Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You're (Probably) a Federal Criminal

With all the attention that's been paid lately to long federal sentences for drug offenders, it's surprising that a far more troubling phenomenon has barely hit the media's radar screen. Every year, thousands of upstanding, responsible Americans run afoul of some incomprehensible federal law or regulation and end up serving time in federal prison.

What is especially disturbing is that it could happen to anyone at all -- and it has.

We should applaud Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), then, for holding a bipartisan hearing today to examine how federal law can make a criminal out of anyone, for even the most mundane conduct.

Federal law in particular now criminalizes entire categories of activities that the average person would never dream would land him in prison. This is an inevitable result of the fact that the criminal law is no longer restricted to punishing inherently wrongful conduct -- such as murder, rape, robbery, and the like.

Moreover, under these new laws, the government can often secure a conviction without having to prove that the person accused even intended to commit a bad act, historically a protection against wrongful conviction.

Laws like this are dangerous in the hands of social engineers and ambitious lawmakers -- not to mention overzealous prosecutors -- bent on using government's greatest civilian power to punish any activity they dislike. So many thousands of criminal offenses are now in federal law that a prominent federal appeals court judge titled his recent essay on this overcriminalization problem, "You're (Probably) a Federal Criminal."

Consider small-time inventor and entrepreneur Krister Evertson, who will testify at today's hearing. Krister never had so much as a traffic ticket before he was run off the road near his mother's home in Wasilla, Alaska, by SWAT-armored federal agents in large black SUVs training automatic weapons on him.

Evertson, who had been working on clean-energy fuel cells since he was in high school, had no idea what he'd done wrong. It turned out that when he legally sold some sodium (part of his fuel-cell materials) to raise cash, he forgot to put a federally mandated safety sticker on the UPS package he sent to the lawful purchaser.

Krister's lack of a criminal record did nothing to prevent federal agents from ransacking his mother's home in their search for evidence on this oh-so-dangerous criminal.

The good news is that a federal jury in Alaska acquitted Krister of all charges. The jurors saw through the charges and realized that Krister had done nothing wrong.

The bad news, however, is that the feds apparently had it in for Krister. Federal criminal law is so broad that it gave prosecutors a convenient vehicle to use to get their man.

Two years after arresting him, the feds brought an entirely new criminal prosecution against Krister on entirely new grounds. They used the fact that before Krister moved back to Wasilla to care for his 80-year-old mother, he had safely and securely stored all of his fuel-cell materials in Salmon, Idaho.

According to the government, when Krister was in jail in Alaska due to the first unjust charges, he had "abandoned" his fuel-cell materials in Idaho. Unfortunately for Krister, federal lawmakers had included in the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act a provision making it a crime to abandon "hazardous waste." According to the trial judge, the law didn't require prosecutors to prove that Krister had intended to abandon the materials (he hadn't) or that they were waste at all -- in reality, they were quite valuable and properly stored away for future use.

With such a broad law, the second jury didn't have much of a choice, and it convicted him. He spent almost two years locked up with real criminals in a federal prison. After he testifies today, he will have to return to his halfway house in Idaho and serve another week before he is released.

The other hardened criminal whose story members of Congress will hear today is retiree George Norris. A longtime resident of Spring, Texas, Norris made the mistake of not knowing and keeping track of all of the details of federal and international law on endangered species -- mostly paperwork requirements -- before he decided to turn his orchid hobby into a small business. What was Norris's goal? To earn a little investment income while his wife neared retirement.

The Lacey Act is an example of the dangerous overbreadth of federal criminal law. Incredibly, Congress has made it a federal crime to violate any fish or wildlife law or regulation of any nation on earth.

Facing 10 years in federal prison, Norris pled guilty and served almost two. His wife, Kathy, describes the pain of losing their life savings to pay for attorneys and trying to explain to grandchildren why for so long Poppa George couldn't see them.

