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29th December

  Repression on the Cards ...



1000 fine for not keeping big brother updated

From The Telegraph

ID CardA draconian regime of fines is being drawn up by ministers to enforce the Identity Card scheme.

Millions of people will face a system of penalties, netting more than 40 million for the Treasury.

People would be fined up to 1,000 for failing to return a dead relative's ID card, while women who marry will have to pay at least 30 for a new card if they want to use their married name, risking a 1,000 fine if they do not comply.

The Government says people will have to pay 30 for a simple ID card, or more than 90 for one with a passport. Experts, however, claim that the cost of a combined card could be as high as 300.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said the fines revelation shows that the scheme will hit the taxpayer not the terrorists and is just another Labour stealth tax. It is shocking that the Government is considering charges and fines on people at some of the most sensitive times in life. The Conservatives would scrap this plastic poll tax and invest the savings in practical measures to improve security.

The first cards will be issued by the Identity and Passport Service to passport applicants in 2009 and will become compulsory from 2010.

The extent of the fines for minor infringements is revealed in written answers from John Reid, the Home Secretary, and other ministers. They show that the Government is drawing up sinister sounding "guidance on death registration" which will order bereaved families to return the card of their deceased relative within a specified period. Failure to do so would carry a 1,000 fine under the "invalidity and surrender of ID cards" section of the Identity Cards Act 2006.

In a separate plan, Reid admitted that applicants will be asked for "all current alternative addresses". Failure to update the register with details such as term-time halls of residence could result in a 1,000 fine.

There was also anger over the disclosure that all fees and fines will be paid directly into the Treasury's central funds for general spending and not go towards running the scheme.


8th December

  Roving Bugs

FBI remotely activate mobile microphones

Maybe all mobile phones already have the software to allow such surveillance.

From CNET News

Roving bug, ie mobile phoneThe FBI appears to have begun using a novel form of electronic surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile phone's microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.

The technique is called a "roving bug," and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.

While it appears this is the first use of the "roving bug" technique, it has been discussed in security circles for years.

The surveillance technique came to light in an opinion published this week by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. He ruled that the "roving bug" was legal because federal wiretapping law is broad enough to permit eavesdropping even of conversations that take place near a suspect's cell phone.

Kaplan's opinion said that the eavesdropping technique functioned whether the phone was powered on or off. Some handsets can't be fully powered down without removing the battery; for instance, some Nokia models will wake up when turned off if an alarm is set.

If a phone has in fact been modified to act as a bug, the only way to counteract that is to either have a bugsweeper follow you around 24-7, which is not practical, or to peel the battery off the phone, Atkinson said. Security-conscious corporate executives routinely remove the batteries from their cell phones, he added.


7th December

  Scored for Life

US brand travellers with terror rating

From The Times

US Department of Homeland SecurityEvery airline passenger entering the United States from this week will be secretly assigned a computer-generated terror threat score, based on information as diverse as their car number-plate and the meal ordered on a flight.

The rating, which will be used to subject people to extra security checks or even arrest, cannot be seen or challenged and will be held on file for 40 years.

The scores, which can be shared with state and local police, foreign governments, courts and potential government employers, are assigned to people after computers assess factors including their travel records, where they are from, how they paid for their tickets, their car records, their seating preference, past one-way travel and what meal they ordered.

Privacy groups called the system invasive and expressed alarm that hundreds of millions of Americans and international travellers will not be allowed to know their score, even if it is erroneous, or to challenge it.

The programme, called the Automated Targeting System (ATS), was disclosed by the Department of Homeland Security. It described it as one of the most advanced targeting systems in the world . The department said that the system was aimed at discovering high-risk individuals who may have not been previously associated with a law enforcement action or otherwise be noted as a person of concern to law enforcement.

Federal officials receive advanced passenger and crew lists for all flights and ships entering and leaving the US, and those details are already entered into the ATS system. The names of vehicle drivers and passengers are entered when they cross the border, and Amtrak, the national rail operator, is voluntarily supplying passenger details for trains to and from Canada.

According to a notice posted by the Department of Homeland Security, the ATS system has been exempted from many provisions of the Privacy Act that are designed to protect people from secret and possibly inaccurate government dossiers.

A similar Homeland Security project for domestic air travellers, called Secure Flight, has been blocked by Congress until the Government can prove that the system can pass ten tests for accuracy and privacy protection.


16th November

    Fingered at Stansted

Big BrotherBased on article from the BBC

Hiring a car can now mean leaving a fingerprint. And check-out staff are scanning the customers as well as the shopping.

If you want to hire a car at Stansted Airport, you now need to give a fingerprint. The scheme being tested by Essex police and car hire firms, is not voluntary. Every car rental customer must take part. These are stored by the hire firms - and will be handed over to the police if the car is stolen or used for another crime.

Detective Sergeant Vic Murphy, from the CID team at Stansted Airport, says it's a response to criminal gangs targeting airport car hire firms - where cars are driven away using false passports, false licences and false credit cards.

It hasn't been well received by all customers. Ciaran Moore from Belfast was "astounded" when he was asked for his fingerprint. He thought the staff were joking. Making fingerprints compulsory, he says, is "disproportionate" and he has written to complain.

The police say the extra security check is reducing fraud. And Europcar, one of the participating firms, says it could be rolled out to all its other locations if the pilot scheme is successful.


12th November

    Freedom Bill

Lib Dems logoFrom the BBC

The Liberal Democrats are to call for a mass repeal of laws passed by Labour since 1997. A "freedom bill" will set out plans to abolish ID cards, control orders for terror suspects and to end extradition to the US "without proper evidence".

The Lib Dems will also pledge to end the storage of DNA details of people never charged or convicted of crimes.

Party leader Sir Menzies Campbell is to say Labour is addicted to making laws and has created "legislative madness".

The Lib Dems say the government has passed 365 acts and 32,000 Statutory Instruments - rules and regulations made by ministers - since 1997. This equates to 114,000 pages, or seven full editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, they claim.

