Sunday, December 07, 2008

British police forbidden to store DNA profiles of innocent people

In theory, I see nothing wrong with DNA particulars being kept on file but given the appalling and endemic incompetence of British officialdom in handling sensitive information, I agree with that Tom Uttley writes below:

Those who have the stamina to wade through my weekly ramblings and rants will have gathered that I have no time at all for the European Court of Human Rights. As one of a dwindling band of believers in democracy, the least worst system of government yet devised by man, I'm appalled that so many of our laws are made by unelected foreign judges, so alien to our way of life that many of us have difficulty even pronouncing their names. For all I know, Bostjan Zupancic, Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska, Zdravka Kalaydjieva and their fellow judges may be frightfully good chaps (or chapesses - don't ask me which). But I don't see what earthly business it is of these Slovenians, Macedonians and Bulgarians to lay down the rules under which you and I should lead our lives.

If we want absolute, unchangeable laws - applicable to every human being everywhere, without regard to their wishes, national traditions or changing circumstances - then let God lay them down, say I, and leave it to us to decide whether or not we obey Him. For the rest, I like to feel I have some sort of say in the way I'm governed - even if that means having to submit to a shower of incompetent control-freaks like New Labour (though, come to think of it, I can't remember anyone asking me if I wanted to be governed by a party led by Gordon Brown).

With my passionately felt objections to the ECHR, therefore, I find myself in a bit of a quandary when the court comes up with a judgment as magnificently just and sensible as yesterday's ruling that the British police must stop keeping DNA samples taken from people who have done nothing wrong. Should I stick to my democratic principles and say that these unaccountable foreign busybodies have no right to interfere in the law of the UK? Or should I smother them in hugs and kisses (well, perhaps not the Polish judge, who has the off-putting name of Lech Garlicki) and congratulate them on stepping in to right a grievous wrong?

On second thoughts, why not both? With apologies to Voltaire, let me turn his famous quote on its head and declare: I challenge to the death their right to say it - but, my goodness, I agree with what they say.

As an Englishman, born and raised in the land that kept the torch of freedom burning through two World Wars, I'm filled with shame at the thought that we have to take lessons in liberty from Germans, Italians, Estonians and Azerbaijanis. But, alas, those lessons have become necessary, after more than a decade of rule by a British Government intent on establishing state control over every minute detail of our lives, from what we eat and drink to how we choose to bring up our young.

We can see it everywhere, from the forest of CCTV cameras sprouting in every High Street (we have more per head than anywhere else in the world) to the monstrous plan to set up a database, recording the upbringing of all 12 million children in England and Wales - including information about their daily intake of fruit and vegetables and judgments about whether or not their parents provide 'positive role models'.

Nowhere is this creeping erosion of our liberties more insidious than in the police practice - now so roundly condemned by the ECHR as a breach of human rights - of collecting and keeping DNA samples from those who have never been convicted of a criminal offence. According to the latest estimates, the genetic profiles of between 850,000 and a million innocents are now being held on the 4.5 million-strong database, which is already one of the biggest on the planet. They include not only people who have been acquitted of crimes, but those who have never been charged or even suspected of wrongdoing - among them, witnesses and victims of offences.

Most chillingly of all, the profiles of more than 150,000 children are held on the database, to be kept there for the rest of their lives if the police and the Government get their way (as yet they may). Indeed, one of the two Britons on whose cases the ECHR ruled yesterday was only 12 years old when his DNA sample was taken, after he was arrested and charged with attempted robbery in January 2001. Five months later, he was acquitted - but the South Yorkshire police refused to remove his details from the database, saying they would be retained 'to aid criminal investigation'.

Now, I know that a great many readers will see nothing wrong with keeping the DNA profiles of children or anyone else on a police database. The more of us whose records are kept, they will say, the safer this country will be. Indeed, I've lost count of the number of letters I've received, telling me: 'If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.' I completely understand that point of view. But it was very neatly answered, I thought, by a letter in one of this week's papers, saying: 'I fear having to prove I have nothing to hide.'

There are other things I fear, too, about keeping the profiles of innocents on the database. For one, nothing could be easier for a criminal than planting a sample of somebody else's DNA at the scene of his crime. Indeed, only yesterday lunchtime I was handed a prize specimen of a stranger's DNA, in the form of a long, black human hair in my soup. Its owner will have a lot of uncomfortable explaining to do if I choose to leave it at the scene of my next robbery.

