What is your definition of a "surveillance society" ? It is probably not the same as Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's still secret definition.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, like her Labour party fellow travellers, seems to be spewing Orwellian doublethink and newspeak, where normal sounding English words, have their meanings utterly reversed, without displaying any sense of shame, or pang of conscience, at their perversion.
Safeguards, openness, proportionality and common sense.
From now on, all of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's policy statements will be analysed with these categories in mind. We suspect that she will be found wanting in all of them.
Unfortunately these weasel worded soundbites, which touch on several topics about which Spy Blog regularly comments on, are the current Government's substitute for detailed, practical, cost effective policies:
Apologies for the length of this blog article fisking of this speech, but she uttered a lot of weasel words which need to be challenged:
16 December 2008
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith delivered this speech to the Intellect Trade Association on December 16, 2008.
Today I'd like to address one of the most pressing questions we face as a modern society - how we secure our rights and liberties as individuals, at the same time as ensuring the wider protection of all in our society against terrorism, crime and disorder.
Balancing these individual and collective rights has always been a key responsibility of government.
One which this increasingly repressive and authoritarian, yet morally weak, Labour government, has failed to get right.
And in an era of rapid technological change, it is right that we should constantly satisfy ourselves that we have got the balance right.
Labour Ministers and bureaucrats are always self satisfied that they have done nothing wrong, no matter how severe the incompetence or unfairness which their policies create. Their first principle seems to be to "shoot the messenger", and to lay off any blame onto some Quango or NDPB or junior official.
What they need to do is to satisfy us, the innocent members of the public, that the balance is in our individual favour, not in favour of the vested interests of the State and its secret or commercial lobbyists, nor in favour of real criminals..
Looking back over the year, we've seen the question raised in some new - and it's fair to say, peculiar - ways.
In June, the MP for Haltemprice and Howden booked himself a footnote in the history books by resigning from parliament and the Conservative front-bench, only to return to the Commons a month later.
Note how she could not actually bring herself to use the name of David Davis MP - remember this is not a speech given on the floor of the Chamber of the House of Commons, where the convention is to refer to Parliamentary Constituencies rather than the names of actual Members of Parliament, this was a speech to Intellect, the UK trade body which represents most of the Information technology consulting, hardware and software suppliers who have a symbiotic relationship with out of control, multi-billion pound Government IT projects.
David Davis offered to debate all of the issues mentioned further on in this speech during his successful re-election campaign, but the Labour party politicians and propagandists refused to put up an official Labour party candidate against him, whilst plotting to try to con victims of terrorism or crime into standing against him by proxy.
Remember that when Jacqui Smith talks about "public debate" or "engagement" later on in this speech.
And one night in April - less than a mile from here, just off Oxford Street - the artist Banksy left his calling card, with a piece of 30 foot high graffiti that proclaimed 'ONE NATION UNDER CCTV'.
Eight months later, it's still there - with a CCTV camera watching over it.
The CCTV cameras were there before the wall art graffiti was painted, and did nothing to prevent or deter this "crime".
See our photos: Banksy "One Nation Under CCTV" - tourists and beggars
We were a nation under surveillance back in April, and are even more so now in December.
And while it's probably done wonders for the value of that gable wall, we're entitled to ask how much this effort, and others like them, have hit the right target.
A nation under CCTV?
Are we, really, a nation under CCTV? Do we, today, live in what critics call a surveillance society?
I don't believe so, not for one moment. But I welcome the debate.
If Jacqui Smith does not believe, "not for one moment", that we live in "a surveillance society", then why does she avoid any direct debate with, for example, David Davis MP, or with the NO2ID Campaign or Privacy International or the Open Rights Group or Liberty Human Rights, or ordinary members of the public ?
And while not condoning graffiti per se, I understand the need to keep revisiting these issues in an open and democratic society.
We are - all of us, as citizens, consumers, businesses and government - now presented with a host of new ways to capture, analyse and use data.
And there are clear benefits:
* retailers, banks, and insurance companies delivering more personalised and efficient services
There is nothing "efficient" about retailers, banks and insurance companies, except their ability to lose billions of pounds and thousands of their customer's personal data records on a regular basis.
Only the Government is worse at safeguarding our private personal data and our money.
* nurseries using online webcams to reassure parents that their children are in good hands
Not all parents are re-assured by such snooping !
These systems have weak security, if any, and are Ideal for kidnappers, stalkers and child molesters with administrator access at the nursery school, their IT suppliers or at any of the internet service providers between the school and the parents. Unlike people actually working at the nursery school, none of the people installing or delivering or administering such child surveillance systems need to have even the fig leaf of a Criminal Records Bureau check. Some of them will be able to access such images of your children from foreign countries.
Why should one set of parents be able to snoop, in secret, on other people's children, without explicit prior permission ?
