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30th December   

Passport to Repression...

Jobsworths to be empowered to remove people's passports?
Link Here

Gordon Brown has set himself on a collision course with the legal establishment over plans to give civil servants and government agencies the power to remove people's passports without going through the courts.

Senior legal figures, including two former attorney-generals and a lord chief justice, have expressed deep concern about preparations to adopt new powers to confiscate passports. They warn the government not to use reform of prerogative powers as an excuse to force through a “serious” curtailment of long-standing freedoms.

They have attacked proposals in the child maintenance bill, now going through Parliament, to allow civil servants to prevent errant fathers who refuse to support their children from travelling abroad.

They warn that it could set a dangerous precedent, and say in a House of Lords report: The freedom to travel to and from one's country is a right of great significance and should only be curtailed after a rigorous decision process . . .

Lord Woolf, the former lord chief justice, and former attorney-generals Lord Morris of Aberavon and Lord Lyell of Markyate criticised the move to bypass the courts in a report. They not only say the proposal is “undesirable” but have questioned whether it is “constitutionally appropriate”.

The Lords constitution committee, of which they are members, warns that it is undesirable to extend the circumstances in which passports may be withdrawn administratively.

Although football hooligans and drug dealers can be forced to forfeit their passports, the decision would follow court orders. In other cases, such as in child protection cases and cases involving serious crime, people can be forced to surrender their passports only after a court decision or as part of a police investigation.


27th December   

New Place Survey...

Intrusive council survey to start next year
Link Here

Every town hall has been ordered to send out surveys demanding local residents' personal information and opinions.

The forms will ask householders to give details of their children, mortgage, ethnic background, religion and sexual orientation.

Civil rights campaigners yesterday called the survey 'intrusive and very sinister', pointing out that any information handed over will not be kept confidential.

Ministers have even given instructions that local councils must try to disguise their involvement in the survey to avoid attracting criticism.

And they have ruled that the questioning must be paid for out of council tax and carried out every two years.

The New Place Survey - which is expected to be launched next autumn after trials in the spring - is likely to cost at least £15million by 2012.

The surey solicits information on whether people think local parents are controlling their children's behaviour properly and whether different ethnic communities in the area are getting on with each other.

Whitehall has given no details on what proportion of the population will receive demands for information. But many thousands in each borough are likely to get forms to ensure the target numbers of replies is reached. Unlike the ten-yearly national census, it will not be legally compulsory to fill in and return the form. However, those who do not comply are likely to be sent multiple reminders.

Information provided for the new council survey will not be protected by basic confidentiality rules. The Department for Communities and Local Government has told town halls there are no guarantees of privacy and that personal data gathered in the questionnaires can be disclosed to third parties. Although respondents are not asked for their names and addresses on the forms, town halls are likely to keep this information with the completed survey data on their computer systems.


18th December   

Subverted Websites...

Canadian ISP inserts info and links into google's search page
Link Here

A screen shot posted to the web over the weekend seems to show that Canada's largest provider of high-speed internet access is exploring a controversial data substitution technique that lets it add its own content to the webpages customers visit.

The screen shot, forwarded from "a concerned reader," shows a Rogers-Yahoo branded customer service message apparently on Google's home page.

The message informs the Rogers customer that they are approaching their data cap limit for the month, and provides them with a link to information on how they would be able to upgrade their account, among other things.

Al Weinstein wrote in his blog: This is what Net Neutrality is about -- it's not just making sure that data is handled in a competitive and non-discriminatory manner, but it's also that the data that's sent is the data that you get -- that the content is unmodified, not with messages that are woven into your data stream [from third parties] .

Rogers vice president of communications Taanta Gupta confirmed that Rogers is experimenting with this technique as a way to communicate with its customers.


13th December   

Marginal Thought Crime...

Info on terrorism but no evidence of terrorism
Link Here

The first woman to be convicted under new terror legislation was spared a jail term after the judge said her actions were "on the margins" of what constitutes a crime. He handed down a suspended sentence.

Samina Malik who compiled a "library" of jihadi-inspired manuals and wrote poetry extolling martyrdom using the pen name "Lyrical Terrorist", was found guilty earlier this month under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which makes it a crime to have materials likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

Malik was given a nine-month jail term, suspended for 18 months, and was ordered to carry out community service.

During her trial Malik was acquitted by a jury of the more serious crime of possessing material with the intention of committing an act of terrorism but was convicted under Section 58 which human rights groups say is akin to prosecuting someone for "thought crimes".

Before her arrest in October last year, Malik collected large amounts of extremist material from the internet at her family home in Southall, west London, and posted poems about seeking martyrdom and killing kafirs [non-believers].

Jonathan Heawood, director of a free-speech group, English Pen, said he abhorred Malik's writing but was concerned over possible implications of her conviction. If there were sufficient grounds for concern she would have been found guilty under more serious offences of intent or incitement. She wasn't because there wasn't the evidence.

This case shows the increasing encroachment of the criminal law on civil liberties since 9/11 and 7/7.

Salima Malik's conviction was secured under the widely drawn Terrorism Act 2000 which makes it an offence to be in possession of written material likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

But in describing her actions as on the margin of the criminal law the judge appeared to be signalling that Labour's anti-terror laws trod a very fine line between protecting the public from terrorism and curbing the right to freedom of expression.

Her conviction has been seized on by civil libertarians, who have complained that Labour has brought in a number of offences that amount to a threat to the rights of free expression.

4th December    Shocking ...
290 Deaths in USA and Canada related to Police Tasers
Stop the Taser protest bannerThe death of a Polish man at Vancouver International Airport has sparked an intense debate in Canada over the increasing use of Tasers by law-enforcement officials. Concerns over the use of these electric shock guns has mounted in several other countries after a UN Committee on Human Rights recently labeled their impact "torture."

Nine investigations, including one by the Polish government, have opened into the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish national who died Oct. 14 almost immediately after he was Tasered by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RMCP) at the Vancouver International Airport. Polish officials said the aim of their inquiry was to verify whether Canadian police "involuntarily caused the death of a Polish citizen."

Criticism of the incident rose after a video of the incident was posted on YouTube November 14.

Civil liberties activists are pointing to a report by the UN Committee Against Torture last week that called the use of Tasers "torture." The committee said it was worried that the use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use.

In Britain, where beat cops don't have guns, home secretary Jacqui Smith has said that all police should have Tasers, and the weapons were more effective for subduing suspects and caused less harm than traditional batons.

Smith told Police Review magazine that she "could see a day" when all officers were armed with stun guns: If police officers could be prevented from injury because they are able to subdue someone more quickly than with other methods, then it would be viable.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, has called for all officers to be equipped with stun guns.

However Amnesty International have concluded:

The degree of tolerable risk involving Tasers, as with all weapons and restraint devices, must be weighed against the threat posed. It is self-evident that Tasers are less injurious than firearms where officers are confronted with a serious threat that could escalate to deadly force. However, the vast majority of people who have died after being struck by Tasers have been unarmed men who did not pose a threat of death or serious injury when they were electro-shocked. In many cases they appear not to have posed a significant threat at all."

Of the 291 reported deaths in USA and Canada, the organization has identified only 25 individuals who were reportedly armed with any sort of weapon when they were electro-shocked; such weapons did not include firearms.

Amnesty International acknowledged in its statement that there may be "stand-off" situations where Tasers in dart-firing mode could effectively be used as an alternative to firearms to save lives. However, the potential to use Tasers in drive-stun mode (where they are used as "pain compliance" tools when individuals are already effectively in custody), and the capacity to inflict multiple and prolonged shocks, renders the weapons inherently open to abuse.

Amnesty International calls on all governments and law enforcement agencies to either cease using Tasers and similar devices pending the results of thorough, independent studies, or limit their use to situations where officers would otherwise be justified in resorting to deadly force where no lesser alternatives are available. Strict guidelines and monitoring should govern all such use.


28th November    French Snitch ...
French ISPs to snitch on file sharers
No snitching hoodieFrench web users caught pirating movies or music could soon be thrown offline.

Those illegally sharing files will face the loss of their net access thanks to a newly-created anti-piracy body granted the wide-ranging powers. The anti-piracy body comes out of a deal agreed by France's music and movie makers and its net firms.

The group who brokered the deal said the measures were intended to curb casual piracy rather than tackle large scale pirate groups.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the deal was a decisive moment for the future of a civilised internet.

