Category Archives: Right to privacy

Police forces pay £25million to informants and nearly half is spent by London’s Met 

Police forces pay £25million to informants and nearly half is spent by London’s Met  

By Martin Robinson, Daily Mail, 18 June 2013

Informants have been paid more than £25million for snitching to police in the past five years.
Despite facing massive cuts and thousands of jobs being at threat, new figures show the overall spend by forces has only decreased by £1million a year since 2008.

There are also concerns about safety, after Met informant Kester David, 53, was found burned to death two years ago and another force was fined for losing a memory stick containing a list of their informants.

Scotland Yard has spent more than any other force in England and Wales, with its costs over five years topping £9million.

In total £25,268,798.40 has been spent by England and Wales’ 43 police forces, with more than £4million being spent on average each year.

Police informant Kester David, 53, was found burned to death under railway arches in north London two years ago

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has today defended the practice of paying informants, or Covert Human Intelligence Sources as they are officially known, saying it is ‘vital’ in bringing criminals to justice.
Commander Richard Martin, ACPO lead for covert human intelligence, said: ‘The use of informants to assist in police investigations is one of many covert methods used to gather intelligence to aid forces in defending and protecting the public.

‘Each force has a rigorous chain of command in place to ensure proper management of informants and decide appropriate levels of reward. We are looking to protect our neighbourhoods from harm and to ensure that when and where we use sources, we are tackling the serious crimes that damage our communities.’

In responses to Freedom of Information requests, the forces refused to reveal how much was paid to each individual informant as it may lead to their identification.They said where an informant is identified it can endanger them. 

Other than the Met, West Midlands Police was the only force who spent in excess of £1million over the five year period. In total 11 forces spent more than £500,000. 

Warwickshire Police paid just £63,679.06 over the five years, the least out of all the forces.

Metropolitan Police: £9,098,058.

West Midlands Police: £1,461,311

Greater Manchester Police: £991,681.28

South Yorkshire Police: £893,375

Northumbria Police: £809,416

Thames Valley Police: £764,509

West Yorkshire: £736,684.70

Lancashire Constabulary: £672,678

Nottinghamshire Police: £605,508

Devon and Cornwall Police: £564,352

Last year Greater Manchester Police were fined £120,000 by the Information Commissioner after the details of 1,075 informants on a memory stick was lost.

Police forces are audited on their use of informants and is inspected annually by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners to ensure they’re not breaking the law. 

The family of one informant who was found burned to death under a bridge in North London three years ago said that he was murdered, but the Met Police have stated his death was unexplained.

Kester David, 53, from Wood Green, North London, was killed by a criminal gang after acting as a police informant. 

A new investigation was ordered last year after it was ruled that there were errors in the original police investigation.

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Secret industry databank in U.K. on militant trade unionists

Six years and still waiting: the legal implications of blacklisting

Blacklisted 2

by Dave Smith, The Justice Gap, March 6, 2015

The construction industry blacklist has appeared regularly in the media since it was discovered in 2009 following a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Over 40 of the UK’s largest contractors held a covert database of trade unionists who had complained about unpaid wages or safety on building sites through an organisation called The Consulting Association.The database was used to check whenever workers applied to work on major projects and resulted in sackings and repeated refusals of employment over a period of decades. All this was meticulously recorded on 3,213 files using secret codes for the companies and the senior directors who oversaw he operation, with invoices sent for usage. You might have thought, that with mountains of documents, the individuals who had suffered would easily find a legal remedy to achieve some kind of justice. If only.

Initially hundreds of blacklisted workers applied for their files from the ICO and were supplied with what appeared to be prima facie evidence of unfair dismissal and various other forms of victimisation and discrimination. In the summer of 2009, there were a flurry of Employment Tribunal claims submitted and by November that year, when a collective case management discussion was held in Manchester, the blacklisted workers and their lawyers were optimistic of their prospects.

 Demo outside parliament, TUC Day of Action on Blacklisting in 2012

That optimism didn’t last very long. Within months, virtually every ET claim had been thrown out without the evidence even being heard in open court. The reason relates to time-limits.

Every ET claim needs to be submitted within three months of the incident taking place. This is a very strict rule and only in exceptional circumstances will the three months be extended (for instance if someone has been hospitalised for the entire period). In the blacklisting cases, the acts of discrimination or unfair dismissals complained about had not taken place three months earlier but sometimes three decades ago.

The claimants argued that deliberate deception by the blacklisting firms meant that it was not ‘reasonably practicable’ for them to claim at the time of the incident. The courts accepted this but the law does not state how long an extension should be granted for.

In every case, the claimants completed their applications within a few weeks of receiving their file and in most cases well within the three months allowed in normal circumstances. But when Judge Brain sitting alone in Manchester heard the cases, he dismissed every single claim based upon the time-limit rule. The written judgements claim that even though he was willing to grant an extension, this should amount to only a few days. The decision as to how long an extension to grant is entirely in the hands of the judge. It was within his power to allow some leniency to ex-construction workers with no legal training who had completed the tribunal forms themselves. But he decided not to and only five cases ever made it to a full hearing.

