Thursday, December 23, 2004

Delete... delete... delete...

The Freedom Of Information Act, due to come in next month, could be one of the most significant steps towards a truly transparent government (assuming it's not got loopholes aplenty). In a way, it's like an inversed effect of ID Cards - we, the public, actually get to find out what the people who run the country are actually doing.

Interesting, then, that apparently Whitehall's shredding of official documents has been "drastically stepped up" of late. E-mails are also being deleted in droves.

Now, I could stoop so low as to cite the liberally-sprinkled (as in "spread freely", not "spread by liberals") phrase, "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" in order to bring attention to the eyebrow-raising activities behind parliament's doors, but naturally that would be crass and probably somewhat hypocritical.

Alas, we may not ever get to see what many of those documents contained (assuming they've destroyed e-mail back-ups too), but hey, it's good to know all those faceless ones behind close doors are getting a bit jumpy. Got to keep them on their toes, eh?

[More information of the Freedom of Information Act]

Monday, December 20, 2004

Charles Clarke is an arse

Arrgh! Charles Clarke is an arse! From his commentary in the Times today:

"ID cards will potentially make a difference to any area of everyday life where you already have to prove your identity — such as opening a bank account, going abroad on holiday, claiming a benefit, buying goods on credit and renting a video."

So once they have in place a system to record every transaction your ID card is used for, they're quite eager to push it out to every single aspect of life? How is that not an Orwellian state? Oh wait, I have to hide this blog entry while the Police Helicopter buzzes overhead (fortunately the CCTV cameras only scan the street outside). OK, continue...

"I claim that the ID Cards Bill that I am introducing today is a profoundly civil libertarian measure because it promotes the most fundamental civil liberty in our society, which is the right to live free from crime and fear."

OK, someone please explain to me how having an ID card will prevent the people down the road jumping on cars, spraypainting every wall in sight and smashing shop windows. I'm really confused.

Clarke is an arse!
Clarke is an arse!
Clarke is an arse!

Shields up

10pm this evening sees the ID Bill getting its second reading, and "only around 30 Labour MPs are expected to vote against the government". Des Browne speaking on "Today" (listen via BBC) apparently dismisses critics' worries about the system - worries such as those I put to my MP. Dismissal of argument seems to be a common tactic these days, and one that continues to make me even less inclined to trust the "democracy" that runs our lives. Mark Oaten also persists with the somewhat-ancient and mostly-debunked 80% figure in favour of the scheme, despite his adversity. Ho hum.

As expected after the storm, all eyes are off the subject, with even the Register allocating more space to Blunkett's comeback than to the secretness of the ID System's effect on Human Rights (see original Guardian article).

Yup, we are about to enter an age when the government (a small 'g', until such time when I trust it with a capital again) have more non-transparent control over us than probably ever before - a direct result of the ubiquitous nature of technology, and the readiness of a nation's majority to "think" purely of themselves. If ever there was a year of the Sheeple, 2005 is it.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

It's all falling down

BBC News

In Summary, one of the security cleared lawyers arguing for the suspects has resigned as a protest against the law.

"My role has been altered to provide a false legitimacy to indefinite detention without knowledge of the accusations being made and without any kind of criminal charge or trial," he said.

The terrorism law is beginning to resemble a house of cards. Let's have a quick puff, eh?

CCW

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Taken from BBC News

The former UN commissioner for human rights and Irish president told Radio 4's Today the government's response would be scrutinised internationally.

"It would be very troubling if the government did not accept the judgement and then work within it," she said.


She went on to say that the suspects may be due damages if the Government fails to act promptly and within the line of the judgement. Well, that's raised the stakes hasn't it?

CCW

Friday, December 17, 2004

Fine to be rowdy.

Another instance of how the "serious" thinking amongst the struggling elite is paling into insignificance compared to the mighty will of Social Cohesion:

Drunken revellers face 80 quid fines

Obviously this has nothing to do with our nation's dependency on alcohol or low self esteem. No. OK, I understand that short-term measures may be taken for short-term fixes (such as the Christmas period), but dear Home Office, couldn't you please look at the serious causes of problems in this country, rather than merely upping the ante for those who do offend, just like you're upping the fines for rowdy drunken misbehaviour next week?

Here's the naked truth: in a generation so far removed from politics, morals are dictated all the more by the social norm - a norm that the government no longer controls. In other words, the link between government policy and national behaviour has been severed, a state that will continue to worsen as long as we truly believe that increased punishment an effective solution. The primary chord between the elected and the electorate is fast becoming the flashing lights and flourescent jackets of the police force, simply because we have no idea how to teach people what it is to be kind. By the time our grandchildren arrive, our schools will be nothing but prisons, and our high streets under armed guard.

