Privacy: War on Terror Weakens Laws

The International Commission of Jurists, the Geneva based NGO, has produced a report, following a three year global study on the effects of the “War on Terror”, on law and human rights.

Unsurprisingly the results are very damning, with Justice Arthur Chaskalson, the Chair of the Panel stating that:

In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the extent of the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world. Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights. The result is a serious threat to the integrity of the international human rights legal framework,

These worlds echo those of the Chair of the House of Lords Report into Privacy, Lord Goodlad, who stated that ““The UK now has more CCTV cameras and a bigger National DNA Database than any other country. There can be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards every detail about us being recorded and pored over by the state”

The words of the  ICJ are again mirrored by those of the former head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, who stated that:  “[The Government]…attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy…..It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state.”

With major agencies and bodies,  from Liberty and  Amnesty International to MI5 and the House of Lords, stating that the government has overstepped the mark with regards to privacy. When is enough enough?

What needs to happen before the course of action is changed?


Examples of Internet Censorship

As the UK becomes more and more paranoid, more and more censorship is being invoked. Below are some examples of the internet being censored in the UK

Internet Censorship

On 18th April 2008 the EU decided to start the censorship of the Internet; with similar laws to our liberal cousins in Saudi Arabia.

The EU stated in the press release of the time:

Today the Council reached a common approach on the amendment of the Framework Decision on combating terrorism proposed by the Commission on 6 November [2007]. The amendment up-dates the Framework Decision making public provocation to commit a terrorist offence, recruitment and training for terrorism punishable behavior, also when committed through the Internet

While this all sounds very laudable, stopping terrorism and the exchange of biological weapons on the Internet, there are a few concerns about this:

Firstly, who decides what “training for terrorism” is? Would a stag weekend in eastern Europe, involving firing machine guns count? What about kids fastening fireworks together? Or what about students reading the Jolly Rodger Cook Book?

Secondly, what if this definition shifts slightly? The UK have “shifted” laws over time, initially only the fingerprints of the guilty could be taken, then it was anyone arrested, now the government is issuing guidelines that allows children as young as 4 to have their fingerprints taken at school (2 million taken so far).  What if, once the powers have been created, the governments decide to tweak the laws slightly and change the phrasing to “terrorist related training”? That would hardly make the news but it could mean that paint-balling could count as training, or what about web sites that have information about how easy it is to avoid CCTV , ANPR, or  fingerprint scanners? Would they be shut down?

Thirdly, the UK has lived with the IRA for 300 years, the Spanish have ETA, the French have the Algerians, and Germany had “Munich”, yet despite all of this nobody suggested censorship on this scale – its worth pointing out that the IRA killed more than the 9/11 attacks.  So why the the sudden fear of the bogey man? What’s the driving force?

Finally, who are the biggest arms dealers in the world, who are the ones who buy and sell weapons to dubious regimes around the world? The 5 biggest dealers are – USA, China, Russian, UK and France.

Companies like BAe, Lockheed Martin and others clearly sell weapons, often to places that conduct torture and, by many legal definitions, terrorism. But, despite this they will almost certainly be allowed to  have a web site.

So who is the censorship aimed at?

Photography Is it a Crime…. Probably Soon

Following on from the previous articles, reporting on the numerous arrests of people in relation to taking photos in public areas,  and the evidence from police forces to show that photography is not a crime, more government plans have come to light.

On the 14th October 2008 Jaqui Smith stated, in questions about police arresting photographers, “the general position is that there is no legal restriction on photography in such places.”

This is the clearest sign yet that not only is photography not a crime, but no guidance for the police to arrest either.

Despite this the plight of the photographs has got worse not better. New laws being added to the Counter Terrorism Bill law make even more laws against spying:

Section 75 of the Counter Terrorism Bill states:

(1)   A person commits an offence who—
 (a)   elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been—
(i)   a member of Her Majesty’s forces,
(ii)   a member of any of the intelligence services, or
(iii)   a constable, which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or
(b)   publishes or communicates any such information.

This could well be regarded as taking photographs. For those who think that this is “fear mongering” a review of the previous posts show how often the laws have been mis-used, mis-interpreted, or even altered to fit the ever expanding needs of the government.

Why is this law being pushed through as an anti-terrorism law, rather than a national security issue? Are we no longer worried about the North Koreans, Libya, China, Russia, and Iran? Are there no standing armies, is everyone who attacks us a terrorist?

It is also alarming that now, in 2008, after 300 years of troubles with Northern Ireland, two world wars, and a 1,000 years of invasion attempts the government decides to create new laws to protect us from espionage. Have we been vulnerable for the past millenia? Do I need to buy extra locks for my doors?

If only the Russians had known they could have just asked for the launch codes, to illicit information, and there was no need to spy……If the KGB had known about this loop hole then the Ruskies may well have won the cold war.

With certain splinter groups of the IRA still functioning, we best keep this loop hole quiet until the Government can get this law approved and we can sleep well again.

Is photography illegal, not yet, but not doubt very soon.

(This law has not yet passed, but is to be come law shortly)

Data Misuse: Police to get access to medical records (2001)

In The Observer on  Sunday November 25 2001 it was reported that Police are to get access to medical records held in the UK. This is not just UK police, but police across the world!

Full Article is here, with an except shown below:


“Police forces across the world will get unrestricted access to medical records and bank details of Britons under radical powers granted by the new anti-terrorism Bill.

The new powers, which are set to receive their final approval in the House Of Commons tomorrow, have sparked the serious concern of health service regulators and furious opposition from the legal profession.

