Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘ID cards’

Shami Chakrabarti and Toffs in Wigs

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th June, 2009

Shami Chakrabati‘Unelected toffs in wigs, be they in the Courts or in the House of Lords, have been the defenders of civil liberties in many cases, during the current government,’ according to the Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, who was the guest speaker at a lunch given today by the UK Section of the Association of European Journalists at the London office of the European Parliament. Because of the so-called War on Terror,  disturbing new powers have been granted to both the government and the police. For example, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act relating to stop and search requires no necessary grounds for suspicion at all. Tony Blair famously said that he would give the police whatever powers they needed. Shami opined that an ‘authoritarain arms race’ began in Britain when Michael Howard and Tony Blair became responsible for the Home Affairs brief in their respective parties — well before 9/11.

Liberty ID card bookletLiberty is currently celebrating 75 years of existence, having previously been known as the National Council of Civil Liberties (NCCL), in which, interestingly, several now prominent New Labour figures were previously involved. It’s always a spectacle to see them squirm when they try to defend the proposed introduction of ID cards in Britain, about which Liberty has been running a campaign. Shami Chakrabarti — who was a barister before working for six years for the Home Office — has no such ambitions to be sucked into politics with all its compromises. ‘I’d sooner be a rock-star before I’d be Home Secretary,’ she declared. She paid tribute to the work that Liberal Democrats have done in defending human rights (though she opposes the European arrest warrant, which the party has championed) and she sharply criticised Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, suspecting that their main objection to this important buttress to civil liberties is its essentially European origin.

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Surveilling Tom Brake

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd September, 2008

 Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington and the Liberal Democrat spokesman for London and the Olympics, was filmed by at least 40 CCTV cameras on his journey from Wallington to Westminster this morning, he informed attendees at the Wednesday Circle lunch at the National Liberal Club today. And those were just the ones he spotted. In a talk that was a disturbing account of the degree to which Britain has become a surveillance society, he pointed out that there about four million CCTVs in the UK — some of which now have loudspeakers attached — representing about a fifth of the total in the whole world. Both the authorities and commercial companies are constantly acquiring information about us, some of which data may be passed on (despite data protection laws) or used in ways for which is was not intended.

Britain is also a world-breaker in the size of its DNA database, including that of people who have committed no criminal offence. A disproprtionate amount of these samples are from ethnic minorities.  And if the government persists with its plans for identity cards, even more elements of the Big Brother society risk being introduced. A starting point in tackling the ways that our civil liberites are being infringed would be the introduction of a written constitution, Tom argued, as the product of widespread consultation.

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Why Should the US Know All about Us?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th August, 2008

It won’t only be the ‘usual suspects’ such as the civil liberties group Liberty who will likely baulk at new proposals outlined in today’s ‘Guardian’, based on a confidential report from the Future Group of interior and justice ministers from six EU members states: the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden. While some of the measures suggested — such as improving crisis management at the European level and developing common European immigration policies — make a lot of sense, the one thing that really sticks in my craw is the notion that the EU should enter into a ‘Euro-Atlantic area of freedom, security and justice’ with the United States. That would mean national and Europe-wide security bodies handing over vast amounts of data on European citizens to the Americans.

All this, of course, is in the name of the War against Terror. But already we are seeing that pretext being used to infringe civil liberties and privacy in this country, let alone internationally. Why should the US government or the CIA or the FBI know everything about me or you, without our permission? I accept that there is room for enhanced security cooperation with Washington, but not to the degree that is being mooted. It is a fallacy to imagine that the United States and Europe have identical values and goals. Think Guantanamo Bay. Think water-boarding. Think the US refusal to sign up to the International Criminal Court. Some people might hope that all of these contentious things will change after George W Bush leaves power, but don’t bank on it.

European citizens need to learn to say ‘no’ more often. If the Labour government gets its way, we’ll have ID cards in this country and a massive data bank, which would theoretically be available to all sorts of government agencies. Do we really want it all to be available to Washington too? I certainly don’t. And I would say the same in the unlikely event that such a proposal was made vis-a-vis Russia or China as well!

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