This is the future so long as we carry on being afraid.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Regarding the Lords of Appeal Decision

This got long. Oh well, it's comprehensive.

I'm just reading the detailed report produced by the Lords of Appeal in reference to the Foreign Nationals detained indefinately without charge. It is comprehensive, and references a large number of other cases both domestic and foreign in both national and international law.

The case hinges around section 5 of the Human Rights Act. Section 5 is "Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law:(f) the lawful arrest or detention of ….. a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation …..”"

Such detention is of indefinate duration while deportation proceedings are being carried out. Now section 3 of the same act prohibits "Torture or Inhumane Treatment" and is interpretted as being applicable to prevent deportantion of an individual to a regime where such practises are widely used.

However the indefinate detention of section 5 while deportation is attempted may not be used in conjunction with section 3 where the deportation process is halted to produce indefinate detention of an individual who the Home Secretary wishes to deport but can't. This was the ruling from 1996.

The Terrorism Bill worked by removing (derogating) the UK from several of the terms of the Human Rights Act specifically section 5, regarding detention, removing the requirement, and allowing indefinate detention. However, it is not true indefinate detention because this derogation is only allowed in emergency circumstances, and for as long as the emergency lasts. It requires a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation", as defined by the Greek case.

“153. Such a public emergency may then be seen to have, in
particular, the following characteristics:
(1) It must be actual or imminent.
(2) Its effects must involve the whole nation.
(3) The continuance of the organised life of the community
must be threatened.
(4) The crisis or danger must be exceptional, in that the
normal measures or restrictions, permitted by the
Convention for the maintenance of public safety, health
and order, are plainly inadequate.”

The accused claimed that no public emergency exists, and as such the derogation is not applicable. Paragraph 20 is the lynchpin of the case, if you wish to read it in full.

"20. [...] they argued that there had been no public emergency threatening the life of the British nation, for three main reasons: if the emergency was not (as in all the decided cases) actual, it must be shown to be imminent, which could not be shown here; the emergency must be of a temporary nature, which again could not be shown here; and the practice of other states, none of which had derogated from the European Convention, strongly suggested that there was no public emergency calling for derogation. [...]."

They quoted various government ministers to the extent that there is no specific threat to the United Kingdom. In addition the Council of Europe has declared that it's members should not derogate because there is no emergency that requires it.

The Attorney General refuted these points, claiming that the UK did not have to wait for a threat to take action against it given that Al-Qaeda were issueing threats to the UK, felt that an artificial limit to the emergancy would be unnacceptable and noted that the Irish emergency went on for many years. "Little help, it was suggested, could be gained by looking at the practice of other states."

"Insofar as any difference of practice as between the United Kingdom and other Council of Europe members called for justification, it could be found in this country’s prominent role as an enemy of Al-Qaeda and an ally of the United States."

So the government is admitting that our actions as an ally of the US have led to us becoming a target. I'm sure I heard a minister refuting this at some point in the past on some debate or other. I'll look it up later.

"Secondly, he submitted that the judgment on this question [State of Emergency] was pre-eminently one within the discretionary area of judgment reserved to the Secretary of State and his colleagues, exercising their judgment with the benefit of official advice, and to Parliament."

Which is a polite way of saying that the government does not recognise the legitimacy of this court on this issue. Now where have I heard that before?

LORD BINGHAM OF CORNHILL felt that SIAC were perfectly correct to declare a state of emergency given that they had greater access to intelligence, that from the evidence he had there was a state of emergency and that the courts should in most cases give great weight to the views of politicians who make these decisions. However, he still found in favour of the appeal.

Curiously his deliberations take up 48 pages of the 102 page document, probably because his judgement was first and had to define terms I have only read the first 28 pages or so and then decided to skip to the next Lord. The last judgement, by comparison, is a single paragraph.

The second Lord (LORD NICHOLLS OF BIRKENHEAD) felt that the weakness in the governments case revolved around the differential treatment given to non-nationals as against nationals. Specifically that nations could not be subject to detention indefinately without trial, given the number of British Citizens held abroad as terror suspects.

The third Lord (LORD HOFFMANN) decided that the threat did not threaten the life of the nation, that this country has survived Hitler and could take a little loss of life without problem. "Whether we would survive Hitler hung in the balance, but there is no doubt that we shall survive Al-Qaeda." He accepted a weaker country may need to react differently to the same threat. WTF? He declined to comment on the idea that only targetting foreign nationals was illegal because he didn't want the government to extend that power to everyone instead.