'Blacklisted' book cover - more

Of these, three cases supported by the UNITE union were successful and the workers won compensation of a few thousand pounds because of a specific incidence of unfair dismissal or failure to appoint due to union membership. Sometimes the workers had suffered years of unemployment due to the blacklist, yet the compensation equated to no more than a few weeks lost wages.

The remaining two cases both lost because of ‘employee status’. In both cases, Dooley v Balfour Beatty and Smith v Carillion the companies admitted using the Consulting Association database to blacklist the union activists but won the court case because neither worker was directly employed by the main contractor that carried out the blacklisting. Dooley worked for a brickwork sub-contractor and Smith for an employment agency. In UK employment law, legal rights such as redundancy, unfair dismissal and victimisation for raising safety concerns only apply to direct employees. The impact for millions of casualised agency workers or those on zero hours contracts effectively have little or no employment rights – even where they have documentary evidence and when employers admit the victimisation.

Dave Smith (second from right) with legal team from Smith v Carillion test case.  (L-R) Declan Owens, David Renton, Smith, and John Hendy QC   (all acting pro-bono via the Free Representation Unit)

The Smith v Carillion case has been appealed using the Human Rights Act, all the way to the Court of Appeal. The legal argument being that blacklisting is a breach of Article 8 (privacy) and Article 11 (freedom of association) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Human rights are supposed to apply to everyone not just a particular category of employee. So either the agency worker should be protected or else UK employment law does not comply with the ECHR, and should therefore be amended. In February 2015, the UK government even intervened in the case against Smith. The reserved judgement is expected within the next few months. There are currently two cases submitted to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg, the judgements in these cases are not expected for several years.

The Smith v Carillion test case has taken six years and had nearly 20 days in court, with QCs representing on both sides. The legal fees alone would financially ruin most and are another very real barrier to justice for working people.

The final throw of the legal dice is the ‘group litigation’ currently at the High Court. This is equivalent to a US style class action and is arguing that the Consulting Association was an unlawful conspiracy and claiming damages for loss of earnings and defamation. Around 500 workers are up against all the major blacklisting companies. The legal bills have already exceeded £10million and the trial date is not even confirmed yet but is likely to be in the summer of 2016.

Six years of legal battle and no real end in sight. Many have passed away in the process. Whatever the legal outcome, it will not be real justice.

U.K. Supreme Court grants “judicial approval for the mass surveillance of UK protest movements”

Supreme Court grants “judicial approval for the mass surveillance of UK protest movements”

Surveillance at June 2014 London austerity march

This morning the UK Supreme Court delivered a ruling that amounts to what Netpol describes as “judicial approval for the mass surveillance of UK protest movements”.

This decision is the result of an appeal by the Metropolitan Police against a decision in March 2013 that its secretive ‘domestic extremist’ surveillance unit had unlawfully recorded the political activities of Brighton peace campaigner John Catt.

Back in December last year, when Netpol was granted the right to intervene in the Supreme Court hearing, we warned that a victory for the Metropolitan police would “make it significantly easier for intelligence-gathering officers to continue to obtain and retain data about protesters on an almost industrial scale.”

Today’s ruling does exactly this: it allows the police extraordinary discretion to obtain and retain the personal information of protesters whenever they consider it useful for purposes that are never fully defined, but that include investigating the ‘links between protest groups’ and their ‘organisation and leadership’. The Supreme Court has accepted that no further justification is apparently required.

We believe their judgement amounts to judicial approval for the mass surveillance of UK protest movements. It affirms the Metropolitan Police’s stated belief that anyone taking part in a public protest has no reasonable expectation of privacy.

The Supreme Court appears to view the deletion of John Catt’s ‘nominal’ records from the domestic extremism database as a significant indication of an “intensive regime of statutory and administrative regulation”. However, his data was erased long after he stumbled upon evidence that he had been targeted for surveillance and and only after he submitted a request for the specific information held on him. The judgment fails to understand that whilst the Data Protection Act 1998 does, in theory, allow individuals to obtain information held about them by the police, intelligence-gathering itself remains highly secretive and the process for challenging it is deeply flawed.

The Supreme Court says that overt intelligence-gathering “has never been concealed from those who wish to know about these matters”. Netpol’s experience working with campaigners to obtain alleged ‘domestic extremist’ data suggests the exact opposite. It is normal for a request for personal information to take months longer than the statutory maximum of 40 days and if it is eventually provided, any detail is often partial and incomplete.

This Court’s ruling means many activists must repeatedly resubmit requests if they want to check that any new data about them on police files is not, as we have often seen, either inaccurate or misleading. It is extremely unlikely that most have the time or patience to keep doing so.