Net firms will monitor what their customers are doing and snitch about persistent file sharers to the new independent body. Those identified will get a warning and then be threatened with either being cut off or suspended if they do not stop illegal file-sharing.

The agreement between net firms, record companies, film-makers and government was drawn up by a special committee created to look at the problem of the net and cultural protection.

Denis Olivennes, head of the French chain store FNAC, who chaired the committee said current penalties for piracy - large fines and years in jail - were "totally disproportionate" for those young people who do file-share illegally.

In return for agreeing to monitor net use, film-makers agreed to speed up the transfer of movies to DVD and music firms pledged to support DRM-free tracks on music stores.

French consumer group UFC Que Choisir said the agreement was very tough, potentially destructive of freedom, anti-economic and against digital history.


27th November    CCTV ...
A sculpture of the Organic Flesh Machine
DO NOT Press Button

This is what the piece is about.

"Technological developments bring wonderful opportunities to share knowledge, fight injustice, bring pleasure and uphold democratic ideals. The same tools can be used against us. Society needs protection but it is the duty of citizens to challenge every new security measure and ask whether security is being used to deny democratic debate or reduce personal freedom.

Security must always be proportionate, citizens have the right to privacy and must not automatically be assumed to criminal suspects by the state. Truly democratic governments will use technology to open up their processes to public scrutiny.

We are assured that security is required to protect us from "evil doers" but we must continue to imagine what our society would be like if the control of this technology fell into the worse possible hands. For some people, in some countries, this has already happened."


26th November    Brown's Promises ...
Extending Parliament Square restrictions to the rest of the country
Police Warning to disperse or force may be usedThe Home Office has recently published a consultation paper which hints at what was really meant by Gordon Brown's promise to look again at the law which restricts demonstrations near parliament, far from repealing this legislation the consultation indicates that the government wants to extend the restrictions on demonstrations to cover the whole country.

The current law on demonstrations around parliament bans spontaneous protests, requiring demonstrators to seek advance police permission, which allows the police to impose arbitrary limits on numbers and effectively act as political censors.

A public meeting challenging the new proposal will be held at the London School of Economics on the 2nd December.

The Green Paper, The Governance of Britain, led to the publication of a consultation document ostensibly concerned with 'Managing Protest Around Parliament' seeking the views of campaigning non-government organisations; law enforcement agencies; and those with specific business in and around Parliament Square.

However, the first two heavily-loaded questions in the document have no relevance to Parliament Square designated area (since Section 14 of the POA does not apply there):

Q1: The Government believes peaceful protest is a vital part of a democratic society, and that the police should have powers to manage public assemblies and processions to respond to the potential for disorder. Should the powers generally in relation to marches and assemblies be the same?

Q2: Do you agree that the conditions that can be imposed on assemblies and marches should be harmonised?

As outlined above the powers on marches were already extended to assemblies near parliament by SOCPA, because of it's claimed 'special character', so now the exception will become the rule. The implication of these proposals is that any public gathering, anywhere could be criminalised at the sole discretion of any passing policeman unless it had obtained advance permission.


22nd November    Passport to Ulster ...
More private data for the government to lose
Fortress USAPassengers on flights and ferries between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland will be required to carry identity papers for the first time from next year.

The move will effectively establish a highly controversial internal border within the UK and could pave the way for identity checks on all domestic flights and ferries in Britain.

Once operational, the system will allow the police to build up a complete picture of passenger movements between Ulster and the mainland. And it will enable them to carry out background checks to identify suspected criminals and potential terrorists.

The move comes as police and security services are pushing for wider access to information on passenger movements within Britain, whether by air, sea or national rail and coach networks.

Under the new system, personal information given by a passenger when purchasing a ticket will be checked on police computers looking for possible suspects. Travellers will also be required to produce a valid passport or driving licence to buy a ticket.

The system is similar to that already in place to check those travelling to and from Britain on international flights and allows intelligence services to "profile" suspects, looking for patterns of criminal behaviour.

The Home Office last night confirmed the measures would be introduced next year using a so-called "statutory instrument" signed off by Home Secretary-Jacqui Smith, without the need for a full debate in the Commons. The Government said the move will enforce powers included in the Police and Justice Act 2006 which allows officers to monitor all "flights and voyages" starting in the UK.

MP Jeffrey Donaldson, of the Democratic Unionist Party, said the proposals were an "outrage". He said: It treats the people of Northern Ireland as second-class citizens and if it goes ahead it will be challenged in the courts. We are as concerned about our security as anyone else in the United Kingdom but these measures should be put in place on the land border with the Irish Republic.

Tony Bunyan, of civil liberties organisation Statewatch, said: The Government is using the fear of terrorism to build up an apparatus of far-ranging social control that allows them to build up a complete picture of our lives.

Former Europe Minister Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs select committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into the "Surveillance Society", last night said he would raise the issue with Ministers next week. He said: This is a civil liberties issue. It needs to be debated fully by Parliament.


20th November    Give us your Key or we will Break your Legs ...
Animal rights activist 'invited' to hand over keys
Police brutality
We don't care if you have forgotten the password
Give us the key or we'll break your legs!

An animal rights activist has been ordered to hand over her encryption keys to the authorities.

Section Three of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) came into force at the start in October 2007, seven years after the original legislation passed through parliament. Intended primarily to deal with terror suspects, it allows police to demand encryption keys or provide a clear text transcript of encrypted text.

Failure to comply can result in up to two years imprisonment for cases not involving national security, or five years for terrorism offences and the like. Orders can be made to turn over data months or even years old.

The contentious measure, introduced after years of consultation, was sold to Parliament as a necessary tool for law enforcement in the fight against organised crime and terrorism.

But an animal rights activist is one of the first people at the receiving end of a notice to give up encryption keys. Her computer was seized by police in May, and she has been given 12 days to hand over a pass-phrase to unlock encrypted data held on the drive - or face the consequences.

The woman, who claims to have not used encryption, relates her experiences in an anonymous posting on Indymedia:

Now apparently they have found some encrypted files on my computer (which was stolen by police thugs in May this year) which they think they have 'reasonable suspicion' to pry into using the excuse of 'preventing or detecting a crime'

Now I have been 'invited' (how nice, will there be tea and biccies?) to reveal my keys to the police so they can look at these files. If I do not comply and tell them to keep their great big hooters out of my private affairs I could be charged under RIPA.


16th November    Fat Pipes ...
US makes copy of the entire internet
NSA logoLots of nasty things happen on the internet. So the US National Security Agency (NSA), charged with stopping people doing nasty things, has decided it would be best to have a copy of it. The entire web, that is.

According to a former worker at AT&T, telecommunications companies are feeding the internet records of their customers – e-mail, search and other information – into a giant NSA “sink” for further analysis.

And, much in the fashion of a Robert Ludlum thriller, this all takes place in a room on the sixth floor of an AT&T office block in San Francisco, it is claimed. That was my ‘Aha!’ moment, said Mark Klein, a former technician at AT&T, who saw details of the building’s elaborate wiring. They’re sending the entire internet to the secret room.


As U.S. sanctions against Iran begin to heat up, Web companies are following suit: Yahoo Mail and Hotmail have all removed Iran from the list of countries available for their webmail services.

You'd think that if the Americans have got the capability to store all internet traffic passing them by, then they would quite appreciate  email accounts from countries such as Iran being routed via US servers.


15th November    53 Reasons for Concern ...
Profiling misuse certain to abound
53 items of information to be recordedTravellers face price hikes and confusion after the Government unveiled plans to take up to 53 pieces of information from anyone entering or leaving Britain.

For every journey, security officials will want credit card details, holiday contact numbers, travel plans, email addresses, car numbers and even any previous missed flights.

The e-borders system will monitor every passenger travelling into or out of the country

The information, taken when a ticket is bought, will be shared among police, customs, immigration and the security services for at least 24 hours before a journey is due to take place.

Anybody about whom the authorities are dubious can be turned away when they arrive at the airport or station with their baggage.

Those with outstanding court fines, such as a speeding penalty, could also be barred from leaving the country, even if they pose no security risk.

The information required under the "e-borders" system was revealed as Gordon Brown announced plans to tighten security at shopping centres, airports and ports.

Travel companies, which will run up a bill of £20million a year compiling the information, will pass on the cost to customers via ticket prices, and the Government is considering introducing its own charge on travellers to recoup costs.

