Sat, 29 Mar 2014

More police officers use more Tasers more often

Home Office statistics show that the use of Tasers keeps increasing, by 27% in 2013 compared to 2012. Police officers in England and Wales equipped with Tasers used them 10,380 times in 2013. More police officers are responsible for this increase. The article Tasers: the 'non-lethal' weapon reckoned to have caused more than 500 deaths, published in November 2013 on The Justice Gap, explains that, '[i]nitially only Authorised Firearm Officers (AFO) were equipped with Tasers, however 'Currently there are 14,700 officer trained to use Tasers [but the] number of AFOs is 6,979.' The Justice Gap has also published a video of a Taser refresher course with the London Metropolitan Police in 'Shocking Britain': the controversial roll-out of the Taser.

The timeline for rollout in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is described in a letter to the London Assembly's Chair of the Police and Crime Committee:

The initial trial of Taser concluded on the 31st March 2004.  In July 2007 the Home Secretary approved a year long trial of 10 forces to extend the use to "specially trained units" (STUs). The MPS was one of these forces. Its use was initially restricted to SCO20 (TSG) officers. In February 2012 Management Board supported the extension of Taser to other STUs including those on Boroughs.

In October 2012, when 48 police officers were deployed to River House, an NHS mental health unit (NHS Trust attempted cover-up over massive police deployment to mental health ward), this extension to borough officers hadn't been completed. And the police wanted Tasers to 'managed the situation' involving mental health patients. AC Mark Rowley wrote 'Armed response vehicles responded to this incident as they were the nearest available unit with a Taser capability. You will recall that at this time, only firearms officers and TSG were the only units equipped with Taser.' The MPS confirms that the roll-out of Tasers to trained Territorial Police officers has been completed:

All 32 London boroughs now have a group of officers on their borough who are trained in the use of Taser.

[...] Around forty officers from each borough have been trained in the use of Taser. The initial training is now complete. Taser trained officers are deployed in pairs in two cars on each borough, that's a maximum of 4 officers per 8 hour shift over a 24 hour period.

Even more officers may eventually get a Taser as '[i]n November 2011, Commissioner Hogan-Howe said that all officers should have easy availability of Taser.' (interview with LBC radio as reported in Governance of Taser and other less-lethal weaponry). And as a report published earlier this week by the Independent Police Complaint Commission shows, some of these officers make mistakes with terrible consequences such as firing a Taser on a 63-year old blind man with a white stick when looking for someone in his mid-twenties with a sword.

How Tasers are used is recorded:

Level of use Type of use % uses in 2013 (*) Definition
Highest use Fired 17% The taser is fired with a live cartridge installed. When the trigger is pulled, the probes are fired towards the subject with the intention of completing an electrical circuit and delivering an incapacitating effect.
  Angled Drive Stun
The officer fires the weapon with a live cartridge installed. One or both probes may attach to the subject The officer then holds the taser against the subject's body in a different area to the probe(s), in order to complete the electrical circuit and deliver an incapacitating effect.
  Drive stun 3% The taser is held against the subject's body and the trigger is pulled with no probes being fired. Contact with the subject completes the electrical circuit which causes pain but does not deliver an incapacitating effect.
Non-discharges Red dot 51% The weapon is not fired. Instead, the taser is deliberately aimed and then partially activated so that a laser red dot is placed onto the subject.
  Arcing 1% Sparking of the taser without aiming it or firing it.
  Aimed 5% Deliberate aiming of the taser at a targeted subject.
Lowest use Drawn 22% Drawing of taser in circumstances where any person could reasonably perceive the action to be a use of force.

(*) Percentage for England and Wales that 'excludes Humberside and West Midlands who are unable to provide a full breakdown of taser use'. (Source)

Even though information about Taser use is held, it does not follow that police forces are forthcoming about how Tasers were used at specific incidents. In my Freedom of Information requests to the MPS about the River House incident, no such data was provided. This is subject to an internal review.

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Thu, 20 Mar 2014

NHS Trust attempted cover-up over massive police deployment to mental health ward

Two inter-related incidents involving service users happened on the night of 2012-10-01 at the River House (RH) mental secure unit, part of the Bethlem Royal Hospital run by the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust. Police were called for both incidents and SLaM has attempted to cover this up. A news story the next day did reveal that Territorial Support Group (TSG) officers were called, but not how many and whether any other specialist units had also been deployed. A few days later a whistle blower and two external third party individuals alerted the Care Quality Commission. When queried about these incidents, SLaM admitted that 'police had been called' without elaborating any further. Data obtained from a campaign of freedom of information (FoI) requests to SLaM, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC), the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Monitor, and an ongoing complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office about the breaches of the Freedom of Information Act in SLaM's responses has revealed the extent of this cover up: 48 police officers were deployed including six officers from armed response units, two from dog units, 21 PC from the TSG and the entire Bromley Borough Night Response team. The TSG, armed and dog units officers are all trained to use Tasers. Further information shows that TSG officers entered the mental health ward and four drew their Tasers. They were called that night to manage a situation involving vulnerable individuals suffering from mental health issues.

SLaM commissioned an independent investigation report. Although dated 2013-05-10, it was eventually published on 2013-08-29 with a large amount of text redacted; simply deleted in non compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (pdf). The minutes of the board of directors announcing this report had been commissioned disappeared from SLaM's website before eventually being republished after contacting SLaM. The authors of the independent investigation report are not named and not known, SLaM wrote on one occasion that '[t]he investigation panel included a consultant lead investigator with a senior nursing background, a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist and a Forensic Nurse Consultant [... and] that the authors of the investigation report are sufficiently qualified people who are able to conduct such an investigation and were appointed by the Trust Board.' (pdf) and on another that '[t]he investigation is being undertaken by a retired Director of Nursing, a forensic psychiatrist and a senior nurse with experience of security management.' (pdf)

2012 annual march against deaths in custody

This incident happened two years after Olaseni Lewis died after being restrained by up to 11 policemen at the Bethlem Royal Hospital and only two months to the day after the Sean Rigg inquest verdict, in which SLaM's failings were criticised to have 'more than minimally contributed to the Sean Rigg’s death'. SLaM stated on 2012-11-08 in its first response to my FoI requests that luckily this time 'there were no injuries to patients or staff in this incident'. It reiterated this position to its board of directors: 'there were no reports of any injuries to staff or patients.' However the investigation report states: 'One patient sustained injury to his hand during the second incident. No physical injuries were sustained by staff.' Another discrepancy: at a meeting of Lambeth's Health and Adult Services Scrutiny Sub-Committee, SLaM stated 'The police had been called for support but the incident had been managed well by staff at SLaM and the police did not get involved in the incident', however the investigation report, even though it does not go into details into police involvement, contradicts this statement: 'With the assistance of the Metropolitan Police and the first on-call CAG manager, three of the four patients were, after several hours, placed in supervised confinement (SC) on other wards.'

Following a complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office, on 2014-02-28, SLaM sent in another version of its report with some text previously redacted now included and what remains redacted shown as blacked out text (pdf). As of this writing this less redacted report has still not replaced the first version on SLaM's website.

The following details the shocking information that we have uncovered.

The incidents

From the investigation report:

This is the report of an Independent investigation commissioned by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, following two separate but related patient incidents on the night of 1st October 2012, involving Norbury patients on Spring Ward.

[...] The first incident began at approximately 2200, when one patient, as part of his recurrent delusional state, accused the designated ward-based security nurse on the night shift of stealing designer wear and trainers which he believed his mother had brought to RH for him.

Attempts to deescalate this incident were unsuccessful. Although a decision was taken to offer the patient prn medication, a second patient destabilised the intervention and two other patients subsequently became involved. Staff considered the situation to be unsafe and retreated to the nursing station.

Assistance from the Metropolitan Police was first requested at 2244 and the first police officer from Bromley Police Station arrived promptly at 2247.

The police contend that on arrival they were unable to access key information about the patients involved in the first disturbance which frustrated their ability to risk assess the situation.

[...] With the assistance of the Metropolitan Police and the first on-call CAG manager, three of the four patients were, after several hours, placed in supervised confinement (SC) on other wards. The clinical environment was restored at approximately 0230.

