Tag Archives: Home Office

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)


Police Formally Ignore European Court

The police system in this country lurches from the banal to the ridiculous. After the victory of the S and Marper case against the government in the European Court of Human Rights in December, requiring innocent people’s DNA to be removed from the National DNA Database, then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith justified keeping them on because of the effectiveness of the database as a whole in preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice. Typically she failed to mention that the inclusion of innocent people’s DNA had played no role whatsoever in the effective use of the database – in fact during the largest growth period of the database, its effectivness fell. In May though she decided to subvert the rule of law and keep innocent people’s DNA on the database for up to twelve years. Now the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has instructed Chief Constables to ignore the S and Marper ruling entirely:

Chief constables across England and Wales have been told to ignore a landmark ruling by the European court of human rights and carry on adding the DNA profiles of tens of thousands of innocent people to a national DNA database.

Senior police officers have also been “strongly advised” that it is “vitally important” that they resist individual requests based on the Strasbourg ruling to remove DNA profiles from the national database in cases such as wrongful arrest, mistaken identity, or where no crime has been committed.

The advice to senior officers comes in a letter from the Association of Chief Police Officers criminal records office. The letter, seen by the Guardian, tells chief constables that new Home Office guidelines following the ruling in the case of S and Marper are not expected to take effect until 2010.

“Until that time, the current retention policy on fingerprints and DNA remains unchanged,” it says. “Individuals who consider they fall within the ruling in the S and Marper case should await the full response to the ruling by the government prior to seeking advice and/or action from the police service in order to address their personal issue on the matter.

“Acpo strongly advise that decisions to remove records should not be based on [the government’s] proposed changes. It is therefore vitally important that any applications for removals of records should be considered against current legislation.”

This move by ACPO should be seen in light of what ACPO actually is – a quango, and one which still supports the behaviour of the Metropolitan Police at the G20 protests. It is a private, for-profit advisory body, and not a constitutional arm of the police of the UK. Yet we are in an age where these extra-governmental bodies determine (and subvert) the rule of law (ISA anybody?) and public policy. Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne is right – it’s outrageous that the Home Office’s post-S and Marper guidance won’t be available until 2010, unacceptable that the government intends to use statutory instruments to bypass the will and scrutiny of the House of Commons in trying to sidestep the European Court, and even more outrageous that ACPO should feel able to ignore the European Court’s wishes altogether. The rule of law is being trashed by the institutions charged with being its ultimate guarantors – they must be stopped.

Can’t Be British if You Protest!

More bonkers, illiberal garbage from the New Labour Home Office, attacking once again the civil liberties of migrants:

Immigrants who take part in anti-war demonstrations could jeopardise their chances of getting British citizenship under new government proposals, a Home Office minister said today.

Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, said people would have to “earn” their citizenship under plans being unveiled this morning for a new points system for immigrants seeking a British passport.

The government has already introduced a points system for immigration. But once immigrants have been working legally in Britain for five years, it is relatively easy for them to qualify for citizenship.

Asked about this on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Woolas said: “We think it’s right to say if we are asking the new citizen, as incidentally other countries around the world do, to have an oath of allegiance to that country, that it’s right to try to define in some objective terms what that means. And clearly an acceptance of the democratic rule of law and the principle behind that we think is important and we think it’s fair to ask that.”

But, when it was pointed out that demonstrating was not illegal, Woolas suggested that an applicant could also lose points not just for breaking the law – but also for engaging in certain activities that were legal.

Sarah Montague, the presenter, asked: “Are you effectively saying to people who want to have a British passport, ‘You can have one, and when you’ve got one you can demonstrate as much as you like, but until then don’t’?”

Woolas replied: “In essence, yes. In essence we are saying that the test that applies to the citizen should be broader than the test that applies to the person who wants to be a citizen. I think that’s a fair point of view, to say that if you want to come to our country and settle, you should show that adherence.”

Woolas claimed that migrants themselves would support this stance.

I think he’s stark raving mad. I challenge him right here right now to find someone who has migrated to this country and wants to become a British citizen, who can comprehend how protesting against illegal wars can make them undesirable to become British. Does that mean I should no longer be British? And what of the demand that immigrants should accept the democratic rule of law, when the state itself decides it doesn’t have to? Mehdi Hasan is right when he asks:

Is Woolas out of his mind? This is the authoritarian mindset of a Politburo member circa 1972, not the views of a Labour minister (a Labour minister!) in a democratic British government in 2009. “Adherence”? Since when did loyalty and support for Britain translate into loyalty and support for the British state, British government and various misguided “official” policies and proposals, of which today’s consultation paper on citizenship is only one?

