Category Archives: Criminalizing ‘suspicious conduct’

The long history of blacklisting outspoken workers in the UK

Statewatch article: RefNo# 33255
“Every Man a Capitalist”: The long history of monitoring ‘unsuitable’ workers in the UK by Trevor Hemmings, Statewatch
Statewatch Journal; vol 23 no 2 August 2013
“Blacklisting is the practice of systematically denying individuals employment on the basis of information, accurate or not, held in some kind of database.” [1]

In February 2009, investigators from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) raided the premises of The Consulting Association (TCA) in Droitwich, West Midlands, confiscating a database comprising 3,213 names that was being used by 43 construction firms to blacklist workers they deemed “unsuitable” for employment. [2] The seized database was only a small fraction of the information held by TCA, but inexplicably the bulk of the data was left behind and subsequently destroyed. Clandestine blacklisting by multinational construction companies, who submitted the names and addresses for vetting by TCA, denied employment to thousands of workers on the basis of their trade union membership, political beliefs and health and safety activities. [3] Information held in the database was often based on little more than “gossip.” As a consequence of the raid, in July 2009 the director of TCA, Ian Kerr, was fined £5,000 after admitting breaching the Data Protection Act, but his fine was paid secretly by Sir Robert McAlpine on condition that the company’s name was not revealed. [4] Kerr died a fortnight later, taking unknown secrets to the grave.

As a result of the high profile raid, the practice of blacklisting was belatedly made illegal in March 2010 by the introduction of the Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklisting) Regulations 2010, under which it is unlawful to compile, sell, use or supply a prohibited list (a list which contains details of people who have been members of Trade Unions or have participated in Trade Union activities). The law has been criticised by trade unionists as being too little, too late. Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which has been in force since 1953, protects “the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions.” [5]

In July 2012, 80+ blacklisted workers launched a High Court action against the construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine, a Conservative Party donor and builder of the Olympic Stadium, for the firm’s alleged role in creating TCA and cooperating with other firms to keep them out of work. [6] The head of McAlpine’s Human Resources department, David Cochrane, chaired TCA from 2006-2009 and the company effectively set up and funded it. Further insights into this “real live conspiracy” emerged when the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee heard evidence from a number of the key players and their victims in November 2012, some of which was later written up in an interim report published in April 2013. [7] The interim report was highly critical of the companies which failed to take responsibility for their “morally indefensible” blacklisting practices.

In January 2013, a House of Commons debate [8] moved by Labour MP Chukka Umana discussed police and security service collusion in the blacklisting and suggested that at least 200 environmental activists were also among those under surveillance by TCA. Umana told the Guardian newspaper:

“Very serious allegations have been raised, including by a serving ICO official who is himself a former police officer, that information contained on the blacklist files came from police and security services. This only reinforces the need for a full investigation into blacklisting so we can get the full truth of what went on.” [9]

In February 2013, the Metropolitan police reluctantly launched an investigation into allegations of collusion in the blacklisting of construction workers. The Met had previously dismissed a complaint from the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) which claimed the police had been involved in compiling the blacklist that came to light in the ICO raid. [10]

A brief history of the Economic League

The twentieth century was dominated by the role played by the right-wing Economic League (EL) in “countering subversion” between 1919 and 1993. Its early years are opaque, although works by investigative journalists such as Mike Hughes, Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor have thrown some light on this period. [11] The father to TCA, the Economic League was formed in 1919 to fight Bolshevism, combat the “red infection” and “crusade” for unregulated free-market capitalism. The League emerged from various cliques of industrialists, such as National Propaganda (NP), which had close links to the early intelligence services and military. [12] In 1925 the Economic League became a permanent organisation under its first director-general, John Baker White, who had been an intelligence officer and had maintained the security links that formed the basis of the League’s data collection and blacklisting services. As Mike Hughes has pointed out, the Economic League had dual objectives: its council members, pillars of the establishment and other powerful men, opposed socialism overtly, while at a covert level they began to establish the framework of a shadow state. One early anti-democratic activity was a campaign to break the 1926 General Strike under the slogan “Every Man a Capitalist.” [13]

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the EL compiled records on trade union organisers, socialists and communists, sometimes based on information which originated from police files. There is also well-documented evidence that the EL and British intelligence agencies were cooperating at this time. [14] Despite this, the influence the League exerted on the British state over its first two decades had diminished by the Second World War when its model of unregulated free-enterprise came into conflict with the mixed economy supported by the mainstream Conservative Party, which was in government between 1951 and 1964. [15]

From the 1960s, a number of investigations, most notably by the Labour Research team, [16] published details of the blacklisting of workers, a practice the EL continued to deny until the 1969 publication of A Subversive Guide to the Economic League, [17] which revealed that in 1968 the organisation had an annual income of £266,000, £61,000 of which was contributed by 154 companies. Twenty-one known banks and financial institutions contributed as much as 47 manufacturing companies. According to the State Research Bulletin, in 1977 the top industrial donors to the Economic League were: Tate & Lyle; Imperial Group; Shell Petroleum Company; National Westminster Bank; Barclays Bank; Midland Bank and Lloyds Bank. The top four banks of the day were not only among the EL’s donors, four of their directors sat on the organisation’s Council. [18] Hollingsworth and Norton-Taylor cite a figure of £1m in annual income and 2,000 subscribers for the EL in their 1988 work, Blacklist. [19]

The EL’s profile became even more visible in the 1980s as investigative journalists delved deep into its clandestine activities to reveal more names of companies that were vetting the politics of potential employees. This information also showed that the EL worked with MI5 to blacklist more than 22,000 “subversive workers”, who ranged from trade unionists to individuals speaking up for work mates to anti-nuclear activists. [20] In light of these disclosures, in 1990 the House of Commons Select Committee on Employment heard evidence from the Economic League about its blacklist. This enabled campaigners and investigative journalists to exert further pressure on the organisation. The investigative journalist, Paul Foot, managed to obtain a complete copy of the EL’s blacklist and ran a series of pivotal stories in the Daily Mirror newspaper. Its practices exposed to the public, the EL was wound up in 1993. Data protection laws meant that it would have had to open its files to further scrutiny, revealing personal data on thousands of shopfloor workers, prominent trade unionists, journalists, political activists and Labour Party MPs. [21]