In the second incident which occurred at approximately 0250, one patient challenged staff with regard to decisions which had been taken about the management of the four patients involved in the first incident. He accused them of discrimination, believing that there had been a racist motive and that staff had assisted the police to pursue this line of action. He threatened to kill staff and one of the white perpetrators, who he declared had been treated differently to the black perpetrators. This resulted in nursing staff losing control of the ward for a second time when they retreated to the nursing station.

This [second] incident also required intervention from on-call managers and the Metropolitan Police. The clinical environment was finally restored at 0500.

SLaM suggests only local police showed up

The day following the incident, the Bromley News Shopper ran a story, Bethlem Hospital secure unit incident attended by police and firefighters:

Officers from Bromley police and the territorial support group dealt with the situation and left the scene at around 2.50am.

And three fire engines were sent to the scene at about 12.30am after receiving reports of a fire alarm going off but there was no fire.

There were no arrests or reports of any injuries to staff or patients.

A whisteblower contacted the Care Quality Commission (CQC) by 2012-10-11 with concerns relating 'to safety of patients and staff and level of incidents.' The next day, the CQC MHA [Mental Health Act] Operations Manager wrote to the CQC Compliance Inspector:

[...] 2. Patients safety incident on Riverside Unit (involving -----)

This is a very serious matter, clearly the ward team lost control of the care of their patients and the situation may well have been much more serious than it has been. I noted the trust have provide a 'fact finding' report and commissioned an independent investigation.

3. Whistle blowing information received

This information appears authoritative and provides background information which would have [sic]

I felt the priorities are as follows:

a) Immediate. From the documentation sent through, unless there is other information I have not seen I am concerned that the provider does not appear to have demonstrated that they have taken robust action to make the ward environment safer in the light of the incident. This they could do quickly by, for example, increasing staff numbers, decreasing patient numbers, closing to new admissions for a temporary period. Further, issues of staff training, availability and skill mix all seems to be pertinent issues here. These are not ones that should need an independent clinical governance report to help them address. Should they not be able to identify and address issues immediately without recourse to an independent investigation then this further erodes confidence in their management capabilities. [...]

A 'third party individual' was concerned enough to get in touch with Care Quality Commission (CQC) on 2012-10-18. The CQC summarised the received email:

The concerns can be summarised as follows:

- Complainant wished to inform CQC of a violent incident that occurred on the SLAM secure forensic wards on Monday 1 October 2012 and request CQC investigate it
- Overall concerns raised for the safety of detained patients, in particular those from ethnic minorities - especially in light of the Sean Rigg Case in 2010.
- Overuse of restraint and medication
- Culture of intimidation
- Allegations that the trust was covering up details of the incident on 1 Oct, especially in relation to police involvement.
- Over representation of BME people being detained by the Trust

The complainant also made a request for information relating to the incident and its aftermath including:

• Information relating to the police becoming involved, numbers, equipment used, action taken by police against patients
• Numbers of patients involved
• Any injuries sustained by patients
• Details of any restraint or increase in medication of patient following incident
• Timing of incident/resolution
• Reasons for incident

Another concerned third-party individual wrote two letters on 2012-10-22. One addressed to the Care Quality Commission and another to alert the chair of Lambeth's Health and Adult Services Scrutiny Committee, copying the Lambeth Council Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, the Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission, a Special Correspondent at the BBC and the Director of Black Mental Health UK:

[...] This letter is to request that the CQC conduct an independent investigation into the matter and SLAM's treatment of its patients, particularly those from ethnic minority communities as a matter of urgency.

The recent high profile fatalities of black men in the care of SLAM make this latest incident of particular concern.

The Sean Rigg inquest verdict concluded that SLAM's negligence had more than minimally contributed to his death. Rigg died in 2008 and SLAM made public statements that improvements have been made in the treatment (particularly of black patients detained in their care).

However, in 2010, -------------- [the name of Olaseni Lewis is redacted in the copy of this letter disclosed by the CQC] died after he was restrained by 14 police officers for 45 minutes while on a secure ward run by SLAM.

After police release ---- [Lewis] and he was lying in a semi conscious state on the floor of a seclusion room, SLAM staff then injected him with antipsychotic medication. The inquest into the death of --------- [Seni Lewis] will being in March 2013 [this inquest has since been delayed].

I think it is important for the CQC to be aware of the recent history of this trust as it is in light of this that I am writing to you as the health regulator about the riot that occurred on wards run by SLAM on the evening of Monday 1 October 2012.

I have been made aware that the over use of force and high doses of antipsychotics and tranquillisers dominates the way patients are treated in secure wards run by this Trust.

The oppressive culture of this health provider may have been a factor behind the riot at the Bethlam [sic] which is run by SLAM on Monday 1 October.

This letter is also to request that you contact the chief executive of SLAM regarding the issues that have been raised in this letter and also for the CQC to conduct an independent investigation into this incident.

The particular concerns about the incident, which I would like the CQC to investigate include: establishing level of police involvement. It would be helpful to establish how many patients were restrained or subject to force by the police during this incident. I would also like the CQC to find out if Tasers, CS spray, Alsatian attack dogs, batons, hand cuffs or riot gear was used during this incident and also the levels and number of psychical injuries sustained by patients.

I look forward to hearing from you as to what action will be taken in response to this complaint; I would like to know how this information will be made available to the general public. [...]

The investigation report was not conducted by the CQC but commissioned by SLaM, and the CQC has no issue with the amount redacted in the heavily redacted version first published: 'The report published by the Trust is intended to demonstrate accountability for issues which arose at the Trust and to show how the Trust intends to prevent similar occurrences in the future. CQC does not consider that the addition of the redacted passages in the Report would further demonstrate accountability, and would instead be more likely to cause significant safety concerns for staff working in River House (and in fact officers from other agencies such as the Police, Ambulance Service and Fire Brigade).'

At the meeting of the Health and Adult Services Scrutiny Sub-Committee, on 2012-10-23, SLaM was asked about this incident, and its response carefully avoids any details even those already known such as the attendance of TSG officers and paints a rosy picture:

In response to queries from Members, representatives from SLaM made the following comments:

[...] A serious incident had occurred the previous week at the Bethlem involving two patients at SLaM taking other patients and staff hostage. The police had been called for support but the incident had been managed well by staff at SLaM and the police did not get involved in the incident. This demonstrated that improvements had already been made to the way in which the Police and SLaM were working together and the team which was called in to deal with such situations were adequately trained.

[...] As follow up actions he proposed that: [...]

· A note of the meeting be sent to Monitor
· That the principles of openness and transparency should be endorsed by health trusts. It is healthy for the health overview and scrutiny committee to be informed of instances such as occurred on 1 October 2012 and all should work towards a protocol on sharing information.

The board of directors of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust was notified of the incidents at the 2012-11-27 board meeting:

Gus Heafield reported that there was an incident involving patients at River House at Bethlem Royal Hospital on the evening of 1st October 2012. Staff responded promptly and professionally and called the police who attended the scene with fire crews. The incident was contained within the unit and there were no reports of any injuries to staff or patients. An external investigation will be carried out and it was noted that the three members of the independent panel had been appointed and terms of reference for the review had been agreed. The review was due to be completed in January 2013. The Care Quality Commission had been notified of the incident and has been kept informed about the independent review.

Again, the investigation report as it was first published on 2013-05-10 did not mention the presence of Territorial Support Group (TSG) officers that were known to be on the scene from the earlier news story or any more details about the amount of police involvement:

This [first incident] necessitated intervention from the RH Rapid Response team, The Bethlem Royal Hospital (BRH) Emergency Team, various on-call managers from the Behavioural and Developmental Psychiatry (BDP) Clinical Academic Group (CAG), an On-Call Executive Director, the Metropolitan Police, the London Ambulance Service, and the presence of the London Fire Brigade.

Fifteen months later, we learn that 48 police officers were deployed including officers from armed and dog units

In responses to Freedom of Information requests, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) after describing that the 'disturbance at the River House facility, was treated as a critical incident by the MPS and accordingly involved many different police units' eventually gave an account on 2013-12-31, of the scale of its involvement:

The number of officers initially deployed were:

1 Inspector
1 Police Sergeant
10 Police Constables from the response team at Bromley.

The Inspector declared the incident "otherwise so dangerous" and requested Commissioners Reserve.

