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Liberty News

2010: Oct-Dec

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28th December   

Update: Shite Britain...

Scottish proposal to use barcodes and CCTV to individually track all alcohol purchases
Link Here
Full story: Drinking Restrictions...Drinking becomes the target of killjoy politicians

  Customers adopting standard privacy
protection to buy a bottle of beer

Bottles of alcohol should be tagged so adults buying drink for under-18s can be traced by police, a Labour MSP has said. Under the scheme, bottles would bear a printed barcode enabling authorities to track whether legally bought alcohol has been given to youngsters.

The scheme, which is already being piloted in areas of Dundee, involves the police seizing alcohol from under-18s and then using the coded bottle labels to trace where the drink was bought from.

Officers then use CCTV from the shop to identify who bought the drink - whether it was an adult or an under-age customer being illegally sold it. Customers are even easier to trace if they use store cards.

Labour's Orwellian sounding 'community safety' spokesman James Kelly wants to roll out the scheme to other parts of the country and says the Scottish Government should encourage licensing boards to sign up to the initiative.

Although the scheme aims to catch shops selling alcohol to under-age customers, it is also used to target proxy purchases - adults buying drink on behalf of minors.

Those caught supplying alcohol to those under the age of 18 would be reported to the procurator-fiscal and could be hit with a fine of up to £5,000 or a prison sentence.

The scheme is understood to cost less than £100 per shop to run and authoritarians claim it would reduce alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour in areas with under-age drinking problems.


23rd December   

Update: National Identity Improves...

Labour's ID card scheme now officially trashed
Link Here
Full story: ID Cards in UK...UK introduces ID cards

Labour's ID cards were officially trashed when the Bill to abolish them received Royal Assent.

The few thousand cards that people bought voluntarily will be cancelled within a month.

In addition, the database holding the biographic information and biometric fingerprint data of cardholders, known as the National Identity Register, will be physically destroyed within two months.

The ID card scheme was symbolic of the last administration's obsession with control and nannying. It was put up as a panacea, capable of preventing everything from benefit fraud and illegal immigration to terrorism and organised crime.


12th December

 Offsite: A Common Sense Revolution...

Link Here
Full story: Vetting Workers...UK vets all adults to work with kids
Growing numbers of volunteers are refusing to put up with humiliating and unnecessary vetting checks

See article from


13th November   

Update: Interception Law Rapidly Re-Phormed...

Home Office responds to EU pressure to ensure Phorm/BT communications interception is more effectively banned in future
Link Here

The Home Office is scrambling to close loopholes in wiretapping law, revealed by the Phorm affair, ahead of a potentially costly court case against the European Commission.

It is proposing new powers that would punish even unintentional illegal interception by communications providers.

Officials in Brussels are suing the government following public complaints about BT's secret trials of Phorm's web interception and profiling technology, and about the failure of British authorities to take any action against either firm.

The government has now issued a consultation document proposing changes to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) that will mean customer consent for interception of their communications must be freely given, specific and informed , in line with European law. RIPA currently allows interception where there is only reasonable grounds for believing consent is given.

The Home Office consultation document has been published with an unusually short period for public response closing 7 December.


6th November   

Update: Data Police with Header Information but no Payload...

Google slapped and told not to capture private communications again
Link Here
Full story: Mapping Routers...Google correlates routers with street address

Google committed a significant breach of data protection laws when its Street View cars mistakenly collected people's email addresses and passwords over unsecured WiFi networks, the Information Commissioner has ruled. However, the company escaped a fine and was asked only to promise not to do it again.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said Google had broken the law when devices installed on its specialised cars collected the personal data. He told the company to delete the information as soon as it is legally cleared to do so and ordered an audit of its data protection practices.

Google admitted in May that it had collected payload data – information transmitted over a network when users log on – and said it was acutely aware it had failed to earn the public's trust over the incident. In a post published on its official blog on 22 September, the company admitted that in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords .

Graham said: It is my view that the collection of this information was not fair or lawful and constitutes a significant breach of the first principle of the Data Protection Act: The most appropriate and proportionate regulatory action in these circumstances is to get written legal assurance from Google that this will not happen again. He added that it would be followed with an Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) audit.

