Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Landmark ruling: Police breaking the law holding personal details for 100 years

An even more important case covered in the Times today is the landmark ruling by the Information Tribunal that police forces have been acting illegally in intending to retain personal details relating to minor crimes for 100 years. 100 years for goodness sake! The total surveillance mentality is getting a dangerous grip in state institutions that are supposed to protect fundamental freedoms. When it becomes the default administrative mindset of those institutions then we really need to be concerned.

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that all large complex organisations converge towards a kind of operational insanity where process and procedures take precedence over people and the role of the employees of the institution is to ensure the rules are followed irrespective of the scale of damage such processes might inflict. I should probably write a paper or a book on it but for now consider the Times story:

"Tens of thousands of criminal records could be deleted after a landmark ruling that police were breaking rules on the holding of personal details.

Police reacted with dismay to a judgment by the Information Tribunal, which could force them to review millions of records of minor crimes.

The ruling opens the way for all those who have been convicted of a minor offence when young, and who have since remained out of trouble, to apply for their record to be removed from the Police National Computer.

Police privately cautioned last night that there were potentially much wider implications. “A crime may look very trivial, but it might still be of significance to a person’s potential behaviour,” a police source said...

In a second blow to the storage of crime records, the Ethics Group, a government-appointed advisory body, gave warning that keeping DNA samples of people arrested but never charged or convicted is a potential breach of human rights laws.

Yesterday’s tribunal ruling ordered five police forces to delete the criminal records of five individuals from the national computer, which holds details of millions of people convicted, cautioned or reprimanded for a crime.

Under present police policy, an individual’s criminal record remains on the computer for 100 years."

The police had been appealing a ruling from the Information Commissioner that they were contravening data protection laws. That quote from the "police source" is another classic example of how the administrative mindset gets out of control - “A crime may look very trivial, but it might still be of significance to a person’s potential behaviour.” It's straight out of the we've got to clamp down on 5-year olds since 'it might still be of significance to their potential behaviour' mentality and completely barmy.

Good to see that there are still a few elements in the system standing up for robust liberal democratic values. Why should minor transgressions in life haunt people for life? After all George W. Bush was reportedly a drunk and a juvenile delinquent and grew up to be the US president, so they don't all blossom into hard nosed criminals... er... on second thoughts... Tony Blair had a lifelong pure-white-smile recorded background and he and Bush are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people. In Italy the Berlusconi (and I guess he hasn't exactly got a clean record) government is currently taking the total surveillance mentality of Bush-Blairism to its chilling next level, institutionalising state based abuse of the Romany people through their efforts to fingerprint every member of that minority group and publicly denigrating them at every opportunity. Which leads to the kind of callous disregard for human life we see reported on the front page of today's Independent.

"It's another balmy weekend on the beach in Naples. By the rocks, a couple soak up the southern Italian sun. A few metres away, their feet poking from under beach towels that cover their faces and bodies, lie two drowned Roma children. The girls, Cristina, aged 16, and Violetta, 14, were buried last night...

It is an image that has crystallised the mounting disquiet in the country over the treatment of Roma, coming after camps have been burnt and the government has embarked on a bid to fingerprint every member of the minority. Two young Roma sisters had drowned at Torregaveta beach after taking a dip in treacherous waters. Their corpses were recovered from the sea – then left on the beach for hours while holidaymakers continued to sunbathe and picnic around them...

The Berlusconi government has launched a high-profile campaign against the community, spearheaded by the programme announced by the Interior Minister, Roberto Marroni, to fingerprint the entire Roma population. The move has been condemned inside Italy and beyond as a return to the racial registers introduced by the Fascist regime in the 1930s. The fingerprinting of Roma in Naples began on 19 June."

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