As a result further officers were deployed which were:

2 Inspectors
3 Sergeants
21 Police Constables from the Territorial Support Group. (TSG)
6 Police Officers in two vehicles from the Armed Response Unit (ARV) - These were stood down upon the arrival of the TSG
2 Police Officers from the Dog Unit (with two dogs) - These were stood down upon the arrival of the TSG
1 Detective Sergeant,
1 Detective Constable from Bromley

In the version of the investigation report SLaM published on 2014-02-28, SLaM unredacted the following:

This necessitated intervention from [...] three divisions of the Metropolitan Police

[...] In the course of approximately three and a half hours, somewhere in the region of forty police officers were on-site, ______________________________________________ the Territorial Support Group (TSS) [sic] – Commissioner’s reserve, three police dog units and Trojan (specially trained armed officers).

[...] The Lock Down policy stipulates that for a major incident the Bronze, Silver and Gold command structure should be established.

As SLaM didn't follow proper procedures for redacting text, we also found out that SLaM attempted to cover up that the entire Bromley Borough police night response team was deployed to River House and that it failed to put in place a proper command structure:

In the course of approximately three and a half hours, somewhere in the region of forty police officers were on-site, comprising the entire Bromley Borough Night Response team, the Territorial Support Group (TSS) [sic] – Commissioner’s reserve, three police dog units and Trojan (specially trained armed officers).

[...] The Lock Down policy stipulates that for a major incident the Bronze, Silver and Gold command structure should be established.

The police adopted this modus operandus, but despite the fact that several managers became involved throughout the night, four of whom came on-site at various times, there is no evidence that the Bronze, Silver or Gold command roles were assigned to Trust staff to work with the police accordingly.

Armed police officers, dog units and riot police officers have no place on a mental health ward. Having a situation deteriorates to the point that SLaM and the MPS decided it needed such a high police response brings serious concerns as to the safety of the vulnerable service users being treated.

Many questions remain unanswered

We know that the Metropolitan Police Service classified these incidents as critical and that they established a Bronze, Silver and Gold command structure. However we do not (yet) know from which units officers forming this command structure came from, and we do not know if any weapon, whether guns, Tasers, batons or CS sprays were drawn and / or used, or whether any dog was released. London Assembly member Baroness Jenny Jones has written to Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner, Sarah Green, ICC Deputy Chair and Norman Lamb, Minister of State for Care Support to raise her concerns and ask for this information.

The only records the police have so far managed to find or 'locate' are exempted from disclosure. It is also likely they are reading the request too literally as they claim not to have any 'final report' for the incident but it is most likely they would have a report of some sort or similar document for a critical incident involving so many officers from several units and a command structure:

To assess who or may have relevant information for this request at least 12 (Twelve) separate CAD messages, the MPS electronic message system, were created and run for the incident mentioned. [Source]


Despite our searches there is no information held in regards to the final report [completed for the incident]. [Source]


The records held include ten CAD reports [Computer-Aided Dispatch] and one CRIMINT report [Criminal Intelligence database]. The CADs relate to the 999 call and subsequent dispatch of officers, the CRIMINT is an intelligence report.

I have been informed that on Incident Management Log was created however despite searches on borough and with the senior investigating officer I have not been able to locate this document.

Furthermore one document refers to a meeting in which this matter was to be discussed, again no further information could be found in respect of this meeting which may or may not have occurred. [Source]

The IPCC does not have any information at all about these incidents:

I am writing to advise you that, following a search of our paper and electronic records, I have established that the information you requested is not held by the IPCC. This is because the IPCC was not involved in this incident.

Section 3 of the investigation report is a list of recommendations, some requiring immediate action and the latest one due by March 2014. Apart from the vague description of some immediate actions taken to make the ward safer listed in an email dated 2012-10-15 between the CQC and SLaM (names are redacted), we do not know whether any of the recommended actions have been implemented; we also do not know whether any restraint were used on patients and the effect this situation had on both patients and staff:

Some of the findings of the investigation report show a continuing need to improves safety: '[t]he lack of awareness of the risks outlined above and the ease with which these were quickly identified by the Independent team, suggests a less than optimal grip on environmental security in which safe clinical practice takes place' and '[s]ystems and safety culture are the root cause of the majority of incidents and no less so in relation to what took place on the night in question.'

Between 2012-01-01 and 2012-10-19, 196 violent incidents at River House were reported to the National Patient Safety Agency. Of these 101 were within the Bromley Local Authority and 95 in Lambeth.

Category Number
Assault by a patient 77
Challenging Behaviour 50
Aggression 42
Inappropriate Behaviour 18
Harassment by a patient 4
Sexual Assault by a patient 2
Sexual Assault by a staff member 1
Assault by a staff member 1
Assault by other (e.g. a visitor) 1
Total 196

It is not known whether the police was called to any of the other violent incidents reported. As safety of patients and staff is paramount, SLaM must become more transparent into the way it operates.

Update 2014-03-21

The day following publication of this article, SLaM has accepted that its use of Freedom of Information exemptions was unwarranted:

As you know, the Trust has previously withheld some aspects of the Report from disclosure by applying the exemptions in sections 38 (health and safety) and 40 (personal data) of the Freedom of Information Act (2000).

Following your complaint, the Information Commissioner’s Office has undertaken an independent assessment. The Trust has now resolved to withdraw its use of the exemptions in sections 38 and 40 of the Freedom of Information Act (2000) to the Report and to disclose it in an un-redacted form.

The version of the investigation report just sent in with the blacked out text now visible is available here (pdf). To identify more readily the new information, I had recreated the document highlighting the differences but had not released it until now in case the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) ruled some exemptions were justified; you can check it here (pdf).

There remains one unaddressed issue in my complaint to the ICO, the investigation report mentions, on page 10, 'section 17 of this Independent report' however there are only three sections in the published report. Also mentioned, on page 2, is that the 'report refers to ten patients, whom for the purposes of confidentiality have been anonymised (referred to as patients A to J)', however only patients A to B are referred to. These are either typos or there are further missing sections.

Update 2014-03-24

London Assembly member Baroness Jenny Jones has kindly shared the letter (pdf) she has received last week from Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley. It clarifies that only TSG officers, armed with Tasers, entered the mental health ward (25 TSG officers had been deployed at River House) and that out of those that entered the ward, four drew their Tasers:

[...] The Commissioner’s reserve of TSG [Territorial Support Group] was deployed to resolve this incident and when they arrived they effectively took over from the ARV's [Armed Response Vehicle units]. I would stress that they [sic] ARV's never left the rendezvous point. As you may be aware the Commissioners reserve operate as a single unit of 1 Inspector, 3 Sergeants and 21 PCs. This of course would contribute to the seemingly large number of officers on scene at the incident. However, only officers from the TSG entered the ward and although 4 officers had their Taser drawn, through effective use verbal commands they safely resolved the situation without any further use of force. I can also confirm that the Dog support units did not deploy on to the ward.

[...] I am sorry that you have heard that this incident has damaged the confidence of black Londoners in relation to policing and mental health. This scale of incident is quite rare, in fact the MPS has reduced the number of calls that it attends at health based places of safety by 70%, but I remain concerned that police officers are being asked to carry out restraint in mental health facilities. To try to resolve this, protocols between health service managers and police Duty Officers are currently being developed. [...] Unfortunately there is no current time frame for this work to be completed.

This does not state whether TSG officers did restrain any patient that night, and if so how many (the investigation report describes that police assisted in placing three patients in supervised confinement). Also AC Mark Rowley figure of 70% reduction of police calls is meaningless as no period is given, nor a basis or a target for this reduction (and the definition of 'health based places of safety' is open to interpretation).


Relevant Freedom of Information (FoI) requests and other sources (note that the date for FoI requests is the date when the request was sent):

First published on 2014-03-20; last updated on 2014-03-24 (added mention of SLaM unredacting the blacked out text in the investigation report, the letter of AC Mark Rowley to Jenny Jones and minor other corrections).

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Fri, 28 Feb 2014

Getting smart with a Genius

[This is an extended version of a guest post that was published by The Restart Project.]