Federal criminal law did not get so badly broken overnight, and it will take hard work to get it fixed. It is encouraging that members of Congress such as Reps. Scott and Gohmert are now paying attention to the toll overcriminalization takes on ordinary Americans. Congress needs to begin fixing the damage it has done by starting to restore a more reasonable, limited and just federal criminal law. Today's hearing is an excellent first step.

Source: FOX News

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Councils must be transparent and accountable about surveillance

Your report on councils spying on their residents (Councils still breaking surveillance laws, 22 July) shows that local government really is on the frontline of Britain's expanding surveillance state – and that councillors and council leaders need to be held accountable for their decisions. Councillors must decide whether they embrace the surveillance society, or reject it and introduce checks and balances and public democratic oversight of the local use of surveillance powers, as the Liberal Democrats have done in Islington.

Local authorities have the power under theRegulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to conduct surveilance of residents. Your report highlights how councils have used these powers for issues as trivial as people putting their rubbish out on the wrong day. But there will be times when councils can and do use Ripa powers proportionately and responsibly to tackle serious environmental health issues, fraud, and crime. We've used covert surveillance to crack down on shops selling knives to children, for example.

Surveillance powers should only be used where appropriate and proportionate, such as when there are serious issues of public protection in which there is no other way of collecting evidence. Every time a council uses its surveillance powers it should be considered carefully, and it should be the last resort. And if someone is found innocent, all data gathered should be destroyed.

Councillors should go further than just acting responsibly by introducing democratic oversight and real accountability.

In Islington, my Liberal Democrat administration has made our use of Ripa transparent and accountable, with regular public oversight by elected councillors. The overview committee, the council's main scrutiny body, receives regular reports of all operations conducted under Ripa. Because we are only using these powers where they really are needed, I am not afraid of justifying each operation publicly.

Voters all over the country should start demanding the same level of oversight from their local councils. Liberal Democrat authorities like Islington and Oldham are leading the way, and I hope we are setting a trend for others to follow.

Parliament needs to change the law to roll back Labour's surveillance state, but local councillors are on the frontline and can decide right now whether they embrace or even abuse their surveillance powers, or whether they will take a stand for openness and accountability.

Cllr Terry Stacy JP

Source: The Guardian

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At last, a crack team to take on cops who kill: the RSPCA

Do make sure you're sitting down. Something quite extraordinary has happened. The police have issued an abject apology for two deaths in their custody, and announced that the officer responsible will be prosecuted. How to put this momentous announcement into context? How to throw it into the sharp relief which is deserves? Well, according to monitoring carried out by the organisation Inquest, there have been 954 deaths in police custody in England and Wales since 1990 – the figure includes shootings – with nary a successful prosecution for murder or manslaughter.

And so to this historic case, which has seen top brass abandon their traditionally minimalist statements on such tragedies, unless of course they take the bizarre decision to pretend that the victim had leapt over a ticket barrier or some such. The deaths have caused "immense sadness", according to the relevant force's chief superintendent. "We will certainly take any lessons we can get from this process, and make sure we put them in place so this sort of thing never happens again. We understand the upset that this has caused the public and members of our staff … There is a sense of shock and sadness at the news of the death of two of our police dogs."

Ah yes. Forgive my getting your hopes up. It's the case of those two dogs who expired in a car outside Nottingham police headquarters earlier this month, having been left in the vehicle on a searingly hot afternoon. Following an urgent RSPCA investigation, the officer responsible will face animal cruelty charges. The force's own inquiry apparently continues.

A horrible business, evidently, and we must pass on our condolences to those who knew the animals. Indeed, the police have established a tribute area, where they and members of the public have laid wreaths.

But after we've done that, I'm afraid we must contrast Plod's reaction with, say, that to the death of Ian Tomlinson, who died of abdominal bleeding at the G20 protests in March, shortly after being struck by a Met officer. The police have sweetly judged this to be something worth offering their "sincere regret" about, but refuse to comment further, while the Independent Police Complaints Commission continues one of its famously fast-paced investigations. It would be funny if it weren't so bleeding wretched.

