Posts Tagged ‘Home Office’


Caroline Nokes MP speaks candidly to the Southampton Amnesty group

Immigration, refugees and asylum seekers are a toxic subject in the UK and the situation seems to be getting worse not better.  This week, the home secretary, Priti Patel announced fresh measures to address the ‘problem’ which many have argued are both unnecessary and unworkable.  Immigrants in all forms are seen as a problem despite the many studies showing that they are net benefit to the country.  Many aspects of our society would almost cease to function without their contributions: the NHS would have to scale down drastically; horticulture and agriculture would suffer, food preparation would almost come to a standstill. 

Other countries have problems that dwarf ours – Turkey, Jordan and Greece for example have millions between them.  The number of asylum cases has diminished since 2002, but the government, stoked up by a fairly relentless right wing media campaign of stories real and imagined, has acted in a relentless hostile fashion.  The Home Office has become a byword for inefficiency, harsh decisions and aggressive actions of which the Windrush scandal is just one example. 

The Southampton Amnesty group invited Caroline Nokes MP to speak and this is a note of her talk to them. 

Caroline Nokes MP left the Home Office, vowing never to speak of immigration again.  But after a year her anger at the direction immigration was taking drove her to take action which she set out in a recent article in the Independent Newspaper.  A number of AI members from the Romsey and Southampton Groups had read this article and as a result invited Caroline to a joint virtual meeting.  At the meeting on the 4th March, Caroline gave a frank exposition of her views of the Home Office’s current approach, a summary of which is outlined below.  This article has been read by Caroline and its accuracy confirmed.

Home Office’s Attitude/Approach to immigration

This is very dependent on the attitude/approach of the Home Secretary.  Caroline felt that when Sajid Javid and Amber Rudd had been Home Secretary they were determined to learn the lessons of Windrush and give the Home Office a more “human face”.  More recently, the HO appears not to have made progress on this initiative, and asylum claims in particular seen as “work in progress” not people.  She expressed her concerns about the lack of resources given to the asylum system and that staff were junior.

Determinations

Decisions about whether or not to grant refugee status take far too long.  The target is 6 months, but the reality is closer to several years.  The system does not work well and is poorly served by ineffective lawyers.  She had recently heard young applicants complain about the interpreters available to them, as the issue is not just about language but also “style”.  In Caroline’s view, the system at the moment is too black and white.  No account seems to be taken at this stage that it is possible further documentation may become available.  The only way to consider additional information is via appeals, which prolongs the process.  A system needs to be developed which takes into account the difficulty of getting all the documents together, the trauma that the asylum seeker may be going through and the need for keeping to a six-month limit as far as possible.

Right to work

In her view the right to work would not need to change if the determinations met the points raised above.  She felt that this would be preferable to allowing asylum seekers to work which would cause complications with the benefits system.

Accommodation:

She did not think ex-army barracks were a good option, but were better than the “pop-up” camp being proposed at Barton Stacey*.  The Barton Stacey proposal for 500 asylum seekers in cabins has shown a complete disregard for planning rules. There would be no facilities, all resources would have to brought in, including water, and waste would have to be removed by tankers.  All power would need to be provided by noisy generators.  There are no specific health facilities, it is close to a very busy dual carriageway and close to an army range with the sound of gun fire!  There has been no discussion with local experts such as the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group.

A motivation for the HO proposing such camps appears to be about making an unattractive destination for asylum seekers.  However, Caroline pointed out that this would be unlikely to happen as there are three factors which makes the UK an attractive destination for asylum seekers i.e. the language, family ties and the fact that the UK still has a positive reputation internationally.

Future

Caroline was asked how she saw the future as far as this area was concerned.  She said she was concerned at the narrative around migration/asylum, which certainly in sections of the tabloid media contained a vein of racism.  For example, Nigel Farage had claimed recently that a boat full of immigrants had arrived in the UK all of them Covid 19 positive. This was not true!  It was clear Ministers believed the country was on their side when they talked tough about changing the asylum system.

She was very clear that she did not feel the Dubs amendment would pass if it was brought back.

