Does Big Blunkett know his history?

David Blunkett once said, during a debate on ID cards that “No one should fear correct identification”.

This T-shirt highlights Blunkett’s flawed thinking quite beautifully. A clearer version of the graphic on the T-shirt is here.

(Those not getting the reference look here.)

NB: I first spotted the T-shirt over at Samizdata’s coverage of the “Big Brother” awards.

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Public meeting, 19th May, to discuss ID cards

“Mistaken Identity” is the title of a meeting organised by Privacy International in association with Stand, Liberty, FIPR, The Register and The 1990 Trust. It will take place on Wednesday 19th May 2004, from 13.30 to 17.00. The venue is The Old Theatre, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE.

This meeting will discuss the government’s proposed ID cards and includes speakers from political parties, the police, various pressure groups and experts in security and biometrics. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett MP, has been invited too. Further details are at the website linked to above. Note that attendance is free. If you are concerned about ID cards or just want to see what the fuss is about, please do attend if you can. Unfortunately I can’t but I am able to publicise it. To register for the event contact meeting@stand.org.uk.

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Is the govt to introduce guilt by association?

The Observer reports that it is, although the source is describe as “a source close to Home Secretary, David Blunkett”:

Under Blunkett’s plans, ‘associates’ of terrorists would initially face a civil court order – like the anti-social behaviour orders slapped on unruly teenagers – banning individuals from contact with named terror suspects. This would be intended as a deterrent: disobedience would become an offence punishable by jail.

‘Association’ could cover not only meeting in person, but communicating via email or telephone, or even fundraising: sources close to the Home Secretary said, however, there would have to be evidence of some suspicious intent, rather than merely socialising.

Thus if someone you know is suspected by the police, you could be banned from having contact with them on pain of imprisonment. Which might be a bit unfortunate should you possess the evidence that show they’re innocent but only a conversation with the suspect themselves would reveal this to you (and them).

And note that it is those merely “suspected” of involvement in terrorism that people will be stopped from associating with — suspicion does not imply guilt, and you and the suspect need not have done anything wrong for this to be applied. Then of course there is the possibility of guilt by association becoming circular…

Yet another assault on liberty from Blair and Blunkett.

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Blunkett, ID cards and the Madrid bombings

Big Blunkett reports, citing the Sunday Times, that the Home Secretary wants to fast-track ID cards in the wake of the Madrid bombings.
Spy.org.uk‘s blog also reports on this and on a Sunday Times poll carried out by Experian showing a rise in support for ID cards since the bombings.

It is worth noting however that Spain has a system of ID cards that did nothing to prevent the Madrid bombings. Possessing a legitimate ID card does not mean you’re not a terrorist. Moreover terrorists are able to forge or fraudulently obtain such things if they need them. And no one has ever explained to me precisely how ID cards could be used to stop terrorists. Not Blunkett, not the Home Office, nor have I seen any article from others who support ID cards which spell out how they’re supposed to help.

Finally, as Spy.org.uk notes, Experian have a vested interest in promoting ID cards — they could make money out of them.

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Is Blunkett really this mad?

According to the Sunday Herald:

On Tuesday, Blunkett will fight in the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the right to charge victims of miscarriages of justice more than £3000 for every year they spent in jail while wrongly convicted.

So if you get wrongly convicted and have to do time, you’ve to pay for the cost of keeping you in prison! And all this whilst the govt is working hard to make it easier to convict the accused…

How can anyone trust a government that displays such contempt for individual rights?

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Blunkett’s kangaroo courts — unnecessary and dangerous

For prosecuting terrorist offences, David Blunkett recently proposed trials where evidence is kept secret from the defendant, judges and lawyers are vetted by the security agencies, and guilt is determined on “the balance of probabilities” test rather than “beyond reasonable doubt”. According to the Guardian:

But Mr Blunkett said during his visit to India and Pakistan that new powers might well be necessary because the nature of “suicide terrorism” meant the only effective measures were preventative.

There was no point in threatening to put terrorists on trial after they had blown themselves up. Mr Blunkett’s new thinking on counter-terrorism were voiced as he visited the site in Amritsar of a massacre by British troops in 1919 of more than 400 Indians who were protesting at the introduction of the Rowlatt Act, which gave the British emergency powers to imprison without trial.

Clearly Blunkett is emphasising the need to preempt suicide bombers to deal with them effectively. This can already be done under existing legislation. Consider that under the Terrorism Act the following all apply:

  • It is an offence, punishable by 10 years in prison, simply to be a member of a proscribed organisation.
  • It is an offence, punishable by 10 years in prison, to provide support (financial or otherwise) for, further the activities of, or claim to be a supporter or member of a proscribed organisation (e.g. al qaeda).
  • It is an offence, punishable by 10 years in prison, to arrange meetings in support of a proscribed organisation
  • Police can arrest someone, without a warrant, simply on suspicion of being a terrorist.
  • People arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist can be held without charge, originally for upto 1 week but recently this has been extended to 2 weeks (see comment on this article from spy.org.uk).
  • It is an offence, punishable by 10 years in prison, to possess something in circumstances where the police suspect you possess it for a purpose connected to instigating, committing or planning acts of terrorism.
  • It is an offence, punishable by 10 years in prison, to possess or record information in circumstances where the police suspect you possess it/recorded it, for a purpose connected to instigating committing or planning acts of terrorism.
  • It is an offence, punishable by life imprisonment, to direct, at any level, the activities of a terrorist organisation.

