Sat, 24 Feb 2007

Brent Concil calls on the Police to destroy DNA records of innocents

In January, the Brent Council unanimously passed a motion calling for:
This is a very positive news and I hope other councils will follow, to increase the pressure on the ACPO. The Voice published an article explaining that the motion was motivated by the personal experience of Liberal Democrat councillor James Allie.

Background on the issue can be found in the Should the Police keep your DNA forever? post.

(Via Genewatch's Briefing for Councillors and Police Authorities: Police retention of DNA)

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Thu, 22 Feb 2007

The Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) just published the draft of a report titled Counter-Terrorism: The London Debate. It is 73 pages long and I've only had time to have a very quick browse through it, but as articles are appearing commenting on it, a link to the document may be helpful to others.

Here are the top three recommendations:

In response to these findings, the Metropolitan Police Authority makes the following recommendations for the Metropolitan Police Service, and offers the advice which follows to other bodies. For ease of reference, the items on these lists appear here in decreasing order of priority, rather than in the thematic order in which they appear later in this report.

Complete list of Recommendations and Advice

Recommendations for the Metropolitan Police Service:

1. Metropolitan Police Service: Present an urgent review of the use of Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000 stop and search to the full Metropolitan Police Authority. Include in this review a clear rationale explaining why a given individual is stopped and searched rather than another. If unable to demonstrate to the Metropolitan Police Authority’s satisfaction through this review that the power is sufficiently effective in countering terrorism to outweigh the damage it does to community relations, stop using it, other than in exceptional circumstances, such as where there is a specific threat to a particular location.

2. Metropolitan Police Service: Publish an explanation of Operation Kratos (the generic title for a series of Metropolitan Police Service standard operating procedures and tactical responses to the threat posed by suicide terrorism), setting out clearly the learning that has taken place since 22 July 2005.

3. Metropolitan Police Service: Accept and apply to current counter-terrorist activity the learning from previous terrorist campaigns.

The top recommendation is very good news. The abuse of Stop and Search under Section 44 is an issue I raised with the MPA when I went to ask a question and when I met its Chair of the Stop & Search Scrutiny Board.

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Wed, 21 Feb 2007

Id cards - bioinformation open for fishing?

Along with 27,977 other UK residents I signed a petition demanding 'the Prime Minister to scrap the proposed introduction of ID cards'. The petition closed on February 15th and on the 19th we all received a response, by email, from the Prime Minister.

Tony Blair attempts to justify the Government's position by quoting unsubstantiated statistics and anecdotal data (e.g., terrorists use up to 50 multiple identities at a time and a quarter of criminals also use a false identity). Most of the arguments in the letter are not new and have already been debunked by NO2ID. UK Liberty does a good recap of the many issues of this letter.

What did surprise me was this paragraph:
I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.
It would appear from this that all the bioinformation held on the NIR will be wide open for fishing expeditions by the British Police and Police forces from other countries (Europe? USA? others?). This is not something I had understood to be the case and as NO2ID points out, it contradicts what Tony McNulty, then Home Office minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, stated in Standing Committee D on 6 July 2005:
Again, the police, like other public bodies, even though there is that exemption under the DPA, need to substantiate why they would want to go through somebody's record in detail. They are allowed to, but not on a fishing expedition. The form of that is elaborated on later in the Bill—in clauses 19 to 23, I am told, as if by magic. There are safeguards not only against state agencies, for want of a better phrase, going fishing in the database but against misbehaviour and abuse of the database by those who manage the system.
Tony McNulty made an earlier reply in this Standing Committee D that highlights another issue I hadn't grasped:
By the bye, I want to explore one point further, and perhaps return to it later in our deliberations. It might be the one about which the hon. and learned Member for Harborough was getting agitated. It is simply this: the existence of a PNC number for an individual implies a criminal record. If the PNC number is recorded in the public domain in the sense of the verification process, one does not have access to the substance about a criminal record and the offences that a person has committed. In such circumstances, people who perhaps should not could have access to the fact that someone has a PNC number and therefore a record. It does not follow that even if someone captures the PNC number on the verifiable end of the database, it allows them to unlock the door and see what is on a person's record. The existence of the PNC implies that there is a record. I need to consider that in more detail and will come back to the Committee.
That means that all those arrested - including the many innocents - will end up with a PNC number in the NIR that may be communicated during the verification process. Looks like this may become one more long time effect of my arrest.

