Jailed For Blogging

The Prime Minister should put human rights and international law at the centre of her talks with Saudi Arabia’s government this week, regarding the whole region she is visiting.

Numerous human rights organisations, including the UNHRC and Amnesty International, have documented the dictatorial Saudi monarchy’s shocking human rights record.

The Saudi-led coalition bombing in Yemen, backed by the British government, has left thousands dead, 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and three million refugees uprooted from their homes.

Yemen urgently needs a ceasefire, a political settlement, and food aid, not more bombing. British-made weapons are being used in a war which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

Britain must halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately, throw its weight behind a ceasefire resolution at the United Nations and back a full and genuinely independent investigation of the evidence of war crimes in Yemen.

As it stands, the British-Saudi relationship is damaging to the people of Saudi Arabia, Britain and the wider Middle East, and helping to export insecurity to the rest of the world.

Unless the Prime Minister challenges the Saudi regime over its abuses this week, it will be clear she is ready to sacrifice human rights and security on the altar of the arms trade.

However, it is on of Saudi Arabia’s neighbours – The UAE – and in particular Ahmed Mansoor I want to speak about. He was the last human rights activist working freely in the United Arab Emirates – until a fortnight ago, when security forces stormed his home in the middle of the night. He was arrested and thrown in jail. His crime? Standing up for rights.

Ahmed Mansoor was at home when, at midnight on 20 March, twelve members of the state security forces burst in. They searched his house, confiscated his family’s phones and other electronic devices – and took Ahmed away with them. Ahmed and his family didn’t know what was going on. His wife and children had no idea where he was for over a week.

The week after his arrest, authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) confirmed that they had charged Ahmed with ‘cybercrimes’ and revealed that he is jailed in an Abu Dhabi prison. Ahmed still hasn’t been able to contact his family directly to confirm this.

Ahmed is an award-winning blogger and regularly posts about human rights issues in the UAE on social media. For that, he has been charged with ‘promoting false and shaded information through the Internet and serving agendas aimed at spreading hatred and sectarianism’.

This shouldn’t be an offense – but the UAE authorities are notorious for unfairly punishing people like Ahmed who speak up for citizens’ rights. Ahmed has committed no crime. Call for his freedom now.

Stand with Ahmed – call for his release by signing this petition.

Until his arrest, Ahmed was the last person in the UAE working openly to stand up for human rights in the country. For this, he had endured years of harassment from state officials. Over the years, he has worked closely with Amnesty and the UN to report on the state of rights in the UAE. We need to ensure that his voice isn’t silenced.

Article 50 & Human Rights

So it’s official, the Prime Minister has triggered Article 50 and we are leaving the European Union.

Following last June’s decision to leave the EU there’s been much speculation over what this will actually mean for the UK and those living here. Almost every time we turn on the television, pick up a newspaper or go online we are invited to listen to politicians, pundits and an array of experts give us their thoughts.

What is absent from these debates is any meaningful consideration of what Brexit means for human rights. It could be positive – the government could choose to use this as an opportunity to strengthen the rights that we have fought long and hard for. Or it could not be.

One thing’s for sure: we will be fighting to ensure that all human rights are protected and safeguarded as the UK negotiates its exit. Here are just a few of the things to watch out for.

Ensuring EU migrants have the right to remain

On 7 March the House of Lords voted to change the Bill that would launch the process of leaving the EU – they asked for it to offer EU nationals already living here confirmation that they would be able to continue doing so.

On 13 March Parliament voted to reject this change.

This is a great disappointment and sends a worrying signal that rights will be dragged into the exit negotiations. That people and their families will become bargaining chips as the government determines the terms on which we will leave the EU.

To send a clear signal that they won’t trade away our rights the government must resolve this insecurity as a priority.

Sign Amnesty’s petition to David Davis demanding that the UK protects the rights of those who have made the UK their home


Coming together

In the wake of the referendum we, as a nation, saw a shocking rise in reports of racist and xenophobic incidents.

During it we witnessed unedifying and morally bankrupt language being used by some politicians and the media.