* sat nav technology making people's everyday lives easier, whether it's working out the route of a journey or accessing information from your mobile phone
Most mobile phones in the UK do not yet have "sat nav" technology.
The combination of a GPS sat nav chip and a mobile phone is what makes up most of a mobile "electronic tag", used so ineffectively by the Home Office and its sub-contractors to tag criminals on bail, and, controversially, instead of part of a prison sentence, even for violent or dangerous criminals.
* strengthening the frontline against crime, with handheld computers and mobile fingerprint devices meaning the police can spend more time out of the station
None of these examples have anything to with CCTV mass surveillance systems i.e. "A nation under CCTV?"
In the space of a century, we have moved from setting up the first fingerprint branch in Scotland Yard in 1901 to the regular use of DNA today to extend and backdate the ability to investigate crime.
To put it another way, we have seen elementary policing progress from the deductions of Sherlock Holmes and his dear sidekick right through to the forensic use of the discoveries of Francis Crick and Dr Watson's namesake.
These developments have brought opportunities and challenges in their wake.
DNA profiling was developed by Professor Alec Jeffreys, who has expressed serious concerns about the way in which his techniques have been applied by the UK Government and Police, especially the retention of innocent people's DNA samples and profiles.
In some cases, like with DNA or the use of covert surveillance powers, it means rethinking our regulations and ensuring high standards of safeguards.
Such "standards of safeguards" e.g. for DNA retention of innocent people's data or for the planting of electronic bugging devices intrusively (i.e. by breaking into people's home or vehicles) were routinely ignored in practice, then declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights. This Labour Government has rubber stamped Acts of Parliament to make such practices legal, retrospectively, without any of their politicians having the honour to take the blame for the illegal actions of their subordinates, and resign.
In other cases, as with the rapid growth of online communications, new technology demands that we find new ways to maintain the protections we currently rely on for the public good.
Early in the new year, we will consult on how to best continue tracking information relating to serious and organised crime and terrorism in this new environment.
Will the Government again deliberately delay the the latest Annual Report of the Interception Commissioner, and of the Intelligence Services Commissioner, which should, according the the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, be "laid before Parliament" before the end of this calendar year i.e. this Wednesday or Thursday, as they have in the past ?
Will this be a crude attempt to conceal the latest, albeit inadequately detailed figures about the extent of such Communications Data use by the state ?
As today's verdict in the trial for the murder of Rhys Jones has shown, communications data can form an important part of prosecution evidence. And indeed this information - on the fact that communication has taken place, but not on its content - plays a role in some 95% of all really serious criminal cases, such as murder, drugs trafficking, and child sex abuse.
If this capability isn't to be lost due to the growth of online communications, it's clear that we need to respond and adapt to technological change.
As always, of course, new technology presents opportunity gaps for criminals as well - a set of early adopters if ever there was one, always on the look-out for new ways to exploit weaknesses.
Identity fraudsters, child pornographers, and international terrorists - all have made extensive use of the internet. And, our response - working with industry on the responsible use of social networking sites, for example, or to develop filtering software - has had to adapt constantly to stay ahead of the game.
All of the sorts of people existed before the internet was invented, and the Government's efforts at internet censorship have been technologically and administratively inept.
The same "Great Firewall of Britain" infrastructure used to censor such websites or other internet traffic can also be used against innocent political opponents as well - no dictorship or repressive regime ever admits to political censorship of the media or of the internet - they always pretend that it is for the purposes of "national security or crime" etc.
One thing is clear. The eager take-up of innovation in the consumer sector does not mean that government itself can proceed without caution, or without robust safeguards in place.
Common sense guidelines
The public expect us to make use of technology to protect them - and that is a clear priority for me. We would be failing in our duty to do otherwise.
When we talk about fingerprints...CCTV cameras...DNA swabs...or scanning machines at airports...I think that people instinctively understand that these technologies, used properly, are vital tools against crime, terrorism and illegal immigration.
But I also recognise the absolute necessity of getting the balance on privacy right.
And so today I want to set out some basic tests, and set out the direction of travel for some of our key policies.
Are there appropriate safeguards in place - to keep data secure, for example, and to provide independent oversight where appropriate - as we have progressively built into how the National Identity Scheme operates?
Are we being as transparent as possible
Jacqui Smith has lapsed into Orwellian newspeak again here "transparency" seems to mean, in practice, secrecy and costly delays and legal appeals at public expense, to suppress the publication of information which might even help to strengthen the alleged aims of the Government's own policies.
Why does the Home Office refuse to make public even the barest details about the times and locations where the supposedly very temporary and extraordinary Terrorism Act 2000 section 44 stop and search without reasonable suspicionpowers are currently in force ? How can these powers be a deterrent, if they are kept so secret ?
