Tag Archives: civil liberties

Draconian changes proposed to Official Secrets Act

Out of the blue, on Saturday, we learned that The Law Commission has been at work. It proposes changing the Official Secrets Act to cover matters that are about what the government of the day considers to be matters of national economic interest. Anyone in unauthorised possession of material that might be included in the scope of the Act, or who transmits it or publishes could go to jail for up to ten years. There would be no restriction on who can commit the offence,” including hackers, leakers, elected politicians, journalists, and NGOs.

What this boils down to is the ability of government to shut people up. Imagine this; The Daily Boot is passed a paper that says that, as part of trade deal negotiations, HMG will allow US chicken treated with chlorine to be sold in the UK. If the news becomes public the trade talks might be jeopardised. The Boot’s editor either publishes and risks jail or lets the matter quietly drop. Ah, but that’s not good enough. Even being in possession or having had knowledge of the information could make the editor liable to prosecution. The Damoclesian Sword hangs forever over the editor’s neck.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Old Sallop can’t raise the matter in the Commons, as that would mean the member admitting they know what is in the material, thus rendering themselves liable to prosecution.

The Law Commission has published an enormous consultation document called Protection of Official Data.

I put consultation in italics because the Commission claims it has already consulted widely, though this statement is as thinner than an After Eight mint crushed by ten-ten road roller.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 18 Comments

Scottish Lib Dems demand action on retention of police photos of innocent people

If it weren’t for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the SNP Government would have nobody asking them awkward questions on civil liberties and forcing them to change policy.

And so it continues in 2017. In today’s Scotland on Sunday, Liam McArthur, our Justice Spokesperson continues the work by the much-missed Alison McInnes in demanding action on the Police retaining photos of people they arrest but who are never charged. From The Scotsman:

In the report published in January last year, HMICS warned that there was no statutory framework or legislation in Scotland regulating how the police use or retain photographic images.

While fingerprint and DNA samples are destroyed if criminal proceedings are dropped, mugshots are kept on the police’s “custody software” under a practice which predates the formation of Police Scotland.

Most images are kept for at least six years, but those accused of more serious offences have their mugshot retained for up to 12 years.

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Javid’s oath is nothing but dog whistle displacement activity

With barely a trace of irony, a minister in the Government which has just passed the most illiberal snooping legislation talked about defending freedom in an article in the Sunday Times (£) today. Not only that, but he seems to think that the answer to  any problems harming community cohesion could be resolved by holders of public office swearing an oath committing them to so-called British values of “equality, democracy and the democratic process.”

He spends the first 8 paragraphs of his article having a real go at Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, setting up the scapegoats while using the language of tolerance as a fig leaf in which to wrap the dog whistle.

This is a government, struggling to get a grip on Brexit – trying to distract us by scapegoating an entire community of people, reinforcing the horribly divisive rhetoric of the referendum. Does that sound tolerant to you?

As an aside, the phrase “British values” makes me wince – as if respect for the democratic process or support for freedom of speech was a uniquely British thing that stopped at our borders. You can’t confine a basic human instinct to a tiny little blob on the map. These universal values are exercised every day in every part of the world – and often with great courage and bravery. The women in Saudi who defy the law and drive. The people who marched in places like Myanmar and Teheran for democracy. The people who attend gay pride rallies in places where being gay is punishable by imprisonment or even death. 

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The Home Office is as out of touch as ever…

This week the Psychoactive Substances Act became law. Over at Politics.co.uk, editor Ian Dunt wrote a scathing review of the official Home Office guidance to retailers.

As he says, the guidance seems to be a melting pot of every prejudice you could imagine against young people:

The Home Office clearly envisions a youthful sub-class of drug fiends, unable to stay off the stuff even immediately ahead of purchasing it. Laughing gas has a mild effect which lasts for about a minute, so it’s unlikely the user would be intoxicated on it literally while purchasing more. Perhaps the Home Office doesn’t know this. Or perhaps they assume they are eating all sorts of drugs and are still high off them while going for a laughing gas chaser to finish off the evening. Or maybe they wrote this guidance in the same spirit in which they wrote the law: without due consideration for logic, legal validity or objective reality.

The drug fiend stereotypes go on and on. “Do they have physical symptoms of intoxication such as bad skin, weeping eyes, rash around the nose?” God help you if you’ve got spots or hay fever: the Home Office knows you’re a wrong ‘un.

This reminded me of how, under the previous Labour administration, carrying two mobile phones or ordering a vegetarian meal on a plane would be enough to raise suspicions of you being a terrorist. Helen Duffett wrote about that at the time.:

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Rennie: Only a strong team of Lib Dems can champion our civil liberties

Speaking at the party’s North East Scotland Regional Conference this morning Willie Rennie told members that over the last five years it has been the Liberal Democrats that have been the powerful guarantor of civil liberties in the face of the illiberal SNP, and that will continue in the next Parliament.

This is the latest in a series of strong messages that Willie has been laying out in the last couple of weeks. The party has put a massive emphasis on civil liberties and education (what a surprise for a liberal party) in this Parliament and has an admirable record of persuading the SNP to change policy whether it’s on stop and search, armed police, nursery education or college places. So, Willie is saying we’ll actually use the tax powers the Parliament has to put a penny on income tax to pay for education and that we’ll continue to defend our freedoms. I also liked the quick summary of our values that he did the other day:

I want liberal-minded Yes voters to know they can vote for the Liberal Democrats because Scotland needs strong liberal voices in parliament to stand up for investment in opportunity through education and good health, to guarantee our civil liberties and to protect our environment. We need a strong outward-looking, internationalist, altruistic, tolerant, reformist, pro civil liberties, pro-Europe, pro-environment, pro-business party in Scotland. You don’t get that with anyone else and Yes voters as well as No voters should back us if they want that platform.

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Oates and Scriven show why Britain needs the Liberal Democrats

Jonny Oates on ID cards
The Palace of Westminster is quite disorientating. There’s an escalator that goes from the bright modern Portcullis House into Westminster that I always call the Time Machine because it really feels like you go back 300 years in 30 feet. This afternoon, if you’d wandered into the House of Lords, you might be forgiven for thinking you’d gone to sleep and woken up in 2005, because here were Labour and Tory peers trying to bring back ID cards. And just like 2005 (who remembers Police, not Plastic), it was Liberal Democrat peers cutting their way throughout the authoritarian smog like Mr Muscle on a greasy kitchen worktop.

Posted in Op-eds and Parliament | Also tagged , , and | 15 Comments

Brian Paddick writes… Chairman Mao might have backed Labour’s ID card plans, but Lib Dems won’t

In the House of Lords today, Labour tried to resurrect the National Identity Card scheme with some support from the Conservative benches. The Government Home Office minister countered that it was too expensive and ineffective in that those we would most want to carry an ID card are the least likely to carry them.

Liberal Democrats object to the compulsory carrying of identity cards on principle, as an infringement of the liberty and the right to privacy of those lawfully going about their business but there are other reasons why a national identity scheme should remain dead and buried.

Not one of the tragic deaths or horrific injuries inflicted by terrorists in recent times in the UK could have been prevented had a national identity card scheme been in place.  The identities of the bombers and would-be bombers of the London transport system in 2005 were quickly established. The identities of the murderers of Lee Rigby were never an issue.

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