As Article 50 is triggered, we need to come together to show that this is not what a post-EU UK looks like.

Those involved in the political debate or seeking to influence negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal must not resort to inflammatory and toxic language. In our communities and on our streets, we must treat each other with respect.

We must come together and stand against hate.

The impact on UK law

From protecting the rights of women and girls, LGBTI communities, workers’ rights and our rights to privacy, to the mechanisms that work to control the arms trade – many of the rights protections we have in the UK have come from the EU.

These are our rights and we must work together to defend them – to ensure they are maintained once we leave.

Ripples around the world

Just as we look to protect our rights here in the UK, we must also explore the global impact Britain’s withdrawal from the EU could have.

Prime Minister Theresa May recently embarked on a branding exercise promoting a post Brexit Britain that will engage across the world and be prepared to stand up for its principles. But we are yet to have a clearly defined picture of what this Global Britain will look like. We’ll be working to make sure it is a positive force for human rights – leading by example and raising the bar.

As part of this, we want the government to ensure the UK’s well-established position on several key international bodies – including the UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council, NATO, the Commonwealth, G7 and G20 – is used to seize new opportunities to promote and enhance human rights as they establish relationships and alliances with others.

Don’t trade away rights

The Prime Minister has said that the UK ‘…should seize the opportunity to get out into the world: yes, to build new alliances but more importantly, to go even further in working with old friends…’

And the government has wasted no time in catching up with old friends or building new alliances. Ministers have been jetting here there and everywhere as they seek to secure trade deals and establish bilateral relationships. They’ve been busy visiting Turkey, Bahrain, USA, UAE and will soon be off to China.

Trade and security are no doubt legitimate pursuits of the government. But we all need to be alert to them being used as an excuse to de-prioritise or turn a blind eye to human rights.

Over the last few decades Amnesty UK have worked hard to ensure human rights concerns sit at the heart of the arms trade – and the trade in military, security and police equipment more broadly. We have worked with partners across the world to ensure that trade is not done where there is risk that it could contribute to human rights abuses.

Many of these checks and balances sit within EU mechanisms, and the UK government must maintain its commitment to them as we leave.

Trade, security and human rights should be complementary, not mutually exclusive. The government must not be tempted to be silent on human rights issues to secure trade deals.

An opportunity

Over the next two years, as the government negotiates the terms on which we leave the EU, we will be fighting to ensure no existing rights are lost.

But more than that, we want the government to use this as an opportunity. They could improve our rights. They could strengthen protections and commitments. And we will not stop fighting until this is what a post-EU UK looks like.

Are you with me?

Sign Amnesty’s petition to David Davis demanding that the UK protects the rights of those who have made the UK their home

Dreaming Of A World Without Borders: Utopian Visions From The Past

I found the below article on theconversation.com – I will credit it with appropriate Canonicals, but I wanted to share it here, on my blog – If I have done anything wrong then please let me know. But, with Brexit, Mayism & Trumpism at the forefront of the western political psyche, I thought it a poignant post.

In the age of heavily restricted migration, passport control seems a natural prerogative of the state. The idea of abolishing passports is almost unthinkable. But in the 20th century, governments considered their “total abolition” as an important goal, and even discussed the issue at several international conferences.

The first passport conference was held in Paris in 1920, under the auspices of the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations). Part of the Committee on Communication and Transit’s aim was to restore the pre-war regime of freedom of movement.

Indeed, for much of the 19th century, as an International Labour Organisation report stated in 1922:

Migration was generally speaking, unhindered and each emigrant could decide on the time of his departure, his arrival or his return, to suit his own convenience.

But the World War I brought harsh restrictions on freedom of movement.

In 1914, warring states France, Germany, and Italy were the first to make passports mandatory, a measure rapidly followed by others, including the neutral states of Spain, Denmark and Switzerland.

At the end of the war, the regime of obligatory passports was widespread. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which established the League of Nations, stipulated that member states commit to “secure and maintain freedom of communications and of transit”.