The measure applies equally to UK residents going abroad and foreigners travelling here.

The information will be stored for as long as the authorities believe it is useful, allowing them to build a complete picture of where a person has been over their lifetime, how they paid and the contact numbers of who they stayed with.

Restrictions on hand luggage carried on to passenger planes will be lifted from January.

Starting with several airports in the New Year, we will work with airport operators to ensure all UK airports are in a position to allow passengers to fly with more than one item of hand luggage, Gordon Brown said.


14th November    Not So Hush Hush ...
Court order defeats Hushmail encryption
HushMail logoHushmail, a longtime provider of encrypted web-based email, markets itself by saying that not even a Hushmail employee with access to our servers can read your encrypted e-mail, since each message is uniquely encoded before it leaves your computer.

But it turns out that statement seems not to apply to individuals targeted by government agencies that are able to convince a Canadian court to serve a court order on the company.

A September court document (.pdf) from a federal prosecution of alleged steroid dealers reveals the Canadian company turned over 12 CDs worth of e-mails from three Hushmail accounts, following a court order obtained through a mutual assistance treaty between the U.S. and Canada.

The court revelation demonstrates a privacy risk in a relatively-new, simple webmail offering by Hushmail, which the company acknowledges is less secure than its signature product.

A subsequent and refreshingly frank e-mail interview with Hushmail's CTO seems to indicate that government agencies can also order their way into individual accounts on Hushmail's ultra-secure web-based e-mail service, which relies on a browser-based Java encryption engine.


11th November    Googling for Snitch ...
False imprisonment in India after being snitched by Google and ISP
Airtel logoPolice in India wrongfully arrested and detained a Bangalore man for 50 days after internet service provider Airtel mis-identified him as the person who posted images on Orkut that insulted a revered historical figure.

Lakshmana Kailash was held for 50 days and was released three weeks after police claimed to have apprehended the real people responsible for the posting.

Lakshmana's saga started after someone posted unflattering images of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who lived in the 17th Century and is credited by many as the founder of the Maratha empire in Western India. According to this post, authorities got the poster's IP address of from Google and then paid a visit to Airtel to find out who it belonged to. Airtel fingered Lakshmana.

Google has said repeatedly it has no option but to cooperate with official law enforcement inquiries. Indian police are saying it's not their fault for wrongly detaining a man for 50 days. And an Airtel representative was quoted saying the company is "distressed by the severe inconvenience" caused to their customer.

[Fine words but not much help if you get banged up though no fault of your own. I wonder if there will be a follow up story regarding compensation...probably not].


4th November    Gestapo ...
Germany angles to secretly scan hard drives
Germany flagThe first evidence was the bombs themselves, packed into a pair of suitcases and left on two passenger trains in northwest Germany.

Because of a technical flaw, they never exploded. The laptop of one of the suspects contained plans, sketches and maps, a virtual road map to an attack that could have killed dozens.

What if law enforcement agents had been able to secretly scan the contents of the computer before the attempted attack was carried out?

To the unease of many in a country with a history of government spying through the era of the Gestapo and communist rule in East Germany, law enforcement authorities are using the suitcase bomb case to argue for measures that would significantly expand their ability to spy on the once-private realm of My Documents.

Now, along with several other European countries, Germany is seeking authority to plant secret Trojan viruses into the computers of suspects that could scan files, photos, diagrams and voice recordings, record every keystroke typed and possibly even turn on webcams and microphones in an attempt to gain knowledge of attacks before they happen.

What this case showed us is that they are using laptops, they are using computers, and it would have been very, very helpful to track them down with online searches, said Gerhard Schindler, director of the German Interior Ministry's counter-terrorism bureau.

The proposal significantly raises the stakes in the balance between privacy and security in Germany.

Already, Romania, Cyprus, Latvia and Spain have laws that allow "online searches," according to a report from Germany's Interior Ministry, which conducted an informal survey in Europe. Switzerland and Slovenia appear to also allow such searches, and Sweden is in the process of adopting similar legislation, the report said.

In the U.S., where battles are being fought over warrantless surveillance of telephone and Internet communications, the FBI is known to have implanted software designed to identify target computers. But it is unknown, and the FBI won't say, whether the government has tried to surreptitiously search the contents of hard drives.

Police say that although the current authority to enter a suspect's home and seize computers and storage drives for inspection is helpful, there are times when the ability to probe without the suspect's knowledge, by way of an e-bug implanted when he unknowingly opened an e-mail attachment, might yield crucial information.

Federal intelligence agencies already had been conducting these kinds of online searches but were forced to halt the practice in February, when the Federal Court of Justice ruled it was illegal. The interior minister said such searches would not resume before the passage of legislation, and possibly an amendment of Germany's Basic Law, to allow them.

The government is awaiting a decision from the federal Constitutional Court, which is hearing a legal challenge to the procedure brought in a provincial case, and, depending on the outcome, could present proposed legislation by the end of the year.

Critics of the proposed policy complain that it could circumvent the normal, adversarial legal procedures for searches precisely because of its secrecy.

Computer aficionados say it's doubtful that any criminal worth his salt would be foolish enough to open an e-mail attachment with a Trojan virus embedded in it. Government officials responded that they might embed the programs in communications from the tax authorities, a proposal that raised more controversy, with critics saying it would cause the public to mistrust all government communications.


26th October    Removing Owl Masks ...
Website owners forced to identify anonymous posters
Disgruntled fans of Sheffield Wednesday who vented their dissatisfaction with the football club's bigwigs in anonymous internet postings may face expensive libel claims after the chairman, chief executive and five directors won a high-court ruling last week forcing the owner of a website to reveal their identity.

The case, featuring the website, is the second within days to highlight the danger of assuming that the apparent cloak of anonymity gives users of internet forums and chatrooms carte blanche to say whatever they like.

In another high court case last week, John Finn, owner of the Sunderland property firm Pallion Housing, admitted just before he was due to be cross-examined that he was responsible for a website hosting a scurrilous internet campaign about a rival housing organisation, Gentoo Group, its employees and owner, Peter Walls.

Exposing the identity of those who post damaging lies in cyberspace is a growth area for libel lawyers.


16th October    My State is my Enemy ...
Everyone's Guide to Bypassing Internet Censorship
Everyone’s Guide to Bypassing Internet Censorship coverThe Citizen Lab has released Everyone’s Guide to Bypassing Internet Censorship [pdf]. It was a team effort to produce the guide and I’m very pleased to have contributed to it. I’ve long argued that users can benefit from circumvention technology the most when the carefully select the technology that meets their specific needs.

The guide walks users through the process of assessing their needs and and capabilities and lists clusters of circumvention technology options for users to choose from.


4th October

   Give Us Your Key Or Else ...

Police brutality
We don't care how cryptographically strong it is geek...
Give us the key or we'll break your legs!


UK to crack encryption by threatening jail

From ars technica

New laws have come into force in the United Kingdom to make it a crime to refuse to decrypt almost any encrypted data requested by authorities as part of a criminal or terror investigation.

Individuals who are believed to have the cryptographic keys necessary for such decryption will face up to 5 years in prison for failing to comply with police or military orders to hand over either the cryptographic keys, or the data in a decrypted form.

Part 3, Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) includes provisions for the decryption requirements, which are applied differently based on the kind of investigation underway. As we reported last year, the five-year imprisonment penalty is reserved for cases involving anti-terrorism efforts. All other failures to comply can be met with a maximum two-year sentence.

The law can only be applied to data residing in the UK, hosted on UK servers, or stored on devices located within the UK. The law does not authorize the UK government to intercept encrypted materials in transit on the Internet via the UK and to attempt to have them decrypted under the auspices of the jail time penalty.

The law has been criticized for the power its gives investigators, which is seen as dangerously broad. Authorities tracking the movement of terrorist funds could demand the encryption keys used by a financial institution, for instance, thereby laying bare that bank's files on everything from financial transactions to user data.

Cambridge University security expert Richard Clayton said in May of 2006 that such laws would only encourage businesses to house their cryptography operations out of the reach of UK investigators, potentially harming the country's economy.

The law also allows authorities to compel individuals targeted in such investigation to keep silent about their role in decrypting data. Though this will be handled on a case-by-case basis, it's another worrisome facet of a law that has been widely criticized for years.

