No compromise on Clause 152

The BMA and seven other healthcare organisations wrote last week to the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, urging him to exempt personal medical and health data from the government’s mega-database of personal information.

Jack Straw announced last week that he was reconsidering the wording of the clause in the light of protests and complaints from authoritative figures including the Information Commissioner. He’s even sending one of his ministers to meet the BMA to discuss their concerns.

Make no mistake, excluding medical data and health records won’t reduce the authoritarian potency of this legislative ratchet. If you are interested in protecting your privacy, you must accept no compromise and continue the campaign to have the whole of this clause struck from the bill before it passes into law.

Government seek to rush Clause 152 through report stage

Alan Reid MP, replying to my letter to him regarding Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill, has indicated that the government might seek to limit debate on the clause and force it through the report stage.

Indicating his opposition to the data-sharing clause, Alan Reid also stated:

I will also vote against any Government attempt to prevent it being properly scrutinised at Report Stage in the Commons. Report Stage will probably be in March or April

If you care about preventing this authoritarian tosh getting into law, write to your MP and raise with her the risk that procedural shenanigans should also be opposed at every opportunity.

Would you trust Jack Straw and Harriet Harman with your personal data? I don’t.

Clause 152, Coroners and Justice Bill

Clause 152 of this Bill, currently waiting to go before a Public Bill Committee for line-by-line scrutiny, contains powers for the Government to pass personal data about all of us from one part of government to another. This is in fundamental breach of the Data Protection Principles under which personal data is collected and handled by public bodies. Okay, what Parliament giveth, Parliament can take away, but cursed be the name of Parliament for we lack a written constitution.

What this clause will do, should it be enacted, is permit data collected for one purpose to be used for any other government power or function by means of an Order. Now, that sounds complicated and difficult but it isn’t. Orders in Council are made by the dozen every week and are subject to no legislative scrutiny. They are extra-parliamentary executive powers. Although useful, such powers are, of course, entirely at the whim of the executive and can be used for less and well as more worthy reasons, and by less as well as more worthy ministers and governments – and they need give no reason.

Phil Booth, of the No2ID campaign, spoke at yesterday’s Convention on Modern Liberty about the need to act, and to act swiftly, to protect all of our personal data. The following quote from Phil Booth has been posted on Samizdata.net by Guy Herbert:

At the Convention on Modern Liberty, I launched NO2ID’s request that everyone at the convention – and around the UK – tells their MP right now that they refuse their consent to having their information shared under any “information sharing order”, a power currently being slipped onto the statute books in clause 152 of the coroners and justice bill .

Please tell yours too. It’s important, and urgent – and something that only YOU can do. If you never have before, now’s the time to write to your MP – in a letter, or via www.WriteToThem.com.

Jack Straw has been making noises that could signal a ‘compromise’, but the only acceptable action is to remove clause 152 entirely from the bill. It is not linked to any other clause, despite being sandwiched between other powers and so-called safeguards offered to the information commissioner. It cannot be improved, and Straw can’t be allowed to merely “dilute” it. Clause 152 just has to go.

It’s imperative that in coming days every MP hears from his or her constituents. Please tell them you refuse consent to having your information, taken for one purpose, arbitrarily used for any other purpose. And ask them to vote clause 152 off the bill.

Well, I’ve done just that, and urge you to do the same. If you happen to be reading this from Argyll & Bute, Alan Reid is your MP. The following is the text of my letter:

Dear Alan Reid,

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Glasgow satellite meeting of the Convention on Modern Liberty. At that meeting I heard from Phil Booth of the No2ID campaign about Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill which is about to go into Public Bill Committee.

This Clause, if enacted, would give governments and ministers of any political shade executive powers to take personal data given in trust by the public for one purpose and to use it without the owner’s consent for any other purpose the Executive sees fit.

The powers would be exercisable by Order, but you and I know that Orders are easily made and subject to no democratic or legislative scrutiny.