Alex Deane, director of the civil liberties blog Big Brother Watch, said: The Information Commissioner's failure to take action is disgraceful. Ruling that Google has broken the law but taking no action against it shows the Commissioner to be a paper tiger. The Commissioner is an apologist for the worst offender in his sphere of responsibility, not a policeman of it.


4th November   

Petition: Intercept Modernisation Plan...

Stop the government snooping on every email and Facebook message
Link Here
Full story: Communications Snooping...Big Brother Extremism

The government has announced that it will be spending up to £2 billion into new ways to snoop on email and web traffic.

This Kafka-esque Intercept Modernisation Plan , was stopped near the end of the last government, but was quietly revived in the 2010 Spending Review. While billions of pounds are being slashed from education, welfare and defence, the government plans to waste vast sums trying to snoop on our emails and Facebook communications.

We need to tell the government to stop this wasteful, intrusive plan for wholesale snooping on our daily lives.

Please sign our petition – and tell your friends:

Dear David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Theresa May,

I do not want the government to try to intercept every UK email, facebook account and online communication. It would be pointless – as it will be easy for criminals to encrypt and evade – and expensive, costing everyone £2 billion. It would also be illegal: mass surveillance would be a breach of our fundamental right to privacy. Please cancel the Intercept Modernisation Plan.

7284 people have signed so far


4th November   

CCTV Threats...

CCTV that listens for threatening sounds
Link Here

Cambridge firm Audio Analytic announced that they have developed a new form of audio scanner attached to CCTV cameras which is able to analyse the pitch, tone and intonation of noises and work out if they pose a threat .

While Audio Analytic claim the hardware will only flag-up audible examples of aggression, it must surely follow that for such technology to be effective it must monitor all conversations in its vicinity?

Chris Mitchell, Audio Analytic's boss, on BBC World Service's Digital Planet said that he software goes beyond simply placing microphones onto cameras and listening in. By feeding hundreds of sample sounds into the system, the software can distinguish different threats from various sounds - and not just based on volume.

We don't work with volume at all in the system because it's so related to how far somebody is from the microphone that it's not a useful metric. Our system picks out the most salient characteristics. These are things related to pitch, tone, intonation.

Essentially, Mitchell explained, the software contains hundreds of audio fingerprints, and as soon as a sound resembles a stored sample, the alarm is raised.


3rd November   

CCTV Banned Wagon...

Rotterdam to install face recognition cameras on public transport
Link Here

Rotterdam City Council have announced the roll-out of facial recognition scanners on their public transport network.

According to

The scanners will record the biometric features of passengers as they enter the tram. If a passenger with a public transport ban is spotted, an alarm will sound in the driver's cabin and the passenger will be removed.. At the moment, drivers are issued with photos of banned passengers and have to recognise them from these

No doubt the information will also be available to the police and security services too.

For the moment there are no plans yet for Amsterdam so one can still visit the red light area without a permanent entry recording this on your official records.

No doubt it will make interesting reading for the authorities to also record who people are traveling with. There could be a lucrative market for such information from the likes of marital investigators.


3rd November

 Offsite: Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales...

Link Here
Another monitor-everyone Big Brother program to identify homicidal nutters from their emails

See article from


29th October   

Update: Chilling Stories...

Tax inspectors thwarted in attempt to find which books people have purchased at Amazon
Link Here

Lists that identify the titles of books, music, and movies purchased by customers are protected by Free Speech rights guaranteed by the US Constitution, a federal judge has ruled.

The landmark ruling by US District Judge Marsha J. Pechman of Seattle, was a sharp rebuke of North Carolina's DOR, or Department of Revenue, which in December ordered Amazon to turn over sales data for all customers with a shipping address within the state who made purchases from 2003 to 2010. Amazon, which says it has conducted almost 50 million transactions with North Carolina residents during that time, filed suit in April arguing that request threatened anyone who may have bought controversial or sensitive titles.

