UK Politics

Taking Liberties

The British Library's "Taking Liberties" exhibition opens tomorrow, and will be open until March. It is free, and should be well worth a visit. There is an interactive online tool which examines a lot of the issueshere.

I previously wrote about this exhibition in August.

Combining this with the Royal Academy's Byzantium exhibition could make for a good day out in London.

More Data Loss

So, the Government has managed to lose a USB stick containing the details of tens of thousands of criminals. We should not focus on the fact that this is the data of criminals - that will be of little concern to many - but instead look at what's happened here in terms of data protection. Once again it has been possible to copy records en masse, save them to removable media unencrypted and walk out with them.

A picture of a USB Key

This time it was a USB key, but in the past it has been CD Roms. Discs have been lost containing the data of 4 million people, of 25 million people and there have been many other cases.

This does not breed confidence in the future security of the ID database - a massive bonanza for identity theft if it got into the wrong hands.

It simply should not be possible to export large amounts of data without a high clearance.... and such clearance should only be given to people who have been drilled until their ears bleed about safeguarding that data. In particular, if on usb, it is attached to a lanyard and doesn't leave your neck until it is wiped. Even then, the data should not be on any removable media unless encrypted (and this should be automatic to prevent the human-error factor).

More to the point, if the data has to be moved from A to B, what is the problem with an encrypted ssh tunnel from one system straight to the other? What's wrong with 'dropping' fields which are not needed at the receiving end before sending?

NO2ID - Stop ID cards and the database state

These data losses indicate a massive systemic failure in the design of government systems, a carelessness with the data with which they're entrusted, and a laissez-faire attitude at the highest levels. Just as the loss of the child benefit discs was not the fault one one low-level civil servant, this should not be pinned on the unfortunate who dropped the usb stick (though they should know better). This should be viewed as a failure of design - people should not have been able to do this, even if they were trying to be malicious.

It's just another case which demonstrates the flaws behind the concept of an ID card database, which if ever compromised would be the biggest boon to identity theft ever seen.

People in favour of an English Parliament

Via Toque we see that in a Mori poll, 41% of people favoured an English parliament. This sounds like 59% don't, but not so:

41 per cent said they favoured an English Parliament 'with similar law-making powers to the Scottish Parliament' and Only 32 per cent said they were happy with an unchanged House of Commons.

Source: The Observer via Guardian Unlimited

Presumably this means that 27% are either in the 'don't know' or 'English votes for English MPs' category.

This undermines Lord Falconers' previous statements on the issue, on the 'Today' programme he said the following:

That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues.

Under first past the post (which our current government seems to favour) that means that the English parliament idea is the winner.

He also argued that an English Parliament would inexorably lead to the break up of the UK (but a Scottish Parliament would not).

It's about time I wrote another letter....

Dear Lord Falconer

On Friday 10th March this year, you appeared on "The Today Programme". In the interview you discussed many things, not least of which was the anomaly that is the lack of parity between England and Scotland with regard to representation. There was this exchange:

John Humphreys: Yeah, but, but you're ignoring the anomaly, and it is a clear anomaly isn't it?
Lord Falconer: It is a clear anomaly, yes,

You gave reasons why there should not be an English Parliament (namely that it would be bad for the Union), but you did not explain why the Scottish Parliament is not bad for the Union. As such I do not feel that you addressed these issues and so am turning to you in the hope that you have had time to deliberate upon your earlier statements.

One point of particular interest was that you said "That that is so is reflected by the fact that there is no demand at all for devolution to England or the English MPs only being able to vote on English issues."

This was interesting, as this was in direct contradiction to that exact demand from Oliver Heald.

I am writing at this stage due to a poll reported today in the Observer (it's also reported on "Guardian Unlimited"):

The poll says that 41% favour an English parliament with 32% favouring an unchanged house of commons. Presumably the rest are in favour of "English votes for English MPs" or are "don't know".

If this were a general election, under "first past the post" the English Parliament proposal would be a clear winner. Given this, have you revised your view that there is no demand at all for devolution to England?

We now have a situation where you have admitted that anomalies exist, though you did not indicate how you would solve them. We also have a situation where you have stated that there is "no demand" for a solution and this has been demonstrated to be incorrect.

I would be interested to hear what your next step will be in resolving this anomaly in our constitutional arrangements. If you do not deem that a solution is needed, then I would ask how a Scottish parliament can be justified and yet an English parliament with similar powers cannot – and why one would necessarily lead to the break up of the Union and the other would not.

I look forward to your considered response.