While RIPA was originally passed in 2000, the provisions detailing the handover of cryptographic keys and/or the force decryption of protected content has not been enabled by the UK Home Office until now.


30th September

   Free for All ...


UK Home Secretary makes phone records available to a multitude of state snoops

From the Daily Mail

Officials from the top of Government to lowly council officers will be given unprecedented powers to access details of every phone call in Britain under laws coming into force on 1st October 2007.

The new rules compel phone companies to retain information, however private, about all landline and mobile calls, and make them available to some 795 public bodies and quangos.

The move, enacted by the personal decree of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, will give police and security services a right they have long demanded: to delve at will into the phone records of British citizens and businesses.

The same powers will also be handed to the tax authorities, 475 local councils, and a host of other organisations, including the Food Standards Agency, the Department of Health, the Immigration Service, the Gaming Board and the Charity Commission.

Civil liberties campaigners say the new powers amount to a 'free for all' for the State snooping on its citizens. And they angrily questioned why the records were being made available to so many organisations. Similar provisions are being brought in across Europe, but under much tighter regulation. In Britain, say critics, private and sensitive information will inevitably fall into the wrong hands.

Records will detail precisely what calls are made, their time and duration, and the name and address of the registered user of the phone. The files will even reveal where people are when they made mobile phone calls. By knowing which mast transmitted the signal, officials will be able to pinpoint the source of a call to within a few feet. This can even be used to track someone's route if, for example, they make a call from a moving car.

Files will also be kept on the sending and receipt of text messages.

By 2009 the Government plans to extend the rules to cover internet use: the websites we have visited, the people we have emailed and phone calls made over the net.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has spearheaded the move to give police and security services access to the phone records of British citizens and businesses.

The new laws will make it a legal requirement for phone companies to keep records for at least a year, and to make them available to the authorities.

Many of the organisations granted access to the records already have systems allowing them to search phone-call databases over a computer link without needing staff at the phone company to intervene.

Police requests for phone records will need the approval of a superintendent or inspector, while council officials must get permission from the authority's assistant chief officer. Thousands of staff in other agencies will be legally entitled to retrieve the records once the request is approved by a senior official.

The new measures were implemented after the Home Secretary signed a 'statutory instrument' on July 26. The process allows the Government to alter laws without a full act of Parliament. The move was nodded through the House of Lords two days earlier without a debate.

It puts into UK law a European Directive aimed at the 'investigation, detection and prosecution of serious crime'. But the British law allows the information to be used much more widely to combat all crimes, however minor.

A spokesman for Liberty said: 'Hundreds of bodies have been given the power to look at this highly sensitive information. It is yet another example of how greater and greater access is being given to information on our movements with little debate and little public accountability: It is a free for all. There is a lack of oversight of how and why public bodies are using these records. There is no public record of what they are using this information for.

Tony Bunyan, of civil liberties group Statewatch, said: The retention of everyone's communications data is a momentous decision, one that should not be slipped through Parliament without anyone noticing.

Last year, the voluntary arrangement allowed 439,000 searches of phone records. But the Government brought in legislation because the industry did not routinely keep all the information it wanted.

The new system will be overseen by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, who also ensures security and intelligence services' phone taps are legal.

Privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner, which has responsibly for protecting personal information and policing the Data Protection Act had virtually no role in the new laws.


21st September

   Tortured Liberty ...


Operator of German Tor server arrested

From Slashdot

In a recent blog posting, a German operator of a Tor anonymous proxy server revealed that he was arrested by German police officers at the end of July.

Showing up at his house at midnight, police cuffed and arrested him in front of his wife and seized his equipment. In a display of both bitter irony and incompetence, the police did not take or shut-down the Tor server responsible for the traffic they were interested in, which was located in a data center, over 500km away.

In the last year, Germany has passed a draconian new anti-security research law and raided seven different data centers to seize Tor servers.

While back in 2003, A German court ordered the developers of a different anonymity network to build a back-door into their system.


13th September

   Ray Gun ...


Intolerable pain weapon for crowd control

A perfect torture weapon then?

From the Times

The first heat-ray gun goes on display in London this week.

Raytheon, the American defence company, is hoping to find customers for its Silent Guardian system, developed as a form of non-lethal crowd control, which will be shown at the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition, the world’s largest arms fair.

The weapon emits a wave of energy that vaporises skin moisture, causing an intense burning sensation. Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials will be invited to place their hands in front of the machine’s ray and experience what its maker describes as “intolerable” pain.

A Raytheon marketing brochure explains: The system’s antenna emits a focused beam of millimetre-wave energy. The beam travels at the speed of light and penetrates the skin to a depth of 1/64th of an inch, producing an intolerable heating sensation that causes the targeted individuals to instinctively flee or take cover.

Raytheon envisages that the ray gun will be deployed for crowd-control and peacekeeping missions. It said that the machine had been certified by Guinness World Records as the first heat-ray gun.

The weapon is shaped like a satellite dish and can be mounted on a van or on a security checkpoint. It emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation up to half a kilometre, which causes water particles in the skin to vibrate, creating a burning sensation equivalent to touching an oven ring.

Raytheon insists that the gun does not cause any physical harm unless a victim is exposed to the ray for a sustained period.

Anti-arms industry campaigners are opposed to Raytheon promoting the system in Britain. Symon Hill, a spokesman for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: The Silent Guardian sounds like a dictator’s dream – a weapon to suppress dissent and protest.

Despite the claims that the heat ray is harmless, the American military so far has rejected calls for it to be deployed in Iraq. There are still concerns about how the weapon affects eyes or contact lenses worn by those coming into contact with it.


8th September

   Chipping Away at Privacy ...


Mandatory human chip implants to be banned in California

From LA Times

Tackling a dilemma right out of a science fiction novel, the California state Senate passed legislation that would bar employers from requiring workers to have identification devices implanted under their skin.

State Senator. Joe Simitian proposed the measure after at least one company began marketing radio frequency identification devices for use in humans.

The devices, as small as a grain of rice, can be used by employers to identify workers. A scanner passing over a body part implanted with one can instantly identify the person.

RFID is a minor miracle, with all sorts of good uses, Simitian said. But we shouldn't condone forced 'tagging' of humans. It's the ultimate invasion of privacy. Simitian said he fears that the devices could be compromised by persons with unauthorized scanners, facilitating identity theft and improper tracking and surveillance.

The bill has been approved by the state Assembly and now goes to the governor.

One company, VeriChip, has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration to sell implanted identification devices, and about 2,000 people have had them implanted, Simitian said., a Cincinnati video surveillance company, has required employees who work in its secure data center to have a microchip implanted in an arm.


7th August

   Crack down on US mod chip sellers


Based on an article from the BBC see full article

US Customs has carried out raids in 16 states to clamp down on the sale of modification or "mod" chips.

In the largest operation of its kind to date US Customs officials raided more than 30 homes, businesses and shops.

When a mod chip is installed on a game consoles it helps circumvent copy protection systems to let owners play pirated or simply out of region games.

Mod chips have been made for the PlayStation 2, Nintendo Wii, Xbox and Xbox 360 game consoles.

The raids followed a 12-month investigation by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into who was importing the chips and selling them on. Typically the chips are made overseas before being shipped to dealers in the US or other nations.


25th July

   Automatic Police State Recognition ...


Police to get unrestricted access to traffic snooping

From The Guardian see full article

"Big Brother" plans to automatically hand the police details of the daily journeys of millions of motorists tracked by road pricing cameras across the country were inadvertently disclosed by the Home Office.

Leaked Whitehall background papers reveal that Home Office and transport ministers have clashed over plans for legislation this autumn enabling the police to get automatic "real-time" access to the bulk data from the traffic cameras now going into operation. The Home Office says the police need the data from the cameras, which can read and store every passing numberplate, for all crime fighting purposes.

But transport ministers warn of concerns about privacy and the potential for adverse publicity relating to plans for local road pricing also due to be unveiled this autumn. There are already nearly 2,000 automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras in place and they are due to double as road pricing schemes are expanded across the country.

The leaked Home Office note emerged yesterday as it was announced that the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, had waived Data Protection Act safeguards to allow the bulk transfer of data from London's congestion charge and traffic cameras to the Metropolitan police for the specific purpose of tracking potential terrorists in and around the capital.

Transport for London was very reluctant to hand over the data without the home secretary issuing a special certificate exempting it from legal action from motorists worried about breach of their privacy.

