Don’t make me keep saying this

It’s rare to find good sense in an editorial in the Daily/Sunday Telegraph, but here goes. The Sunday Telegraph investigated how often local councils used the surveillance powers in RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act).

As you might guess, they got back a wide list of uses such as spying on noisy children that were never suggested to MPs as likely outcomes of their voting for a supposed anti-terrorism law, a few years ago.

Car boot sales, pizza shops open late, underage kids buying cigarettes and alcohol, fly-tipping, the list of threats to the fabric of British society goes on and on.

Littering and the unauthorised selling of pizzas can be irritating, as can dog fouling and car boot sales (two other activities which RIPA has been used to clamp down on). But no sane person thinks they pose the same threat to public safety as terrorism, or require the same response. (From the Telegraph)

Phew, what a relief. The slightly more ideologically acceptable Observer has an article making some related points on the expansion of policing powers into the realm of non-police bodies..It focuses on the story of the family who put up lamppost notices about their lost dog and were threatened with an “£80 on-the-spot fine for antisocial behaviour.”

Keith Porter says:

As the police retreat from the streets, we are prey to every type of snoop, informant, busybody and vindictive martinet, all of them licensed by the government’s accreditation scheme so that they may demand our names and addresses, photograph us, check car tax discs and seize alcohol, issue fines for truancy, rowdiness, graffiti and dog fouling………
…Even police officers have doubts about the blurring of lines between uniformed officers of the law, whom we know to have received standard training, and these upstarts and busybodies wearing red-and-white prefect’s badges. (from the Observer)

Traffic safety or surveillance?

Any road user in the UK will know about the hordes of traffic cameras all over the country. These wonderful things are supposed to be there to prevent people from speeding – basically they are set up to trigger if you go past at a speed that is above the limit for that stretch of road. If you speed past one, it takes your photo and you get fine & penalty points through the post.

I am not going to use this post to complain about how they don’t actually prevent speeding and are little more than income generation for the local council. That is a rant for another day.

This rant is about the nature of the cameras themselves.

The idea as sold to the population is that this is not “surveillance” of the public (Thor knows we have enough CCTV for that) and photographs of vehicles would only be taken if they exceeded a certain speed (generally the speed limit +10%). However, a comical item on the BBC seems to show a difference.

Leaving aside the whining, simpsonesque “wont anybody think of the children” rant, the concern I have is why on Earth did this camera take a picture of a vehicle that wasn’t speeding? Why was a speed camera recording images of a non-speeding vehicle so the police could dream up other charges?

Welcome to 1984… (again)

Make the trains run on time?

It was a scenario that would have seemed like overkill in an Eastern European border post at the height of the Cold War. At least a dozen uniformed British Transport Police with dogs and backup vehicles in the average-sized mainline trainstation of an insignificant UK provincial city, at tea-time on a Sunday evening.

Doing stop and searches, apparently based on the hunches of the afore-mentioned sniffer dogs. Which apparently were experts in the fine old canine arts of sniffing out “drugs” or people who “look a bit Brazilian Muslim.”

I listened to one father challenging a Transport policewoman about the fact that his teenage son’s details – name, address, date of birth, etc – had been collected to go in a database. …. Despite a search of all the lad’s pockets, socks and so on, not having turned up an aspirin, a knife, a gun or a handy pocket-sized stick of semtex.

The father pointed out that any other time the lad is stopped, the information that pops up will record him as the subject of a drugs/weapons/terror search. Thus setting him off on a path that leads to an identification as somehow having warranted this suspicion.

The policewoman said words to the effect that it was just tough. That’s just the way things are. And no, there was nothing he could do about it. The database entry stands. All the details collected from such stops go into the database of information on – well – close to everybody that they can get information from .

Blimey, I didn’t even realise that British Transport Police had rights of random stop and search. Let alone rights to gather information on people’s names addresses and travel plans. Oh, yes, RIPA. D’oh. It’s probably only an oversight that they didn’t demand DNA.

I am so innocent. Who would have thought that a teenager buying a train ticket, with his parents, could probably be an international drug dealer or a suicide bomber? Well, better to be safe than sorry. Silly me.

A huge policeman came to physically back up the policewoman, in case the father might actually raise his voice, cuss or commit some other subversive act.

At this point, I could see a potential for nothing good to come of it for anyone who wasn’t in uniform, so I sidled off in a cowardly manner…….

Welcome to HM Open Prison United Kingdom

Anti-terrorism laws were used to carry out surveillance on a family that wanted to get their 3-year-old into a certain school. The local council tracked them for a fortnight to make sure they lived in the right catchment area.

No, really.

The title was stolen from a comment by Steve Woods on the post about this in The Register. This story is also on the BBC website and a fair number of newspapers.

In a followup BBC article about an interview with the family:

The council has defended its actions, carried out under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
The council admitted using RIPA laws, which were designed to track criminals and terrorists, on six occasions in total

You may have a problem with intrusive cameras (Well, if you don’t, you should have, if you put any value on personal liberty) but RIPA ups the game quite a bit from them. There’s a very balanced BBC piece on it which, in itself, should put the fear of Odin in you.

It’s not as if this sort of thing should be a surprise. An “anonymous coward” commented on the Register post:

WE were warned at the time that such powers would inevitably be used for trivial matters. The reason is the same as the answer to “why do dogs lick their balls ?” [1]

[1] Because they can.