Yours Sincerely,

BBC seat predictor

A response from the BBC:

We are sorry you feel the application is deficient by not having a section for calculating seats in England.

For budgetary and technical reasons we had to keep the number of options on the seat calculator to a minimum and, as in other areas of our election and general political coverage, decided to give priority to parts of the UK with a representative institution - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and of course the whole of the UK.

However, we have already decided we need to review this decision should we use the seat calculator again, and views like your own will be taken into account in that review.

Where's England?

The otherwise excellent (and scary) BBC Electoral seat predictor for the UK election has subdivisions for Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland, but not England. Why not? Even though England is governed in part from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (all with national bodies), it would be good to see a breakdown for this part of the UK. The subdivisions are for the westminster vote, not for the various assemblies and parliaments.

I've asked them this question and will relay any reply I receive - even if it is my error!

I note that your excellent 'seats predictor' has subdivisions of the UK offered. These are Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Unless I've read it incorrectly, the subdivisions all relate to the Westminster vote and not to the Scottish parliament, welsh assembly etc. Why is England not represented seperately as well in this case?

I look forward to any response, and will update to reflect your reasons.

Update: A reply from the BBC

Reply from Hazel Blears

Hazel Blears replied to my MP after I wrote a letter stating my concerns about the government trying to claim the power to remove liberty without due process. My MP forwarded my concerns to the home office.

Coincidental that this should occur today... the letter from Hazel Blears is undated, but it was forwarded to me yesterday.

Hazel Blears, as expected, put out the usual government spin, and my MP did nothing that couldn't have been done by a post office forwarding system. I still don't know where the man stands.

Thank you for your letter dated 1 February 2005 on behalf of XXXXXX of YYYYY about the Home Secretary's control orders proposals.

The ATCS Act 2001 introduced exceptional powers to counter the risks posed by terrorist activities. Part 4 of the Act is an immigration power which enables the Home Secretary to certify and detain foreign nationals who are suspected of involvement in international terrorism and who are believed to present a risk to our national security but cannot, at present, be removed from the United Kingdom. They cannot currently be removed, as a result of either practical considerations or the United Kingdom's international obligations, such as those under the European Court of Human Rights. However, the detainees are free to leave this country voluntarily at any time, as two have already chosen to do.

Whilst Article 5(1) (f) of the ECHR permits the detention of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation, UK caselaw is clear - a person can only be detained if there is a reasonable prospect of their removal within a reasonable time. In the Part 4 cases, where there is a barrier to removal, we would therefore be prevented from detaining these individuals, pending their ultimate removal, without a derogation from the ECHR.

This is why a derogation was sought from Article 5 of the ECHR in relation to the part 4 powers. The detainees challenged the legality of the derogation. On Thursday 16 December 2004 the House of Lords allowed the appeal in the case of A and others V the Secretary of State for Home Department.' The Law Lords ruled that the powers in Part 4 section 23 of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 were incompatible with Articles 5 and 14 of the ECHR in so far as they are disproportionate, and permit detention of suspected international terrorists in a way that discriminates on the grounds of nationality or immigration status.

This appeal was about the compatibility of domestic law with ECHR and it is ultimately for Parliament to decide whether and how the law should be amended. There is no legal obligation to release the detainees as a result of this judgment.

The part 4 powers have been used sparingly, a total of 16 people have been certified and detained under the part 4 powers. One other person has been certified but detained under other powers. Of these 10 people remain in detention. One individual appeal against certification was upheld, two certificates have been revoked by the Home Secretary and one detainee has been bailed under strict bail conditions.

There are extensive legal safeguards, including an individual right of appeal against certification to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). SIAC is a superior court of record chaired by a high court judge. SIAC also conducts statutory reviews and those detained can also apply to SIAC for bail at any time.

As the Home Secretary announced in his statement on 26 January, we are seeking to develop alternatives to the part 4 powers. We are continuing with the work on deportation with assurances for foreign nationals who we can and should deport. We are also planning to introduce control orders, which would enable a range of preventative measures to be placed on a suspected terrorist irrespective of nationality, where we can neither prosecute nor deport. These will be preventative measures designed to disrupt and restrict an individual's activities where intelligence assessments indicate involvement in terrorism.

These orders will:

  1. be capable of general application to any suspected terrorist irrespective of nationality and, for most of the controls, the nature of terrorist activity.
  2. consist of a range of provisions from a ban on the use of communications equipment to restrictions to premises in very serious cases
  3. allow for a criminal sanction for a breach of any order imposed include independent judicial scrutiny of each case involving the hearing of evidence in both open and closed session, both against the imposition of an order and any subsequent variations of the provisions. There will also be regular reviews of extant orders.

