What are the threats?
What can be done about them?
Why should everyone care?
Get Involved. Help create our modern liberty. Saturday 28 February 2009
The Convention is being held in the Logan Hall and adjoining rooms at the Institute of Education in Bloomsbury, central London.
The Institute of Education
20 Bedford Way
From Anthony Barnett, Phil Booth, Shami Chakrabarti, Henry Porter, Stuart Weir
We are entering a dangerous period in our country. Economic turmoil threatens profound hardship and disharmony. Disenchantment with politics is growing and even legitimate protest is threatened by an unprecedented programme of challenges to our rights, freedoms and democracy. Sixty years ago Britain was a proud co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Now it is increasingly centralized, abandoning its historic principles some of which date back to the Magna Carta.
The Government’s continued stated determination to extend detention without charge in terrorism cases to 42 days is one symbol of the damage done to our hard-won rights and freedoms. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which gives hundreds of agencies access to people’s records without their knowing, is another. The collection of all available records on a huge central database for the use of the authorities is a third.
We believe that such threats can be overcome but only if the public is woken to the dangers. While we may be impatient for action, the issues must be addressed in an open-minded way with as thorough and accessible public debate as possible.
Therefore we invite you to join a Convention on Modern Liberty. It will ask three broad questions:
* Are our freedoms and rights threatened by an over-powerful state and if so how do we defend ourselves from this?
* Are dangers to our security from terrorism and other threats, from climate change to pandemics being used to attack our rights, and how can we best defend ourselves?
* How can we arouse sustained public interest?
We are making Modern Liberty a convention not a conference. We want to bring as many people together to see what common ground can be reached in defence of our freedoms. The Guardian is the main media partner. The Rowntree Reform and Charitable Trusts and the Rowntree Foundation are initial supporters. A wide range of organisations are joining the event from across the political spectrum.
Fundamental rights and freedoms are common to us all. The Universal Declaration recognises ‘the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’. In Britain such values have an even longer history. We are indeed the inheritors of an inspiring tradition of liberty.
At the same time technical advances from information technology to explosives and the threats of catastrophic climatic change have altered the framework of power and fear.
This calls for a renewal of our democratic self-confidence. This is the purpose of the Convention on Modern Liberty. Whether you agree or not we hope you will join us to debate these issues.
Anthony Barnett (openDemocracy)
Phil Booth (NO2ID)
Shami Chakrabarti (Liberty)
Henry Porter (the Observer)
Stuart Weir (Democratic Audit)
Innocence is no protection against the government’s laws
Convention on Modern Liberty Research Team Briefing #1, February 2009
“If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear”, goes the saying. A variant of this suggests that, “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. Both are wrong because innocence cannot protect the public from government’s authoritarian laws and official bungling, as these stories show.
Mr David Williams of Greater Manchester was held for 13 hours in a police cell after armed police raided his house, mistaking a life-sized model of the computer game character Lara Croft for a real gunman - Daily Mail, 15 May 2007
Nicholas Gaubert, 34, was shot twice with a Taser gun in July 2005 by police who feared he was a security threat after going into a diabetic coma on a bus in Leeds. The Crown Prosecution Service ruled none of the officers involved should be charged with any criminal offences. BBC News, 15 Nov 2007
Spencer Drury, a Conservative councillor, was stopped by police, ordered to produce identification, and accused of being a terrorist whilst he took a photo of his local Police station on Plumstead High Street for a by-election campaign leaflet. Dizzy Thinks, 21 Sept 2008
A Man was threatened with arrest at Heathrow for wearing a Transformers T-shirt. Brad Jayakody, 30, was reportedly stopped from passing through security at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 after his Transformers T-shirt was deemed ‘offensive’ because the cartoon character was carrying a gun. 2nd June 2008, Press Association
Schoolboy, Fabian Sabbara, 15, was held as a terror suspect after taking photos of a railway station for his GCSE project. Mail Online, 31 Oct 2008
Spencer Schofield, a 30 year-old father from Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, was surrounded by 10 police officers, handcuffed then held in a cell for five hours for driving a ‘stolen’ car which was actually his own. Daily Mail, 1 Oct 2008
A mentally disturbed 89-year-old man, who escaped from his care home, was shot by police with a 50,000 volt Taser when he threatened to kill himself. Independent, 13 Jan 2009
Police used a Taser gun twice on Nicholas Gaubert, 34, in July 2005. They feared he was a security threat after he went into a diabetic coma on a bus in Leeds. BBC News, 15 Nov 2007
