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Jul 26

Tories Decide to Keep DNA of the Innocent

It was never going to be long before the Tories noticed NuLabour were trying to outflank them on law & order from the right and decided to do something about it. The ConDems have decided to ‘anonymise’ DNA samples the authorities hold of people who have been arrested but never convicted of a crime:

One of its key features of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, we were assured by Nick Clegg in January, would be an end to the “indefinite storage of innocent people’s DNA”.

That seemed to be an unambiguous promise, and a welcome one. Unfortunately, as The Daily Telegraph reveals today, the Government has decided not to keep this promise, bringing the number of policy U-turns to at least 14.

Instead of clearly and simply wiping out the DNA of more than one million people who have been arrested but not convicted, the authorities will retain the samples, but in an “anonymised” state.

This means that the names and other identifying features will be removed from the police database but kept elsewhere, enabling agencies with the right expertise to join the pieces of data together again and identify the DNA.

In the clumsy but revealing phrase of James Brokenshire, a Home Office minister, the genetic information will “be considered to have been deleted”.

Considered by whom? Certainly not by civil liberties groups, which have accused the Government of betraying an explicit commitment in the Coalition Agreement and ignoring a judgment of the Court of Human Rights.

Back we trot to the database state, which would always reform under different guises, with different agendas in play. The motive here seems to be straightforward party political – splitting Ed Miliband from his authoritarian underlings, whilst snubbing the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to please the right wing of the Tories. We deserve better politics than this, but there seem to be very few politicians in the British parliament who have any interest whatsoever with the rule of law. You’d think with the influence of Murdoch waning that you’d have one or two MPs shrieking with outrage at the injustice of it, no longer that worried about a NOTW campaign against them, but no – the cowardice lives on.

Jul 20

Stand Your Ground

Posted on Wednesday, July 20, 2011 in civil liberties, culture, photography, surveillance society

A quite brilliant but horrific experiment, as part of the London Street Photography Festival. This is what happens when you give small people a small amount of power, but it ties in to the increasing privatisation or perceived privatisation of public space.

May 7

Commissioner Defends Met Repression

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said of his force’s policing operations in advance of the Royal Wedding:

He fiercely defends having made pre-emptive arrests of suspected troublemakers before the wedding. “Things were put in place to try to prevent trouble on the day and arrests were made. But you also saw British cops at their best.”

He was particularly proud of the way his men engaged with the public and got them on side so that when difficult crowd manoeuvres had to be performed, they were compliant. As he passed one knot of spectators they were chanting: “We love Gary”, Sir Paul recalls. “Who’s Gary?” he asked. The policeman replied sheepishly: “It’s me, guv.”

So the question is, given what his thugs actually did, was he actually defending it or were these genuinely rogue operations, not sanctioned by him? It brings up an eerie recollection of the inquest into Jean Charles de Menezes’ death – noone told the cops who incompetently followed him, or those who ultimately murdered him to do so, but a certain environment was set up and sanctioned by the top which allowed it to happen. Is this what allowed the pre-wedding abuses to take place so freely? Let me remind you what they actually were:

There was this appalling ‘snatch and grab’ of people peacefully singing in Soho Square (via Liberal Conspiracy):

And what of the mind boggling arrest of Charlie Veitch for pre-crime (this video will shock you):

I’ve blogged about ‘Love Police’ Charlie before. To see him arrested for ‘conspiring to’ (read: thinking privately to himself about) potentially upset a royal supporter or two makes much of the police’s antics under New Labour look tame. Is this British policing at its best? The outcome here:

Charlie was collected by the Metropolitan Police from Parkside and taken to an undisclosed police station in London for 8 hours. Efforts by his lawyer, family, and partner to locate him were made in vain – he had effectively been ‘disappeared’ into the police system. Charlie was denied his right to a phone call from London, again continuing the obstruction of his access to his lawyer, family, partner and supporters. He requested that the police telephone his partner to inform her of his whereabouts, which was promised but not performed. With his family in the dark as to his whereabouts, concern was considerably growing.

Charlie was eventually released on bail 23 hours and 45 minutes after his arrest at approximately 1600h on Friday 29th April from Edmonton Police Station, London – just within the 24 hour limit that a person can be lawfully arrested and detained without charge.