The contrast has not been lost on some of the families with relatives who have died in police custody. At a recent meeting of their number, a speaker read out the Nottingham chief super's expressions of anguish. One attendee says the room went quiet as everyone wondered to which death in custody such expressions of frank remorse related. When the dog punchline was revealed, how they didn't laugh.

There isn't quite the space to reproduce the official police comments on all those 954 deaths, but let's challenge any copper who fancies a grim afternoon to delve among them and produce a statement as abjectly apologetic or anguished as the one concerning the two dogs.

Of course, there's a point to be made about some people's prioritising of animal injustice, where its human equivalent elicits less concern in them. In 2006, more money was given to a single Devon donkey sanctuary than to all the most prominent charities dealing with violence and abuse of women.

For today, though, these are diversions, because there is something so undeliciously neat about the dog tale that you could be forgiven for thinking it was a staged satire. In an alternate reality, the police would have offered a variation on that cliched explanation for a death in custody – the suspect kicked himself down the nick stairs – perhaps suggesting that the dogs were involved in some sort of asphyxiation game gone tragically wrong.

If the story had failed to catch on, they might have floated a version of the theory that the Met put to Ian Tomlinson's family in the days after his death – namely, that the officer who struck him could have been a member of the public "dressed in police uniform".

This idle speculation could go on for ever, or at least until the IPCC completes its inquiries into the G20 cases, which increasingly seems a similar time frame. Nicole Fisher, the protester who was filmed being struck by a police sergeant, told the home affairs committee that the IPCC had informed her that they expected it would take "between 12 and 18 months" to complete their inquiry. Considering it was such a "distressing" and high-profile case of assault, ran the committee's report, "we cannot imagine why this amount of time is needed".

An obvious solution suggests itself. A crack team of RSPCA investigators must be seconded to the IPCC to teach the latter how to bring in an investigation in under 18 months. Or would that upset the fine equilibrium of this most credible of public bodies, in whose official logo the "I" is helpfully greyed out? After all, a third of the IPCC's investigators are former police officers. Given their continuously triumphant record, one can't help feeling that's a little like a third of the RSPCA's investigators being former circus lion tamers.

Source: The Guardian

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ID cards are a bureaucrat's luxury

In a excellent pamphlet produced by the Centre for Policy Studies, advocating a new Great Reform Act, the author of Yes Minister, Sir Antony Jay, writes that we are "governed by an increasingly self-serving almost unaccountable political class who are even further out of touch with the interests and wishes of the British people than were the rural aristocracy 200 years ago."

These words came to mind when I read that a YouGov poll had found that 79% of the public are opposed to the ID card scheme on the grounds that they want the estimated £5bn cost of the scheme spent on something else. There is no better example of the Labour machine's arrogant detachment from the people than the pursuit of this policy, which was consolidated last week with the announcement of the regulations on fees, fingerprinting, lifelong compulsory notification, data sharing and penalties.

The scheme is unpopular for obvious reasons, it represents an enormous intrusion, a waste of time and a personal cost to everyone. With the economic crisis, four-fifths of a sample polled by YouGov for the Sunday People believe it has to be scrapped. There can be no clearer message to the home secretary, yet on Thursday Alan Johnson proposes to make further ID card announcements in Manchester – where a trial is due to begin in the Autumn – which completely ignore the public's view.

The disconnect between reality and the government's megalomaniac ambitions to manage everyone's identity has never been more sharply drawn and I believe that opposition will spread to expensive schemes in which the unaccountable political class expect to monitor our movements, communications and behaviour. Only last month Johnson was trying to spin a story that the card would be voluntary. This is nonsense: anyone who wants a passport will have to join the national identity register and submit to slew of regulations and penalties.

As Phil Booth, the national coordinator of NO2ID, who has done so much to oppose the card, said "The game is up. The ID scheme is exposed as a bureaucrat's luxury that can now only be imposed by bullying and subterfuge."

