The impending launch of a 'National Allegations Database' will allow 'informers' to directly construct a list of suspected illegal immigrants. Conceived and developed behind closed doors, marginalised by the national media, this is the latest in a series of worrying developments in the undemocratic storing of public information in the UK.
Testing has begun on the National Allegations Database, a new initiative by the UK Border Agency tasked with collecting and organising reports and tip offs from UK citizens about suspected illegal immigrants.
The origins of this new database go back to last year. In a speech in October
2011 the Prime Minister urged UK citizens to report suspected illegal
immigrants to the UK Border Agency (UKBA). This followed a
report by the Home Affairs committee highlighting that the UKBA had 'an
inconsistent approach to recording and following up on intelligence leads.'
The UKBA told the Home Affairs committee that as of the end of March the design of the National Allegations Database had been agreed, funding arranged and assessments carried out for its staffing and operational requirements. With testing now taking place, the UKBA intends for the database to go live in September.
Causes for concern - what and whose information will be collected?
The Home Affairs Committee noted that in the period between 9th December 2011 and 29th March 2012, only 4% of intelligence reports from the public to the UKBA were valid and requiring action. At present there is little explanation of what information will be stored on the database, how long for, and who will have access to it.
The committee has placed a strong emphasis on the need to let those making complaints be made aware of the outcome of their actions; if they correctly report somebody, they should be informed. However, there is no explanation as to the level of information available to the person whom the complaint concerns. Will a person be aware if their information has been placed on the UKBA's database? Much of the information about the database currently available is concerned with those making complaints. What information will be gathered and stored pertaining to the target of the complaint is vague.
The lack of transparency regarding the operation and regulation of the National Allegations Database is of serious concern, especially when one remembers that this database is aiming to be operational by September. In the four-month period mentioned above, 25,600 allegations were made to the UKBA concerning suspected immigration violations, this gives an insight to the breadth of the impact this database could have.
ID in the news
NO2ID campaigns manager James Baker appeared on the BBC politics show on Sunday 17th June. James was invited onto the show to discuss the recent publication of the draft Communications bill. On the program he made the case that this level of surveillance should not occur without a warrant. James was keen to stress that in its current form the bill allowed a far greater range of organisations to access the data than was implied in the Home Office's claim that it was targeting terrorists and paedophiles. Since this discussion, while remaining tight-lipped about the NAD, several stories across the national media have raised worries about the accountability of those in charge of sensitive data:
Police breach human rights by keeping photos of innocent (Telegraph 22nd June)
'In a test case, the High Court yesterday concluded that the retention of photographs of two people who were arrested but never charged was unlawful. The ruling means forces will have to delete images of anyone on their files who is innocent, unless they can show strong reasons why they are still needed to combat crime. Lord Justice Richards, sitting at London's High Court with Mr Justice Kenneth Parker, said 'I'm not satisfied that the existing (police) policy strikes a fair balance between the competing public and private interests and meets the requirements of proportionality.'
Supermarket spies: How the Government plans to use loyalty card data to snoop on the eating habits of 25 millions shoppers (Daily Mail 25th June)
'The shopping habits of Britain's 25 million supermarket loyalty card holders could be grabbed by the government in an attempt to halt the UK's dangerous obesity crisis. People who buy too much alcohol, fatty food or sugary drinks would be targeted with 'tailored' health advice under plans being considered by the government. A Whitehall unit set up to covertly change the habits of Britons has already been in talks with the major supermarkets to gain access to their huge databases.'
Energy smart meters are a threat to privacy, says watchdog (The Observer 1st July)
'The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has warned that smart meters, which must be introduced into every home in the UK within the next seven years, will be used to track much more than energy consumption unless proper safeguards are introduced. All homes are expected to have their old meters replaced with the new technology by the end of 2019. The installation of smart meters will cost an estimated £11bn in the UK. However few consumers are aware of the new technology.'
Foreign powers will be allowed to access email and phone records (Telegraph 4th July)
'Ministers have confirmed that any overseas country can ask the Home Secretary for communications data as part of criminal investigations […] James Brokenshire, a junior Home Office Minister, has disclosed that foreign authorities will have access to Britons' communications data, as well as local police and security agencies.'
The same minister also wrote about the links between the current initiative to monitor people's e-mail and phone communications, and that of the previous Labour government.
'Mr Brokenshire said in a separate written answer that 60 percent of the staff who have developed the current plan, called the Communications Capabilities Development Programme, also worked on the earlier Interception Modernisation Programme.'
Women will get right to ask for new boyfriends' police files under controversial Clare's Law initiative (The Daily Mail, 14th July)
'Women will from tomorrow have the right to ask police whether a new boyfriend has a history of domestic violence. Under a controversial initiative dubbed 'Clare's Law', police and other agencies will be able to carry out checks and warn women if they are at risk. Home Secretary Theresa May will announce she is launching trials in selected areas before rolling it out nationally.'
Taxis forced to stop recording passengers' and drivers' private conversations (The Independent, 25th July 2012)
'A city council must stop recording passengers' and drivers' conversations in its taxis, the Information Watchdog said today. Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said Southampton City Council had 'gone too far' in its desire to ensure people's safety […] The watchdog also revealed that a similar scheme in Oxford, which would have also recorded conversations, would breach the Data Protection Act and added that the council has now suspended the implementation of the policy.'
Security services to get more access to monitor emails and social media (The Guardian, 28th July)
'Britain has quietly agreed to measures that could increase the ability of the security services to intercept online communications, experts say. Although the Home Office is at pains to stress that the draft communications and data bill, which is going through parliament, will not involve checking the content of emails and social media, experts say British officials have been simultaneously involved in international moves that could allow increased interception of online data – moves that will not be subject to the scrutiny of MPs.'
Taken together, these examples demonstrate the astonishing breadth of how our information is being massed and sold on often without our knowledge or permission. NO2ID needs your help in promoting awareness of the rapidness of these developments, whether it be pointing our attention towards a news story you think is relevant to the campaign, details and successes of campaigning from your local group, or writing content. Please e-mail Daryl Worthington at email@example.com with any ideas you may have. To receive live news regarding issues related to the above, you can now follow @NO2ID on twitter.