The HO has promised to bring forward a new asylum bill.  The HO appears to have two main reasons why they want to do this.  Firstly they believe the current system is broken and in particular there are too many appeals.  Secondly, since we left the EU the Dublin agreement no longer applies to the UK.  Caroline believes it is indeed broken because determinations take far too long. 

What can be done to ensure a more humane asylum system

The first point Caroline made was that asylum applications in this country were very small approximately 40,000 per year compared to say Germany with upwards of 100,000 per annum.  We need to lobby our MPs write to local press and show that not everyone buys into the negative narrative.

Caroline referred to one positive move that was taking place in Westminster under the Chairmanship of the Bishop of Durham called RAMP.  It is a cross party project.  We must learn the lessons of Windrush and change the negative narrative.

*Barton Stacey is a village north of Winchester and not far from Andover in the UK. 

We are grateful to the Southampton Amnesty group for sending us this text.


Firm based in Porton accused of selling spy equipment to harsh regimes

Considerable interest has been aroused in the last month or so concerning the use of Huawei technology to provide 5G connectivity in the UK.  Other countries in the ‘Five Eyes’ group – USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – will not use this equipment because of fears of intrusion by the Chinese state.  The worry is that the Chinese will gain a backdoor entry into our messages, emails and the like thus compromising our security.  For weeks, the issue has been discussed and could well have repercussions as far as our relationship with the Americans is concerned.

It was not that long ago that the UK and USA were revealed to be invading people’s messages on an industrial scale via the Prism and Tempora programmes.  21 petabytes of data are downloaded a day and there is huge process involved in sifting and selecting the messages which have been intercepted.  It therefore seems inconsistent to be worrying about Chinese intrusion when our own governments are heavily involved in doing the same thing.  The difference is one is our own people and the others are Chinese.  It is claimed that only metadata is collected by GCHQ.

The UK government sponsors an exhibition of security equipment at an event called Security and Policing held at Farnborough.  It is a similar exhibition to DSEI which takes place in London – also supported by the UK government – where arms firms exhibit their wares.  The guest list of both events reveal a range of authoritarian regimes as customers keen to get access to weapons and security equipment with which to maintain their hold on power.  Huawei has achieved considerable publicity for something they claim does not and will not happen while, by contrast, surveillance which is happening receives almost no coverage at all.

What do we mean by … ?

Of course, a lot depends on what we mean by ‘police’ and ‘security’.  Police forces around the world need equipment with which to tackle organised crime, drug smuggling, people trafficking and the like.  Countries might legitimately need equipment to intercept and interdict attempts to commit terrorist offences or attack their citizens.  The difference occurs when this equipment is used to silence critics of the regime, arrest and mistreat them or cause them to disappear.  If people who are peacefully protesting, seeking democracy, acting as human rights defenders or pursuing human rights, have their communications, emails and computers intercepted and compromised using UK manufactured kit then it can be argued this is wrong.  The government goes to great lengths to keep this activity confidential running the only closed event in the country, suggesting it knows that it is potentially damaging.  A member of the parliamentary Arms Export Committee, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, was barred from entering the 2019 exhibition which he said was deeply alarming.

Meanwhile, here in Salisbury …

In the village of Porton, just outside Salisbury – the same village as in Porton Down – is a firm, Gamma TSE which makes this equipment Finfisher and the aptly called Finspy.  What it does was hard to discover exactly but thanks to Wikileaks, details of its equipment are available for all to see.  A pdf which provides comprehensive details of the firm’s spying capabilities to covertly extract data from a computer system, bypass password protection and obtain information from a bank are all described in great detail.  Examples of its extensive interception capabilities are described in information sheets:

The FinIntrusion Kit was used to break the WPA encryption of a Target’s home Wireless network and then monitor his Webmail (Gmail, Yahoo, …) and Social Network (Facebook, MySpace, …) credentials, which enabled the investigators to remotely monitor these accounts from Headquarters without the need to be close to the Target.

Several customers used the FinIntrusion Kit to successfully compromise the security of networks and computer systems for offensive and defensive purposes using various Tools and Techniques.

The password ‘sniffer’ is described thus:

LAN/WLAN Active Password Sniffer
Captures even SSL-encrypted data like Webmail, Video Portals, Online-Banking and more.