The freedom bill proposes scrapping 10 pieces of "illiberal or unnecessary legislation". This would include abolishing restrictions on protests in Parliament Square and removing police powers to impose conditions on public assemblies. Also proposed is repealing the home secretary's right to criminalise trespass in designated areas. The Lib Dems want to abolish laws that remove the "public interest defence" for whistleblowers and to ban the use of "hearsay evidence" in court. The party is also promising to end all restrictions on the right to silence after arrest.


1st November

    Chips with Everything

Big BrotherBased on article from the Daily Mail

Human beings may be forced to be 'microchipped' like pet dogs, an official report into the rise of the Big Brother state has warned. The microchips - which are implanted under the skin - allow the wearer's movements to be tracked and store personal information about them. They could be used by companies who want to keep tabs on an employee's movements or by Governments who want a foolproof way of identifying their citizens - and storing information about them.

The prospect of 'chip-citizens' was raised in an official report for Britain's Information Commissioner Richard Thomas into the spread of surveillance technology.

The report, drawn up by a team of respected academics, claims that Britain is a world-leader in the use of surveillance technology and its citizens the most spied-upon in the free world.

It paints a frightening picture of what Britain might be like in ten years time unless steps are taken to regulate the use of CCTV and other spy technologies.

The reports editors Dr David Murakami Wood, managing editor of the journal Surveillance and Society and Dr Kirstie Ball, an Open University lecturer in Organisation Studies, claim that by 2016 our almost every movement, purchase and communication could be monitored by a complex network of interlinking surveillance technologies.

For the past six years European countries have been using RFID chips to identify pet animals. However, its use in humans has already been trialled in America, where the chips were implanted in 70 mentally-ill elderly people in order to track their movements.

In their Report on the Surveillance Society, the authors now warn: The call for everyone to be implanted is now being seriously debated.

The authors also highlight the Government's huge enthusiasm for CCTV, pointing out that during the 1990s the Home Office spent 78% of its crime prevention budget - a total of 500 million - on installing the cameras. There are now 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain and the average Briton is caught on camera an astonishing 300 times every day.

The report states: The surveillance society has come about us without us realising", adding: "Some of it is essential for providing the services we need: health, benefits, education. Some of it is more questionable. Some of it may be unjustified, intrusive and oppressive.


28th October

    Globally Big Brother

US Department of Homeland SecurityFrom The Register

The US is to corral "like-minded" nations behind a global immigration database after proving with a trial link to British computers that such an ambitious, global plan is technically feasible.

Allies of the US have joined it in talks to formulate an international policy framework that would allow the sharing of immigration databases, effectively creating a global border control.

Their aim is to stop criminals and other undesirable migrants at a vast, biometric border that is likely to include, at the very least, the EU countries, Australia, and Canada.

Troy Potter, biometrics programme manager for the US Department of Homeland Security's biometric border control programme, told The Register only those countries "of like mind" would be allowed to join the scheme: People with similar goals, aspirations, laws and ability to implement such a scheme. Shouldn't like-minded countries be told when someone's been kept out of the US? That's a necessary next step [because] immigration has become a worldwide issue.

Terrorists would be the prime target of the system. Terrorism had been the reason the US government gave for setting up US-VISIT, the immigration database for which Potter is biometric manager. The US database had yet to snare a terrorist, and the Department of Homeland Security has since been advertising it as a means of keeping foreign murderers out of the country. If there's a murderer in another country we would rather not have that murderer in the US, especially if they are on the run, .

But he stressed the system would not finger normal people, or "Joe Public". People's privacy would have to be respected, he said.


18th September

    400,000 Big Brothers

From the Daily Mail

Big BrotherA vast database containing a file on every man, woman and child is being planned by the Government in a 'sinister' expansion of the 'Big Brother' state.

Personal information containing details of every aspect of an individual's life will be available to 400,000 Whitehall civil servants and council workers.

Lord Falconer has ordered privacy laws to be watered down to allow the plans to be forced through.

The plans would allow anyone working for a public body to monitor everything from an individual's driving licence record to whether they had paid their council tax on time.

Critics warned that allowing sensitive financial information to be viewed by all public bodies would leave it wide open to identity fraud.

Data-sharing powers would also allow the electoral roll to be used to police the ID card database - allowing residents to be fined up to 2,500 for not registering their name or address.

Data protection laws - which are supposed to safeguard individuals' rights to information held about them - will be changed to force the moves through. Ministers want the changes in place by April next year. The plans would see a massive sharing of all state databases including the electoral roll, benefits records and information collected by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency - but taxpayer, medical and criminal records would be exempt.

MPs and civil liberties campaigners condemned the moves as a further erosion of individual's privacy by the Big Brother state. The plans were published yesterday in a blandly-worded 'vision statement' by Lord Falconer's Department for Constitutional Affairs.

The document says civil servants and council workers must 'fully understand that the Data Protection Act is not a barrier to appropriate information sharing'. The Government insisted the database would help people moving house avoid contacting local authority, driving licence and the Inland Revenue separately because records would be updated automatically. Information should be routinely shared to expand opportunities for the most disadvantaged, fight crime and provide better services and in other instances where it is in the public interest.

Constitutional Affairs Minister Baroness Ashton said the Government was committed to more information sharing between public sector organisations and service providers.

Gareth Crossman, policy director of Liberty, said: The Government seems set on moving from a situation where information is not shared unless there is a reason to do so, towards one where information will be shared unless there is a reason not to.


6th September

    For God's Sake Don't Let Blair Read this Idea

Based on an article from Expatica

Antwerp hsitoric buildingsBelgium's Antwerp Council recently approved the 'Safety City Plan' to supposedly to reduce crime and boost the public perception of safety.

Teams of four public servants will soon start systematically checking the identity and living circumstances of residents in various city districts. Inspection teams will consist of public servants from the city's safety, population and housing departments, plus the OMCW social welfare institute. Police will not conduct the door-to-door checks.