Why is it nearly 4 years since our Freedom of Information Act request for the early, and now very out of date, Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme ?
- and as with ID cards, how do we provide individual citizens with the right level of choice and control?
What does she mean "as with ID Cards " ?
The Government , even after all these years, have not dared to publish any detailed procedures about "citizen's choice and control" over the National Identity Scheme !
The Government have stated many times that they intend there to be no effective choice i.e. that the registration scheme is to be compulsory.
There are no published control procedures or effective methods for correcting the Government's inevitable errors and cockups. All the risk and blame is shifted onto the individual citizens, and not onto Ministers or their sub-contractors, even if they are the ones who make the errors.
That is not the "right level of choice and control" for individual citizens, neither for the National Identity Scheme nor for any of the other Surveillance State Databases which this Government has already or is planning to inflict on us.
Where surveillance powers are used, are they kept in proportion to the damage and the threat they are seeking to prevent?
No they are not, especially not by Local Councils, nor by the Metropolitan Police Service acting in its Counter Terrorism role.
And perhaps the toughest question of all - does it stand up to the test of common sense?
Safeguards, openness, proportionality and common sense.
For the public to have confidence that we will protect them and protect their rights, it is our responsibility as a government to ensure that these standards apply even as technology evolves.
The Government has been utterly, criminally, hopeless at using existing, available off the shelf, tried and tested technology e.g. encryption, to protect our data from espionage, theft or accidental loss, on a massive scale.
They have also ignored the fundamental common sense principle of Data Minimisation i.e. not collecting far more information than strictly needed for the task at hand.e.g. if you need to ascertain that someone is an adult or a child, you do not need to ask for, record, store and transfer on multiple times, their exact date of birth details - you only need to know whether they are older than 18 or not.
Both HMRC and the Ministry of Defence and HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office and the National Health Service etc. all claim to treat data security and privacy "verty seriously" and give it the "utmost importance" and have the "highest standards".
All of these have been shown to be spectacular failures in the past couple of years or so., so why should we believe that the centralised national biometric database and tracking system the National Identity Scheme, be any different ?
Other countries have shown that it is possible to have a national identity card, even one with biometrics, which does not rely on a vulnerable , oppressive centralised databases, and which, unlike the UK scheme, can actually be used to help verify your internet or mobile phone transactions through the use of digital certificates.
Ten days ago, on a trip to Tower Hamlets, I saw how an entire neighbourhood had had their daily lives made a misery for months by the behaviour of people in one particular flat - until the local council and the police got a premises closure order and boarded it up. That order was only made possible because covert CCTV had helped capture the evidence of anti-social behaviour and crime.
Such a narrow, targeted use of CCTV surveillance may be justifiable, but those examples do not make the case for the mass surveillance via CCTV which millions of us innocent people suffer from every day.
Was this "premises closure order" really only obtained entirely through the use of CCTV surveillance evidence, and without any complaints or witness statements by the neighbours ?
There are literally hundreds of cases like this, where the police and local authorities access investigatory powers like covert surveillance and communications data under RIPA - the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - and use these powers fairly and squarely to help law-abiding people to hit back against the yobs and bring criminals to book.
But even as we recognise the usefulness of RIPA, we have to be sure that it is being used properly. Even with the clear safeguards that RIPA requires for the use of communications data and covert surveillance, I am concerned at the level of misunderstanding there is about what these powers are, who has access to them, and what they can be used for.
Let's be clear. RIPA is not anti-terror legislation, as is sometimes suggested. RIPA limits the use of investigatory powers, and makes sure they are used properly and proportionately. The legislation provides for oversight by independent commissioners and routes for individuals to complain if they feel the use of these powers has been unjustified.
While most of the investigations local authorities carry out are important - like protecting the public from dodgy traders, trapping fly tippers who dump tonnes of rubbish on an industrial scale across the countryside, or tackling the misery caused by noisy and disruptive neighbours - there are clearly cases where these powers should not be used.
I don't want to see them being used to target people for putting their bins out on the wrong day, for dog fouling offences, or to check whether paper boys are carrying sacks that are too heavy.
Local council requests amount to a tiny proportion of the overall numbers - but nonetheless, it's essential to make sure we've got the balance right. And it's these tales of 'dustbin Stasi' and examples of excessive intrusion that give the responsible and respectable use of the powers a bad name.
Early next year, we will consult on a number of proposed changes to RIPA - and we will look at:
• revisions to the Codes of Practice that come under the Act;
• which public authorities can use RIPA powers; and
• raising the bar for how those powers are authorised, and who authorises their use.
One question I will be asking of local authorities is whether the powers are authorised at a high enough level. Would it reinforce public confidence, and avoid frivolous use of the powers, if they could only be done with the consent of a senior executive, and subject to a form of oversight from elected councillors?
