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Liberty News

2010: Jan-March

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30th March   

The Royal Stasi Mail...

Government to allow wide ranging post interception for tax inspectors
Link Here

Tax inspectors are to get wide-ranging powers to open people's post without their permission for the first time, it can disclosed.

Currently, Royal Mail staff have a legal right to intercept suspicious letters and parcels in mail centres and sorting offices and pass them to HM Revenue and Customs. Tax inspectors must then notify the addressee and agree a mutually acceptable time to open the letter or parcel, before deciding whether to take any enforcement action.

However the Government is now proposing to remove the legal requirement which will now allow inspectors to open suspicious post without asking permission first. Treasury documents say: HMRC will no longer be required to notify the addressee and invite them to attend before such packets can be opened .

The new measure will be passed into law as part of the Budget over the next few weeks, and amend section 106 of the Postal Services Act 2000.

Under current law, the only other enforcement officers who can open mail are border guards who can open the post without permission at ports and airports.

The change was disclosed in a Treasury document published alongside the Budget headlined Tackling tobacco smuggling in the post . However a HM Revenue and Customs spokesman said the powers would be applied much more broadly. The spokesman said: The change is mainly directed at helping to combat tobacco smuggling but the powers in s106 apply to any contraband including prohibited or restricted goods.

Heather Taylor, a senior tax partner at Grant Thornton, said: This seems like a very small and limited change, but it could be a very big step for increased powers HMRC. Once new powers are in the hands of HMRC they tend to be extended.

Civil liberties campaigners were appalled about the increased powers. Alex Deane, a spokesman for Big Brother Watch, said: This is a dreadful development. The post has always been regarded as near-sacrosanct in law. The last time our mail was opened by the authorities without notice, our country was fighting a World War. I hardly think that the situation produced by the government's tobacco tax compares.


17th March   

Unique Online Signature...

Testing your browser to see if it provides a unique ID to snoopers
Link Here

The Electric Frontier Foundation have noted the browsers provide enough unique information about your set up that it provides a convenient unique signature for those that want to track your website browsing.

For example the browser reveals a long list of browser plugins and their versions. Likely to be a unique signature especially for those using uncommon plugins.

Panopticlick tests your browser to see how unique it is based on the information it will share with sites it visits.


15th March   

Update: Snitch Britain...

British government calls on people to report neighbours who keep themselves to themselves
Link Here
Full story: Stasi Britain...Recruiting an army of snitches and snoopers

A new government commercial currently running on one of Britain's most popular radio stations is selling one thing -- fear -- by encouraging Londoners to report their neighbors as terrorists if they use cash, enjoy their privacy, or even close their curtains.

curtain twitcher

  That chap at no 17 has
closed his curtains again!

The advertisement, produced in conjunction with national radio outlet TallkSport, promotes the anti-terrorist hotline and encourages people to report individuals who don't talk to their neighbors much, people who like to keep themselves to themselves, people who close their curtains, and people who don't use credit cards.

This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions, states the voice on the ad, before continuing We all have a role to play in combating terrorism (we're all indentured stasi informants for the government).

If you see anything suspicious, call the confidential anti-terrorist hotline... if you suspect it, report it, concludes the commercial.


13th March   

We Know What You're Up To!...

Motion sensors in mobile phones may identify physical activities
Link Here

Researchers have produced a mobile phone that could be a boon for prying bosses wanting to keep tabs on the movements of their staff.

Japanese phone giant KDDI Corporation has developed technology that tracks even the tiniest movement of the user and beams the information back to HQ.

The company plans to sell the service to clients such as managers, foremen and employment agencies.

It works by analysing the movement of accelerometers, found in many handsets. Activities such as walking, climbing stairs or even cleaning can be identified, the researchers say. Until now, mobile phone motion sensors were capable of detecting only repetitive movements such as walking or running.

For example, the KDDI mobile phone strapped to a cleaning worker's waist can tell the difference between actions performed such as scrubbing, sweeping, walking an even emptying a rubbish bin.

The aim of the new system, according to KDDI, is to enable employees to work more efficiently and managers to easily evaluate their employees' performance while away from the office.

Critics of such systems accuse the makers of pandering to an over-controlling, Big Brother-type managerial class and say that with this new technology there comes the increased opportunity for abuse.

This is treating people like machines, like so many cattle to be monitored and watched over, Kazuo Hizumi, a leading human rights lawyer, told BBC News: New technology should be used to improve our lives not to spy on us. It beggars belief that a prominent company such as KDDI could come up with such a surveillance system. It's totally irresponsible.


12th March   

The Electronic Police State...

