Sun, 30 Sep 2007

It will never happen to you. Take 234

There's no need to commit a crime to have a brush with the law, and it seems to get easier every day. Please do take care to avoid train stations when using a Freedom Pass (free transport for over 60 and disable residents in London), avoid looking at the Police officers surrounding you when having a pint and of course do look at any officers by the entrance of a tube station straight in the eyes.

On 2007-09-13, Pacifist Gwyn Gwyntopher, 66 years old, was arrested by the British Transport Police at the Excel Centre Dockland Light Railway (DLR) station. She was wearing on her back a poster that said ‘Remember the victims of the arms trade’, and it was visible to the arm dealers selling their wares at the DSEi arms fair. Her husband Chris recounts (via Kathz blog):
She was then dragged along the ground to the lift. In considerable pain she appealed to the police to take the handcuffs off. They declined. When her husband Chris Gwyntopher came up the stairs to find out what had happened to her she appealed to him to get the police to remove the handcuffs. He tried to persuade the officers to do so, pointing out that she would not harm anybody and would not seek to run away. They refused and pulled him away from her.

She was charged with trespassing on DLR station and refusing to leave. She had her freedom pass on her and was ready to leave, in the direction of the Excel She was offered bail on the condition she did not go on the Docklands Light Railway until her court appearance. She refused to accept this condition. She was transferred to Forest Gate Police Station and held overnight to appear before Stratford Magistrates on Friday 14/9/07.

At about nearly midday Friday, the Magistrate heard her plea of not guilty. She was bailed to appear for trial on Monday November 5th at 9.30 am with a pre-trial review the afternoon of Thursday 4th October at the Magistrates Court, 389-397 High Street, Stratford E15. Supporters welcome The bail conditions were that she not go on DLR land or the Excel Centre until midday Saturday 15th September. She was not required to accept or sign to keep the conditions which would have prevented her communicating with the arms traders.
On 2007-09-26, Bob Hamlen, 47, and Michael Burbidge, 31 were stopped and searched as they sat on a bench outside the Westcliff Tavern in West Cliff Road, Bournemouth. The pub patio overlooks the security checkpoint at the entrance to the Highcliff Marriott Hotel where Labour politicians are staying during this week's party conference. Bob was interviewed by the Bournemouth Echo (via UK Liberty):
"I was carrying my disabled bus pass but it didn't make any difference. I needed to go to the toilet and an officer went with me in case I escaped. After radioing through the information, they asked us to accompany them, in separate police cars, to the police station.

"It was very embarrassing because some of our friends were sitting nearby. Michael suffers from stress and was getting very agitated.

"They said the reason I was being taken to the police station was because I had been seen passing a white envelope.

"But all I did was take my post out of my jacket pocket and open an electricity bill.

"On Michael's stop and search form they said they wanted to speak to him, under the Terrorism Act, because he had been looking at a police officer.
Act now. Refuse to be terrorised.

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Sat, 29 Sep 2007

Refuse to be terrorised

In his speech at the Ethics and Human Rights in the Information Society conference, Andreas Krisch, Member of the board of European Digital Rights (EDRI), Member of the Austrian Association for Internet users (Austria), considered whether anti terror measures in Europe are proportionate to the threat:
For several years discussions and measures aiming for enhancing security and fighting terrorism claimed that it was a necessity to balance individual rights and security, implicating that the freedom of individuals opposes the needs of combating terrorism and law enforcement.

A report submitted by Europol provides figures on terrorism in the EU. According to the “TE-SAT 2007, EU Terrorism and Trend Report 2007” a total of 498 attacks were carried out in 2006 in the EU, of which the vast majority were not intended to kill.

“There were no successful Islamist terrorist attacks in the EU in 2006. However, a coordinated but ultimately failed attack aimed at mass casualties took place in Germany. The vast majority of terrorist attacks were perpetrated by separatist terrorist groups targeting France and Spain. In France, 283 attacks took place in Corsica in 2006. In Spain, despite the truce declared by ETA in March 2006, separatist groups perpetrated 136 attacks, mainly in the Basque region. Only the attack at the Madrid airport on 30 December 2006 resulted in casualties.”

According to the report the remaining attacks were left- or right-wing-motivated or driven by other/not given motivation.

