October 30, 2009

For anyone following the media stories about increasing concern over the ‘Prevent’ programme, a new report: ‘Spooked: How not to prevent violent extremism’ is a compelling read.

‘Prevent’ is another government initiative from the at-risk stable. It is meant to target those, particularly young people, who are deemed likely to become terrorists. The government gave out £140m of funding last year to local prevention and ‘de-radicalisation’ projects and, as the report points out, the funding is in direct proportion to the number of Muslims within a local authority area, rather than being based on any specific evidence of risk. Thus we are potentially seeing the creation of a new offence to rival ‘driving whilst Black’: that of ‘being Muslim whilst young’.

In return for funding, the youth workers, YOTs and voluntary orgs are asked to sign an Information Sharing Agreement in order to supply the police with information about participants in the various schemes – hence the accusation that this is nothing more than an intelligence-gathering exercise.

The report also points out:

The atmosphere promoted by Prevent is one in which to make radical criticisms of the government is to risk losing funding and facing isolation as an ‘extremist’, while those organisations which support the government are rewarded.This in turn undermines the kind of radical discussions of political issues that would need to occur if young people are to be won over and support for illegitimate political violence diminished.The current emphasis of Prevent on depoliticising young people and restricting radical dissent is actually counter-productive because it strengthens the hands of those who say democracy is pointless.

Go and read it, and pass the URL on to everyone you know because it’s a smashing piece of research that deserves a wide audience.



October 28, 2009

As we were saying the other day, the Home Office is doing everything possible to avoid complying with the Marper judgment. Today the Guardian reports:

More than 90,000 innocent people have been added to the national DNA database since a landmark human rights ruling that keeping indefinitely the profiles of unconvicted suspects was illegal, according to new figures

While the Telegraph points out that we’ve passed the 10% mark:

Police forces in England and Wales have taken the profiles of 5.5 million people, meaning the proportion of the population on the system has passed a tenth for the first time.


October 28, 2009

I’ve just been reminded why ‘responding to government consultations’ sits at the bottom of our to-do list. The one on P2P file-sharing closed barely four weeks ago but, rather like the decision to appoint the new Children’s Commissioner regardless of anyone else’s views, the government appears determined to do exactly what it intended in the first place:

People who persistently download illegal content will be cut off from the net, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has announced.

Speaking at a government-sponsored forum to debate copyright issues he said the UK would introduce a similar policy to France. It means persistent pirates will be sent two warning letters before facing disconnection from the network.

In the chorus of objections the government ‘consultation’ received, here are some of ours. On reflection, it appears that taking the dog for a walk should have been the higher priority.

Update: We’ve just received this link to the ‘Don’t Disconnect Us‘ campaign, started by Talk Talk, which has plenty of information about the disconnection proposals.

Business as usual

October 19, 2009

This item about the National DNA Database is tantalising for what it doesn’t say:

Civil liberty campaigners claimed a victory today after the government announced it is dropping current proposals to retain the DNA profiles of innocent people on the national database.

The Home Office has announced that its plan to keep the DNA profiles of those arrested – but never convicted of a crime – for between six and 12 years depending on the seriousness of the offence has been dropped from the policing and crime bill that is going through parliament.

To be honest, ‘claiming victory’ is putting it a bit strongly. We’re all wondering what it means in practice. Yes, it’s good news that the Home Office has – for now – abandoned plans to allow the Secretary of State to set out such ridiculous retention limits; moreover, in secondary legislation.

The bad news is that for the time being there appears to be no change to the current policy of hanging on to the DNA profiles of innocent people. Promising to introduce revised plans in the next session (Dear God, not another Crime Bill) is pretty meaningless because the likelihood is slim of such a Bill getting through before the election. Indeed, if the next set of proposals are anything like as draconian as the last lot, the government may prefer to avoid courting controversy in the election run-up.

All of which means that, despite all the noise about intending to comply with the European Court judgment in Marper, by the time anything actually gets done we will quite possibly be approaching its second anniversary without the Government having done anything whatsoever about taking innocent people’s DNA off the database – and in fact having added another few hundred-thousand innocent profiles.

About images

October 14, 2009

To follow on from our blog yesterday, The Register has picked up on the unlawfulness of making indecent images of children.