This case also demonstrates the limits of relying on the courts to protect against unwarranted police surveillance. It reinforces our belief that activists must take their own steps to prevent the gathering of so-called ‘intelligence’ in the first place.

A copy of the Supreme Court judgement is available here.


In a press release issued by his solicitors Bhatt Murphy, John Catt has confirmed his intention to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. He said:

“Four senior judges have found that my rights have been violated unlawfully, whilst four others have disagreed.  I cannot agree that the police in this country should be trusted with information about innocent people’s lawful political activities. In my view, without a new system of rules governing police surveillance, there is too much scope for the police to abuse their powers.  I am therefore left with no option but to take this matter to the European Court of Human Rights for the sake of other innocent people whose lawful political activities are being monitored by the state.

John’s solicitor Shamik Dutta said:

“Mr Catt has instructed me to seek a ruling from the European Court that by monitoring and retaining information about people’s lawful political activities the UK is violating the privacy rights of its citizens”.

NeoConOpticon: The EU Security-Industrial Complex

NeoConOpticon: The EU Security-Industrial Complex

Transnational Institute in Association with Statewatch, 2006

This report was produced by Ben Hayes for Statewatch and the Transnational Institute. Additional research was conducted by Max Rowlands and Fiona O’Malley of Statewatch, while Tony Bunyan and Trevor Hemmings (also Statewatch) provided a constant stream of invaluable comments, information and guidance (several sections also draw heavily on Tony Bunyan’s columns for the Guardian newspaper’s ‘Liberty Central’ website). The information and analysis provided by Frank Slijper (Dutch Campaign Against the Arms Trade and TNI), Matthias (from Gipfelsoli), and Kamil Mraijcek (ECCHR) was also invaluable, as was Thomas Mathiesen’s advice in respect to the variations on the ‘Panopticon’ discussed in this report.

In 2006, Statewatch and the Transnational Institute published Arming Big Brother, a briefing paper examining the development of the European Union’s Security Research Programme (ESRP). The ESRP is a seven year, €1.4 billion programme predicated on the need to deliver new security enhancing technologies to the Union’s member states in order to protect EU citizens from every conceivable threat to their security (understood here purely in terms of bodily safety).

The ESRP also has the explicit aim of fostering the growth of a lucrative and globally competitive ‘homeland security’ industry in Europe. To this end, a number of prominent European corporations from the defence and IT sectors have enjoyed unprecedented involvement in the development of the security ‘research’ agenda.

Arming Big Brother set out a number of concerns about the pending ESRP, including the implicit threat posed to civil liberties and fundamental rights by EU ‘research’ into surveillance and other security technologies. The report was also highly critical of the corporate influence on the EU security research programme and warned of various dangers in actively pursuing a ‘security-industrial complex’ in Europe.

This follow-up report contains new research showing how the European Security Research Programme continues to be shaped by prominent transnational defence and security corporations and other vested interests. Though technically a Research and Development (R&D) programme, the ESRP is heavily focused on the application of security technologies (rather than objective research per se ), and is increasingly aligned with EU policy in the fields of justice and home affairs (JHA, the ‘third pillar’), security and external defence (CFSP, the ‘second pillar’).

Governmental spending on products and services for homeland security should reach $141.6bn worldwide in 2009… The high priority given to homeland security has made that market one of the few recession-resistant sectors of the defence industry, some experts believe. (Visiongain Market Research, 2009 Global Homeland Security 2009-2019, ASD reports, see:

Read the entire report:


Western spy agencies build ‘cyber magicians’ to manipulate online discourse

Western spy agencies build ‘cyber magicians’ to manipulate online discourse

Published time: February 25, 2014 03:40

Satellite dishes are seen at GCHQ’s outpost at Bude, close to where trans-Atlantic fibre-optic cables come ashore in Cornwall, southwest England (Reuters/Kieran Doherty)

Secret units within the ‘Five Eyes” global spying network engage in covert online operations that aim to invade, deceive, and control online communities and individuals through the spread of false information and use of ingenious social-science tactics.

Such teams of highly trained professionals have several main objectives, such as “to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet” and “to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable,” The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald reported based on intelligence documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The new information comes via a document from the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) of Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), entitled ‘The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations,’ which is top secret and only for dissemination within the Five Eyes intelligence partnership that includes Britain, the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

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The document outlines what tactics are used to achieve JTRIG’s main objectives. Among those tactics that seek to “discredit a target” include “false flag operations” (posting material online that is falsely attributed to a target), fake victim blog posts (writing as a victim of a target to disseminate false information), and posting “negative information” wherever pertinent online.

Other discrediting tactics used against individuals include setting a “honey-trap” (using sex to lure targets into compromising situations), changing a target’s photo on a social media site, and emailing or texting “colleagues, neighbours, friends etc.”

