The dangers of data snooping – Angela Patrick

Civil liberties and the coalition have been happily filling the political pages this week. The damning conclusion of the Joint Committee on Human Rights that there is no evidence to justify expanding closed proceedings (expertly dissected by Rosalind English earlier in the week) vied for column inches with leaks that the Government planned to introduce “real time” monitoring of how we use the internet in the interests of national security.

These latter “snooping” proposals echo the ill-fated Communications Data Bill 2008, proposed by the Labour Government. After cross-party condemnation and criticism from the Information Commissioner’s Office and others, that Bill was withdrawn, with Home Office officials sent back to the drawing board.

After meeting similar condemnation in the press and online this week, and reservations expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister; it appears we can expect a draft Communications Data Bill to be resurrected in the Queen’s Speech.

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Muslim area CCTV cameras to be covered by plastic bags [updated]

The BBC report that plastic bags are to be put over “scores” of surveillance cameras in Birmingham following allegations that they deliberately targeted Muslim areas.

Update 19/06/10: Campaigners and the Guardian say police are now facing an investigation for failing to disclose the true purpose of the cameras

The decision marks a victory for campaigners who threatened to bring a judicial review challenging a surveillance project that uses 150 automatic number plate recognition  cameras to monitor the roads in two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham. We posted earlier this week on the issue, sparked by a Guardian investigation:

The newspaper’s investigation has led to considerable public criticism of the scheme and the threat of legal action. The criticisms have concerned three main areas.First, it has been alleged that the scheme constitutes an unacceptable infringement of civil liberties. Local MPs Roger Godsiff (Labour) and John Hemming (Lib Dem) have attacked it on these grounds, with the latter said to be seeking the support of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Second, there have been complaints about a lack of consultation despite the fact that Project Champion is reported to be undergoing tests with the intention of going live in August.

The cameras will not be used “until a consultation has been carried out“.

Legal challenge to surveillance of Muslim areas

The Human Rights organisation Liberty is threatening to bring a judicial review challenging a surveillance project that uses 150 automatic number plate recognition (“APNR”) cameras to monitor the roads in two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham.

Update 18/06/10 – Muslim area CCTV cameras to be covered by plastic bags [updated]

The Guardian reports that the plan, Project Champion, is funded by the Association of Chief Police Officer’s Terrorism and Allied Matters fund, which is intended to “deter or prevent terrorism or help to prosecute those responsible”. Project Champion provides for three times as many APNR cameras in the suburbs of Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath as are present in Birmingham City Centre. According to the Guardian: “The cameras form “rings of steel”, meaning residents cannot enter or leave the areas without their cars being tracked. Data will be stored for two years.”

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