Entirely political policing, which, as Veitch himself noted in the video is what we’d expect of China, of Bahrain, of Syria even. Since when did we start arresting people at home because they might do something politically (and peacefully) which we disagree with? You might ask that of Chris Knight:

Knight similarly hadn’t done anything, but the Met decided that he should be pre-emptively arrested essentially for conspiring to use his freedom of speech. A mock execution of an effigy of Prince Andrew away from the wedding procession might have caused offence, but since when was that an arrestable offence, especially considering it hadn’t happened yet? Is that British policing at its best? I’ve blogged about Knight too – suspended from his job in advance of the G20 protests merely for publicly stating what he thought the consequences might be on the day of the Met’s inflammatory rhetoric. British policing also swooped on his planned event in Soho Square (seen in this video):

And what about these arrests at Charing Cross? Of course there were many other outrageous acts of blatantly political policing (links available via the Liberal Conspiracy site earlier in this article).

Sir Paul may express his pride in this British policing, but he notably doesn’t mention TSG thug Simon Harwood, nor of his colleagues who enabled him to attack Ian Tomlinson and who then shielded him from accountability. I would argue the opposite to the Commissioner – his force, more than ever, is a tool to enforce the status quo through violence and political repression. That can’t reasonably be any cause for anyone to feel pride.

Dec 14

Photographer with Children? Terrorist Suspect!

Posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 in civil liberties, culture, photography, surveillance society

via Marc Vallee

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) just keeps letting them get away with it:

The investigation found that an off-duty Police Community Support Officer (PCSO), who was on his way to work, saw the man filming on the DLR on two consecutive days. On the second day, 29 July 2009, he telephoned the Safer Transport Team at Woolwich police station to report what he had seen. The Police Constable (PC) who answered the call went to the scene. In interview, he explained that, based on the information given to him by the PCSO, he had suspicions that the man may be involved in terrorist activity, undertaking hostile reconnaissance. He therefore decided to stop and search him.

The IPCC believes that the officer had a justified reason to stop and search the man.

The PCSO checked the footage on the man’s mobile phones. It contained planes taking off, more planes at London City Airport and the airport’s runway as well as footage taken on the DLR. The PC found some USB computer memory sticks and a CD in his bag. The PC remained suspicious and sought advice from the Counter Terrorism Command (CTC) of the Metropolitan Police Service.

Again, the IPCC understands why the PC was suspicious and believes seeking guidance from a specialist unit was a sensible way to proceed.

The CTC instructed the officer not to arrest the man, but to ask for his consent to being photographed and ask him to face CCTV cameras. He was instructed to seize mobile phones and computer equipment to be examined by experts from the Counter Terrorism Command. An officer from the CTC then contacted CCTV Operators at Woolwich Police Station and requested they record what was happening. The man agreed to be photographed and cooperated fully when his property was seized. Intelligence checks were carried out, but no prior intelligence was found.

Just anyone could be a terrorist. Anyone. The police are convinced of it. I can’t help but remember the time I was stopped by the Met in Tower Hamlets whilst entirely lawfully photographing the Canary Wharf towers. After the officer who took my name and checked my details took me to one side and admitted they’d only stopped me to balance out the racial stop and search figures, he actually encouraged me to go to City Airport and photograph the planes taking off and landing. From this IPCC report they’d then have had cause to treat me as a terrorist suspect and seize my equipment (just as I suspected at the time).

Nov 21

Whither Labour on Civil Liberties?

Posted on Sunday, November 21, 2010 in civil liberties, human rights, surveillance society

Post-Blair/Brown Labour hasn’t yet started to define itself coherently, and there were initial fears that new Shadow Home Secretary Ed Balls would use his new (and unlikely) position to attack the ConDems from the right on civil liberties, but he’s hinting the opposite:

Mr Balls, in his first newspaper interview since being appointed shadow home secretary, admitted Labour’s policies under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which led to failed attempts to get Parliament to pass laws to permit suspects to be detained without charge for 90 and 42 days, had been a mistake.
“Even 42 days was a step too far,” he said.
“Our reputation as a party which protected liberty as well as security suffered as a result.
“Our approach should always be that if the evidence shows we can go down from 28 days without impeding the police and security services from doing their jobs, then we ought to do it.”
Very interesting and quite unexpected. It suggests that someone somewhere in the Shadow Cabinet does appreciate there were concrete reasons why the progressive vote dashed away from them in their millions throughout their time in office. Disturbing that he was at the heart of the New Labour project, but David Cameron has proven it’s entirely possible to have presented seriously authoritarian policies to the electorate in the past and yet find a way back from their failure to connect. The question for me though is more whether or not this is typically cynical Labour policy triangulation – are they doing it for the right reasons or are they saying they believe in it to put the ConDems on the back foot? The evidence there is far from clear, with Balls sounding a bit better on control orders:
“They are such exceptional measures that in an ideal world of course we would want to manage without them.”
Labour would be prepared to consider alternative methods, such as a combination of covert surveillance and travel restrictions, he added.
His comments come at a tricky time for Labour, with the party gripped by renewed in-fighting during the two-week paternity leave taken by party leader, Ed Miliband.
Mr Balls said: “I’m quite clear we must always strike a balance between protecting our country from the risks of terrorist attacks on the one hand, and preserving our democratic freedoms and fundamental liberties on the other: it should never be a case of one or the other.”
Well it’s good news that he understands that politically security and liberty can no longer (at least easily) be traded off against one another for cheap political gain. Or does he:
Balls was also on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, where he fleshed out his position. He reaffirmed his support for a 14-day limit but warned that the coalition was “way too” liberal on CCTV and the DNA database.
So in that respect he’s back to sounding like Alan Johnson at his worst. Remember his particularly vile advert on just this issue? It sounds like the Kampfner ‘pact’ is shifting in its formulation, and given that the signs that the Tories might not rescind control orders, it appears reconstituting across the political borderlines. Excellent that there appears to be a debate being had, but it’s not remotely clear who’s listening to what and to what end.
Nov 19

Time to Refund Those ID Card Holders?

Posted on Friday, November 19, 2010 in civil liberties, ConDemNation, database state, Politics, surveillance society

The ConDem government may be legislating to get rid of the ID cards project, but they don’t want to pay refunds to people who’ve already bought one:

Ministers are legislating to scrap ID cards but 12,000 people had already bought one, at a cost of £30 each.

In a debate on the Identity Documents Bill, peers backed a Labour amendment by 220 votes to 188 to compensate them, arguing it was an issue of “fairness”.

The Home Office said £292m had already been spent on ID cards and it would try to overturn the vote in the Commons.

For Labour, Lord Hunt said it was not fair to refuse a refund to those people who had bought cards since the 2009 roll-out in Manchester.

“People are simply expected to have this right taken away from them without any compensation or recompense at all. I do think that really is a rather extraordinary principle to adopt and I do think it does impact on the reputation of governments as a whole,” he said.

The government disagreed:

For the government, Lady Neville-Jones said it had always been government policy to scrap ID cards “at least possible cost to the taxpayer”.

“Our primary purpose has been to prevent additional expenditure when we can avoid it. We have no option but to pay compensation to some contractors because we are tied in by the contracts negotiated by our predecessors.

“We don’t agree that there is a contract between the government and cardholders who have received a service and nor do we believe there is any expropriation or rights under it. The cardholders are not the card owners – the card is government property.”

Jul 7

Met Stop 15 Year Old Photographer Again, On ‘Terrorism’ Grounds

The Metropolitan Police has continued its harassment of 15 year old photographer Jules Mattsson:

BJP understands Mattsson was detained today under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in Central London, near Buckingham Palace, after taking photos of cadets. Mattsson had received approval from the cadets’ supervisors as he was shooting images for the cadets’ website, BJP has been told.

BJP also understands that the photographer was searched and his details recorded.

The incident comes less than two weeks after the same photographer was stopped and detained by police officers claiming he represented a terrorism risk.

A 15 year old photographer getting stopped twice in two weeks is insane. What’s even more insane is the reason:

Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 requires reasonable suspicion that a person is a terrorist. Its usage is more limited than Section 44, which doesn’t require suspicion. However, the European Court of Human Rights recently found Section 44 to be illegal.

The act’s Section 43 reads: “A constable may stop and search a person whom he reasonably suspects to be a terrorist to discover whether he has in his possession anything which may constitute evidence that he is a terrorist.”

Unfathomable. After the Section 44 ruling it’s hardly surprising that they should change their tactics, but to suggest Jules is a terrorist is just plain bananas. Proof yet again that the police’s institutional prejudice against photographers will use any means necessary to get expressed. The Home Office may have become more liberal under the ConDemNation coalition when it comes to asylum, but they still don’t have the Metropolitan Police under control. Will anyone ever?

Jun 15

Coalition Puts ISA ‘On Hold’

The ConDemNation coalition set its sights on returning government  to adhering to the rule of law, and Deputy PM Nick Clegg has promised a wholescale rollback of New Labour’s authoritarian project, but of course their record is already patchy – check out prisoners’ voting rights, the DNA database and control orders as just three examples. One unexpected partial step in the right direction involves the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA):

Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that [ISA] registration, due to begin next month, has been put on hold.