Here is another quote from the Jay's pamphlet, which tells the story of New Labour and indeed the way we are governed in one sentence.

"Over the past 200 years or so, central government has sucked authority, decision making and local independence out of local communities, it has sucked money out of the purses and pockets of citizens, and it has created huge government departments and government institutions, a vast proliferation of tribunals, inspectorates, regulatory authorities, quangos, bureaux and councils, taken on an army of consultants, advisory committees, coordinating bodies, tsars, initiatives, action groups and task forces, and printed millions of questionnaires, application forms, guidance notes, instructions, licenses, tick boxes, information pamphlets and leaflets that, between them, spelt the death of trust and common sense and created the bureaucratic nightmare of 21st-century Britain."

From the loins of this beast came the identity card.

Source: The Guardian

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Bush, Cheney knew they were violating law

Torture instigators George Bush and Dick Cheney should not be allowed to evade prosecution on grounds they acted in good faith on their lawyers’ advice because they told their lawyers what advice to give, a law school dean says.

“Could Al Capone or ‘Lucky’ Luciana receive immunity for acting in accordance with the advice of counsel when they told counsel what to advise?” asks Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover .

“(Vice-President) Cheney and (President) Bush knew that they were ordering violations of law,” Velvel points out. “The fact that they were doing so, and were well aware they were doing so, was one of the reasons why they, like a significant number of CIA officials who knew the same, demanded that lawyers produce legal cover for them in the form of Office of Legal Counsel memos authored by the likes of (John) Yoo and (Steven) Bradbury.”

Lower level CIA and military personnel that did not read the supposedly exculpatory memos, Velvel said, also cannot claim reliance on legal counsel because “they had to know that torture was forbidden no matter what some lawyers said. You could not grow up in America and not know this” any more than a person could claim murder was lawful because some lawyer told him so, Velvel writes.

“People who grew up in America cannot realistically claim that they thought it was lawful to beat people mercilessly, to smash their heads against walls, to kill about one hundred of them apparently, to hang them from ceiling hooks, to make them freeze, to deny them sleep for weeks on end, and so forth,” Velvel writes in an essay in his new book “America 2008” from Doukathsan Press.

“They knew what they were doing was wrong,” he continued. “FBI…guys on the scene knew it regardless of what lawyers like Yoo said, and it was knowledge that what they were doing was wrong that caused some lower level CIA guys too to want a ‘get out of jail free card,’” Velvel writes.

“That realization is why CIA officials, from 2002 to 2006 or 2007 demanded memoranda from the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice, falsely claiming that the abuse and torture were not criminal acts,” Velvel said. “The officials wanted these OLC memos so that they could later avoid or defeat prosecutions by claiming that the decision-making office of the DOJ had approved the legality of what they were doing. The officials wanted a ‘golden shield,’” he added.

Those who claim they were ordered to torture, like those who said they had a legal opinion that to do so was okay, are guilty of an effort to “escape the Nuremberg principles by saying that others said what the culprits were doing was okay,” Velvel continues. The Nuremberg tribunal that judged accused Nazi war criminals after World War Two concluded they could not evade guilt by asserting they were only following orders.

“But claiming that their actions were immune because others okayed them is precisely what Cheney, Bush, their whole crowd…have been attempting to do… They knew what they were doing was illegal, as evidenced by the extreme secrecy they practiced lest it be learned they were practicing, and lest they be accused of practicing, the crimes they were in fact practicing. Morality, decency, and Nuremberg alike forbid this.”

“By now it seems beyond serious doubt that George Bush and company committed numerous war crimes,” Velvel wrote. “It is evident that if these things can be done, then there is an end of law where the truly wealthy and powerful are concerned. Whether it is Al Capone or Dick Cheney, the filthy rich or obscenely powerful will have it in their power to do the most awful things yet escape the law by using contributions or power to obtain immunity from preexisting law and to buy the opinions of immoral lawyers. That is the moral and philosophical basis why these things can’t be permitted,” Velvel said.