The leaked document also reveals the scale of possible national surveillance with ANPR. The police can compare details of vehicles entering the London congestion charge zone against a hotlist of target vehicles, and identify cars that have been at several sites at key times. At present the police can apply for the London congestion zone records only on a case by case basis. The new power will give police live access to all the data.

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Nick Clegg, said the unintended act of open government had revealed the disingenuous attitude of ministers towards public fears about a creeping surveillance state: Public resistance to a road charging scheme will go through the roof if it is based on technology which poses a threat to personal privacy. Bit by bit, vast computer databases are being made inter-operable and yet the government seems to running scared of a full and public debate.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: It is one thing to ask the public for special measures to fight the grave threat of terrorism, but when that becomes a Trojan horse for mass snooping for more petty matters it only leads to a loss of trust in government.


21st July

   European Court protects file sharers


From The Register see full article

European telcos and ISPs do not have to hand over subscriber information to record labels which are trying to find file sharers.

Advocate General Juliane Kokott, adviser to the European Court, reckons European internet service providers are not obliged to hand over subscriber information when approached by record labels pursuing civil cases. The information should be handed over in a criminal case though.

The Spanish court has asked the European Court for advice. The European Court has still to decide on how to advise Spanish judges, but is likely to follow the legal advice given to it.


25th June

   Googling for "Repression " ...


And finding it in Germany

From see full article

Spiegel is reporting that Google is threatening to shut down the German version of its Gmail service if the German Bundestag passes it’s new Internet surveillance law.

Peter Fleischer, Googles German privacy representative says the new law would be a severe blow against privacy and would go against Google's practice of also offering anonymous e-mail accounts.

If the law is passed then starting 2008, any connection data concerning the internet, phone calls (With position data when cell phones are used), SMS etc. of any German citizen will be saved for 6 months. Anonymizing services like Tor will be made illegal.


9th June

   Rubbish Council ...


Hidden cameras secreted around town

Based on an article from The Telegraph see full article

A council is to plant hidden cameras in a bin bags to catch Weymouth residents who do not follow new rules about putting out the rubbish.

Householders must put their rubbish out between 8pm and 6am the night before collection

To enforce the new rules, a camera will be placed in a rubbish bag and left in an alleyway to blend in with the surroundings to catch offenders.

Those filmed breaking the rules will be given a ticking off. Repeat offenders could be handed a fixed penalty notice or even be taken to court and fined up to £1,000.

The tiny covert camera, which has cost Weymouth and Portland Council, Dorset, up to £10,000.

Peter Bury, the council environmental health officer, said the camera will help enforce the new rules but also catch fly-tippers, graffiti artists and drug dealers: As well as the alleyways we will also place the camera in bushes or a brick wall to catch fly tippers, and drug dealers.


31st May

   Stop and Question ...


Government needs a bit of its own medicine

From the BBC see full article

The government is considering giving police officers across the UK "stop and question" powers under new anti-terror laws, says the Home Office.

The proposal, allowing police to ask people about their identity and movement, is among measures being considered by Home Secretary John Reid.

The measure is so far used only in Northern Ireland.

Police elsewhere have to have "reasonable suspicion" a crime has been committed before they can stop people.

Anyone who refuses to co-operate could be charged with obstructing the police and fined up to £5,000.

Greater powers to remove vehicles and paperwork for inspection are also believed to be part of the measures.

Reid also told the Commons that the government could consider suspending some parts of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) so it can impose tougher control orders.


29th May

   Neighbourhood Snitch ...



Government consult on substantial rewards for snitching

From The Independent

Members of the public could be handed huge cash rewards for grassing on people or companies defrauding the Government, under proposals published by the Home Office.

Informants would win a share of assets confiscated by the courts if they turned whistleblower against a fraudster such as someone cheating on benefits, a cigarette smuggler or a company dodging VAT.

The system would be based on what the Home Office describes as a "strikingly successful" scheme in the United States which has seized 11 billion dollars (£5.5 billion) since 1986.

In the US, informants receive between 15 and 30% of seized assets in a successful case.

The proposal was floated by ministers as part of a wide-ranging action plan to improve the way the Government seizes criminal assets.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said: We are asking is it applicable in this country, is it something that people would find acceptable and is there a workable model?

A Home Office consultation paper said today: It has been estimated that for every dollar the federal government invests in investigating and prosecuting these cases, it receives 15 dollars back.

However, the document recognised that it would be a "novel" principle to bring to England and Wales.

The consultation paper, which is open for feedback until November 23, also suggested a range of new measures to improve criminal confiscations, including new powers to seize "bling" such as jewellery and plasma TVs from criminals charged with acquisitive crimes.

It suggested that changing the law so that police and other law enforcement agencies could seize high-value goods as soon as a suspect is charged, so the items could then be held pending a trial and eventually sold.

It said: There would also need to be provision for compensation in cases where the charged person is not ultimately convicted of an offence.

Coaker admitted that such dramatic expansion of the way officials could seize goods did raise questions under human rights laws.


28th May

   Googling for Big Brother ...


Google profiled as 'intrusive'

From The Independent

Google is setting out to create the most comprehensive database of personal information ever assembled, one with the ability to tell people how to run their lives.

In a mission statement that raises the spectre of an internet Big Brother to rival Orwellian visions of the state, Google has revealed details of how it intends to organise and control the world's information.

The company's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, said during a visit to Britain this week: The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as 'What shall I do tomorrow?' and 'What job shall I take?'.

Speaking at a conference organised by Google, he said : We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms [software] will get better and we will get better at personalisation.

Earlier this year Google's competitor Yahoo unveiled its own search technology, known as Project Panama, which monitors internet visitors to its site to build a profile of their interests.

Privacy protection campaigners are concerned that the trend towards sophisticated internet tracking and the collating of a giant database represents a real threat, by stealth, to civil liberties.

The Independent has now learnt that the body representing Europe's data protection watchdogs has written to Google requesting more information about its information retention policy.

A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner said that because of the voluntary nature of the information being targeted, the Information Commission had no plans to take any action against the databases.

Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy Counsel, said the company intended only doing w hat its customers wanted it to do. He said Mr Schmidt was talking about products such as iGoogle, where users volunteer to let Google use their web histories. This is about personalised searches, where our goal is to use information to provide the best possible search for the user. If the user doesn't want information held by us, then that's fine. We are not trying to build a giant library of personalised information. All we are doing is trying to make the best computer guess of what it is you are searching for.

Privacy protection experts have argued that law enforcement agents - in certain circumstances - can compel search engines and internet service providers to surrender information. One said: The danger here is that it doesn't matter what search engines say their policy is because it can be overridden by national laws.


25th May

   Social Spy Network ...


Of social workers, doctors & council staff

From the BBC see full article

UK council staff, charity workers and doctors could be required by law to tip off police about anyone they believe could commit a violent crime.

The Home Office proposals, leaked to the Times newspaper, insist public bodies have "valuable information" that could identify potential offenders.

Possible warning signs could include heavy drinking, mental health problems or a violent family background.

Civil liberties campaigners are concerned that people could be put under police surveillance despite having committed no crime.

The proposals for "multi-agency information sharing" were circulated in Whitehall by Simon King, head of the Home Office violent crime unit. The leaked document states: Public bodies will have access to valuable information about people at risk of becoming either perpetrators or victims of serious violence.

It says when staff become "sufficiently concerned" about an individual, that person should be should "risk assessed" and, if necessary, referred for further attention.

King suggests two new agencies be created - one to collate reports on potential offenders, the other on potential victims.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said police already had a considerable "administrative burden" without having to "wade through file after file of speculation and guess work".

A spokesman for the Home Office said the proposals were at an early stage and no decision had been made.


17th May

   Playing at Big Brother ...


Google to build personality profiles of gamers

From The Guardian see full article

Google has drawn up plans to compile psychological profiles of millions of web users by covertly monitoring the way they play online games.

The company thinks it can glean information about an individual's preferences and personality type by tracking their online behaviour, which could then be sold to advertisers. Details such as whether a person is more likely to be aggressive, hostile or dishonest could be obtained and stored for future use, it says.

Privacy campaigners, who said the implications of compiling and storing such detailed information were "alarming".

Sue Charman of online campaign Open Rights Group said: I can understand why they are interested in this, but I would be deeply disturbed by a company holding a psychological profile.