UPDATE 2007-02-21: The Reg has a good piece as well, which reveals that this email from Tony Blair is a rehash of an opinion piece he wrote last November for the Telegraph piece

UPDATE 2007-02-21: Andy Burnham has since said on 18 April 2006:
The Identity Cards Act ensures that personal reference numbers which would tend to reveal sensitive personal data cannot be held on the register. The PNC number for example, could not be added to the register as this could suggest that the individual had been of interest to the police, or that the individual had a criminal record.

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Sun, 18 Feb 2007

Institutionalised snooping and hostile reconnaissance

I'm always shocked when going to the movies to have to sit through a call for informers to rat on whoever may be illegally recording the movie. I generally boo when this anti-piracy campaign ad is shown (the ones promoting the cinema experience are more to the point)! Come July and, thanks to the smoking ban, we'll have moved from a call to snitching to institutionalised snooping. The BBC reports:
Thousands of council staff are being trained to police the smoking ban in bars, restaurants and shops in England.

Ministers have given councils £29.5m to pay for staff, who will be able to give on-the-spot £50 fines to individuals and take court action against premises.

They will have the power to enter premises undercover, allowing them to sit among drinkers, and will even be able to photograph and film people.


Ian Gray, policy officer for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and chief trainer for the government course, said he expected most councils would take a "softly, softly approach" at first.

"But there will be some occasions where action has to be taken and I am sure the compliance officers will not shy away from that," he added.

"These officers do not have to identify themselves when they go into premises and they can even film and photograph people to gather evidence although this may not be appropriate in many cases.

"There will be two ways of doing this, either staff can go in and identify themselves to the landlord, but they don't have to."

SpyBlog has, as usual, a very detailed and insightful analysis of this news item. Go read it in full. It points out among other things that such surveillance may be unlawful under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 section 28 (b), that the 'authorised enforcement officers' do not have any power of arrest, and that Police Constables do not have the power to issue a Fixed Penalty Notice under the Health Act 2006, since the Police are not designated Enforcement Authorities.

Pubs are among potential terrorist targets as reminds the Publican:
During the current terrorist threat, pubs have not been targeted as they were in the 1970s by the Provisional IRA and in 1999, when the Admiral Duncan in Soho was hit by a lone neo-Nazi bomber. But, especially since the July bombings last year, pubs have been included among the possible “soft targets” identified by the security services.


His [Jim Maietta from the National Counter Terrorism Security Office] advice on protective security ranged from simple good housekeeping to prevent packages being planted on or near the premises, to being aware that terrorists need to plan their attacks – what’s known as “hostile reconnaissance”.

“The Al-Qaeda training manual talks about getting information, maps and plans and so on. That helps them determine how much explosive they will need, and they will also look at levels of security.”

'Hostile reconnaissance' is the justification the Police has used to stop and arrest innocents taking pictures, filming or even just drawing sketches of buildings.

This Summer, coinciding with the two-year anniversary of the July 2005 London bombings, Council staff will go undercover taking pictures and photographs in pubs, restaurants and shops, while the Police will continue to train the staff working with the public about hostile reconnaissance, and stop and arrest people taking pictures and photographs - especially doing so sneakily - in pubs, restaurants and shops among other places.

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Sun, 11 Feb 2007

I appeal to the IPCC the outcome of the investigation

appeal received

You can read the cover letter from the Misconduct Office. I have not published any content of the investigation report itself as it is protectively marked Restricted and I have no idea if I'm allowed to do so. All the information I could find about the restrictions on protectively marked documents seem to be only about restrictions that apply to the organisation issuing the documents. If you know what condition this protective mark imposes on me, please email me.

