Sun, 30 Mar 2008

Right to protest in front of Parliament to be restored?

Authorised demonstration in Parliament Square The Governance of Britain – Analysis of Consultations summarises the responses it received to the Managing Protest around Parliament consultation as follows:

11. The Government received 512 responses during the 12 week consultation period. Representations were received from 25 campaign groups, from six MPs and two Peers, from a number of other interested stakeholders including the Metropolitan Police Service, the Greater London Authority,Westminster City Council and the Law Society of Scotland. However, most responses – over 90 percent – were received from members of the public.

12. The vast majority of responses – over 95 percent – either explicitly or implicitly called for the straight repeal of sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCAP), rejecting arguments that a distinct framework for managing protest around Parliament could be justified on security grounds, or on grounds that the business of Parliament needed special protection, or by a need to safeguard wider public enjoyment of the space.

13. There was a clear and strongly articulated view that sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, and in particular the requirement to notify the police in advance, have restricted and stifled spontaneous protest in the area around Parliament.There was also a clear view expressed by members of the public that the area around Parliament is special in that it is the focus of political protest and that nowhere is the right to protest and voice one’s views more important than at the seat of Parliament itself.

More mass lone demonstrations in one day than in 18 months On an unrelated news The Governance of Britain – Draft Constitutional Reform Bill starts with the repeal of the sections 132 to 138 of SOCPA (this act is more commonly abbreviated to SOCPA than SOCAP):



1 Repeal of sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005

(1) Omit sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (c.15) (which regulates demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament)

(2) In the Table in section 175(3) of that Act (transitional provision relating to offences) omit the entries relating to section 136.

(3) In paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 2 to the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993 (c.40) (which is about consents for the operation of loudspeakers) omit "or of section 137(1) of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005".

(4) Omit paragraph 64 of Schedule 6 to the Serious Crime Act 2007 (c.27)

This intention is welcomed, but at this stage this is just a draft bill which may be changed and will take time to come into force. If this happens then we'll return to the status quo before these sections came into force – minus all the arrests of peaceful protesters in the designated zone and the time wasted by protesters and the Police alike in dealing with the required authorisations.

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Sun, 16 Mar 2008

DNA retention of unconvicted people

What do Marper, S., Kevin Reynolds and myself have in common? We're all innocents who have had our DNA taken following an arrest. I have been the lucky one as it only took me two years to get my DNA profile removed and samples destroyed. Marper & S. are fighting it all the way to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and Kevin Reynolds has had to go through a traumatic arrest, which could have been avoided had the Police immediately checked his previously retained DNA profile.

ECHR Grand Chamber After having gone all the way to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, the Marper and S v. UK is viewed as a test case about whether the UK is breaching human rights by retaining DNA samples and profiles of unconvicted innocent people. The hearing of this case by is available to watch online and the ruling will be given later this year:

As mentioned two weeks ago, you can:

Helen Wallace from GeneWatch, name checked during the hearing, makes a very strong argument that there is a diminishing return from adding more individuals' DNA profiles to the National DNA Database (NDNAD). Here's an extract from the GeneWatch page on its contribution to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics consultation:

Collecting more DNA from crime scenes has made a big difference to the number of crimes solved, but keeping DNA from more and more people who have been arrested – many of whom are innocent – has not. Since April 2003, about 1.5 million extra people have been added to the Database, but the chances of detecting a crime using DNA has remained constant, at about 0.36%.

What about the risk for innocents of being on the NDNAD?

The recent conviction of Mark Dixie for the horrific murder of Sally Anne Bowman has been used in the ECHR hearing and by the Police to justify and demand retention of DNA of even more individuals:

The policeman who led the hunt for Sally Anne Bowman's killer today called for a national DNA register. Detective Superintendent Stuart Cundy said having everyone's DNA on file would speed up arrests and cut down on further offending.

What Detective Superintendent Cundy didn't mention is how, in this very same case, the data retained on the National DNA Database was ignored to arrest an innocent for murder, indecent assault and robbery. Let's go into more details of the case of Kevin Reynolds to understand how retaining DNA samples and profiles of innocents does not automatically help to eliminate them as suspect in investigation.