The plans are detailed in a patent filed by Google in Europe and the US last month. It says people playing online role playing games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft would be particularly good to target, because they interact with other players and make decisions that probably reflect their behaviour in real life.

The patent says: User dialogue (eg from role playing games, simulation games, etc) may be used to characterise the user (eg literate, profane, blunt or polite, quiet etc). Also, user play may be used to characterise the user (eg cautious, risk-taker, aggressive, non-confrontational, stealthy, honest, cooperative, uncooperative, etc).

The information could be used to make adverts that appear inside the game more "relevant to the user", Google says. Players who spend a lot of time exploring may be interested in vacations, so the system may show ads for vacations . And those who spend more time talking to other characters will see adverts for mobile phones.

The patent says Google could also monitor people playing on any game console that hooks up to the internet, including the Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft's Xbox. It says information could be retrieved from previous game details saved on memory cards.


10th May

   Taking Liberties ...


Filming charting the Orwellian 10 years of Tony Blair

From The Telegraph see full article

After 18 months of secrecy, a British director disclosed that he had made a damning Michael Moore-style documentary feature film about Mr Blair's 10 years in office which he is to release nationwide on June 8.

The 90-minute film, Taking Liberties , focuses on the erosion of civil liberties and the increase of surveillance under Labour.

The director, Chris Atkins, said that he wanted to expose "the Orwellian state" that now threatened Britain as a result of Blair's policies.

It re-tells the stories of several well-publicised cases in which personal freedoms have been curtailed by new laws. Prominent among them is David Bermingham and "the NatWest Three", the bankers extradited to America last year on wire fraud charges, and Maya Evans, the peace campaigner found guilty of breaking the ban on unauthorised protests near Westminster for reading out the names of 97 British soldiers killed in Iraq near the Cenotaph.

Also featured will be Walter Wolfgang, the elderly Jewish anti-war activist bundled out of Labour's 2005 party conference and held under anti-terrorism laws for shouting out "rubbish" during a speech by Jack Straw.

Update: Now at Cinemas

11th June

See Taking liberties? People will only wake up to the destruction of their civil liberties when it is too late

The film is now on limited release at around 20 cinemas in the UK.


9th May

   Labour's Listening ...


Hidden hidden street microphones

From The Telegraph see full article

Hidden mini-cameras and microphones that can eavesdrop on conversations in the street are the next step in the march towards a "Big Brother" society, MPs were warned.

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, said a debate had begun about whether listening devices should be set up alongside Britain's 4.5 million CCTV cameras.

In evidence to the Commons home affairs committee, Mr Thomas said he would be hostile to such an idea. He was also alarmed by the prospect of tiny cameras, hidden in lamp posts, replacing more obvious monitors.

He said it was arguable that surveillance in Britain - which is greater than in any other democratic nation - may already have gone too far. It was crucial, he added, to ''proceed with caution'' to avoid creating a climate suspicion.

Thomas believes the Information Commissioner's Office should have more powers to investigate privacy breaches without seeking the consent of organisations such as the NHS or Whitehall departments.

Thomas quoted Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the US, who said: Those who lightly give up their liberties in the name of safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: This Government has got away with the construction of a surveillance state behind the backs of the British people for far too long.


29th April

   ISPs Service Government ...


ISPs to handover customer details more readily

From The Register see full article

ISPA, the internet service providers' trade association, is calling on its members to provide law enforcement agencies with a 24-hour contact point.

A new "best practice" document says ISPs should make information available for current investigations as quickly as possible, and ideally be on call at any time. ISPA says the industry needs to strengthen ties with police and other government agencies tracking spammers and peer-to-peer networking.

Providers should also hand over customer details more readily, ISPA reckons.

ISPA council chair Jessica Hendrie-Liaño said: "ISPA already has excellent relations with the Home Office, Government officials, and law enforcement agencies. This document aims to strengthen these ties."

Clearly, a compulsory 24 hour hotline is not feasible for the "one man band" outfits that battle it out at the bottom end of the ISP game. An ISPA spokesman said an email address or some other point of contact would be more practical in such circumstances.

The new best practice document reads:

A Best Current Practice (BCP) document is a non-mandatory recommendation representing what ISPA believes is best practice at the time of writing. Mandatory requirements on ISPA members are set out in the ISPA Code of Practice.

Relationship with Law enforcement

Law enforcement agencies (LEAs) may wish to contact an ISPA member company to request assistance with an investigation. ISPA members should make available contact details of a named individual or other contact point (e.g.: general phone/fax number or email address) for these purposes. In urgent cases, a LEA may wish to contact a member company outside normal working hours. Members should, where possible, provide a 24hr point of contact for the purposes of responding to urgent requests for assistance. Members should consider making this information available via their own website (e.g.: under ‘legal notices’) or passing this information to the Home Office for inclusion in the SPoC extranet which is made available to all public authorities with powers to request data. For the avoidance of doubt, it is the responsibility of individual members to ensure that they follow the relevant legal and operational procedures associated with law enforcement requests.


29th March

   Juvenile Thought Crime ...


Children to be tested for criminal potential

I wonder if the system will be able to identify potential warmongers and zig-zaggers around political funding laws

From The Telegraph see full article

Checks will be made on all children to identify potential criminals under an extension of the "surveillance state" announced by Tony Blair.

A Downing Street review of law and order also foreshadowed greater use of sophisticated CCTV, an expanded DNA database and "instant justice" powers for police.

The review is intended to chart a course for the next 10 years by focusing more "on the offender, not the offence".

Vulnerable children and those at risk will be identified by "trigger" factors such as parents in jail or on drugs. They will be subject to measures including home visits from specialists. But the Government says the net should be cast as widely as possible "to prevent criminality developing".

The review document added: These checks should piggyback on existing contact points such as the transition to secondary schools.

The plan will be underpinned by a database for all children from next year. It will contain basic information identifying the child and its parents and will have a facility for practitioners to indicate to others that they have information to share, are taking action, or have undertaken an assessment, in relation to a child.

Some children who show signs of becoming criminals are already monitored. Those aged between eight and 13 may be referred to a Youth Inclusion and Support Panel if they are thought to be potential offenders and data about them is held on an information system.


18th March

   Googling for Search Records ...


Google to anonymise search records when 2 years old


Google believes it can provide more assurances of privacy by removing key pieces of identifying information from its system every 18 to 24 months. The timetable is designed to comply with a hodgepodge of laws around the world that dictate how long search engines are supposed to retain user information.

Authorities still could demand to review personal information before Google purges it or take legal action seeking to force the company to keep the data beyond the new time limits.

Nevertheless, Google's additional safeguards mark the first time it has spelled out precisely how long it will hold onto data that can reveal intimate details about a person's Web surfing habits.

While Google will still retain reams of information about its users, the changes are supposed to lessen the chances that the company, a government agency or another party will be able to identify the people behind specific search requests.

Google and its rivals all say they keep information about their users so they can learn more about them as they strive to deliver the most relevant responses.

By purging some of the personal information from its computers, Google warned it might not be as effective at improving some services as it has been in the past. But we believe the additional privacy provided by the change outweighs the benefit of the data we are losing, Google said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Under its new standards, Google will wipe out eight bits of the Internet protocol, or IP, address that identifies the origin of specific search requests. After the IP addresses are altered, the information will be linked to clusters of 256 computers instead of just a single machine.

Google also will depersonalize computer "cookies" - hidden files that enable Web sites to track the online preferences and travels of their visitors.

Despite its privacy breach last year, AOL believes it is a step ahead of Google because it doesn't store its users' IP addresses and encrypts whatever personal information that it does collect, spokesman Andrew Weinstein said. AOL keeps the encrypted data for only 13 months, a change prompted by the backlash to last year's mishandling of search requests.

As the owner of the Internet's largest search engine, Google has been under growing pressure to adopt greater privacy controls. Regulators in Europe have been particularly vocal about their concerns.

The new measures pleased Billy Hawkes, Ireland's data protection commissioner: It's a very welcome development. Personal information should be held on to no longer than it has to be.

Yahoo, which runs the second largest search engine, was vague about how it might respond: Data retention practices depend largely on the diverse nature of our data as well as the practical considerations of storage costs and processing system requirements.


16th February

   The Walls Have Ears ...