Judge Pechman agreed: The First Amendment protects a buyer from having the expressive content of her purchase of books, music, and audiovisual materials disclosed to the government, she wrote in a ruling: Citizens are entitled to receive information and ideas through books, films, and other expressive materials anonymously. The fear of government tracking and censoring one's reading, listening, and viewing choices chills the exercise of First Amendment rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which joined the case on behalf of several Amazon customers, hailed the decision: This ruling is a victory for privacy and free speech on the internet, a legal director for the organization said in a statement. The court has emphasized what other courts have found before that government officials cannot watch over our shoulders to see what we are buying and reading.


28th October   

Updated: It's the Police that Need Watching...

Police apologise over mass surveillance of muslim areas of Birmingham
Link Here

British police have apologized for a counterterrorism project that installed surveillance cameras in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods, saying that although the cameras had never been switched on, the program had damaged trust and caused anger in the community.

The surveillance program, which saw more than 200 CCTV cameras and number plate recognition devices put up in parts of Birmingham, was conceived in 2007 after a series of terrorist plots were uncovered in the city.

Residents complained that they were not consulted about the program, and civil liberties groups protested that the measures were heavy-handed.

An independent review conducted by Thames Valley Police, in southern England, criticized police in central England for the camera program. The review found little evidence of thought being given to compliance with the legal or regulatory framework before the cameras were put up.

West Midlands Police constable Chris Sims said authorities had made a mistake in not considering the impact of the cameras in intruding into people's privacy: I am sorry that we got such an important issue so wrong and deeply sorry that it has had such a negative impact on our communities .

Update: All apologies but no removal

18th October 2010. Based on article from

West Midlands Police is facing legal action if it does not remove all cameras controversially put up in largely Muslim areas of Birmingham.

More than 200 covert and overt cameras were installed in Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook, paid for with government money to tackle terrorism.

The force made unlikely sounding claims that the covert ones had been removed after uproar from residents.

Liberty plans to start a judicial review if there is no commitment made to remove the rest within two weeks.

The 3m scheme, called Project Champion, saw cameras being put up by the Safer Birmingham Project (SBP), made up of the city council, police and agencies in the Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook districts. They can record pictures and number plates of every car that goes in or out of the areas.

Last month Chief Constable Chris Sims apologised after an independent report into what happened said the force showed little evidence of thought being given to compliance with the legal or regulatory framework before the cameras were put up. Sims said none of cameras had ever been used and the remaining cameras had been covered with bags until after discussion with a new project board with a strong community representation .

But Liberty said it wanted assurances all the cameras would be removed otherwise it would pursue legal proceedings in the High Court. Corinna Ferguson, legal officer with Liberty, said: It is baffling that West Midlands Police are still trying to salvage this unlawful discriminatory scheme. These cameras are useless for everyday policing and must be removed immediately if badly damaged relations are to be repaired.

Update: Cameras to be removed

28th October 2010. Based on article from

More than 200 cameras targeted at Muslim suburbs of Birmingham as part of a secret counter-terrorism initiative are to be dismantled.

The West Midlands police chief constable, Chris Sims, said he believed all cameras installed as part of the 3m surveillance initiative should be taken down to rebuild trust with local Muslims.

The scheme, Project Champion, was shelved less than six months ago when an investigation by the Guardian revealed police had misled residents into believing the cameras were to be used to combat vehicle crime and antisocial behaviour.

In fact, the CCTV and automatic number plate reading (ANPR) cameras were installed as part of a programme run by the force's counter-terrorism unit with the consent of the Home Office and MI5.

Police failed to obtain statutory clearance for around a third of the cameras, which were covert.

In a statement, Sims said: I believe that the support and the confidence of local communities in West Midlands police is the most important thing for us in the fight against crime and terrorism. We can fight crime and the threat posed by terrorism far more effectively by working hand in hand with local people, rather than alienating them through a technological solution which does not have broad community support.

Sims made no reference to the legal action he would have faced if he let the scheme continue. The civil rights organisation Liberty wrote to the force last week, threatening to commence judicial review proceedings at the high court unless the force agreed within 14 days to dismantle the full surveillance infrastructure .

Today's recommendation was backed by the police authority and will not be put to a project board set up in August to take over management of the cameras. The board, which was recently told almost all members of its advisory group wanted the cameras dismantled, is unlikely to object when it meets on Thursday.