Postman Kevin Reynolds had had his DNA and fingerprints taken on 2002-06-14 when he was charged, but later acquitted, with being drunk and disorderly. The profile was loaded on the NDNAD on 2002-07-04. Even though he was acquitted, his fingerprints and DNA profile remained on file.

DNA profile

Fast forward to 2005-12-12, when following complaints by a jilted girlfriend, Kevin is taken into custody at the Edmonton Police station at 02:10. He is led to the fingerprinting room to have his fingerprints taken and DNA sampled. The Livescan fingerprinting system confirms Kevin's identity and give his CRO number. So even if there are several Kevin Reynolds with the exact same date of birth living at the same place, Livescan has confirmed that this is the Kevin Reynolds for which the Police has retained a DNA profile (and samples). Here are the Livescan sheet for Kevin and an extract from the IDENT1 Livescan manual:

LiveScan resultSearch Result (SRE)
An SRE is returned to the Livescan unit. This will be received after the ACK and once the search has been completed (and verified if requested). This will contain the result of the search. If a search is verified, i.e. has been viewed by a fingerprint expert, there will be one CRO. If the search is non-verified, there may be up to four respondents displayed, with system confidence ratings (High, Medium, or Low). If the result is a no trace, No Respondents will be displayed.

Nothing was explained to Kevin. When they took him to the fingerprinting room, he asked why they were doing this as they already had his fingerprints and DNA. He received no reply. Even though Livescan confirmed the identification, DNA samples were again taken from him. This has recently been confirmed by the Forensic Science Service (FSS):

The sample which you supplied to the Metropolitan Police Service on 12 December 2005, in connection with a murder inquiry, was analysed by the FSS in order to generate your DNA profile. Your DNA profile was compared against the DNA profile obtained from the crime scene. Additionally your DNA profile record relating to this sample was submitted to The National DNA Database and is now retained, in compliance with legislation, on The National DNA Database.

Kevin is placed in cell. At 04:50 the wicket of the cell opens and the officers ask Kevin to come to the cell door. He is told he is ‘arrested on suspicion of the murder of Sally Ann [sic] Bowman [...] and cautioned’. His reply: ‘Who? Who is Sally Ann Bowman?

Custody record 04:50

A news article from the Metropolitan Police Service explains: ‘At an early stage DNA was recovered from the murder scene, which police believed identified the murderer.’ The Police had profiled the DNA from the crime scene, they had a man in their custody for whom they already had a DNA profile loaded in the system, the identification of this man was even confirmed by Livescan, and they still arrested him for the murder of Sally Anne Bowman? Kevin's DNA profile on the NDNAD would have been sufficient to show there was no match and clear him from suspicion.

It doesn't stop there. At 14:15, Kevin is further arrested for indecent assault and for the robbery in Sanderstead Road (this attack is linked to the murder of Sally Anne Bowman). He reiterates: ‘I am completely innocent’. At 21:18, Kevin is taken to a double identity parade using video capture; he learns two hours later from his solicitor that both id parades were negative and in one of them another person was picked out. At 12:09 the next day, Kevin is formally interviewed, and close to half an hour in the interview, the interviewing officer's phone beeps to tell him that Kevin's DNA didn't match the crime scene's DNA, and he's eventually released as no further action (NFA'd).

He then goes home and find his father's house, where he was living, smashed to pieces and to learn his car is in some pound in south London. The specialist search team were still in his house but leaving. His father commented to the Morning Star:

"They pulled my house apart - breaking furniture and damaging the walls - and went through all my files. Yet, I was not asked a single question about my son," he says.

The Eye Kevin told the Eye:

“My heart goes out to the Bowman family, but it makes me very angry that time, money and energy were wasted pursuing me when it was known all along that I could not be the killer. I dread to think what would have happened had one of the witnesses identified me in the line-up. My case shows that the database does not protect innocent people from wrongful arrest and detention.”

Kevin's DNA eventually cleared him after more than 34 hours and a harrowing experience. Having his DNA retained should have cleared Kevin immediately, but it did not. They did not use the retained DNA samples and profile. DNA appears to be used only when convenient for the Police, with little respect for innocent individuals.

