Category Archives: Big mad database

Labour and their big databases

People often wonder why the Liberal Democrats are opposed to having large centralised databases containing every piece of information about you that you may have once mentioned.

However today’s Sunday Times leads with this story:

Labour hit by cancer leaflet row

LABOUR has become embroiled in a row about the use of personal data after sending cancer patients alarmist mailshots saying their lives could be at risk under a Conservative government.

Cards addressed to sufferers by name warn that a Labour guarantee to see a cancer specialist within two weeks would be scrapped by the Tories. Labour claims the Conservatives would also do

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DNA profiles removed at rate of only one a day

So the Independent reports figures unearthed by Paul Holmes MP:

Innocent people’s DNA profiles are being removed from the national database at a rate of barely one a day, figures showed today.

Home Office minister Alan Campbell said just 377 profiles were deleted in 2009 after appeals to police chiefs.

Liberal Democrat policing spokesman Paul Holmes, who uncovered the figures through a written parliamentary question, described the situation as a “disgrace”.

Mr Holmes said chief constables were being discouraged from removing the genetic fingerprint of innocent people until new legislation is passed, which he insisted would not happen before the general election.


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Damian’s DNA

As the Guardian reports:

Damian Green, the Conservative frontbench immigration spokesman whose arrest during a Home Office leaks inquiry sparked a parliamentary storm, has won a four-month battle to have his DNA, fingerprint and police records destroyed.

The Metropolitan police told Green’s lawyers he is to be treated as “an exceptional case”. His DNA sample and fingerprints, taken when he was arrested, will be deleted within “a number of weeks”.

Meanwhile, for everyone else in Britain, different rules apply, despite a clear ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.

To Green’s credit, he does not want to be a special case: …

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What does 300 mean to you?

Is it the epic historical film from last year?

Do you see a triangular number and a pair of twin primes (149 and 151)?

Or do you recall how Jo Shaw, the Lib Dem PPC for Holburn and St Pancras revealed in the Telegraph last week that that’s how many children are added to the UK’s DNA database each and every day.

Almost 1.1 million youngsters aged between ten and 17 have had their profiles recorded by the police since 2000, with a large proportion aged under 15, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.
And around one in six are likely to

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Extraordinary stats about snooping

Kudos to Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary, for garnering excellent coverage for the awful statistics about state sponsored snooping.

The Daily Mail’s ire is justified:

The number of Big Brother snooping missions by police, town halls and other public bodies has soared by 44 per cent in two years.

Last year there were 504,073 new cases – an average of 1,381 a day. It is the equivalent of one adult in 78 coming under state-sanctioned surveillance.

One adult in 78? I wonder who it is on my street. Which member of the Lib Dem Group in the House …


Police told to ignore European Court of Human Rights over DNA database

Despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights last December, the Association of Chief Police Officers has written to chief constables in England and Wales advising them to continue adding the DNA profiles of innocent people to the national DNA database. They have been told that new Home Office guidelines will not take effect until 2010.

From the Guardian:

Senior police officers have also been “strongly advised” that it is “vitally important” that they resist individual requests based on the Strasbourg ruling to remove DNA profiles from the national database in cases such as wrongful arrest,

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Lib Dem councillor reveals Lancashire Town hall uses anti-terror laws to snoop on cleaners

The Mirror reports the news:

Laws designed to fight terrorists and gangsters have been used by a council to spy on its cleaners.

It was revealed yesterday that town hall bosses employed the draconian measures over 500 times, including one occasion to snoop on bus drivers.

Lancashire county council’s tactics were uncovered by Lib Dem Mark Jewell who branded them “an abuse of power.”

Using Freedom of Information, he found out county hall chiefs in Preston ordered surveillance on the cleaners to check if they worked the right hours.

Mr Jewell discovered they frequently used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act between 2001 and

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Children added to DNA database daily

Figures uncovered by Jo Shaw, Lib Dem PPC for Holborn and St Pancras, show that DNA samples are being taken from children in Camden at the rate of nearly one a day.

From the BBC:

A freedom of information (FOI) request by the Liberal Democrats showed DNA has been taken from an average of 360 young people in Camden every year since 2000.

The samples, from children as young as 10, have been kept regardless of whether charges were ever brought…

Ms Shaw, Lib Dem parliamentary campaigner for Holborn & St Pancras, made the FOI request to the government’s DNA database

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Opinion: Lib Dems must lead the way in improving scrutiny of council surveillance

Media coverage of the abuses by various councils regarding the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) has been very welcome. Conversely, it has unfortunately meant that (at least from my experience) whenever it is brought up at council, those who dare scrutinise the usage of this law are dismissed as bandwagon-jumpers who simply wish to capitalize on the media orgy against council surveillance.