Velvel is dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, founded in 1988 for the express purpose of providing a quality, affordable legal education to minority students, immigrants and students from low-income backgrounds who would otherwise not be able to afford law school. Tuition at the school is only about half that charged by other New England area law schools. Velvel has been honored for his contributions to legal education reform by the National Law Journal and has also received a number of awards from the book publishing industry for his essays.

Sherwood Ross

Source: RINF News

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U.S. carrying out “targeted killings”

Media reports recently exposed efforts by the Bush administration to create a CIA “assassination squad” so secret that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the agency to keep Congress in the dark about it. The Wall Street Journal called it a secret plan to “capture or kill al Qaida operatives”; on Thursday, the Washington Post said the program was about to be activated when CIA director Leon Panetta pulled the plug.

But the blaring headlines, and the buzz in the blogosphere, are not just due to more evidence of the ex-veep’s addiction to executive power and behind-the-scenes machinations. It’s that word “assassinate.” Most observers assume that assassination is specifically proscribed by U.S. policy. Except it isn’t, exactly, and while the secret CIA assassination program canceled by Panetta may never have claimed a victim, the U.S. is already carrying out actions that look nearly exactly like assassinations, and doing so within the guidelines of domestic and international law. The United States has had plenty of legal latitude to carry out targeted killings during the so-called war on terror — and has been exercising that option vigorously for the past eight years.

The United States, in fact, has been targeting and eliminating specific al-Qaida and Taliban operatives ever since Congress authorized the use of force against them in September 2001. Just the other day, what were probably unmanned CIA drones killed 43 militants in Pakistan as part of the still unsuccessful effort to assassinate just one man, Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

Early last year, Salon reported from the Middle East on targeted killings carried out by the U.S. Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan. That article explored the sometimes-excruciating process, assisted by military attorneys, of trying to decide who could be killed from the air and under what circumstances, while simultaneously trying not to kill innocent civilians. The military officials at the installation Salon visited were definitely engaged in targeted killing — yet they objected to the use of the term “targeted killing,” much less “assassination.”

Gary Solis, an expert on military law at Georgetown University, said the Bush administration — and now the Obama administration — would take umbrage at characterizing the ongoing CIA drone attacks on specific targets as assassinations. “‘Assassination’ is a civilian term for a politically motivated murder,” Solis said. “Soldiers don’t assassinate. They kill.”

Whatever phrase we use to describe the process, clearly the U.S. has been engaged in targeted killing during the past eight years. So what about those U.S. policies that expressly forbid assassination? It may generate flashbacks to the tortured debate over torture, but it all comes down to semantics. Assassination is OK — as long as you don’t use the word “assassination.”

In 1975, the U.S. Senate formed an 11-member commission called the Church Committee, led by Idaho Sen. Frank Church, to investigate the activities of the CIA. The Church Committee’s many reports detailed efforts by the agency to assassinate such foreign leaders as Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba and Rafael Trujillo. Reacting to the committee’s findings, Gerald Ford was the first president to issue what would become a series of executive orders limiting targeted political killings. Ford’s Executive Order 11905 of Feb. 18, 1976, included a specific prohibition of assassination that said, “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.” Jimmy Carter reaffirmed that executive order with his own, as did Ronald Reagan; their versions of the order dropped the modifier “political” from “assassination.” There is no public indication that any president since has rescinded Reagan’s order, so it likely remains in place.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. When the state wants to kill someone, it has to come up with a rationale for describing that killing as something other than assassination. There are effectively three rules the U.S. government must follow in order to be able to argue that a killing is in accordance with both domestic and international law, and is not an “assassination.” First, the killing must be a military act, an act of war. Second, the target must be definable as military or a civilian engaging in hostile acts against the United States. Third, if the killing takes place within a state with which the U.S. is not at war, the U.S. must have the permission of that country’s government to carry out the hit. The U.S. pursuit of Taliban and al-Qaida targets follows those rules — for the most part — and is compliant with domestic and international law — in theory.