2010 National Rankings
Link Here

The United States, with the UK and France close behind, have now caught up with Russia and are gaining on China, North Korea and Belarus.

The key developments driving this are the following:

  • The USA has negated their Constitution's fourth amendment in the name of protection and in the name of wars against terror, drugs and cyber attacks.
  • The UK is aggressively building the world of 1984 in the name of stopping anti-social activities. Their populace seems unable or unwilling to restrain the government.
  • France and the EU have given themselves over to central bureaucratic control.

An electronic police state is characterized by this: State use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.

The two crucial facts about the information gathered under an electronic police state are these:

  1. It is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial.
  2. It is gathered universally ( preventively ) and only later organized for use in prosecutions.

In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording, every email sent, every Internet site surfed, every post made, every check written, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping… are all criminal evidence, and all are held in searchable databases. The individual can be prosecuted whenever the government wishes.

Here are the top 20 worst police states, with last year's ranking is shown in parenthesis.

  1. North Korea (2)
  2. China (1)
  3. Belarus (3)
  4. Russia (4)
  5. United States of America (6)
  6. United Kingdom (5)
  7. France (9)
  8. Israel (8)
  9. Singapore (7)
  10. Germany (10)
  11. Ireland (12)
  12. Malaysia (11)
  13. Netherlands (14)
  14. Italy (24)
  15. South Korea (15)
  16. Australia (18)
  17. Belgium (17)
  18. Spain (43)
  19. Austria (21)
  20. Ukraine (16)

  48.  Thailand (48)


6th March   

Not Properly Protected...

Germany's comms data collection must be deleted
Link Here

Germany's High Court has told police and secret services that they must stop storing email and telephone data and delete information already collected.

The storage of six months' worth of German comms data for police and anti-terrorism purposes was required by a European Union directive.

Opponents of the snooping measure hoped the court would rule the law was unconstitutional, but instead the court found that data was not properly protected and that authorities were not sufficiently clear as to why they needed it.

The court also ruled that Germany's data protection commissioner should be involved in how the data was dealt with.

The case was sparked by a record number of complaints - 35,000 people including Germany's Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. East Germany was famously one of the world's most-spied upon nations, and it seems some kind of a backlash is now in progress.


3rd March   

More Surveillance Tools...

Britain working on nationwide radar system using network of mobile phone masts
Link Here

Secret radar technology research that will allow the biggest-ever extension of Big Brother'-style surveillance in the UK is being funded by the Government.

The radical new system, which has outraged civil liberties groups, uses mobile phone masts to allow security authorities to watch vehicles and individuals 'in real time almost anywhere in Britain.

The technology sees the shapes made when radio waves emitted by mobile phone masts meet an obstruction. Signals bounced back by immobile objects, such as walls or trees, are filtered out by the receiver. This allows anything moving, such as cars or people, to be tracked. Previously, radar needed massive fixed equipment to work and transmissions from mobile phone masts were thought too weak to be useful.

By using receivers attached to mobile phone masts, users of the new technology could focus in on areas hundreds of miles away and bring up a display showing any moving vehicles and people.

An individual with one type of receiver, a portable unit little bigger than a laptop computer, could even use it as a personal radar covering the area around the user. Researchers are working to give the new equipment X-ray vision - the capability to see through walls and look into people's homes.

Ministry of Defence officials are hoping to introduce the system as soon as resources allow. Police and security services are known to be interested in a variety of possible surveillance applications. The researchers themselves say the system, known as Celldar, is aimed at anti-terrorism defence, security and road traffic management.

The system, used alongside technology which allows individuals to be identified by their mobile phone handsets, will mean that individuals can be located and their movements watched on a screen from hundreds of miles away.

After a series of meetings with Roke Manor, a private research company in Romsey, Hants, MoD officials have started funding the multi-million pound project. Reports of the meetings are classified .

Like all instrusive surveillance, we need to be sure that it is properly regulated, preferably by the judiciary, said Roger Bingham of Liberty. Bingham expressed concerns that the new equipment, which would be virtually undetectable, could be used by private detectives or others for personal or commercial gain.


28th February   

Update: Phorming a Case...

CPS considering mounting a prosecution of BT for their secret phorm trials
Link Here
Full story: Behavioural Advertising...Serving adverts according to internet snooping

The Crown Prosecution Service has revealed that it is working with a top barrister on a potential criminal case against BT over its secret trials of Phorm's targeted advertising system.

BT had covertly intercepted and profiled the web browsing habits of tens of thousands of its customers, the CPS told campaigners this week that it is still investigating the affair.