There will be a review of the entire vetting and barring scheme, with a scaling back to “common-sense levels”.

The government says the vetting scheme would have been “disproportionate and overly burdensome”.

Mrs May told the BBC that the measures were “draconian”.

“You were assumed to be guilty until you were proven innocent, and told you were able to work with children,” she said.

“All sorts of groups out there were deeply concerned about this and how it was going to affect them.

“There were schools where they were very concerned that foreign exchanges could be finished as a result of this, parents were worried about looking after other people’s children after school.”

The government is now contacting 66,000 organisations, including charities, voluntary groups and education authorities, to tell them that the planned registration is being cancelled.

Excellent news, really quite an impressive step in the right direction, particularly by a Conservative Party which in the past has been so succeptible to moral panics. In fact it’s highly impressive that May has used the term ‘draconian’ to describe the scheme, but it remains to be seen what this ‘scaling-back’ will involve. The ISA has already caused significant damage to the social fabric, presuming as it does that everyone is a paedophile unless they can prove otherwise. The Vetting and Barring Scheme was one of the most serious blights on the rule of law under New Labour, allowing the ISA to decide on people’s suitability as ‘safe’ to work with ‘vulnerable’ people (which would inevitably widen in its scope and definition over time) based on heresay and personal prejudice, with the most threadbare of rights of appeal.

The ISA, left unchecked, will send the message to younger people that everyone older than them is a potential threat, will make it more difficult for younger people to learn how to risk assess meaningfully for themselves, and will allow government to make decisions which are best suited to local people and local communities. After all the Soham murders, which the ISA was set up in response to, weren’t caused by an absence of child protection at the school which Ian Huntley worked at. And Huntley would never have worked at that school if existing protection provisions had been properly adhered to, and only gained contact with Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells because of their association with his girlfriend. The ISA could never have prevented that, indeed such a bureaucracy will never adequately be able to detect child abuse, which is invariably perpetrated by someone children already know (and who won’t be on a database). Is there a problem with paedophilia and child abuse? Of course, but it’s not best tackled through over-reliance on a database, nor by subverting the rule of law. We can only hope that the coalition really has understood that it can’t prevent risk, can’t protect everyone, and must allow employers and voluntary organisations to exercise their own expertise and discretion.

The only credible solution would be for the ISA to be wound up.

Jun 7

Stop Obsessing About ‘Protection’

Sorry for the short time away, regular readers. I got thrown off by a nasty chest infection but I’m back now and it’s time to open up Simon Jenkins’ latest CiF piece:

The toughest lesson to draw from the Whitehaven tragedy is that there might be no lesson at all. We cannot stop people having rows at home or work, taking leave of their senses, finding a gun and going berserk. Such things rarely happen. But even the most authoritarian state must allow some personal liberty, and everyone accepts the resulting risk. No free community can be wholly safe without losing its freedom.

And this is at the entire core of what’s not working in society right now, isn’t it? A zero-sum game has been forced up into cabinet decision-making about the prevention of risk, about ‘safeguarding’ those who can’t be safeguarded, about ‘protecting’ everyone by throwing the civil liberties of everyone away. What’s brilliant about Jenkins’ article is that he takes issue with the concept itself. You can’t protect children by presuming every adult is a paedophile, it’s just absurd. You can’t protect every politician by presuming every voter is a terrorist, and demonising the exceptions to the rule only teaches society that there are easy answers to be had where there may be no answers at all. He goes on:

When the bossy Labour minister Ed Balls banned pictures of children in schools and vetted parents for sex crimes, the bounds of public sanity were strained. Yet no one stopped him. People muttered, “Well, you can’t be too safe.”
On every First Great Western train, an announcement is made after each stop telling passengers to look about for suspicious people or parcels and report them immediately to the police. It makes for a miserable journey. If you enter a government building, you are told that the current alert status means an imminent terrorist attack is “highly likely”. This serves no purpose but to frighten people into conceding the Home Office ever more power.

Yup entirely right, and this is what’s important to remember. New Labour wasn’t alone in creating the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). This belief that a super bureaucracy could possibly vet and safeguard every (any?) credible threat to children’s safety didn’t only originate with super-authoritarian Balls – he just went along with it. Did the rest of parliament stop the ISA in its tracks? Not at all. Has the media really had the balls to question the social damage that it’s continuing (under Nick Clegg’s new socially liberal era) to inflict? Not at all. We decided, and government decided it was in its interests to accept, that we wanted to prevent any sort of risk at all, and contracted out the implementation of our decision to government. It was completely ignorant of history, it has taught the upcoming generation nothing at all about how to risk assess wisely and has perversely led us (as Jenkins points out) to request ever more control of us by government.