Public servants will request approval to enter a house and guarantee privacy, but the data will be registered and sent to other authorities where necessary.

Foreigners with inadequate Dutch language skills are a prime target of the searches. Their dossier will be sent to language institute Huis van het Nederlands with a request for the immigrant to be enrolled in an integration course.

If a resident is unemployed, their dossier will be sent to the federal government's employment service RVA. If someone does not have valid identification, public servants will conduct a background check.

If the immigrant's application to stay in Belgium is still being assessed by the Council of State, inquiries will be made to ensure the foreigner is not being misused by their lawyer

Authorities may also turn over illegal immigrants to the federal immigration service DVZ.

Antwerp will not hesitate either to take legal action against landlords if tenants in inspected premises are paying an inflated rental price. Residents can refuse to co-operate, but the Flemish Parliament has given the city mayor authority to investigate the condition of the premises.

The League of Human Rights in Belgium says the plans cannot be reconciled with the right to privacy. It will not hesitate to take any "necessary steps" to thwart the council's operation.

City green (Groen!) councillor Johan Bijttebier has lodged an official complaint with the privacy commission. Bijttebier voted initially in favour of the city's safety plan — including the door-to-door inspections — but now regrets that vote.

He says the possibility immigrants might be deported because of the door-to-door searches was not included in the original proposal. The equal opportunities bureau CGKR has demanded that if a street is inspected, every house on that street must be inspected also.

Several Antwerp organisations and lawyers joined together in the action group Basta (Stop) earlier this year to publicly protest against the searches.

Denying it is using Gestapo tactics, Antwerp says the aim of the door-door-searches is to gain a better picture of problem districts to further assist residents.

Ten 'hotspot' districts and five hotspot streets have been identified. It is here where housing and living circumstances are said to be inadequate.

Authorities will draw up measures to combat problems, with each approach catered to the type of criminality and problems specific to the district. The intention is to enter people's houses and identify what is gong wrong and to improve the situation with the necessary means, a council spokesman said.

He also said once formal advice from the privacy commission is given, Antwerp hopes to start the inspections later this month. The city administration is adamant it's time to win back public safety. But at what cost?


27th August

    You're Being Followed

Based on an article from The Scotsman

A network of roadside cameras used to track suspects has been rolled out across Scotland, police have revealed.

Senior officers have said that the installation of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras was completed this month, allowing detectives to monitor the movements of suspects from a 4,000 name watchlist as they travel on major routes across the country.

The surveillance equipment, which looks like ordinary speed cameras, was piloted in Strathclyde and Fife and police say it has been hugely successful in catching and monitoring thousands of suspects and criminals, including sex offenders, bogus callers and disqualified drivers.

But some human rights campaigners have branded the system a "Big Brother"-style infringement on personal liberties.

Police will not disclose where the cameras are located, or how many there are, but say they also have a number of mobile units allowing them to act on specific intelligence about a suspect's movements, or target particular areas.

Alan Burnett, who has overseen the roll-out of ANPR for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, revealed that the next phase in the programme, to expand the system to local authority CCTV cameras, was already well under way. We have the software that allows us to use CCTV for number plate recognition , he said.

The Scottish Executive has spent 1.5m on ANPR machines which can check up to 3,000 licence plates an hour on vehicles travelling at speeds of up to 100mph.

Police forces have created a central database of 4,000 vehicles owned by people they want to monitor. This has been connected to the Scottish Intelligence Database (SID) to allow every officer to be able to request that a vehicle of interest should be checked.

Burnett, who is Assistant Chief Constable of Fife Constabulary revealed that the cameras had been used to track people involved in child abduction and drug trafficking and had been used in anti-terrorism operations. In 2004, in Fife, 1,247 crimes were detected using the technology.

It can cover the most serious crimes to someone who hasn't got an insurance document. But each force is prioritising the crimes they are interested in. If we put all the numbers on the system that we are interested in, it would be overwhelmed.

Burnett said details were also kept on the system for a limited period of time, ensuring the number of targets did not escalate out of control.

Burnett said the technology also allowed them to identify the faces of drivers. He said legislation would have to be introduced to allow such intimate monitoring and acknowledged "a debate will have to be had" as to whether such tactics would be acceptable.

In July, Sir Andrew Leggatt, the UK's Chief Surveillance Commissioner, warned the use of ANPR could be open to legal challenge. He urged ministers to bring forward legislation to ensure the equipment is in line with privacy laws and police are not prevented from using the cameras to give evidence in court.


17th August

    Undermining Encryption Could do More Harm than Good

PGPLimey...One of the basics of public key encryption is that, once encrypted, an outgoing message cannot be decrypted by the sender, only the receiver. So immediately people will have files that they cannot decrypt and therefore get sent to prison.

Some communications encryption techniques generate a session key just for that one message. Once the message has been decrypted the key is deleted. If the police have intercepted the message and demand to get their copy of it decrypted, it simply cannot be done.

And of course who wants to be jailed for forgetting a password...I forgot more than I remember

Based on an article from the BBC

The government faces justified criticism over plans to give police powers to make suspects produce readable copies of encrypted computer evidence. The police claim the powers are needed because criminals are increasingly using encryption to hide evidence.

They estimate that currently there are 30 cases in which encrypted evidence had stumped investigators. But some peers, academics and cryptographers say the plans are flawed and risk being abused.

The plans to let police demand decryption are part of the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) that came into force in 2000. Part III of RIPA gives law enforcement agencies the decryption powers and, provided some conditions are met, makes it a serious offence to refuse to turn scrambled files into an "intelligible" form. Those refusing could see their sentence increased as a result.

The government is holding a consultation exercise on the code of conduct that those using these powers will have to abide by.

Caspar Bowden asked how someone would prove they had genuinely lost or forgotten a password and wondered if the threat of a jail sentence would hamper efforts to make users take more care of personal data: Will it deter the mass of honest users from properly securing their data? [and that effecting other people like you or I, eg keeping our credit card numbers secure]

Lord Phillips of Sudbury described RIPA as a hair-raising piece of legislation and expressed reservations about the effect the powers being given to police would have: You do not secure the liberty of our country and value of our democracy by undermining them.That's the road to hell.


