Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Identity Cards Bill

Made it through Third Reading with a Government majority of 25. Now it's off to the Lords again.The debate can be read in full, starting here:<>

And how MPs voted can be seen here:<>

Yet again there were comments that such an important piece of legislation has received relatively little time.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Person walking a bicycle is a security threat

'Two wheels: good. Two legs: terrorist suspect',,2-1829289,00.html

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Draft Terrorism Bill published

Yesterday the Government finally published the new draft Terrorism Bill.

The text of the Bill can be found here:


And the explanatory notes can be found here:


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Possible abuses of Terrorism Act

In today's Grauniad, George Monbiot writes, "The police abuse terror and harassment laws to penalise dissent while we insist civil liberties are our gift to the world":


(linked to the version on his website because it has references, unlike the Guardian version)

It's an interesting article.

You may also find interesting Liberty's report about the Fairford protests that Monbiot referred to:


Among other things, he mentioned s44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 being used against protestors at RAF Fairford. He claimed, "The police, according to a parliamentary answer, used the act 995 times, though they knew that no one at the camp was a terrorist."

An answer I've seen says "during the period 6 March to 27 April 2003, 2,254 stop-searches were conducted under Section 44".


"During this period, as a result of a Section 44 stop and search, six people were arrested for suspected drug related offences, one person for a suspected breach of the peace and one person for suspected criminal damage. None of these cases are outstanding. Five of those arrested were released, two were cautioned and one received a conditional discharge."


Another answer says, "During the security operation at RAF Fairford, 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".


It gives some of the reasons written on the s44 stop and search forms. I find this one bizarre: "seen putting something in bag".

There is a judgement on the lawfulness of a detention on a coach and a subsequent enforced return to London here but it isn't to do with the Terrorism Act:


...and the appeal against that judgement here (appeal failed):


I can't find anything in Bailii regarding the use of the Terrorism Act in Fairford.

Note that it appears there was some damage caused to property at RAF Fairford. This is not mentioned in Monbiot's article, but it is mentioned in Liberty's report. However, Liberty reports that some claims of damage and trespass were unwarranted.
The BBC reports that 'The government has got the go-ahead to challenge a law preventing terror suspects being deported to countries with poor human rights records. The European Court of Human Rights has allowed the UK to challenge the European Convention on Human Rights.'

Monday, October 03, 2005

If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear

It is sometimes claimed, by proponents of such schemes as the Identity Cards Bill, that "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear".

Even honest and law-abiding citizens have something to be concerned about because there will always be system failures, dishonest individuals, and dishonest authorities. When a bill such as the Identity Cards Bill is discussed, it is vital not only that we look at how it will benefit the individual and the state, but also how it will fail the individual and the state and the consequences of failure.

Here are a few examples of abuses of personal data by dishonest employees of the state working for personal gain and those in authority who abuse their powers, perhaps with the best of intentions but abuse nonetheless:

'Failing to collect, retain and pass on material to others to protect children and other vulnerable people is a misconduct issue as much as the misuse of PNC data which has been a consistent problem during the last 20 years - and still poses a challenge today for the new IPCC. The types of cases in which abuse occur include using the PNC to gain evidence for civil proceedings, to find evidence about a partner's estranged husband, or to check out a daughter's latest boyfriend. There is also the perennial problem of data being sold to private detectives'


'A police officer has been jailed for two-and-a-half years for accepting money to pass on information to a Saudi Arabian intelligence officer. '


'Staff at the Inland Revenue are breaching the Data Protection Act by gaining unauthorised access to the computer records of taxpayers, including celebrities, and in some cases selling information. '


'A major security alert began at an east London police station when two workers used its criminal database to check up on their boyfriends, a court heard. '


'Jack and Zena ended up in Grimsby, where someone at the DSS leaked their whereabouts; three men turned up at the office claiming to be Zena's brothers and demanding to know her address.'


'Two private investigators, John Boyall and Stephen Whittamore, civilian police worker Paul Marshall, and retired police officer Alan King, were involved in a conspiracy to sell details relating to actor Ricky Tomlinson, London Mayor Ken Livingstone and EastEnders actress Jessie Wallace. 'According to reports, on 19 occasions, Marshall, who worked at Wandsworth Police Station, carried out unauthorised Police National Computer searches and passed the information on through intermediaries King and sometimes Boyall, to Whittamore, who peddled the data to the newspapers.'


