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In our Taking Liberties blog, not only will we keep you uptodate on the progress of the film, we'll also post news about the ongoing civil liberties movements we're related to.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Who needs privacy anyway?

If I wanted to illustrate why you shouldn't entrust the government with personal data, I would never have concocted an arse up on the scale of the delicious disaster down at Revenue and Customs. The government is reeling from the debacle involving the most expensive items to get lost in the post since King George III sent the crown jewels off to get repaired, and forgot to put stamps on the box. 2 x CD's containing the personal records of 25 million people were "mislaid" by Her Magesties Revenue and Customs, and the chief taxman has now fallen on his paperknife in shame. The CD's were password protected (well, that's going slow the hackers down for at least 5 minutes!) but not actually encrypted, which means that we have to assume that all the data is now compromised. The records of the 7 million families that have been mislaid by the government include:

-Names (and don't forget these are family records, so it will be pretty straightforwards to work out maiden names as well)
-Dates of Birth
(this is all my bank needs to access my account by the way)
-Bank Account details (just in case the above doesn't work)
-National Insurance numbers

Now catastrophic as this is, it is in some ways manageable. Bank account numbers and national insurance numbers can be changed, so if it looks like these ahve fallen into criminal hands there is a level of protection. It'll cost the government (and therefore us) a small fortune to fix, but people can be issued new numbers rendering the stolen numbers useless. The really terrifying thing is to look at will happen when a similar balls up occurs in 5 years time (and, people being people, this sort of thing will happen again) but this time with the data held on the National Identity Register. When then NIR is breached (and with 60 million records that can be accessed by about half a million people, this is going to happen very easily and very quickly), it is going to be far more than just numbers that are stolen. Our fingerprints, iris scans, general biometirc information and possibly DNA will be what gets left in the back of a taxi, and when that happens the government is not going to be able to turn aruond and issue us all with new fingers, eyes or DNA. The more information that is put on a central computer, the greater the risk it has of being compromised. The NIR is the mother of all public databases, and it when it finally arrives will be the source of data breaches that make the loss of these 2 CD's seem like forgetting where you put your keys in the morning.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Torture: An Experts guide

There's been a mini malestrom on the internet over the past week, as someone with a guilty conscience - or a great sense of humour - has uploaded the US Handbook for Camp Delta Guantanamo Bay onto Wikipedia. It's since been pulled from counteless sites but it's now safely out in the vortex. There's a fairly relaible link here, but please let me know if this gets pulled.

Some of the more revealing extracts are:
-Incoming prisoners are to be held in near-isolation for the first two weeks to foster dependence on interrogators and "enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process."
-Styrofoam cups must be confiscated if prisoners have written on them, apparently because prisoners have used cups to pass notes to other captives. "If the cup is damaged or destroyed, the detainee will be disciplined for destruction of government property,"
-The manual also indicates some prisoners were designated as off limits to visitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross, something the military has repeatedly denied.
-"Detainees are not allowed to color their hair."
-It contains instructions as only the military can write them, such as how to use pepper spray on unruly prisoners. "Aim at the eyes, nose and mouth when possible. Use a 1/2 to 1 second burst from a distance of 36 to 72 inches away."


And the Magic Number is... 58!
Well done to Mrs Cricklethorpe in Doncaster for correctly guessing the number of days pre-charge detention that the Brown Government would eventually come out and tell us we need to stop the world exploding in terror. A T Shirt with the words "Recruiting Seargant" is on it's way to you now. Yes after much anticipation of what number they would announce we need to hold people without charge has been unveiled. The battle lines a re clearly drawn with the Government, the Police and the security services on one side, and the tories, lib dems, the "arkward squad" of Labour MP's and Shami on the other. For me the most interesting chapter in way the announcement was managed was the antics of the defence minister Lord West. At 8.20am on the Today Program, he made it clear that he was in no way convinced of the need for extending the pre-charge period. 2 hours later - after a chat with Comrade Brown in Downing St -he completely change his mind and said that extending it to 58 days was the best idea since someone first took a breadkinfe to a crisp white loaf. When questioned over this blatant U-Turn, West said he got his words bit muddled as he was just a "simple sailor". It's nice that we can all rest in our beds at night knowing the security of the nation is in the safe hands of Captain Pugwash: "Ho Ho Me hearties, we're going to thrwart the Islamist Terrorists!"

