Category Archives: Human rights

We’re Paying For Big Brother

In an extraordinary turn of events, the Metropolitan Police have not just decided to troll the internet for criticism of them in advance of this week’s Climate Camp protest in London – the first since the ill-fated G20 protest in April. Or rather they’ve outsourced it – that’s right Big Brother is watching you, and you’re paying him to do it:

Police worried about the force’s reputation are scouring Facebook and Twitter for criticism and rumours, ahead of the imminent Climate Camp protest.

The force has hired 6 Consulting*, a firm of “social media monitoring and engagement specialists” for a one-month pilot to monitor the web for relevant chatter.

It follows a series of reports criticising the Met’s policing of major events, including the G20 protest earlier this summer.

A spokesman said that the deal was not part of any investigative or intelligence-gathering programme. “We are increasingly looking to the internet to get our message out,” he said.

He said the G20 protests had seen “unhelpful” rumours spread fast online, and the pilot would help Met communications staff be more proactive in addressing public concerns. It would not however react to specific messages on Twitter, however, where a special Climate Camp account has been set up to release police messages.

(via Marc Vallee)

The Met can address public concerns by guaranteeing they won’t be violently attacking innocent protesters again. They say “unhelpful rumours” at the G20 protest – unhelpful in revealing their media-blocking, peaceful protester-bashing behaviour perhaps. Maybe they should consider that there would be no need to spend thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the name of spin if they actually policed in the name of protecting human rights rather than wilfully trampling on them. We will shortly find out if their pre-Climate Camp charm offensive is all mouth, or if the lessons of G20 have actually been learned.

Safeguarding Should Act Both Ways

Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club looks at the Home Office guidance for the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA):

the case worker will examine the individual’s ‘predisposing factors’, such as ‘those factors relating to an individual’s interests or drives’; ‘cognitive factors’, such as ‘strong anti-social beliefs’; and ‘behavioural factors’, including ‘using substances or sex to cope with stress or impulsive, chaotic or unstable lifestyle’. Drug use, sex life, favourite films… it all gets thrown into the mix.

The appendix of the Home Office’s guidance document elaborates on the ‘risk assessment models’ that case workers will use to reach a final decision on whether somebody should be barred from their job. The aim of this process, it says, it to make decisions ‘in relation to standardised points of reference that minimise subjective decision-making’.

The risk assessment model starts by identifying a series of possible ‘hazards’, which may come about as a result of a person taking a job/volunteering position, and listing them in a table. It gives the examples of ‘inappropriate physical contact with a 12- to 16-year-old pupil during a lesson’, ‘building a relationship which is exploited out of school resulting in underage sex’, and ‘taking photos of 12- to 16-year-old pupils (eg, during swimming lessons)’. Once they have identified the hazards, the case worker will give each a figure from one to five for the impact it would have on a child (in the examples above, it gives these hazards the figures of four, five and two). Then, they will give it a figure between one and five for the likelihood that the event will occur.

Once they have these two figures for each hazard, they will transfer the figures to ‘a matrix’, which seems to involve basically plotting them on a graph. So for each individual they are considering barring, they will end up with a graph with a series of dots on it: ‘The risk matrix gives a picture of the risk assigned to each hazard as a result of the likelihood and impact assessments.’ Then – somehow, it doesn’t exactly specify how – the ISA is supposed to be able to tell from this graph whether the person is a risk or not, and whether they should be barred.

Surely noone can agree this is anything other than completely insane. Any rational person should look at this and acknowledge that on a moral standpoint using society’s predisposition for predictability, standardisation and methods of control is a step too far in such a sensitive area. For a bureaucracy which one commentator believes is necessary because existing child protection agencies and policies are incompetent (rather than managing or reforming them) to make its rulings based on such guidance, such criteria and meaningless data should surely be abhorrent. The case workers won’t have any involvement in the lives or cases of those people people submitted to them for vetting, instead they will (already in many cases) destroy lives based on the appalling ‘guidance’ you see above. This is not the way to protect anyone, it won’t be able to identify abuse – after all how could the equivalent of a bean counter possibly do the work of a social worker? Yet here we are, abusing and endangering innocent adults at the altar of ‘child protection’.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished.

(via James, with thanks)

It’s About More Than Damian Green

As I mentioned last year, following the victory of the S and Marper case against the British government in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Home Office became obliged to remove innocent people from the National DNA Database. Not only then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith showed a lack of interest in doing so, but then this month the for-profit policing organisation ACPO outright instructed Chief Constables in England and Wales not to comply with the ruling. Makes it interesting when Tory shadow cabinet minister Damian Green then finds himself able to be taken off the database:

Damian Green, the Conservative frontbench immigration spokesman whose arrest during a Home Office leaks inquiry sparked a parliamentary storm, has won a four-month battle to have his DNA, fingerprint and police records destroyed.

The Metropolitan police told Green’s lawyers he is to be treated as “an exceptional case”. His DNA sample and fingerprints, taken when he was arrested, will be deleted within “a number of weeks”.