To “discredit a company,” GCHQ may “leak confidential information to companies/the press via blog…post negative information on appropriate forums [or] stop deals/ruin business relationships.”

JTRIG’s ultimate purpose, as defined by GCHQ in the document, is to use “online techniques to make something happen in the real world or cyber world.” These online covert actions follow the “4 D’s:” deny, disrupt, degrade, deceive.

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As Greenwald pointed out, the tactics employed by JTRIG are not used for spying on other nations, militaries, or intelligence services, but for “traditional law enforcement” against those merely suspected of crimes. These targets can include members of Anonymous, “hacktivists,” or really any person or entity GCHQ deems worthy of antagonizing.

“[I]t is not difficult to see how dangerous it is to have secret government agencies being able to target any individuals they want – who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes – with these sorts of online, deception-based tactics of reputation destruction and disruption,” Greenwald wrote.

In addition, the targets do not need to have ties to terror activity or pose any national security threat. More likely, targets seem to fall closer to political activists that may have, for instance, used “denial of service” tactics, popular with Anonymous and hacktivists, which usually do only a limited amount of damage to a target.

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“These surveillance agencies have vested themselves with the power to deliberately ruin people’s reputations and disrupt their online political activity even though they’ve been charged with no crimes, and even though their actions have no conceivable connection to terrorism or even national security threats,” Greenwald wrote.

In addition to the personal attacks on targets, JTRIG also involves the use of psychological and social-science tactics to steer online activism and discourse. The document details GCHQ’s “Human Science Operations Cell,” which focuses on “online human intelligence” and “strategic influence and disruption” that are used to dissect how targets can be manipulated using “leaders,” “trust,” “obedience,” and “compliance.”

Using tested manipulation tactics, JTRIG attempts to influence discourse and ultimately sow discord through deception.

When reached for comment by The Intercept, GCHQ avoided answering pointed questions on JTRIG while insisting its methods were legal.

“It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position,” GCHQ stated.


Surveilling UK Muslims ‘cradle to grave’

Surveilling UK Muslims ‘cradle to grave’

New report details ‘McCarthy-like’ police surveillance and discrimination against the Muslim community
Simon Hooper – 26 Feb 2014 12:21
London, United Kingdom – Muhammad still does not know for sure why British counter-terrorism police came to the door of his east London home shortly before dawn one morning in March 2012.

It was 5:30am on the day of Muhammad and his wife’s third wedding anniversary. The couple’s two young children were sleeping in their cots, and his elderly parents were also visiting.

“My mum woke me up, saying: ‘There are police at the door. Get up! Get up!’ My wife grabbed her headscarf and we all went into the living room,” Muhammad told Al Jazeera, requesting only his first name be used for legal reasons.

“I counted 12 police officers in there and there were others lurking in the other rooms. They said they had a warrant to raid my house and my car.”

As police searched the property, Muhammad’s father suffered a heart attack. An ambulance was called to take him to hospital. The police eventually left at 2am the following morning, taking with them money, documents, electrical equipment, phones and Muhammad’s passport.

Muhammad, a British-born Muslim of Bangladeshi origin in his late 20s, was not arrested, detained or questioned as a result of the raid. His father made a full recovery. But the incident has turned his life upside down.

He has subsequently been routinely stopped and questioned at airports under Schedule Seven counter-terrorism powers, making his work as a guide escorting British pilgrims to Saudi Arabia on Hajj increasingly untenable. In October last year he said he was held for 26 hours at Riyadh airport before being deported back to the UK without explanation.

Pressure to inform

Last August, he was invited to visit a London police station to collect the belongings and money seized from his house almost a year and a half earlier.

“Two officers from SO15 [the London Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit] were waiting for me. You know they play good cop, bad cop? Well, that day they were both playing good cop, just chatting about stuff. As I was going to walk out they said: ‘Hold on, there’s someone that quickly needs to speak to you.'”

Muhammad was shown into a room where two men he said he believes worked for MI5, the UK’s internal security service, were waiting. He said they put him under pressure and offered him incentives to inform for them.

“They asked me about my friends, about Syria, stuff like that. They said they believed there were people who wanted to come back and cause mayhem in the UK. I said I had no intention of going to Syria. They gave me a phone number and told me to call if I heard anything.”

Muhammad’s story, according to the civil liberties group CAGE, is merely one case demonstrating how many British Muslims are becoming ensnared by increasingly intrusive and illiberal counter-terrorism policies targeting those deemed to be “extreme” in their faith.

In a report published this month into the UK government’s Prevent counter-terrorism strategy, CAGE warned that Muslim communities were being subjected to “cradle-to-grave” levels of surveillance and discrimination that go beyond the policies used against suspected communist sympathisers in the United States at the height of the Cold War.

It highlighted how Prevent had put mosques, Muslim institutions and charities under scrutiny and how public officials, including teachers, lecturers, chaplains and healthcare workers, were being urged to inform on schoolchildren, students and patients deemed to be at risk of radicalisation.