Freedom of movement was on the agenda at the Treaty of Versailles. Imperial War Museum London

Fences are easier to build than to dismantle. The 1920 Paris conference recognised that restrictions on freedom of movement affect “personal relations between the peoples of various countries” and “constitute a serious obstacle to the resumption of normal intercourse and to the economic recovery of the world”.

But its delegates also assumed that security concerns prevented:

for the time being, the total abolition of restrictions and the complete return to pre-war conditions which the Conference hopes, nevertheless, to see gradually re-established in the near future.

To facilitate freedom of movement, participants agreed instead to establish a uniform, international passport, issued for a single journey or for a period two years. This is how we ended up with the format of the passports we use today.

Participants also decided to abolish exit visas and decrease the cost of entry visas.

Close but no cigar

During the conferences that followed, several resolutions again highlighted the goal of abolishing passports, but concluded that the time was not yet right. In 1924, the International Conference of Emigration and Immigration in Rome maintained that “the necessity of obtaining passports should be abolished as soon as possible” but in the meantime advocated other measures to facilitate travel. These measures included an increase in the number of offices delivering passports, allowing emigrants to save time and money.

In Geneva in 1926, Polish delegate, Franciszek Sokal, opened proceedings by bluntly asking the parties to adopt “as a general rule that all States Members of the League of Nations should abolish passports”.

At that time, passports and visas were still regarded as a serious obstacle to freedom of movement, as a Mr Junod from the International Chamber of Commerce said:

Could not the Conference adopt a resolution contemplating the abolition of passports at the earliest possible date? Public opinion would regard this as a step in the right direction.

But by then, most governments had already adopted the uniform passport and some of them saw it as an important document that was meant to protect emigrants. As the Italian delegate reminded the conference that conditions had changed after the war and the passport was “particularly necessary as an identification document for workers and their families; it provided them with the protection they needed, enabled them to obtain permits of sojourn.”

Another delegate alluded to the Soviet Union when he refused to restore the pre-war regime. He said:

conditions had changed so much since the war that everyone had to take into consideration a good many things they could formerly ignore.

Passports were never supposed to be forever. www.shutterstock.com

Discussions about passport abolition resumed after World War II.

In 1947, the first problem considered at an expert meeting preparing for the UN World Conference on Passports and Frontier Formalities, was “the possibility of a return to the regime which existed before 1914 involving as a general rule the abolition of any requirement that travelers should carry passports”.

But delegates ultimately decided that a return to a passport-free world could only happen alongside a return to the global conditions that prevailed before the start of the first world war. By 1947, that was a distant dream. The experts advised instead a series of bilateral and multilateral agreements to attain this goal.

World leaders were still talking about banning passports as late as 1963, when the UN Conference on International Travel and Tourism recognised “the desirability, from both an economic and social point, of progressively freer international travel”. Once again, it was estimated that “it is not feasible to recommend the abolition of passports on a world-wide basis.”

Now, neither the public nor governments consider passports as a serious obstacle to freedom of movement, though any would-be traveller from Yemen, Afghanistan or Somalia would no doubt argue differently.

It takes less than a century, it seems, to see the absence of freedom as a natural condition.

Letter #9

Dear Andrew Jones MP,

The Leave Campaign promised that Brexit would not mean stripping EU citizens of their rights – and polling shows the British public overwhelmingly agrees. Yet still the Government refuses to reassure EU citizens as to their rights to remain in the UK.

There may not be much that opposing sides of the Brexit debate agree on, but this issue has inspired support across political lines.

Last week in an amendment to the Brexit Bill, the House of Lords demanded that the Government guarantee the rights of EU nationals.

Reports* from Parliamentary committees and advisors have called for the Government to do the right thing and protect EU citizens’ right to remain. The British public, so divided on Brexit itself, agree – with 77 per cent of those who voted to leave the EU and 84 per cent of the UK public agreeing Brexit wasn’t about stripping EU nationals of their rights (survey by Common Vision).

Yet the Government continues to use people as bargaining chips in their Brexit negotiations.

Meanwhile around 3 million EU nationals living in the UK (and many UK nationals living abroad) watch nervously as politicians play fast and loose with their future.