28th July

    Fingering the Kids

From the The Guardian

Big BrotherBritish children, possibly as young as six, will be subjected to compulsory fingerprinting under European Union rules being drawn up in secret. The prints will be stored on a database which could be shared with countries around the world.

The prospect has alarmed civil liberties groups who fear it represents a 'sea change' in the state's relationship with children and one that may lead to juveniles being erroneously accused of crimes. Under laws being drawn up behind closed doors by the European Commission's 'Article Six' committee, which is composed of representatives of the European Union's 25 member states, all children will have to attend a finger-printing centre to obtain an EU passport by June 2009 at the latest.

The use of fingerprints and other biometric data is designed to prevent passport fraud and allow European member states to meet US entry visa requirements, but the decision to fingerprint children has disturbed human rights groups.

The civil liberties group Statewatch last night accused EU governments of taking decisions in which people and parliaments have no say . It said the committee's decisions were simply based on technological possibilities - not on the moral and political questions of whether it is right or desirable.

This is a sea change, said Ben Hayes, spokesman for Statewatch. We are going from fingerprinting criminals to universal fingerprinting without any real debate. In the long term everyone's fingerprints will be stored on a central database. You have to ask what will be the costs to a person's privacy.


28th July

    Government Hard of Hearing

Based on an article from the The Guardian

The Guardian has learned that police and security agencies have been lobbying ministers and senior officials, expressing fears about the potential for voice-over-internet-protocol technologies to hide a caller's identity. Their aim? To get VoIP providers to monitor calls and find ways to identify who is calling whom - and even record them.

Though enforcement agencies claim their main concern is VoIP's inability to deliver a 999 service, sources counter that this is a smokescreen to cover police efforts to monitor calls and identify individuals - an agenda that becomes more credible in the light of submissions made by police to the communications regulator, Ofcom.

One document, sent to Ofcom on May 3 by Detective Superintendent Stuart Macleod, outlined the worries of the Data Communications Group - a police and industry liaison body that reports to the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), Revenue and Customs, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca) "and other law enforcement agencies".

At present, law enforcement agencies have great difficulty in tracing the origin of VoIP calls, wrote DS Macleod. This poses significant threats to our democratic society and it is for this reason that the DCG believes that it must be mandatory for VoIP service providers to be required to retain adequate records in respect of calls made using this technology.

Without these records, VoIP services will become the communication method of choice for criminals and terrorists, secure in the knowledge that their activities are untraceable by law enforcement agencies. If this situation is allowed to emerge because of inadequate regulation, then the DCG believes that ... criticism of government and those responsible for implementing regulatory controls will be huge.

Under the exchange-based telephony system, the location of a phone is pinned to a geographical address and a record that a phone call had taken place is stored centrally. But with the internet that is no longer the case.

The problem with VoIP, from a law enforcement perspective, is that it does not travel through an exchange. There is no simple way to catch the packets travelling over the internet, or even to link the 12-digit internet "IP addresses" between which a call travels online to any two people. Wireless routers can generate a one-time IP address that can be pinpointed to that wireless router, but - as in the case of a wireless hotspot - that will show only that the call was made from that router.

One Soca officer told The Guardian: It's another area where the technology has outstripped the legislation, the traceability and the powers that we have ... You could buy a smart phone or PDA that's wirelessly enabled that comes pre-loaded with 10 of wireless credit on it, download a program like Skype and then start making calls anonymously, and that's got to be attractive to a criminal.

New wireless phones, wireless-enabled smart phones and PDAs not only log on to Wi-Fi hotspots but make calls from any unlocked domestic wireless access point, making tracking them a nightmare. If they use a VoIP company they will at least leave a record of the IP addresses between which the call was made.

Yet instant messaging systems such as MSN, Skype and Yahoo, which communicate directly between computers, leave no central recording of an IP address - something technology experts say police should recognise as they seek to impose "traceability" on VoIP companies.

Dan Cole, the head of product portfolio for the internet service provider Thus said:  The big problem, and the one that people will have to face, is the free services like MSN and Skype and the fact that some providers are abroad and outside the UK's legislative framework.

It is on this issue that the VoIP industry is crying foul, claiming there is a confusion between a responsible UK VoIP industry, whose services are governed by domestic regulations, and the use of VoIP technology at a global level.

But not everything is going against the police. By 2010, internet telephony companies in the EC will be required by Directive 2006/24/EC to store details of internet phone calls, though not their content.


25th July

    Government Organising the Crime of the Century

And when you consider the consequences, don't forget that the Government have been quietly reclassifying loads of relatively minor offences as 'serious'.

From Linx Public Affairs

Following a report from the Law Commission , the Government is considering making it an offence for a person, “D”, to do something for another person, “X”,

  • where D believes or suspects that X is involved in serious organised crime; and
  • where D also believes or suspects that their own actions could encourage or assist the criminal activities.
Hello Pizza DeliveryHello Pizza Delivery...

Foreign Office? Sorry no can do, illegal invasion of Iraq

Ofcom? Sorry, human rights abuse, unjustified censorship

Tax Office? Sorry, extortion

Barclaycard Board? Sorry, protection insurance racket

Tony Blair? Sorry, Vice, arse licking is illegal in Washington

This will be used to prevent D doing such things as fitting security features to premises for X, letting X use premises to hold meetings or, one would assume, providing X with electronic communications services.

Such an offence would raise two interesting questions for Internet Service Providers. Firstly, what type and degree of knowledge would be necessary to trigger liability? This is a generalisation of the questions arising from the recent debate on the hacking tools offence .

Secondly, as a matter of public policy, how far removed from criminal culpability should criminal liability for actions relating to offending behaviour be extended? Is it desirable that a person should have their phone cut off merely because the communications provider has read in the newspaper that they’ve been charged with participating in organised crime, and so fears becoming liable for any criminal activity that person might engage in over the phone?

