Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Caution: Constitutional upset in progress.

Another day, another harsh criticism of the ID Register Bill. The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution has released its 6 page report (PDF).

Not got time to read through it right now, but the Register has an accompanying article. Some good advice, it would seem, being presented, but it remains to be seen whether the Home Secretary will actually listen to any of it - there doesn't appear to be much sign of movement at this stage of the procedings.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Meeting a soldier? Watch your back...

A curious one, this. BBC news reports that one Abu Baker Mansha has been charged under the Terrorism Act, "after allegedly being found with a soldier's name and address written on a piece of paper."

No other details, although hopefully Google News will turn up some goods soon. It'd obviously be stupid to infer anything in either direction with such little info, and it's hard from the report to tell if the address was actually "written", or otherwise. (The Beeb say the former, then claim the charge says the paper merely contained the name and address.) The form of the address may lend some clue to how it was obtained and, therefore, maybe what it was being used for (think about when you write an address down as opposed to when you have a printed copy), but naturally it wouldn't be good to speculate... At least, that's what common sense dictates. The intelligence agencies may say different.

Furthermore, why was he charged 4 days after being arrested? I'm not a Policeman. Do these things usually take that long?

The trial should be tomorrow (Tuesday). Meanwhile, all soldiers have been relocated and had their names changed to protect the security of this glorious nation*. Huzzah!

(*quite possibly not true)

Update: Thee BBC link above now mentions article 58 (1b) of the Terrorism Act, which says:

58. - (1) A person commits an offence if-

    (a) he collects or makes a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or

    (b) he possesses a document or record containing information of that kind.

It goes on to say:

(2) In this section "record" includes a photographic or electronic record.

(3) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had a reasonable excuse for his action or possession.

Hmm, note that "reasonable excuse" is a defence after the charge has been made, not a reason for not charging in the first place... (IANAL... is that right?)

I'm having a little trouble finding out just what "information" is "likely to be useful" to a terrorist. The Act itself doesn't seem to define it.

It's probably also worth looking at section 103 too, which runs along similar lines as the charge above, only more vague:

103.- (1) A person commits an offence if-

    (a) he collects, makes a record of, publishes, communicates or attempts to elicit information about a person to whom this section applies which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or

    (b) he possesses a document or record containing information of that kind.

The people in question, that it's illegal to write down information about, or tell anyone else about, are: constables, members of Her Majesty's Forces (e.g. soldiers), holders of a judicial office, officers of any court, or full-time employees of the Northern Ireland prison service. Oh, "information" also includes a photograph. So those photos of my mate's sister, who happens to be a police officer, are illegal?

Furthermore, you're liable, if charged, for this information if you were "on any premises at the same time" as it, or if you regularly visit(ed) those premises. Ignorace of such evidence has to then be proven by you, i.e. somehow, you have to work out a way of saying that you weren't aware of something. I suggest that students of philosophical logic should start applying as Barristers now.

Man, if they want you toasted, you're toast. To quote... "In fact, you're gonna have to work very hard to stay alive."

Friday, March 25, 2005

This is about us and us, not us and them.

No links. Instead, a thought just struck me, like a heavily-laden seagull smacking into a glass window.

All along, I've been thinking that ID Cards are a tool to challenge the existing lines of trust between the public and the government. This is still true, but (I've realised) more importantly, the real deal, an ID system will change the lines of trust between ourselves. Think about it for a moment. Here we have presented to us a method of "proving" that we are who we say we are. Its primary purpose, no matter what the "secondary" effects - disrupting terrorism, catching illegal workers etc - are, is to act as a single, unequivocal means by which the person looking at the card can be sure that we are who we say we are. Without this, the database behind it and all the associated "entitlement" schemes fall down. It is a Trust Card, first and foremost.

In effect, it is a system designed to replace the many informal ways of doing this that we have established already. It is a system that turns our social aspects into technical ones. Many say that this is more efficient, that we can only prevent disaster and crisis by having such a foolproof scheme in place, and to some extent (i.e. a theoretical extent and ignoring many other factors) this could be true. But in thinking this, we lose sight of what we will begin to lack as well.

Take a moment to reflect on the ways in which trust is built up. Do you trust your doctor? Does your doctor trust you? How about teachers, parents, the person in the local housing office, your estate agent, your bank manager, your local police? Why do you trust them to the degree that you do? ID cards, intent on providing proof, act formally. Under an ID system, you are only considered "trustworthy" if you can show something that was given to you by someone you've probably never met. Up until then, it would be fair to treat you as suspicious, just because everone else has their card, so why don't you? Whether or not the cards prove anything in reality is beside the point.