It’s extraordinary that anyone can argue that these are not really ‘images’. As one of our legal advisers has just pointed out: if a Rapiscan operator beamed what he could see to Piccadilly Circus, nobody would dispute that they were seeing images. And if they displayed people’s genitals, can you imagine the police would say “oh, it’s OK – they aren’t really images”?

Update Ah, a friendly phone call from someone at Manchester Airport this afternoon to say that they have decided to obtain legal advice and in the meantime children won’t be using the scanner. Since we’re fortunate enough to have a fair number of experienced lawyers in ARCH, we’ve offered them our assistance.

Dusting off the files

October 13, 2009

It’s so long since we’ve had any Rapiscan problems that we had to dig around in our archives to respond to calls today about Manchester Airport’s decision to start using the ‘virtual strip search’ scanner in its Terminal 2.

Here is chapter and verse on the law relating to the creation of images of naked children. It boils down to this: don’t even think of it.

The good news, the bad and the even worse

October 12, 2009

On Friday, we were feeling rather cheerful. It wasn’t just the latest piece of scientific vituperation about the ‘Human Provenance Project’ in Nature magazine. Better still, the UK Borders Agency announced the suspension of their plan to attempt to deduce nationality from DNA and toenail clippings – though they still intended to continue using DNA to carry out familial matching.

Had you visited their website on Friday, you would have seen this:

“The nationality swapping – Isotope analysis and DNA testing process has been has been temporarily suspended and the instruction withdrawn. Officers will be notified when the process resumes. Family relationship testing remains in operation. To access the asylum instruction, please click on the appropriate link below.”

I’ve just clicked on the link to that cheering news, only to find this has replaced it:

“Alterations have been made to the nationality swapping – Isotope analysis and DNA testing process. This process continues to operate. The present instruction has been withdrawn whilst amendments are made.”

In case you’re wondering what ‘the present instruction’ means, this was the guidance to immigration officials on carrying out the tests. It helpfully included the following wording to use when writing to someone who had refused consent to the tests (this is a ‘voluntary’ project, remember):

3. Where the applicant refused to take part.
‘When you attended the Asylum Screening Unit, you were asked to provide isotope and DNA samples to ascertain your country/area/clan of origin. It is noted that you refused to provide samples.’ [Case Owners should insert reason(s) why the applicant did not provide samples by referring to the Screening Officer’s comments on the consent form which should be attached to the HO file (if not, also check CID ‘Notes’).]
[Use where a reasonable explanation has been given]
It is considered that you gave a reasonable explanation for failing to provide samples.

[Use where no reason has been given or a reasonable explanation has not been given for refusing to provide samples (do not use this standardised wording in isolation – refer to 7.2.2 Addressing Refusal to Provide Samples, within the Refusal Letter)]
‘You did not give a reasonable explanation for failing to provide samples. It is considered that a person in genuine need of international protection would assist the authorities of a safe country in establishing the validity of his/her application for asylum. Your failure to do so undermines your claim to be a refugee.’

Coerced consent, anyone?

Horrifying, naive and flawed

October 5, 2009

Those adjectives don’t refer to UKBA, of course, but to their Human Provenance Project which is being chewed up and spat out in Science Magazine:

Scientists are greeting with surprise and dismay a project to use DNA and isotope analysis of tissue from asylum seekers to evaluate their nationality and help decide who can enter the United Kingdom. “Horrifying,” “naïve,” and “flawed” are among the adjectives geneticists and isotope specialists have used to describe the “Human Provenance pilot project,” launched quietly in mid-September by the U.K. Border Agency. Their consensus: The project is not scientifically valid–or even sensible.

Mobile Fingerprint Identification

October 4, 2009

Another of last week’s consultations concerned police plans to use mobile fingerprint scanners on the street. It’s worrying to see just how wrong the NPIA has got the law so far in relation to children and young people – somehow, one expects the police to do a bit better on these things.

Our response is here.

P2P Filesharing

October 4, 2009

Last week we have mainly been responding to consultations. The BIS (or whatever next week’s incarnation is called) consultation on illicit filesharing closed last Tuesday. Our reponse to their wizard wheeze to cut off Internet access can be found here.