Then there's the disturbing question of what the Government might do with such a database if Britain were ever to fall into the hands of a totalitarian regime. After all, our DNA is crammed with information about our race, our state of health and God knows what else. There are some things about all of us that it's just safer for the Government not to know. I mean, just think what use Hitler or Stalin would have made of a database like this.

For all these reasons - not to mention the astronomical cost of every computer project undertaken by this Government and the near-certainty that somebody will leave the entire database on a train - I rejoice at yesterday's ECHR ruling.

Mind you, I don't suppose much will come of it. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has already announced that she's 'disappointed' with the ruling, adding: 'The existing law will remain in place while we carefully consider the judgment.' Leave aside that the job of sifting through 4.5million profiles to weed out and erase those of the innocent will almost certainly be beyond the ability of police or Whitehall

If I know the ways of this Government, Miss Smith will seize upon the judges' 'particular concern' that the innocent on the database may be 'stigmatised' by being treated in the same way as convicted offenders. Then she will tell us that the way to avoid stigmatising anyone is to put the whole lot of us on the police database and treat us all like convicts. After all, that is almost exactly what the Government did after the judges' ruling that it was wrong for Britain to have a law allowing us to keep foreign citizens under house arrest. Very well, replied the Government, we'll introduce a law allowing Britons to be kept under house arrest, too. So much for human rights.

Ah, well, the great thing about British democracy is that once every four or five years, we have the chance to get rid of the likes of Miss Smith and Mr Brown. It may seem churlish to say this, on the day after they struck their blow for liberty, but I only wish we could say the same about the judges of the ECHR.


New target for Britain's anti-terror spies: Village paperboys - for not having the correct paperwork

They creep around in the dark spreading misery, rumour and secrets from inside Westminster. Even so, paperboys and girls are hardly likely to pose a threat to national security. One local council, however, thought it necessary to use swingeing anti-terror laws against them.

Cambridgeshire County Council used the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to spy on eight paperboys thought to be working without permits. It sent undercover council officers to lurk outside a Spar in the village of Melbourn and take notes on the movements of the boys. The evidence was used in a criminal prosecution of the shop's owners for employing five of the boys without the correct documentation.

Cambridgeshire's approach is just the latest example of local authorities using the RIPA for minor misdemeanours. Such activities have been likened to those of the Stasi, the East German secret police. A Cambridgeshire bylaw states that all paperboys must have a work permit issued by the council and signed by the child's employer, headteacher and parents. Working children must also be over 13 and cannot start work until after 7am.

This week Cambridge Magistrates' Court was told that Dips Solanki, 42, and his wife Rashmi, 38, had failed to get the correct work permits for five paperboys. Prosecutor Simon Reeve told the court that the couple ignored letters and visits from a child employment officer. He said that although eight applications for work permits had been sent to the children's school, only three were signed. He produced the surveillance to prove the boys had been working. The Solankis were found guilty of failing to comply with the bylaw and now have a criminal record. They were given a six-month conditional discharge.

All the boys concerned were between 13 and 16. Other than not having the correct paperwork, they were working legally. Yesterday, the couple insisted that there had simply been a paperwork mix-up. They denied that they had been warned by council officials - and said the authority was using a 'hammer to crack a nut'. Mrs Solanki said: 'They should only do such things for a serious crime. We're innocent people trying to make an honest living. It's ridiculous and was a complete waste of everyone's time.'

Andrew Lansley, Tory MP for South Cambridgeshire, agreed, saying: 'These powers should only be used for the scope they were intended, which is to tackle serious crime and terrorism.' But a Cambridgeshire Council spokesman said: 'Delivering heavy bags early in the morning is potentially very hazardous. 'We do not want to wait until someone has an accident before we start to uphold the law properly.'

The Act was introduced in 2000. As well as allowing spying in the interests of national security, it also allows state agencies such as councils, NHS trusts and the fire service to act secretly in the interests of 'protecting public health'. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was supposed to grant only the police and security services the power to spy on emails and phone calls. But it was extended to town halls, which have been taking advantage on a daily basis. In the last financial year, 154 local authorities made 1,707 requests for communications data under RIPA. They include Poole Council in Dorset, which spied on a family because it wrongly suspected the parents of abusing rules on school catchment areas. Councils in Derby, Bolton, Gateshead and Hartlepool used covert techniques to deal with dog fouling, while Bolton spied on suspected litter louts.