The Law Commission argues that this new inchoate offence of assisting or encouraging crime should not have too wide a reach, particularly where it is not D’s purpose that an offence be committed. However the government believes it might be appropriate to lower the threshold for the offence below the Law Commission’s standard so as to ensure some participants do not escape prosecution.

The Home Office is inviting comments on :

  • whether the new offence should be limited to those who believe an offence will be committed, or whether it should be widened; and
  • whether the Government is right to consider extending liability to those who indirectly encourage or assist a person (x) where they suspect that this encouragement or assistance will aid X’s criminal activities (as against specific types of criminal offence)

Comments are required by 17th October 2006.


11th July

    Identifying the Unspecified and Infeasible

From The Register

spoof ID cardThe UK ID card scheme is doomed to fail, and an attempt to put a face-saving downscaled version into place threatens to wreck the project sooner, rather than later, according to civil service correspondence.

An email exchange between David Foord of the Office of Government Commerce and Peter Smith, acting commercial director of the Identity and Passport Service, leaked to the Sunday Times, paints a picture of an impossible mission, a "Mr Blair" driving a cut-down "early variant" card and a Passport Service already making contingency plans in anticipation of ID cards crashing in flames.

Foord produces the most detailed damnation of the state of the scheme, revealing that currently it has no approved business case. It appears that the two civil servants (writing in early June) were trying to thrash out achievable objectives that could put the ID procurement programme back on track. We can presume from the correspondence that Blair and the Home Office were at this time aware that the scheme as planned was in deep trouble and would need to be pushed back by several years, but that Blair's insistence on having the first ID cards in place by 2008 had resulted in the early variant, together with the construction of a nebulous TNIR (Temporary National Identity Register, apparently) to do service prior to the actual NIR being ready to roll.

It is not immediately clear to the (real) Register what it might be about a Temporary NIR that makes it less challenging and easier to ship than a permanent one - Foord certainly doubts it can be done: Also even if everything went perfectly it is very debatable whether whatever TNIR turns out to be can be procured, delivered, tested and rolled out in just over two years and whether the resources exist within Govt and industry to run two overlapping procurements. What benchmark in the Home Office do we have that suggests that this is even remotely feasible?

Update: The 2008 target for the first ID cards to be issued has been dropped


9th July

    US Government To 'Listen' to Public Opinion

From CNET News

National Security Agency logoThe American FBI has drafted sweeping legislation that would require ISPs to create wiretapping hubs for police surveillance and force makers of networking gear to build in backdoors for eavesdropping.

FBI Agent Barry Smith distributed the proposal at a private meeting with industry representatives and indicated it would be introduced by Senator Mike DeWine. One source said the FBI viewed this as a top congressional priority for 2007.

The draft bill would place the FBI's Net-surveillance push on solid legal footing. At the moment, it's ensnared in a legal challenge from universities and some technology companies that claim the Federal Communications Commission's broadband surveillance directives exceed what Congress has authorized.

The FBI claims that expanding the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act is necessary to thwart criminals and terrorists who have turned to technologies like voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

The proposed CALEA amendments would:

  • Require any manufacturer of "routing" and "addressing" hardware to offer upgrades or other "modifications" that are needed to support Internet wiretapping.
  • Authorize the expansion of wiretapping requirements to "commercial" Internet services including instant messaging if the FCC deems it to be in the "public interest." That would likely sweep in services such as in-game chats offered by Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming system as well.
  • Force ISP to sift through their customers' communications to identify, for instance, only VoIP calls. That means police could simply ask broadband providers for wiretap info, instead of having to figure out what VoIP service was being used.
  • Eliminate the current legal requirement saying the Justice Department must publish a public "notice of the actual number of communications interceptions" every year. That notice currently also must disclose the "maximum capacity" required to accommodate all of the legally authorized taps that government agencies will "conduct and use simultaneously."


5th July

    Scanning Abuse

From the BBC

New plans to scan e-mails for illegal images of child abuse may give the appearance that children are being safeguarded but they may not be as effective as they first seem, argues Technology commentator Bill Thompson.

Every time you send an e-mail it passes through a series of computers on its way to the intended destination.

Most of them are owned and managed by internet service providers, the chances are they are having a look at every message you send or receive. At the moment, their reasons are mostly benign, since they are looking for spam, viruses and other nasty stuff that we wouldn't want anyway.

Google mail users have got used to the fact that their e-mails are being read by a machine looking for context-sensitive ads to put on the same page, and most of us have encountered a company that reads all incoming e-mail looking for rude or inappropriate words, even if it sometimes appears absurd.

If a plan being put forward by five US-based net companies goes ahead, the same approach could be used to look for e-mailed images of child abuse. And the consequences for all net users could be more serious than just losing the odd legitimate message to the spam filters.

AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, EarthLink and United Online have joined with the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to create what they call a "Technology Coalition" to look for new ways to safeguard children. Their first initiative is a plan to create a database of the images of child abuse they find, and process each to create a "digital fingerprint".

They will then look at e-mail attachments and images traded over peer-to-peer networks, swapped on messaging services, or posted on websites to try to spot illegal images.

The suspicion has to remain that this is an attempt to get friendly headlines rather than really make a difference.

However, they haven't yet said what will happen if they find one. I rather hope they won't simply call the police, since with millions of images of all types being sent over the net every day, the chances of some false positives, when an entirely innocent drawing of a tree happens to generate the same code as an image of abuse, must be quite high.

But the lack of detail is typical of this sort of proposal. The real goal, as so often with big initiatives from large companies around areas of public concern, is designed to show that "something is being done" and to tell government - in this case the US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales - that the situation is under control and no new laws or regulations are needed.

The scheme may actually work, especially since recent research from Binghamton University, New York, indicates that every digital camera has a different "signature" that can be used to identify which pictures it took. Looking for photos taken with known abusers' cameras might pay dividends.