A chip off the old block: The Consulting Association

The Consulting Association grew out of the Economic League’s Services Group, whose membership was comprised of construction firms. A key link between the EL and TCA was Ian Kerr, who had played a lead role in the League for many years before becoming TCA’s chief officer. Unlike those he blacklisted and made unemployable (and in some instances destitute), while employed by TCA Kerr earned an annual salary of £50,000 plus bonus, had BUPA medical insurance and drove a Mercedes car. [22] Kerr gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee shortly before he died, stating that TCA was founded in April 1993 with a £10,000 loan from Sir Robert McAlpine:

“[The Consulting Association] was started out of the Services Group (SG), operated by and within the Economic League (EL). A Steering Committee of key people in construction companies of the Services Group drafted a constitution. Key operating features of TCA were decided by representatives of the major construction companies, who were the original members.” [23]

TCA operated from 1993 until 2009. Unfortunately the full extent of its operations may never be known as the ICO seized “only a small proportion of the documentation” held at TCA’s Droitwich office. David Clancy from the ICO told the HSAC that:

“We are talking of between 5% and 10% of what was in the office. What the other 90% or 95% was I can’t comment on because we didn’t go through lots of it.” [24]

Clancy argued that it had been unnecessary to look at anything else because he had “found the blacklist.” However, TCA’s Ian Kerr, giving evidence to the same committee, admitted that other information was held “including some files on environmental activists. These were not taken away by the ICO and were subsequently destroyed.”

Blacklist Support Group vs. Captains of Industry

The Blacklist Support Group (BSG) is a network of construction workers who have been blacklisted because of their trade union activities. [25] The network has run a campaign to “name and shame” the top construction company bosses who have chaired TCA and have also named the construction industry’s ‘main contacts’ with the covert blacklisting organisation. [26] The Group has published a list of company directors that have chaired TCA:

1993-1996 Cullum McAlpine (Sir Robert McAlpine)

1997-1999 Tony Jennings (Laing O’Rourke)

2000-2001 Danny O’Sullivan (Kier)

2002-2003 Stephen Quant (Skanska)

2004-2005 Trevor Watchman (Balfour Beatty)

2006-2009 David Cochrane (Sir Robert McAlpine)

The BSG is seeking to “blacklist the blacklisters” and asks: Where are they working now? Are they involved in publicly funded contracts?
The BSG has also demanded compensation for blacklisted workers and that the companies responsible for their loss of earnings be made accountable for their actions. BSG is demanding:

• A full public apology,

• Compensation for blacklisted workers,

• Denial of public contracts for blacklisting firms,

• Jobs for blacklisted workers on major projects.

Big spenders

The journal Building published a detailed analysis of the spending of 14 of TCA’s main users in a report entitled “Annual Spending by the Consulting Association 1996-2009.” [27] The main players were Sir Robert McAlpine and Skanska, each spending well over £200,000. They were followed by Laing O’Rourke and Balfour Beatty which both spent more than £100,000, with Carillion and Amec both spending around £70,000.

The Scottish Affairs Committee report also details the roles played by three major construction firms: Sir Robert MacAlpine Ltd, Skanska and Balfour Beatty, describing MacAlpine as a “major force” behind the blacklist and Balfour Beatty as a particularly “hard-nosed” user. Balfour Beatty is heavily criticised, with the SAC pointedly remarking:

“…we are sure that [the company] regrets being caught; we were less convinced that management regretted its involvement with TCA.” [28]

The TCA’s database was accessed by construction companies on an annual subscription basis – membership was at the invitation of an existing member – and a further £2.20 was paid for each name checked. The point of contact with TCA was usually through a senior executive in a company’s Human Resources Department who would submit a list of names, to be checked against a card file held by the Association. Over a four-year period, for instance, Skanska vetted 66,000 names of workers to be employed on Ministry of Defence building projects while Balfour Beatty was vetting 15,000 workers a year.

Red, black, blue and green

While the ICO’s flawed investigation seriously undermined attempts to confirm the broader scope of the TCA covert blacklisting service, other lines of inquiry have been more forthcoming. Ian Kerr’s evidence to the SAC described how blacklisted names were given different colours: black (for industrial relations – general); red/orange (mechanical and engineering); green (environmental activists) and blue (everything else). [29] While there is some question as to the veracity of Kerr’s statements, it is worth briefly exploring the scope of TCA’s activities.

Various industrial tribunal claims have resulted from the construction industry’s blacklisting of workers. Two examples will serve here as an illustration of the effects of blacklisting on individual construction workers.

Construction worker, Steve Acheson (58), from Greater Manchester, obtained a copy of his 22-page file following the ICO raid on TCA. Achesons’s trade union activities began in 1996 after the death of a 21-year old colleague at a site on which he was working. This compelled him to ensure that companies for which he worked complied with health and safety legislation. He has won four cases of unfair dismissal at various industrial tribunals. His TCA file began in April 2000 and confirmed that he had been placed on the blacklist because of raising health and safety issues and because of “suspected” trade union membership. The file included his name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number, mobile telephone number and a reference to his union membership. As a result of being blacklisted, Acheson was unemployed “for nine of the last 11 years and in the last five years [he] received only 16 pay packets.” On the few occasions when he secured employment he was swiftly removed from the site. This has had a devastating effect on his family and his wife had to work full time to support him.