Such powers are entirely unacceptable in any free or democratic society, whatever smokescreen of efficiency or security the government may throw up. It was precisely the potential that national access to personal data had to facilitate totalitarianism that ensured that those who wisely and carefully drafted the constitution for the Federal Republic of Germany after the last war ensured that this could never happen in that state. That constitutional arrangement has held fast as a bulwark against totalitarianism in the west of Germany and those citizens of the east have been delighted to move from the caring concern of their former governments to the liberty of the western dispensation.

Please be clear that I irrevocably refuse my consent to any of my personal data, given freely and in trust for a particular purpose, being transferred at the whim of the executive to any other arm of government or used for any other purpose.

I urge you to vote against this measure at any and every opportunity. I know that measures such as these run entirely contrary to the principles and ethics of the Liberal Democrat party. I, for one, refuse to be enslaved by conformity.
I look forward to hearing your own views on this matter. I am publishing this letter on my own blog (http:// patthechooks.wordpress.com) and will publish your reply, subject to your consent of course, in the same way.

Yours sincerely …

Convention on Modern Liberty

This was the main reason for my trip to Glasgow, to attend the satellite Convention on Modern Liberty. I’ve become increasingly concerned over recent years by the authoritarian creep of the Executive in this country and have made comments on a few occasions on this blog. So, when I saw the Convention was happening, and in Glasgow, it was for sure that I would attend.

Toggie of a ticket

Toggie of a ticket

I intend to add some specific posts about particular speakers and issues, so this post is a bit of an overview.

One of the things about attending an event like this is that you have no idea who’s going to be there or what their particular driving interests are. Okay, with a bit of forethought (of the order of a microsecond) I could have predicted the nutters like UKIP ,<nutter>”It’s the mark of the beast, you know!”</nutter>, but they were very much in the minority. Lawyers were well-represented as a profession. But the majority of folk were relatively ordinary, if having a tendency towards the white and middle-aged. In fact, I don’t recall seeing a single person of colour at the Glasgow event. Many young people, including writers from student newspapers and people from all sorts of backgrounds.

The venue was the Institute for Advanced Studies, part of the University of Strathclyde. Bright, modern and comfortable room, although I’d forgotten for a quarter of a century how all university corridors have the same smell of under-heated floor polish and over-heated academic thinking.

We were linked through to the London session by webcast so we could see all of the keynote speakers and London plenary sessions. There were separate Scottish plenaries looking particularly at surveillance in Scottish society. Good speakers, although disappointing to see Jo Swinson, the LibDem MP for East Dunbartonshire was unable to replace populist Daily Mail-type thinking when discussing the regulation of investigatory powers.

One of my concerns about an event like this was that it could just turn into a swapping of war stories, a reiteration of “ain’t it awful, look what X is doing to us” thinking, but it generally didn’t. Okay, there were the nutters (and I just escaped the bloke handing out the David Icke dvds) but there was a common purpose, albeit derived from different interests, in finding a new dispensation, a secure and enduring balance between the rights and liberties of the individuals and the responsibilities of the State. This was best represented by Chris Huhne when he identified the need for the legislature to be independent of the executive and to be able to hold it accountable; in other words, we need a written constitution.
I had the sense of being present at an historical moment; one from which will surely spring a different and better state. For sure, there are many parallel debates to be had (monarchy/republic, pound/euro etc. etc.) but these are trivial compared with the essential business of securing and protecting human rights and the democratic control of the executive in perpetuity – and that must be our main purpose.

So, what can you do? You can:

  • Read some of the transcripts here.
  • Join in the Convention’s network here.
  • Find out about the No2ID campaign here.
  • Support the Liberal Democrats’ Freedom Bill here.
  • Write to your MP/MSP about Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill which will create a database of everything you ever commnicate with anyone, anywhere – find out more here.
  • Comment on this blog here (yes, here, down there).