Was it because of the absence of long-held certainties, like the Cold War, or pre-globalisation economic orders? Maybe. With society itself now marketised, not just economies, it’s entirely possible that the resulting discomfort (and government-propagated fear after 9/11) has led us, sheep-like, to ask our political masters to provide us with one cornerstone to put our trust in – safety. But Jenkins goes on to say:

There is no such thing as safe. There is only safer, and safer can require the greater watchfulness that comes with taking risks, witness new theories of road safety. Removing risk lowers the protective instinct of individuals and communities, and paradoxically leaves them in greater danger. But there is no government agency charged with averting that danger. There is no money in it.

Entirely right, and it’s worth remembering that although Nick Clegg has promised a groundbreaking bill, repealing the authoritarian excesses of New Labour, he hasn’t actually put his money where his mouth is yet – noone in the ConDemNation coalition has. Control orders? Unchanged. The Digital Economy Act? Unchanged. Any changes to the ISA, when quangos are apparently a ‘bad thing’? Nope. Jenkins argues that this is all motivated by money. When you compare what the coalition has promised to change with what’s actually going to change it seems like he might be right. It’s time to stand up for allowing risk to resume in society, for ‘protection’ to be proportionate and the need for it assessed by individuals once more. The industry promulgating this trend has to be torn down, but in an age of extraordinarily craven politics, the means can only come from us. Why should a profitable industry wind itself up, after all?

May 26

ConDemNation Won’t Repeal Digital Economy Act

Posted on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 in civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, surveillance society

Still refusing to speak with one voice, the ConDemNation coalition has now announced it doesn’t intend to repeal the Digital Economy Act:

We’re not going to repeal it,” the new UK government’s Conservative culture secretary Jeremy Hunt told paidContent:UK.

Instead, the administration will wait to see how the act’s measures perform and, if alterations or something more is needed, take action later, Hunt said.

That means the graduated-response anti-piracy action – which would level education or warning letters against freeloading ISP customers, leading to possible account suspension – will remain in place, along with all the bill’s other measures (see our recent quick-hit guide).

But the proposal for blocking sites containing infringing material was never part of the act, it was part of a separate parliamentary process instituted by Labour in the previous government’s dying days; so it is unlikely to see light of day.

The section of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s detailed joint plans about media contains no reference to the Digital Economy Act.

Opposition to the act during its bill stage was vociferous from some online quarters, and the campaign is still going even though the act is law. Some party members of the coalition Liberal Democrats appear to still favour repeal.

But many sections of the media and cultural creation industry will welcome the retention of measures that seek to protect their intellectual property.

It’s a painful reminder that the coalition won’t speak with one consistent voice – Clegg may be pushing civil liberties and rollback of the surveillance state, but he’s still in coalition with the Conservative Party. The Deputy PM may have insisted on repeal of the Act before the election, but it does appear to be something he’s traded off in the coalition agreement. It’s a good lesson that we must all vote for whom we want at election time, but must then get involved in civil society pressure groups in order for what we voted for actually to get implemented. Sadly it also suggests that the coalition’s claims to want to roll back state intrusion aren’t quite as total as they want us to believe.

May 20

The Coalition’s Confusion Over Human Rights

There’s a fight under way behind the scenes between the ConDemNation coalition partners over the Human Rights Act. The Tories have long wanted to supplant the Human Rights Act (HRA) with a British Bill of Rights, on the one hand not trying to extract the country from the European Convention on Human Rights, but also trying to, as Helena Kennedy puts it:

“protect our freedoms from state encroachment” on the one hand and “encourage greater social responsibility” on the other.

She then goes on to add:

No explanation is given as to how to achieve these triangulated aims without weakening the protections we now have in the HRA.

It’s also not quite clear what those aims actually mean in practice. The language is quite reminiscent of New Labour’s similar idea of a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, although when discussed at the Convention on Modern Liberty early last year the idea was kicked thoroughly into touch for failing to identify what additional responsibilities should be codified other than to obey existing criminal law. Both parties have in recent years tried very hard to conflate civil rights with human rights, and have notably attacked the latter when rulings under the HRA haven’t been to their political benefit. But that’s not a sufficient reason to replace the Act, quite the opposite in fact, particularly, as Richard Norton-Taylor acknowledges:

All the Human Rights Act, brought in by the Blair government, really did was incorporate the convention into UK domestic law, avoiding long and expensive delays in disputed European court cases.