The Crown Prosecution Service is working hard to review the evidence in this legally and factually complex matter, a spokeswoman said.

Campaigners gave prosecutors a file of evidence, including a copy of BT's detailed internal report on a trial of Phorm's technology in 2006, obtained by The Register. The experiment monitored 18,000 broadband lines without customers' knowledge or consent.

This week the CPS said: We are currently awaiting advice from a senior barrister which we will review before coming to a conclusion. We are giving the matter meticulous attention and will reach a proper and considered decision as soon as it is possible for us to do so.

The main law BT is alleged to have broken is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). It restricts the interception of communications.


23rd February   

Update: Loners to be Banned from Working with Kids...

'Better safe than sorry' guidelines at the vetting agency
Link Here
Full story: Vetting Workers...UK vets all adults to work with kids

People could be banned from working with children because of their attitudes or lifestyles.

Workers judged to be loners or to have a chaotic home life could be barred from working with vulnerable people, even though there is no evidence that they pose a risk, according to guidelines from the Government's new vetting agency.

Decisions about staff will be taken by officials who have never met them, based on details passed on by their employers.

Experts claimed that the Big Brother approach meant innocent people could have their careers wrecked on the basis of cruel rumours or ill-informed moral judgements.

The row is the latest controversy to hit the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which was set up to vet millions of people working with vulnerable people.

Guidance seen by The Sunday Telegraph, which has been given to more than 100 case workers at the ISA reveals that those referred could be permanently blocked from work if aspects of their home life or attitudes are judged to be unsatisfactory.

It says case workers should be minded to bar cases referred to them if they feel definite concerns about at least two aspects of their life, which are specified in the document.

It means, for example, that if a teaching assistant was believed to be unable to sustain emotionally intimate relationships and also had a chaotic, unstable lifestyle they could be barred from ever working with children. If a nurse was judged to suffer from severe emotional loneliness and believed to have poor coping skills their career could also be ended. ISA's case workers are expected to establish the person's relationship history and emotional state based on the file passed on by their employer.

Psychologists, professional regulators and health and teaching unions last night expressed horror over the guidance. Harry Cayton, chief executive of the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, which oversees Britain's nine health regulators, said: My concern is that judgements are being made not on the basis of facts but on opinion and third party perceptions.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said: This Government is creating a society where everyone is treated as guilty unless they are proved to be innocent. These changes contravene any principles of natural justice and will destroy the lives of decent innocent people. Gordon Brown is creating Government by thought police .

Adrian McAllister chief executive of ISA said no one would be barred purely on the basis of their lifestyle or attitude, given that all referrals had to identify either harm done, or a future risk of harm . He said: One of the understandable concerns we have heard from people is that they could be barred for private interests like pornography, or liking a drink. That isn't the case. We only look at these risk factors if relevant conduct [actual harm] or a risk of harm has been identified.

The organisation was unable to explain the reasoning behind its instruction to staff that definite concerns in two areas should be sufficient to be minded to bar staff. It would only say that the protocol follows advice from a forensic psychologist.


22nd February   

Update: Beware of Council Workers...

Edinburgh trains workers to snitch on anything unusual they see in people's houses
Link Here
Full story: Stasi Britain...Recruiting an army of snitches and snoopers

Edinburgh City Council has begun sending staff on courses designed to train them to look out for anything that might resemble terrorist activity .

According to the Edinburgh Evening News:

Staff sources say that the sessions have included being told how to spot anything suspicious, and being asked to report anything – no matter how trivial – to police, such as quantities of empty bottles of bleach.

Support workers who visit a range of clients in their own home including vulnerable groups, people with addictions and elderly people, have been among the first to get the training.

Concierges, community safety teams and other front-line staff across the council are also to be sent on the sessions, which are hosted by police as part of the Home Office's counter-terrorism strategy.

This is disgraceful fear-mongering that erodes trust in society and encourages spying, snooping and suspicion. A sad state of affairs.


21st February   

Snoop On...

Bulgarian parliament passes comms snooping law
Link Here

Bulgaria's Parliament has approved the second reading of amendments to the Electronic Communications Act,.

At the proposal of opposition parties and the Blue Coalition, the amendments were revised to include only serious crimes carrying a minimum jail sentence of five years, and computer crimes, Bulgarian-language daily Dnevnik said.

From now on, mobile phone and internet operators will have to supply requested communication data within 72 hours and not, as Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov wanted, in two hours. The Interior Minister, or his representative, would have the right to set a different deadline, shorter or longer, in exceptional cases and depending on the severity of the case.

