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Chris Lightfoot 1978-2007
Chris Lightfoot died unexpectedly on 11th February 2007. He is sadly missed by family, friends and colleagues. The funeral was held at St. Bene't's Church, Cambridge, on 23rd February 2007. Donations, if wished, should be sent to www.no2id.net.
A brief note on Crown (and other) Copyright and the Freedom of Information Act. Ex-diplomat Craig Murray has been forced to remove from his website a set of official documents related to the events he writes about in his book Murder in Samarkand by government threats to sue. The documents were, apparently, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and (in the case of those which were about Craig himself) the Data Protection Act.
Copyright protection is a general problem with the Freedom of Information Act. The Act gives you the right to request information, but it does not in general give you the right to do any acts restricted by copyright in respect of the information you've got -- for instance, to copy or republish the information. In Craig Murray's case, the government are seeking to prevent publication of the documents, either on the web or in his book; this makes it hard for him to refer to them in making his case.
Now, this hasn't been tested in court yet, and Craig Murray, who unlike the Treasury Solicitors doesn't have a £400 billion per year revenue stream to support his litigation, isn't about to test it. It's possible that the courts would decide that there is a public interest argument for allowing distribution of the documents (and it's interesting that the government has not risked an Official Secrets Act prosecution in his case), but I wouldn't rely on that.
However, to a great extent this doesn't matter. If one person can get hold of documents under the Freedom of Information Act, then so can anybody else, simply by making a request to the relevant public authority. Rather than trying to face down the FCO and its lawyers, a better response would be to draft a fill-in-the-blanks Freedom of Information Request, which anybody could email in to the FCO to get their own copy of the key documents perfectly legally. That's certainly less convenient than simply downloading them off the web -- in particular, most government departments make sure they send responses no earlier than the maximum twenty working days permitted under the Act -- but there's a limit to what the government can do to wriggle out of its obligations. If Craig can provide information identifying each document to be used in such a request, I'll happily build him a website which will allow anybody to send in such a request at the click of a button.
(This doesn't, of course, cover the documents obtained under the Data Protection Act, which creates only a right to see information about yourself. I don't know which of the Murray documents he got under which Act, so I don't know whether this cripples the above suggestion.)
Charles Clarke, then Home Secretary, answering a question from Ian Paisley, in the House of Commons during the second reading of the Identity Cards Bill:
[...] the Identity Cards Bill does not allow information to be provided from the national identity register to any foreign Government. That is the position--full stop.
Joan Ryan, now Minister of State responsible for ID cards, answering a written question from Lynne Jones, last week:
Section 18 of the Identity Cards Act allows information [from the national identity register] to be provided to overseas authorities, for example law enforcement agencies, for the purposes of criminal proceedings and investigations, as provided for in section 17 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.
The most charitable interpretation is a quibble over the difference between `allow' meaning to create a new power, and `allow' meaning to fail to prohibit the exercise of one which already exists.
Anyway, since that was about ID cards, you get a holiday photo:
So, I've been driven to write by an idiotic speech by that right herbert, our very own Safety Elephant, the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke. Earlier this evening he spoke at the LSE on the subject of ``The media and civil liberties''; his basic thesis being that New Labour hasn't eroded our civil liberties and anyway it's only doing it for our own safety.
The speech is remarkable in that almost every factual assertion Clarke made about the recent legislation of his department was false. Even for a modern Home Secretary this is a remarkable achievement -- the sort of thing better left to Prime Ministers.
Some choice examples. Clarke:
[Journalist Simon] Carr asserts, for instance, that, ``damaging GM crops is defined as a terrorist act''. Where is this idea from? Nowhere in terrorism legislation is damaging GM crop fields defined as a terrorist act.
False. As I have remarked before, the definition of ``terrorism'' in the 2000 Act is extremely broad; damaging a plantation of genetically modified crops certainly involves ``serious damage to property'' (s.1(2)(b)) and therefore if it is done ``to influence the government'' and ``for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause'' (s.1(1)(b) and (c)) -- as ``direct action'' campaigners against GMO do -- it qualifies as terrorism.
[W]hat about the statement: ``People wearing satirical T-shirts in a `designated area' may be arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The City of London is a permanently designated area.'' Wrong again. There is no such provision in any Prevention of Terrorism Act.