As the vote moves to the House of Commons, I am writing to you as my MP to ensure that EU subjects are not treated as bargaining chips in an ill-thought out game. Andrew, please write back to me and say ‘together, we will stand up for EU nationals and ensure that fairness and human rights are at the heart of the negotiations.’

Yours faithfully,

Andrew Backhouse

* Reports are found here –

1) https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201617/ldselect/ldeucom/82/82.pdf
2) https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201617/jtselect/jtrights/695/695.pdf

An Open Letter To The White House

Dear President Trump,

The newly legistalted travel ban and the far-reaching changes to the US refugee admission programme will have a drastic impact on some of the most vulnerable refugees in the world. Refugees due to be resettled in the US have been selected because of the gravity of the suffering they have endured while fleeing conflict and persecution. They must go through a lengthy vetting process before entering the US. With the signing of this latest Executive Order, their hopes of finally reaching safety in the US will be dashed, adding yet more needless suffering to their lives.

Attempting to justify blatant discrimination in the interests of national security is disingenuous. Playing with the lives of refugees due for resettlement is unconscionable.

People fleeing conflict and insecurity in countries like Syria, Yemen and Somalia are not a security threat; they are refugees in need of protection. Banning people from these countries will not make America safer.

Historically, the United States has been a global leader on refugee resettlement, offering protection to those most in need. I call on you to maintain this vital commitment to refugees, and urge you to immediately revoke the Executive Order, which is in violation of the principle of non-discrimination, codified in articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and which undermines the US government’s obligations in relation to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Yours sincerely,


If you, reader, want to copy and paste the above in to your own email – feel free. The address that you will need to sent it to Trump is [email protected].

Letter #8

After Kristallnacht 2017, I felt moved to write to my MP. A small measure I know – but, at the minute I am protesting within my means. I also sent a Tweet to Trump – something I had not done before, but, felt I needed to do.

Well, I have written to Andrew Jones MP, in the interests of democracy I will publish his reply in the comments section.

Dear Mr Jones MP,

The reason I am writing to you is regarding the recent visit of our Prime Minister to the White House, Washington DC. In siding with Trump, May, the leader of your party has sided with hate. There are photographs of May holding Trumps hand, and by doing so, she is tacitly saying she does not have a problem with his behaviour.

This is morally corrupt. In recent changes to the National Curriculum, our schools now teach ‘British’ Values. One of these British Values is ‘mutual respect for the tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith’.

Where does this fit in with last night’s re-enactment of Kristallnacht? We cannot sit idly by as Trump tramples the rights of those with different faiths and beliefs.

I believe that it is the job of Great Britain and the current Government to stand up for the rights of the oppressed the world over. Unfortunately, due to recent legislation from Capitol Hill, the trampled and oppressed are now people with differing faiths from Trump & Pence’s Evangelical right-wing bigotry.

It is the job of Britain to stand up for our values and for the rights of Muslims here and all around the world.

Yours Sincerely,


May In Washington

I am writing about May in Washington. Not the month. It is about the rise of Fascism in the USA that I want to dip my toe in to tonight – not a subject for the faint of heart, but this is my blog; the opinion of a thirty-something living in the north of England. Do I have a right to comment on the situation in the States? Yes. I believe I do due to my country’s ‘Special Relationship’ with the States. We have a special diplomatic relationship with the USA. The avenue I want to explore about the rise of bigotry in the USA is our Prime Minister’s visit Stateside.


noun: fascism
  1. an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.
    • (in general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practices.
      “this is yet another example of health fascism in action”


Our  Prime Minister, May, was recently over there offering 2017’s version of Nazi appeasement to a man that is not qualified to lead the free world. Trump is making the USA the most hated country in the world again due to his misogyny, vulgarity, rudeness, xenophobia, racism, bull-headedness, patronising attitude, small hands and orange face. But that cheapens the debate – I am not here to lower myself to Trump’s level and start throwing around bad names: I am here to call on my Prime Minister (the lady who should represent me) to actually represent the will of the British people.