The number of arrested suspects differs from these figures. A total of 706 individuals suspected of terrorism offences were arrested, of which 257 arrested individuals were suspected of Islamist, 226 of separatist, 52 of left wing and 15 of right wing terror. With regard to the approximately 260 arrests related to Islamist terror “[l]ess than ten percent of the arrested individuals were suspected of preparation, planning or execution of terrorist attacks. [...] The vast majority of the arrested individuals were suspected of being members of a terrorist organisation. Other frequent criminal activities were financing of terrorism and facilitation.”

The figures of the Europol report make clear that terrorism in the EU is mainly driven by separatists in France and Spain and focussing on Corsica and the Basque region. Of the relatively large number of arrests related to Islamic terror only less than 26 individuals were suspected of preparation, planning or execution of terrorist attacks. On the other hand we had and still have to face a series of measures, limiting the freedom of individuals and infringing with human rights, arguing this to be necessary to fight terrorism.
The Economist this week published Learning to live with Big Brother, the second article in a series on surveillance and privacy (my emphasis):
Britain used to pride itself on respecting privacy more than most other democracies do. But there is not much objection among Britons as “talking” surveillance cameras, fitted with loudspeakers, are installed, enabling human monitors to shout rebukes at anyone spotted dropping litter, relieving themselves against a wall or engaging in other “anti-social” behaviour [...]

With an estimated 5m CCTV cameras in public places, nearly one for every ten inhabitants, England and Wales are among the most closely scrutinised countries in the world [...]  Few seem to mind, despite research suggesting that CCTV does little to deter overall crime. [...]

Britain has long permitted the “warrantless” eavesdropping of its citizens (only the home secretary's authorisation is required), and few people appear to mind [...]

Ross Anderson, a professor at Cambridge University in Britain, has compared the present situation to a “boiled frog”—which fails to jump out of the saucepan as the water gradually heats. If liberty is eroded slowly, people will get used to it. He added a caveat: it was possible the invasion of privacy would reach a critical mass and prompt a revolt.

If there is not much sign of that in Western democracies, this may be because most people rightly or wrongly trust their own authorities to fight the good fight against terrorism, and avoid abusing the data they possess. The prospect is much scarier in countries like Russia and China, which have embraced capitalist technology and the information revolution without entirely exorcising the ethos of an authoritarian state where dissent, however peaceful, is closely monitored.

On the face of things, the information age renders impossible an old-fashioned, file-collecting dictatorship, based on a state monopoly of communications. But imagine what sort of state may emerge as the best brains of a secret police force—a force whose house culture treats all dissent as dangerous—perfect the art of gathering and using information on massive computer banks, not yellowing paper.

Refuse the war against a noun and what is done in its name. Demand human rights. Refuse to be terrorised, and prevent the situation getting worse (block any further extension of the pre-charge detention period).

Amnesty International - Unsubscribe me

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Sun, 23 Sep 2007

A web of indifferent watching devices

Last April I discovered the manifesto for CCTV filmmakers, a proposal for a creative use of the Data Protection Act. I still haven't seen the movie Faceless. The DVD is not yet available but an excerpt and the trailer are on YouTube. Manu Luksch and Mukul Patel, the filmmakers, published their first-hand experience of the Data Protection Act in a very interesting essay titled Faceless: chasing the data shadow. This short essay (11 pages) runs through the many different types of replies they received to their subject access requests made under the Data Protection Act. It explains the general confusion of many data controllers, how so many CCTV systems are not functional and why the process of obtaining images became much more difficult from 2004.


Sound editor Walter Murch, in an interview published on BldBlog briefly mentions a different work also done one the principle of the manifesto for CCTV filmmakers:
Murch: Well, there was a short film made a few years ago where the filmmaker had worked out the location of all the surveillance cameras along a cross-section of London, and how many of those cameras were operated by the municipal authorities. If the cameras were operated by the city, then he could get access to the footage. So he mapped out a pedestrian trip for himself across town knowing that, at every moment he would be on CCTV: as soon as he was out of range of one camera, he would come into focus on another. So he walked the walk, wrote to all the relevant authorities, got the footage, and then edited it all together into a continuous narrative. It’s very amusing in a dystopian, Warholian kind of way. You only “get” the joke after a few minutes of watching.

But George Lucas’s THX-1138 was kind of like that, except it was made in 1971. Much of the action takes place on video surveillance cameras. In fact, the job of the girl in the film is to monitor banks of surveillance cameras. She eventually gets fed up, stops taking her Prozac, or whatever, and tries to escape this completely video-monitored world – which, it turns out, is completely underground because of some disaster that had happened on the surface many years earlier.
As for the efficacy of cameras making us more secure, This is London just reminded us that ‘a comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any.’