LORD HOPE OF CRAIGHEAD agreed with Lord Bingham on all points. LORD SCOTT OF FOSCOTE likewise concurred.

LORD RODGER OF EARLSFERRY pointed out that the Home Secretary, in targetting only foreign nationals, was satisfied that the British Security were adequate for preventing British equivelents from carrying out terrorist activities, and why could they not handle the foreign nationals with the same powers? He agreed with the first lord.

LORD WALKER OF GESTINGTHORPE ("Whether or not patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, national security can be the last refuge of the tyrant.") is the Lord who was moved to dismiss the appeals, treating the limited number of detainees as evidence of discretion on the part of the Home Secretary not, as Liberty had claimed, that there was no emergency of a scale that warrented these powers. He accepted that SIAC were righ to declare an emergency.

BARONESS HALE OF RICHMOND (the only women on the panel) agreed in full with the opinions of the other agreeing Lords and focused more on the discimination aspect of the case.

LORD CARSWELL gave a one paragraph answer in agreement with the other Lords. I will not comment further since writing a paragraph longer than his would be silly in the extreme.

CCW

Yay, I'm not a fairy!

Charles presses on with ID Cards, but admits he "certainly don't consider civil liberties as airy-fairy ... [they are] very important and fundamental."

Ooh, gives me a warm, fluffy feeling inside. Especially when he also mentions that "how the scheme [is] executed [will be] a matter of debate." Too right. Let's open this thing up wide.

Also BBC coverage.

Terror detainees win Lords appeal

For those wanting to chase Blunkett out the door, the BBC has comprehensive coverage.

In the meantime, there are more important, and just as (if not more) exciting things happening elsewhere - Law Lords have ruled that detaining foreign terrorism suspects without trial breaks human rights laws, by an eight to one majority. This isn't some controversial, in-the-balance issue - this is near-unanimous. This is a huge torpedo through the hulls of the Home Office's fear-run strategy.

Does the tide really change so quickly? How far does it go?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

This blog *is* inaptly named.

Blunkett quits.

TBH, I'm quite stunned. Many people, me included, weren't expecting that in the least. Looks like Charles Clarke is rumoured to replace him.

I must say, I'm not overly pleased. While, on the one hand I'm not the greatest supporter of Mr Blunkett and his policies (as you may have guessed), I would have much preferred to see him go as a result of arguments over his direction and structure of these policies, rather than a tabloid-fought smear campaign around his alleged misdemeanours. Abuse of power they may perhaps be, but his arrogance - the same arrogance that secured his fall - also served as a rallying point against the ID scheme, against ASBOs, and against everything else the Home Office cooks up. These schemes I doubt will go away, and will press on despite the upset in leadership. If anything, the furore has and will continue to detract from the more important (again, IMHO) issues we face.

The workings of government, and in particular the HO, can appear mysterious, shadowy, dubious and full of wonder to a public onlooker such as myself. I remain curious as to how this will affect the government's approach over the next few weeks - will the ID Bill be sneaked through while eyes are averted, or puton hold and re-assessed under new speculation?

The issue of this site's name is also to be considered, but all in good time. All in good time.

Update: The Beeb has his resignation speech in full. While I am inclined to semi-believe his claims that he did nothing wrong, I'm also intently aware of the "art of implying" that seems to permeate many hierarchies - governmental and corporate alike - whereby intent can be assumed from one person to another, or from one level to another. Just as my girlfriend knows what Christmas presents I will like without me saying anything, so we face such inference amongst the ranks of the controlling forces. Maybe it is no longer good enough to find evidence to prove something is true. Bear this in mind when reading DB's speech.

He's gone. What next?

He has quit now. Same link as Scribe's post below.

But it is still a well named Blog. Publishing a biography critising your collegues while still in office is not exactly a sensible move. It sours the water even if things are going well. With various allegations flying around it's suicidal.

We need to watch the news carefully to see what happens to the various policies he supported, particularly the terrorism bills and ID cards.

CCW

This blog soon to be inaptly named?

WTF? Blunkett is expected to resign.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Killer Kites

The Reg has a good article about stats recently reported by DB (theyworkforyou.com links here and here) on the use of anti-terrorist laws against "armed anarchists" at RAF Fairford in 2003 - the willingness of the Home Office to use these laws this much should highlight just how stringent (or not) the labelling of "terrorism" by the Government really is.

Apparently "2,254 stop-searches had been conducted" in the vicinity of Fairford from 6 March to 27 April 2003, and "...police took items from 28 people as a result of searches that were conducted under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. These included a kite, white powder, controlled drugs, cameras and camera equipment, and a scanner." Blunkett also backs down on his old claims that "cudgels and swords" were seized.

