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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Scandal of Government sell-out on our right to privacy

Those of us who have been worried by the threat to our privacy and basic liberties posed by the introduction of ID cards now have an additional matter to be concerned about. According to today's Daily Telegraph, the Government have decided that our details can be accessed by a foreign country.

The fact that the Country concerned is the USA, who are reportedly an ally of ours, should not put anybody's mind at rest. America has a reputation, irrespective of whichever President is in power, of interpreting its national interest very widely and of showing the sort of disregard for human rights, when it perceives those interests are threatened, that would have shamed many former communist bloc countries.

The Telegraph of course blames the European Union but it seems that they were left with little choice in the matter. The paper reports:

Britons flying to America could have their credit card and email accounts inspected by the United States authorities following a deal struck by Brussels and Washington.

By using a credit card to book a flight, passengers face having other transactions on the card inspected by the American authorities. Providing an email address to an airline could also lead to scrutiny of other messages sent or received

As a result of the US Government threatening to exclude European carriers from their airspace the Americans are now entitled to 34 separate pieces of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data — all of which must be provided by airlines from their computers:

Much of it is routine but some elements will prove more contentious, such as a passenger's email address, whether they have a previous history of not turning up for flights and any religious dietary requirements.

While insisting that "additional information" would only be sought from lawful channels, the US made clear that it would use PNR data as a trigger for further inquiries.

Anyone seeking such material would normally have to apply for a court order or subpoena, although this would depend on what information was wanted. Doubts were raised last night about the effectiveness of the safeguards.

"There is no guarantee that a bank or internet provider would tell an individual that material about them was being subpoenaed," an American lawyer said.

"Then there are problems, such as where the case would take place and whether an individual has time to hire a lawyer, even if they wanted to challenge it."

Initially, such material could be inspected for seven days but a reduced number of US officials could view it for three and a half years. Should any record be inspected during this period, the file could remain open for eight years.

Material compiled by the border authorities can be shared with domestic agencies. It can also be on a "case by case" basis with foreign governments.

Washington promised to "encourage" US airlines to make similar information available to EU governments — rather than compel them to do so.

As usual Liberty's Director, Shami Chakrabarti, has hit the nail on the head in her view of these concessions:

"It is pretty horrendous, particularly when you couple it with our one-sided extradition arrangements with the US.".

"It is making the act of buying a ticket a gateway to a host of personal email and financial information. While there are safeguards, it appears you would have to go to a US court to assert your rights."

The Department of Transport says that the US Government has given undertakings on how this data will be used and who will see it, but I suspect that such assurances will prove to be worthless.


the USA, who are reportedly an ally of ours

I gave up reading at that point. Why not get a point across without mistaking yourself for a 19 year-old. Who the hell do you think are Britain's allies?

You don't like the current administration, fine. You think the US isn't our ally? Stupid.
I did not say that the US is not our ally. My point was that clearly they are an ally, but sometimes they do not behave like they are.
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