Engineer, Dave Smith (47) had a 36-page file him held on him by TCA and he was repeatedly victimised for highlighting safety hazards on sites. The file contains many entries regarding Smith’s role as safety officer for the building workers’ union, Ucatt, while working on building sites controlled by John Mowlem and Schal International (both subsidiaries of Carillion) after he raised safety issues relating to the presence of asbestos and working conditions. In 2009, Smith became the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group. In January 2012, he pursued a claim against Carillion through an employment tribunal. Although Carillion accepted that Smith had been blacklisted, the company successfully argued that because he was not employed directly by them, but through a sub-contractor, Carillion was not legally responsible. Smith told the Guardian newspaper:

“This is about human rights. I have not done anything illegal; I am a member of a trade union. I have worked in an attempt to improve health and safety on building sites and yet it appears my employers, the state, security services and the police have been conspiring against me.” [30]

It should be noted that the majority of those who have sought redress through the courts have failed. [31]

The scope of TCA’s blacklisting has recently been shown to have included Irish construction workers; 370 people on the 3,200-name TCA database have typically Irish names. Irish workers were illegally barred from Ministry of Defence projects and the ICO’s David Clancy has alleged state involvement, saying that some information on TCA’s records “must have been supplied by either MI5 or police.” The Labour MP, John McDonnell, who has spent many years highlighting the blacklisting scandal, called for the truth on how Irish workers were targeted and asked “who in the state authorised or turned a blind eye to this organised victimisation.” To this end he called for an independent public inquiry into blacklisting:

“I am calling for an independent public inquiry into blacklisting because many believe that what we have found out so far about the activities of The Consulting Association is just the tip of an iceberg.” [32]

According to the GMB trade union, the TCA’s blacklist also included 582 workers who were living or working in Scotland. Describing the practice of blacklisting as “a deplorable activity that has ruined livelihoods for decades,” Labour MP Jim McGovern called “on authorities to look into whether it remains an ongoing practice.” [33] The GMB has met with officials from the Scottish government, which is considering preventing companies implicated in the blacklisting scandal from bidding for future contracts, worth billions of pounds. A Scottish government spokesman said: “Officials met union representatives to discuss new guidance to update existing public procurement processes and procedures in light of blacklisting of employees by contractors in the construction industry.” [34]

In January 2013, a House of Commons debate on blacklisting discussed police and security service collusion in the practice, suggesting that at least 200 green activists involved in road building protests were among those under surveillance by TCA. TCA’s Ian Kerr had revealed to the parliamentary committee that construction firms wanted information on green protestors after being “badly hit” by their campaigns in the 1990s. He told the MPs:

“In the mid-90s the industry was literally taken unaware by the people who came along and built treehouses, cut the hydraulic lines on the equipment and put sand in tanks, because at the time it was quite easy to win a contract and put a route through an area.” [35]

He went on to say that the construction industry had organised a meeting to debate green activism: “The targets were [activists at] the M11, Twyford Down, the Manchester second runway and the Bath eastern bypass.” [36]

In a recent Panorama television investigation [37] Ian Kerr’s wife, Mary, who worked as a bookkeeper for TCA, described the vetting that occurred during the building of the London “Dome” as extending to acrobats, dancers and entertainers who were seeking employment.

The legal fight back

An estimate of the extent of TCA’s activities can be gauged by legal documents lodged by Sir Hugh Tomlinson QC, acting on behalf of 80+ alleged victims of the blacklisting organisation. Their legal claim alleges that TCA’s clandestine database monitored the trade union activity of workers in the construction industry, including compiling details on industrial action, political views and affiliation and membership of unions, with entries frequently being made after workers had made complaints about matters concerning health and safety. Addressing health and safety issues was considered by companies to be likely to delay construction and therefore lessen profits for no discernible benefit. The TCA’s files did not only make recommendations on employment, with entries such as “do not employ” and “not recommended”, but even commented on individual’s relationships and wrongly accused others of criminal activities, such as accusing one man of claiming unemployment benefit while working. Victimised workers say that the conspiracy to run the blacklist caused them to suffer “loss and damage” by preventing them from obtaining employment [38].

The action also claims that Sir Robert McAlpine, and in particular Cullum McAlpine, had a central role in the establishment and operation of TCA.

“[Cullum] McAlpine was the founding chairman at the organisation’s inception in 1993. He was intimately involved in the foundation and operation of TCA. He formally offered Mr Kerr the position of director in August 1993. He finalised the written particulars of Mr Kerr’s employment, sending them to members for approval and obtaining legal advice in relation to them. He oversaw the arrangement of life and health insurance for Mr Kerr as part of his remuneration.” [39]

The legal claim also says that once TCA’s database was exposed in 2009 and Kerr was prosecuted, he was warned that if McAlpine’s name was mentioned the company “might encounter serious difficulty in obtaining major construction contracts.” Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd paid Kerr’s winding up costs, legal costs and the fine imposed by the ICO through cheques not paid to him directly. McAlpine was invoiced by Kerr’s daughter for “services rendered” and Callum McAlpine paid the bill. The company denies that these underhand payments “…were in any way linked to his taking responsibility or protecting Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd or any other member of the Consulting Association.” [40]

However, Mike Hughes, in an article for SpinWatch, has warned that the legal complexities of the case and obscurity of the law “means that it will be hard to see that even if this case is successful it will set sufficiently clear precedents to change recruitment practices in general.”

Commenting on the legal cases against Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, a spokesman said:

“TCA was established by a large group of construction companies. All the member companies contributed to, and accessed information from, the CA from time to time. Directors and representatives of a number of major construction firms chaired CA over the years. These included Mr Cullum McAlpine who was chairman for a period in the 1990s.” [41]

The depth of the company’s state of denial was clear when a spokesman added that it had never operated a “blacklist.”

