The front page headline of today’s Guardian:
Government wants personal details of every traveller
“Passengers travelling between EU countries or taking domestic flights would have to hand over a mass of personal information, including their mobile phone number and credit card details, as part of a new package of security measures being demanded by the British government. The data would be stored for 13 years and used to “profile” suspects.”
The data is the same as demanded by the Department of Homeland Security for flights between Europe and the US. Brussels officials are already proposing collecting the same information on every air passenger entering or leaving the EU but Britain wants the system extended to sea and rail travel, domestic flights and those between EU countries. Furthermore, the British Government wants the system to be used for “more general public policy purposes” besides fighting terrorism and organised crime.
We are not told what these purposes are and how they will be helped by collecting such important personal data.
As regards fighting terrorism, which is the governments stock excuse for all their assaults on civil liberty, how is it going to work? I presume the idea is that if someone has been buying products that could be used to make a bomb (fertiliser, flour, peroxide, timers – ie all kinds of innocent purchases) they will get a special going over by the security services. If their mobile phone records show them as contacting numbers already considered dodgy by the Security Services, this will also attract attention.
The obvious problem is who is considered dodgy? We are led to assume Islamic fundementalists but in the past Special Branch have considered CND acivists, Trade Unionists and Labour Party members to fit the bill of potential subversives. According to Michael Moore, the Deparment of Homeland Security has put members of the American Green Party on its no-fly list.
In any event it seems to be that it will be easy for genuine terrorists to avoid this surveillance:-
1. Travel by private car wherever possible.
2. Have two credit cards and two mobile phones, one of each to be used for terrorist purposes and the other kept for innocent purposes. When travelling, offer up the details of the innocent card and phone.
So this government crap will not prevent terrorist atrocities. What it will do is store lots of personal information that will be highly useful to fraudsters and identity thieves. Remember the loss of personal details of millions of families receiving child benefit? I think it can be safely said that there will be many more such data losses, while terrorists remain free to go about their ghastly business because the police are too busy reading through the credit card purchases of innocent people.
Meanwhile, the conviction of Mark Dixie for the murder of Sally Anne Bowman and Steve Wright for the murder of Tania Nicol, Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Annette Nicholls and Paula Clennell has predicatably fuelled demands for a national DNA register since both convictions were based on DNA evidence.
This sounds like a no-brainer but DNA evidence is not the magic bullet it is made out to be. We all shed DNA all the time in the form of hair and skin flakes. Someone sitting on the train seat you have just vacated will pick up some of your DNA from it. If he goes to to commit a crime, he could leave some of your DNA there as well as his own. Or a crime could be commited somewhere you have passed through previously. Your DNA will be picked up by the Scene of Crime Officers. As far as they are concerned, you were at the crime scene and it will be up to you to prove you were not.
Both of these measures move the burden of proof from prosecution to defense – guilt is assumed unless the accused can prove otherwise. We are in danger of giving up our liberty to purchase safety and as Thomas Jefferson pointed out 230 years ago, if we do that we will have neither.