Sections 6.2 and 6.3 (starts on page 4) of a Dr Gladman's thoughts on the UK's proposals may also be of interest:


Counter-terrorism at the Labour Conference (S44 Terrorism Act 2000)

The Sussex Police have been criticised by several people for what could be called a disproportionate use of S44 (Terrorism Act 2000) stop and search powers during this year's New Labour Conference in Brighton & Hove:


As far as I'm aware, Walter Wolfgang was the first person at the conference to appear in the national press as having been stopped by police using S44. Wolfgang was removed from the Conference for 'heckling' Jack Straw, and not allowed to re-enter, then stopped by police exercising S44 powers while they awaited a Labour official to confirm whether or not Wolfgang could be let back in:


The media made a lot of noise about New Labour clamping down on elderly hecklers but relatively little about the use of S44 on people who aren't suspected of being terrorists. However, the media (and one or two politicians) made enough noise for Chief Supt. Jeremy Paine to comment:

"This is the largest counterterrorism operation that Sussex Police runs. It involves hundreds of police officers and staff working hard to keep the conference and the city safe. As part of that operation, police officers were given the power under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act to stop and search any persons in Brighton & Hove. This power does not require any suspicion and is used to detect and deter acts relevant to terrorism."

He went on to say: "It is clear from media reporting that they have been keen to give the impression that this gentleman [Walter Wolfgang] was somehow arrested, detained or treated as a terrorist."


I didn't get that impression. My impression was that the media were claiming to be concerned about the use of S44 powers on people who weren't suspected of being involved in terrorism.

According to Paine, roughly 600 people were stopped and some of them were searched. None were suspected of being involved in terrorism in anway. Paine said that this provided a deterrent effect. I will take his word for it but will comment that it is hard to measure.

Now, under other legislation the policeman can usually only use stop and search powers if he is acting on a 'reasonable suspicion', which seems pretty reasonable to me. Why should they stop and search me if they don't suspect me of wrongdoing? But 'reasonable suspicion' is not required by S44.

As I understand it, Paine is correct with regard to S44 in that the police are not required to have a 'reasonable suspicion'. Sections 44 and 45 state that the police are authorised to use stop and search powers within a designated area, for the purposes of searching for articles that could be used in connection with terrorism, even if the officer has no grounds for suspecting the person possesses such an article.

So the police were using those powers to stop and search people in Brighton & Hove who _weren't_ suspected of being involved with terrorism, for the purposes of detecting and deterring terrorism.

According to Home Office statistics, "the number of 'stop and searches' of pedestrians under section 44(2) increased by 70% from 4,774 in 2002/3 to 8,120 in 2003/4... In 2003/4 five arrests in connection with terrorism resulted from section 44(2) searches compared to seven in the previous year. Arrests under non-terrorist legislation rose from 79 in 2002/3 to 112 in 2003/4."

Last week in Brighton & Hove, the 600* stops and searches under S44(2) resulted in _no_ arrests. I have no way of estimating the deterrent effect but I am aware that the police have annoyed a number of the law-abiding public, including anti-war and anti-Blair protesters, and £3.7m of the cost of the policing operation was paid for by the taxpayer, from the Home Office budget.

The Home Office and the courts claim to be concerned about disproportionality. After Liberty went to court over the use of these powers at an arms fair, the Home Office changed their guidance and told the police to issue a form to every subject of the S44(2) powers.

*The Sussex Police website now says that many of the 600 forms were standard 'street intervention forms', not s44.

Tony Blair's opinion of the criminal justice system

Tony Blair at the Labour conference:

"For 8 years I have battered the criminal justice system to get it to change. And it was only when we started to introduce special ASB laws, we really made a difference. And I now understand why. The system itself is the problem. We are trying to fight 21st century crime - ASB, drug-dealing, binge-drinking, organised crime - with 19th century methods, as if we still lived in the time of Dickens.

"The whole of our system starts from the proposition that its duty is to protect the innocent from being wrongly convicted. Don't misunderstand me. That must be the duty of any criminal justice system. But surely our primary duty should be to allow law-abiding people to live in safety. It means a complete change of thinking. It doesn't mean abandoning human rights. It means deciding whose come first.