“We are, and have always been, wholly committed to maintaining good relationships with our workforce and to responsible trade unionism.” [42]


Protests at local and European level

At the local level, members of trade unions such as Unite have been leafleting, petitioning and demonstrating to mobilise public support to prevent local authorities using the companies that blacklisted, and in some cases allegedly continue to blacklist, workers. Unite is calling on local authorities:

“…to desist from using the services of companies proven to have blacklisted workers and in particular those companies, such as Royal Bam and Kier which appear to be continuing to abuse the basic human rights of ordinary working people.” [43]

Hull City Council voted unanimously to remove blacklisting firms from all council contracts at a full council meeting in December 2012. The council also recognised the GMB trade union campaign to win an apology and compensation for those who have been unable to work as a result of being blacklisted. [44] Around a dozen other councils in England, Scotland and Wales are considering moves to exclude blacklisting companies from local government contracts. The Blacklist Support Group has called on other local authorities to follow Hull’s lead:

“…until the blacklisting firms apologise and compensate the workers whose lives they have ruined. They have destroyed careers in order to increase their profits. As profits are the only thing that the blacklisting companies are interested in, perhaps losing publically funded projects will make them own up to their responsibilities.” [45]

The Unite trade union [46] maintains that blacklisting continues to be rife in the UK and that this is evident on the £15 billion publically funded Crossrail project (Europe’s largest railway engineering programme underway in southeast England). The union’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, has called for a national mobilisation against Crossrail consortium Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK), after alleging that “blacklisting activity is continuing at Crossrail.” [41] The union says that workers’ have been excluded for raising safety issues, an allegation that will be tested at an employment tribunal by electrician, Frank Morris (38), who says that he was dismissed after becoming a union representative and voicing safety concerns.

At the European level, in April 2013 the Unite union led a delegation to Amsterdam to protest outside Royal Bam’s annual general meeting. Bam is the latest major contractor to have its overseas meetings targeted by anti-blacklisting protesters from the UK. Unite is running a campaign against the Crossrail project and its delegation to Holland was protesting at Bam Nuttall’s role in the London scheme. In the same month, the Blacklist Support Group and GMB trade union targeted the Skanska annual shareholders meeting in Stockholm. Unite’s assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, who attended the protest in Amsterdam said “Blacklisting ruins lives and we believe it is continuing today on Crossrail.” She continued: “Unite believes that the people of Holland and Bam’s shareholders deserve to know about Bam’s behaviour elsewhere in Europe.” [47]

“We are all Thatcherites now”

Following the death of former Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, on 8 April 2013, the current Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to her, declaring that “We are all Thatcherites now.” Thatcher, who laid waste to vast swathes of working class communities when taking on the miners and other trade unionists during an earlier programme of privatisation that left generations unemployed and unemployable, stands as an appropriate symbol for the blacklisting scandal. Like Thatcher before him, David Cameron has also targeted workers’ rights and imposed neo-liberal austerity measures that take from the poor to subsidise wealthy captains of industry, who continue to get vast bonuses that exceed what the average worker will earn in an entire lifetime.

The blacklisting and removal from employment of those workers who are represented by trade unions, or have the temerity to question health and safety standards, evokes this Thatcherite ethos, but also accurately signifies the role that working class people can expect to play in twenty-first century Britain. It is therefore unsurprising to find that the HSAC’s interim report also expresses grave doubts as to whether the illegal practice of blacklisting has actually ended. The Committee felt obliged to investigate the extent to which the practice continues within the construction industry and further afield, and will report its findings in a forthcoming report. In future sessions, the Committee will also examine the ongoing issues of compensation for victims and penalties for offenders.

However, it is clear that private websites, like HR Blacklist, [48] which describes itself as “an ethical human resources community for employers and employees” that promises to reveal “the truth about employees,” is continuing an old tradition. The company advertises five reasons for using its HR Blacklist:

1. Blacklisting an employee is free

2. Almost 50% of the candidates lie in their CV’s

3. Hiring the wrong person, may cost you money and reputation

4. Fast and easy CV search: find what other employers had to say about the candidate

5. Rate an employee, or check his/her rating

However, Mike Hughes has warned that:

“…the technology of blacklisting is moving offshore and embracing wiki models where the conspiracy becomes more dispersed and tortuous and certainly less actionable.” [49]

Endnotes

[1] House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee “Blacklisting in Employment: interim report” (The Stationery Office), 16.4.13 link

[2] Information Commissioners Office “The Consulting Association” Press release (undated) See also: Phil Chamberlain “The Construction Industry Blacklist: how the Economic League lived on” Lobster 58, Winter 2009/10, for a detailed account of the raid.

[3] A Health and Safety Executive report published in April 2013 revealed that “nearly a quarter of building sites in London failed to meet minimum health and safety legal standards, BBC News 5.4.13. See link

[4] Daniel Boffey “McAlpine denies high court claim it had major role in ‘blacklist scandal’” The Guardian 12.1.13

[5] European Court of Human Rights “The European Convention on Human Rights” 1950 link

[6] “Blacklisted builders launch mass legal action against Sir Robert McAlpine” The Guardian, 29.7.12 link

[7] Op. cited House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee 2013.

[8] Parliament “Blacklisting Debate: Opposition Day” 23.1.13. link

[9] Matthew Taylor “MPs call for inquiry into blacklist of green activists” The Guardian, 29.1.13

[10] ibid

[11] See for instance: Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, Blacklist: the inside story of political vetting (The Hogarth Press 1988) Mike Hughes “Spies at Work” (1995) online book: link

[12] See for instance the role played by Sir Admiral Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall a director of Naval Intelligence who advised the government on the establishment of MI6 in 1909

[13] Op. cited, Hughes 1995

[14] Matthew Taylor “MPs call for inquiry into blacklist of green activists” The Guardian, 29.1.13

[15] Op. cited, Hughes 1995

[16] The journal Labour Research still publishes news and information for trade unionists and continues to play an important role in exposing the activities of major construction companies in illegal blacklisting. Website: link

[17] Labour Research “A Subversive Guide to the Economic League” 1969

[18] State Research “The Economic League” Bulletin No. 7, pp. 135-145, 1978

[19] Op. cited Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor 1988

[20] David Hencke “Left blacklist man joins euro fight” The Guardian, 9.9.00

[21] When the Economic League was wound up two of its former directors formed a similar organisation called CAPRiM. The role of this organisation is enigmatic, but Ian Kerr has said that it was primarily an organisation that put out publications and checked potential employees curriculum vitaes. He also suggested that it was a vehicle to ensure that he and other ex-Economic League employees were able to maintain their standard of living.