Green last night welcomed the decision “as a small but significant victory for freedom” but asked when DNA samples and profiles of 850,000 other innocent people who had been arrested but never charged would be destroyed.

Now why should a Tory front bencher (likely to be in government in the next 12 months) be able to force the Met to change their position on the DNA database, when so many others can’t? Green has the same question:

The home secretary is dragging his feet in producing even a consultation document in response to the European court’s ruling, which destroys the legal basis of current policy. So the policy, which intrudes on the privacy of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, could remain in place for months.

Britain is at the extreme end of this kind of state intrusion. At the end of September 2008, the national DNA database contained computerised DNA profiles and linked DNA samples from approximately 4.7 million individuals (more than 7% of the UK population). This is a much higher proportion of the population than any other EU or G8 country.

It’s quite unthinkable that the Home Office should so willingly ignore the ECHR’s ruling, although less so for the Association of Chief Police Officers, who contrary to popular belief aren’t even a government body. It might make political sense for both to limit their future embarrassment at a government minister with his DNA on the register, but their compliance with the ECHR ruling should be paramount. It’s a joke, as Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti points out, for decisions about which innocent people get their DNA removed from the database to be determined by whether or not they have an entry in Who’s Who! Liberty’s response has been to begin ‘DNA clinics’ in Hackney alongside local MP Diane Abbott, to begin helping people locally who have had their DNA retained illegally. Liberty says:

“If Damian Green MP can have his DNA destroyed in record time, young people in Hackney should be entitled to the same. Those without a powerful voice are just as innocent, yet the police seem to find their requests for DNA destruction considerably easier to dismiss.

Forty percent of Britain’s criminals are not on the database but hundreds of thousands of innocent people are. The National DNA database is one of the largest in the world, holding 4.5 million profiles – this includes around 300,000 children and approximately 850,000 innocent people who have never been charged or cautioned.

And Abbott provides an important reminder why it’s important to begin this process in somewhere like her constituency:

[But] as the Home Affairs Select Committee pointed out this month, black men are disproportionately represented on the database. In particular there are tens of thousands of completely innocent young people who have been stigmatised in this way. It is time that the government acted on the ECHR ruling that automatic retention of DNA is wrong. And I am looking forward to working with Liberty to make sure that young people in Hackney who are innocent of any crime can have their DNA taken off the government’s database just like Damian Green”

Met Police Change Tack?

Paul Lewis reports the Met will not be repeating their G20 tactics at the upcoming Climate Camp next week:

Senior officers have told representatives from Climate Camp, who are planning to construct a huge campsite next week at an undisclosed location in London, that they will be met with a “community-style” policing operation that will limit the use of surveillance units and stop-and-searches wherever possible.

In a further effort to disseminate real-time information, the Metropolitan police has activated an account on Twitter, named CO11MetPolice after its public order unit codename, which will be used to send operational information to protesters taking part in the camp.

Separately, a delegation from this year’s Climate Camp will be taken to the Met’s public order training centre on Thursday in Gravesend, Kent, where they have been asked to brief officers being drafted in from across the country to help police the event.

Activists have also been assured that there will be no “ring of steel” around their camp and that sleep deprivation tactics, used when officers blasted loud music at campers at last year’s Climate Camp at Kingsnorth power station in Kent, will not be repeated.

If they mean it, then this can only be a good thing, and considering how resistent the Met is to change it will be quite a significant development. But remember the police’s behaviour at Kingsnorth last year (as is mentioned in the final paragraph) – not just sleep deprivation tactics, but arbitrary (and violent) stops and searches, not to mention violent harassment of the media. If those things don’t happen again then we’re getting somewhere, if not then this is all just spin. But don’t forget the escalation of their tactics from Kingsnorth, through the G20 and to the pre-emptive arrests at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, nor the way in which the police and government have colluded in favour of Big Energy. The Climate Camp, environmental protesters and the government have been on a collision course for some time – why should August be an exception?

No Witch Hunt Thanks!

Baby Peter’s murderers are now revealed, which complicates the affair even more:

[But} wind back 28 years to Connelly’s beginnings and the echoes of neglect, deprivation, cruelty and abuse are hard to ignore.

Connelly was born on 29 June 1981 in Leicester, the product of a liaison between a travelling salesman and Mary O’Connor, her Irish-born mother. She grew up with her brother, who was four years older, but before Connelly was two her mother had split up with the salesman and moved the family from Leicester to north London.

Like her daughter would go on to do, Connelly’s mother neglected her children.

By that time her mother was living with another man, one whom Connelly would call her dad. But when she was 12 her mother revealed that he was not her real father after all. Connelly has spoken little about her background and has told legal sources that she does not want her life re-examined, but she has said that the information about her father “sent me a bit wild for a while”.

“I went through a period of wanting to find him,” she said. At this point relationships within the family were breaking down. Connelly claims she was being physically abused, and eventually because of the situation at home with her mother she was taken under the wing of Islington social services along with her relative.