Local Authorities and other Quangos, or NDPBs should lose their ability to self authorise Intrusive or Directed Surveillance under RIPA entirely. Only the Police and Intelligence Agencies should have these powers.
Local Authorities only use these powers on relatively few occasions. When an investigation has reached such a stage, as to involve serious organised crime, then there should be a joint investigation with the Police or with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and they should handle all the RIPA authorisations and audit trails and management of confidential human or technical resources etc., not the inexperienced Local Authority staff.
I am determined to maintain robust powers to tackle crime and disorder. But to allay public fears of excessive intrusion, and to keep people's trust and confidence in the wider necessity of these powers to tackle disorder, crime and terrorism, I am equally clear that we have to measure these efforts against our standards for safeguards, openness, proportionality and common sense.
The same principles apply to DNA evidence. Having looked at this area particularly closely over the past year, I've found there are few areas where the balance between rights and protections comes into such stark relief as on DNA.
The recent European Court judgement in the S and Marper case has put the issue back in the spotlight.
We wonder if Jacqui Smith and her senior civil servants and political apparatchiki have actually bothered to read the damning unanimous judgment by the 17 judges of the European Court of Human Rights. They highlighted lots of areas of policy where this Labour Government is wrong and is acting illegally, with regard to both DNA cellular tissue samples, DNA profiles and also Fingerprints.
Many of you will have seen the response of victims' families to the recent ruling - notably the family of Sally Ann Bowman, whose killer was convicted as a result of DNA taken after he was arrested following a pub brawl and subsequently acquitted.
I have real sympathy for all those with concerns that any move could undermine a system that helped trap Sally Ann's killer. And I want to reassure Sally Ann's father that I will not let that happen.
In this and other cases, we've seen convictions for serious crimes of culprits who had had their DNA taken and retained for a previous crime where they were arrested, but not convicted.
In May 2002, Kensley Larrier was arrested for the possession of an offensive weapon. His DNA was taken and loaded to the DNA database, although the proceedings were then discontinued. Two years later, DNA from a rape investigation was speculatively searched against the database and matched his sample. This was the only evidence in the case, and when found guilty Larrier received a 5 year custodial sentence and was entered on the sex offenders register for life.
These cases and others tell me that the DNA database is crucial to public protection. It not only helps to lead to the guilty. It helps to prove innocence and to rule people out as suspects.
The Home Office has claimed, purely as a statistical guesstimate, that there are over 100 such cases , but has refused to provide details of more than a tiny handful of them.
That argument was made to the ECHR and, rightly rejected by them, as being disproportionate.
Keeping innocent people's DNA data on a database does not help to "prove innocence" or to "rule people out as suspects", that is what the direct comparison of the DNA of a suspect against the DNA samples from the crime scene does. Once it has been shown that there is no match, that data should be destroyed.
There is more we can do to strengthen the dividing line between guilt and innocence. For those who have committed a serious offence, our retention policies need to be as tough as possible.
Only for people actually convicted of serious offences, not simply those falsely accused, or arrested or even charged with such offences..
But for others, including children, I am convinced that we need to be more flexible in our approach.
The DNA of children under 10 - the age of criminal responsibility - should no longer be held on the database. There are around 70 such cases, and we will take immediate steps to take them off.
It will be interesting to see just how long "immediate" actually takes in practice.
For those under the age of 18, I think we need to strike the right balance between protecting the public and being fair to the individual.
There's a big difference between a 12 year old having their DNA taken for a minor misdemeanour and a 17 year old convicted of a violent offence, and next year I will set out in a White Paper on Forensics how we ensure that that difference is captured in the arrangements for DNA retention.
Why were these issues and procedures not debated and codified at the start of the National DNA Database ?
We will consult on bringing greater flexibility and fairness into the system by stepping down some individuals over time - a differentiated approach, possibly based on age, or on risk, or on the nature of the offences involved.
That may mean letting the 12 year old I mentioned come off the database once they reach adulthood. And it could mean limiting how long the profiles of those who have been arrested but not convicted of an offence could be retained.
We are also re-examining retention arrangements for samples. Physical samples of hair and saliva swabs that represent people's actual DNA are much more sensitive than the DNA profile that is kept on the database - which only uses a small part of non-coding DNA.
This was a key point flagged up when we set up the Ethics Group under the National DNA Database Strategy Board, and we will pursue improvements to the safeguards around the handling of samples.
The ECHR judgment suggests that you should destroy those samples of innocent people, as they contain even more sensitive familial information, including medical data, than mere DNA profiles do.
These changes will see some people coming off the system. But as I said, we need to strengthen the dividing lines between innocence and guilt - and so I want to do more to ensure we get the right people onto the system as well.
The supposed error correction mechanism is currently a deliberate bureaucratic obstacle course, far beyond the resources of most ordinary people.
This must be immediatel