Personal communication data that had been accessed by the Interior Ministry would have to be kept for six months, after which the data was to be destroyed if it was not used in a court case or investigation.

A parliamentary committee was to oversee the procedures under which personal data was requested and accessed, and ensure that civil rights were protected. The Commission for Personal Data Protection (CPDP) would report annually to Parliament and to the European Commission.

The accepted amendments would also make operators responsible for upgrading of the wiretapping interface and to keep up with new technology, Dnevnik said.


8th February   

Eve on Speed...

US law enforcement agencies push for quicker responses to email snooping requests
Link Here

Anyone with an e-mail account likely knows that police can peek inside it if they have a paper search warrant. But law enforcement agencies say they are frustrated by the speed of traditional methods of faxing, mailing, or e-mailing companies these documents. They're pushing for the creation of a national Web interface linking police computers with those of Internet and e-mail providers so requests can be sent and received electronically.

CNET has reviewed a survey scheduled to be released at a federal task force meeting, which says that law enforcement agencies are virtually unanimous in calling for such an interface to be created.

The survey, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, is part of a broader push from law enforcement agencies to alter the ground rules of online investigations. Other components include renewed calls for laws requiring Internet companies to store data about their users for up to five years and increased pressure on companies to respond to police inquiries in hours instead of days.

But the most controversial element is probably the private Web interface, which raises novel security and privacy concerns, especially in the wake of a recent inspector general's report [pdf] from the Justice Department. The report detailed how the FBI obtained Americans' telephone records by citing nonexistent emergencies and simply asking for the data or writing phone numbers on a sticky note rather than following procedures required by law.

Some companies already have police-only Web interfaces. Sprint Nextel operates what it calls the L-Site, also known as the legal compliance secure Web portal.

Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security officer, said in an interview with CNET: You can be very supportive of law enforcement investigations and at the same time be very cognizant and supportive of the privacy rights of our users. Every time a legal process comes in, whether it's a subpoena or a search order, we do a legal review to make sure it's appropriate.

Nigam said that MySpace accepts law enforcement requests through e-mail, fax, and postal mail, and that it has a 24-hour operations center that tries to respond to requests soon after they've been reviewed to make sure state and federal laws are being followed. MySpace does not have a police-only Web interface, he said.

Creating a national police-only network would be problematic, Nigam said. I wish I knew the number of local police agencies in the country, or even police officers in the country, he said. Right there that would tell you how difficult it would be to implement, even though ideally it would be a good thing.


24th January   

Spy in the Sky...

UK police are planning to use unmanned spy drones
Link Here

Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones for the routine monitoring of motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.

The arms manufacturer BAE Systems, which produces a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for war zones, is adapting the military-style planes for a consortium of government agencies led by Kent police.

Documents from the South Coast Partnership, a Home Office-backed project in which Kent police and others are developing a national drone plan with BAE, have been obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.

They reveal the partnership intends to begin using the drones in time for the 2012 Olympics. They also indicate that police claims that the technology will be used for maritime surveillance fall well short of their intended use – which could span a range of police activity – and that officers have talked about selling the surveillance data to private companies. A prototype drone equipped with high-powered cameras and sensors is set to take to the skies for test flights later this year.

Five other police forces have signed up to the scheme, which is considered a pilot preceding the countrywide adoption of the technology for surveillance, monitoring and evidence gathering . The partnership's stated mission is to introduce drones into the routine work of the police, border authorities and other government agencies across the UK.

Previously, Kent police has said the drone scheme was intended for use over the English Channel to monitor shipping and detect immigrants crossing from France. However, the documents suggest the maritime focus was, at least in part, a public relations strategy designed to minimise civil liberty concerns.


16th January   

Update: Netherlands Cools on Smart Meters...

Dutch reject state monitoring and control inherent in smart meters
Link Here

The Times has reported that the £8.1 billion rollout of smart meters in Britain could be knocked off course unless the Government and Ofgem, the energy regulator, act urgently to convince the public that the information provided by the meters will be held securely.

Fears that data on energy consumption could be misused by criminals, police or insurance companies have curtailed the compulsory introduction of the meters in the Netherlands, according to a report by Datamonitor, the market analyst.

Dutch consumer and privacy organisations were concerned that information relayed as frequently as every 15 minutes could allow employees of utility companies to see when properties were empty or when householders had bought expensive new gadgets.

The doomsday scenario is that once such intricate details of a person's energy habits are made available, the government could start proscribing ever-more individual taxation or even cut-off someone's energy supply on the basis of how much they were using.

The u-turn by the Dutch government represents a tremendous victory for privacy campaigners in the Netherlands and demonstrates that if enough noise is made about a civil liberties issue, eventually politicians will fold rather than face an electoral backlash.