Not once was the issue of the passing of legislation that made Muslim residents in to second class citizens brought up when she was over there. Not once was the wall brought up whilst she was over there. Not once was the issue of the repeal of funding for abortions raised. (I will bite my tongue about her visit to Turkey.)

may-in-washintonThere were millions of women marching from all over the world in protest at Trumps inauguration. The Chief Cheeto treats women as bad as he treats my Muslim friends – so, “hell hath no fury like a women scorned …” they knitted hats and they marched in every corner of the world, protesting that a man like Trump could get in to office. There was even a march in Antarctica. Then there was this picture (see right).

But more recently, Green card and visa holders were being blocked from boarding US-bound flights within hours of Donald Trump issuing an executive order limiting immigration from several Muslim countries, according to reports.

US airports were also said to have ordered some passengers who had managed to board flights to return to their point of origin, according to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

ADC’s policy director Abed Ayoub warned visas were being denied with immediate effect and the ban would also apply to green card holders attempting to return to the US overnight. Why did May not have a word with him?

Whilst she was over there, Trump was extended the invite of a State visit to this green and pleasant land. It is time to take the fight to him directly and make our feelings known to him as soon as he sets foot on British soil and until he scampers back to Washington. Yes, the bile is biting the back of my throat and I realise I may have notched up a few trigger words in the US Security sweep of the web, but, I really am concerned by the rhetoric from Capitol Hill at the moment. I fear that 2016 (with the election of Trump & Brexit) will become one of those “I wonder what I would have done in that time” questions in a time far away. My answer would be that I protested within my means.

But, is protesting within your means enough? The trending FB topic is #PunchANazi. I think I would.

  1.  I thought George W. Bush was bad.
  2. Why is our Government not doing anything to counter Trump?

May in Washington, in 2017, was very, very gloomy.

Friday 20th January 2017

For anyone concerned with human rights, there’s really only one thing to talk about today – the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

His campaign rhetoric was openly racist, sexist, disablist and bigoted. His policies clearly breach the values laid out in the US Constitution and protected by human rights laws the world over. Be under no illusion – a Trump presidency poses an acute threat to the global human rights movement.

But this isn’t just about Donald Trump. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic – using the politics of fear and division – are helping create a new normal where bigotry and extreme right-wing views and language are accepted as an everyday part of life.

The consequences of this are real and grave. Last year saw an alarming spike in hate crime following the referendum – groups I am associated with, such as Liberty & Amnesty, have been campaigning against increasingly discriminatory and divisive policy from successive UK governments for years.

Bridges Not Walls

That’s why Liberty was proud to be on Tower Bridge on the morning of the 20th January to take part in #BridgesNotWalls – an amazing display of support and solidarity for groups under attack here in the UK, across Europe and in the US.

Women’s March

Tomorrow Liberty will be at the Women’s March on London. On the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, women-led marches, welcoming all participants, will take place across the world. We’ll be marching for the protection of our fundamental rights and for the safeguarding of freedoms threatened by recent political events.

The politics of fear and division have no place in 2017

Our sister organisation the American Civil Liberties Union has wasted no time in its efforts to block Trump’s assault on liberty in the US. Liberty stands in solidarity with them, as we have so often before – because Trumpism and Mayism may be closer than we think.

A Thought For When You Wake On A Snowy Street

People are at imminent risk of freezing to death because European leaders are failing to help them. As heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures hit Greece, thousands of people are being held in makeshift detention camps on the Greek islands.

According to Amnesty UK: women, men and children could freeze to death as arctic weather sweeps across the Greek islands. Trapped in squalid detention camps, refugees are surviving in flimsy, snow-covered tents as temperatures plummet below zero. No one should be left to live or die like this.

We all have the right to seek safety, to escape war and persecution. Call on the President of the European Commission to ensure that people are moved to a safe place on the mainland now. Put human lives first – held hostage by EU policy – Thousands of lives are at risk.

These people arrived in Greece after the introduction of the EU-Turkey deal last March – a flawed pact that encourages European countries to send people seeking asylum to Turkey, infamous for it’s inhumane human rights record and forcing refugees back into war-zones.