This is a nasty, authoritarian government, now mostly out of control. Let’s hope it doesn’t last much longer.

McKinnon’s Extradition Will Be Unjust

I know it, you know it, Alan Johnson knows it, Gordon Brown knows it. Barack Obama might even know it, but not one of them has the balls to challenge the massively unjust 2003 Extradition Act. After all the Labour Party had the chance to review it in parliament a couple of weeks ago and by doing so aiding Gary McKinnon, but they thought playing party politics (aka business as usual) made more sense. McKinnon appears now to have lost his legal battle:

The high court decided against overturning a refusal by Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, to sanction a trial of the 43-year-old “UFO eccentric” in Britain.

Alan Johnson, the home secretary, is unlikely to halt the extradition. He has said a thorough assessment was carried out to ensure that the necessary extradition criteria were met.

McKinnon has admitted hacking into the computer systems of the US defence department and Nasa, but his supporters argued his obsessions led to his misguided hacking activities from his flat in Wood Green, north London, and that he should be tried in Britain.

The government’s independent reviewer of anti-terrorist legislation, Lord Carlile, intervened to say that prosecuting McKinnon in the US would be “cruel and unconscionable” because of his medical condition.

It’s quite appalling for Johnson to say ‘the necessary extradition criteria were met’ – of course they were. This law is so screamingly unjust the ‘necessary criteria’ would always be met – the US government doesn’t even have to provide evidence as ‘necessary criteria’ for goodness’ sake! Liberty‘s Anita Coles sets out the organisation’s position:

Liberty certainly does not argue there is no need for extradition: fugitives from justice should not be afforded blanket protection from prosecution. However, as with all aspects of the criminal justice process, there is a need for safeguards to ensure that injustice is not committed in the name of expediency. Extradition is a trauma in and of itself. It involves forcible removal to a foreign country away from family, friends and legal advisors. You may not know the language or legal system and you almost inevitably face imprisonment pending trial because being a foreigner ensures you are considered a flight risk.

Gary McKinnon is likely to face pre-trial imprisonment and a long jail sentence if found guilty. Many argue “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” but Gary McKinnon was sitting in his home in North London using his mother’s computer and our parliament has not imposed such severe sanctions for the conduct alleged. This does not mean he should avoid prosecution altogether, but it does raise the question as to where is the most appropriate place for him to be tried. Arguably it is in the UK – all of the actions constituting the alleged offence took place here.

In these circumstances Liberty believes a UK court should be given the opportunity to bar extradition if it would be in the interests of justice to do so.

It’s absurd that a law which was introduced to fast-track terrorist extradition after 9/11 should be used in this fashion, it’s shameful that the British government signed up to legislation with so few safeguards, but Alan Johnson is unbothered:

Some have argued that McKinnon’s case shows the law is wrong — that British citizens are at the mercy of an unjust extradition act and subsequent treaty with the United States. I disagree. The 2003 Extradition Act replaced the cumbersome existing legislation that couldn’t respond fast enough in an age where crime is increasingly indifferent to national borders. Without it we couldn’t have implemented the European arrest warrant to have Hussein Osman speedily extradited from Italy following his involvement in the failed terrorist attacks of July 21, 2005.

Typical New Labour spin. Johnson doesn’t just set up a straw man argument in invoking Osman, but he makes it appear as though the issue in the McKinnon case is chiefly his legal inability as Home Secretary to block the extradition itself. What I say is this: so what that the government got lucky with Osman – it doesn’t mean that the legislation is any good, nor that the absence of safeguards against abuse of the legislation is just. Should we really champion an arrangement where we might get lucky extraditing one highly dangerous terrorist, at the cost of people like Gary McKinnon or Andrew Symeou? The parliamentary Labour Party must stop its obsessive points-scoring behaviour and allow the Extradition Act to be amended – the means how can be read here.

ID Cards to Protect ‘Identity Rights’

Home Secretary Alan Johnson has created ‘identity rights’! Rejoice! He will continue to introduce ID cards by stealth, but worry not – your ‘identity rights’ will be guaranteed!

The union flag has been left off the final design of the national identity card unveiled today in order to recognise the “identity rights” of Irish nationals living in Northern Ireland.

