The End of Privacy

Once again, just when you think the British Government could not get more intrusive, they prove you wrong.

I have often discussed the ever-increasing Big Brother approach of the Labour Government as each new plan is revealed. Now we learn that any bottom-rung local bureaucrat will be able to access every piece of information on any individual held by any Government or local department, agency, or council.

When you consider that this will include all medical records, every email and phone call made, and all of the biometric data to be stored for the mandatory ID cards, think about local council workers making £12,000 a year. Certainly most of them are completely honest (even if honesty is not a particular plentiful commodity in this country), but think of the profit that can be made from identity fraud. We are assured by the Ministry of Justice that anyone misusing the data could get a prison sentence of up to two years. Two years = one year with good behaviour. Prisons bursting at the seams mean very few people can be sent away for first, second or third offenses. Seems like a pretty light risk for very big gain.

Or to put it more bluntly, it is handing over the data to people who will do terribly things with it. Then after the bureaucrats are done, the criminals will get it.

Running Out of Things to Lose

It was only a few days ago that I commented on British Government losing all of the confidential data on every prisoner in the UK. Now it has been revealed that they have lost the details on 5,000 employees of the justice system. This information was on a hard drive.

How do you lose just a hard drive? The Ministry of Justice isn’t exactly sure. They know the details were lost by their completely incompetent contractors EDS. They also know that it happened in July of last year, though the Justice Secretary only found out after somebody told The News of the World. It’s pretty bad when the Government has to find out from a Sunday tabloid newspaper that it’s employees are at risk.

As usual, this is going to be an expensive blunder.

The Prison Officers’ Association said the loss, which it had not been informed about, could end up costing the taxpayer millions of pounds.

National chairman Colin Moses said: “We are extremely concerned that not only has this data been lost, but that the Prison Service appear to have tried to conceal this serious breach in security.

“It is a breach that we believe could ultimately cost the taxpayer millions and millions of pounds, because, if the information lost is personal and sensitive, it may well mean staff having to move prisons, move homes and relocate their families.”

Losing Everything

I keep thinking that it is impossible for the British Government and it’s bureaucracy to screw things up worse than they already have. It’s the one thing about which I am always wrong. They just can’t stop losing things.

First, they lost the bank details of everyone receiving child benefit – that is, every family with children in the UK, including mine – 25 million in all. We got a nice impersonal apology letter for that one. Then they lost the details of three million learner drivers.

Then the Ministry of Defence lost a laptop with the details of 600,000  people who had expressed an interest in joining the armed forces. At least they know when and where they lost that one (it was left overnight in a car in Birmingham), even if they never got it back. At the time they didn’t even know they had lost hundreds of Ministry of Defense laptops and memory sticks with classified information on them and still don’t know where those are.

All the while they keep insisting that we hand over more and more data for them to keep on us.

Now the Home Office has lost all the data – including all the confidential information – on every prisoner in the UK. This is includes release dates and other information that could compromise their safety.  The Government is looking at millions and millions of pounds in compensation or in damages from the inevitable lawsuits.

I honestly don’t know what new higher levels of incompetence the Government will demonstrate before the next General Election. I don’t know how much of the country will be left for them to turn over to the Tories. The mind boggles.

Not British Enough

I have to follow up on the previous post with this story I saw in the Mail on Sunday. I thought it was bad enough that I have lived here for nine years and have to pay £655 to become a citizen. Keir Hardie is an ex-Marine who has lived here for 52 years – since he was three years old. He’s also been a policeman, a fireman, and even a town councillor. He now works for the NHS.

Now he’s facing departation because he was born in Canada and never officially got indefinite leave to remain. The fee for that is £750, plus he has to take the Life in Britain exam as well.

Because his British grandfather was serving in the Army in India when his father was born, he has to produce his grandfather’s birth and wedding certificates, even though they have long been lost, as they were issued a century ago. Otherwise he will be deported. To Turkey.

That’s right. He’s a Canadian citizen who has lived in the UK for over 50 years and the Government wants to deport him to Turkey. His only connection to Turkey is that he last entered the UK returning from a holiday there. I suppose that, jobless for the first time in his adult life, he could eventually make his way to Canada, though it has probably changed a bit since he was three years old.

Summer of Discontent

I suppose it is a good thing that we can’t afford for the unnamed grandchildren to visit their grandparents in America this summer. Since they are dual citizens they are required to enter the United States on their American passports, but upon returning they have to show their British passports. The older unnamed child is still waiting for the renewal of his British passport.

