New MHWiBPsMT award

A strong bid for the title of “Most-Hated Woman in British Politics since Margaret Thatcher” from Jacqui* Smith.

(You might think there’s limited competition. You haven’t thought about the repellent Anne Widdecombe, then. Or even, how about the likes of Harriet Harman who seem to have happily betrayed everything they ever once represented, just to be in government? And that’s without even counting some of female political commentators that the Mail can bring out.)

The House of Lords did the noble thing (well, the clue should be in the name) when its Constitution Committee came out with some forceful opposition to the database state:

“Electronic surveillance and collection of personal data are “pervasive” in British society and threaten to undermine democracy, peers have warned. (from the BBC website)

(There are quite a few pieces in the Guardian about this.)

What did Jacqui have to say:

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has rejected claims of a surveillance society and called for “common sense” guidelines on CCTV and DNA.

And where is this sudden upsurge of common sense going to come from? Who’s responsible for setting guidelines on CCTV and DNA. Blimey, it turns out to be you. So how can you be calling for other mythical common sense-exuding person or ministry to do the decent thing?

Forget the Lords, the European Court of Human Rights gave you some “common sense” guidelines on DNA…(hint, stop collecting it from innocent people, as a bare minimum)…

The Home Office “said CCTV and DNA were essential crime-fighting tools and that it was already reviewing the retention of DNA samples and consulting on the use of RIPA. The European Court of Human Rights told the Home Office in December that the retention of innocent people’s DNA was illegal.” (from the Register)

… and you haven’t even rushed to implement European law.

In fact, in the time since that ruling, rather than concentrate on dismantling the procedures that got the UK in trouble, you’ve been busy sneaking in new intrusions, like the innocuous-sounding Coroners and Justice Bil* which no2id is getting rather annoyed about.

Hidden in the new Coroners and Justice Bill is one clause (cl.152) amending the Data Protection Act. It would allow ministers to make ‘Information Sharing Orders’, that can alter any Act of Parliament and cancel all rules of confidentiality in order to use information obtained for one purpose to be used for another.

This single clause is as grave a threat to privacy as the entire ID Scheme. Combine it with the index to your life formed by the planned National Identity Register and everything recorded about you anywhere could be accessible to any official body.

Let me just refresh your memory about the safety of “anything recorded about you anywhere” In November 2008, IT Pro wrote about a year of data losses, starting with a Revenue and Customs loss of data on 20 million people and going upwards from there.

Which reminds me…. What happened to all those people hassling Jacqui for the chance to get an ID card back, also in November 2008? Have they got one yet, Jacqueline**.

* Do I have to use they Orwellian word again? It’s getting to be a cliche.
** Can I call you Jacqueline? It just seems so much more authentic. Or at least more predictably spellable. Jacqui sets my teeth on edge. Jackie would be fine, but it’s obviously not pretentious enough.

Fear, fear and more fear

It seems that some members of the government are not happy that legislation to allow innocent people to be sentenced to 42 days in jail failed. From the BBC:

[Security Minister Lord West] told peers that while some measures had been taken over the past 15 months to make Britain safer “this does not, I’m afraid, mean we are safe”.

he said: “The threat is huge. The threat dipped slightly and is now rising again with the context of ‘severe’, large complex plots, because we unravelled one the damage it caused to al-Qaeda actually faded slightly.

“They are now building up again. There is another great plot building up again and we are monitoring this.”

Now, I am not fully sure what Lord West’s point in all this was, other than he is a supporter (albeit in strange circumstances) of the 42 day internment detention plans.

With this in mind, it seems that Lord West is trying the age old trick of making people worried about a nebulous threat with the hope it will cloud their judgement. For this to work, you need to whip people up into a panic, then explain that “doing nothing” is bad so doing anything has to be good. (Sounds familiar)

As is often the case, this is massively flawed.

For longer than I have been alive the UK has been under threat of a “huge, complex” terrorist plot. Since we became weak and frightened (and the terrorists stopped looking like “one of us”) there has been huge spending on the security services along with a massive increase in technical and legislative procedures to surveil and control the public. All of this has been done on the premise that it would reduce the threat from terrorists.

Despite this, we are constantly told by the government that the threat is as bad as ever with what appears to be a steady state 200 terrorist networks operating in the country. Often (such as now) we are told the threat is increasing. The “Terrorist Threat Level” in the UK has been at Severe for around five years now with no signs it will drop.

Nothing we have done has reduced the threat from terrorist attacks. Nothing we have done has reduced the number of terrorist networks. Even when the terrorists kill themselves (such as at Glasgow) the numbers remain the same. Nothing has changed for the better (*), in fact the more laws we enact the more we hear “DANGER, DANGER” and the more we are urged for more sweeping legislation.

When will we learn – it is not working. Doing more of it wont magically make it work.

If the huge anti-terrorist effort since 7/7 has made no perceptible dent in the terrorist threat, it really is time to find a different way.

However, as it seems the security minister (et al) are more interested in telling the House of Lords and the House of Commons the sky is about to fall on our heads, it is unlikely they have the time to think of a way to be successful. Instead, it seems they would rather pander to the readership of the Daily Mail and be seen to be “tough on terrorism.” The fact it is having no effect is, basically, irrelevant….

* I am aware the security organisations may be working in the background to prevent attacks and destroy terrorist cells – that is what they are there for after all. However, if they are being successful, why hasnt the threat level changed and why aren’t we hearing that it is (even a little bit) safer today than it was yesterday?

Noblesse oblige

The House of Lords did the noble thing today and threw out the 42 day detention proposals.

By 309 votes to 118. I doff my lowly cap to you, lords and ladies. Bravo.

The Bill may come back to the Commons for another go, but I suspect the government’s heart just won’t be in this, given that the purchase of NI unionist support might be too problematic a trick to repeat.