Monday, March 23, 2009

Beware police 'troublemakers'

Two reports published today provide evidence of the deepening assault on human rights in Britain. Read alongside Metropolitan Police plans to deal with anti-G20 protesters in London on April 1, they lift the lid on the state’s preparation for major social unrest.

The Database State published by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust pulls no punches. The report report assesses 46 databases across major government departments, and finds that:

 A quarter of public-sector databases reviewed are almost certainly illegal under human rights or data protection law
 Fewer than 15% of the public databases assessed are effective, proportionate and necessary, with a proper legal basis for any privacy intrusions
 In Britain, data is increasingly centralised, and shared between health and social services, the police, schools, local government and the taxman, whereas in other countries it is held locally
 Sharing can harm the vulnerable, not least by leading to discrimination and stigmatisation
 The UK public sector spends over £16 billion a year on IT. Over £100 billion in spending is planned or the next five years. Yet only about 30% of government IT projects meet their claimed objectives.

Among those rejected as unlawful is the National DNA Database, which holds DNA profiles for approximately 4 million individuals, over half a million of whom have not been convicted, reprimanded, given a final warning or cautioned, and have no proceedings pending against them. It includes more than 39,000 children.

The authors assert that the National Identity Register, which will store biographical information, biometric data and administrative data linked to the use of an ID card, will also break the law. So too will ContactPoint, the new national index of every child in England.

Two more databases criticised are a communications database introduced as part of the Interception Modernisation Programme which will hold everyone’s communication traffic data such as itemised phone bills, email headers and mobile phone location history; and the Prüm Framework, which allows law enforcement information to be shared between EU Member States. The report recommends that these are scrapped. Not much chance of that happening, unfortunately.

Also published today is the Parliamentary joint committee on human rights report into policing protests. The report is critical of the use of anti-terror laws to stop and search activists at events like the climate camp in Kent last summer and notes the swamping of protests by large numbers of police.

"Protesters and journalists reported a number of specific incidents where they felt intimidated by the police, as well as a more general sense that the policing of protest had become more heavy-handed," the report says. As to the police, when asked whether it was appropriate to use counter-terrorism powers against protestors, one senior officer replied that “there are occasions when we do need to use our counter-terrorism powers: I would say that that is why we have them”. There’s no arguing with that kind of logic.

More intimidation is clearly on the way, whatever the MPs and Peers who drew up the report say. The Met has let it be known that it will deploy thousands of police, including armed officers and riot police, in London next week when protests are planned to coincide with the G20 economic summit. Leaking the plans is aimed at putting people off taking part. The police want to discredit protesters and activists, and no doubt have agents working inside the protest to cause trouble. You don’t have to look further than Scotland Yard to identify who the real “troublemakers” are.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

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