CAGE’s director is Moazzam Begg, who was arrested on Tuesday for alleged terrorism offences related to Syria.

The former Guantanamo Bay detainee was captured in Pakistan in 2002 by US forces. He was released from the American prison camp in Cuba in 2005 without ever being charged.

In December Begg wrote about how he had been continually harassed by the British government and members of its security services and had his passport confiscated because of his investigations into British complicity in rendition, and because of his work supporting humanitarian-aid efforts for Syria.

In a statement CAGE said it was “outraged” by the detention.

“We do not accept involvement by Moazzam Begg in any form of terrorism,” it said. “He is simply one of many individuals and charities involved in Syria being viewed with suspicion in an effort to send a message to the wider Muslim community that working in Syria is no go area for them.”


The CAGE report highlighted the case of a nine-year-old boy alleged to have shown signs of extremism who was referred to authorities for “deprogramming”. Police figures show a steady increase in referrals among young people, with 748 referred for assessment in 2012-2013, compared with 580 a year earlier and more than 2,600 in total since 2006.

In other cases, youth groups and mental health projects aimed at Muslim communities found that access to public funding was conditional on sharing data and information with law enforcement agencies, while university Islamic societies have faced pressure to hand over membership lists and other data to counter-terrorism police.

“There has been nothing like the Prevent policy since the McCarthy era, but Prevent goes a lot further; it goes into every aspect of Muslim life,” Jahangir Mohammad, the co-author of the report, told Al Jazeera. “Prevent has created a climate of fear and alienation in the Muslim community. People feel they can’t challenge this stuff and they don’t have any rights.”

Yet recent proposals to further toughen the UK’s counter-terrorism laws in the aftermath of the killing of British soldier Lee Rigby last May, and amid current concerns over the security risk posed by British Muslims travelling to Syria, could make Prevent even more draconian.

In December, Theresa May, the British home secretary, announced plans to introduce legislation that would place the policy on a statutory footing. While local authorities, mosques, universities and other institutions are currently under no legal obligation to cooperate with Prevent, such a move would force them to do so by law.

Critics argue the government’s efforts to enshrine Prevent in law are driven by a neo-conservative ideology that conflates conservative interpretations of Islam with a heightened risk of violent radicalisation.

“Teachers, doctors, police officers, civil servants and local government officers are effectively being trained and indoctrinated with a politicised understanding of Islam,” the CAGE report states. “It is a policy to silence Muslims and pacify/de-politicise their faith. In short, it criminalises political dissent or alternative political thought.”


Many of those on the sharp end of Prevent measures believe the policy has already proved counter-productive by alienating, rather than engaging, Muslim communities.

Shakur Rahman, an imam at the Redbridge Islamic Centre in east London, told Al Jazeera that he and other mosque officials had been regularly visited by Prevent officers voicing concerns about invited speakers and other events.

“We have people claiming to be Special Branch [SO15] coming in and demanding a meeting with the imam and saying: ‘If you do not comply we are going to make your life difficult,'” Rahman said.

“The implication is: ‘We are watching you. We have got our eye on you and we are going to be keeping our ears to the ground.’ Then you find certain people coming along to the community and asking strange questions. They turn up every now and then and then they disappear.

“We know, as every imam knows, that if you say something which they do not like you could be raided that night. They are creating that fear so that we are afraid to speak about fundamental issues that pertain to our community. If the whole strategy of Prevent is to minimise problems in the community then it is doing the exact opposite.”

Al Jazeera contacted the London Borough of Redbridge’s Prevent officer but she declined to comment. A spokesperson for the council said queries regarding Prevent should be directed to the Home Office.

A Home Office spokesperson told Al Jazeera: “Our Prevent strategy challenges extremist ideology, helps protect institutions from extremists, and tackles the radicalisation of vulnerable people.

“We work closely with local authorities to engage with faith institutions, civil society groups and other organisations and ensure they have the support and advice they need. We are also giving additional support to local communities on the frontline of tackling extremism by supporting integration projects and setting up a dedicated public communications platform.”

It’s UK government policy for spokespeople not to be named.

Under watch

The only reason that Muhammad can think of to explain why the police raided his home is that he had been collecting money for a Syrian aid appeal outside his local mosque the previous Friday.

“There was a group of brothers and they asked me to hold a tin for them,” he recalled. “Maybe MI5 was watching someone at the mosque and I was with that person and that’s how I got dragged in. The raid has made me fearful of going to mosques. I think, what if I go and it makes the situation worse?”

Muhammad is convinced he is still under surveillance. He has started wearing casual clothes rather than traditional Islamic dress to avoid drawing attention to himself. He often gets unknown calls on his phone, but the line is silent when he answers.