A Birmingham council scrutiny committee has released its own report, finding senior police officers guilty of deliberately misleading councillors over the purpose of the scheme.

Update: Removal Started

13th May 2011. See  article from

Surveillance cameras set up in two predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods will start to be removed today, police said.

The 218 cameras, some of which were hidden, sparked anger from civil liberties campaigners and residents in Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath in Birmingham, where they were mainly erected.

The number plate recognition and CCTV cameras were financed under a counter-terrorism initiative but were initially marketed to locals as a general crime-prevention measure.

West Midlands Police said work to take down the cameras and equipment is starting today, and all cameras will be removed this month.

Update: Removal Completed

12th June 2011. From

One of the longest running campaigns of Big Brother Watch came to a conclusion this week as the final camera of the ill-fated Project Champion was removed in Birmingham.

Big Brother Watch have been following this story for over a year now, ever since the 218 camera network was installed in Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook, predominantly Muslim areas of the city. There were constant suspicions that the project was based on racial profiling and the financial backing came from the counter-terrorism unit.


22nd October   

Update: Searching for Privacy...

Google censured over Wi-Fi snooping in Canada
Link Here
Full story: Mapping Routers...Google correlates routers with street address

Google's collection of personal data as part of its Street View project has been branded a serious violation of privacy laws.

The Canadian privacy commissioner found that the incident was the result of an engineer's careless error , which saw rogue code accidentally added to Street View software.

It has called on Google to tighten up its privacy rules by February or face further action.

Google apologised: We are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted networks .

As soon as we realised what had happened, we stopped collecting all wi-fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities.

It follows the conclusion of an investigation by the Canadian privacy commissioner, Jenny Stoddart: Our investigation shows that Google did capture personal information - and, in some cases, highly sensitive personal information such as complete e-mails, e-mail addresses, usernames and passwords. This incident was a serious violation of Canadians' privacy rights .

The snooping code was incorporated in the Google Street View cars when the firm decided to collect information about the location of public wi-fi spots in order to feed this information into its location-based services database.

The Commissioner recommended that Google enhance its privacy training among all employees. It also called on Google to ensure that it has the necessary procedures to protect privacy before products are launched. It must also delete all the Canadian data it collected. If Google complies with these demands, it will face no further action, Ms Stoddart said.


20th October   

A Snitch in your Photo Album...

The data hiding away in digital photo file
Link Here

Skim through the photos on Flickr or Photobucket, and you'll find pictures of holiday conquests and illicit fun.

Dig a little deeper, and you can unearth the exact locations of many of those places, embedded in data within the pictures.

Images often contain a bundle of information and various traces left by phone cameras, digital cameras or photo manipulation software.

This data, called Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) details whether the photographer used a flash, which digital effects were applied to a picture and when the photo was taken.

EXIF can also contain the precise GPS coordinates for where a photo was taken. This information is readily accessible and can be plugged into software such as Google Maps -- leading some security and photography experts to express concerns about amateurs unknowingly disclosing private information, such as the location of their home.

Thomas Hawk, an active Flickr user and the former chief executive of competing photo site Zooomr, said: I think it's a huge concern. I think a lot of people don't realize or recognize what's in all of the EXIF data that they're publishing.

Many smartphones, such as those from Apple and Google's Android system, let users employ this location feature. Apple's and Google's systems ask each user once or a few times for permission to access their location in order to provide additional services. If they click OK on that popup, every photo they take is tagged with GPS coordinates.

Judging by the abundance of pictures in Flickr's database that include geolocation data in the EXIF, some smartphone owners aren't thinking twice about opting into their devices' GPS feature. Doing so can facilitate useful tools. For example, software like iPhoto and Picasa can group images by location and display them on a map.

But amateur photographers may not realize that this info stays with the image when it's uploaded to Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa Web Albums and some other photo-sharing services. (Facebook says it strips the EXIF data from all photos to protect its users' privacy.)

Users who don't want their photos tagged with GPS data can either disable the option on their cameras or run the images through software, such as Photoshop, that can remove the EXIF.


18th October   

A Snitch in the Photo-Copier...