Instead the ID card design unveiled by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, features a tasteful floral pattern made up of the shamrock, daffodil, thistle and rose alongside the Royal Coat of Arms.

A Home Office spokesperson said today this was because “the card represents all the nations of the United Kingdom and the design reflects themes of Britishness and aspects of UK history”.

The Home Office say that they are clear that the ID card scheme must work in a way that “fully recognises the identity rights of the people of Northern Ireland as laid out in the Belfast Agreement”.

The assessment says that while some symbols have been included within the card’s design to indicate that the document has been issued by the British government they have “sought to design features which can reflect all parts of the United Kingdom, such as the inclusion of the shamrock to represent Ireland within the tactile feature, and we have sought to avoid symbols such as flags”.

The decision means that Irish nationals living in Northern Ireland will be issued with an “identification card” which is a version of the identity card which will differ from that issued to British citizens.

‘Identity rights’? What are these supposed to be? Are they somehow supposed to be more important than human rights (which ID cards are in breach of)? Are we supposed to be grateful that our various ‘identity rights’ are secured by ID cards when our liberty is not? Chris Grayling, most likely to be Tory Home Secretary next year suggests that it’s a smokescreen, that Johnson is desperately trying to come up with a sales pitch for a scheme which he can’t afford and which none of us wants:

what use will the scheme be? How can the police use it when only a few will have the cards? Why should the NHS spend millions on card readers when not everyone has one?

And why on earth will people who are already short of cash rush out to spend their 30 quid at the ID card shop rather than on a Chinese takeaway for Friday night? Or a couple of bottles of scotch? Or a cheap seats ticket at Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon?

It wasn’t Alan’s idea. He probably didn’t want it. But he’s the poor sap with the job in the sales department who has to go out and persuade you to part with your hard earned cash.

I would argue the point a little differently. Johnson clearly doesn’t intend ID cards to remain voluntary – his ‘Safeguarding (there’s that buzzword again, notice) Identity’ paper, the policies belonging to which he is clearly pursuing vigorously, at its core depends on ID cards for all. But rather than deliver with a frontal assault, he’ll make it impossible to get a passport without forcible inclusion on the National Identity Register, he’ll make student loans impossible to obtain without ID cards, and he may have stepped back from an unwinnable battle with airside aviation workers, but he’s bound to impose them on another vulnerable, minority group and then another, and then another…

Most people don’t want them, so don’t buy the cuddly new Home Secretary’s soft soap. ID cards must be stopped completely.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority is a ‘Club’ for ‘Decent’ Adults

Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club addresses what I think is a huge issue embedded in the creation of the Independent Safeguarding Authority:

UK Home Office and education officials simply cannot understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be vetted. When I challenged the Home Office official in charge of the scheme about a potential rebellion against vetting, he said that if somebody didn’t want to be vetted ‘there must be suspicious reasons for that’. He described the vetting database as like a ‘club’, which all decent adults should want to be part of. What a corrupted view of decency: being on a state database and submitting ourselves to constant surveillance.

Yet officials are themselves unclear about who will have to be on their vetting database, which means that the whole scheme will also breed mass confusion. In theory, an adult has to be checked if they work or volunteer with children ‘frequently’, defined as ‘once a month’ or ‘three days at a time’. So not, by implication, if they work with children once every five weeks, or for two-and-a-half days. Yet a Home Office spokesperson said yesterday that all adults who had a ‘tiny amount of contact’ with children would have to be vetted.

This is the same way which the Home Office is dealing with the question of identity cards. It has a solution in need of a problem and then uses propaganda to generate a ‘problem’ which they then can trumpet they’ve fixed. It’s an insidious way of conducting government – to ignore the question of need for such an initiative, but instead to suggest that anyone who disagrees with it is by extension a paedophile or potential paedophile, thus validating the existence of the ISA. In another article Appleton writes:

In the report (The Case Against Vetting: How the Child Protection Industry is Poisoning Adult-Child Relations.), Jim Campbell, mayor of Oxford, argues that mass vetting erodes informal bonds: ‘The important informal ways in which people relate are going to disappear – everything will be done under contract. We are in danger of creating a generation of children who are encouraged to look at people who want to help them with suspicion.’

Johnny Ball, TV presenter and mathematician, says that that vetting means that everybody relies on bureaucratic proceedures, and that children grow up without ‘the ability to themselves assess character and motives in the people they meet’. It also undermines the good will on both sides: ‘This awful legislation does nothing to build confidence in young people or indeed in teachers.’