The cost of criminalising a whole population in the hope of being better at catching criminals is a price to high to pay when the case for a better detection rate with an increasing larger database has not even been made. Calls, such as the Times reports, are dangerous propaganda as the innocents do have to fear:

The detective who led the Bowman investigation said: “It is my opinion that a national DNA register could have identified Sally Anne’s murderer within 24 hours.” The innocent would have nothing to fear, while the guilty would be caught. It could even deter criminals.

Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), has just been joining Detective Superintendent Cundy in calling for an ever bigger NDNAD. Worryingly he's setting his personal sights on children as young as five when currently under 10-year-old are out of the reach of the NDNAD:

'If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large,' said Pugh. 'You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won't. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.'

Thanks to Stephen Cragg for the title of this post and to Kevin Reynolds for his assistance regarding his story.

First published on 2008-03-16; last updated on 2011-01-01.

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Wed, 12 Mar 2008

Creating a climate of fear: counter-terrorism and punishment without trial

Yet another Counter-Terrorism Bill is currently before Parliament. It will impose new and worse forms of punishment without trial. Since the first permanent Terrorism Act of 2000, people have suffered much injustice under anti-terrorism measures, particularly Muslims and migrant communities. Out of over 1,200 people arrested under anti-terrorism laws, less than 5% have been convicted of ‘terrorism’ offences, few of these involving any plans for violent activities. Less than 20% were even charged with such offences. A key effect and political aim has been a climate of fear – fear that political activity, or simply talking to the wrong people, will bring arrest or house raids.

Why does the government propose yet another Counter-Terrorism law? What effects will it have?  What can people do to oppose it?

This Friday 2008-03-14, 6.30pm-9.00pm at the London Muslim Centre, 46 Whitechapel Road, London E1 1JQ, speakers will look at unjust effects of the current anti-terrorism measures and how this injustice would be extended by the new proposals. They will explain and analyse the proposals in the new Bill. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion – about what powers to oppose, how to present the issues to your own community, and what action to request from your MP.

Gareth Peirce, Human rights lawyer
Saghir Hussein, Cage Prisoners
Azad Ali, Muslim Safety Forum
Ben Hayes, Statewatch
Mahan Abedin, Editor of Islamism Digest
Muhammad Habibur-Rahman, Islamic Forum of Europe
Les Levidow, CAMPACC
Victoria Britain, Journalist
Asad Rehman, Newham Monitoring Project
Dr. Kamal El-Helbawi, Centre for the Study of Terrorism (panel discussion)
Chaired by Hugo Charlton, Barrister, CAMPACC

Event organised by the Campaign against criminalising communities (CAMPACC) with the Centre for the study of terrorism (CFSOT), and co-sponsored by the London Muslim Centre, Islamic Forum of Europe, Cage Prisoners and the Newham Monitoring Project.

The Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008: unjust proposals

The government’s new proposals are based on the Terrorism Act 2000, which defined terrorism so broadly as to include simply the threat of violence to property in an attempt to influence a government, anywhere in the world.  This broad definition, with offences like belonging to or helping a banned organisation, criminalises many normal political activities in the UK and any resistance to oppressive regimes abroad.