Stuck in legal limbo and unable to leave the detention camps, people are effectively being held hostage by cruel and dysfunctional EU policies.

If you have a second, urge the European Commission to ensure that refugees are urgently moved out of the Greek islands, instead of trying to maintain a deal that has condemned thousands of people to unbearable conditions. Please urge Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, to put human lives first and provide safety for those who need it by signing this.

Snoopers’ Charter :: Effectively Unlawful

The Government IS breaking the law by indiscriminately collecting the nation’s internet activity and phone records – meaning significant parts of its new Snoopers’ Charter are effectively unlawful.

I am a member of Liberty – the Human Rights Watch, based in the UK. When Liberty, representing Tom Watson MP, launched a legal challenge two years ago, it was because they believed the Government’s surveillance practices were breaching our human rights.

Today, the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) agreed with us: the Government is breaking the law.

How is the Government breaking the law?

Under a temporary surveillance law known as the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA), the Government forced communications companies to store details of every person’s internet activity, emails, texts and phone calls.

Hundreds of organisations and government agencies – from police forces to HMRC – were allowed to grant themselves access to this data without independent sign-off and without any suspicion of serious crime.

The CJEU has now ruled that this extremely lax access regime breached British people’s rights. In fact, by allowing for the general and indiscriminate retention of every person’s data in the first place, the Government was acting unlawfully.

What does this mean for the future?

DRIPA expires on 31 December, but the Government has been busy this year with a new surveillance law – the Investigatory Powers Act (also called the Snoopers’ Charter) – passing in November.

Today’s ruling means major parts of that new Act are in effect unlawful – and the Government will need to urgently and fundamentally amend it in order to protect the rights of the British population.

What’s more, the Snoopers’ Charter replicates and vastly expands the powers set out in DRIPA including ‘internet connection records’ (ICRs). The new regime, estimated to cost £170 million, gives the Government the power to force internet service providers to retain and generate records of all customers’ internet activity. It legislates for unprecedented bulk spying powers and the creation of huge databases containing sensitive information on millions of people.

Liberty is now preparing to challenge these powers in court and our small team of expert staff will have their work cut out. If you have a moment – and are as pasionate about the fair treatment of our fellow subjects as I am, then I really recommend that you at least subscribe to Liberty’s newsletter – their site can be found here.

  • In first major post-Brexit judgment involving the UK, Court of Justice of the EU backs Tom Watson MP, represented by Liberty, in landmark challenge to Government surveillance
  • Ruling effectively means significant parts of the new Investigatory Powers Act are unlawful and must be urgently changed

The Government is breaking the law by indiscriminately collecting the nation’s internet activity and phone records and letting hundreds of public bodies grant themselves access to these personal details with no suspicion of serious crime and no independent sign-off – meaning significant parts of its new Snoopers’ Charter are effectively unlawful.

Judges at the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) have today backed a challenge by MP Tom Watson, represented by Liberty, to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) – the temporary emergency law that covers state surveillance.

DRIPA will expire on 31 December – but the Government has since replicated and vastly expanded the same powers in its new flagship surveillance law, the Investigatory Powers Act, which passed in November.

Today’s ruling means major parts of that new Act are in effect unlawful – and the Government will need to urgently and fundamentally amend it.

Martha Spurrier, Liberty’s Director, said: “Today’s judgment upholds the rights of ordinary British people not to have their personal lives spied on without good reason or an independent warrant. The Government must now make urgent changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to comply with this.

“This is the first serious post-referendum test for our Government’s commitment to protecting human rights and the rule of law. The UK may have voted to leave the EU – but we didn’t vote to abandon our rights and freedoms.”

Tom Watson MP said:

“This ruling shows it’s counter-productive to rush new laws through Parliament without a proper scrutiny.

“At a time when we face a real and ever-present terrorist threat, the security forces may require access to personal information none of us would normally hand over. That’s why it’s absolutely vital that proper safeguards are put in place to ensure this power is not abused, as it has been in the recent past.