Christopher Cocker, 36, fell off his sofa in a fit of laughter, causing his neighbour to believe he had collapsed. Though initially cooperative, when the police first arrived he became ‘aggressive’, was sprayed with parva spray and thrown in a cell. Daily Mail, 11 Jun 2008
Sally Cameron, 34, was arrested under the Terrorism Act, kept in a cell for hours and then charged, all for walking along a cycle path in the harbour area of Dundee. The Times, 17 Oct 2005
Dave Vaughan, 60, aka “PC Konk the Clown”, was deemed a security risk and ordered to strip from his costume to his underwear at Birmingham Airport, where he had been booked by the Variety Club Midlands to perform for disadvantaged children. The Times, 22 Dec 2008
Lazaris Michael, 76, was fined £60 by a Thanet Council warden for littering after a policeman knocked a cigarette out of his hand while apprehending a shoplifter. Mail on Sunday, 7 Dec 2008
Operating under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, Worcestershire and Malvern Hills district council raided the home of Craig and Marjorie Walsh, both 59. The couple had their and computers, medical histories and credit card information taken after claims that the kennel they owned was over-crowded. One dog was in residence. Daily Mail, 8 Oct 2008
Mark White, 39, of Welling, Kent, was sent a letter demanding £571.76 for a parking fine on a car he did not own. Daily Telegraph, 20 Nov 2008
South Wales Police wasted £100,000 and the time of 11 officers to spy on PC Mark Pugh, a dog handler, who they suspected was faking posttraumatic stress disorder following a football riot in Cardiff. He was refused a full disability pension but was later granted it at the Police Medical Appeal Board after it was established that he was suffering from depression. Daily Telegraph12 Sep 2008
John Molyneux, 60, a university lecture, was arrested during a peaceful protest in Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square over Israel’s invasion of Gaza. He was charged under the Public Order Act for failing to give police enough notice of the demonstration. The Portsmouth News 15 January 2009,
Jack Roocroft was the victim of an armed police stake out at the pensioner’s home for more than two hours after a hoax 999 call claimed the 78-year-old had been driving around Monmouth on his vintage tractor brandishing a shotgun. Suffering from Leukaemia, Mr Roocroft was arrested and held overnight in the cells. Western Daily Press January 06, 2009
Lyndsey Craig, 24, from Liverpool, had her six- month old baby removed by social services when she took the child to her doctor after spotting a purple mark on his ear. She feared it might be a symptom of meningitis. The parents’ home was searched, they were questioned by social workers and the baby spent 3 weeks with his grandparents until a child protection conference concluded that the baby could return. Daily Telegraph January 2009
Poole Borough Council used RIPA surveillance laws to spend two weeks following a family wrongly accused of lying on a school application form. The official spies made copious notes on the movements of the mother and her three children, who they referred to as “targets”, and even watched the family home at night to establish where they were sleeping. Telegraph, 21 Oct 2008
Whose life is it anyway?
Convention on Modern Liberty Research Team Briefing #2, February 2009
Ministers assure us that our personal information is safe in government databases. But how are we to know that information held on us is correct? And what means do the public have to change incorrect information?
It is estimated that between one and five per cent of information held on public databases is incorrect, which translates into millions of details affecting millions of people. Yet FoI requests from the data protection company Garlik show most government departments have no written policy to correct such errors.
The far more worrying aspect is the sheer amount of information that is either lost or made public by accident. Here are some of the more alarming cases from the last six months.
Four and half million job seekers’ personal details were stolen from Monster.co.uk recruitment website
27 January 2009
2,000 public servants’ bank details have been lost by the British Council
25 January 2009
5,000 patients’ medical details were lost by a South Wales trust
24 January 2009
6,360 prisoners’ details from HMP Preston were lost on a memory stick
5,000 nursery-aged children’s details were lost by Leeds City Council.
8 December 2008
80 Children’s details have been lost on a misplaced memory stick owned by a Leicester City Council-run nursery.
7,851 children, parents and carers’ details lost on a laptop stolen from Surrey County Council.
10,000 patients’ details have been exposed by losses and thefts of IT equipment in the NHS since 2006.
100,000 members of the Armed Forces’ personal details were lost by the MoD as well as a further 600,000 potential applicants’ details.
10th October 2008
18,000 NHS staff’s personal details were lost in the post on four CDs.
15th September 2008
70 soldiers’ training details were lost.
9th September 2008
Thousands of RAF personnel had their records lost when 3 portable hard drives were stolen from RAF Innsworth.
5,000 prison officers’ had their personal details exposed on a hard drive lost by a Ministry of Justice contractor.
608 employees of failed companies’ personal details were stolen from an office at the Insolvency Service in Manchester.
27 August 2008
Thousands of current and ex-prisoners’ sensitive details were on an unencrypted memory stick lost by a Home Office contractor.