Spots and dust marks in a picture of the Tamara de Lempicka flat designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens

About a year ago, my sister in law got a free iPhone 5 from her network. She had no use for it, so she gave it to me. Recently I noticed a couple of problems: the top power switch is becoming harder to operate, and more annoyingly the pictures taken with the phone show spots and dust marks.

I didn't have any paperwork for the phone, but believed it was still under warranty as the first photo I took with the phone is dated February 28th last year. Even counting a week in the post, my sister in law was likely to have gotten it less than a year ago, so I booked an appointment with an Apple Genius at the Covent Garden store.

The famed Genius Bar is gone, it has been replaced with many smallish high rectangular table where everyone wait on stools for Geniuses to come in your personal space. As my personal Genius equipped with an iPad, explained, it is now '360 degrees'. It makes for a very noisy environment and he could hardly hear what I was saying.

After ensuring my phone was on one of the shop's two WiFi networks and that 'Find my iPhone' was deactivated, my Genius ran some remote diagnostics and declared that the phone was five days out of warranty. He explained that there was no grace period. He was happy to 'fix' as long as I didn't mind contributing a flat fee of £209!

He explained that the spots were inside the lens of the camera, that they don't have camera modules anymore so they just replace the iPhone. The difficulty with the power switch was caused by some rubber disintegrating. He offered to get rid of the dust on the lens for free and disappeared with the phone for five minutes. When he came back, there was a bit more dust! The Genius stated that he found there was a lot of residue in the phone and that could be part of the problem.

Both the power switch issue (documented here and here) and the camera one (documented here) are widespread among iPhone 5 owners and considered by all, but Apple, to be manufacturing defects that tend to manifest themselves after about a year. There's even a small petition about the power switch issue.

As I was unwilling to part with this much cash for fixing manufacturing defects, and the Genius suggested I check with my sister in law for any paperwork showing the phone was still in warranty. I had a frustrating discussion with him, asking why Apple won't fix what are widely known issues that are not caused by the user. He explained that he has no discretion.

No paperwork could be found, and nine days later I was back in the Apple Store, this time joined by Ugo, co-founder of The Restart Project. We went through a similar process, but also showed that older photographs taken well within the warranty period already exhibited spots, and some just before the warranty expiration also showed dust marks.

We then mentioned to him that according to Apple discussion forums, Apple has in other occasions accepted such evidence to provide a replacement.

Our clear awareness of the issue at stake and of online evidence in support of our claim, as well as the polite persistence which we used, convinced the Genius that he could have a chat with his supervisor, who approved a replacement.

The 'Problem Description/Diagnosis' in the 'Work Authorisation & Service Confirmation' is as follows:

Issue: Spots in camera
Steps to Reproduce: Issue has been observed and verified on the bar
Proposed Resolution: Replacement in warranty as customer has proof of issues existing from time of purchase.
Cosmetic Condition: Light wear and tear to enclosure

The Genius brought a replacement iPhone 5 and explained that when they discontinue a model, they manufacture some more parts for warranty purposes. The extra 'part' that had been manufactured was a whole phone. (Replacement parts come with a 90 days warranty.)

This replacement phone had been built between 18 and 24 November 2013 (according to CoconutID) and was running iOS v6.1.4. Apple both discontinued the iPhone 5 and released iOS v7.0 in September 2013, months before this replacement had been manufactured.

When asked what would happen to the phone with the damaged camera module and power switch, the Genius volunteered it would be 'destroyed'. A replacement rear camera module is available online for a tenner and the power button cable for two, but not from Apple.

The true cost of mobile phones is high as Gaia Foundation's Wake up call shows. Manufacturers must take responsibility for manufacturing defects for the useable life of their products. Externalising such costs on the consumer creates a perverse incentive for planned obsolescence.

Bootnote: Read an earlier post on becoming a restarter.

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Fri, 18 Oct 2013

The sixth DNA database

Keith Vaz recently asked ' what DNA databases are currently held by the Government; what the function is of each; how many people are included on each; where each database is held; for how long each database has been open; and where each such database will be held after the Government's reforms of national policing are complete. James Brokenshire, Minister for Crime and Security at the Home Office, provided the following holding answer:

The Government currently holds five databases containing electronic DNA profile information. Details below reflect the position as it stood on 30 September 2013.

The national DNA database (NDNAD) holds DNA profiles taken from individuals and crime scenes. It is used for purposes related to the prevention or detection of crime, the investigation of an offence or the conduct of a prosecution; in the interests of national security; for the purposes of a terrorist investigation; and for purposes related to the identification of a deceased person or of the person to whom material relates. It was set up in April 1995 and currently holds 6,074,866 DNA profiles.

The missing persons DNA database holds DNA profiles obtained from the belongings of people who have gone missing, or from their close relatives (who will have similar DNA), as well as profiles taken from the bodies of unidentified people. It matches missing people (sometimes via their relatives) to unidentified bodies, and can also eliminate a missing person if an unidentified body is found matching their description. It was set up in April 2010 and currently holds 895 DNA profiles.

The vulnerable persons DNA database holds DNA profiles of people who are at risk of harm (for instance due to child sexual exploitation or honour-based violence) and who have asked for their profile to be added. If the person subsequently goes missing, their profile can be checked against the main NDNAD to see if they match to any material such as blood or an unidentified body found at a crime scene, helping the police to investigate their disappearance. It was set up in March 2011 and currently holds 1,967 DNA profiles.

The police elimination database holds DNA profiles for police officers and staff. These profiles are used for elimination purposes in criminal casework. It was set up in August 2000 and currently holds 127,100 profiles.

These four databases are run by the Home Office, having been transferred from the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) on its closure.

The counter-terrorism (CT) DNA database holds profiles retained specifically for the purposes of national security. It was established in July 2006 and is managed and maintained by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on behalf of UK CT policing. Due to the sensitive nature of the CT DNA database it is not possible to confirm the number of profiles held.

A sixth DNA database in England

As mentioned in the earlier post 1,136,000 DNA profiles and 6,341,000 samples gone, but stealth DNA database of everyone being planned, GeneWatch UK reported on 'the Government [plan] to build a DNA database of the whole population of England in the NHS by stealth [and to make this] information available to commercial companies and [...] also accessible to the police, social workers, security services and Government.'

NHS England has already notified GP practices, according to Pulse, that they had eight weeks to inform their patients that confidential data from their medical records will be shared with private companies: 'The letter said: Upon receipt of this letter, you will have approximately eight weeks to make your patients aware before the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) will begin extracting data via the GP Extraction Service (GPES) for those patients who have not objected.’

To object, you must opt-out. MedConfidential has published information about how to opt-out, including a template letter to send to your GP.

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Sun, 04 Aug 2013

A real public nuisance: political persecution

Book launch of 'The Queen vs Trenton Oldfield: A Prison Diary'

Trenton Oldfield undertook a peaceful direct-action protest at the 2012 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. He disrupted the boat race for about 20 minutes by swimming in front of the boats. The aim of his protest was 'to focus attention on the long-standing and entirely unjust inequalities in British society that are being severely exacerbated by government cuts and reductions in civil liberties.'

He was arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced to a six-month jail term and served two months in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. Australian-born, he has spent the last twelve years in the UK, is married to a British citizen and has a few weeks old daughter. The Home Office did not find the punishment of the criminal justice system was enough and in a vindictive move has refused his spousal visa so he is at risk of being expelled back to Australia. His wife, Deepa, explained: 'A few weeks ago we learned that Trenton's visa application (submitted 1 year ago) has been declined on grounds that he is "a threat to national security", "undesirable" and "not conducive to public good". We have submitted an appeal and are awaiting a tribunal date, which should take place within 2 months time. [...] Everything is now at stake for us - our work, our livelihood, our family and life in London.' They are currently waiting for the outcome of this appeal.

Ways you can support Trenton Oldfield and his family include signing a petition to the Home Office to request that the Home Office reconsiders its 'Refusal Notice', contacting your MP and purchasing his prison diary.