Detention without charge would be extended from 28 days to 42 days
‘Terrorism suspects’ could be detained without charge for six weeks. Before 2000 it was 4 days. Neither government nor police have given any convincing reason for such a long period. The USA manages with 2 days, Algeria in 12.
Post-charge questioning of ‘terror suspects’ – presumed guilty?
‘Terror suspects’ could be subjected to further questioning after a criminal charge, even up to the trial date. Saying nothing could count against them at trial. At present, once charged one can refuse to answer till their trial, without this being interpreted as a sign of guilt or deception.
‘Terrorist connection’ would justify a heavier sentence
Judges could give people longer sentences for ‘ordinary’ offences if they had a ‘terrorism connection’. For example, public order offences like organising an unauthorised demonstration, if a speaker allegedly supports a banned ‘terrorist’ organisation.
Confiscation of property without trial
Convicted ‘terrorists’ could have their property confiscated – such as bank accounts, vehicles, computers or even a house. The special procedure for doing this would not be a normal trial. It could involve secret evidence which the affected person would not be allowed to know. Any connections between the property and terrorism would only need to be shown ‘on the balance of probability’. Charities’ funds could be confiscated in the same way.
Extra punishment without trial beyond the original sentence
Convicted ‘terrorists’ could face a ban on foreign travel once released from jail. This would be done by a special order, not a trial. Those convicted could also face a requirement to tell the police where they go whenever they sleep away from home, in some cases for life.
New offence for volunteers of not giving information to police
It is already an offence under the 2001 terrorism law not to tell police of suspected terrorist activities if you find anything suspicious in the course of your employment. The 2008 Bill extends this to volunteer workers, for example in a youth project or charity. People might be over-suspicious and report imagined activities because they are afraid of being criminalised for concealment.  They also might be deterred from volunteering in a charity that sends money to Afghanistan or Palestine, for example.
New offence of providing information about the armed forces
The Bill would make it an offence to seek or communicate information about the armed forces which could be useful to terrorism. This could apply simply to peace protestors telling each other, for example, what happens at which gates of a military base.
Hiding evidence about police killings
The Bill would allow for the government to hold some inquests in secret, without juries, if evidence would be heard which they believe should not be made public in the interest of national security, international relations or any other public interest. Sensitive material about how and why a person was killed by the police or army would be hidden away and they would never be held properly to account.

For more information on the bill and a model letter to send your MP visit the CAMPACC Briefing Document Counter Terrorism Bill 2008. Please ask your MP to oppose these proposals!

Information in this post is from the announcement for this event.

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Mon, 10 Mar 2008

I'm not a terrorist, please let me travel

Please don't arrest me, I'm not a terrorist For the past two years or so I've been wearing a badge designed by Vivienne Westwood for the civil liberty organisation Liberty. On it is written in friendly letters ‘I am not a terrorist, please don't arrest me’. Liberty describes the writing as ‘a child-like scrawl plea’. It obviously works as I have not been arrested, or even stopped and searched, since I started wearing this badge.

The badge helps people realise that we must all adopt a rational attitude to the terrorist threats. We must promote measures that really do enhance our security and not security theatre measures that just inconvenience many innocents and do not make us any safer.

I have travelled abroad many times while wearing it. While waiting in security queues at airports I had the occasional positive response from fellow passengers. At Stansted Airport, early February, I had the first and so far only negative reaction to it. While I was waiting at the gate, by the counter, for an Easyjet flight to Copenhagen, a Swissport staff requested that I remove the badge which was pinned to my coat.

When I queried the staff why he was making such a request, he explained his motivation was that it might upset some passengers. I pointed out that the design of this badge is friendly and the message is non-threatening. I found his request upsetting and that his motivation was purely hypothetical as he hadn't heard from any concerned passenger. As he insisted, I complied with his request. This exchange was short and polite. At the bottom of the steps leading to the tarmac, he further discussed this incident with a colleague travelling with me adding that you have to be careful because some people are getting nervous about these things.

On board of the plane, my colleague opened The Times, and the headline on top of p.3, visible from several rows, was ‘Ryanair ordered to pay damages to steel band ‘terrorists’ thrown off jet’. Oh, the irony.

The Times - terrorist headline

As no passenger has ever complained about this badge and I don't believe requesting me to remove it increases our security, back in London I contacted the General Manager for Swissport at Stansted to query the regulations covering Swissport staff's authority in requesting passenger to remove badges and other items of clothing. He investigated the incident and was very diligent in responding:

As all communications from passengers and customers are important to us, we do investigate all complaints or comments fully, and by the nature of our business this can take longer than perhaps I might prefer.

I have now had the opportunity to investigate the circumstances surrounding a member of Swissport staff asking you to remove your badge before boarding a flight at Stansted Airport.