400 ISA holders’ details were lost when a laptop was stolen from the car of an HMRC official. In Parliamentary answers ministers revealed that 41 laptops were stolen from HMRC over the past 12 months.
The government has lost 53 computers during one year, along with 36 Blackberries, 30 mobile phones and four memory sticks.
65 memory sticks, 120 laptops and 74 hard drives were lost or stolen from the MoD between January and November.
150 farmers mistakenly received emails from Northumbria Police containing the details of suspected criminals.
A server, purchased for 99p on eBay, was found to connect automatically to Kirklees Council’s internal network.
14 laptops and 21 mobile phones were lost or stolen from the Department of Health in 2007-8.
41 laptops were stolen from HMRC between August 2007-2008.
176 reported data breaches in the public sector between October 2007 and October 2008.
Has Britain become obsessed with petty-minded control?
Convention on Modern Liberty Research Team paper 3
Tolerance and common sense have been replaced by officiousness and the enforcement of petty-minded regulations in Britain. Armies of wardens patrol our streets watching for the slightest misdemeanour. Bureaucrats have become obsessed with nonsensical health and safety laws. No longer are we a nation that indulges human failings and eccentricity, as these thirty examples from the last six months show.
Council snoops use anti-terror laws to spy on punt operators. Cambridge City Council have used RIPA anti terrorist laws to install hidden CCTV cameras to film punt operators on the river Cam in an attempt to catch them picking up passengers from undesignated spots along the river bank. Mail Online, 16 September 2008
Council censors art gallery. Harrow Council forced Harrow Art Society to take down nude paintings and drawings at an exhibition in a local arts centre. The stated reason was that it was to avoid offending children. harrowobserver.co.uk, 6 November 2008
Man fined for littering without evidence. Mark Winspear was issued with a £75 fine by a Kettering Borough Council ward for (legally) flicking ash from his car window. After challenging the fine, Mr Winspear was prosecuted and convicted at Kettering Magistrates Court and forced to pay £660.northantset.co.uk, 17 September 2008
Busking bagpiper arrested for causing ‘distress’ to local shoppers
Shaun Cartwright, a busking bagpiper, has been arrested for causing a breach of the peace. He was accused of causing ‘distress’ to shoppers, despite having made £50 in just an hour of playing. Daily Mail, 22 December 2008
Circus fans face silent comedy after ban on clowns’ Zippos Circus said it had been told by Birmingham City Council to drop a section in which its clowns play the instruments after it fell foul of the Licensing Act 2003, which requires a licence for live music. The Times, 22 September 2008
Health and safety ban on welcome doormats
Residents in a block of flats in Hampshire, have been told by Gosport Borough Council to get rid of their welcome mats because they have been deemed a health and safety trip hazard. Daily Mail, 17 November2008
Pensioner fined for littering after police knock cigarette from his hand while arresting shoplifters. A 76-year-old-man for Margate, Kent, was handed a £60 littering fine when his cigarette was knocked out of his hand by a crowd gathering to watch police arrest shoplifters. Mail on Sunday, 7th December 2008
Father of four taken to court and fined because he overfilled his wheelie-bin by four inches. Gareth Corkhill from Whitehaven in Cumbria has been forced to pay £210 by magistrates, and handed a criminal record, because his wheelie bin lid was four inches ajar. Daily Mail, 22 April 2008
Litter police fine woman £75 for dropping a morsel of sausage roll. Sarah Davies, was fined by two officials from Hull City Council’s “environmental crime unit” when she accidentally dropped a piece of sausage roll while giving it to her four-year- old daughter Chloe. She was also threatened with arrest for refusing to give her name. Daily Mail, 25th April 2008
Disabled woman fined for permit slip-up. A traffic warden in Kendal, Cumbria issued a £35 ticket to an 82-year-old sufferer of Parkinson’s disease, who was asleep in a car, because her disabled parking badge was upside down. Telegraph, 3 May 2008
Petite pensioner deemed a violent patient. Ada Tremlett, 81, who is barely 5ft tall, needs two walking sticks to get around and was recovering from a broken wrist, was officially deemed “potentially dangerous” by staff Devon County Council social services. She has since won a complete apology. Telegraph, 3 May 2008
Suffolk teenager’s chip nightmare. Teenager Jack Double was fined £50 by litter enforcement officers when he threw a bad-tasting chip to a nearby seagull on Ipswich’s Chantry Estate. Evening Star, 30 Dec 2006
Boy (12) fined while being ill.12-year-old Bradley Brooks was fined £50 after leaving a plastic drinks bottle on a telephone box while he vomited after feeling sick at a friend’s birthday party. grimsby.co.uk, October 10 2008