It’s been a long wait. The Unnamed Woman sent everything off to the passport office in plenty of time. She enclosed the required two photographs, taken in a photo booth which advertised that the photos could be used for passports. After the usual bureaucratic delay, we were informed that the photos were unacceptable, so another set would have to provided. They were “too light”, though the bureaucrats didn’t explain what they meant by this description.

The Unnamed Woman took the child to a professional photographer experienced in producing passport photos. This photographer had already produced photos to the more rigorous requirements of the US Passport Agency. Another set were dispatched. After another extended bureaucratic delay, another letter arrived, informing us that once again the photos were unacceptable.

After extended unproductive telephone conversations with the four or five different useless passport office apparatchiks, another set of photos was sent. Then nothing. Why? Because the passport workers went on strike. The result? A backlog of 150,000 applications.

The backlog will take well into August to clear, according to jubilant union officials, smugly pleased with themselves that the general public will feel the maximum impact of their industrial action and that thousands will lose out on their holidays. If they haven’t already bought their travel insurance, then potentially they will have lost all the money they have paid for that holiday, meaning there will be no way to make it up at a later date.

I can understand why passport workers are angry. None are getting better than a below-inflation pay rise – in effect a pay cut. The longest serving staff are getting no pay rise – real or imagined – for the fifth year in a row. It is interesting that the governing party is tied to the trade unions, yet has more trouble appeasing them than the Tories. Because there has been industrial action across this civil service this year, we could be headed for another Winter of Discontent.

The only question is whether Gordon Brown will be around as Prime Minister by that time. His Government is falling apart. A couple of days ago, the third safest Labour seat in Parliament was lost to the Scottish Nationalist Party in a by-election.  His own cabinet ministers are questioning his future and plotting his downfall.

For the first time in years, the Conservative Party is way ahead in the opinion polls. It appears that having finally convinced the country that they are greener and gayer than Labour, so there will be no challenge to the cherished values of the Left, the British population may very well be willing to give them another shot at governing.

Having lost most of my affinity for the Tories, I only want to see them in power to see the Red Rose lot out. I think the Government will run marginally more effectively and we may see a slow down on the road to totalitarianism, but no great change. I doubt they will even get the passport office to function more effectively.

Notes from Hell

My most read post of the last month (and the third most read this year) was about Susan Pope, the school nurse at Malvern St James who was sacked for smacking her son once on the bottom for repeatedly swearing at her.

Today Mrs Pope has her own say, in a article she wrote for the Mail on Sunday. If you want an inside story on dealing with bureaucrats and police in the face of often bizarre accusations, you must read this. It has been nearly a year since her ordeal began and it is not over yet. Social Services are still infesting the lives of Mrs Pope and her husband, because the Popes won’t back down. Social Services have acted illegally repeatedly and gotten away with it. It is a story of abuse: a harrowing tale of governmental abuse of innocent people.

Social Services are helping to spread the cancer of family breakdown identified by Sir Paul Coleridge, the senior family court judge, as I mentioned yesterday. Sir Paul was not just concerned about marriages falling apart, but about the meltdown of parent-child relationships. Sir Paul’s views made not just the front page headline of the Daily Mail, but also the Daily Telegraph and the The Times. The case of the Popes just hightlights how Social Services can apply the blowtorch of aggressive incompetence to these relationships. Not all families are made of the same mettle. (As a side note, Al Gore will not be happy to know that Sir Paul thinks the breakdown of the family is worse than global warming.)

Mrs Pope mentions the subject of another popular post, former school bursar Denis Smith. It appears he was more involved in Mrs Smith’s sacking than previously suggested, whilst at the same time his own departure from the school was less honourable than reported.

Feeling Harrassed, Love?

Acts of Parliament are nice and all, but hardly necessary most of the time. There is a reason that the system of government in this country is called an elective dictatorship. Women and Equalities Minister Harriet Harman has once again demonstrated how this works.

Using a statutory instrument, which is basically ministerial fiat, she has decided that rules about sexual harrassment are going to change. Employers will now be held responsible for the acts of customers. I say “acts,” but the amount of action required to support a demand for compensation is quite minimal.

Calling a barmaid or a shop assistant “love”, “darling”, or even “young lady” will be enough. Since this is common parlance for a large segment of society, it will not take long for it to happen three times. That’s the minium for making a claim. Not three times from the same customer, or three times in the same day – just three times total.