A public nuisance

After his swim, Trenton Oldfield was arrested and initially charged with a section 5 (disorderly behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress) public order offence. Following political pressure, this charge was changed. Conservative MP Michael Ellis asked the Metropolitan Police commissioner in a Home Affairs Committee:

Q52 Michael Ellis: Commissioner, on the Olympic security arrangements, are you particularly concerned after the University Boat Race incident? The fact of the matter is that one idiot seemed to be able to cause significant disruption, and I think one of the captains of the teams pointed out that they had worked for nine months towards a goal that was spoiled by one individual in an act of self-aggrandisement. [...] I particularly also want to ask you about the penalties available, because I notice from media coverage that the individual who disrupted the boat race appears to have been charged with a section 5 offence under the Public Order Act 1986, which is one of the most minor offences in the book, carries no custodial penalty option at all and usually only results in a small fine. Do we need to look at available offences?

Bernard Hogan-Howe: I do know that the CPS are reviewing whether a more serious charge is possible, given the circumstances. So I think they have one charge and they are reviewing whether another one could be more appropriate. That is not straightforward.

The charge was then changed to that of 'Causing a Public Nuisance'. (After considering offences available under the Terrorism Act, I was eventually arrested, though not charged, also, for a public nuisance offence.) The Crown Prosecution Service specifies in its sentencing manual that the Common Law offence of Public Nuisance has for 'Statutory Limitations & Maximum Penalty: Life imprisonment or a fine or both'.

The Law Commission consulted in 2010 on a 'Simplification of the Criminal Law: Public Nuisance and Outraging Public Decency'. Its recommended option was 'Option 3: enact a statute abolishing the common law offences of public nuisance and outraging public decency and creating statutory offences in their place, with an intention or recklessness standard.' The consultation document gives some examples of public nuisance, the views of one of the key critics of this offence and how this offence was classified:

Examples of public nuisance are:

(1) obstructing the highway;

(2) blasting and quarrying near built-up areas;

(3) allowing land to be used as a dump, creating a dangerous or noxious environment;

(4) noisy parties and “raves”;

(5) bomb hoaxes and false calls to the emergency services;

(6) hanging from motorways and bridges, for example in political demonstrations;

(7) keeping pumas in a domestic garden;

(8) gang activity involving drug dealing in an urban area.


The offence has been extensively criticised in an article by J R Spencer [Public Nuisance – a critical examination (1989)]. His first argument is that the offence is so wide and the definition is so fluid that it lacks the certainty required of a criminal offence. His second argument is that almost all examples of public nuisance are now covered by specialised statutory offences. He concludes that the offence should be abolished, either without replacement or in favour of a narrower offence of doing anything which creates a major hazard to the physical safety or health of the public.


Today public nuisance may still conveniently be divided into two categories, though the classification is different from the historical one given above. The first is “environmental” nuisance, such as harmful substances and smells and obstructing the highway. The second is “behavioural” nuisance, covering offensive behaviour in public. This class is narrowed but not abolished by Rimmington: the test is that the offending behaviour affects several people at once and is not a mere series of acts that annoy individuals. There is some overlap between the two categories: for example drug dealing and the holding of noisy parties in public both affect the amenities of an area and are offensive in themselves.

Brenna Bhandar, Lecturer in Law at Queen Mary, University of London, explains in details the 'interesting history' of the crime of public nuisance in The Criminalisation of Political Dissent: Huckstering the Law. Here's her view of the ruling in Trenton Oldfield's case within this context:

[...] Let’s take the crime of public nuisance as an example. It has its origins in a private law action for interference with one’s property, and then drifts into the public sphere as a means of criminalising improper conduct (along with interference with private property). This is not only a matter of Justice Molyneux having misconstrued who constitutes the “public” in considering who suffered the harm in this case. Nor is it solely about a judge upholding the interests of the elite who were engaged in a sporting event, over the rights of Trenton Oldfield to express political dissent of myriad forms of inequality and injustice. The crime of public nuisance has its origins, and remains in essence, a law concerned with protecting private property and notions of propriety. For this reason and others, the crime of public nuisance should be abolished.

[...] Nearly if not all of the type of public nuisance offences that the law was historically intended to apply to have now been covered by statute. The profligate doctrine of health and safety breeds new rules and regulations daily it seems; and criminal law offences have become increasingly codified. What is left, after all of this content has been emptied out is a dangerously elastic form of criminal offence that can literally be applied to any sort of conduct. And with this, we arrive at Oldfield’s sentencing hearing.

A peaceful direct action to expose some of the policies of this government, led to charges being changed from a public order offence to 'a dangerously elastic form of criminal offence that can literally be applied to any sort of conduct', a jail term and now threats of deportation. Such vindictiveness by the Home Office has succeeded in rallying even those most angered by Oldfield's direct action, such as rower Tobias Garnett, to support him:

[...] Despite my disagreement with Oldfield, the Home Office's decision this week to reject his application for a spousal visa leaves me in an uneasy position: thinking his actions were indefensible, and yet now wanting to defend him.

[...] I know what each of the participants of that race committed to when they stepped into those boats, and I share in their anger at Oldfield. But these things are more important than a race. People with whom we disagree are the best test of the fairness of our legal system. When asked to comment on the matter, a Home Office spokesman said, "those who come to the UK must abide by our laws". They ought to be protected by them too.

The petition calling on the Home Secretary to immediately withdraw her threat to deport Trenton Oldfield is still open.

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Mon, 22 Jul 2013

Commencement day of DNA provisions of the Protection of Freedom Act in October

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office Lord Taylor of Holbeach has eventually made an order – The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (Commencement No. 7) Order 2013 – to commence the provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 which relate to the destruction, retention and use of material including fingerprints, DNA samples and DNA profiles. These provisions will be commenced on 2013-10-31. A few provisions relating to the destruction of copies of fingerprints which will commence only on 2014-01-31.

One section which is not commenced by this order is section 22 about the 'Guidance on making national security determinations'.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach also made the order Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (Destruction, Retention and Use of Biometric Data) (Transitional, Transitory and Saving Provisions) Order 2013 that deals with the destruction, retention and use of biometric data retained before the moment the DNA provisions of the Protections of Freedom Act are effectively commenced.

In the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing bill committee, Damien Green, pointed out that 'In preparation for the implementation of the Protection of Freedoms Act, 7.7 million samples taken to produce DNA profiles have now been destroyed.' Here is the updated table, first published in the post 1,136,000 DNA profiles and 6,341,000 samples gone, but stealth DNA database of everyone being planned:

  2012-03-04 2012-03-19 2013-05-20 2013-07-16
DNA profile deletions 504,000 504,000 1,136,000  
DNA sample destructions 439,000 453,000 6,341,000 7.7 million
Source: Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill committee 203-07-16, Ministerial statement 2013-05-20, Parliamentary written answer 2013-03-21, Ministerial statement 2013-03-04

Analysis of biological samples to become costly for the defence

In the committee, Damien Green, explained that Clause 10 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing bill will amend the Protection of Freedoms Act to ensure biological samples that becomes relevant to disputed issues in court proceedings have not been destroyed by the time those proceedings take place:

[The Protection of Freedom Act] requires biological samples of all types to be destroyed, including blood, semen, urine, saliva, hair and skin swabs. That affects not only samples used for adding profiles to the DNA database, but those used for purposes such as testing for drug and alcohol use, violent and sexual contact between suspects and victims, and exposure to chemicals such as those associated with explosives, firearms or drug production.

Note that access to the analysis of these biological samples may become costly to the defence. 'Most material held by the prosecution was previously provided free to the defence during disclosure of evidence' writes Owen Bowcott in the Guardian, but due to changes in charging practices following the dissolution of the state-backed Forensic Science Services (FSS) last year, 'several forensic science companies have recently changed billing practices, demanding up to £800 a day, for example, from experts hired by the defence'. (See also The [Justice] Gap for an analysis of these rising costs by Peter Glenser). This is put succinctly by commenter mschin1: 'You mean that I could be forced to pay for information about my own DNA to prove my innocence? You really couldn't make this up.'

Draft guidance on early deletion of DNA and fingerprint records

The Home Office has issued a consultation on its draft Guidance on early deletion of DNA and fingerprint records set to replace the Exceptional Case Procedure. Deadline for the consultation is 2013-07-29. The guidance will come into effect in October.

First published on 2013-07-22; last updated on 2013-07-23 to add a link to the consultation.