OK, so it's not like our human instincts are being completely over-ridden here. Just because someone presents their card to you, it doesn't mean you're forced to trust them... does it? Maybe not, but then you were never likely to in the first place. The damage is done to all those people who you had no reason to suspect of anything really, but were just suspicious of because they hadn't proved their ID yet.

First impressions count.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Brighton happenin' and pre-election warm-up voting.

Fiddlesticks, I forgot to mention the No2ID Brighton and Hove public meeting against ID cards, 7.30pm today. I am a fool. See you there.

Oh, we've also apparently made the Guardian shortlist for "single issue" blogs - how odd. Go vote, or something. Actually, go check out the other categories too, for more fun political blogging.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The sound of inevitability

The Register summarises identity theft among large organisations in March, big figures that those looking to implement nationwide identity schemes should probably take some note of. The HO FAQ addresses these in a couple of places:

What’s the benefit of having biometrics? "Use of biometrics will also make it much more difficult for a fraudster to obtain a second identity card as the biometrics can be checked against those already on the National Identity Register to see if they are already registered. It will also provide an additional means of associating an individual to a particular identity card, which greatly increases the security and robustness by supplementing more traditional methods such as photographs and signatures."

Won’t an identity card be attractive to fraudsters and organised criminals? "Yes just as current identity documents are. This is why we will have strengthened identity checking procedures, biometrics and improved physical security measures both for existing identity documents and for identity cards."

So the government line tends to amount to not much more than "biometrics, biometrics, biometrics". Quite why the HO thinks it can guard customers' -- sorry, citizens' identities more securely than a large company, I'm not sure - maybe if their track record in technical projects had some semblance of success, I might be inclined to believe them... There are surely more constructs needed to ensure the necessary security than mere hardware aren't there? How much attention to education regarding the system should there be, for instance? What penalties/responsibility should there be for being careless with your own data, say?

As the Reg article points out, "The vast majority of incidents can be traced to ... just plain stupidity among those who 'own' our personal data." Shouldn't the government be planning some contingency for what happens if (/when) details are stolen and usable on a wide scale, rather than just assume they're not going to be?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Coupla quick links...

Home Office attacked over accountability: "A new report from the Commons public administration committee found that Charles Clarke's department was the worst in Whitehall for offering an explanation as to why an answer could not be provided and for meeting deadlines for responses."

Scrap Asbo call after rural study - Shock! Giving young people something to do and listening to them may help!

Monday, March 21, 2005

LSE publishes draft paper on ID cards

The LSE has just published a preliminary report on ID cards. It doesn't like the gov'ts current proposals much. A few things that caught my eye on the way through.

It looks like being a major imposition, with the biometrics needing updating "every five years for much of the poulation." It will also hit the disabled and elderly harder because their biometric tend to change at a greter rate, such that they may have trouble proving their identity against the biometric referenced by the card.

There is nobody in charge of ensuring that the data stored is accurate. There is no liability for inaccurate data.

The gov't arguments regarding international obligations for biometrics are destroyed. Even in the US which currently has the highest biometric requirement, the biometric is a digitally stored photograph (!?!).

Because refusal to register is a civil liability not a criminal case, wealthy people and wealthy criminal gangs can avoid ID cards by paying the repeated £2500 fines.

A central ID number with access to multiple services is very valuble to criminal elements. The more important a single item is, the more it will be targetted. In a number of countries where a cenral identifying number has been implemented ID fraud has increased.

Benefit fraud through multiple IDs accounts for £50million per year. The ID card scheme will cost £5.5billion over ten years (note Billion)

"All biometrics have successfully been spoofed or attacked by researchers."

"The vast majority of biometric trials have been in the 'frequent traveller' context, using volunteers who are predominantly white male professionals in the age group between 20-55 years old." In other words fit, healthy people who present no major problems for biometrics. A well tested system then. The trial featuring a more diverse group has not been published.

The alternative proposal on page 71 is particularly interesting for nerds who can understand it. As part of the spec, the report specifically accuses the government of wanting a full disproportionate flow of information about all subjects, rather than allowing subjects to control their own identity. A serious charge indeed.


Friday, March 18, 2005

Best kept secret

A week old maybe, but... Terror orders to be kept secret.

"The Home Office will not announce the issuing of further control orders after the first 10 were signed by Charles Clarke, the home secretary, last Saturday.

The move means that dozens of suspects could be subjected to the orders without voters knowing about it prior to the general election.

Looking for more details on this, but in the run up to the election, the Great Propaganda War is going to be responsible for a lot of "collateral damage". Screw people, power is more important.