Meanwhile the Tories are in favour of ID Cards, even if they're not completely convinced at all, internally...

Monday, December 13, 2004

Michael Howardbacks ID cards

Oh Dear. I started this morning with an uplifting piece, tucked away on page 21 (so really important then) of The Times, that the chairman-elect of the Bar opposes ID cards and trials without jury.

"Government plans for ID cards and trials without jury will play into the hands of extremists, the chairman-elect of the Bar has warned." - The Times

Later on I was brought back down to earth by the news that the Tories now formally support ID cards. Or, to be more presise, Michael Howard supports ID cards and has organised a three-line whip. BBC News

CCW

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The great awakening

(Oops. This turned into a rant...)

The Reg reports on a survey from think tank "Reform" that "claims 81 per cent of the British public favour the introduction of compulsory ID cards, with 29 per cent thinking it would be a very good idea, and 52 per cent a good idea." More detailed stats in the article, or possibly in the survey itself, although the site seems inaccessible at the moment.

The Reg puts this imbalance down, mainly, to an uninformed public - a feasible attribution, IMHO (and plausibly a result of a "marketing-led society" in which quantity counts while facts are discarded). Much of it also ties in with the fact that for many, politics just isn't an interest. Unfortunately, as has been proved over the last few years, electorate apathy does lead to things the electorate really don't want, which is all the more reason to think that when the government quote statistics such as these, what they actually mean is "80% of people really don't care, so we're going to do it".

This is the problem we face - our supposed democracy is based on numbers, but the numbers we're using just don't add up, or justify the system. As we keep seeing, in order to influence the system, we must influence the numbers - a nigh-on impossible task when the biggest broadcast systems are mostly out-of-reach except for established media and political channels. Even more difficult when the numbers cited by those behind plans can pick and choose poll results selectively. Why? Again, because no-one really cares.

Admittedly, that's not the end of the story. There's always influence from the minority, for instance. But what's broken is the justification loop - the feedback from those making the final decisions to those who are interested enough to find out the relevant information. In other words, the Government is actively discouraging the people it should be seeking to encourage, by pushing stats obtained from the apathetic onto the interested, in order to avoid real discussion and real participation. It's no wonder that people have lost interest when all they get if they do become interested is one big shake of the head.

Be prepared. Some day the population may wake up to what our Government are doing, under the guise of "their backing". It's not enough to march for a day, banging drums once something's gone away from your liking and out of your control - we need daily active participation, and a way to make the decisions for the future to be relevant today. Until then, the Government can pretty much stomp whatever legislation they want all over us, including - alas - a nationwide tracking system. And all those with "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" will wonder what the hell they were doing.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Bad news is still news.

The hullaballo around Blunketty drags on apace, and while I still refuse to lower myself to the witch-burning spectacles devoured by so much of the media, it does seem to be reaching such fervour that I am now wondering how the whole shenanigans affects the limping plight of the ID Cards Bill.

Think of it this way, for instance. Blunkett, as the head spokesperson for the scheme, also represents to some extent the "human" side of it - that is to say, in order for people to trust the system, they must trust the people pushing for the system. In his role as Home Secretary, the Blunketty one must therefore come across as 2 things, most of all: 1) firm, but also 2) trustworthy. These aspects represent the yin and the yang of the Home Office's relation with the people, a cause and effect amplified greatly by the fickleness of the tabloid-reading masses.*

But now, this moral upstanding is challenged, and doesn't seem to be going away as quickly as anyone might have hoped (Blunkett for obvious reasons, the media who want to get back to the next reality TV series, and me because it's clouding the whole ID thing and really is quite boring). The questions on my lips are: Are the public so fickle as to equate the failings of our Dave with the trustworthiness of the ID system, or indeed politics in general (which already suffers a fair amount of suspicion anyway, despite what Blunkett would decry)? And is the ubiquity of same Dave within the news a real threat to the publicity of the various pro- and anti-ID Card movements?

Bear in mind that, as the government are so eager to push the Bill through the Houses as quickly as possible, with as little scrupulous inspection as possible, the most likely way the Bill is going to get repealed is through a large amount of public pressure. The ability to get people interested in the issue will depend partly on if they are sick of hearing about the same people on a daily basis. Or, at least, their initial reception to the matter may depend on this to some extent, which counts for a fair bit.

So, I like to see this circus as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the amount of column inches being generated may serve to divert attention away from the bigger, longer-term efforts that Mr B is involved in (although not necessarily the sole dependency in), and obscure the nation's lust for morals. On the other hand, it may be that given the right opportunity, whichever outcome we see can be turned to an advantage. For instance, it may be easier to attract attention to the other efforts of David in the wake and lull of any further enquiries, and to the further "transgressions" offered in the name of humanity. Or if, somehow, the Secretary does (astoundingly) offer his resignation, then perhaps it makes it all the easier to draw some light on the projects he is currently "overseeing" (at least media-wise).