The United States is at war with al-Qaida. The president has the authority to conduct limited military action without congressional approval, but for sustained military action the executive branch needs to be granted legal license by the legislative branch. On Sept. 14, 2001, Congress passed a resolution authorizing “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” The president then signed a secret intelligence “finding” authorizing the CIA to hunt and kill just those kinds of “persons.”

Internationally, the Law of Armed Conflict, that web of treaties including the Geneva Conventions, allows the killing of enemy combatants or even civilians engaged in hostile acts against the United States. Legally, it does not matter where the hit occurs. As long as the U.S. government has the permission of the government where the killing takes place, the killing can occur anywhere in the world. It also does not matter that the people “pulling the trigger” — deploying the drones — are civilian CIA agents, not soldiers. “That is the CIA’s involvement in an armed conflict,” Solis explained. “We have the CIA flying drones killing people who we conceive to be combatants” with the permission of the country where the strikes occur.

But fighting a war against a stateless organization is complicated. The “war on terror” is conducted against anybody deemed the enemy anywhere in the world. The tricky part comes in trying to decide who fits the definition of somebody carrying out hostile acts against the United States. A suspected bomb maker with no uniform? What if he hasn’t made a bomb in a week? A month? A year? Solis said most attorneys would view President Clinton’s 1998 cruise missile strike aimed, in part, at Osama bin Laden as a military operation short of war, not as an assassination attempt. It was undertaken in response to al-Qaida’s attack on the USS Cole, which was clearly a hostile act.

The killing of a person engaged in hostile acts, even by an “assassination squad” of secret agents, would not violate international law — specifically U.N. charter provisions on sovereignty — unless the United States carried out an assassination in a foreign country without the foreign government’s consent. “International law says the U.S. can’t go into country X and do military operations without that country’s consent,” explained David Koplow, a professor specializing in international law and national security law at Georgetown University. “Internationally, so long as you are doing it with the permission of the host country, it is no problem.”

Given this legal framework, Pakistan’s complaints about U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan probably reflect domestic political considerations there, observers speculate, rather than any lack of consent. Pakistan likely quietly gave the CIA the green light. Similarly, U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan documented in the Salon article last year passed legal muster since the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan consented.

Koplow and other experts on international law said while few details of Cheney’s alleged assassination squad are publicly available, legally at least, it’s doesn’t sound like a far stretch from current CIA activities. Ironically, the attorneys add, Cheney could theoretically face stiffer legal consequences under U.S. law for failing to inform Congress about plans for CIA assassinations than he would have had he carried them out. Cheney’s reported decision not to inform Congress might have violated the 1947 National Security Act, which requires that the intelligence committees in Congress are “kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.”

However, as the Washington Post article states, the intelligence finding that gave rise to the program “imposed no geographical limitations on the agency’s actions.” That raises the possibility that the program would have violated sovereignty. Solis speculated that Cheney’s assassination squad could have been conceived to go a step further and send civilian agents into foreign countries without permission to kill individual people. “Other countries would take a very dim view of that,” he said.

Did the Cheney assassination ring contemplate assassinations in other countries without that country’s permission, which would violate international law? Even if it did, Cheney would likely have escaped sanction, provided he didn’t try to use his passport much. United States domestic law contains no enforcement mechanism for violating a foreign country’s sovereignty, attorneys say. In short, there is no domestic tool to hold Cheney legally liable even if he set up and ran an assassination squad that was taking out al-Qaida operatives in Canada. “Would there be a domestic prosecution?” noted Scott Silliman, an expert on international law at Duke Law. “No. There is nothing there.” But perhaps, like Augusto Pinochet, Cheney could’ve found himself unable to travel abroad without fearing arrest.