450,000 of them listen in on our communications

From The Times

Almost 450,000 requests were made to monitor people’s telephone calls, e-mails and post by secret agencies and other authorised bodies in just over a year, the spying watchdog said yesterday.

In the first report of its kind from the Interceptions of Communications Commissioner, it was also revealed that nearly 4,000 errors were reported in a 15-month period from 2005 to 2006. While most appeared to concern “lower-level data” such as requests for telephone lists and individual e-mail addresses, 67 were mistakes concerning direct interception of communications.

Sir Swinton Thomas, the report’s author, described the figure as “unacceptably high”.

Human-rights campaigners described the twin revelations yesterday as signs of a “creeping contempt for our personal privacy”.

For its report the spy watchdog monitored 795 bodies, all of which were empowered to seek out communications data. These included MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the signals intelligence centre in Cheltenham, as well as 52 police forces, 475 local authorities and 108 other organisations such as the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Services Authority. Between them they made 439,000 requests for communications information over the 15-month period.

The Home Office said that the total number of such requests, which includes information on e-mail addresses and lists of phone numbers, had not been published before. It was unable to say if this represented a huge increase in data collection.

Warrants for serious crime intercepts last three months and warrants for national security cases last for six months.

In response to Sir Swinton’s criticism of the number of errors, the Home Office said that only “intercepts” of communications involved “sensitive” material and required a warrant from a secretary of state. Most of the errors, it said, involved requests for data such as individuals’ e-mail addresses and lists of telephone calls, and did not include intercepting the contents of messages and phone conversations.

The Prime Minister sparked further controversy over ID cards after replying to 28,000 people who had signed an e-petition calling on him to scrap the scheme. He said that the register would help the police to bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. “They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register.”

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said of Mr Blair’s response to the petitioners: “This is a massive move away from the presumption in Britain that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Tony Blair has admitted that the authorities will go on a fishing expedition through the files of innocent people to try to match them up to unsolved crimes.

“This is completely contrary to undertakings given throughout the course of the Bill in the Houses of Parliament and would be a major invasion of privacy. Mr Blair clearly does not realise that fingerprint technology is not infallible. With the vast number of crimes involved it is virtually guaranteed there will be errors and massive miscarriages of justice in a number of cases."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the Liberty civil rights campaign group, said: “Public confidence in the Government’s respect for our personal privacy has never been lower. There is an urgent need to rebuild that trust. The Prime Minister’s ambitions for ID cards seems to grow as public confidence in the scheme diminishes. This will become a national suspects database.”


16th February

   Government Prats ...


Spin attempt to discredit 1million+ petition

Surely the Government have promised to the security services and police that all travel will be recorded. The global warming and congestion aspect is just an added extra that will help sell the nasty idea to the public.

Based on an article from the Daily Mail

Senior ministers have vented their anger at Downing Street for allowing petitions on its website.

One high-ranking member of the Government said the idea had been dreamt up by a "prat" and was proving to be a public relations disaster.

There is particular anger in the Department for Transport that No 10 has allowed opponents of road pricing to shape the debate. It says the online petition presents the negative aspects of toll roads but fails to put forward the benefits to the economy and the environment of cutting congestion.

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander today undertook a media offensive to counter the damaging coverage caused by the website. He said: I understand the public's concerns. Frankly if we were proposing what the petition suggests I would share their concerns. Unless motorists and families can see the benefits of bringing in a national road pricing system then it simply won't happen.

The petition claims motorists will be "tracked at all times" and road pricing will be "unfair" on those who live apart from their families and poorer people who cannot afford the monthly cost.

Roads Minister Stephen Ladyman spouted bollox that the million people who signed the petition had been 'misled' by the organisers. He said claims that the electronic boxes which would be placed in cars would allow the Government to "spy" on motorists were wide of the mark.

He added that once the petition closed next week, ministers would start explaining the "real policies".


1st March

   Stealth Tax & Surveillance ...


Tony Blair to ignore the 1.8 million petition

Based on an article from the Daily Mail

The Prime Minister is planning to push ahead with the controversial ‘pay-as-you-drive’ policy – ignoring a petition with almost 1.8 million signatures.

But Labour chairman Hazel Blears urged him to reconsider, warning that he is fuelling "resentment" by not listening to voters.

She questioned why he had urged the public to submit petitions to the Downing Street website – but dismissed those which went against Government policy.

The petition also reflected public fury at plans described by campaigners as a "poll tax on wheels".

Tony Blair responded to the ignored petitioners in an email; this is not about imposing "stealth taxes" or introducing "Big Brother" surveillance. This is a complex subject, which cannot be resolved without a thorough investigation of all the options,


14th February

   Getting High on Surveillance ...


Spies in the back of airline seats

Based on an article from the Daily Mail

Tiny cameras linked to specialist computers are to be used to monitor the behaviour of airline passengers as part of the war on terrorism.

Cameras fitted to seat-backs will record every twitch, blink, facial expression or suspicious movement before sending the data to onboard software which will check it against individual passenger profiles.

Scientists from Britain and Germany are spending £25million developing a system which they hope will make it virtually impossible to hijack an airliner by providing pilots and cabin crew with an early warning of a possible terrorist attack such as 9/11.

They say that rapid eye movements, blinking excessively, licking lips or ways of stroking hair or ears are classic symptoms of somebody trying to conceal something.

A separate microphone will hear and record even whispered remarks. Islamic suicide bombers are known to whisper texts from the Koran in the moments before they explode bombs.

We're trying to develop technologies that indicate the differences between normal passengers and those who may be a threat to others, or themselves, said Catherine Neary of BAE Systems.

Neary, team leader of the Onboard Threat Detection System for the Paris-based Security Of Aircraft In The Future European Environment (SAFEE) project, added: Blink rates come from lie-detection research and suggest the stress level is higher than normal.

Neary said that under the Data Protection Act, all video, audio and other recordings would be destroyed at the end of every flight so that passengers' civil liberties were not infringed.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: Watching people constantly on aircraft and trying to work out patterns of behaviour is a difficult road to travel. I suspect that it will put people off flying because they will feel uncomfortable if their every blink and twitch is being monitored.


10th February

   Conserving Liberty ...


Conservative party will scrap ID cards if elected

From The Telegraph
See also Conservative Campaign against ID Cards
Sign the petition against ID cards

The Conservative party has written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell to give formal notice that they would scrap identity cards if elected. The party has also written to likely major contractors to warn them.

Shadow home secretary David Davis asked what provision there was to protect against early cancellation costs.

The Tories have launched a web and print-based campaign against ID cards proposals.

The party says they will damage civil liberties and that the cost of production and a biometric database could run to £20bn.

The Liberal Democrats oppose the cards on similar grounds and predict they would become a "favoured target" for organised criminals.

A Downing Street spokesman refused to comment on the Tories' cancellation proposals, as they were "party political".


9th February

   Travelling to a Big Brother State ...


Home Office study more surveillance methods

And did anyone think that road pricing technology really had anything to do with climate change reasons?

From The Telegraph

A swathe of controversial "Big Brother" style crime-fighting techniques are to be introduced by the Government under the cover of the 2012 London Olympics, a leaked memo has revealed.

The document, drawn up by officials at the Home Office and sent to 10 Downing Street, paves the way for a much wider use of the police's DNA database to identify suspects through their relatives.

Police are also to be empowered to scan postal packages and to monitor an individual's travel in even greater detail than they can today, by using advances in CCTV technology as well as electronic travel passes such as the Oyster cards in use in London.

The Conservatives and civil liberties campaigners are leading protests against the proposals, with Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, accusing John Reid, the Home Secretary, of presiding over a "make liberty history" campaign.

The memo, entitled No 10 Policy Working Group on Security, Crime and Justice, Technological Advances , asks: To what extent should the expectation of liberty be eroded by legitimate intrusions in the interests of security of the wider public?

It goes on to explore how to win over public opinion and concludes: Increasing [public] support could be possible through the piloting of certain approaches in high-profile ways such as the London Olympics.

The leaked document paves the way for a big leap in forensics, particularly with the "volume of information now available on the national DNA database", on which details of more than three million Britons are stored.

It suggests that police will make much greater use of a technique known as "familial DNA" where a suspect whose details are not on the database can be traced through a family member whose details are already recorded. The memo states: Records could be trawled more routinely to identify familial connections to crime scenes, providing a starting point to investigations through a family member that is on the database to a suspect that is not, for example.

