Saturday, 30 August 2008

August news round-up

Data losses
There were three major data loss news stories this month. In the first, a member of staff at PA Consulting lost a memory stick containing the names, dates of birth and, in some cases, the expected prison release dates of all 84,000 prisoners held in England and Wales.

PA Consulting has also worked on the ID card project. Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, said: "The public will be alarmed that the government is happy to entrust their £20bn ID card project to the firm involved in this fiasco, at a cost of millions of pounds to the UK taxpayer."

In the second case, a computer holding personal details of high street bank customers was sold on eBay for £35. Information including the bank account numbers, phone numbers, mothers' maiden names and signatures of 1 million customers of American Express, NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland were reportedly found on the computer.

Finally, research undertaken by the Liberal Democrats has revealed that more than 3,200 laptops and mobile phones have been lost or stolen from Government departments since 2001. That's more than one every day.

It was also announced that the launch of the government's £224m ContactPoint database is to be delayed for a second time.

ContactPoint is a planned government database that will hold information on all children under 18 in England. Just days before the Telegraph reported on concerns that ContactPoint would be used to increase the criminalisation and surveillance of young people in England. Vickie Woods wrote, also in the Telegraph:

"I thank heaven I'm not bringing up three-year-olds any more but when I was the mother around here,I would have raged about a children's database. It's marginally worse than the grown-ups' database: the National Identity Register. That piece of lunacy was sold to me as a nice big present from the Government, to keep my identity nice and snug and safe and stop it being stolen by those vicious scofflaws, the global 'identity thieves'."

Jacqui Smith's 'secret police'
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith intends to create an 'extended police family' by giving 1,600 'accredited workers' sub-police powers (see below), according to the Daily Mail.

Community safety accreditation schemes, which were introduced under the Police Reform Act 2002, were set up to give civilians working in the community more powers to deal with the public.

Workers wearing special accredited badges are able to seize alcohol from underage drinkers, issue fines for graffiti and littering, and demand people's names and addresses.


Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Safe in our cages

AC Grayling writes in the Guardian:

In the Queen's speech this autumn Gordon Brown's government will announce a scheme to institute a database of every telephone call, email, and act of online usage by every resident of the UK. It will propose that this information will be gathered, stored, and "made accessible" to the security and law enforcement agencies, local councils, and "other public bodies".

This fact should be in equal parts incredible and nauseating. It is certainly enraging and despicable. Not even George Orwell in his most febrile moments could have envisaged a world in which every citizen could be so thoroughly monitored every moment of the day, spied upon, eavesdropped, watched, tracked, followed by CCTV cameras, recorded and scrutinised. Our words and web searches, our messages and intimacies, are to be stored and made available to the police, the spooks, the local council – the local council! – and "other public bodies".

This Orwellian nightmare, additionally, is proposed for a world in which leading soi-disant liberal democracies run, and/or permit rendition flights to, Guantanamo Bay. How many steps separate an innocent British citizen from some misinterpretation or interference or error in the collected and 'made accessible' data of text messages and emails, and a forthcoming home-grown version of Guantanamo Bay for people whose pattern of phone calls does not fit the police definition of acceptable?

As mentioned before, here is the Information Commissioner's response to the Data Communications Bill.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

NO2ID Birmingham to hold free screening of Taking Liberties

No2ID Birmingham will be holding a free screening of Taking Liberties on Tuesday 26 August at Birmingham University.

Everyone is welcome to attend, although it is advised that you book in advance as places will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve your seats email

Saturday, 9 August 2008

NO2ID responds to 'fundamentalist' claims

NO2ID General Secretary Guy Herbert responds to a claim that opponents of ID cards are "cousins of the market fundamentalists, who believe that in the beginning were private property and free markets, and ever since the state has been muscling in...[They are] information fundamentalists who think that in the beginning was 'me', fully formed, and that national insurance numbers, CCTV, passports and - the ultimate betrayal - identity cards are forms of assault."

In response the article says:

What unites us is we are thinking of society rather than the goals of the state. To criticise a bureaucratic grand project in principle is not "implying personal information is property rather than a social construction that would not exist but for government". Quite the contrary. To ask important questions about what personal information and privacy are, and should be, is to repudiate such know-nothing nostrums. Personal information is important because it is constructed in relationships, because it mediates trust, and because making official relationships obey coherent rules maintains the legitimacy of government functions. It is the stuff of all our lives - not property - but worthy of at least as much respect.

Thanks to Steve for highlighting this.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The real political divide is authoritarian and liberal

Jenni Russell writes in The Guardian:

The new dividing line between Labour and the Tories is less about a left-right split than about an authoritarian approach on one side and a more liberal one on the other. And Labour are on the wrong side of it. Many of their social and economic policies may have failed, but where they have succeeded is in developing a targeting, controlling, distrustful state. From the micromanagement of civil servants, teachers, doctors and the police, to ID cards, super databases and the growth of surveillance, the government’s answer to too many problems has been the removal of autonomy from individuals and more oversight from Whitehall.

The Conservative analysis is that this over-controlling state is not only disastrously unpopular, it is also one of the key reasons why Labour, despite all its spending, has failed to achieve its goals. Endless supervision has been an expensive distraction, and has sapped energy and morale out of public life.