This is one of the most important points to remember – above all it will prevent children and young people from developing the ability to risk assess competently – a skill which we need throughout our lives. But Campbell’s argument is also one worth repeating – relationships between people are being forced into being conducted under contract. It’s insane. It should be anathema to the British character, and it’s perversely heartening to see even the authoritarian Daily Mail joining in the attack on the ISA. But I have to come back again to the initial point in this post – I am not suspicious for refusing to be on a vetting database, any more than for refusing to be on an identity database. The club that I want to be part of is the human race, not a horrible government database, under scrutiny by unqualified and unaccountable bureaucrats, with the freedom to manage my working life in any arbitrary way they choose. I choose instead  to relate to others, both in work and outside of it, in the informal, uncodified ways we naturally adopt as human beings. The Independent Safeguarding Authority is morally wrong and must be abolished.

(via James, with thanks)

Johnson’s Real Intention for ID Cards

Britain’s new Home Secretary may have a cockney cheeky chappy ‘thing’ going on, but don’t be fooled – he’s just as authoritarian as his mad predecessor:

The introduction of identity cards is a simple means of helping you, and I, protect our unique identity from fraudsters. Identity fraud costs the UK economy £1.2bn on average each year and causes misery for tens of thousands who fall victim. At a cost of just £30, the identity card is a cheap way of helping fight back. So, despite the headlines that would have readers think otherwise, I’m not scrapping identity cards – I’m committed to delivering them more quickly to the people who will benefit most.

I know that some of you have real concerns about the government’s motives for introducing the card. When I announced this week that I would make identity cards wholly voluntary it was because I believe that there are real benefits that will make the card an attractive proposition for many people. I think the case for identity cards has been made, but understand that getting a card will be a big decision for some people. Easy or hard, I think it should be a voluntary decision, one that people choose to take, because they agree and welcome the benefits an identity card will provide.

He thinks the case for ID cards has been made, showing a now typical New Labour disdain for an electorate which thoroughly rejects them. He’s rebranded them a means of protecting oneself from ID fraud, yet doesn’t explain why a governmental National Identity Register is needed to do so, nor how prosecuting those on the register for not updating their details could ever be a helpful move. But of course Alan Johnson is lying when he says they’re wholly voluntary. If you’re a teenager just try to get a student loan (which they’re already poised to devalue) without one. When you renew your passport just watch the administrator’s face crease if you refuse them permission to add you to the ID register – card, or no card (and the card itself was never the issue per se). Henry Porter gets it right when he says:

The ID card is primarily a scheme that enables government to identify you, and that is made clear in a dubious little paper called Safeguarding Identity, produced by the Home Office last week, which describes how the ID card and the transformational government scheme mesh together in one glorious structure where data about the individual passes between departments. That is the prize and why they will use any argument and spend any amount to achieve it. Every case mounted in favour of ID cards has been convincingly knocked down. It will not protect us from terrorism, as Johnson concedes, and it won’t do anything to stop crime. Its effect on benefit fraud is limited.

There is something terribly Foucaultian about this. A government which desperately wants people to think it’s learned its lessons is creating a system of punishment, merely to permit you to be who you are. It’s one of the most authoritarian proposals I’ve ever heard of in the history of the United Kingdom. So because people are stupid and leave their credit card statements in the bin instead of shredding them, I should have my very identity controlled and determined by a state eager to use my data without my specific consent, throughout its framework? That should terrify and appall everyone. A government’s promise of more efficient data protection, but whose track record of data handling and database development is so incompetent, should also ring alarm bells everywhere. Johnson’s little document cited above is an insidious, bureaucracy-driven attempt to redefine the very meaning of identity in the twenty-first century (page 28), and he’s clearly bought into it. If so there is no way he’ll let ID cards remain ‘voluntary’, and we must all resist ‘Safeguarding Identity’ at all costs. Observe why:

3.32. The vision for the NIS [National Identity Service] is that it will become an essential part of everyday life; underpinning interactions and transactions between individuals, public services and businesses and supporting people to protect their identity. The NIS will do this primarily through further ‘identity services’: the processes and tools with which people can prove or check identity.

New Labour’s proscription for the future: all normal human interaction is to be moderated by the government. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I understand a government is supposed to be for. This strategy is a target-driven nightmare, the consequences of which appear not to have been considered by a Home Office completely out of step with the real world.