This is why I brought a motion to Liberal Youth Conference in February that was passed unanimously to make restrictions on the legislation party policy; and Liberal Youth subsequently chose for it to go …

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“People fix society, if you let them”

Please read this. Weep at its simplicity and common sense. Then join me in carrying its writer Becky Hogge aloft down Whitehall.

From the New Statesman:

You cannot fix society with computers. People fix society, if you let them. That means freeing nurses, teachers, social workers – and their clients – from the relentless tyranny of Whitehall’s cravings for ever more information. A benevolent state must have a human face, not an unblinking screen. Technology can help, but only if it is despatched by those at the front line. It is a perverse truth that in an age

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Chris Huhne wins quote of the day

Ahh, ID cards. Time was the Lib Dems were alone in campaigning for this new invasion of our privacy by the state to be abandoned. Then that nice Mr Cameron’s Tories decided they were, after all, probably not such a good thing. And now it seems that even David Blunkett – perhaps Labour’s most authoritarian home secretary, and against some stiff opposition, too – has decided that, really, they’re maybe unnecessary.

The Lib Dems’ shadow home secretary Chris Huhne’s response is delightfully withering:

When even the father of ID cards spurns them, the idea is truly an abandoned orphan.”

He continues, equally …

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Labour’s ‘Big, Mad Database’ – something practical you can do to stop it

Over at the Telegraph, Ian Douglas has an important post highlighting quite how sweeping, extensive and intrusive is the Labour Government’s new consultation document, Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment.

(Dontcha just love the title, by the way? Bless that nice smiley Mr Brown for recognising how threatened I feel by recent technological changes, and how grateful I will be when it’s all monitored oh-so-efficiently by his hyper-competent government.)

Ian’s article is a useful synopsis of the key issues (as is Helen Duffett’s article published on LDV earlier today). First, here’s what the Government proposes:

to make all

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Government afraid of technology offers to protect the public

The Government has launched a consultation on their plans to keep a record of all our “communications data” – that is, the time and recipient of each email, text message or phone call we make, the websites we visit and the place from which we do this.

Although the Government has climbed down from its plans to establish a central database of all communications data, it proposes to make communications service providers hold it instead, for a whole year. Then “public authorities” and “investigators” would be given access to it for their purposes.

The title of the consultation document itself is an irony-free piece of doublethink: “Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment.” In this the author has tried to establish a false common enemy. It implies that it’s us and the Government against Technology, against Change itself. “We’ll protect you,” can then run the argument.

For all the mentions of balance in the document (7 of them, in fact) it’s hard to present a balanced choice once the frame has been set.

No wonder they want to tip the balance: the Government is worried that the pace of technological change is running away from them faster than their salami-slicing tactics of hoarding up every last piece of data about us can keep up. Methods of communication are improving and increasing so mass surveillance is getting cumbersome and expensive.

Note the use of words like “degrade” in the foreword, which make date stamps on our text messages sound like some kind of weapons-grade data plutonium in the war against the bogeyman:

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Not carrying mobile phone = suspicious activity

When did you last leave home without your mobile phone?

The Register describes cases in Germany and France where people were accused of being terrorists because they didn’t use mobile phones:

By design, phones pass their location on to local base stations. You can gauge how effectively the networks can track you by requesting your personal information from your network provider using a data subject access under the Data Protection Act, or by just running Google Mobile Maps on your phone. The smaller 3G cells in central London give an even better location than on GSM.

Mobile phone penetration in Europe

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Huhne attacks RIPA snoopers’ charter: “the Government’s surveillance society has got out of hand”

Today’s Times reports:

Councils are to have their powers to snoop on the public severely curtailed. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, will signal government plans today to reverse the expansion of the surveillance society amid growing alarm at the extent of official spying.

And not before time, for as the paper reports elsewhere:

A survey by the Liberal Democrats found that 182 of the 475 local authorities in England and Wales had authorised the use of Ripa powers on 10,288 occasions in the past five years.

It found that 1,615 council staff have the power to authorise their use

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DNA Database Scientist Slams Labour’s Register of the Innocents

Professor Alec Jefferys, the scientist who developed ‘genetic fingerprinting’ to use DNA in criminal cases, has criticised Labour’s use of a database to hold samples from the innocent. He told the BBC:

My concern is that the way the database is now being populated by increasingly innocent people – and getting hard numbers on this is difficult.

I’ve seen figures as high as 800,000 entirely innocent people on that database. My concerns, which were very much reflected in a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, is that this is a real violation of an individual’s privacy.

Currently, the police …

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Statebook: Labour’s big brother policies meet Facebook

Now, this is an excellent site illustrating what Labour’s desire to keep tabs on us all amounts to in practice.