“Even when I came here tonight [for the interview] I saw a car parked up. You can tell what police look like when they are undercover. I have MI5 on my back, I have SO15 taking my stuff, and I am fearful. There is a question mark at the end of this because I don’t know what is going to happen to me.”

Follow Simon Hooper on Twitter: @simonbhooper

General Comment 16, Art. 17 (ICCPR) (RIght to privacy)

Human Rights Committee, General Comment 16, (Twenty-third session, 1988), Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1 at 21 (1994).


1. Article 17 provides for the right of every person to be protected against arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence as well as against unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. In the view of the Committee this right is required to be guaranteed against all such interferences and attacks whether they emanate from State authorities or from natural or legal persons. The obligations imposed by this article require the State to adopt legislative and other measures to give effect to the prohibition against such interferences and attacks as well as to the protection of this right.

2. In this connection, the Committee wishes to point out that in the reports of States parties to the Covenant the necessary attention is not being given to information concerning the manner in which respect for this right is guaranteed by legislative, administrative or judicial authorities, and in general by the competent organs established in the State. In particular, insufficient attention is paid to the fact that article 17 of the Covenant deals with protection against both unlawful and arbitrary interference. That means that it is precisely in State legislation above all that provision must be made for the protection of the right set forth in that article. At present the reports either say nothing about such legislation or provide insufficient information on the subject.

3. The term “unlawful” means that no interference can take place except in cases envisaged by the law. Interference authorized by States can only take place on the basis of law, which itself must comply with the provisions, aims and objectives of the Covenant.

4. The expression “arbitrary interference” is also relevant to the protection of the right provided for in article 17. In the Committee’s view the expression “arbitrary interference” can also extend to interference provided for under the law. The introduction of the concept of arbitrariness is intended to guarantee that even interference provided for by law should be in accordance with the provisions, aims and objectives of the Covenant and should be, in any event, reasonable in the particular circumstances.

5. Regarding the term “family”, the objectives of the Covenant require that for purposes of article 17 this term be given a broad interpretation to include all those comprising the family as understood in the society of the State party concerned. The term “home” in English, “manzel” in Arabic, “zhùzhái” in Chinese, “domicile” in French, “zhilische” in Russian and “domicilio” in Spanish, as used in article 17 of the Covenant, is to be understood to indicate the place where a person resides or carries out his usual occupation. In this connection, the Committee invites States to indicate in their reports the meaning given in their society to the terms “family” and “home”.

6. The Committee considers that the reports should include information on the authorities and organs set up within the legal system of the State which are competent to authorize interference allowed by the law. It is also indispensable to have information on the authorities which are entitled to exercise control over such interference with strict regard for the law, and to know in what manner and through which organs persons concerned may complain of a violation of the right provided for in article 17 of the Covenant. States should in their reports make clear the extent to which actual practice conforms to the law. State party reports should also contain information on complaints lodged in respect of arbitrary or unlawful interference, and the number of any findings in that regard, as well as the remedies provided in such cases.

7. As all persons live in society, the protection of privacy is necessarily relative. However, the competent public authorities should only be able to call for such information relating to an individual’s private life the knowledge of which is essential in the interests of society as understood under the Covenant. Accordingly, the Committee recommends that States should indicate in their reports the laws and regulations that govern authorized interferences with private life.

8. Even with regard to interferences that conform to the Covenant, relevant legislation must specify in detail the precise circumstances in which such interferences may be permitted. A decision to make use of such authorized interference must be made only by the authority designated under the law, and on a case-by-case basis. Compliance with article 17 requires that the integrity and confidentiality of correspondence should be guaranteed de jure and de facto. Correspondence should be delivered to the addressee without interception and without being opened or otherwise read. Surveillance, whether electronic or otherwise, interceptions of telephonic, telegraphic and other forms of communication, wire-tapping and recording of conversations should be prohibited. Searches of a person’s home should be restricted to a search for necessary evidence and should not be allowed to amount to harassment. So far as personal and body search is concerned, effective measures should ensure that such searches are carried out in a manner consistent with the dignity of the person who is being searched. Persons being subjected to body search by State officials, or medical personnel acting at the request of the State, should only be examined by persons of the same sex.

9. States parties are under a duty themselves not to engage in interferences inconsistent with article 17 of the Covenant and to provide the legislative framework prohibiting such acts by natural or legal persons.

10. The gathering and holding of personal information on computers, databanks and other devices, whether by public authorities or private individuals or bodies, must be regulated by law. Effective measures have to be taken by States to ensure that information concerning a person’s private life does not reach the hands of persons who are not authorized by law to receive, process and use it, and is never used for purposes incompatible with the Covenant. In order to have the most effective protection of his private life, every individual should have the right to ascertain in an intelligible form, whether, and if so, what personal data is stored in automatic data files, and for what purposes. Every individual should also be able to ascertain which public [authorities] or private individuals or bodies control or may control their files. If such files contain incorrect personal data or have been collected or processed contrary to the provisions of the law, every individual should have the right to request rectification or elimination.