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Wed, 10 Jul 2013

Labelled potential terrorist

Cory Doctorow mentioned my arrest in one of his recent Guardian column on Prism and in some corrections in a Boing Boing post. Cory concludes:

You should care about privacy because if the data says you've done something wrong, then the person reading the data will interpret everything else you do through that light. [...] Once a computer ascribes suspiciousness to someone, everything else in that person's life becomes sinister and inexplicable.

This is why I fought so hard to expunge my records and help fight for other innocents as well.

Quebecois journalist Stéphane Vaillancourt expanded on this theme in Attention! Vos gadgets vous épient sans cesse published on Canoë:

Étiqueté «terroriste potentiel»

Une fois les informations recueillies, il ne reste plus qu'à les jumeler aux données publiques (caméras dans les transports ou lieux publics) et surveiller les comportements jugés suspects, comme l'a appris à ses dépens David Mery, en 2005, alors que la police de Londres était sur les dents, peu de temps après un attentat dans le métro. Le problème, c'est qu'une fois une personne étiquetée « terroriste potentiel », on interprète tout geste, tout acte comme étant suspect. Une fois la personne arrêtée, même si une erreur est admise par la suite, son nom demeure dans les registres pendant un bon bout de temps (9 à 10 ans, dans ce cas-ci), l'empêchant de voyager ou, simplement, de vivre une vie normale.

Si vous n'avez rien à cacher...

Le fameux prétexte voulant que « si vous ne faites rien de mal, vous n'avez alors rien à cacher » est plutôt douteux, à la lumière de l'histoire de David Mery (et probablement de plusieurs autres).

Que dire alors, si l'on suit cette logique, de ceux qui décident de ne pas avoir de compte Facebook? Ceux qui ne publient jamais de photo d'eux ou ne font jamais de «check-in» sur les réseaux sociaux? Est-ce que désirer conserver un peu de vie privée serait devenu un comportement suspect?

Stéphane's last question about whether to strive to retain some privacy is now considered suspicious behaviour has been answered positively in at least two occasions by the German police and the French Home Affair minister as I explained a few years ago in The mobile phone as self-inflicted surveillance – If you don't have one, what have you got to hide?.

Bootnote 1 The travel restrictions mentioned by both Cory and Stéphane are limited to the USA. See Innocent in the UK, unwelcomed in the USA for more details.

Bootnote 2 Two other, even more illogical, labels that have been used as captions in TV interviews: 'Former suspect', 'Mistaken suspect'.

Former suspect

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Thu, 23 May 2013

1,136,000 DNA profiles and 6,341,000 samples gone, but stealth DNA database of everyone being planned

A total of 6,969,396 subject profiles were held on the National DNA Database (NDNAD) at 31 March 2012 according to the NDNAD Annual Report 2011-2012. Allowing for duplication, the number of individuals whose DNA profile were held on the database is estimated at 5,950,612. This includes 1,253,289 innocent individuals ('without a current recorded conviction whose profiles had been added to the National DNA Database by English and Welsh police forces'). This also includes children; new research by the Howard League for Penal Reform has found that officers in England and Wales took swabs from 53,973 boys and girls aged 17 or under just during 2011.

The table below lists how many DNA subject profiles were loaded per year and how many individuals succeeded in getting their DNA profiles deleted following the  'Exceptional Case Procedure' over the past ten years. It clearly shows how easy it is for the police to grow the NDNAD, but how hard it has been for anyone to get off it.

  2002-2003 2003-2004 2004-2005 2005-2006 2006-2007 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012
DNA profiles of individuals added 488,519 475,297 521,118 715,145 722,475 591,029 580,803 540,313 474,193 398,845
DNA profiles deleted (Exceptional Case Procedure) 256 45 53 165 115 162 283 414 503 390
Source: National DNA Database annual report 2011 to 2012, National DNA Database biennial report 2009-2011, National DNA Database annual report 2007-09, Parliamentary written answer 2007-05-10

The DNA and fingerprint provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 are scheduled to commence in October. Before then, DNA profiles of the innocent must be deleted, and most DNA samples destroyed. The profile deletion process is managed by the custodian of the NDNAD, which has been the Home Office since the closure of the National Police Improvement Agency. The physical destruction of the samples is handled by the forensic service provider that did the sequencing. This work was initially slow (see table below), but '[t]here has been significant progress' explained Lord Taylor of Holbeach in the House of Lords:

To date, 1,136,000 DNA profiles belonging to innocent individuals have been deleted from the National DNA Database. Some 6,341,000 DNA samples containing sensitive biological material that are no longer needed as a DNA profile has been obtained have been destroyed.

DNA sample destruction is due to be completed by the end of this month, and DNA profile and fingerprint deletion by the end of September. By the time the Act commences in October, only those convicted of a criminal offence will have their DNA and fingerprints retained indefinitely.

This must be a moment of great relief to all those innocent individuals whose DNA profiles the police were desperately retaining. However, as there was no requirement for a notification mechanism, it is likely no one concerned has been informed. If you have been arrested, your DNA taken and believe your DNA profile should have been deleted, one way to find out is to use the Data Protection Act and send a subject access request to the police force that arrested you (for help, see my short guide: How to obtain personal information which is held by an organisation?)

  2012-03-04 2012-03-19 2013-05-20
DNA profile deletions 504,000 504,000 1,136,000
DNA sample destructions 439,000 453,000 6,341,000
Source:  Ministerial statement 2013-05-20, Parliamentary written answer 2013-03-21, Ministerial statement 2013-03-04

Here are some of the provisions describing what must happen before the coming into force of any provision of Part 1, Chapter 1 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012:

14. (4) A DNA sample to which this section applies must be destroyed—

(a) as soon as a DNA profile has been derived from the sample, or

(b) if sooner, before the end of the period of 6 months beginning with the date on which the sample was taken.

25. (2) The Secretary of State must, in particular, provide for the destruction or retention of PACE material taken, or (in the case of a DNA profile) derived from a sample taken, before the commencement day in connection with the investigation of an offence.

25. (3) Such provision must, in particular, ensure—

(a) in the case of material taken or derived 3 years or more before the commencement day from a person who— (i) was arrested for, or charged with, the offence, and (ii) has not been convicted of the offence, the destruction of the material on the coming into force of the order if the offence was a qualifying offence,

(b) in the case of material taken or derived less than 3 years before the commencement day from a person who— (i) was arrested for, or charged with, the offence, and (ii) has not been convicted of the offence, the destruction of the material within the period of 3 years beginning with the day on which the material was taken or derived if the offence was a qualifying offence, and

(c) in the case of material taken or derived before the commencement day from a person who— (i) was arrested for, or charged with, the offence, and (ii) has not been convicted of the offence, the destruction of the material on the coming into force of the order if the offence was an offence other than a qualifying offence.

For a recap of the provision of the Protection of Freedoms Act, see the post Innocents to become less suspect written when the bill was debated, or check out the act.

Stealth DNA database of everyone

In contrast to the positive development of destroying all DNA samples and the DNA profiles of the innocent held on the NDNAD, a new report (pdf) by GeneWatch UK exposes the Government's plan to build a whole population DNA database by stealth:

In April 2013, the Caldicott Committee, including Government Chief Scientist Sir Mark Walport, proposed new rules for data-sharing which would allow the Government to build a DNA database of the whole population of England in the NHS by stealth.

The plan is to make NHS medical records and people's genetic information available to commercial companies and to use public-private partnerships to build a system where all private information about every citizen is also accessible to the police, social workers, security services and Government.

In announcing the report, GeneWatch UK director, Dr Helen Wallace said:

Total government surveillance of every citizen and the end of privacy between doctors and their patients are inevitable if a DNA database is built within the NHS. Every adult and their children will be tracked using their DNA, and private healthcare records from the NHS will be sold around the globe. Genes are poor predictors of most diseases in most people and personalised risk assessments will lead to the marketing of fear and medicalisation of vast swathes of the English population. The costs of unnecessary follow-up of misleading risk predictions could bankrupt the NHS and harm the health of vulnerable people.

For more information on the new data sharing powers, check out the presentations from the launch conference of medConfidential. Phil Booth's slides include diagrams that are extremely useful when trying to make sense of the new NHS structure and understand the workings of the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES) system used to share data from your GP. The GeneWatch report includes on pp. 33-34 two diagrams from a presentation by Tim Hubbard, Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre that shows the flow of the genomic information. The individual genome sequence is about 3 GB, this will be compared to a reference genome sequence, and the difference –a variant file of about 10 MB– stored in the electronic health record, and from there in the cloud.

