Sunday, February 19, 2006

Reclaiming liberty

Henry Porter thinks that Britain has just seen one its worst weeks for liberty:

To compromise the freedoms of a society which has no bill of rights and no written constitution to protect it from the menace of future tyrants is irresponsible in the extreme. Laws have a habit of lying around and when Labour eventually loses an election, we must hope that the incoming government draws up a list of laws to remove immediately from the statute books.

Here's my proto-list — please feel free to add further liberty-destroying legislative powers in the comments!

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Part I Chapter IIProvides a wide range of government bodies with access to data on your phone and Internet usage with no judicial control
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Part IIIAllows law enforcement to demand passwords and decryption keys on pain of up two years in prison (five once the current Terrorism Bill is passed). If you tell anyone except your lawyer you have received such as demand, you can go to jail for five years. Can put the burden on you to prove you have forgotten your password.
Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 Part XIEnables government to require phone companies and ISPs to store information about their customers calls and Internet usage

All of the last week's legislation, assuming it makes it through the Lords, needs to be added to the list. Along with the parts of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 that makes arrestable virtually every offence; the police powers to compel the production and storage of DNA from anybody they come across; ASBOs; and so on.


Watching Them, Watching Us said...

Why do we tolerate such a long list of depressingly evil legislation ?

Football (Disorder) Act 2000 - power to prevent you boarding a flight out of the country, if you are wearing the wrong football shirts, colours etc. , at the whim of a policeman, even if you have not been served with a banning order by the courts.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 - Applies to all electromagnetic communications, throughout the entire spectrum, including , presumably, cosmic rays, anywhere within the UK, and also, anywhere outside of the UK i.e. all known and uknown electromagnetic energy in the entire universe.

Terrorism Act 2000 - Section 58 "thought crime" - possession of any document, or electronic file, even something written in your own handwriting, which may be of some use to a terrorist. Also applies even if you have never read it. e.g. a technical manual. Vastly overused and "ethnic profile" targeted Section 44 stop and search powers.

Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 - another "thought crime" power regarding terrorist hoaxes involving "noxious substances" - applies anywhere in the world, even if there is no actual noxious substance, and even if only an "impression is created in someone's mind". A "noxious substance" is defined as "any natural substance" or "any man made substance" i.e. all matter in the entire universe.

Proceeds of Crimes Act 2002 - establishes the Assets Recovery Agency, which currently seizes about £17 million of "criminal assets" a year i.e. less than the cost of running the agency. Assets are seized "on suspicion", without any actual court order or criminal trial. The actual amount of terrorist assets frozen between September 2001 and March 2005 was £380,000 in total, although Gordon Brown is now claiming that £80 million has been frozen, presumably since March last year , which seems unlikley.

Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 - widely abused in local authority tabloid mob panics. See

Extradition Act 2003 - allows for people in the UK to be extradited to the USA, solely on an accusation, but without any actual prima facie evidence being presented before a UK Court. The reverse is not true, i.e. prima facie evidence does need to be presented by the UK authorities to extradite someone from the USA.

Children Act 2004 - allows for the creation of intrusive centralised databases on all 12 million children in the UK, and on their parents or guardians. Specifically destroys the professional advisor / client Common Law duty of confidentiality, whoch will lead to vulnerable children not seeking medical etc. advice for fear of their parents or the police etc. being notified.

Human Tissue Act 2004 - gives legal protections and exemptions to academic and commercial research , and for the Police to retain human tissue samples and to conduct DNA tests, without your consent. Only "regulates" DNA as a genetic testing technique, and ignores all the other current and developing techniques which can give similar information i.e. RNA analysis, chromosome analysis, protein folding etc.

Hunting Act 2004 - does not seem to have stopped fox hunting, but includes intrusive powers of search and seizure of vehicles, but not of hunting horses.

Civil Contingencies Act 2004 - Henry VIII powers in Part 2 Emergency Powers, can be used to repeal or amend any Act of Parliament, or to exercise the Royal Prerogative, apart from the Civil Contingencies Act itself and the Human Rights Act. An Emergency can be declared orally, without a written or digitally signed order, by any "senior Minister" (including the non Ministers like the Government Whips). All Ministers are "deemed to always act reasonably"

Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 - Control Orders, Kafka-esque "house arrest", restrictions on freedom of movement, assembly, free speech, elelctronic and other communications,. All of this with no charge, or evidence revealed to the subject of the Control Order and their families, all by Order of a Politician rather than an independent Judge. Applies to British citizens as well as foreigners.

Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 - Designated Area around Parliament, prohibiting spontaneious "demonstrations" without prior written Police permission. "Demonstration" is undefined and is being applied inconsistently. People have been arrested and convicted for holding a Remembrance Ceremony in Whitehall, but somehow, "official" Ceremonies like Remebrance Sunday or Trooping the Colour are claimed to be exempt, although the wording of the Act has no such exemptions. People have been arrested and charged for carrying a banner saying "I am not a Serious Organised Criminal".

Other similar restrictions against peaceful protests (there are plenty of laws about violent protests) now also apply around Designated Sites e.g. military bases and potentially any Crown Lands.

Identity Cards Bill 2005 - proposes a hugely expensive and intrusive Centralised Biometric Database and Audit Trail. See the cross party NO2ID Campaign

Terrorism Bill 2005 - deeply flawed, vague and catch all, claims worldwide jurisdiction. Scope for malicious "takedown orders" and accusations of "indirectly inciting terrorism" against any website critical of Government "security" policy, or political discussion websites.

Life sentence for "Acts Preparatory to Terrorism" - undefined, but potentially a longer prison sentence than for the actual terrorist acts themselves if they had actually been committed. The catch all nature of an act preparatory to a terrorist act e.g. "collection of information which might be useful to a terrorist" is appallingly overbroad, and at the whim of the opinion of a bureaucrat.

Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill 2005 - proposes removal of British Citizenship, even for people who have been born in the UK, "for the public good", by order of the Home Secretary, without any judicial oversight or evidence heard before a Court.

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill 2006 -
The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill appears to be like the Civil Contingencies Act, but without even the slim protections against modifying the Human Rights Act or the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act itself, if passed. It could be used to modify any Act of Parliament or Statutory Instrument or Regulation or the Common Law, by Order of a Minister.

Are any of the Opposition parties committed to repealing any of this repressive legislation, which is simply helping the enemies of this country to destroy our cherished freedoms and liberties, without actually preventing real terrorist threats ?

Word Mincer said...

Re: "Are any of the Opposition parties committed to repealing any of this repressive legislation, which is simply helping the enemies of this country to destroy our cherished freedoms and liberties, without actually preventing real terrorist threats?"

To be honest I bet the Opposition parties aren't as well informed as you appear to be! Am impressed by how thorough and long the above list is. On the one hand I'd probably have to read up on all this first hand to be able to answer my own niggles about the lack of detail and context presented here, e.g. what were the events that led to these laws being passed when they were new that obviously made them such a good idea at the time. But on the other, I'd say your presentation is persuasive enough to warrant some serious thought on *how* the laws should be repealed and what the ammendments should look like. Since you are so well informed and have the critical nouse to smell what isn't quite right about the list, how about making some hard suggestions about the reforms and offering your services as consultant to both the Opposition and the current government? Pointing out the errors is all well and good, but it soon gets frustrating if nothing is presented as a next step which could replace the stuff that is at fault. Have you already articulated alternatives elsewhere or are you still formulating these?

Ian Brown said...

Some alternative suggestions here.

Watching Them, Watching Us said...

The list is not comprehensive, and most of these Acts or Bills have several badly worded or actually evil sections.

It does give a flavour of some of the more egregious "infinite power" grabs by the Executive branch of Government, which the supposed guardians of our liberties in Parliament have failed to prevent.

There is more background on most of these published on Spy Blog

As to what can be done to gether political support to repeal or at least amend, these rushed and poorly scrutinised laws, which have usually been a "must be seen to be doing domething" reaction to tabloid headlines, there is some chatter in the British political blogosphere , prompted by the Legislatative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which may, or may not lead to something bigger e.g.

"Where liberty is, there is my country" at Talk Politics.

Bob Piper said...

Just as a matter of interest, does anyone know anyone who has not commiten an overtly criminal act who has ever been charged under these laws. The only people I have ever come across have been little darlings who have been served asbos (and most of their neighbours expressed a view for something much more violent and unpleasant) or a chap I had to defend because his employers were using the Lawful Business Practices Act (which was introduced as a consequence of RIPA) to unlawfully monitor his internet access. He was actually 'protected by the provisions in RIPA which limit the employers rights to do this.

Incidentally, I take the point that it is the provisions in the legislation which would allow a repressive regime to use them, rather than whether this government has used them that is under discussion.