In Faceless: chasing the data shadow, the authors include a quote from Ian Sinclair's Lights out of for the territory that neatly sums up the situation with CCTVs:
Vague spectres of menace caught on time-coded surveillance cameras justify an entire network of peeping vulture lenses. A web of indifferent watching devices, sweeping every street, every building, to eliminate the possibility of a past tense, the freedom to forget. There can be no highlights, no special moments: a discreet tyranny of “now” has been established. “Real time” in its most pedantic form.

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Sat, 22 Sep 2007


Several political blogs have been taken down following legal threats. It's all that is required. Worrying trend, especially as there are plans for internet censorships in Europe.

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Thu, 20 Sep 2007

The forensic use of bioinformation: ethical issues

Below is the one page summary of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' report on the forensic use of bioinformation: ethical issues.
Fingerprinting and DNA profiling are increasingly valuable tools in the detection and prosecution of offenders. However, the collection and storage of bioinformation by the police, and access to the resulting forensic databases, raise a number of ethical issues. This report considers whether current police powers to take and use bioinformation – powers that can affect the liberty and privacy of innocent people – are justified by the need to fight crime. The principle of proportionality is used as the basis for a number of recommendations to policy makers, summarised below.
The full 168-page report and presentations from the launch event are available on the Council's website. My response to the consultation and some further background on DNA matters are linked from the Should the Police keep your DNA forever? blog post.

It was made clear that there's stigma of being on the NDNAD as the government has portrayed it as containing ‘the whole of the active suspect criminal population’. As the report conclusions ask for many more removals from the NDNAD and I recently discovered that there's no documented detailed process for this, I asked about whether the team had looked at efficacy of monitoring the management of the DNA profiles and the NDNAD. What they're keen to happen is to develop protocols similar to those used in medical research.

During the Q&A, it was pointed out that data protection rules mean that when the Police take DNA samples, they have to inform the individual that the samples may be used for research purposes. At that point, it was asked if there was any Police officer in the room or if anyone knew if the Police do mention this. No officer was present or volunteered an answer. A couple of attendees volunteered that they had witnessed officers taking DNA. Eventually I got the microphone and mentioned that this had not been mentioned to me. It would appear that I may have been the only one in the room that had been arrested and had his DNA taken. Maybe there aren't many profiles of white suited Home Office staff (they were present in number) in the NDNAD? On the topic of data protection, someone from the Information Commissioner's Office mentioned that they had been keen for a long time for the Police to implement a step-out (deletion) procedure in addition to the existing step-down (access restrictions) one.

Professor Peter Hutton, Chair of the newly created Ethics Group, reacting to some criticism and to questions as to what is the remit of this group introduced himself and mentioned that it had had its first meeting earlier this month on 2007-09-03 and that the minutes will soon be published. This is something to look out for.

The conclusion of the report will put pressure to review the current situation and limit the uncontrolled expansion of the NDNAD. Creating such a debate is very positive. The report could have gone further in some aspects. For instance it doesn't consider there's a need to differentiate between the DNA samples and the DNA profiles in terms of retention. It also finds that so-called cold cases do justify keeping the DNA of convicted criminals forever.

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Sat, 15 Sep 2007

Innocents are exceptional

The Police have eventually considered my case exceptional and have destroyed my bio-information and deleted the associated database records (more details, in context, at the two links).

Here's a flow chart from Appendix 2 of the Management of Police Information (MoPI) Guidance - Step model - Retention Guidelines (also known as the Retention Guidelines for Nominal Records on the Police National Computer, incorporating the Step Down Model). It describes the procedure to decide whether a case is deemed to be exceptional:
Step model - Retention Guidelines flow chart
This document doesn't describe the process after the red circled box is reached. Hopefully there are processes to ensure that no database record or bio-information sample is missed in the destruction and deletion procedure. Last year 115 cases were considered exceptional.

Related news: on 2007-09-18, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics will be publishing its Report The Forensic Use of Bioinformation: Ethical Issues (agenda and registration). My response to the consultation and other background info can be found in Should the Police keep your DNA forever?. Last week, Lord Justice Sedley's said it would be fairer to expand the National DNA database to cover the whole population and all those who visited the UK, even for a weekend. Justified? Proportionate?

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