Our business as a major provider of airport ground handling services around the world, works hard with our customer airlines and operators at airports where we work, to ensure aviation continues to be a safe and secure method of transport. The aviation industry is rightly well regulated and all businesses co-operate with the Department for Transport and the police services and security staff at the airports to meet these regulations. Additionally, we try and ensure that passengers are spared additional anxiety that they may feel as a result of enhanced security processes at the airports.

The badge which I understand you were wearing bears the message "I am not a terrorist. Please don't arrest me." Whilst it is unlikely that anybody could take exception to such a friendly and, presumably well-intentioned sentiment, our concerns were that the word "terrorist" was clearly the most prominent and could be read from a distance, while the context in which it was used could not.

Our request for the badge to be removed while you were preparing to board the flight and during the flight itself, followed consultation with the airline on which you were travelling, in particular the Captain and senior cabin crew member. We did not intend to cause you offence or to demonstrate support or rejection of the objectives of Liberty, the cause which I gather the badge supports. It was merely to spare other passengers any potential anxiety through the prominence of the word "terrorist" in what many would consider a security sensitive area. As part of legislative requirements, all airport staff are now required to undergo a greater degree of security awareness training and one of the supporting strains of this is to recognize and to act upon the “out of the ordinary”.

I hope that this provides some explanation of the reason for the action of our member of staff and I trust that this explains why you were asked to remove the badge on this occasion.

It is reassuring that airport staff benefit from additional security awareness training. This is exactly the type of measure that increases our safety.

Unfortunately some of the explanations still left me confused. Neither my colleague nor I noticed the Swissport staff having radio communications with the Easyjet Captain. We may have missed that as even though we were right by the counter we weren't paying particular attention to this. However, during the request to remove my badge, there was no mention of any consultation with the Captain. Sparing potential anxiety is of course something I fully subscribe to, but how come the word ‘terrorists’ when more prominent on a newspaper has not the same potential to create anxiety in a security sensitive area? Security measures, if efficient, should be applied consistently. Why singling my badge out?

I sent a further email requesting clarifications. Here's the concluding email:

Thank you for your further correspondence, and my apologies for a tardy reply. I have been dealing with a large redundancy issue which as I hope you can appreciate is very time consuming.

Our dispatchers are responsible for ensuring the boarding process is safe and timely and, as such, liaise with a number of personnel during the time the aircraft is on the ground. It is likely you would not have been aware of all of these discussions, some of which will have been made by radio or telephone from our Operations office, and there was no need for the dispatcher to explain them to you at the time.

Whilst I can understand your frustration, I am satisfied that in the light of the circumstances on the day as they were explained to me, the dispatcher made the right decision in asking you to remove the badge in question. The dispatcher was the senior member of our staff on duty at the time and, as such, I support his decision and am grateful to you for complying with it.

I have not received the Swissport's regulations covering Swissport staff's authority in requesting passenger to remove badges and other items of clothing

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Wed, 05 Mar 2008

It's March, this year let's arrest photographers

In March last year, the Met launched a counter-terrorism ad campaign. I wrote about it exactly a year this week: Not enough innocents arrested, let's do an ad campaign. These were some of the posters from last year's campaign:

CT 2007 ad campaignCT 2007 ad campaign

A year later, a new campaign is launched at the tail end of February, and friends sent me links (thank you) to Thomas Hawk's blog post and Flicker thread titled London's Metropolitan Police Launches Anti Photography Propaganda Campaign, as well as doctored images by email. What's changed? Not much. The Police are still asking untrained people to ‘look out for the unusual’. Most foreigners have different customs, hence have ‘some activity or behaviour [...] not quite right and out of place in their normal day to day lives.’ Either you conform or you should be reported.

Here are some of this year's posters:

CT 2008 ad campaign CT 2008 ad campaign

This year, the poster are simpler and more focused, and phones and cameras get the limelight. As more and more phones are camera-phones, soon one poster will suffice. When I was arrested I somehow had only one phone on me, but when they searched my flat the Police could admire my phone collection: several bowls and drawers full of phones. People working in the mobile phone industry routinely carry several and collect many phones. Photographers do the same with cameras and are harassed.

Going after the techies (and keeping their DNA) will not make us any safer.

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