However, the initial funding for the new coalition is only $1m, or roughly four cents for each of AOL's 25 million customers; so the suspicion has to remain that this is an attempt to get friendly headlines rather than really make a difference.

It is clear that most of the trade in appalling images happens on restricted servers, and most of the files are carefully encrypted or obfuscated before they are sent over the public network. The real danger with media-friendly announcements of new internet coalitions or self-congratulatory annual reports on the number of abusive images seized by the authorities is that it encourages a belief that the situation is somehow under control, when it so clearly is not.


4th July

    Big Brother Eyes Social Networking

Based on an article from Out-Law

The US government is funding research into social networking sites and how to gather and store personal data published on them, according to the New Scientist magazine. At the same time, US lawmakers are attempting to force the social networking sites themselves to control the amount and kind of information that people, particularly children, can put on the sites.

Social networking sites have enjoyed phenomenal recent success. Industry leader MySpace has attracted 85 million members with new members joining at a rate of 250,000 per day. Users, most often young people, use their own pages to swap information about themselves, their hobbies, their friends and their favourite music and films.

That kind of information is the subject of a research paper by a team from the University of Maryland in Baltimore. The paper, Semantic Analytics on Social Networks, proposes methods for combining the data posted on social networking sites and other computer databases to reveal information about individuals.

The New Scientist discovered that ARDA (Advanced Research Development Agency), credited in a footnote with part-funding the research paper, is a branch of the National Security Agency, the US government body responsible for surveillance.


30th June

    Swift to Capitulate to US

Outrageous, divulging so much to a war mongering nation with such a poor human rights record.

Based on an article from The Telegraph

SWIFT logoThe bank transaction records of millions of people in Britain and around the world may have been disclosed illegally to US intelligence agencies as part of the Bush administration's counter-terrorism programme, privacy campaigners said yesterday.

CIA agents and US treasury officials have been secretly monitoring financial transactions routed through Swift. Swift, (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), provides electronic instructions for transfers between virtually every bank, brokerage house, and stock exchange and routes 11 million transactions each day.

The Terrorist Finance Tracking Program was disclosed by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, which said they had been pressed by the administration not to divulge its existence. It means Washington may have access not only to financial data on its own citizens but everyone else's too. An agreement with Swift to hand over the transaction records was reached after September 11 but has never been divulged until now.

John Snow, the US treasury secretary, said disclosure of the information was subject to ''very significant safeguards'' and had proved useful to the anti-terror operations, though there were no specific examples of how it had helped.

Privacy International, a campaign group, filed simultaneous complaints with data protection and privacy regulators, including Britain's, in an attempt to uncover the scale of the exercise. Simon Davies, the group's director, said: We know very little, but it seems that the data are being sent regardless of people's nationality. If blanket authorisations are being given for millions of records, it would be impossible to separate them out.


17th May

    Twitching the CCTV Curtains

Based on an article from The Telegraph

A group of Eastenders have become the first to monitor their own neighbourhood via a home CCTV channel.

Shoreditch TV is an experiment in beaming live footage from the street into people's homes. Viewers can watch the dog walkers on the street below, monitor the appearance of new graffiti and keep an eye on the local pub.

This summer 22,000 Londoners will be tuning in and homes across Britain are getting their own version next year. But despite being a curtain-twitcher's paradise, the channel is about "fighting crime from the sofa", not entertainment.

In return for a package that includes footage from 12 security cameras, a police advice channel and an array of standard cable fare, the residents of Haberdasher Estate are expected to shop any yobs that they catch on camera.

They can alert the council and police through a CCTV hotline and an anonymous e-mail tip-off service. Or they can just watch the world go by.

Jan Ashby, a resident who previewed the scheme before yesterday's launch, said: I wouldn't say it was spying, but it is nice to see what's going on. Look, there's my local pub. I must admit I have watched it everyday since I have had it - but I wouldn't sit down to it for hours.

Digital Bridge, which set up the scheme for the regeneration agency Shoreditch Trust, hopes it will reduce fear of crime. It is also in talks with police about including an Asbo channel, featuring the faces of youths to avoid because they have broken the terms of their order.

Civil liberties groups are concerned, with Mark Crossman of Liberty predicting the emergence of vigilante groups and an epidemic of old ladies crying wolf over young people in hoodies.

But James Morris, the chief executive of Digital Bridge, said: This is not naming and shaming or spying, it is getting the community engaged with their services.

After a free three-month trial residents will pay 3.50 a month for the TV on-demand service, which also comes with a wireless keyboard that can turn the television into a PC with broadband internet.

Police will also be able to interrupt regular programming with alerts about incidents.


14th May

    Divorce Investigators Will Love Digital CCTV

Based on an article from the BBC (adultery cheekily transposed with crime)

Sharper CCTV images are needed so shots of suspected adulterers can be matched to the proposed identity card database, a Home Office minister has said.

Baroness Scotland told the Lords poor quality CCTV currently runs the risk of innocent people being wrongly divorced.

Digital pictures... will enable us, particularly when ID cards come in, to identify those who are responsible for very serious adultery, she added.

The Home Office stress safeguards will cover police use of the ID database.

But Baroness Scotland said it was important to ensure high-quality, well-maintained digital recording equipment was available to police forces.

She said blurred images could lead to incorrect divorces and stressed it was important "that innocent people are not improperly drawn into a situation for which they are not responsible".

However, the pressure group NO2ID - which opposes ID cards - doubted whether the system would work because methods of facial recognition were "of a very low quality": You can't just whip out a CCTV snap with all its attendant problems of bizarre camera angles from the corner of the bank, or over-the-shoulder shots ", said its spokesman Michael Parker. To suggest that you'll be able to run a check and pluck out the right man from a database of 60 million seems to me like the height of foolishness.

Parker added that the idea was a kind of Buck Rogers-land 'mix-and-match' and would not work unless headshots were in the frame and in the same projection as images on the National Identity Register.