[22] Op. cited Scottish Affairs Home Committee 2013

[23] Op. cited Scottish Affairs Home Committee 2013

[24] Op. cited Scottish Affairs Home Committee 2013

[25] The BSG blog can be found on the Hazards website. See link

[26] ibid

[27] link

[28] Op. cited Scottish Affairs Home Committee 2013

[29] Ibid

[30] Daniel Boffey “Blacklisted building workers hope for day in court after ruling” The Guardian, 3.3.12 link

[31] ibid

[32] Irish Post, 9.2.13

[33] The Courier, 5.2.13

[34] Paul Cahalan and Sanchez Manning “Building firms could face bans over blacklisting of workers” Independent 9.6.13.

[35] Op. cited Scottish Affairs Home Committee 2013

[36] Op. cited 7. Parliament “Blacklisting Debate: Opposition Day”, 23.1.13

[37] Panorama “Blacklist Britain” BBC 1, 10.6.13

[38] Daniel Boffey “Blacklisted builders launch mass legal action against Sir Robert McAlpine” Observer 29.7.12. link

[39] Daniel Boffey “McAlpine denies high court claim it had major role in ‘blacklist scandal’” The Guardian 12.1.13 link

[40] Panorama “Blacklist Britain” BBC 1, 10.6.13

[41] Op. cited The Guardian, 12.1.13

[42] Op. cited The Guardian, 12.1.13

[43] Tim Lezzard “Shoppers asked to support blacklisted workers (Union News 11.5.13)

[44] Morning Star, 4.1.13

[45] See Unite webpage:link

[46] Matthew Taylor “Unite calls for national action over Crossrail blacklisting allegations” The Guardian, 10.6.13.

[47] Will Hurst “Blacklisting protesters target Royal Bam” link

[48] HR Blacklist website: link

[49] Mike Hughes “First concerted legal action against blacklist will reveal need for a radical rethink of employment regulations” SpinWatch, 18.1.13

 

 

U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts

March 14, 2014

U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts

Geneva, Switzerland – On Thursday, March 13, the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed U.S. compliance with a major human rights treaty, raising concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for the practice of criminalizing homeless people for performing necessary life functions such as sleeping and eating in public when they have no private alternatives.
 
The criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. is documented in a report, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, submitted to the Committee by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (“NLCHP”) and the Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.

The U.S. review, which takes place periodically under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the last review was in 2006), follows a U.S. report to the Committee, submitted on December 30, 2011.

“I appreciate that the federal government is acknowledging that the criminalization of people living on the street for everyday life activities, such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas…raises serious human rights concerns…,” said Walter Kaelin, a Swiss member of the Committee, “There are ample reports about how criminalization of the homeless is discriminatory; how, as stressed by several UN Special Rapporteurs, and also federal agencies, how such instances of criminalization often raises concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

Kaelin continued with specific questions, “Do you already provide, or do you plan to provide incentives for decriminalization? Do you plan to withdraw funding for local authorities that continue to criminalize the homeless in a discriminatory way, in a way that may amount to inhuman treatment, degrading treatment? Do you plan to sanction criminalization policies, or are your activities really limited just in sensitizing local authorities, something very important, but probably not sufficient.”

Rather than responding to the specific questions, Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, US Department of the Interior, responded with a general list of issues being worked on by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, including efforts to encourage cities not to criminalize homelessness, exactly the sort of efforts the Committee said were “important, but not sufficient”.

“The U.S. government knew these topics would be on the Committee’s agenda since last March, when they put it on their list of issues for discussion, and last July, we held a meeting to discuss specific recommendations for action,” said Jeremy Rosen, Policy Director at NLCHP, in Geneva for the review. “The lack of specificity in the government’s response is pretty disappointing.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker continued on behalf of the U.S. delegation by explaining his city’s more constructive approach of providing housing rather than criminalizing, which has led to a 75% decline in chronic homelessness in the state. The mayor said this makes him “surprised when he hears homeless even in the same breath as criminalization.”

However, as documented in the report submitted to the Committee by NLCHP , Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-one of the “ample reports” of criminalization to which Kaelin referred-the approach demonstrated by Salt Lake City is far from universally implemented.

“As homelessness becomes more visible in American communities, some, like Salt Lake City, have made generally positive responses,” said Mr. Rosen. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen an increase in communities passing ordinances banning camping or sleeping outdoors, despite providing no alternative, forcing people to make the cruel choice between sleep and being arrested.”

“Sleep deprivation and hunger are widely recognized as techniques that are cruel, inhuman and degrading when used against prisoners. It shouldn’t matter if the prison is bricks and mortar, or one of economic policies and draconian ordinances,” said Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children’s Rights Programs at NLCHP. “As Committee Member Kaelin stated, the federal action on this issue so far is ‘not sufficient,’ and our government must do more to protect homeless people from these policies.”

“We expected more concrete responses from the federal government at this review,” Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at NLCHP, concluded. “But we look forward to working with the government on additional-and stronger– measures in response to the concerns and questions raised by the Committee.”

The Committee will issue its final recommendations to the U.S. government, called Concluding Observations, on March 26.  
 
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Surveilling UK Muslims ‘cradle to grave’

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/02/surveilling-uk-muslims-cradle-grave-201422575943406757.html

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.”

‘Deprogramming’

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.”

Alienation

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

How Cops Became Soldiers

How Cops Became Soldiers:

An Interview with Police Militarization Expert Radley Balko

By Michael Arria

In 2007, journalist Radley Balko told a House subcommittee that one criminologist detected a 1,500% increase in the use of SWAT teams over the last two decades. That’s reflective of a larger trend, fueled by the wars on drugs and terror, of police forces becoming heavily militarized.

Balko, an investigative reporter for the Huffington Post and author of the definitive report on paramilitary policing in the United States, has a forthcoming book on the topic, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police ForcesHe was kind enough to answer some questions about how our police turned into soldiers as well as the challenges of large-scale reform.