“Most of us can accept that our privacy may occasionally be compromised in the interests of keeping us safe, but no one would consent to giving the police or the government the power to arbitrarily seize our phone records or emails to use as they see fit. It’s for judges, not Ministers, to oversee these powers. I’m pleased the court has upheld the earlier decision of the UK courts.”

Today’s ruling

DRIPA forces communications companies to store every person’s “communications data” – the who, what, when, where and how of every email, text, phone call, and internet communication, including those of lawyers, doctors, MPs and journalists.

This data is subject to an extremely lax access regime, which lets hundreds of organisations and government agencies – from police forces to HMRC – grant themselves access for a wide range of reasons that have nothing to do with investigating serious crime.

CJEU judges have ruled this regime breaches British people’s rights because it:

  • allows general and indiscriminate retention of all communications data
  • does not restrict access to this data to the purpose of preventing and detecting precisely defined serious crime.
  • lets police and public bodies authorise their own access, instead of subjecting access requests to prior authorisation by a court or independent body.
  • does not provide for notification after the event to people whose data has been accessed.
  • does not require that the data be kept within the European Union.

What this means for the Investigatory Powers Act

Since this legal challenge was launched in 2014, the Investigatory Powers Act has not only re-legislated for the powers found unlawful today, but gone much further.

The Act has dramatically expanded powers to gather data on the entire population, while maintaining the controversial lack of safeguards that resulted in this legal challenge.

Under it, the state now also has access to every person’s internet use – every website visited or app used – which service providers must generate and store for 12 months.

This creates vast databases of deeply sensitive and revealing personal information which – at a time when companies and governments are under increasingly frequent attack from hackers – creates a goldmine for criminals and foreign spies.

This data can be accessed by dozens of public authorities with no need for suspicion of criminality or prior sign-off from a judge or other independent official. These include the NHS, Department for Work and Pensions and Gambling Commission.

The Investigatory Powers Act has also legalised other unprecedented bulk spying powers – including bulk hacking, interception of phone calls and emails on an industrial scale and collection of huge databases containing sensitive information on millions of people – which could integrate records such as Oyster card logs and Facebook back-ups.

Liberty believes these indiscriminate powers are also unlawful and is preparing to challenge them in court.

Public Space Protection Orders

Despite the success of Liberty and grassroots campaigners, towns and cities across the country continue to implement Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) which chip away at civil liberties.

PSPOs allow councils to criminalise activities which have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life on those in the locality”. Breaching this legislation can mean an on the spot fine of up to £100, with a Magistrates Court appearance and a £1000 penalty if the original fine isn’t paid.

In the past month, Liberty has been in contact with both Newcastle City Council and Rushcliffe Borough Council warning that their plans to criminalise those sleeping rough are misguided and potentially unlawful.

Newcastle hopes to simply ban “aggressive begging”,  but has a city-wide ban on sleeping rough buried within its text. Rushcliffe Borough Council says it aims to stop people littering, urinating or behaving aggressively. But these activities are not specifically tied to sleeping on the streets – and are either already criminal offences or could be specifically prohibited under a PSPO.

Gravesham Borough Council has already adopted a PSPO with bans on lying down or sleeping in any public place – including Woodlands Park. When Liberty expressed their concerns, a council representative said not to worry as enforcement officers will use their “common sense”.

The council has since employed Kingdom Security to enforce the other aspects of its PSPO. Under a Freedom of Information Act request Liberty discovered the authority pays the firm £45 for every correct issued fine – directly incentivising enforcement officers to issue as many as possible.

Kingdom’s operations in nearby Maidstone – where it keeps 50 per cent of money received from fines – where recently suspended after a resident was charged £80 for littering when she was actually just feeding the ducks.

Reports (again – from Liberty) suggest Gravesham Council is now also locked in a dispute with Kingdom over it’s activities.

Liberty has written to the council asking for a firm commitment that Kingdom will never be permitted to enforce the PSPO in relation to those sleeping rough. Liberty await a response and I will, if I hear about the response, post it in the comments section of this blog post.

Until the Government scraps the power to create PSPOs once and for all, vulnerable people will continue to suffer at the hands of those who are supposed to support them