The lesson here is not that we should be baying for Blunkett's blood, or even that we should be ignoring the ongoing furore completely. It is that we should realise the spotlights are focused on our corner, and that even the media can be manipulated to our advantage if done right. It's an ill wind, but it may yet turn out to be blowing the right way.


* The amount of apathy within the general population towards DB at this point is, of course, questionable. One suspects that the media and the politicians alike will do anything to make politics more interesting.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Business' Point of View

ID cards will hit business, watchdog warns, with some excellent generic quotes:

"The first question we ask when assessing the quality of regulatory proposals is 'what is the objective of the legislation?' Well, the objective of the ID cards is still not clear. It appears to have four or five different ones. And where the scope or intention of the legislation is not clear, then regulatory creep is likely to follow."

Also, why voluntary may mean compulsory - rest assured that there are probably plenty of other situations where the (voluntary) NIR will introduce "unvoidable iplementations" nuder the guise of efficiency and/or security.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Hi

A swift welcome to London News Review readers. If you were misled by the blog's name, and were expecting a picture of David Blunkett's face pasted onto a large person's naked bottom, then I apologise - there's none of that smut here. Yet.

If, on the other hand, you're interested in reading about what an ID scheme in the UK may or may not mean to you (seeing as you'll be forced into it eventually), and what you stand to gain or lose for your 15 30 however-many pounds then please, read on...

Reg round-up

Looks like the government are trying to rustle up some more "authoritative" statistics on the public opinion of ID Cards, through the usual under-informedmarketing ploys, and misleading questions such as "Do you welcome plans to tackle organised crime, illegal immigration, benefit fraud and national security through the introduction of ID cards?". Anyone with more info on the rest of the questions sent out, please let me know... (No clues as to how they selected the questionnaire recipients, either...)

Meanwhile, a united front is being adopted by the HO, with Des Browne seemingly giving exactly the same points as Mr Blunkett made a few weeks ago, in particular the stand in opinion that ID Cards are not meant as a "panacea" for terrorism, and they never said they were.

Also worth a read are reports on various government IT systems falling over, and the readers' letters on the same subject. Here's hoping they learn their lesson - don't fancy being denied urgent NHS treatment because the "computer's gone down"...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A matter of perspective

You heard it here first... [David Blunkett's] spokesman added: 'Our view is that people are innocent until proved guilty, not the other way around. Which is why the vast majority of the population - those who genuinely don't have anything to fear - will soon be formally treated as suspect, with their innocence to be prove. Furthermore, once cards are compulsory, you will be guilty if you don't have the means to prove it, regardless of if you're actually a danger or not.

Personally, I trust Mr Blunkett about as much as he trusts me.

Identity Cards Bill - First Impressions

I've spent the evening reading through the ID Cards Bill and taking some notes, but haven't the energy to write them up or take it all in properly just yet.

Overall impressions of the Bill are that my fears are grounded in reality. The Bill makes many, many provisions for access to the Register's information by those in power, and there don't seem to be many (if any) specifications as to what level of access is acceptable and what's not. The closest it gets to making the government accountable is a mention of the Intelligence Service Commisioner (section 26) who will be responsible for reviewing how the intelligence services are using the Register, but in extremely scant detail. Given that the individual is not told when one of these services requests and gets their information, and that the NIS Commissioner's reports can be freely censored in the name of national security, I have no faith at all in just what my information is really being used for.

In addition to all this, there are also a hell of a lot of uses of the phrase "The Secretary of State may...", giving the whole thing a definite air of the open-ended, top-down legislation I've come to expect. There really is very little in the way of ensuring efficient data flow while encouraging me to trust the government.

Hopefully some time over the next few days I can produce something with the main points, and maybe a bit of analysis.

In the meantime, an important (and relatively straight-forward) bit of reading is Schedule 1 - Information that may be recorded in the Register. While it may allay some fears that things such as religion, marital status, et al would be tracked directly under a scheme, it also makes it clear that this is very much a ID-encapsulation scheme, providing facilities to link to any other piece of identifying documentation.

There also seems to be some extra means to gather information about that documentation, e.g. "the date of expiry or period of validity of a document" as recorded in Section 4.

Much of it is also to do with the history of your ID details - when things were changed, when details were checked, etc. Plus there's the curious "password" field, that I thought we were perhaps supposed to do away with once we had new-age bio-technology. Apparently not...