Ms Chakrabarti said: It's particularly worrying to hear that the London Olympics - supposed to be a celebration of our multicultural democracy - might be manipulated for political ends into part of the Home Secretary's 'make liberty history' campaign.

The Home Office refused to comment.


5th February

   Full Pipe Surveillance ...


The FBI listens to thousands of Internet users at once

From X Biz

When authorities have a court order and an Internet service provider is unable to isolate a suspect’s IP address because of technical reasons, the FBI said it uses a broad stroke wiretapping technique that allows agents to investigate and assemble the activities of thousands of Internet users at one time.

Known as full-pipe surveillance, FBI officials confirmed that they employ the tactic that allows them to gather massive amounts of data flowing through an ISP’s servers. The information is then entered into an FBI database and later queried for relevant names, email addresses or other keywords.

News of the practice came to light at a Stanford Law School symposium entitled Search & Seizure in the Digital Age, when former federal prosecutor Paul Ohm discussed the tactic, which he said has become the FBI’s default method for Internet surveillance: You collect wherever you can on the network segment. If it happens to be the segment that has a lot of IP addresses, you don't throw away the other IP addresses. You do that after the fact. You intercept first and you use whatever filtering, data mining to get at the information about the person you're trying to monitor.

Ohm, who presented a paper at the symposium on the 4th Amendment, said he had doubts about the legality of full-pipe surveillance: The question that's interesting, although I don't know whether it's so clear, is whether this is illegal, whether it's constitutional. Is Congress even aware they're doing this? I don't know the answers.


1st February

   Creepy Crawly Tax Man ...


The tax man checks out website traffic

From X Biz

A consortium of five countries has launched a cyber taxman, employing a spider to scour online shops, poker and porn websites in search of suspected Internet tax cheats.

Known as Xenon, the program was developed in 2004 by the Dutch equivalent to the IRS, Belastingdienst. The program, which is primarily a spider, works by downloading webpages as well as the links on the page.

The data collected on the spidered webpages provides tax authorities with information on the commercial traffic visiting a particular site. Authorities then use the data to develop leads on suspected tax evaders.

Xenon has been adopted and enhanced by the tax authorities in Austria, Denmark, Britain and Canada.

Marten den Uyl of the data-mining firm Sentient Machine Research, which administers Xenon, declined to give details on precisely how the program works. But he did admit that the spider could be trained to target specific niche industries that notoriously underreport tax information.

According to a Wired news article, the data collected by Xenon includes useful information such as the locations of a site’s customers, which tax authorities can then cross-reference with their own databases for a more complete taxation picture.

Par Strom, a Swedish privacy advocate, said he was troubled by his government’s decision to use the spider: Of course it's not illegal but I don't feel quite comfortable having a tax office sending out those kind of spiders.

According to the report in Wired News, the U.S. is not part of the Xenon program, but the IRS would neither confirm nor deny using the spidering application in its investigations.


19th January

   A Government out of Control ...


More state control without proof

From the BBC

New powers restricting the activities of those suspected of money laundering, fraud, drugs and human trafficking are to be included in a Serious Crime Bill. But the government faces criticism that the civil orders may prove unworkable given the problems it has had imposing control orders on terrorist suspects.

The bill is also expected to strengthen powers to seize assets such as cash, properties and cars from criminals. Breaching the new order could lead to a five-year prison term.

The proposal for serious crime prevention orders is another example of the government's determination to tackle crime by using the civil courts, which rely on a lower standard of proof. Under the plans, the High Court would be able to impose strict conditions on a suspects' activities and businesses, restricting where they go, who they meet, their access to bank accounts and the internet.
The serious crime prevention orders would be applied for by the Crown Prosecution Service, Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office or the Serious Fraud Office.

An order could be imposed by the courts if they believed on the balance of probability that the suspect had acted in a way which helped or was likely to help a serious crime.

Orders would also be used if courts felt it was necessary and proportionate to prevent such criminal harm in the future. It would be a High Court civil order that could be challenged in the Court of Appeal.


17th January

   A Database of Abusive Governments ...


More Blair Bollox

Based on an article from the BBC

A giant database of people's personal details could be created at Whitehall under government plans.

Strict regulations currently prevent one part of government sharing personal information it holds with another. Ministers argue the data-sharing rules are "overzealous" but the Conservatives say relaxing them would be an excuse for bureaucrats to snoop.

So-called citizens' panels will gauge public reaction to relaxing privacy procedures so people do not have to repeat personal information to different public bodies.

But such data-sharing is controversial. As well as criticism from the Conservatives, the information commissioner has warned Britain may be sleepwalking into a surveillance society.

The idea of allowing different Whitehall departments to access centrally-held data emerged during the government's policy review of public services.

The review team, headed by Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton, has concluded that it is difficult for services to be as flexible and light-footed as people want because of rules on data.

However, the government says it wants to involve the public in deciding how to balance individual privacy against possible improvements in customer care in the public sector. Five citizens' panels of 100 people are being recruited by the polling organisation Ipsos Mori.

In a process known as "deliberative democracy", the panels will be briefed on the pros and cons of different approaches to public services and then invited to make their decision. Their views, say ministers, will then feed into government policy.

But Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary Oliver Heald said: Step by step, the government is logging details of every man, woman and child in 'Big Brother' computers.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: The chances of it actually solving crimes is pretty small. The chances of it costing over £20bn is very high. It will be a white elephant.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, who is charged with ensuring the state does not collect too much information about citizens, has also been critical of data-sharing and already expressed concern at the Citizens' Information Project: There are reasons why we need to promote better information, but whether the right answer is to create a database should be questioned.

From The Guardian

The Serious Crimes bill clears the way for data matching exercises to be carried out on a large scale, even though a Home Office consultation paper last year acknowledged many public bodies feared such operations were seen as "fishing expeditions" which should only be justified on a "crime by crime" basis. But the bill will open the way for operations under which software is used to search several databases to identify suspicious patterns of activity that cannot be spotted when the data is seen individually.

The legislation specifically excludes sensitive personal data, such as NHS patient records, from its provisions. But it gives the home secretary the power to add to the purposes for which data matching exercises can be carried out, including the prevention of crime other than fraud, the apprehension of offenders or the recovery of debt. It acknowledges that this might include sensitive personal data in the future.

A recent pilot scheme carried out between the student loan company and the Home Office's immigration and nationality directorate demonstrated a high level of matches between those fraudulently applying for student loans and those without indefinite leave to remain or permission to study in the UK.

The Audit Commission is to be given mandatory powers to carry out data matching exercises in local government to tackle fraud but participation is to be voluntary at this stage for individual Whitehall government departments .

The legislation also contains powers to abolish the assets recovery agency and merge its operation with the serious organised crime agency. The assets recovery agency has faced repeated legal challenges from lawyers of those it targeted.


3rd January

   Data Protection Law ...


Used as loo paper

From The Telegraph

Britons flying to America could have their credit card and email accounts inspected by the United States authorities following a deal struck by Brussels and Washington.

By using a credit card to book a flight, passengers face having other transactions on the card inspected by the American authorities. Providing an email address to an airline could also lead to scrutiny of other messages sent or received on that account.

The extent of the demands were disclosed in "undertakings" given by the US Department of Homeland Security to the European Union and published by the Department for Transport after a Freedom of Information request.

The released document shows that the US has demanded access to far more data than previously realised. Not only will such material be available when combating terrorism but the Americans have asserted the right to the same information when dealing with other serious crimes.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human rights group Liberty, expressed horror at the extent of the information made available. It is a complete handover of the rights of people travelling to the United States, she said.

In October, Brussels agreed to sweep away the "bureaucratic hurdles" preventing airlines handing over this material after European carriers were threatened with exclusion from the US. The newly-released document sets out the rules underpinning that deal.

As a result the Americans are entitled to 34 separate pieces of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data, all of which must be provided by airlines from their computers. Much of it is routine but some elements will prove more contentious, such as a passenger's email address, whether they have a previous history of not turning up for flights and any religious dietary requirements.

While insisting that "additional information" would only be sought from lawful channels, the US made clear that it would use PNR data as a trigger for further inquiries.

Washington promised to "encourage" US airlines to make similar information available to EU governments — rather than compel them to do so.

It is pretty horrendous, particularly when you couple it with our one-sided extradition arrangements with the US, said Chakrabarti.

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