Motherboard: When did the shift towards militarized police forces begin in America? Is it as simple as saying it began with the War on Drugs or can we detect gradual signs of change when we look back at previous policies?

There’s certainly a lot of overlap between the war on drugs and police militarization. But if we go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were two trends developing simultaneously. The first was the development and spread of SWAT teams. Darryl Gates started the first SWAT team in L.A. in 1969. By 1975, there were 500 of them across the country. They were largely a reaction to riots, violent protest groups like the Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Army, and a couple mass shooting incidents, like the Texas clock tower massacre in 1966.

At the same time, Nixon was declaring an “all-out war on drugs.” He was pushing policies like the no-knock raid, dehumanizing drug users and dealers, and sending federal agents to storm private homes on raids that were really more about headlines and photo-ops than diminishing the supply of illicit drugs.

But for the first decade or so after Gates invented them, SWAT teams were largely only used in emergency situations. There usually needed to be an immediate, deadly threat to send the SWAT guys. It wasn’t until the early 1980s under Reagan that the two trends converged, and we started to see SWAT teams used on an almost daily basis — mostly to serve drug warrants.

Balko, via the Cato Institute

During the police clashes with Occupy protestors, there seemed to be a focus on isolated incidents of violence, as opposed to an overall examination of how this kind of policing exacerbates situations. What conclusions did your research lead you to on this topic?

I actually think that the Occupy protests gave the broader militarization issue more attention than it’s had in a very long time. For 25 years, the primary “beneficiaries” of police militarization have been poor people in high-crime areas — people who generally haven’t had the power or platform to speak up. The Occupy protesters were largely affluent, white, and deft at using cell phones and social media to document and publicize incidents of excessive force.

We’re also seeing interest in this issue from new quarters as SWAT teams have fallen victim to mission creep in recent years and begun raiding poker games, bars, and even people suspected of white collar crimes. So far, the only state that has passed any meaningful reform legislation in reaction to a SWAT raid gone wrong is Maryland, which passed a transparency bill after the mistaken raid on Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo.

I suppose that may be the “it needs to get worse before it will get better” good news, here. As governments at all levels continue to expand the list of crimes for which they’re willing to send the SWAT team, we’ll inevitably see these tactics used against more people with more clout and stature to push for reform. It’s an unfortunate bit of realpolitik, but it’s undoubtedly true.

Deborah Blum has written that we refer to oleoresin capsicum as “pepper spray” because “that makes it sound so much more benign than it really is, like something just a grade or so above what we might mix up in a home kitchen.” How did the use of these kinds of weapons become so commonplace? 

I think part of the reason is that it has happened gradually. We got here by way of a number of political decisions and policies passed over 40 years. There was never a single law or policy that militarized our police departments — so there was never really a public debate over whether this was a good or bad thing.

But there were other contributors. For about a generation, politicians from both parties were tripping over themselves to see who could come up with the tougher anti-crime policies. We’re finally seeing some push-back on issues like incarceration, the drug war, and over-criminalization. But not on police. No politician wants to look anti-cop. Conservatives want to look tough on crime. Liberals love to throw money at police departments. So for now, rolling back police militarization is still a non-starter in Congress and state legislatures.

It won’t be long before we see pro-militarization lobbying and pressure groups. Say hello to the police-industrial complex.

The other problem is that political factions decry police militarization when it’s used against them, but tend to fall somewhere between indifferent and gleeful when it’s used against people they don’t like. Conservatives, remember, were furious over Waco, Ruby Ridge, and a host of BATF abuses against gun owners in the 1990s — and rightly so. Liberals mocked them for it.

Liberals were furious at the aggressive response to the occupy protests — and rightly so. And conservatives mocked them. Liberals are rightly angry about militarized immigration raids — conservatives don’t much care. Conservatives were mad about the heavy-handed raid on the Gibson Guitar factory. Liberals blew it off. Just a few weeks ago, Rachel Maddow resurrected the Ruby Ridge and Waco incidents in a segment about gun control — and was dismissive of people who thought the government’s actions were excessive. Of course, Maddow was also fuming about the treatment of Occupy protesters.

Until partisans are willing to denounce excessive force when it’s used against people whose politics offend them — or at least refrain from endorsing it — it’s hard to see how there will ever be a consensus for reform.

How did 9/11 alter the domestic relationship between the military and police?

It really just accelerated a process that had already been in motion for 20 years. The main effect of 9/11 on domestic policing is the DHS grant program, which writes huge checks to local police departments across the country to purchase machine guns, helicopters, tanks, and armored personnel carriers. The Pentagon had already been giving away the same weapons and equipment for about a decade, but the DHS grants make that program look tiny.

But probably of more concern is the ancillary effect of those grants. DHS grants are lucrative enough that many defense contractors are now turning their attention to police agencies — and some companies have sprung up solely to sell military-grade weaponry to police agencies who get those grants. That means we’re now building a new industry whose sole function is to militarize domestic police departments. Which means it won’t be long before we see pro-militarization lobbying and pressure groups with lots of (taxpayer) money to spend to fight reform. That’s a corner it will be difficult to un-turn. We’re probably there already. Say hello to the police-industrial complex.

Is police reform a battle that will have to be won legally? From the outside looking in, much of this seems to violate The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. Are there other ways to change these policies? Can you envision a blueprint?

It won’t be won legally. The Supreme Court has been gutting the Fourth Amendment in the name of the drug war since the early 1980s, and I don’t think there’s any reason to think the current Court will change any of that. The Posse Comitatus Act is often misunderstood. Technically, it only prohibits federal marshals (and, arguably, local sheriffs and police chiefs) from enlisting active-duty soldiers for domestic law enforcement. The president or Congress could still pass a law or executive order tomorrow ordering U.S. troops to, say, begin enforcing the drug laws, and it wouldn’t violate the Constitution or the Posse Comitatus Act. The only barrier would be selling the idea to the public.