And as of an interview in the Times yesterday morning the Deputy Prime Minister wasn’t having any watering down of the HRA or any suggestion of its repeal. Clegg said:

“Any government would tamper with it at its peril.”

In response, Theresa May, the new and already illiberal Home Secretary has seemed to back down:

May was asked about the manifesto promise in an interview on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, she downplayed the significance of this pledge. “We did say that we thought the Human Rights Act was not working in certain areas,” she said.

She went on: “We are currently in discussions with our coalition partners about what we will be doing in this area.”

‘Discussions with our coalition partners’? We can only hope they went along the lines of  ’you tamper with it at your peril’, but there are pressures for both sides to do just that. The HateMail has unsurprisingly gone on the offensive:

A flagship Tory pledge to tear up the Human Rights Act has been watered down in the coalition pact with the Liberal Democrats.

In opposition, the Conservatives repeatedly promised to replace Labour’s controversial legislation with a Bill of Rights.

But Government sources said last night that an independent commission would now be established to examine the ‘feasibility’ of the move.

‘Are we going to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights? Very possibly,’ said one. ‘But the commission is going to look into all that.’

A commission? Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, has said:

“A coalition that has attempted to tie itself together with the language of civil liberties cannot now renege on fundamental human rights.

Given the way in which Liberal Democrats all the way up to the Deputy Prime Minister vowed to defend our Human Rights Act, any attempt to dilute it would spell the end of this Coalition – and rightly so.

Governments like people are bound together with common values not vested interests. There is nothing more British than the free speech, fair trials, personal privacy and rule against torture protected by the HRA.”

Yet the final coalition agreement accepts this commission. We have to hope that its findings aren’t against retaining the HRA – both for our sakes, and for the Deputy Prime Minister’s political future. Helena Kennedy concludes:

it may be very tempting for the Liberal Democrats to carve out victories on some areas of reform by making concessions elsewhere. This is why we have to make it clear that the terrain of human rights must not be the ground on which any further deals are done. Human rights have to be non-negotiables in this new political landscape.

And Clive Baldwin warns:

Experience shows that a taste for human rights acquired in opposition can soon wear off in government. Once comfortable behind their desks, new ministers tend soon to find the very repressive and authoritarian measures they decried in opposition rather congenial and useful once they sit in government. Let’s hope that the novelty of coalition government can buck that trend.

I couldn’t agree more. It would be alarming if the new Prime Minister actually negotiated effective repeal of the HRA and achieved his ambition of curbing the power of the judiciary:

And it’s why we will abolish the Human Rights Act and introduce a new Bill of Rights, so that Britain’s laws can no longer be decided by unaccountable judges.

It’s a second gripe about the HRA, it isn’t related to the first, and is a common refrain from the Right – ‘unaccountable’ or ‘activist’ judges must be stopped from interpreting codified, semi- or actual constitutional laws, because it interferes with the legislators’ political agendas. But to suggest the Act is at fault because judges have been free to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights from a British perspective makes no sense other than a political one – the judges and the Act get in the way, and the Tories would prefer they themselves had control over human rights law in the UK. Except the UK would still be covered by the convention.

The immediate effect would be to effectively deny access to the European Court for those who really need it because they simply wouldn’t be able to afford it – it’s dog whistle politics, Tories agreeing amongst themselves that some people deserve access to human rights, and not others. But Helena Kennedy is right – human rights are human rights – they are (and must be kept) universal. A replacement, which the final Coalition Agreement hints at, would water down the principle of universality and endanger those most in need of human rights protection. Clegg surely understands that, and given the rumours that all other disagreements in the coalition are being referred to similar ‘commissions’, it does look as though this battle will remain at stalemate. Any other outcome would surely smash the coalition into smithereens.

May 19

Nick Clegg’s Dave New World

So this is the important bit in the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech, promising a bright, new, un-authoritarian future, with:

Landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests.

Who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.

A spirit this government will draw on as we deliver our programme for political reform: a power revolution.

A fundamental resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen that puts you in charge.

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, said:

‘Much in this new Government statement accords with the BHA’s policies we set out in our own manifestos ahead of the election and with the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We particularly welcome moves to increase freedom of speech, and a reformed House of Lords which, by being fully elected, would necessarily remove the right of Bishops to sit in our second chamber.’