Do you belong to a suspicious group? It’s hard not to…

So far-fetched have been recent grounds for arrest, or for flagging yourself up as a terrorist suspect, that people keep asking me if Lib Dem Voice is running a series of hoax posts. (We’ve had lingering near street ironworks, ordering vegetarian airline meals, handing in lost property, scaring ducks, putting your bin out on the wrong day, looking at things and – easily the most heinous, in my opinion – going equipped with balloons.)

I thought I was joking (albeit darkly) when I said on LibDig that people might one day be singled out for their taste in music, but even that now appears to have happened. Home Office Watch features the terrifying ordeal of a jazz musician arrested by anti-terror police who had taken his soundproofed studio, replete with wires, as a sign of bomb-making.

We read everywhere of the bewildering array of groups whom the Government has decided should carry ID cards, from Mancunians to pilots, or in a happy Venn-style coincidence, both.

Then there’s people travelling outside the UKpeople travelling inside the UK

(Are you remembering all these vital clues? Tricky when there doesn’t seem to be any particular pattern behind them.)

So who should we be wary of? What we need is a handy guide in pictures. Never mind Keeping Calm and Carrying On nor indeed not keeping calm and carrying on. At last, I’ve found just the thing:

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Teenager arrested for handing in a mobile phone

“Police have found a new way to plug those gaps in the DNA database by arresting people for being honest.” – Home Office Watch has spotted the story of a Southport teenager who was arrested after handing in a mobile phone he had found, to a police station. Paul Leicester was held for four hours, questioned and had his DNA, fingerprints and photo taken.

His alleged offence was “theft by finding” – even though he had not attempted to deprive the phone’s owner of their property, and handed it in as soon as possible. Merseyside Police have now …

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Eating a vegetarian meal = suspicious terrorist activity


The database state and the true cost of Labour’s free lunches

During the Unlock Democracy debate at the Convention on Modern Liberty last month, Justice Minister Michael Wills defended the growth of the database state by arguing:

“We’ve heard a lot of about datasharing today. But that datasharing, that so many here today say is an unacceptable intrusion of privacy by the state, can actually help thousands and thousands of children who are eligible for free school meals but don’t get them at the moment… Look, it’s all very well for you to sit here. You’ve probably all had a hot meal in the last week. One

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Why Mark Pack’s awaiting a visit from Special Branch

Home Office Watch highlights the story of a Manchester man who was arrested under suspicion of photographing a sewer cover. He was held for two days, had his DNA taken and stored, and then released without charge.

And now secret footage has been discovered of our very own Mark Pack displaying some very suspicious behaviour indeed.

If you don’t see him posting for a while, you’ll know why…

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The next six groups to get ID cards?

The Government continues to (micro)chip away with its incremental plan to introduce ID cards to all.

The Home Office has formally applied to widen the scope of ID cards for foreign nationals granted further leave to remain in the UK.

Regulations laid before Parliament last week mean that six more categories of applicant would have to provide their biometrics (fingerprints and photo) from 31 March 2009:

• Academic visitors granted leave for a period exceeding six months
• Visitors for private medical treatment
• Domestic workers in a private household
• United Kingdom ancestry (Covers people who are Commonwealth citizens, have a British grandparent …

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£46m to spy on our communications – and we have to pay for it

The Home Office has revealed the cost of capturing our communications data from selected Internet Service Providers – and has also broadened the terms of this to include text messages.

At a total cost of £46.58m over 8 years, the Home Office (i.e. The Taxpayer) “will bear all costs relating to the design, development and installation of Data Retention Facilities with communication companies.”

The communications companies which were consulted (including BT, Cable and Wireless and O2) welcomed the news that they wouldn’t have to foot the bill for retaining data not required for business purposes.

So in return for the Government’s function creep generosity, what do we get and how was it decided?

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Government to follow me on holiday? Give me a break!

News today of yet another way for us to surrender our personal lives to the Government, while the Government doesn’t reciprocate.

A new database is being built, to store all Britons’ international travel details, including passengers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card details, seat reservations, itineraries, and possibly details of travel companions.

While our travel details will be reported and logged, the Home Office wants to keep the location of their surveillance centre a secret. Believed to be in Wythenshawe, Manchester, staff are supposed to refer to it only as “ a new operations centre in the northwest.”

The Sunday Times

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Carnival on Modern Liberty. Part the Third.

Roll up, roll up and then carefully insert the filter tip into this, the third Carnival of Modern Liberty! (I don’t know whether it’s just mounting hysterical terror, but I find my puns getting steadily worse with each passing week as the government unleashes some fresh illiberal hell on us.)