Impractical sounding nonsense from Canon
Link Here

Censorship by photo-copier is here. Canon's new Uniflow 5 software can prevent users from printing, scanning, faxing, or copying documents containing specific words, such as project names or client names.

The system naturally requires a Uniflow print server and Uniflow-enabled Canon imaging devices. In addition to blocking the function, the print server will email the administrator a PDF copy of the document in question, as well as optionally sending the end user an email informing him that his job has been blocked. It will not, however, identify the keyword causing the fault, which keeps the list of blocked keywords secret.


6th October   


Website to pay viewers for spotting crimes on live CCTV
Link Here

A website that pays the public to monitor live commercial CCTV footage has been criticised by civil liberties campaigners.

Internet Eyes says it offers up to 1,000 to online subscribers who can spot crimes as they happen and click an alert button to notify the business owner.

All too often criminals get away with crime because, although their activity is monitored by CCTV, it is not observed at the time of the offence but only later on reviewing the footage when it is too late to stop commission of the crime, said a spokesman for the company.

Any company wanting to have its CCTV systems wired up to the site will have to pay a subscription and viewers who sign up can see the images on their screens. More than 13,000 people have indicated their interest and more are expected to join once it has launched. The cameras are based in stores across the UK, but the rewards are open to anyone from the EU.

However, civil liberties campaigners say the idea encourages people to spy on each other. They urged anyone affected to contact us with a view to legal action .

Charles Farrier, of No CCTV, said: This is the privatisation of the surveillance society - a private company asking private individuals to spy on each other using private cameras connected to the internet. Internet Eyes must be challenged. He said he feared people would upload copies of the live stream to file-sharing networks.


3rd October   

Update: ContactPoint2...

Government consider re-opening child monitoring database
Link Here
Full story: ContactPoint Database...Logging childhood brushes with the authorities

The government is considering bringing back a version of the controversial ContactPoint children's database, just months after the original project was halted.

The ContactPoint database project was launched by the previous Labour government, but the Tories vowed to scrap it if they won power, on the grounds that it was a potential security risk to children.

After the election the coalition government announced it was pulling the plugs on the project, but now a parliamentary written answer, indicates they are having second thoughts and are considering a streamlined version of the database.

Tim Loughton, junior minister for children and families, admitted, We are exploring the practicality of an alternative national signposting service which would help practitioners find out whether a colleague elsewhere is working, or has previously worked, with the same vulnerable child. The approach would particularly take account of the needs of children who move between local authority areas or who access services in more than one local authority.

Social workers in particular, and potentially other key services like the police or accident and emergency departments, may need this information very quickly. Any new approach would seek to strengthen communication between these areas.

Loughton said it was important that information held on the new database was kept to a minimum, to allow effective identification of the individuals involved.


3rd October   

Update: In the Dock with Previous Phorm...

EU is suing Britain over data protection failures highlighted by the BT Phorm trials
Link Here

The European Commission is suing the UK government over authorities' failure to take any action in response to BT's secret trials of Phorm's behavioural advertising technology.

The Commission alleges the UK is failing to meet its obligations under the Data Protection Directive and the ePrivacy Directive.

The action follows 18 months of letters back and forth between Whitehall and Brussels. The Commssion demanded changes to UK law that have not been made, so it has now referred the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Specifically, European officials firstly charge that contrary to the ePrivacy Directive there is no UK authority to regulate interception of communications by private companies.

Secondly, the European Commission says the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which sanctions commercial interception when a company has reasonable grounds for believing consent has been given, does not offer strong enough protection to the public. The City of London police dropped their investigation of the Phorm trial, claiming BT had reasonable grounds to believe it had customers' consent.

European law says consent for interception must be freely given, specific and informed indication of a person's wishes . BT did not obtain, or attempt to obtain, such consent to include customers' internet traffic in its testing.

Finally, the Commission says the provisions of RIPA that outlaw only intentional interception are also inadequate. EU law requires Members States to prohibit and to ensure sanctions against any unlawful interception regardless of whether committed intentionally or not, it said.

If the government loses the case, it faces fines of millions of pounds per day until it brings UK law in line with European law.

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