She was given the choice of being placed into care in a children’s home or a live-in reform school. She chose the latter. The relative, however, did enter a children’s home run by Islington, at a time when unknown to the wider world they were in the grip of a paedophile ring targeting children unchecked by the authorities.

When the child abuse scandal that permeated Islington’s homes was exposed in the 1990s the position of Connelly’s relative was considered so serious that a separate report was written about him. Known as Child A, he was targeted by the paedophile ring as a victim and then groomed into becoming a kind of pied piper, luring other children from Islington homes into the grips of the group of abusers.

I’m not happy that her’s, her boyfriend’s and his brother’s names have been formally released. And that doesn’t mean I support them in any way, or condone a single thing that they did – what she, Barker & Owen did was horrific, indefensible and unforgivable, but releasing their names risks a witch hunt against them. I have a thing against witch hunts, I tend to prefer the rule of law, which like it or not has to apply equally to everyone at all times. And while reports like this one can give some insight into what made Connelly the person she’s become, those like it will be few and far between (see?), with ‘monster’ headlines clouding the realities about these ‘monsters’, which makes it ever harder to identify and protect (safeguard?) other children genuinely at risk of abuse or death. Should his killers rot in jail forever? Of course. But let’s have a reasoned look at what makes people like this do what they do, and make it easier for people in the child protection business to identify them and do a better job of protecting children.

ID Database Breached Before It’s Even Begun

The National Identity Register, the database underpinning the government’s continuing plans for ID cards, may not have been instituted yet, but one of the three systems which will comprise its core has already been breached:

Nine local authority workers have been sacked after illegally accessing personal details of the public held on the government’s national identity database.

In total, 34 council workers were found to have illegally accessed the Customer Information System (CIS) database, which is currently earmarked to form part of a linked-up network of three systems constituting the government’s national identity database.

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has countered, saying:

“IPS will make the systems supporting the national identity service as secure as possible, building on an excellent track record with the current passport database.

“Our proposals for the development of the national identity service seek to incorporate the use of technology supporting CIS to store biographical information. However, such information would be stored separately from any information held on CIS by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and protected by strict audit and access controls.

“It will be a criminal offence to make any unauthorised disclosure of information and our security arrangements will also be subject to the independent scrutiny of both the information commissioner and a new identity commissioner.”

In order for our very identities to be protected from abuse by the government or simply its employees (and these 34 will be just the tip of the iceberg) we’ll need a government ‘identity commissioner’? How’s about no ID cards (no need/easily forged)? How’s about no National Identity Register? How’s about no National Identity Service? Henry Porter looks at the larger question of database security and how our identities will remain under greater threat because of the ID scheme:

A DWP spokesman suggested that the small number of breaches recorded indicated that unauthorised access by officials was spotted quickly. He did not, of course, acknowledge that these cases came from sample checks generated by the system.

This is absolutely critical. For years Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge university and NO2ID have been arguing that by their nature large databases will never be free of such abuse. Anderson’s Rule means you cannot construct a database with scale, functionality and security because if you design a large system for ease of access it becomes insecure, while if you make it watertight it becomes impossible to use.

And yet government presses ahead with the grand scheme of linking database together and allowing access to hundreds of thousands of officials

This addiction to databases and the bureaucracies which underpin them is at the heart of most of our problems. Computers and software may make for an efficient way of handling vast amounts of data, but a total reliance on predictability, standardisation and methods of control are destroying the society they’re supposed to be protecting. As a people we resist being overly rational – the system will keep being breached because idiots in the civil service (or contracted out agencies), not to mention organised crime will simply want to. All the ‘identity commisioners’ in the world won’t be able to stop that. To bureaucratise identity itself is to court absolute disaster.

Torture: Hang On David and Alan!

Is it just me or have David Miliband and Alan Johnson just put their hands up to Britain’s colluding in the torture of Binyam Mohamed and others?

When detainees are held by our police or Armed Forces we can be sure how they are treated. By definition, we cannot have that same level of assurance when they are held by foreign governments, whose obligations may differ from our own.

Yet intelligence from overseas is critical to our success in stopping terrorism. All the most serious plots and attacks in the UK in this decade have had significant links abroad. Our agencies must work with their equivalents overseas. So we have to work hard to ensure that we do not collude in torture or mistreatment.

Whether passing information which might lead to suspects being detained; passing questions to be put to detainees; or directly interviewing them, our agencies are required to seek to minimise, and where possible avoid, the risk of mistreatment. Enormous effort goes into assessing the risks in each case. Operations have been halted where the risk of mistreatment was too high. But it is not possible to eradicate all risk. Judgments need to be made.

Sorry? Has the world gone completely upside down? It’s impossible to eradicate all risk of British agents and departments colluding in torture? So it’s not possible to stop picking suspects up and sending them to be ‘interrogated’ for us in countries which are known to torture? This is a government whose operations are guided by human rights legislation and obligations – it cannot say ‘where possible’! I can’t believe I just read this – New Labour spin trying to legitimise collusion in torture. Are these perhaps ministers with something to be worried about?