Tag Archives: Home Secretary

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?


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.

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.

See? Alan Johnson is a Liar!

My suspicions were all on the money. Home Secretary Alan Johnson defied new Speaker John Bercow and held a spin press conference to announce ID cards were continuing, but were now entirely voluntary. In doing so he didn’t just continue New Labour’s obsession with announcing policy in the press rather than the Commons where it belongs (so much for reform eh Gordo?), but *ahem* lied:

two batches of draft regulations to be approved by MPs tomorrow and next week are expected to include powers to make the passport a “designated document” under the national identity card scheme. This means that anyone applying for or renewing their passport from 2011 will have their details automatically added to the national identity databases.

The regulations also include powers to levy a fine of up to £1,000 on those who fail to tell the authorities of a change of address or amend other key personal details such as a change of name within three months.

Did that really imply compulsory addition to the register and the penalty for not keeping it up-to-date would be pushed through by statutory instrument?! The expenses scandal and the transitory demand for constitutional change have clearly taught this rotten government nothing. They’re prepared to spend tens of millions they don’t have on a scheme they don’t need, which the people don’t want, sidestepping the Commons to do so, and lying to the public. This government fails to comprehend who it’s answerable to and must be reminded.

Johnson Spins Away on ID Cards

Apparently new Home Secretary Alan Johnson is an ‘instinctive’ supporter of ID cards. Strange then to give the impression he’s walking away from them:

A compulsory identity card trial for pilots and 30,000 other airport workers due to start in September has been abandoned by the new home secretary, Alan Johnson.

But he intends to accelerate other elements of the scheme including plans to issue £30 voluntary ID cards to young adults across north-west England. Johnson is also looking at making ID cards free for over-75s.

Longer-term plans to make ID cards compulsory for critical workers at rail stations have also been dropped.

British citizens would not be forced to carry ID cards, insisted the home secretary. Johnson said: “Holding an identity card should be a personal choice for British citizens – just as it is now to obtain a passport.

Hmm. He pulls the compulsory scheme from airside & rail workers, yet continues with young people and the national rollout? Ok so if there really is to be no compulsion will he confirm people won’t need one for a student loan? Will you not now be forced onto the National Identity Register merely by renewing your passport?

No compulsion my ass, this is classic New Labour spin. So maybe he does harbour leadership ambitions after all.

It’s Time To Abandon ID Cards

Are you listening, Alan Johnson?

I bear in mind that countries, such as France and Germany, and other western European countries have ID card systems in place. This is due to different historical and cultural developments from our own. Our heritage is different. In one of his English letters Voltaire said that the civil wars of Rome ended in slavery, and those of the English in liberty. He wrote that the English were jealous of their liberty. So they are. The commitment, by and large, of the British people to European constitutional principles and ideals does not require us to adopt an ID card system.

In my view a national identity card system is not necessary in our country. No further money should be spent on it. The idea should be abandoned.

Lord Steyn is right and he points out the appropriate historical comparison to boot. There is quite simply no need for them and the new Home Secretary (who can’t afford them now after all) must announce now that the project is defunct. I’m confused why it’s still in limbo – some novel New Labour spin in preparation maybe? Waiting for a bad news day to sneak it under the radar?