Radio Gobsh*te. Again
Some fool invited me on Richard Bacon's Radio 5 live show last night, which was unfortunate timing as I'd just been out for a heavy dinner with my accountant. Several Mojito's were consumed over the meal, and then I had to make my way to Broadcasting house to bandy words with Bacon, and a nice chap called Peter Power who was there to support the new terror proposals. Peter is an ex copper who makes a lot of money now telling businesses how to protect themselves from terror. It started pretty well, and I got a few good points in about how extending the the pre-charge limit will only act as a recruiting sergeant for fundamentalists, and how you have more chance of winning the lottery than you doing of being killed by a terrorist bomb. But during the newsbreak my final mojito kicked in and I told Bacon he reminded me of Alan Partridge and it was all down hill from there. By the end they were really laying into me and Bacon gleefully read out a message that accused me of being a descendant of Neville Chamberlain and if it was up to me we'd all be dead tomorrow. Hopefully I enraged them enough so they won't ask me back, but that's what I thought last time...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Function Creep - A Beginners Guide

Function Creep is one of the main reasons us libertarians get so narked off with big government databases. The scenario goes like this: A well meaning Government Minister proposes a shiny new database that is going to store A, B and C about everyone in the country. They sternly remind us that they have specifically restricted it's scope to those categories, as to store any more would be an infringement of our privacy. The database eventually gets built, and ends up costing 4 times as much and being delivered 2 years too late, by which time all the ministers and civil servants who commissioned it have moved on. The trouble is that as well as being massively expensive, it also doesn't work very well and the current minister is getting a lot of stick for this in the press. So he announces that he is going to increase the scope of the database, so that it now records D, E and F about everyone in the country. This seems to be a cunning way of salvaging what has turned into a white elephant that he never wanted in the first place. But by the time D, E and F come online there's yet another minister in charge - and this time he's facing an immigration row. So this minster tells the tabloids that the database is now going to store X, Y and Z which will stop the immigration crisis. In actuality storing X, Y and Z will do nothing to stop illegal immigration, but it sounds good in the tabloids. After 10 years what was an innocuous and polite little database has become the greatest invasion of privacy that the world has ever seen - not because of any grand design, just a series of people tacking extra functions on for short term gain. Function creep.

And so it is with the National Identity Register. Even before it's been built, ministers are quietly adding information categories that it will store about you, already breaking the promises previous ministers have made on limiting the intrusion of the NIR. The Home Office has announced that it will be bringing the Department of Marriages, Births and Deaths into the National Identity Register (NIR). This means that the NIR will not only store every last thing about your life and movements, but will now be able to provide any nosey civil servant with your entire family tree (and that of you spouse). So anyone who wants to pay to access to the NIR will be able to essentially see how the entire country is interrelated - all at the touch of a button. This will be perfect for any Tabloid editor who wants to smear someone, as being related to anyone who's ever done anything wrong is already Fleet Streets favourite trick of bringing people down. It will also be the stalking tool of choice for wife beaters hunting their partners who have escaped abusive relationships - all they need do is pay off one of the half million or so people who will have access to the NIR and they will get a handy list of all their relatives names and addresses - genius! Of course politicians and celebrities don't need to worry about private information being stored and potentially compromised - they are thankfully all exempt from the NIR.

However it's not all doom and gloom with the latest terrifying and unnoticed piece of function creep. Someone at the Home Office clearly has a great sense of humour, as this authoritarian move is coming into force on April Fools Day 2008!
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