That said, I think the current state of police militarization probably violates the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act, and probably more pertinent, the spirit and sentiment behind the Third Amendment. (Yes — the one no one ever talks about.) When the country was founded, there were no organized police departments, and wouldn’t be for another 50 to60 years. Public order was maintained through private means, in worst cases by calling up the militia.

The Founders were quite wary of standing armies and the threat they pose to liberty. They ultimately concluded — reluctantly — that the country needed an army for national defense. But they most feared the idea of troops patrolling city streets — a fear colored by much of human history, and more immediately by the the antagonism between British troops and residents of Boston in the years leading up to the American Revolution. The Founders could never have envisioned police as they exist today. And I think it’s safe to say they’d have been absolutely appalled at the idea of a team of police, dressed and armed like soldiers, breaking into private homes in the middle of the night for the purpose of preventing the use of mind-altering drugs.

The Founders would have been appalled at the idea of a team of police, dressed and armed like soldiers, breaking into private homes in the middle of the night.

As for change, the good news is that I think the public is finally waking up to this problem. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed more skepticism, for example, in the comment sections to stories about SWAT raids. I’ve also noticed more skepticism in much of the media coverage of these raids. And again, I think the fact that these tactics are now being used against people who have the means and status to speak out is drawing new attention to police militarization, and causing more people to question the wisdom of all of this. But again, there are some major political hurdles in the way of reform.

The gear and weapons and tanks are a problem. But I think a much deeper problem is the effect all of this war talk and battle rhetoric has had on policing as a profession. In much of the country today, police officers are psychologically isolated from the communities they serve. It’s all about us vs. them. There are lots of reasons for that, which I describe in the book but are too involved to get into here. But it’s really destructive.

I make a number of specific suggestions in the book about how to change that mindset — most of which came from interviews with long-time cops and former police chiefs. But generally speaking, cops should be a part of the communities in which they work. They should walk beats. They should know the names of the school principals, 7-11 managers, and Boys and Girls Club and community center staffers. When your only interaction with the community is antagonistic — responding to calls, conducting stop & frisks, questioning people — your relationship with the community will be antagonistic. Cops are public servants. Their job is to keep the peace while protecting and observing our constitutional rights. Somewhere in the process constantly declaring war on things, we’ve lost sight of that.

For 30 years, politicians and public officials have been arming, training, and dressing cops as if they’re fighting a war. They’ve been dehumanizing drug offenders and criminal suspects as the enemy. And of course they’ve explicitly and repeatedly told them they’re fighting a war. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that a lot of cops have started to believe it.

France proposes police controls on who uses public information

France proposes police controls on who uses public information

RegardsCitoyens.org
PRESS RELEASE

Madrid/Paris, 23 November 2010 – A law to be discussed in the French parliament before the end of 2010 will result in the police carrying out “behaviour” checks on members of the public and organisations wanting to reuse information obtained from public bodies. The likely effect is to severely limit access to information and freedom of expression.

The draft law currently before the French National Assembly amends the 1995 Police Security Act and will extend the scope of police “behaviour” checks from legitimate purposes such as checking on those to have access to dangerous substances and high security zones to those who want to reuse information obtained from public bodies. The criteria for the background checks are not specified in the law.

The information affected could include, for example, databases on public spending, copies of laws, or electoral results. Much data held by local authorities which is of great interest to the public such as schedules and real-time locations of trains and buses, information about recycling schemes, and construction works permits would also fall under these new controls.

The associations Access Info Europe and Regards Citoyens today expressed concerns that the law, if adopted, will significantly complicate and slow access to information in France.

“This is an extremely dangerous law which would seriously limit freedom of expression in France,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.

“Subjecting those who wish to access and reuse public datasets to vaguely-defined morality controls runs counter to the basic principles of the freedom of expression and information enshrined in the French Constitution, and is a violation of European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence and EU law,” added Darbishire.

Access Info Europe notes that in 2010 many leading democracies such as the US and the UK, Norway and Spain, Australia and New Zealand, are posting on line large volumes of public data making them free for anyone in the world to use. They do this out of recognition of the societal and economic benefits that flow from the reuse of public sector information.

“If this provision were to be adopted, France would be closing down public access to information rather than opening it up,” concluded Benjamin Ooghe-Tabanou, co-founder of Regards Citoyens.

Notes for Editors:

1. Access Info Europe is a human rights organisation head-quartered in Madrid which promote the right of access to information and open government data in Europe. Access Info Europe believes that more public information means better participation in and greater accountability of public bodies.

2. Regards Citoyens is a civic association which promotes the opening of public data to secure greater transparency of democratic institutions in France.

3. The proposed reform is to 1995 Security Law (Loi n°95-73 du 21 janvier 1995 d’orientation et de programmation relative à la sécurité).

4. The amendment would impact on the right of access to public information granted under the 1978 Access to Administrative Documents Law as modified by European Union Directive 2003/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 November 2003 on the re-use of public sector information. The EU Directive requires that governments to create “fair, proportionate and non-discriminatory conditions for the re-use of [public sector] information.” The European Commission is currently reviewing this Directive. This case and the broader impact of this Directive on the fundamental right of access to information should be carefully reviewed by the Commission.

5. The Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents from 2009, not yet signed by France, requires that all requesters be treated equally and without discrimination. It is illegitimate under this and other international standards to ask why someone wants information or what they will do with it.

6. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that access to information held by public bodies when these are monopolies is an inherent part of the right to freedom of expression: information is needed to participate in democratic public debate. See, inter aliaTársaság a Szabadságjogokért v. Hungary (App no 37374/05), ECHR, 14 April 2009.

7. Examples of online portals for accessing public data include www.data.govwww.data.gov.ukwww.data.gov.au.

 

Innocent in London – ‘Suspicious behaviour on the tube’

Innocent in London – ‘Suspicious behaviour on the tube’

‘LONDON (Reuters): – A London underground train station was evacuated and part of a main east-west line closed in a security alert on Thursday, three weeks after suicide bombers killed 52 people on the transport network, police said. A Transport Police spokeswoman said Southwark station was closed and Jubilee Line services suspended between Waterloo and Canary Wharf in the east London business district.’ [published on 2005-07-28 at 21:03]

This Reuters story was written while the police were detaining me in Southwark tube station and the bomb squad was checking my rucksack. When they were through, the two explosive specialists walked out of the tube station smiling and commenting ‘nice laptop’. The officers offered apologies on behalf of the Metropolitan Police. Then they arrested me.