Tennessee city says no to Santa display

He and neighbor Kevin Norris four years ago figured out how a 25-year-old plastic Christmas decoration could hover above the street between their two large brick homes. They attached a quarter-inch-thick steel cable line across Garrison Cove in northeast Murfreesboro and secured each end to the rooftop rafters of their homes. The men added Christmas lighting to Santa's sleigh and a red bulb on the nose of the lead reindeer.

City officials for the second straight year, however, have told Holton and Norris the display violates an ordinance against suspending things such as banners, streamers and signs. The decoration was already up last year when the neighbors were warned about it, but Murfreesboro City Council decided to allow it through Dec. 29, 2007, if all safety measures were met. The neighbors had to install electrical safety equipment and sign an agreement protecting the city from liability in case of an accident.

City Attorney Susan Emery McGannon explained the council's position to Holton and his wife, Rae Lynn, and Norris and his wife, Ashley, in a Dec. 14, 2007, letter: "Moreover, please do not assume that permission will be given for this or a similar display at any time in the future; approval of the Council in advance is required and may not be given again."

Before putting up Santa and his reindeer for this Christmas, Holton said he asked city administrators up front, only to be reminded about the ordinance. "I just think they're being Scrooges," said Holton, who's planning to ask the council for permission once again.

The decoration, according to the city attorney, violates Section 28-15 of the City Code that's been in place since 1940: "It shall be unlawful for any person to place, or cause to be placed, any sign, banner or streamer of any kind whatsoever in, across or above any public square, street or other public thoroughfare in the City without the prior expressed consent of the City Council."

The issue first emerged a year ago, Holton said, when Murfreesboro Planning Director Joseph Aydelott told Holton the display may be a violation during a community meeting about a proposed development being built next to Garrison Cove. Messages were left for Aydelott and McGannon Tuesday, but they were not available for comment.

Holton and Norris, who both work in the health-care sales industry, question how the ordinance can apply to a Santa decoration when it's not a banner, sign or streamer. "I think we should be able to put it up," said Norris, noting that on numerous times he's seen a flag displayed from a rope hanging over East Main Street between a house on one side and a tree on the other. "The city is setting a double standard."

The Santa and sleigh originally came from Holton's mother-in-law, Stella Boudreaux, and it used to sit on top of her roof in Louisiana during the Christmas holidays. "This is a Cajun Santa," Holton quipped. The idea for Santa to fly over Garrison Cove initially took Holton and Norris two days to complete four years ago, and it involved buying an expensive 40-foot ladder. Since then, it's taken about two hours to put up the decoration.

Many neighbors hope to see it return. "It's a huge conversation piece in the neighborhood," Jim Childers said. "The kids look for it, and the people look for it. It's done very nicely."

Holton and Norris both feel confident their display is safe when it's up. "If this thing came down, it's pulling the roof down," Holton said. "It's not coming down."


Britain has become a 'lonelier' place over the past 30 years, where even your neighbour's a stranger

Loss of traditional standards and rules has much to answer for

Britain is an increasingly lonely country where even our neighbours are strangers, research suggests. The breakdown of family ties and more people moving around the country for jobs have contributed to a society without roots or ties. Researchers say that the fragmentation of the UK started in the late 1960s, but has accelerated over the past decade. They believe that even the least cohesive communities of the early 1970s had stronger ties than any community now. Divorce, immigration and large transitory student populations have also played a role in weakening neighbourhood bonds, the report found. There is also greater movement for retirement, or for better schools and lifestyles.

The report, prepared for the BBC by researchers at Sheffield University, picked out districts where the fewest people have roots and most share 'a feeling of not belonging'. These include Holyrood in Edinburgh, Headingley in Leeds, Hyde Park in London, and the university district of Cardiff.

The index is based on the national census of 2001 and the Office for National Statistics' population estimates for 2006. Stoke-on-Trent, which scored 22.4 on the index, is among the towns where locals are most likely to stay put - and to which few outsiders are attracted.

The Changing UK report showed that where people live increasingly depends on how well off or how old they are. But it rejected the idea of a racial divide, saying that Britain 'is less segregated by race and ethnicity that in was in 1991'.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, OBAMA WATCH (2), EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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