The Terrorism Act 2000 gives (s.34) the Police the power to designate an area, and any person in such an area who fails to comply with an order to leave the area given by a constable in uniform commits an offence. This power applies to anyone in a designated area, whether or not they are wearing a ``satirical T-shirt''. The whole of London is in fact a Designated Area under the Act, according to this leaflet from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.
Next on to my strange attractor, ID cards:
And I particularly like this one: ``The National Identity Register may be used to record every sort of personal information-- such as withdrawing more than £200 from the bank, getting prescription drugs, voting, applying for a mortgage, taking out an insurance policy, applying for a fishing licence.'' Wholly untrue, I am glad to report.
It is Clarke who is wrong here. Under schedule 1, paragraph 9 of the Identity Cards Act, a record of ``particulars of every occasion on which information contained in the individual's entry has been provided to a person'' will be made on the Register (commonly referred to as the `audit trail'); s.12 of the Act makes clear that the process of `verifying your identity' using an ID card requires that information from the Register be supplied to another person and therefore details of each such identity check will be recorded.
Identity checks on various types of transaction have been advanced in Home Office documents like this one on Special Issues Research; Charles Clarke gave other similar examples in this column in the Times. The specific idea that cash transactions over a certain level be subject to identity checks is supposed to be a way to prevent money-laundering. Public services -- such as applications for fishing licences, purchasing drugs on prescription, and so forth -- can be made conditional on identity checks using powers in the Act.
The information that can be held on the National Identity Register covers only basic personal information roughly the same as that needed for a passport.
This is false, as a brief perusal of schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act shows, though of course the Home Office's attempts to confuse people as to the difference between ID cards and passports means that they will probably be increasing the amount of personal data required in an application for a passport.
[The NIR] will not include details of withdrawals of cash from bank accounts, medical records or even whether someone has obtained a fishing licence.
All of this information may be recorded in the ``audit trail'', or recorded in other government databases and then connected to records in the NIR by means of a unique number (the National Registration Identity Number) so that it can trivially be retrieved in connection with an individual's NIR record. The Regulatory Impact Assessment gives (p13) the use of the audit trail information for surveillance as an explicit goal of the scheme, and identifies, ``stay[ing] in hotels, rent[ing] accommodation, hir[ing] cars, buy[ing] mobile phones, and generally carry[ing] out their activities'' as things which would be made harder for terrorists by this surveillance -- and by implication, things which would be subject to surveillance through the audit trail.
Later, Clarke had the gall to whine that,
These pieces [by journalists describing the provisions of anti-civil-liberties legislation] are in my opinion symptomatic of a more general intellectual laziness which seeks to slip onto the shoulders of modern democratic states the mantle of dictatorial power.
-- he might be well served by looking closer to home for individuals guilty of ``intellectual laziness''. From this point on, appropriately enough, he made no further substantive points but simply lapsed into the usual ``9/11 means the world has changed and therefore everyone is compelled to agree with every stupid idea we're prepared to throw at you.'' Actually the last bit of his speech reads a lot like the Euston manifesto -- it's full of vague waffle about how the existence of dictatorships means we should ignore things that democratic governments do wrong. Sigh.
So, that was mostly about ID cards, so you get holiday photos:
So, last week while I was on holiday my colleagues Matthew and Francis implemented the splendid WriteToThem.com House of Lords edition, which offers an easy and convenient way for anyone to write to peers in the House of Lords. And as a way to publicise this in the (gak!) ``'blogosphere'' Francis has started one of those intensely irritating 'blog `memes', ``Birth Lords''.
So, my birth Lord -- the single extant peer who shares my birthday -- is Lord Cunningham of Felling, in real life Jack Cunningham, previously MP for Copeland and a ``cabinet enforcer''. As such he is living proof that you don't need to lend the Labour Party millions of quid to get a peerage -- you can just give them 23 years of your life and your intellectual integrity (if any). Naturally as a loyal New Labour toady he is in favour of the things everyone else is against, so I hardly think it worth writing to him with my views on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill or, indeed, to invite him to my birthday party.
Anyway, as usual, the last step in the silly meme is to pass on the request to five other 'bloggers. I'm not a great fan of chain letters, so I shan't, but if you read this and have a 'blog, feel free to jot something down about your birth Lord.