Where was the serious analysis in the media of what the Home Secretary David Blunkett said to the Defence and Home Affiars Committees, oral evidence session on Homeland Security, Tuesday 2 March 2004 ?
Witnesses: Rt Hon David Blunkett, a Member of the House, Home Secretary, Mr Robert Whalley, Director of Counter-Terrorism, Home Office, Sir David Omand, KCB, Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator and Permanent Secretary and Ms Cheryl Plumridge, Director Capabilities, Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Cabinet Office
It seems that the Draft ID Cards Bill is still set to be published "later this spring":
"Q43 Mr Prosser: If I can return to the issue of advance passenger information,
Home Secretary, you have announced that there will be a six-month consultation period
over these matters. When that six months expires can you give us a view of what happens
next and what sort of timescale there is between the end of the consultation and implementing
some of the measures in a practical way?
Mr Blunkett: On issues such as API and the whole issue of movement across boundaries we
are trying to develop this in a way that is coterminous with what others are demanding.
You are well aware of the discussions over biometric requirements from the United States
and they are having a debate now about how quickly they realistically think they can
implement these new requirements. We are introducing biometrics in relation to visas,
we are experimenting in relation to biometrics with passports. We are moving, in my
view hopefully, following the publication later this spring, to identification cards
and a database with biometrics. All of these are part of the wider discussions which I,
for instance, am having in the European Union, which are taking place with the G8 countries.
If we can run this alongside the existing experiments with e-border surveillance equipment
with the CCTV and electronic data collection at air and sea ports, we can move towards a
system that protects people's rights, that is manageable in terms of the enormity of the
data to be collected and has a meaningful outcome in protecting us against terrorism. That is a very difficult set of balances to achieve"
"Q36 Chairman: You reassure us then that for every passenger coming into this country the information is known by the British intelligence authorities before they arrive and that for every passenger leaving this country going anywhere abroad the passenger list is transmitted to the intelligence authorities anywhere that they land so they can respond to any names?
Mr Blunkett: I did not say that.
Q37 Chairman: I know you did not but do you think you ought to? Are you happy, Home Secretary?
Mr Blunkett: You asked me if I had said it. No, I did not.
Q38 Chairman: Is this going to be viable in the fairly near future because I know from my own conversations of the extreme vulnerabilities we would have or the Americans or the French or the Germans would have because of human rights legislation perhaps, that information on who was on the aircraft could not be transmitted and therefore no action could be taken on the other side. I am merely asking can you give me a reassurance that the intelligence services throughout the world would know exactly who was coming on the aircraft so they could take appropriate action on the information received?
Mr Blunkett: Where there was a request and where there was a reasonable belief that that requested was founded we would be prepared, as we have been, to provide information that would safeguard both those travelling and ourselves and the host destination. We have for incoming activity a clear set of parameters for screening those coming through and a database that relates to those who pose a risk. There is not a country in the world that has a system that is able to monitor in the way that you describe but it can be done on a proportionate and targeted basis.
Q39 Chairman: I shall look at your answer very carefully and see how close you got to meeting my question, Home Secretary. I am not trying to be difficult but it is just that I can imagine how difficult it is.
Mr Blunkett: I think I have gone further than is probably appropriate in public but I am happy to provide that to you.
Q40 Chairman: Mr Whalley perhaps can correct you if necessary, if he dares!
Mr Whalley: There is no need to correct it at all, Chairman. I would just say that there is a lot of work which is going on with partner countries, both in Europe and wider, to try to get this kind of intelligence-sharing work going, particularly where there is a particular identified risk. As you have yourself said, it raises human rights issues and privacy issues and these have to be balanced together."
So are they saying that the current system is not yet as omniscient a surveillance system as they would wish, or are they actually recognising the technological and operational difficulties ?
How exactly do the UK passenger risk profiling systems work ?
How can you check if you are being wrongly being targeted or not?
How are errors corrected ?
What criminal sanctions are there to protect us from over-zealous petty officials ?
The saga of flight BA223 from Lonfon to Washington was also mentioned, but no real light was shed on the inconsistent and contradictory messages that were sent out as a result of partial cancellations and delays.
"Q68 Mr Singh: I would like to pursue this point about the threat to these flights, Home Secretary. What kind of threat was it - I am puzzled, and I am sure a lot of people are - that led to these flights being cancelled? If it was a bomb could we not metal detect all the luggage or take all the luggage out? If somebody was going to pull a gun on the plane could not all the passengers be metal detected? If we had information that somebody was a terrorist could they not have been arrested and the flight take place? What kind of threat is it that we cannot take other action in order to let the flight go ahead but we have to cancel it?
Mr Blunkett: Let me just reassure you that if there was any evidence of a specific individual being suspected of terrorism, they would, of course, be dealt with accordingly. It is totally impracticable to go through the process that would be necessary in terms of the disruption of that flight in a way that would be acceptable in a free society, and the judgment has been taken, and I have talked at some length with Alistair Darling about this because we were dealing with it all the way over Christmas and New Year, with the carrier's common sense that it was better that the carrier had that flight cancelled and was able to operate other flights rather than the nature of the surveillance of the individuals required, and of their luggage and of the flight itself, which would immediately cause even more worry and deterioration in confidence, and we hold to that judgment.
Q69 Mr Singh: Can I just pursue that: by cancelling, are we not encouraging the terrorists?
Sir David Omand: I think that comes back to the point, if I may, about risk management. When there is specific information relating to a flight then clearly the first thing we do is to review the nature of that intelligence and what it might say about a possible threat to see what counter-measures and additional security measures can be taken. Such measures are regularly taken on the basis of intelligence but there can be occasions on which prudence dictates that it is safer for the flight not to proceed. These are rare but when it happens it happens for good reason. I am afraid I really do not think we can go into the sort of cases that would give rise to this.
Q70 Mr Blunt: Recently flights have been cancelled to Riyadh and warnings given about the situation surrounding those in Saudi Arabia which have caused considerable offence in Saudi Arabia and have been strongly rejected, I think, by the Saudi Arabian Government as damaging to Saudi Arabia given what the United Kingdom is saying. Who does, in the end, make these judgments taking into account advice presumably received from the Foreign Office post in Riyadh and advisors on the Middle East desks in London?
Mr Blunkett: It would not be a Foreign Office decision, it would be one relating to security and those charged with security here would have to meet - as they did on each occasion when there was a concern - to go through that assessment and analysis process and then to advise both the Government and the operator of the best approach. I do not want to comment about the reaction of the Saudi Government, except to say we have had to cancel a number of flights over the last three months to Washington. Flights have been cancelled to Nairobi and elsewhere. We honestly do not believe that there is any reason why any government should take offence at taking sensible security measures which are in the best interests of passengers but also, I would have thought, of the destination country.
Sir David Omand: We do take care, of course, to discuss the position with the foreign government concerned, in the case you cite with Saudi Arabia. You will be aware that the Saudi authorities themselves have very recently been issuing warnings about the danger of specific forms of terrorism within Saudi Arabia. I do not think I would want to place too much emphasis on there being a problem between the United Kingdom Government and the Saudi Government because I think there is a great deal of understanding about the need for public safety on the part of both governments"