As the Home Secretary said in his statement on the 26th January "A careful balance has to be struck between the rights of an individual and the protection of society against threats from organisations which seek to destroy". We believe that these powers will address this balance in a proportionate and effective manner.

It is ultimately for Parliament to decide whether and how we should amend the law. The Governments intention is to introduce a bill to give effect to control orders as soon as is practicable. It may be possible to enact the bill in a time scale that makes renewal of the part 4 powers unnecessary. Should that not be possible the Government will seek to renew the Part 4 powers for a limited time to enable the new powers to be put in place.

The Home Secretary will not be revoking the certificates of the current detainees between now and when the new powers are in place unless the threat they pose changes and they no longer meet the criteria for certification.

Andy Hamilton on the news quiz: 'What a topsy turvey world we live in when our best hope of opposing draconian laws is Michael Howard'. and 'Am I alone in having an extreme dislike for ... Hazel Blears'. The consensus was 'no'. The news quiz is available for download from saturday afternoon and will be available for a week.

Kofi Annan made a Keynote address to the Closing Plenary of the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security in Madrid

By the same token, the United Nations must continue to insist that, in the fight against terrorism, we cannot compromise the core values I have listed. In particular, human rights and the rule of law must always be respected. As I see it, terrorism is in itself a direct attack on human rights and the rule of law. If we sacrifice them in our response, we will be handing victory to the terrorists.

Quite so, Kofi.

House Arrest and my Prospective MP (Tory)

I've received a reply from the Conservative Candidate in my area regarding the house arrest of terror suspects.

My apologies for not replying earlier.

I take the threat of terrorism very seriously. Which is why I want to see terrorists face trial and be punished, not be placed under house arrest at the request of the executive.

I'm sorry you found it so hard to find my website. I'll explore what we can do to ensure a higher profile. And thanks also for your blog tips

(I made some comments about putting in an RSS feed, and how it was so difficult to find out who the conservative candidate was given that the current guy was deselected - though I don't support the chap in all things, he'll probably be my MP as this is a safe seat and I want to keep tabs on what he's doing.)

Letter to Shadow Home Secretary on ID Cards

I've just written to David Davies MP, let's see what response he gives.

Mr. David Davies, MP
House of Commons

Thursday, 28 October 2004

Dear Mr. Davies,

With regard to ID cards, on the BBC website you say:

'"If these criteria can be met without sacrificing civil liberties they should be introduced soon - not in 10 years time. The terrorist threat is real and is here today."'

This is merely echoing the government's line without much critical reasoning. Yet as far as I know not ONCE has anyone said exactly how the ID card will help fight terrorism. The Madrid bombers and the IRA all were in the country legally. The spectre of terrorism is a straw man argument as it rather assumes that we know in advance who the terrorists are.

It has also been said that the ID card will help prevent benefit frauds - if this is the case, why does it not pay for itself?

It has no added benefit to the individual. It won't do what it claims to do. In effect, it is an extra tax - one which the conservatives, as the current opposition, and a party which claims to value a lower tax economy, should be opposing.

The idea seems one that is fraught with difficulties. The UK government does not have a good history of implementing large secure systems. Witness the passports debacle of a few years ago. With one über-database there will be much difficulty when the inevitable mistakes happen. If, as will happen, someone is labelled as a convicted paedophile, it will be incredibly difficult to undo this – the authoritative database says it is so, therefore it must be true.

ID cards are also liable to lead to a false sense of security, which can be more dangerous than no security at all.

Bruce Schneier, a well known and respected security consultant based in the US, recently wrote cogently for United Press International about security issues relevant to the World Series: "ID checks don't make sense. Everyone has an ID. Even the 9/11 terrorists had IDs. What we want is to somehow check intention; is the person going to do something bad? But we can't do that, so we check IDs instead. It's a complete waste of time and money, and does absolutely nothing to make us safer".

I would strongly suggest that you read the rest of this article.

There has been no obvious reasoned response by either government or opposition to the points raised at: and elsewhere, such as by liberty (director of liberty: Shami Chakrabarti )

The only argument I've heard for ID cards that is hard to refute is "If you have nothing to hide…", and this is hard to refute simply because it is tough to know where to start!

Along with many other topics, this issue makes the conservatives look more and more irrelevant at the moment. Why? They simply seem to be rubber stamping any half thought out idea of this government, such as the rolling use of the anti terror legislation against protestors.

I would dearly like to know, with concrete reasoning, why the conservatives seem to be supporting these proposals.

Yours Sincerely