‘We also look forward to making our case for the repeal and revision of unjust, restrictive and discriminatory laws, such as those which require compulsory worship on our school children – a clear violation of their freedom of conscience – and those which unfairly restrict the right to free speech and protest.’

I think Copson is generally right but there are serious problems here. Clegg’s ideas are laudable, but there are as yet no indications as to how he thinks he’ll implement them – moving children of asylum seekers from one detention centre to another (particularly one with a notorious reputation) is not a remotely adequate solution. Much of the push towards ID cards came from within the civil service itself, and there is still an entrenched authoritarian culture in government agencies which needs urgent tackling; just yesterday the new government took the same stand on control orders as its predecessor.

I don’t just expect a repeal of New Labour’s surveillance state laws, I expect a change in culture to uphold the rule of law and to abide by evidence-based policy making. That means not just accepting the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling on the National DNA Database, but abiding by rulings against denying prisoners the vote and on the legality of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. I’m worried that now in government Clegg is going to pick and choose what works for him and what doesn’t and not challenge the vested interests, defeat of whom really would make the “most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th Century” much more than overexcited hyperbole.

May 14

Time to Challenge the ID Culture!

Posted on Friday, May 14, 2010 in civil liberties, database state, surveillance society

(cross-posted from the Guardian)

by Josie Appleton

Both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have said they would scrap ID cards, and this is good news. What is equally important, however, is the way in which ID cards are used. Citizens in some countries with national ID cards (such as France or Spain) rarely show them on a day-to-day basis. Paradoxically, we don’t yet have cards, but we do have a culture of routine ID checking. “Do you have any ID?” is a question we increasingly face when going about our business in the streets or at work.

A Manifesto Club survey found that people in their late 20s and 30s are being routinely checked not just for buying alcohol, but also for attempting to purchase items such as barbecue skewers, bleach, paracetamol, UHU glue, matches, cigarette papers, even a “gentleman’s manicure set”. Two women in their late 20s had been ID-checked for bottles of wine so frequently that they now carry their passports to go to the supermarket.

Passport checks are becoming routine in working life too. Some organisations have started collecting passport details from staff of 10 or 20 years standing to check they have the right to work in the UK. Universities including Nottingham, Southampton, Lancaster and Lampeter have asked visiting lecturers and external examiners to produce their passports before they can be paid. The musician DJ Moth reports that one of London’s major jazz clubs in Hackney now requires performers to give passport details.

Then there is the downright bizarre. A reader of the magazine Today’s Railways Europe wrote in to say that he was asked to produce his passport in the Luton branch of Thomas Cook, when attempting to buy a copy of Cook’s European rail timetable. He was told that this was for “security reasons”.

As a point of historical comparison, the Common Travel Area] has allowed passport-free travel between the Republic of Ireland and the UK since 1923, including throughout the Troubles. Now the Home Office is attempting scrap this agreement and oblige people to show ID documents or be refused passage. Regular travellers on ferries between northern Ireland and Scotland already report that passengers (usually of African origin) are now being pulled out of the queue and asked to show their documents.

Shops and businesses ask for ID under the threat of heavy fines for serving underage drinkers or for employing somebody who is not entitled to work in the UK. Yet like the ID card scheme itself, this is a policy looking for a justification. At base, this is less about combating specific social issues than about the growing state regulation of citizens.

The meaning of ID checks is that we are constantly being asked to (as the posters say) “Prove it!”: to prove our age or nationality, to prove that we are allowed to be where we are, doing what we are doing. The assumption is that unless we can produce documents we are probably not supposed to be here, not supposed to be giving a lecture or buying barbecue skewers.

This culture of checking calls forth ID cards of some kind (unless we just start carrying our passports around everywhere). Companies have sensed a business opportunity and produce proof-of-age cards under the banner of the officially accredited Pass Scheme, “the national proof-of-age accreditation scheme”. One of these cards has the horribly revealing name, Validate UK: “a voluntary proof of age scheme for all ages”.

The illiberal underpinnings of these schemes are clear. To be a UK citizen you must be validated. “No pass, no sale”, says the banner on the Pass Scheme website. And so the demand of “Pass, please!”, so beloved of authoritarian regimes, comes to the British Isles. You do not have a right to pass: you need to prove your legitimacy by proffering your documents. No pass, no sale; no pass, no job; no pass, no ferry crossing to Holyhead.

Challenging this culture of ID checking is as crucial as taking on the ID card scheme itself. As free citizens we should not have to produce our papers at the local supermarket. We must assert again our right to pass.

May 14

We Didn’t Vote for This Coalition!