11. Article 17 affords protection to personal honour and reputation and States are under an obligation to provide adequate legislation to that end. Provision must also be made for everyone effectively to be able to protect himself against any unlawful attacks that do occur and to have an effective remedy against those responsible. States parties should indicate in their reports to what extent the honour or reputation of individuals is protected by law and how this protection is achieved according to their legal system.

Criminalization of Poverty in Canada

Criminalization of Poverty in Canada

by OWJN, July 2008 


What is Poverty?

In Canada, poverty is commonly defined by the low income cut-offs (LICOs) established by Statistics Canada. LICOs represent the poverty line in Canada and “convey the income level at which a family may be in straitened circumstances because it has to spend a greater proportion of its income on necessities rather than the average family of similar size.” The after-tax LICO in 2005 for a single person in an urban area of more than 500,000 people was $17,219, while the line was drawn at $32,556 for a family in the same urban area. In Toronto, nearly one in four households has an income lower than the LICO.

The United Nations Statistics Division similarly defines “poverty line” as “an income level that is considered minimally sufficient to sustain a family in terms of food, housing, clothing, medical needs, and so on.” The United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights provides a broader definition of poverty: “a human condition characterized by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.” Furthermore, “economic deprivation – lack of income – is a standard feature of most definitions of poverty. But this in itself does not take account of the myriad of social, cultural and political aspects of the phenomenon. Poverty is not only deprivation of economic or material resources but a violation of human dignity too.”

From the above definitions of poverty, it is clear that poverty is pervasive and difficult to escape. Poverty affects every element of a person’s life by restricting their choices and chances. Poverty can mean anything from having a daily struggle to pay the bills, to being unable to afford to feed yourself or your family, to being homeless. Living in poverty may also include receiving social assistance. The Canadian Council on Social Development suggests that most people at or below the LICO are on some type of social assistance and notes that “low-paying and precarious jobs, particularly part-time jobs, just do not provide enough income to replace even low social assistance benefits.” Poverty and homelessness are more than mere economic problems ‚Äì they are social problems created and maintained by social, economic and political systems.

Poverty as a Social Problem

Canada has an individualistic culture that promotes the idea that individuals who work hard advance. This cultural idea is reinforced by the myth that people deserve their lot in life; the myth that the poor deserve to be poor and that the rich deserve to be rich. To compound the problems that poor individuals and families face, the Canadian Council on Social Development states that there is growing public indifference to the needs of the very poor and marginalized, in addition to a toxic “punish the poor” mentality. Social myths affect individuals, and they also affect society. These widely accepted myths inform social policy and lead to political inaction on issues of poverty. Poverty is a social problem that persists due to the social, political and economic culture.

Criminalization of Poverty and Homelessness

Recently in Canada there has been a rise in poverty and homelessness, particularly in large urban centers like Toronto, where the disparities between the rich and the poor are ever increasing. One of the ways that the government has attempted to deal with poverty, including homelessness, has been to criminalize it.

The criminalization of poverty involves declaring certain acts that are more likely to be committed by poor or homeless people, such as begging and being in public places, a crime. “Living without a home is considered a crime. Sleeping outside or in a car is illegal, soliciting work or conducting unrecognized work on land that you don’t own or pay for is increasingly criminalized and more and more poor workers, homeless people, welfare recipients, undocumented workers and youth in our country face police harassment, abuse and even incarceration for living in poverty” (United States Social Forum). Declaring these things to be crimes places additional burdens on people living in poverty. It also promotes social exclusion and fails to address the root causes of poverty and homelessness.

One example of the criminalization of poverty in Ontario is the so-called “squeegee law” called the Safe Streets Act. Under this law, it is illegal to solicit in an “aggressive manner.” “Aggressive manner” means a manner that is likely to cause a reasonable person to be concerned for his or her safety or security.” The law effectively targets homeless youth who engage in “squeegeeing” to survive. It also captures other homeless people, including the elderly, who ask for money in an “aggressive manner.”

The criminalization of poor and homeless peoples’ behaviour ignores the social realities of poverty. It fails to take into account the circumstances of people’s lives. Bill O’Grady and Robert Bright suggested that for poor and homeless youth, cleaning car windows was a rational response to the circumstances they faced on the streets. In contrast, law-makers characterized the act of squeegeeing as a nuisance and an annoyance.

In a recent Court of Appeal for Ontario decision, Justice Juriansz, for the court, upheld the law as just and constitutional. David Banks and others were convicted of panhandling offences under the Safe Streets Act and Highway Traffic Act. Banks and the other accused admitted that “by squeegeeing on various Toronto roads and soliciting money from cars stopped at red lights, they had committed an offence.” Nonetheless, they asked the court to set aside their convictions, arguing that the legislation was unconstitutional. They claimed that the law was unconstitutional because it infringed on rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Charter, including the right to life, liberty and security, the right to equality, and the right to the freedom of expression.