Anyway, should you need a bit of refresher scaring, today’s BBC report on some recent recommendations of the Lords’ committee for constitutional reform is as good a way as any to remind yourself of what is at stake here:

Electronic surveillance and collection of personal data are “pervasive” in British society and threaten to undermine democracy, peers have warned.

The proliferation of CCTV cameras and the growth of the DNA database were two examples of threats to privacy, the Lords constitution committee said.

Those subject to unlawful surveillance should be compensated while the policy of DNA retention should be rethought.

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CC all your email to Jacqui Smith Day

The Government have plans to start a massive database recording every phone call you make, every email you send, and every text you remove the vowels from.  They have named this bizarre plan the Interception Modernisation Programme, which hardly sounds reassuring, and is still more concerning as the acronym IMP.

But just as the plan to exempt MPs from the FOI bill spurred an impressive new generation of campaigning via Twitter, the big mad database plan has prompted some novel forms of protest.

“CC your email to Jacqui Smith Day” is a group and a fan page on Facebook that …

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In the news: Gaza, Treasury honours and Big Brother

Nick Clegg calls for suspension of EU/Israel agreement: “Innocent people are being killed and injured by a military operation that will only serve to further inflame extremism, and weaken the moderate Palestinian and Arab opinion which Israel’s long term security depends on.”

Vince Cable criticises knighthood for Treasury chief: “I would have thought it a rather premature judgment on government policy, which is far from assured of being a success. There is a slight element of self-congratulation about it.”

Ken Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, criticises Labour’s plans for a database to track emails and phone calls …

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The central communications database

More detail has emerged on the technical reality of the government’s plan to store data on every email and internet transaction in the UK. The Independent has the story:

Internet “black boxes” will be used to collect every email and web visit in the UK under the Government’s plans for a giant “big brother” database, The Independent has learnt.

Home Office officials have told senior figures from the internet and telecommunications industries that the “black box” technology could automatically retain and store raw data from the web before transferring it to a giant central database controlled by the Government.



Opinion: First they came for the Icelanders

Gordon Brown, earlier this month, used anti-terrorism legislation to freeze Icelandic assets in Britain, in response to their government failing to guarantee British deposits in their faltering banks. My links with Iceland begin and end with the purchase of frozen foods from that nation’s commercial namesake. But it still troubles me deeply. We should be profoundly concerned at the use of anti-terrorist legislation for political and economic ends. This is at the heart of fears about the extent of the powers the state has claimed since the attacks of 11 September 2001.

The British government has demonstrated precisely why civil liberties campaigners have been so concerned at the demands of Labour to trade our liberties for the promise of greater security. New terrorist legislation has – rightly – been considered in the post-9/11 world. Yet anxieties that counter-terrorist legislation should be given checks-and-balances, and justified as a necessary trade of liberty for security, are dismissed in a cavalier fashion by New Labour. A casual use of anti-terrorism powers for completely different ends is the most obvious symptom of that attitude.

A minister, Geoff Hoon, recently told Lib Dem MP Julia Goldsworthy that “the biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist”, when she spoke out against a new database of all British citizens’ communications records. He is, of course, right in suggesting that we should contemplate and weigh up any options that would significantly reduce the chance of a terrorist attrocity. However, deciding where the balance lies between the likelihood of thwarting a terrorist, and surrendering the very way of life those terrorists seek to undermine, is a question he should treat with greater respect.

The rights and wrongs of Icelandic financial institutions are irrelevant to the fact that Brown abused legislation intended for very different purposes. This should profoundly worry anybody who cares about good governance. By using anti-terrorist legislation as a convenient way to respond to the global banking crisis, the British government have demonstrated why we should fear their cowboy attitude to checks-and-balances, and to the careful drafting of specific powers for specific purposes.

Anti-terrorist legislation should be used against terrorists. This seems a pretty reasonable assertion. Iain Dale has highlighted an Icelandic petition against this perverted contortion of the Terrorism Act, which spurred me to write on the topic. What worries me the most is that this ‘thin end of the wedge’ can be (and is being) replicated in the state’s use of other terrorist legislation. For example, new terrorist laws provide police with the powers to stop and search individuals, even if they actually do so for reasons unrelated to suspicion of terrorist offenses. Local councils have also been exposed using counter-terrorist powers to intrude into Britons’ privacy, to investigate matters wholly unrelated to acts of terror.

If we want to give our government the power to freeze Icelandic assets, or to give our police officers those powers in other criminal matters that they have been given in terrorist matters, then let’s debate and consider laws in parliament that openly permit those ends.

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Recent Comments

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    In the midst of the alarms and excursions of an election campaign - and the necessary simplifications - it is very refreshing to be reminded of the ground on wh...
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