14th January   

Police Human Rights Abusers Stopped and Searched...

Stop and Search deemed illegal by European Court
Link Here
Full story: Stop and Search...Ever more checks without justification

A key weapon of the Government's anti-terror laws was in tatters after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that police stop and search powers were unlawful.

The surprise ruling stunned the Home Office, which swiftly announced that the Government would seek to appeal against the unanimous ruling by seven judges. Despite the judgment, Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said that police would continue to use the powers, which allow them to stop and search people without having to suspect them of involvement in terrorism.

The Strasbourg court ruled that Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 violated individual freedoms guaranteeing the right to private life. The court criticised the arbitrary nature of the power and also the way in which its use was authorised.

Under Section 44, the Home Secretary can authorise police to make random stop and searches in a designated area for up to 28 days, after which the power is renewable.

The case was brought by Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton, who were stopped by police while on their way to a demonstration outside an arms fair at the ExCeL centre in Docklands, London, in September 2003. Quinton, a journalist from London, was ordered to stop filming despite showing her press card, while Gillan, who was riding his bicycle, was only allowed to go on his way after 20 minutes. They were awarded £30,400 in costs.

The court said that the power to search an individual's clothing and belongings in public involved an element of humiliation that was a clear interference with the right to privacy. The judges criticised the way in which the power was authorised, noting that there was no requirement that the power should be considered necessary, only expedient. They were also concerned that the decision to stop and search someone was based exclusively on the hunch or professional intuition of the police officer .

The independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC, said that the judgment could have serious implications and might require parts of the Terrorism Act 2000 to be rewritten. Lord Carlile has repeatedly said that police forces are making too much use of their power to stop and search under the Act. In his last report he estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 stops per month were taking place under Section 44 in early 2009 but none of the searches had resulted in a conviction for a terrorism offence. More than a quarter of a million Section 44 stop and searches took place in Britain in 2008-09, leading to 1,452 arrests.


14th January   

The Right to Forget...

France considers law to allow people to ask for their social network footprint to be deleted
Link Here

Alberic Guigou from online reputation management firm Reputation Squad said many people were becoming public figures on the internet: They are being on Facebook, on Twitter. They are communicating a lot of information about themselves . But the issue is that a lot of people also remain anonymous. They take advantage of that to ruin other people's reputations,

The impact of all those online revelations has made France consider the length of time that personal information should remain available in the public arena.

A proposed law in the country would give net users the option to have old data about themselves deleted. This right-to-forget would force online and mobile firms to dispose of e-mails and text messages after an agreed length of time or on the request of the individual concerned.

Divina Frau-Meigs, Professor of American Studies and Media Sociology at the Paris Sorbonne University, believes the law would counter against unguarded communications becoming an official record.

Alberic Guigou said: This debate is also connected to the right of presumption of innocence in many ways, so that people are not found guilty even before they start on life. People and young people need to be protected by the State so that there is fairness in the way this protection is established, she added.


8th January   

Offsite: Olympic Sport of Rights Abusing...

Why Moynihan's Olympic policing plan is taking a liberty
Link Here

Colin Moynihan announced plans to expand police powers to allow raids on the athletes' village, ostensibly to combat doping.

The British Olympic Association chairman has evidently decided Britain's bursting statute book is not sufficiently equipped to deal with a two-week sporting event. Fortunately for Moynihan, he moonlights as a Tory peer, so he can use the powers vested in him by this other hat to introduce a Lords bill to remedy the oversight.

As I say, this is fortunate for his lordship, but it does feel rather less fortunate for British citizens. It's not just that the plan will be an ostentatiously ineffective deterrent – expert opinion holds that drug cheats tend to stay in privately rented accommodation – nor the vagueness about how Moynihan intends to criminalise substances which may be banned but in almost all cases are legal. It is simply unacceptable to change the law of the land to enforce the internal rules of a competition.

Clearly, the London Games will be used as a cover under which to introduce hugely troubling curbs on individual liberty that may endure long after the event, and anyone who doubts it is directed to a leaked 2007 communique from the Home Office to Downing Street, which proposed, inter alia, wider use of the DNA database, the scanning of mail, and monitoring of individuals via their Oyster cards. It concluded that increasing [public] support could be possible through the piloting of certain approaches in high-profile ways such as the London Olympics .

All modern Olympic games already feel as if they take place under temporary martial law, so when Moynihan declares of his plan that it is important that it should be on the statute book , we should beg his lordship's pardon. It is extremely important that it gets nowhere near the statute book.

...Read full article

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