Man fined for swearing at TV. A man has been fined £80 for swearing at his own television while drunk. His ranting put him in breach of an ASBO that had been imposed at an earlier hearing to try to stop him shouting and swearing at the television whenever he disagreed with a programme. Telegraph, 7 Dec 2008
Metric martyr brands council rules ‘farcical’. Janet Devers was found guilty at Thames Magistrates Court on eight charges, including two for using imperial weighing scales without an official stamp. She was sentenced to a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay the prosecuting council’s costs of nearly £5,000. Telegraph, 8 Oct 2008
Off-licence staff asked two PENSIONERS for proof they were over 18
Pensioners Jennifer Rogers, 68, and Joyce Fisher, 70, were stopped trying to buy a £4 bottle of white wine at their local One Stop Shop and told to prove they were over 18 with photographic ID. Mrs Rogers’ old-style paper driving licence was refused and staff only relented when she showed her bus pass. Daily Mail, 25 Jan 2009
Ambulance given parking ticket An ambulance was given a parking ticket while its paramedic driver collected medicine in Kingston-upon Thames. Telegraph, 21 Dec 2008
Nurse suspended for prayer offer A community nurse has been suspended by North Somerset Primary Care Trust for offering to pray for a 79-year-old patient. Caroline Petrie has been accused of not showing “personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity” Daily Mirror, 3 Feb 2009
Boy threatened with fine for putting up missing pet posters 13-year old Daniel Cope was accused of ‘fly-posting’ and threatened with a £80 fine by Canterbury Council when he put up posters near his home to find his lost cat Milly. Daily Mirror, 5 Sept 2008
Vicar taking funeral gets parking fine. A vicar in Torquay was given a parking ticket while conducting the funeral service for a friend, because his disabled drivers badge was displayed incorrectly. Daily Express, 29 Jan 2009
Toddler fined £80 for dropping two crisps. Grandmother Barbara Jubb was fined £80 for littering after her 20-month-year-old granddaughter dropped two crisps on the pavement as Mrs Jubb was returning from a hospital appointment in Crawley, West Sussex. Daily Mail, 17 May 2007
Teenager arrested for growling at a dog. Kyle Little was arrested for growling and barking at two Labradors. He was then convicted by magistrates of causing harassment, alarm or distress and ordered to pay a £50 fine and £150 costs. Daily Mail, 28 April 2007
Pensioner banned over speed trap alert Pensioner Stuart Harding,71, was convicted of wilfully obstructing a constable in the execution of his duty, banned from driving and ordered to pay court costs after he set up a sign warning motorists of a police speed trap. The court also confiscated Mr Harding’s sign and ordered it to be destroyed. Telegraph, 11 June 2004
A toy go-kart? You’re nicked! A Staffordshire police officer pulled up three boys riding a home made go-kart and said they were breaking the law because they hadn’t got a tax disc insurance, and then sent a letter to their parents informing them that their sons were guilty of anti social behaviour. Daily Mail, 1 May 2007
Four police officers t tackle boy, 11, who called schoolmate ‘gay’ Police sent two officers to the home of a 11-year-old-boy’s home, and two to his primary school to investigate after he had sent an email calling one of his school friends ‘gay’. Daily Mail, 2 April 2007
Surfers could face ASBOs for cutting in on swimmer’s waves
Police in Cornwall are considering sending community support officers to patrol the beach if surfers continue to cut in on swimmer’s waves. The surfers risk being taken to court and issued with an ASBO if the problem persists. Telegraph 19 Sept 2008
Neighbour must not laugh or stare. Stuart Hunt, from Drumnadrochit in Inverness-shire, has received an ASBO banning him from laughing, staring or slowly clapping his hands at anyone following a dispute with neighbours over speed bumps. Scotsman, 24 Oct 2008
Council bans mourners from laying artificial flowers on graves - because of the health and safety risk North East Lincolnshire Council have banned the use of artificial flowers, pottery and glass items at Grimsby Crematorium’s Garden of Remembrance warns on the grounds of health and safety. Daily Mail, 5 Jan 2009
Shopkeepers banned from serving customers glass of mulled wine. SA store owner in Anstruther, Fife, was banned from serving their customers a glass of mulled wine, and told he needed to apply for an alcohol licence if he wanted to offer customers a festive treat. Telegraph, 24 Dec 2008
Fight against pub music red-tape Licensees face having to provide detailed information, including names, ages, and contact details of promoters and performers, every time a live music event or other entertainment is staged. Other details, such as music style and target audience are also required on the document, known as Form 696. Morning Advertiser, 14 Jan 2009