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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