"I believe three things work. First, a radical extension of summary powers to police and local authorities to take on the wrong doers. We will publish plans to do this by the end of the year. They will tackle specifically binge-drinking, drug-dealing and organised crime; and develop existing laws on ASB. Second, we need a uniformed presence on the street in every community. Officers on the beat is what the public have wanted for years and they're right. I have seen teams of police and CSOs in action. It works. We want them across the whole of Britain over the next few years. Third, give our young people places to go so that they're off the street."


These are recurring themes in his speeches and those of his Home Secretaries. For example, here is Charles Clarke at the Conference:

"I believe that the desires of the British people are pretty clear and straightforward and can be expressed in three simple requirements. First and foremost people want to feel secure in their homes and everyday lives, free from abuse, disrespect and anti-social behaviour, and respected by others as they would expect themselves to respect others. Second, when a crime does occur, people want to feel that the offender will be caught, that justice will be done, will be carried out effectively, fairly, and hopefully swiftly, so that we live in a society based on the rule of law where other forms of revenge or retribution are outlawed and unnecessary. And third people expect Government and all of its agencies to do their very best bothto prevent people offending in the first place and to ensure that when offenders leave the criminal justice system they will go back to 'the straight and narrow' and become constructive contributors to the good of society as a whole."


Regarding binge-drinking specifically, drinking-related crime is going up. The police have warned the Government that this will increase even further with 24-hour drinking. At the same time as allowing pubs to serve booze throughout the day and night, the Government proposes to give the police summary powers to deal with wrongdoing drunks, and local authorities summary powers to punish 'irresponsible' landlords.

The proposed increase in uniformed police presence is one aspect of 'Reassurance Policing'. According to the Home Office, Reassurance Policing is the primary objective for policing in the National Policing Plan 2003-2006, and 'citizen-focussed' service is a key priority, although the Home Office also says that "there is a lack of consensus as to what reassurance actually relates to in a policing context" and that there is ongoing research in this field.

Blair's underlings have no doubt read the recently published report entitled, 'A review of the Fitness for Purpose of the current structure of policing in England and Wales', which says that the future policing environment is characterised by "widespread enterprising organised criminality, proliferating international terrorism and domestic extremism; a premium on intelligence, expertise and smart use of security; and an increasingly risk concerned public and intrusive media". I believe Blair panders to the risk-concerned public and intrusive media, although there may well be a well-founded worry about organised crime.


The trouble is, Blair and his colleagues have a problem with law and order: Labour is traditionally trusted less than the Conservatives on law and order issues; the public is generally dissatisfied with the Government's performance; and even though crime in general is decreasing, the public's perception of crime is that it's increasing, and that criminals aren't being punished. On all but one (immigration) of the other major issues (education, health, and the economy) Labour are ahead of the Conservatives.


The criminal justice system also has a problem: Home Office research shows that the majority of the public are confident that the system respects the rights of the accused but do not have much overall confidence in it. Only half think the police are doing a good job, and only a quarter think a good job is done by judges, magistrates, the CPS and the probation service. People are more likely to perceive an increase in levels of crime if they live in cities, deprived areas, are uneducated, are unskilled workers, or if they are readers of the Sun or Daily Mail newspapers.

But with regard to Blair's law and order speeches, the most pertinent results of the research are that "the strongest predictor of perceiving an increase in the national crime rate was believing the criminal justice system was not effective at reducing crime", and "The strongest predictor of perceiving an increase in the local crime rate was perceiving a high level of local disorder."


You can now see Blair and company's cogs turning as they solve the problem of the public's perception of crime: Labour will tinker with the criminal justice system to change the perception of national crime rates, rather than improve education, skills, and the quality of the newspapers people read; and, in order to change the perception of local crime rates, Labour will give summary powers to the police and local authorities so that they can deal with wrongdoers more swiftly and easily in the public eye.

The public does not appear to believe the statistics, so the Government must be seen to be doing something, and that means yet more legislation. As Blair said, "we are the changemakers".

The presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial are not believed to be inalienable rights but obstacles to public applause. Blair and co. aren't content to see how things proceed, to see how their policies are working out, and they are not content to let magistrates and judges get on with it. In terms of getting results, improving education and skills, and taking people too court, take far too long.

New Labour is about swift, easily publicised positive results, and if it is expedient to demolish the fundamental principles of our society in order to get positive results, Blair and co. don't mind doing it.