A Home Office spokesman maintained there would be no direct link between the National Identity Register and CCTV camera systems"

However, subject to the Identity Cards Act 2006, he said that if a CCTV image of a suspect was available, it may be possible, as part of a wider investigation, for police to conduct a check of the image against facial images held on the National Identity Register.

However police will have to have exhausted other identification options before being given access to the identity cards database.

Everyone over the age of 16 who applies for a passport will have their details - including fingerprints, eye or facial scans - added to a National Identity Register from 2008.


10th April

    Australians Enact Surveillance of Inncocents

Opinion from The Sydney Morning Herald

The Australian Federal Parliament have passed a law that allows the Government to read private emails, text messages and other stored communications without our knowledge. The power extends to innocent people, called B-parties, if they have been unlucky enough to communicate with someone suspected of a crime or of being a threat to national security.

Under the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Act, the Government will be able to access communications not only between the B-party and the suspect, but also between the B-party and anyone else. If you have unwittingly communicated with a suspect (and thereby become a B-party), the Government may be able to monitor all your conversations with family members, friends, work colleagues, your lawyer and your doctor.

The Government may be able to use the information even though the information is not related to the original suspect. It also does not have to tell you that it has been listening in. While there are some remedies if you have been illegally monitored, these are pointless if you do not know you have come under surveillance.

This is of even greater concern given how easy it is for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to gain a warrant. The gatekeeper is not an independent person such as a judge, but a politician, the federal attorney-general. As long as ASIO has tried other means of tracking a suspect, to gain a warrant it need only show that intercepting the B-party's communications is "likely to assist" in obtaining intelligence "related to security" - vague terms providing scope for the misuse of the power.

The Government rushed the law through Parliament without taking into account advice from its own ranks. A Senate committee examining the bill unanimously found last Monday that the powers were too extensive. It recommended strengthening protection against misuse. The Government's own Blunn report on the area also suggested stronger protection. Despite these warnings, the law does not incorporate the recommended safeguards. Indeed, amendments made to the law over the past week widened its reach.

The Government says that there is an urgent need for this law and that it could not wait. This approach is wrong-headed. Like the sedition laws of late last year, a law of this importance should not be enacted in haste in the face of obvious problems.


15th March

    There's a Snitch in My Oyster

From The Guardian

Police hunting criminals are increasingly seeking information from electronically stored travel records, such as those created by users of the popular Oyster card in London.

Figures disclosed today show a huge leap in police requests to Transport for London, which operates the Oyster cards used to travel on buses, trains and the underground.

Just seven information requests were made by police in the whole of 2004, compared with 61 requests made in January this year alone.

Overall, police have requested to see journey information 243 times, and been given it 229 times, according to figures obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request, the Press Association reported.

Some civil liberties campaigners are opposed to systems such as Oyster, which is used by more than 5 million people, fearing the growth of a "Big Brother" surveillance society.

Today a Metropolitan police spokeswoman said requests to access Oyster information were a "straightforward investigative tool".

A TfL spokesman said: Transport for London complies fully with the Data Protection Act. Information on individual travel is kept for a maximum of eight weeks and is only used for customer service purposes, to check charges for particular journeys or for refund inquiries. There is no bulk disclosure of personal data to any law enforcement agency. If information is disclosed, it is always done so in accordance with the Data Protection Act after a case-by-case evaluation.

Details of where the card has been swiped are kept on a database and could show someone's journey across London's transport network. But authorities could not, for example, locate someone with an Oyster card when it was away from a receiver.

Each card has a unique identification number and users can access details online of their travel over the previous eight weeks. Last month it emerged that people were using the information to track their partners' movements.


24th February

    Using your Oyster Card to get to the Divorce Court

And don't forget it is no safer to use an unregistered card. All the journeys are still recorded and can be accessed just by knowing the serial number printed on the card.

From The Independent

Oyster cards, the "smart" little blue thing in London commuters' wallets that enable them to travel at will around the capital, have another, unexpected function. They could also be a one-way ticket to the divorce courts.

For the cards, introduced by the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, in 2003, don't only let you on to public transport - they also record your every journey. And, private detectives and lawyers report, that is information the suspicious are accessing to track their partner's movements.

And they are increasingly finding that the night she said she was working late in the City, she was actually hopping off the Northern line at Morden, staying there for some hours, before returning to town at 11.17pm. Or when he said he was playing football on Hackney Marshes his informative little Oyster card reveals that he was really catching a bus in Parsons Green.

The electronic lipstick-on-the-collar is revealed to anyone - the holder or their partner - who takes the card to a machine on the Underground or keys in its serial number on a website to get a read-out of every journey taken in the past 10 weeks.

One private investigator said: Oyster cards won't tell you that the bloke's been cheating on his wife, but it will show if he's been in one part of town when he's supposed to be somewhere else. It is an easy thing to confront your partner with. It doesn't look like you've been snooping around too much.

The use of the cards is the latest weapon in the growing high-tech arsenal of tools used by suspicious partners. A telltale sign such as lipstick on the collar has been replaced by technological snooping such as placing a tracking device on a mobile phone.

Several internet sites now offer mobile phone tracking as a service to worried parents keen to know the whereabouts of their child. But private investigators said spouses who suspect that their partner is cheating are increasingly using mobile phone tracking sites.

Although an SMS message is sent to the mobile that is being tracked confirming the process, if this is deleted before the "target" sees it he or she has no way of knowing they are being followed.

Peter Heims, spokesman for the Association of British Investigators, said technology was transforming the private detective industry. Trackers are used on husbands all the time. You can get one with a magnetic bottom which you stick to the underside of the car. It will track the vehicle via satellite and is accurate to within 10 feet. A lot of companies now use this to check where their travelling salesmen have been.

A company called OverSpy will let you monitor everything your partner does on computer by sending you email reports of the websites visited and emails sent.

Another firm has software that allows someone to retrieve secretly text messages deleted from a partner's phone. All that's needed is the SIM card.

A quick search reveals more than 14,000 websites that will help uncover a partner's infidelities, whether it is opening letters secretly or tapping a partner's mobile answerphone.

