ID scheme, IT the key to Blunkett's new terror laws

It all hangs together (cross fingers)

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The pile of security legislation the Government unveiled yesterday is disturbingly large but, as Peter Hain has to all intents and purposes confessed, most of it is window-dressing this side of the election. A couple of Bills will get through before May, with ID cards and SOCA, the 'British FBI', among the most likely to do so. Another with heavy IT implications, the Management of Offenders Bill (tagging) also stands some chance, but ID Cards (the Government seems to have switched back to "Cards" rather than "Scheme") looks like being the showpiece the Government will try to sell itself on in the next election campaign.

The 'British FBI', the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) will not cover terrorism, which makes it not much of an FBI, but will have a lot to do with surveillance, and is headed by former MI5 chief Sir Stephen Lander, who revealed himself as worryingly gung-ho in Sunday's Dimbleby programme. It was the excited smirk he gave as he said: "I'm an enthusiast for using wiretaps" that got us. So lots more lovely wiretaps in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, some media training for Sir Stephen, but quite possibly no sign of wiretaps being used in court before the Counter Terrorism Bill makes them more secrecy-friendly on the other side of the election. Lander, along with Blunkett and most of the security services, isn't so keen on having surveillance operations being exposed in court proceedings. On the two flagship bills Blunkett says:

"Identity cards would help us tackle the organised criminals and terrorists who use fake identities to carry out their crimes. They would also aid the fight against illegal working and immigration abuse, enable easier and more convenient access to services and ensure free public services are only used by those entitled to them. The Identity Cards Bill will set out the stringent safeguards we want for the use of the cards, what information they contain and who can access it.

"The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill would establish a new agency to lead the fight against crime gangs whose trade in drugs and guns has an impact in every community in Britain. A new law-enforcement agency will be created that will pursue crime bosses using the very latest technology. The Bill would also overhaul the powers of police officers and extend the powers of Community Support Officers so they can deal effectively with anti-social behaviour on the streets."

We'll leave the mission-creep obvious in that last sentence until we can do a broader reading of the legislation for 'shopping list' type additions. Both the surveillance aspect and the intent to use the "very latest technology" (which underlies most of the security plans) is of major importance for the IT industry.

Two draft bills, the Draft Youth Justice Bill and the Draft Counter-Terrorism Bill, are there to put down marks for the next administration and to 'crowd out' the opposition on the security issue. The Youth Justice Bill will be ramping up the use of tagging and tracking to support a move away from prison and towards community sentences, while the Counter-Terrorism Bill will likely include Blunkett's 'ASBOS for terror suspects' (or as we're trying to call them, Anti-Internet Behaviour Orders, AIBOs, and juryless anti-terror courts. This does not seem sufficient to populate a whole David Blunkett 'sensible preemptive security measure', and we feel sure there will be much more.

A couple more measures do not have any obvious security implications, but are likely to be of interest to Register readers. The Inland Revenue and Customs Merger Bill is intended to do what it says on the tin, and will clearly have an impact on your personal financial situation. The Road Safety Bill will allow police to force drink-drive offenders to take another test, and raises the fine for driving while using a mobile phone to £60. This latter is a response to the lack of impact of the previous effort at a ban, which itself was brought in because enforcement of existing legislation on driving without due care and attention was patchy. You'll note that the problem here is enforcement rather than level of fine, but that they're pretending not to notice.

The Clean Neighbourhoods And Environment Bill might have an impact on the more rowdy elements of the IT business, not that this should apply to Register readers. It gives local authorities the power to issue fines for a range of messy behaviour, including litter, noise and light pollution (light pollution? No doubt somebody will explain), so getting spot-fined for dropping cigarettes and being unruly outside pubs will become more common. Blunkett's 'zero tolerance' consultant from the US has also been suggesting points on your driving licence for anti-social behaviour, so there will be that to consider in the future as well.

Oh, and Blunkett proposes to broaden police powers of arrest, while the Drugs Bill allows police to test for drugs on arrest rather than when charged. Those arrested will already have their DNA added to the national database, and ultimately the wider arrest powers will allow biometrics to be added in the same way (if they haven't got them already by then). It all joins up, conceptually. Joining it up IT-wise will be a lot harder, and that issue will keep us all busy for quite a few years yet. ®

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