The court did not agree. Justice Juriansz reasoned that the right to life, liberty and security was not infringed because Banks and the others could have solicited money in other ways that were not prohibited by law. In addition, Justice Juriansz did not find that the appellants were discriminated against, and he found that they had alternative means to express their message.

The court’s decision reinforces the belief that the poor are agents of their own misfortune and fails to address the systemic factors that deny and limit the choices that are available to people living in poverty.

Poverty and Women (and Children)

In 2003, 1.5 million adult Canadian women were living in poverty. Women experience poverty at higher rates than men. Men receive more income than women from all sources, including wages and salaries, investment, retirement, and other income. Single mothers have the most unstable earnings and are among the most impoverished people in Canada. There are several reasons why women (and children) live in poverty:

Discrimination against women in gaining access to paid work and a fair income.

Sex-role stereotypes about women’s involvement in paid work – women account for 70% of all part-time employees and two-thirds of women are employed within traditionally women-dominated occupations.

A change in family composition, such as a divorce, greatly increases a woman’s chance of entering poverty.

Intersectionality: Aboriginal women, racialized women, disabled women and queer women are more likely to live in poverty than white women, able-bodied women and heterosexual women.

In Canada, women are at greater risk of poverty than men because of their gender. Social constructions of gender ‚Äì ideas about what it means to be a woman – also contribute to women’s poverty. Because of stereotypes about women’s nature and their ability and desire to act as caregivers, women are disproportionately responsible for unpaid caregiving labour, for example looking after children or aging or ill family members. Women are frequently dependent on men for financial support, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation and to poverty if the relationship with the man breaks down.

Criminalization of Women

Just as poverty and homelessness are generally criminalized through anti-begging laws and restrictions on public spaces, impoverished women are specifically criminalized as poor women.

Women who live in poverty are often charged with property offences and are criminalized for activities they regard as necessary for their economic survival, including sex work. About 70% of prostitutes are mothers, “mostly single mothers struggling to support families” (Street Sheet). Faced with difficult economic choices and “the evisceration of health, education and social services,” (DisAbled Women’s Network Ontario) women living in poverty may become entangled in the criminal justice system.

Poverty does not necessarily lead to crime, but “poverty is woven into the fabric of these women’s lives, reducing their options, crippling their morale, and rendering them outsiders” (Review of Women, Crime and Poverty). Further, “[w]ith women’s wages still pitched at less than 76% of men’s, most jobs available to women go nowhere near covering the costs of survival. Welfare ‘reform’ has destroyed the safety net which saved many from destitution — over 11 million mainly women-headed families have lost their sole income” (Street Sheet).


Discrimination against poor women threatens women’s ability to provide for themselves and to make choices that promote economic security. The criminalization of poverty limits women’s choices even more and makes them vulnerable to abuse, extreme poverty and homelessness. C. Lochead and K. Scott suggest that “[t]he solution to women’s poverty may lie in providing a range of options that afford women a choice over their lives…Alleviating women’s poverty is ultimately about giving women choice: the choice to pursue paid labour, the choice to care for others or even follow other personal interests without sacrificing their own well-being or the well-being of their families.” The criminalization of poverty does the opposite of what Kochead and Scott recommend ‚Äì further constricting women’s choices and penalizing them for their lack of privilege and social location.



Canadian Council on Social Development, “A Community Growing Apart: Income Gaps and Changing Needs in the City of Toronto in the 1990s” (October 2001), available online at <>.

C. Lochead and K. Scott, The Dynamics of Women’s Poverty in Canada (Canadian Council on Social Development, March 2000).

DAWN DisAbled Women’s Network Ontario, “Prisons as Panacea,” available online at <>.

Elizabeth Fry Society, “Issues Associated with Increased Criminalization of Women,” available online at <>.

Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force. Taking Responsibility for Homelessness: An Action Plan for Toronto, (Toronto: Municipality of Toronto, 1999).

Review of Women, Crime, and Poverty by Pat Carlen, Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Winter, 1989), pp.521-524.

Safe Streets Act 1999, S.O. 1999, c. 8.

Statistics Canada, Income in Canada 2005, “Notes and Definitions,” available online at <>.

Statistics Canada, Income in Canada 2005, “Table 14.1 Low income after tax cut-offs 2001-2005,” available online at <>.

Street Sheet (San Fransico) June 2005, p. 7, “The Criminalization of Survival: Poverty, Violence and Prostitution,” available online at <>.

The Court, “Banks: The Criminalization of Povert?” available online at <>.

United Nations Statistics Division, available online at <>.

United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Human Rights in Development, “What is Poverty?” available online at <>.

United States Social Forum, “Criminalization of Poverty,” available online at <https://www.ussf2007/org/en/node/1363>.

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