It is anticipated that large notices warning customers will be posted everywhere on business premises. However, given that pubs, as well as restaurants and other leisure environments where alcohol is served, deal with a significant number of customers whose inhibitions have been reduced, it may be difficult for them to restrain themselves from such sexual harrasment, not to mention more egregious violations, such as asking a female staff member on a date.

Any claim made will be assumed to be proved. The burden of proof will be on employers to prove that they were not at fault. And remember, what is or is not harrassment is entirely up to the subjective feelings of the person claiming to have been offended. The employer doesn’t even need to have had prior notice that the employee would find a particular familiarity by a customer to be offensive.

This will all be enforced by tribunals run by the Government’s Commission for Equality and Human Rights. More bureaucrats.

Government Profiteering Through Fees

I got my new passport today. I’m good to travel for another ten years.

I wanted to move my Indefinite Leave to Remain visa from my old passport to the new one. Seems like it would be a fairly straightforward procedure. Given everything I’ve paid in fees in the past, you would think it is would be free. Okay, maybe there would be a small administrative charge for the transferring the sticker, or even pasting a new one in the new passport.

Not exactly. There is a £160 fee. It’s like a 10-year recurring tax to be a taxpayer. But that’s for having it done by post. So I’ll just take in personally and have it done. Less administrative hassle for the bureaucrats, so a much cheaper fee, right?

Not exactly. The fee goes up. Way up. So what does the Government charge me for using my own petrol and taking time off work to make things easier for them? £500. There is an advantage to me though. I don’t have to wait up to 14 weeks to get my documents returned. So I suppose I’m paying for the privilege of not being prevented from traveling for three months.

But there’s more. Just as if I was applying to enter the UK for the first time, I have to answer the usual questions:

In times of either peace or war have you or any dependants included in this application ever been involved, or suspected of involvement, in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide?

Have you or any dependants included in this application ever been involved in, supported or encouraged terrorist activities in any country?

Have you or any dependants included in this application ever been a member of, or given support to, an organisation which has been concerned in terrorism?

Why do they ask these questions? Do they honestly think that someone is going to be involved in genocide or terrorism and then admit to it on a government form? This is honestly sillier that then question at the airline check-in counter about whether you packed your own bag, as if you are suddenly going to remember that a strange Middle Eastern man showed up at your house and asked if he could pack your bag for you, just as a random act of kindness.

Fortunately, I don’t have to answer the questions (which wouldn’t be a problem) or pay the £160 (which would), as long as I keep my old passport with me. I just have to present both documents when I want to get back into the country. As I see it, why should I pay £160 when it is going to cost me £655 to apply for citizenship and it will take the same amount of time to process the application?

It is much cheaper to become an American citizen. $330 (or about £165). A replacement green card is $190 (£95). Is this just another example of Rip-off Britain?

Without Objection

Except for presidential politics, I tend to blog mostly about things on the eastern side of the Atlantic. That’s probably because living here, most of the things that affect my life on a daily basis are here. However, having visited the blog of a commenter to a previous post, my attention is drawn westward.

Each of Mark McGaha’s children have been declared a Child in Need of Services (CHINS) by an Indiana Circuit Court at the behest of the Department of Child Services. I can’t opine on whether they should be CHINS or not, or whether they should be in foster care.

As a lawyer I used to handle occasional CHINS cases in Indiana, usually representing the interests of one or both parents. One of my longest-running cases was a CHINS case involving what I called the family tree that didn’t fork. So I’m not denying that there can be situations whether the State needs to step in.

Unless there have been significant changes in my absence, like all buraucrats, DCS workers range from good to bad. If McGaha’s allegations are true, then there are some in Fountain County who are very bad. One thing that concerns me is that there is no mention of McGaha’s lawyer. He needs one. If he is doing this on his own, sadly he is fighting at a severe disadvantage.

This may be why the Fountain County Circuit Court judge got away with an outrageous unconstitutional act. She issued a restraining order preventing WXIN in Indianapolis from showing McGaha’s face or even allowing him to make his complaints against DCS. As one of my old law professors commented to the Indianapolis Star, “I don’t know what’s more outrageous: the judge ordering this and not knowing it violates the Constitution, or knowing and still issuing the injunction.” He described this as bordering on judicial misconduct. “Quite simply, a judge does not have the authority to stop the press from publishing or airing a story. Any person has a right to contact the press and say a public agency is not treating them right.”

Because of the inherent power of the bureaucracy, the press is one of the only checks upon it. That is why it is so important that access to the press not be denied. The greater the power, the more important the power to question it and challenge it. The more important that it stay on the straight and narrow. Otherwise rights get trampled upon. Otherwise democracy is meaningless.