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Tue, 07 May 2013

Naked citizen: CCTV and online surveillance

Last October, I was interviewed about my unlawful arrest by Patrick Hafner, a journalist at Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF, who visited London to shoot a TV documentary about monitoring, both in terms of CCTV surveillance and online data gathering, for the programme 'Welt Journal' (World Report).

Naked Citizen (c) ORF

The international version of the program, called Naked Citizen has just been published on YouTube:

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Repair, don't despair! Towards a better relationship with electronics

The Restart Project is a London-based social enterprise and charity aiming at changing our relationship with information technologies by empowering people to repair and reuse their electronic devices. It was started nine months ago by Janet Gunter and Ugo Vallauri.

The Restart Project’s vision is one based on collaboration and creativity – combining online knowledge sharing and cooperation with tangible activities in real life. One of the main such activity have been ‘Restart Parties’, community repair events, where all kinds of electronics are taken apart and repaired by owners together with volunteer repairers (Restarters). The aim is to promote increased lifespan, share repair skills and promote sustainable and informed consumption of information technologies.

To find out when and where the next Restart Party will happen, check out the events page.

Restart Party (c) Janet Gunter

Becoming a Restarter

At the end of last year, I turned up at a Restart Party and joined other volunteers to become a Restarter.

The Restart Project has been generating lots of interest and below are my contributions to two interviews, one in English and one in French, about it. Follow the links to read the articles in full.

Janet contributed Could you become a Restarter to the RSA's Great Recovery blog:

[...] We owe all of our momentum to our Restarters, a fun yet serious group. We would like to take a moment to introduce two of our committed repairers, and share their approach to repair. [...]

David, an east Londoner who has a background in tech and telecommunications, and is a privacy and civil liberties activist, writes

“The skills needed for most repairs are: a lot of common sense, some limited experience (acquired at a Restart Party), good research skills and access to a few tools. For example, if you can deal with a blown fuse, you have some understanding of continuity and if you have ever touched a lit light bulb, you understand that current generates heat. So when a device stops working, first steps are to check that everything is still connected, that electricity flows, and that there’s no dust or crumbs blocking any fan (an air duster often comes handy). For how to open a device such as a laptop or a mobile phone, that’s where the research skills comes in handy as it is likely already documented somewhere on a web page or a video. Experience will be useful to realise how hard to pull on a part to pry it open while being careful to avoid ripping out a hidden connector, or that using an egg carton to store screws in the order of each step helps to find them again when time comes to reassemble things.”

Both believe in the empowering and transformative aspect of repair. [...]

And David says:

“For more than twenty years I’ve been communicating to demystify new technologies and software development, initially – and how to reclaim our civil liberties, later. What attendees get out of the Restart Parties should be much more than a repaired product: a willingness to fix their electronic products in the future and some basic repair skills. The Restart Parties are an occasion for collaborative repairing, where there are no geniuses, just more experienced Restarters (and hopefully soon to be Restarters). It is for this transformative process, when attendees realise that many repairs are accessible to them, that I am involved in Restart. The confidence gained at the Restart Parties by some attendees to start fixing things on their own is the most rewarding part of the experience.”

If you are reading this, perhaps you have a skill worth sharing: maybe you know how to make a slow PC faster again. Or you know how to clean a printer, or how to extend the battery life of a smartphone. Perhaps you are a professional repairer or a tinkerer, and you can teach us more. If you’d like to get involved, please contact us on our website or on

Béatrice Debut wrote Halte au gaspillage: des ateliers londoniens pour les nuls en électronique for the AFP:

Ordinateur poussif, bouilloire défectueuse, lecteur MP3 en rade: plus besoin de s'arracher les cheveux pour les réparer ou de se précipiter au magasin pour les remplacer. A Londres, les novices peuvent apprendre gratuitement à prolonger la vie de leurs appareils, une alternative à la société de consommation en période de crise économique et écologique.

Lyn Turner, bonnet bleu enfoncé sur la tête et chien en laisse, est frustrée. Cette quinquagénaire ne peut plus écouter ses programmes favoris: sa petite radio est en panne.

"Je serais surprise si vous parveniez à la réparer", lance-t-elle, en la confiant à l'un des bénévoles férus de technologies de l'organisation "Restart Project" ("Projet redémarrer").

Ce samedi, l'atelier a élu domicile dans une boutique vide-greniers de North Cheam, une banlieue modeste du sud de Londres. David Mery, barbe poivre et sel soignée, tout de noir vêtu, vérifie d'abord les piles, sous l'oeil attentif de Lyn. Bingo. Une pile a coulé. Il la remplace et la radio se remet à crépiter. "1305, c'est ma fréquence préférée", explique Lyn à David qui s'exécute.

"La prochaine fois, vérifiez les piles, et si vous n'utilisez pas votre radio pendant longtemps, mettez-les dans un tiroir", conseille David, 47 ans. Lyn acquiesce. [...]

Les ateliers, organisés deux fois par mois à Londres, visent à "démystifier la réparation" pour que "la personne ait confiance de se lancer elle-même la prochaine fois", explique David, ancien journaliste. [...]

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Tue, 23 Apr 2013

Act of terror – recording stops & searches

Learn more about filming the police conducting stop and search operations with a brilliant animated film retracing the police intimidation of Gemma Atkinson:

Act of Terror from Fat Rat Films.

There's further information, including the script, story board and animation boards on the accompanying Act of Terror website.

Update: StopWatch has published Viewed With Suspicion: The Human Cost Of Stop And Search, a video and 33-page report. (That web page also includes a film by the StopWatch youth group, exploring young Londoners' feelings about stop and search.)

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Sun, 03 Feb 2013

Complaining about the police and the IPCC

The Home Affairs Committee published a damning report on the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). (I contributed some written evidence based on my experience.) The introduction is explicit:

4. Police officers are warranted with powers that can strip people of their liberty, their money and even their lives and it is vital that the public have confidence that those powers are not abused. In this report, we conclude that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is not yet capable of delivering the kind of powerful, objective scrutiny that is needed to inspire that confidence.

Nearly a quarter of officers were subject to a complaint last year. When appeals were made against the way police forces handled a complaint, the IPCC found that the police had been wrong in 31% of all cases. It decided against the police in almost two thirds of appeals where police had decided not to record someone’s complaint.

The report includes a useful practical annex on the complaints & appeals process:

1.  If you think a police officer has behaved incorrectly then you have a right to complain. You should give details of when, where, what happened, what was said, the police officers and witnesses involved, and whether any proof exists of any damage or injury.

There is no time limit on making a complaint, but if a year goes by the incident may not be investigated.

2.  If your complaint is about a chief constable you should contact your Police and Crime Commissioner. (For London, read the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime.)

3.  If your complaint is not about a chief constable, contact the police force involved, by e-mail, telephone or in person. A solicitor or your local MP can also make a complaint on your behalf.

4.  All valid complaints against the police must be recorded, which means that it has formal status under the Police Reform Act 2002. Each police force in England and Wales has a duty to either record your complaint or tell you why it has decided not to record your complaint.

5.  The IPCC does not have the power to record complaints. This must be done by the chief officer or the Police and Crime Commissioner responsible. You can send a complaint to the IPCC but it will be forwarded to the relevant police force and the IPCC will not read or see your complaint.

A table elsewhere in the report explains the different modes of investigation of complaints:

When the Commission receives a complaint or a referral, it decides how it should be dealt with. This is referred to as a "mode of investigation" decision.

a)  Local Resolution, carried out entirely by the police with the complainant's consent. There is a right of appeal to the Commission.

b)  Supervised investigations, where the IPCC sets out terms of reference for the police. There is a right of appeal to the Commission.

c)  Managed investigations, carried out by police forces under the direction and control of the Commission.

d)  Independent investigations, carried out by the Commission's own investigators and overseen by a Commissioner.