It is also illegal to possess firearms, explosives and various other materials without licences under other laws.

Clearly there is plenty of scope for arresting and detaining for upto 1 week, anyone the authorities have the slightest suspicion of.

Then, if you can’t get them for actually carrying out a terrorist attack, you can get them for:

  • membership of a proscribed organisation
  • ,

  • providing funds to terrorists
  • ,

  • possessing information or equipment that can be used to carry out acts of terrorism
  • ,

  • weapons training
  • ,

  • or for directing any of the activities of any organisation concerned with committing acts of terrorism(the organisation does not need to be proscribed)
  • .

Someone planning to become suicide bomber is likely to commit more than one of the above offences before setting out to execute the bombing. He will have had to get materials and equipment from others, who can also be targeted. What happens once the suspect is in custody and/or taken before a court is irrelevant to preemptively stopping the attack occurring. These are only relevant to whether a would be bomber might be set free to try again. Good intelligence and a solid investigation are the best defences here. A solid investigation will the best means of ensuring a suspected terrorist can be convicted, if not of attempting/carrying out an attack, then of one of the myriad offences above.

And even if this fails, a suspect who is prevented from an attack, and then released, can be kept under surveillance and hauled in again at a moment’s notice under existing legislation.

Thus there is plenty of scope to stop suicide bombers, using preemptive action already available under Britain’s anti-terrorist legislation. About the only thing one might wish to add would be a specific offence of planning terrorist activities.

The key to preventive action is good intelligence and solid investigation of any terrorist events that do occur. The problem here is that Blunkett’s proposals may undermine the latter.

If you lower the burden of proof, you reduce the need/incentive for a solid investigation to convict someone. Thus investigators will decide to move to prosecution earlier in their investigations than they do now. This increases the likelihood of getting the wrong person and letting the real perpetrators go free.

If you allow evidence to be kept from the defence/defendant, you effectively lower the burden of proof and allow defendants to be stitched up very easily, and again increase the risk of letting real terrorists go free.

Blunkett’s proposals, are not merely an offence to the rule of law, they are the abandonment of the rule of law. With secret trials, security vetted judges and counsel, evidence kept from the defendant and a low burden of proof, no-one would be safe from a government (or merely some govt officials) who wanted them out of the way. They are also completely unnecessary for dealing with suicide bombers.

The powers we already have for arresting/detaining suspected terrorists, and the offences they can then be charged with are sufficient, given accurate intelligence and the will to use them when necessary.

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10 reasons why the govt’s ID cards plan will not work

“Clandestine entry and working in this country, the misuse of free public services, the issues around organised crime and terrorism – all these issues will be the ones for years to come.”

Blunkett’s statement above (see this report from the Guardian) sums up the reasons the govt claims the ID cards are necessary. Below are 10 reasons why I believe the plan will not deal with any of these problems.

1. The govt has to issue the cards to us. They will therefore need to ask for existing ID documents to prove who we are. The cards will therefore be no more reliable a means of identification than the weakest existing documents that are sufficient for the govt to issue the new cards.

2. Terrorists, and organised criminals, can simply, forge, fraudulently obtain, or recruit people with ID cards. Suicide bombers are not known for repeat offending.

3. Illegal immigrants will simply avoid contact with the authorities (e.g. work for “cash in hand”) until they’ve managed to forge or fraudulently obtain ID cards.

4. Benefit fraud due to false identity has been estimated at £20-£50 million per year. ID cards are estimated to cost at £1.6 billion a year to implement. On these figures the cards will cost at least 30 times as much as the benefit fraud they could prevent. These are govt figures. See the commons debate on ID cards.

5. The govt will be creating a single card that can be used for accessing public services, travelling abroad, proving eligibility to drive, applying for jobs, proving legal residence, etc. It could easily end up being required for opening bank accounts, taking out loans and mortgages and anything else where identity is considered important. Thus, if the card becomes accepted and trusted in the way the govt intends, to pretend to be you in ALL these areas of life, criminals will only need to successfully forge one document.

6. By creating a central database of personal information, used to back the ID cards, the govt will create a single target that can be attacked by criminals to obtain the necessary information to track you down, pretend to be you, forge records for forged cards,etc.

7. The govt has a hopeless record on creating computerised databases, e.g. consider this Guardian story about the Courts’ computer system.

The odds are the ID system will be ridden full of bugs and errors, cost considerably more than currently claimed and will fail to work.

8. The govt claims biometric identifiers will make forgery impossible. This is simply false. Biometric identifiers do not work 100% correctly. Forgers can obtain or forge blank cards and download their own biometrics onto such cards. Biometric identifiers can also be stolen and forged themselves. They might make things difficult in which case a weaker part of the system will be attacked (e.g. the documentation to acquire the cards).

9. Identity theft currently occurs where people gain enough sensitive information to pretend to be someone else. They gain this information from a variety of sources, e.g. from thrown out bank/credit card statements, from restaurant receipts, from customer databases etc. ID cards will not close off all these options and will create new options.

10. Illegal workers need only avoid contact with the authorities to avoid the need to produce an ID card. Even if ID cards were compulsory to carry, the opportunities for forging or fraudulently obtaining the cards would be still be available.

Further reading:

Richard Hallam MP has written an excellent article in his blog.

The Register has an excellent article here.

ID cards — the next steps is the govt’s latest document outlining the plans.

STAND is worth looking at too. And don’t forget to try some of the links on my sidebar…

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