Mark Benjamin

Source: RINF News

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ID cards and the snooper state

IT IS simply wrong of James Hall, CEO of the Identity & Passport Service, to suggest that the personal information stored on the National Identity Register is equivalent to the data already collected for passports.
The passport database requires only a single name and address at the time of application, together with a copy of the holder’s passport photograph.
Schedule 1 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 (http://tinyurl.com/IDsched1) describes 50 classes of information that may be stored on the ID database.
These data include every name by which an applicant has been known, every place of residence (in the UK or elsewhere), a photograph, signature, fingerprints and “other” biometric information (eg iris scans), national insurance number, driver number, passport and identity card numbers issued by other countries, and much else besides.

Anyone enrolling on the ID database will be subjecting themselves to lifelong reporting requirements. There are severe financial penalties for failure to keep the authorities notified of any change of detail.

Furthermore, the ID database will store information of a kind that no government department has ever had access to before, except where the security services have placed suspects under surveillance.

The national identity register’s audit trail will record every occasion on which an identity is verified, such as stays in hotels and visits to clinics, providing a detailed profile of every citizen’s life.

Dr Geraint Bevan, Glasgow

UNDER the Identity Cards Act 2006 the Identity and Passport Service has become a branch of the snooper state. Everyone registered for an identity card will subsequently have to report every change in their circumstances on pain of a fine of up to £1,000, and be forced to re-register every ten years or face more large fines. Greatly increased amounts of information about citizens will be kept on a new £6bn database, funded by inflated £77 passport fees. Logging ID card usage in the database will allow government to monitor citizens’ daily lives.

No democratic government has ever tried to track its population’s movements in this way. Whitehall’s identity cards scheme has no place in our country, and must be scrapped immediately.

Andrew Watson, Cambridge

Source: RINF News
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Big Brother in the electronic age

WE’RE a big country so I guess it’s understandable that not only is Big Brother watching — but now it’s Big Sister, Big Uncle, Big Aunt, Big Whoever. It’s becom ing a Big Mother of an operation.

OK, we know about pat-downs at the airport that, for some of us, are the only time we have any physical body contact at all so let’s not knock that. But isn’t this whole invasion-of-privacy thing overdone? No place a private citizen can be private anymore. If a nice lady ends up in bed with a semi-nice guy in the so-called privacy of her own nice bedroom, she still can’t be sure she’s not being filmed. Spooks tell you super-mini-cameras can be tucked not only behind a painting or in a light fixture but in your ear, up your nose, between your toes or, with the greatest respect, God knows.

E-mail. The new generation doesn’t even know how to write longhand. Stationery has gone the way of papyrus. Stamps may be going up but letters are going down. Everyone e-mails. A guy’s breaking up with his longtime live-in? He does it by e-mail. You’re receiving a legal document? Comes by e-mail. A dumb married South Carolina governor getting it on with an overheated unmarried lady in downtown Argentina upchucks about the wonders of scratching her itch — on e-mail! Lawyers warn that you must be careful of e-mail. That there’s no way to ever get rid of it. That it’ll remain there longer than a hair transplant.

ATMs? These machines have big mouths. They know what you took and where you were when you took it. Can’t tell the missus you were in Cleveland on business when your ATM will state that on such-and-such particular Thursday you were in hot Buenos Aires pulling cash for a hot time on a hot bod.

Source: RINF News

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The Wrong Answers

One of the problems of governments in general, and this one in particular, is that they constantly come up with the wrong answers.

For instance, there is a rise in knife crime—but knives are not on special offer. There aren't massive advertising campaigns urging people to get a knife. Knives are not particularly easy to get hold of (and nor particularly difficult).

In short, the availability of knives has not changed, and yet there is a rise in knife crime.

So—even leaving aside any unintended consequences—why, in the name of buggery fuck, does the government think that the solution to an increase in knife crime is to pass a law banning knives?*

* No, the government aren't passing a law to ban knives (yet) but this is the kind of response that the government undertakes.

Source: The Devils Kitchen
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