Time is running out to ensure that the British legal system is not fundamentally altered in favour of the State’s desire to keep secret what it chooses. Today several amendments to the Justice and Security Bill are before the House and we urge MPs to back them, if they are unwilling to vote against Part 2 of the Bill.
The House of Lords amendments to safeguard the use of Closed Material Procedures were a reasonable and practical way of ensuring that legislation did not put undue power in the hands of the Executive to keep inconvenient and embarrassing matters secret. Anthony Peto QC, co-Head of Blackstone Chambers, has perfectly highlighted how the Government removed “four sensible and clear safeguards introduced, with overwhelming majorities, by the Lords” – they were:
- That Judges should refuse CMP’s where the public interest in the fair and public administration of justice outweighed the likely damage to national security.
- A provision that CMPs should be a measure of last resort.
- That the judge must first consider PII before ordering a CMP.
- That the citizen must have the same right to apply for a CMP as the State.
Time is running out to ensure that the British legal system is not fundamentally altered in favour of the State’s desire to keep secret what it chooses.
The House of Lords attempted to introduce safeguards to the Justice and Security Bill – but they were overturned at Committee stage in the Commons.
The latest assessment from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, publishing its second legislative scrutiny report, warned that there were still a number of significant issues that had not been addressed by the Government.
Andrew Tryie MP and Anthony Peto, QC wrote a damning paper for the Centre for Policy Studies ‘Neither Just nor Secure’ while former Labour Minister Chris Mullin joined critics arguing the Bill “will be deeply damaging to the integrity of our legal system in the eyes of the world.”
A letter signed by 702 legal experts called the Bill ‘dangerous and unnecessary’ while the Special Advocates’ latest analysis, argues there is “no compelling justification for the proposals in Part 2 of the Bill has been made out, notwithstanding the Government’s assertions to the contrary“.
You can download a letter to send to your MP now – time is running out.
Border officials at one of Britain’s busiest airports could have conducted illegal searches of luggage without passengers’ knowledge, according to a report published today.
Border Force staff seized 1,147 pieces of luggage as a result of secret baggage searches at Birmingham Airport in the year to September, however serious concerns about whether the powers are being used proportionately
The report by Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration John Vine, found that staff at Birmingham Airport were not keeping records of how many times they searched luggage and no contraband was found. Guidance to staff was “contradictory and out of date” and managers admitted there had been no checks made to ensure correct procedures were being followed when bags were being searched to protect people’s privacy.
Security on aircraft is clearly important, however, people shouldn’t be afraid that their luggage will be searched on spurious grounds or at random. People can’t challenge these searches if they don’t even know they’re going on.
The glaring absence of any detail about how these powers have been used leaves open a number of troubling questions, particularly how many people’s luggage was searched without anything being found.
Unfortunately this is another case of the public’s confidence in oversight of invasive powers being undermined because of the huge holes in the data being collected by the authorities. People will rightly question whether as a result staff are able to abuse their right to open luggage with impunity.
Data analytics is nothing new, with all kinds of organisations around the world trying to join-the-dots of all the data they hold and the swathes of data available online, much of it being published by individuals with little thought to the full range of people who might be trawling through cyberspace for nuggets of relevant information.
Yesterday’s Observer and today’s Metro lead with the story about Raytheon, the world’s fifth largest defence contractor, and a product currently being developed that can ‘gather vast amounts of information about people from websites including Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.’
As we have warned before, privacy as we know it is being slowly eroded and it’s not just our friends that are looking at what we share.
Today’s Daily Mail carries a suitably sensational story courtesy of the Government’s new advisor on childhood.
According to the piece, “Claire Perry said that in a world where youngsters are surrounded by online dangers, parents should challenge the ‘bizarre’ idea that their children have the right to keep their messages private.” In other words (as the paper’s headline suggests) if you’re a parent, you should “Snoop on your child’s texts”.
We’re not entirely sure how a Conservative MP and a newspaper usually committed to reducing state interference in our lives are able to square away issuing parenting diktats, but more concerning is the total lack of any evidence to support these claims.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP has announced that new legislation will be introduced this year which will scrap hefty fines for putting a bin out on the wrong day. Talking to the BBC Sunday Politics Pickles promised: ’Fines for putting a bin out on the wrong day would be scrapped. If you put the wrong yoghurt pot into the wrong bin, it is ludicrous to fine people.’
This is an issue that we have been keeping an eye on for several years. Lifting The Lid highlighted that 68 local authorities had been secretly putting microchips in residents’ bins. The research revealed that at least 2.6 million households have had their bins microchiped. Eric Pickles is absolutely right to take action to abolish these powers and to try to bring some sanity to the way councils seemingly view themselves as a police force free to pass absurd rules and dole out fines on a whim. Read more
The Prüm Treaty may yet be implemented in the UK as a report shows that the European Commission plans to force the UK to allow other member states access to personal details of every motorist in Britain as well as access to the national DNA database and fingerprint records.
The Home Secretary has indicated that she is minded to opt out of the European Home Affairs Injustice measures in 2014, a step that would enable a full and frank discussion on how to sufficiently protect the rights of UK citizens. We can now hope that the Home Secretary will share the same robustness towards the European Commission on this matter.
Today Big Brother Watch has unveiled the scale of errors in the criminal record check system.
Nearly 12,000 people over the past five years have wrongly been branded criminals or seen irrelevant or inaccurate information disclosed during criminal record checks.
- 11,893 people successfully challenged CRB results in past five years
- £1.98m paid out in redress
- 4,196 people challenged information held by a local police force
- 3,519 people given the wrong person’s criminal record
- 4,088 found inaccurate information or potential wrong identity on police national computer
We’ll be writing to the Information Commissioner to highlight the scale of this issue and the clear issues that this research identifies.
Last night the Government suffered heavy defeat on the reform of Section 5, a campaign Big Brother Watch has been proud to support.
As Baroness Smith of Basildon noted: “it is nearly a year since the Government launched their consultation on public order policing and whether the word “insulting” should be removed from Section 5 of the Public Order Act. In the Committee on this Bill-a good five months after the close of the consultation-the Minister said that he hoped that at Report stage, the Government “will be able to put forward the Government’s considered view to the House”. Since then, the Government had a further five months to come to a decision, and yet-unless the Minister is going to make an announcement this evening-even at this stage, we still have not had a public announcement from the Government about their position, or about the findings and evidence from the consultation which your Lordships’ House has asked for.”