Divorce lawyers said they were sceptical that Oyster cards would be used in divorce proceedings, but accepted that it could lead more people to realise their relationship was over.

Transport bosses in London hope to expand the concept here, allowing card holders to pay for their shopping in nearly 4,000 shops with their travel card. The records of where a person has shopped, as well as where they have travelled, will then be stored on the card.


25th January

    Terrorism as a Police Catch All Excuse

Well if 30,000 people have been labelled as a terrorist for the convenience of police wanting to stop and search, then there is little stopping them labelling everybody as terrorists and so being able to pry into their movements.

Based on an article from The Guardian

The police and security services are to be given access to advanced travel details on more than 40 million passengers a year who travel on domestic flights and ferries within Britain under legislation to be announced tomorrow. The new power in the police and justice bill will give the authorities the ability to screen and track the movements of those conveniently labelled as terrorists and serious criminals within Britain for the first time.

It is expected that airlines will have to provide the personal online details of all passengers as they book seats and subsequently check in at the airport. There are discussions with the travel industry over what documents passengers will have to show before they can board a flight in Britain.

The new system will enable them to check names against watchlists for terror suspects and wanted criminals and to develop a "profiling system" of those worthy of further scrutiny. It is hoped that the system will help the security services develop a picture of terror and crime suspects' travel patterns and networks.

On specified routes where there is considered to be a major threat, the police will be able to demand the provision of "bulk data" - blanket passenger and crew lists - on all flights travelling on that route before departure. The Liberal Democrats said last night that they were extremely concerned about the routine surveillance of domestic passengers and claimed that Britain was now building a surveillance infrastructure unparalleled in the free world.

The monitoring of domestic travellers builds on the experience of a three-year pilot scheme under which the details of 10 million passengers on selected international flights have been monitored since last January.

Known as Project Semaphore this pilot scheme receives data on passengers leaving Britain only after their flights have left, yet the Home Office claims that eight terror suspects have been detained in the UK or overseas as a result. One person has also been arrested for indecency and a child porn suspect identified. The police say that access to advance information would have enabled them to stop the terror suspects boarding their flights.

At present the police have the power only to collect passenger data for counter-terrorism purposes under the Terrorism Act 2000: These powers do not enable them to obtain information for serious and organised crime purposes, nor do they allow the capture of information in advance of a passenger travelling. In addition, the current legislation does not allow the provision of bulk data.

The immigration bill going through parliament will initiate an advanced passenger information scheme for international flights in and out of Britain as part of a wider European move that has been the subject of a major dispute between the United States and the European Union. It is part of the government's E-borders programme.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, is to announce that he intends to extend these powers to all domestic passengers travelling on flights and ferries. Airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet already insist on photo-ID before a passenger boards a domestic flight. Some airlines have expressed concerns that the demand for online information will extend existing check-in times.

One operator has estimated that the process will add 40 seconds to the 60-second average check-in time, but that included manually typing in the home address and place of birth of each passenger. It is anticipated that identity documents will contain, sooner rather than later, such information on a machine readable strip.

The police say that a combination of operational experience, specific intelligence and historical analysis will be used to build up pictures of suspect passengers and patterns of travel behaviour. They claim this will enable them to develop a more targeted approach which will reduce the likelihood of innocent travellers being stopped and incorrect intelligence reports being filed. But such "profiling" of passengers has proved highly controversial in the United States.

The new Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, said last night: I am extremely concerned at the suggestion that ordinary people could be put under routine surveillance on domestic flights. Tracking cross-border movements in and out of the UK is necessary for proper immigration control. But there will have to be some pretty compelling arguments before we allow that principle to be extended to every journey inside the UK. It is increasingly clear that the government is building a surveillance infrastructure which is unparalleled in the free world.


10th January

    Government Identified as Liars

From The Telegraph

Town hall bureaucrats are to be given sweeping new powers to investigate homes for identity card evasion and to impose heavy fines on occupants found without one.

The revelation, in an obscure Whitehall consultation paper, calls into serious doubt the Government's repeated promises that planned ID cards, already hugely controversial, will be voluntary and that no one will be forced to carry one.

Those who fail to register for an ID card could be fined up to 2,500

It will stiffen resolve at Westminster to oppose the Identity Cards Bill, which is due before the Lords again next week.

Peers are already vowing to water down the plans to ensure that registration for cards is voluntary. At present the Bill requires people to submit their details to a new national ID Card Database when they apply for a passport, in effect making registration compulsory.

The small print of a consultation paper published by Lord Falconer's Department for Constitutional Affairs, released during the Christmas holiday, reveals that town hall officials will be asked to police the scheme by using the Electoral Register to identify homes and individuals without cards.

The register will be cross-checked against the proposed Identity Card Database in what the Conservatives are calling "Big Brother" tactics. Those who fail to register for a card or to keep their details up to date when, for example, they change address face fines of up to 2,500.

In baffling language, the document proposes a shadowy sounding system called "Core" - and discusses the need for "data sharing" and "unique, personal identifiers". (Core is a new centralised, electronic electoral register to replace the current, locally managed registers.)

It suggests that electoral registration offices (EROs), at local councils could help to provide information for the proposed ID Card Agency by scouring their systems.

The plans for heavy policing of the scheme fly in the face of promises by Tony Blair that the cards would be voluntary, a promise repeated in Labour's manifesto for the general election in May last year. Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, promised three months ago that ID cards "will not create Orwell's Big Brother state".

Last night Oliver Heald, the shadow constitutional affairs secretary, said: I believe local residents will be alarmed at the further prospect of town hall bureaucrats being told to investigate people's homes for ID cards, backed up with the threat of thousand-pound fines.

From The Register

The Register points out that the document is a : proposal, not a mandate; there's no new responsibility on local electoral roll officers that they don't already have; and the penalty floated by Central Office is the standard penalty under the ID Card Bill for not having an ID card, but this won't be operative until the ID card is made compulsory.

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