Monday, March 14, 2005

ID and election

The Reg has more on the ID Scheme being postponed until after the election, and the political strategies involved in its delay alongside the SOCA bill.


Reality just as rushed as the law its based on. What now of the phrase "Preparing for emergencies", when its originators don't know the meaning of the word?

After the fiasco of the Foundation Hospitals and the ongoing mess that the ID card bill is in (information? what's that?), I thought things couldn't get much worse. Fortunately last week proved that there are depths of ineptitude rife amongst our governing elite that we haven't even begun to explore yet - hurrah!

Anyway, good to see suspicion rules the day. Safety through paranoia is the most safe anyone can be.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Seems like good news

Peers inflict terror bill defeat

Rebel Labour Peers Help Reject Terror Law

The Terrorism Bill appears to have been subject to major amendments in the House of Lords, specifically that all control orders under the bill must be authorised by a judge. Amendment passed by a majority of 130 - that's hard to argue with.

The Labour Rebels who helped amend the bill include the former Met Police Chief, Lord Condon, and the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg (he of the expensive wallpaper).

I await further reports with interest, and the publication of the debate in Hansard.

The reaction of the government should also be interesting.


Friday, March 04, 2005

"The ID cards Bill is dead"

NO2ID reports (via e-mail - sign up here) that the government is set to abandon ID cards until after the election, according to this article in the Independent. It looks like the Tories have slowly (almost creakily) realised how bad the bill is, and how much they have to gain by opposing it.

"The ID cards Bill is dead," one minister told The Independent yesterday.

This gives plenty of time to assemble more resources, more campaign material and more call for a reasoned debate over the whole shenanigan. Good.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Downing Street Says...: "Terror"

Worth checking out: Downing Street Says...: Terror. Watch (ok, read) the PM squirm over the definition of "terrorists" and "700". "...there were distinctions to be made between different kinds of threat and the threat different people posed" - a grey scale then? I think you'll find that such distinctions may prove harder to implement legally in practice. Enjoy such gems as:

"...what the Prime Minister was most concerned about, as always, was that people should focus on the substance and not interpretation or speculation. The substance, as we had said consistently since 9/11, was that this country did face a threat. That threat varied but it was serious."

So that's a definite probability in continuous variability, then. And how about:

"We were concerned about [suspects] because, potentially, they were planning or considering potential terrorist action. Put to him that the Prime Minister had implied that these people were actively engaged, not merely considering terrorist action, the PMOS said that if someone was in any way suspected of being part of a potential terrorist action, no matter how small that part may be, that was the correct phraseology."

"suspected of being part of a potential ... no matter how small"? If we use this as a definition, then I'm getting MI5 to blag my postman, who probably buys illegal DVDs with the probable knowledge that this may fund something-or-other.

Also spot the avoidance of answering the question relating to what parties would be considered "terrorist".

Meanwhile, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has published its latest progress report, including a recap of its take on the ID Cards Bill and the SOCA Bill. Nothing new though - see "Human Rights? What they?" I do note, though, that the HO have published their response in handy, easy-to-read scanned-in-fax format. Espect to go crazy after page 4.

I'll try to post a better breakdown, but so far there's a lot of speculation as to how address-collection will work. The phrase "In a small minority of cases there may be a need to..." makes me laugh - surely the whole Bill is designed to "catch" the small "minority of cases" that make such schemes necessary in the first place? Or are they saying that actually, the majority of the population are scheming little toe-rags?

Liberty is dead! Long live liberty!

Good 2 page analysis at the Register with some valid points:

  • What is the difference between "restriction" and "deprivation" of liberty? Is "physical" liberty (i.e. movement) so different from "mental" liberty (e.g. freedom of speech and freedom of religion)? Freedom of assembly may lie somewhere in the middle. Perhaps Clarke is concentrating on justifying the physical side, and simply clamping down on the mental side.

  • New laws for liberty restriction covers all the people that the government merely suspects - at the moment, there's nothing that can be done without evidence (funny, that...). The old statistics of 700 arrested, 17 convicted comes back here, and the issue at stake is whether or not these 683 people, suspected of crime, should be free or "restricted", and on what evidence. As paranoia increases, this number is bound to increase exponentially, and there's no reason why the proportion of convictions will change.

What's certain is that the government is now clearly in the grey zone - that limbo legal land where people are neither guilty nor innocent. As has been seen in the US, and in dictatorial regimes around the world, this is a zone occupied by doubt. When one person's innocence is another's guilt, the ruling comes down to who's making the rules, and what they're afraid of.