Read more

Police in Italy can arrest people who act in a bizarre manner

Italy
A proliferation of forbidden behaviour

http://www.statewatch.org/news/2009/jan/01italy-forbidden-behaviour.htm

New powers given to local councils in the “security package” approved on 23 May 2008, under article 5 of law decree no. 92 (which came into force on 5 August and was converted into a law on 9 August 2008), allow them to issue orders in the fields of public order and security, to carry out security and judicial police functions and to monitor anything that is relevant for public order and security. The summer months have seen a number of councils adopting sanctions
against all manner of behaviour (see Statewatch Vol 18 no 2).

The following is a translated extract from an article entitled “L’estate dei divieti. Spiagge, parchi e strade come caserme” (“The summer of prohibitions. Beaches, parks and streets like barracks”), published in the weekly anarchist bulletin Umanità Nova no. 27 of 7 September 2008:

"In the past, the first citizen [the mayor] could issue ‘acts that are attributed to him/her by laws and regulations in the field of public order and security’. Now the mayor is responsible for the surveillance ‘of anything that may concern public order and security, informing the prefetto [the police chief in a given town] in advance’. In this way, the mayors have the power to issue ordinances on anything that may concern “security and urban decorum”, imposing administrative sanctions, that is, fines and judicial seizures, on offenders. The Maroni [the interior minister] decree became law on 9 August and was immediately followed by a plethora of ordinances by mayors in cities and towns throughout the peninsula. The first victims of the ordinances were migrants and vagrants. In many cities (including Rimini, Alassio and Venice), street-selling by foreigners, including those with a license, was forbidden. In several places, such as Rome, Venice or Florence, it was prohibited to carry merchandise in a big sports bag, plastic bag or similar items.

In some cases, local traffic police officers (as happened several times in Rimini) unleashed veritable manhunts on the beach to ensure that prohibitions were respected. In Ostia, one of the most frequented beaches on the Tyrrhenian, a hunt targeting hawkers was “strengthened” with the help of surveillance by helicopters flying over the coast at low altitude to detect “sellers of counterfeit labels”.

After Chinese masseuses were banned from the coasts in Tuscany and Romagna (with regional laws approved for this purpose by the ‘red’ Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany) through a circular order by Francesca Martini, the under-secretary for Welfare, throughout the national territory, massages given by migrants were forbidden due to the risk that the “aesthetic or therapeutic services” are offered by people who “may not possess adequate experience”.

However, the hunting of vagrants and beggars (something not seen since the first half of the 1800s) was the main dish served up in the summer of “ordinances”. First off the mark was the mayor of Assisi, who immediately forbade begging and “nomadism”, drawing praise from the monks as beggars are perceived as driving tourists away from the basilica and the tomb of Saint Francis.

Meanwhile, on 10 August, following the Maroni decree, 2,412 homeless people were identified in a single day in Milan. In Pescara, Bologna, Florence, Padua, Verona, Turin, Trieste and Cortina, the council authorities decided to impose very heavy fines on those begging to raise enough money to get through the day. In Verona, the proceeds of begging are confiscated as well, as is any other money found on beggars.

Then, there is a series of other ordinances that concern so-called “urban decorum”. The frontrunner in this specialty is Florence, which has always been riven by the feuding of the PCI/PDS/DS/PD [the leading Communist and then centre-left parties].

On 11 August, the urban police’s regulation, euphemistically entitled “Norms for civil coexistence in the city”, came into force. Among other things, it stipulates that it is forbidden to lie down in the street, wash one’s armpits in public fountains, tie a bicycle to a bench, feed pigeons, play with a ball or frisbee in the street and public parks, beating towels on balconies, cleaning windscreens or asking to have one’s windscreen cleaned at traffic lights, “indecorously” eating a meal in public, throwing cigarette butts on the ground (although there aren’t any ashtrays in the street yet, etc.).

Such imagination has had its imitators in several other parts of the peninsula. In Viareggio, Capri, Amalfi, Riccione, Forte dei Marmi, Venezia, Alassio and Taormina, it is forbidden to wander with one’s top off, other than on the beach. Drinks in glass containers are prohibited in the evening in Pisa, Ravenna, Genova, Monza, and Brescia. [There is] zero tolerance for smokers in Is Aruttas, in the province of Oristano, and whoever smokes on the beach risks a 360 Euro fine. Beaches in general have become places that are not easy to visit. Across Tuscany it is forbidden to lay down one’s towel less than 5 metres away from the shore and sand castles are also forbidden because “they obstruct the passageway” and this is also the case for playing with a ball or bats and a tennis ball.

In Ravenna, meanwhile, whoever bathes in the sea after eight pm is to be punished with a 1,000 euro fine. All public spaces are regulated. In Novara, access to parks and gardens is forbidden: to groups comprising more than two people between 23:30 and 6 in the morning”, and those transgressing are to be punished with a fine of up to 500 Euros. In Voghera, the ordinance proposed by the local police council officer, Vincenzo Giugliano (of Alleanza Nazionale), limits itself to prohibiting the use of benches to groups of more than three people. But there is no limit to this frenzy of limits. In Eboli, the mayor has introduced a fine of 500 Euros for effusive behaviour in a car. Cortina will clear its city centre streets of “false social promoters”. To counter paedophiles, the Trento town council has prohibited the filming of children in swimming pools. Finally, close to Milan, Trezzano sul Naviglio has established a Sex Tax (500 Euros), applying it to those drivers who stop for a moment or carry out sudden manoeuvres in areas where prostitution is practised.”

Umanità Nova, no.27 of 7 September 2008