers licenses and so on, unless, or until we agree to join the National Identity Register. This, presumably is designed, to counteract the growing movement of disobedience, where people are signing a pledge not to do anything to support the introduction of identity cards.

Phil Booth, national co-ordinator for pressure group NO2ID, said: “It is clearly a compulsory scheme if in order to continue driving, travelling abroad or get a loan you have to be registered on the scheme“.  He added that “it is coercion up to the point of compulsion.”

Add this database, with the Big Brother Database, monitoring all forms of communications, mobile calls, text messages, email and internet browsing, together with the children’s database, ContactPoint and the mobile phone register, added to vehicle tracking through ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition), 4.2m CCTV cameras and a National Health Database that will hold all of our medical records for our lifetime and you really start to get a picture of just how much control this government wants overs its citizens. We need to ask ourselves why, what are they so afraid of? It cannot be to protect us against terrorism, because lets face it, for 100’s of years, this country has been under threat from outside influences, yet we have survived and prospered, without this level of state intelligence and policing.

If we value our civil liberties, which clearly this government does not, then we need to be vocal and we should consider supporting pressure groups such as NO2ID, Statewatch and The Open Rights Group.

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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