Of course we didn’t, but of course we can’t vote for a coalition – you can only ever vote for the one party you’d most like to represent you in parliament. So why the vicious diatribes are continuing is a complete mystery to me – we got the result we voted for, regardless of actual intent. But commentators are disagreeing, suggesting that the ConDemNation coalition is illegitimate and not reflective of the will of the people. From Johann Hari:

Elections are supposed to be an opportunity for the people to express the direction in which they want the country to travel. By that standard, this result is an insult. Don’t fall for the people who say the Lib Dem vote was “ambiguous”: a YouGov poll just before the election found that Lib Dem voters identified as “left-wing” over “right-wing” by a ratio of 4:1. Only 9 per cent sided with the right. Lib Dem voters wanted to stop Cameron, not install him. So before you start squabbling about the extremely difficult parliamentary arithmetic, or blaming the stupidly tribal Labour negotiators for their talks with the Lib Dems breaking down, you have to concede: the British people have not got what they voted for.

From Mehdi Hasan:

Clegg has betrayed progressives across the length and breadth of Britain. He had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair the century-old rift on the centre left and forge a radical and progressive alliance in favour of electoral and constitutional reform. I suspect Labour will now sit on its hands in any future referendum and the Lib Dems might be on their own campaiging for a “Yes” vote. Their new partners in government have already stated their plans to oppose any change to our dysfunctional first-past-the-post system.

Clegg has also betrayed the longer-term strategic interests of his party for crude and short-term tactical gains.

What neither of them calculates however is what the likely effects of forcing the Tories into a short-lived minority administration would have been. Getting blamed as the party which refused to underpin ‘strong and stable government’ would have been an appalling (and probably disastrous) moniker to enter an October election with, which remember the Tories could easily have fought and the Lib Dems not. It’s all well and good to decry the loss of a mythical ‘progressive alliance’ with Labour but a) that coalition would have been an unstable, minority alliance and b) has collective amnesia suddenly struck about Labour’s 13 year record? ID cards, abuse of the National DNA Database, attempts to lock people up without charge for 45 and 90 days, interference in inquests and the right to jury trial, destitution of asylum seekers and the detention of their children, the Digital Economy Act, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, denying the vote to prisoners, the Iraq War, RIPA and SOCPA legislation – were ANY of these pieces of legislation and invasions of privacy, breaches of civil liberties and human rights ‘progressive’? I think not. Why Hasan, Hari and others ignore these points is a complete mystery to me.

I don’t like the Tories in Number 10  - I really don’t. But we have a Great Repeal Bill on offer, which is likely to include some, if not all, of Deputy PM Clegg’s Freedom Bill, and indeed have seen initial successes such as the end of ID cards and the National Identity Register, not to mention the end of detention of refugees’ children. Is it entirely likely that early, and ‘savage’ budget cuts will cause serious social and economic disruption over the next 12 months? Yes, and the Lib Dems might well damage themselves beyond repair by being directly associated with them, but given that Labour rebuffed their advances to attempt a coalition with them, I don’t know why there’s so much sniping at a party which at long last finds itself to enact large swathes of its platform. It was the best out of a bad set of choices. How on earth is that a betrayal?

May 12

To Sue for Section 44 Police Abuse?

Two days ago I cross-posted that photographer Grant Smith had yet again been abused by police under Section 44, going about his entirely lawful business. Today it looks like he may sue them:

He said: “They took away my camera, notebook and phone so I could not record what they were doing. I thought their reaction was completely disproportionate. I found it was a publicly humiliating experience. It was a bit like being mugged by teenagers.”

Mr Smith said he was consulting lawyers about the legality of the stop.

A City of London Police spokesman said: “A man was spoken to by officers on Monday after police were called by security personnel. He was later searched under terrorism powers.”

One officer commented: “There are hundreds of people who take photographs in the City every day and they do not have any issues. Sometimes it would be helpful if people responded when asked what their business was.

“The risk of terrorism is always there and we do not intend to drop our guard.”

Dropping their guard, when there’s never been a terrorist on earth who’d been so batshit insane as to stand in front of a building with a DSLR with the intention of later blowing it up? Utter garbage – Smith had already stated his business, and the police had no right to interfere with it, nor even to stop him. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has been ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and the police have been repeatedly warned by ACPO not to abuse it in this way. Time will tell whether the allegedly civil liberties-friendly ConDem coalition responds positively to the ECHR. In the meantime I hope Smith sues the City police to death, because I don’t see them or their Metropolitan counterparts changing for anyone.