My complaint ended up being a supervised investigation run by the Metropolitan Police Service's Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS). When I went to meet the officers from the DPS for them to take my witness statement to start their investigation, I had prepared a written witness statement. I recommend you do the same. Here's some other useful advice I included in my statement to the Home Affairs Committee:

10. My written statement of witness used by the DPS to start its IPCC-supervised enquiry concluded with a list of desired outcomes. These were ignored by the IPCC, which focused on the terms of reference drawn by the DPS.

11. With hindsight I would have ensured that all my desired outcomes were included in the terms of reference. The DPS attempted to pressure me to go for local resolution instead of a full investigation and to shorten my written statement of witness. I resisted this pressure. The definition of the terms of reference to be narrower than my statement of witness achieved a similar outcome for the police without being as obvious.

12. If the current system continues, it must be made clear to the complainants that the terms of reference are the only scope for any outcome they may be expecting in approaching the IPCC.

Back to the process:

Complaints are usually resolved by local resolution or local investigation by the police force involved. There is no limit on an investigation or local resolution, but you should be updated every 28 days. Complaints can lead to an agreed resolution (such as apology), internal misconduct proceedings, or criminal proceedings. The IPCC only investigates the most serious complaints referred to it by the police.

6.  You may be able to appeal if you are not happy with the outcome. Appeals may be directed to the IPCC, the chief constable, or the police and crime commissioner. You cannot appeal if the investigation into your complaint has been managed or carried out independently by the IPCC.

7.  You can appeal against a recording decision. The IPCC will look at your case to see whether or not recording your complaint was justified.

8.  You can appeal against a local resolution. In most circumstances, appeals against the outcome of the local resolution process will be handled by the chief officer of the police force.

9.  You can appeal against a decision to disapply a complaint, or the action taken after a decision to disapply, either to a chief officer or to the IPCC, which must receive your appeal within 29 days of the date of the letter telling you about the outcome of the complaint.

10.  You can appeal against a decision to discontinue a complaint.

11.  You can appeal against the police force's decision about your complaint, either to a chief officer or to the IPCC. Again, you will need to write within 29 days.

Your appeal will either be "upheld" or "not upheld". If your appeal is upheld, the appeal body will tell you any instructions it has given to the police force involved. If your appeal is not upheld, it will write to you and explain why it did not uphold your appeal.

This last paragraph is misleading in that 'instructions' are really only recommendations. The Home Affairs Committee's report specifically addressed this point:

68.  In one case, the Commission "requested" that the Metropolitan Police Service reconsider a request for personal data to be expunged and "informed" the service that a copy of a compulsory form "should" be provided.[Ev w44, David Mery, para 14] This kind of light-touch recommendation is a long way from the kind of clear instructions for improvements that Dame Anne Owers said: "there should be a requirement formally to respond with an action plan".[Q 89, Dame Anne Owers] She suggested that Police and Crime Commissioners could contribute by ensuring that the Commission's work led to improvement across the service:

we need to work on [...] mechanisms to check whether what we have done has made a difference [...] Police and Crime Commissioners do form a place where I would envisage discussions going on between Commissioners, heads of casework and themselves about what is happening and if it is not happening why isn't it happening?[Q 74, Dame Anne Owers]

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We are outraged

The Brussels Privacy Declaration:

Privacy is a fundamental human right, but today this right is widely ignored. We are outraged.


The future of Europe needs privacy, and we need you to defend this fundamental right now.

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Tue, 01 Jan 2013

Blog posts in 2012

2012 posts (created with Wordle)

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Fri, 14 Dec 2012

Destruction of DNA samples and other material - five years in the making

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Conservative), the Home Office Minister responsible for DNA announced the government's timetable for  eventually  commencing Part 1, chapter 1 of the Protection of Freedom Act:

Part 1, chapter 1 of the Protection of Freedoms Act implements the commitment in the Government's coalition agreement to reform DNA and fingerprint retention.

This Government want to protect the privacy and human rights of its citizens, while maintaining effective databases that protect the public and reduce crime.

The Protection of Freedoms Act fundamentally changes the principles behind the operation of biometric databases. From being databases that collected DNA profiles and fingerprints from every person arrested and retained them indefinitely, they will now operate proportionately, considering guilt and innocence, the seriousness of the offence and the age of the individual. In this way, they can continue to operate effectively while providing far greater protection of civil liberties.

Implementation of the Act is not a simple matter. A large amount of work is needed to prepare police forces, forensic laboratories and national databases. Complex reprogramming of databases is required to ensure that each person's DNA and fingerprints are removed or retained correctly and at the right time. This work will be carried out thoroughly so that biometric material is not held unlawfully, and material needed to solve crime is not unnecessarily deleted.

Before the Act commences, it is necessary to destroy a significant amount of existing biometric material that the Act would not allow to be retained.

The first priority is the destruction of DNA samples. A DNA sample is an individual's biological material, containing all of their genetic information. The Government do not want to retain the complete genetic makeup of any of their citizens. Every DNA sample taken will be destroyed as soon as a DNA profile for use on the database has been obtained from it. Destruction of existing DNA samples will begin in December 2012 and be completed by May 2013.

DNA profiles, consisting of a string of 20 numbers and two letters to indicate gender, are stored on the National DNA Database (NDNAD). They allow a person to be identified if they leave their DNA at a crime scene but contain none of the person's genetic characteristics. The NDNAD and the Police National Computer (PNC) must both be reprogrammed to allow DNA profiles which may not be retained under the Act to be correctly identified and deleted. Deletion from the NDNAD of existing DNA profiles which do not meet requirements for retention will begin in January 2013 and be completed by September 2013.

Fingerprints are stored electronically on the national fingerprint database, IDENT1. IDENT1 and the PNC must both be reprogrammed to allow fingerprints which may not be retained under the Act to be correctly identified and deleted. Deletion from IDENT1 of fingerprints which do not meet requirements for retention will begin in March 2013 and be completed by September 2013. Following deletion of each IDENT1 fingerprint set, police forces will destroy any corresponding hard copies they hold.

The Biometrics Commissioner will be appointed in early 2013. The role of the commissioner will be to keep under review the retention and use of biometric material retained subject to the Act's provisions, and, in particular, to adjudicate on those cases where the police apply to retain material of someone arrested for, but not charged with a serious offence for a limited period or where a national security determination is made.

Once destruction of existing biometric material is complete and the necessary processes have been set up, legislative commencement will take place, no later than October 2013.

Developing the technology for a fully automated speculative search will take a few more months. A transitional measure will be provided to allow speculative searching and quality checks to be undertaken using existing technology. This will ensure Commencement is not delayed and matches to crimes are not missed while the final piece of work is completed.

The publication of this timetable demonstrates both the complexity of the work involved in implementing the Act and removing innocent people's DNA and fingerprints from our databases, and the Government's commitment to completing this work as soon as safely possible. [Emphasis added.]

The million plus innocents whose biometric material is being retained will be counting the days until September 2013. However, until the legislative commencement, the current procedure, the exceptional case process, is still in force; the Metropolitan Police Service made this very clear:

In line with the Supreme Court decision of 18th May 2011 in the cases of C and GC v The Commissioner, and based on legal advice, the MPS will continue to process exceptional case requests in accordance with the ACPO policy of 16th March 2006. We will do so until Parliament introduces a new legislative scheme.

So until then, if you believe your situation is exceptional, you may still want to request the chief constable of the force that arrested you to (re)consider your case (for practical tips, see Reclaim Your DNA.) If you succeed to have your case considered exceptional, your Police National Computer (PNC) record will be deleted as well as your DNA and fingerprints, there is no such promise in the Protection of Freedom Act's implementation timetable. As for photographs kept by the police, limit on their retention will likely have to wait for a test case to come to court.

In his timetable, the minister points out that 'Implementation of the Act is not a simple matter.' What he does not highlight is that this government could have started working on the tools necessary to implement this act earlier, and the police knew some changes would be needed from as far back as 2008 when judges unanimously ruled in S and Marper v. the UK in 2008:

that the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the powers of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offences, as applied in the case of the present applicants, fails to strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests and that the respondent State has overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation in this regard. Accordingly, the retention at issue constitutes a disproportionate interference with the applicants' right to respect for private life and cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society.

As the timetable does not specify a notification mechanism, for those innocents having been arrested, any celebration for not having personal data held by the police anymore and no longer being an honorary criminal will have to wait until next autumn.

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