After many readings of the report and the cover letter and much thinking, I concluded that I had no option but to appeal. I published the appeal letter I wrote to the IPCC.

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Thu, 08 Feb 2007

Joining the dots - Department of potential evidences

Joining the dots is a game for children. And the Police doesn't seem to like children, dots or games.

Abu Bakr about his questionning during his detention following his arrest:

It was farcical. I was questioned for seven days but not once did they put these allegations about a plot to kidnap and behead a soldier to me. They were doing things like putting a piece of paper in front of me - a note, a scribble by one of my children, a jacket, a hat - and asking me about it. My solicitor advised me to make no comment so that's what I did. It felt a bit amateurish like they didn't really know what they were doing.

About one of the defendent in the alleged liquid bomb plot:

The box, Peirce said, also contained another of the items listed in the charge against her client, a crude map of Afghanistan--drawn years ago, Peirce says, by the boy's younger brother: "It's a child's map!"

During my Police interview:

It could be doodles but is it a plan of the station or anything like that?

Maybe it is the fear of the unknown, of the potential hidden meaning behind scribles and doodles? Is anything the Police doesn't understand, whether a behaviour, a scrawl, an item, a language, a drawing, a religion, an origin, etc. something to be afraid of, something to threaten someone's liberty with? Must we all conform and be rationale at all times?

Police paranoia is not a new phenomenon. Some sixty years ago:

Planned as a series of texts which would summarize the surrealist position at the end of the war, Free Unions was published 2 years after its conception, due to the arrest of the editors and the seizure of the proofs - thought to be coded messages of anarchists.

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Wed, 07 Feb 2007

Reason of arrest is no reason for questioning - is this reasonable?

Last week, nine men were arrested during anti-terrorism raids in Birmingham. It has been widely reported that, according to senior sources in the police and intelligence services, the motivation for these arrests is that the Police suspected these men to be involved in an alleged plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier here in the UK.

Today, two of the men were released without charge. Gareth Peirce who is defending them, said:
They have left the police station without any better understanding of why they were there than when they first arrived seven days ago.

Not a word was ever mentioned to either of them about a plot to kidnap, or the grisly suggestion of a beheading, or even of a soldier at all.

Both have been met with a consistent refusal over seven days for any explanation for their arrest. They are convinced that others in the police station must be as innocent as they, and urge that they also be swiftly released.
Last June, Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Abul Koyair were released without charge after their dramatic arrest in Forest Gate for their suspected involvement in an alleged biological terror plot. 250 officers participated in the arrest, some of them wearing full chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological (CBNR) suits and respirators. There were widespread press reports of police looking for chemical factory and suicide chemical vests. Police claimed to be acting on 'specific intelligence'.

Gareth Pierce also represented this family. Here's a transcript from an interview:
It's a very odd thing, the whole enormity of a massive armed raid and immediate publicity put out by the police, that this was suspected chemical warfare, a suicide operation about to be mounted on specific intelligence. [...]

However, within the police station, a man who had been shot through the chest was discharged from the hospital, wholly prematurely, and the hospital bed taken to a cell in Paddington Green police station. It was grotesque, a grotesque experience, in which the police never once asked either of the brothers about chemical weapons, about suicide attempts, about anything that they might have been suspected of having. The police were begged, for heaven sake, "tell us why we were in the police station?" "Why did you arrest us?" "Who was it who said this?" And an answer came there none. They were just suddenly released.
There's clearly propaganda, and likely poor intelligence, at play, but what I find very curious is why when the Police arrest someone for a very serious offence that is leaked all over the press, they don't ask, during the formal interview, any question about how those under arrest may be involved in what is said to be the cause of the arrests.

Such theatrical arrests distract from other current events. They show the Government and the Police are tackling terrorism head on. With longer and longer pre-charge detention, there's a chance of finding something to prosecute the arrestees for while they're being held. What rarely makes headlines and is too soon forgotten is how much impact such arrests have on the life of those that have had to go through all this nonsense. The effects last much longer than the time in the station's cell or the bullet wound recovery (such as for Mohammed Abdul Kahar).

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