In an unprecedented move which critics say has ‘threatened to destroy doctor-patient confidentiality’ and ’swept away some of the last vestiges of privacy in the UK’, officials will be able to read NHS records and business details at will. Authorities will not have to establish that a criminal act may have occurred to gain access, as previous laws required.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, last week dismissed concerns over civil rights as the worries of ‘airy-fairy liberals’. The new powers, which the Government did not announce last week with the Bill’s other drastic measures, are introduced through a discreet appendix. In the Bill, ‘Clause 17′ makes it legal for police across the world to receive documents from public authorities whether they are relevant to a criminal investigation or not. The Bill lists documents covered by 53 different laws, the privacy of which was previously guaranteed. But they can now be read by police investigating any crime anywhere in the world.

Opposition groups have been enraged by the ‘blanket’ nature of the powers. Oliver Letwin, the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary, said: ‘It provides for disclosure of confidential information across an enormously wide range of government agencies. Even medical records could be disclosed. One of the more disturbing features is that the disclosure relates to any kind of criminal investigation no matter how slight.’”



Firewall for the UK

While many people will have heard of the Great Firewall of China, also known as the Golden Shield, not many will know the UK has slowly been growing the capability to have the same thing and, in part, it is already functioning.

In 2004 the Internet Watch Foundation, IWF, a group which tries to stop child pornography worked with BT to put technological systems in place to try and stop child pornography being accessed from the UK, using technology called “CleanFeed”. This technology works by analysing all web traffic, at the ISP level, before getting to the user and then trying to block indecent images of children. The technology by blocking a known list of URLs.

By 2006 BT had fully installed CleanFeed and was claiming to be blocking 35,000 attempts a day to access child pornography. Though this high figure was disputed by some.

So far, so good, blocking access to peadohilic images is a good thing.

Nobody, not even the most liberal, would argue for the right to access child pornography, hence there was no objection to CleanFeed.

What Else is Banned?

But, what about banning access to other subject matters?

Racial Hatred and violent pornography are now subjects which the IWF, using Cleanfeed, have started to censor on the the internet. While this sounds reasonable, it may not always be.

The laws relating to “racial hatred” are a botched mess and were described by British Comedian Rowan Atkinson as “represent[ing] the relentless pursuit of the interests of a tiny minority of the population with, so far, no consideration or quarter being given to the concerns of the baffled majority”.

The laws relating to violent pornography are not as welcome as some may think.

The EU is already banning terrorist related sites which, again, sounds reasonable. Unfortunately the definition of “terrorism” is pretty felxible. The reality is that terrorism is any political group any given government doesn’t agree with. The PLO, IRA, PKK and even the Taliban, have all been supported, in our generation, by one Western government or another. But now they all are regarded, by the current UK government, as terrorist groups. So access and support to these organisations websites could see you a hero, or a couple of decads later whisked off to prison; it just depends on the timing.

If these concerns were not enough to raise eyebrows the UK Government is also working to ban internet discussions about suicide.

While not all of these subjects are currently blocked at a technical level, the technology and law is in place that could prevent access to all of these subjects at a moments notice.

To make matters worse, this blocking technology is not a fine scalpel, but more of a rusty spoon; in 2007 innocent Lycos users were unable to access sites as they were mistakenly blocked.

Censorship in the UK

The UK has an interesting history of censorship:  From the heavy handed approach of preventing the actual voices of the IRA being broadcast (resulting in nothing more than bad dubbing) to the surreal banning of an episode of Star Trek until 2007.  UK internet users are banned from reading about sucraloses written by Joseph Mercola. The UK Government also uses D Notices to stop certain “national security” articles being published in the UK. The D Notices are supposed to be used for military necessity, but are sometimes used for political expediency or other non-national security reason

With this history of censorship do we want the UK to have its own firewall? Do you trust the government more than they trust you?

The Expansion of CleanFeed

CleanFeed has already spread from just being on BT and stopping child pornography, to getting involved in political issues, such as “race hate” and spreading to all of the UK’s ISPs.

TJ McIntrye, lecturer in law at University College Dublin, has stated that:

Unlike formal legal mechanisms of censorship that ensure a degree of public accountability (for example: the obscenity trial of D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which lowered the threshold of censorship) filtering systems failed to provide a list of prohibited sites, their criteria for designation, prior notice of prohibition, or an appellate procedure. BT’s Cleanfeed filtering system that tells users attempting to access an unauthorized site that it is unavailable owing to a technical fault; the end-users are deceived by the filter into believing that the temptation does not exist.

Everybody knows about the Great Firewall of China, but few people know about the ever expanding internet censorship in the UK, censorship which is putting in place technical measures that could be used to stop access to virtually anything on the web.

Which is the greater concern, the known threat or the unknown threat?

Its all there to protect us…honest | Where is My Data?

The surveillance industry, the CCTV, the UAVs, the ANPR network, the DNA databases, et al, is, apparently, all here for our benefit, to protect us from the menace of terrorism.

If we follow this line of argument we must believe that the threat to the country from terrorism is both massive and likely; there could be no other justification.

Why else would the UK government spend so much on the security services and invading other countries? It is all about defending and protecting us in the long term. Isn’t it?

But, what if there was another completely different risk far more deadly than terrorism, and equally likely, surely the government would target that with equal determination?

According to the cabinet office’s own National Risk Register (Page 5) the greatest threat to the UK is the flu, or to be more precise, an Influenza Pandemic.

This is a fair assessment, as the 1918 pandemic killed over 50 million people – or to give it a sense of scale about 25,000 time more than in the 9/11 attacks.

Full Article on the new site:  Its all there to protect us…honest | Where is My Data?.