It’s ability to gain access remotely:

Usage Example 1: Covert Operation
A source in an Organized Crime Group (OCG) was given a FinUSB Dongle that secretly extracted Account Credentials of Web and Email accounts and Microsoft Office documents from the Target Systems, while the OCG used the USB device to exchange regular files like Music, Video and Office Documents.

After returning the USB device to Headquarters the gathered data could be decrypted, analysed and used to constantly monitor the group remotely.

A worrying feature is the ability of Finspy to operate around the world:

FinSpy has been proven successful in operations around the world for many years, and valuable intelligence has been gathered about Target Individuals and Organizations.
When FinSpy is installed on a computer system it can be remotely controlled and accessed as soon as it is connected to the internet/network, no matter where in the world the Target System is based.  [our italics]

Since many dissidents or people in opposition to a particular regime have fled to Europe including the UK, it leaves open the question of whether this equipment is being used to monitor people now living in the UK.  This was a point made by Privacy International.

The firm also offers training and the list of courses tell their own chilling story:

Sample Course Subjects

· Profiling of Target Websites and Persons

· Tracing anonymous Emails

· Remote access to Webmail Accounts

· Security Assessment of Web-Servers & Web-Services

· Practical Software Exploitation

· Wireless IT Intrusion (WLAN/802.11 and Bluetooth)

· Attacks on critical Infrastructures

· Sniffing Data and User Credentials of Networks

· Monitoring Hot-Spots, Internet Cafés and Hotel Networks

· Intercepting and Recording Calls (VoIP and DECT)

· Cracking Password Hashes

The literature refers several times to ‘organised crime groups’ and this equipment is likely to be of value to police forces acting to stop such activity in their country.  The problem is that countries like Bahrain are likely to use these methods against democracy and human rights campaigners.

Implications

The law firm Leigh Day in London launched a claim in 2019 on behalf of four Bahraini nationals who had been targeted using information obtained using this technology.  Privacy International identified Gamma as having sold this technology to Bahrain:

In 2012, Citizen Lab, a think-tank operating out of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, came across evidence suggesting that Gamma International, a multinational technology corporation with offices across the world, sold a form of malware called FinFisher to Bahrain. Bahraini activists, amongst others, were seriously concerned: FinFisher gives its operator complete access to a target’s computer and mobile phone. That kind of technology in the hands of a state like Bahrain, with its record of human rights abuse, would put at risk a great many people’s lives.

Gamma emphatically denied selling this kit to Bahrain.  However, documents subsequently discovered provided evidence that they had already done so.   The cruel treatment of these elderly individuals is described in an Amnesty report and includes the denial of medical treatment and medication.  A solicitor acting for Gamma says there is no evidence of the firm being involved in human rights abuses and they will defend the claim being made against them.

Gamma are not the only firm selling this equipment.  The UK government has been, and is planning to again, to run the secretive exhibition keeping close control over who attends and keeping anyone away who might question its ethics.  The UK government has made no comment on the actions of the Bahraini authorities, or the allegations of Gamma’s alleged involvement.  If the surveillance by the Bahraini authorities is carried out on computers located within the UK, it is unlawful.

It appears to be a worrying sign of increasing indifference by the UK government of the effects on ordinary people living under oppressive regimes who suffer from the use of arms and surveillance equipment supplied by firms based here in the Britain.  It is inconceivable that GCHQ is unaware of what this firm is doing and its client list around the world which includes several of these regimes.  This indifference is damaging to our reputation and parliamentarians should be asking searching questions of the minister.  The British government has many relationships with the Bahraini royal family.  The Queen and other members of the royal household meet quite regularly.  Today, (10 February 2020) it was reported that Liam Fox met the Bahraini crown prince to lobby on behalf of Petrofac, the owner of which is a major Conservative party donor (£800,000).  It seems quite clear that trade considerations trump human rights issues in government thinking.

Sources:  Amnesty International; Campaign Against the Arms Trade; Citizen’s Lab (Canada); WikiLeaks; Gamma; VICE; the Guardian; Privacy International


If you want to join the Salisbury group you would be most welcome.  We meet every second Thursday (except August) in Victoria Road at 7:30.  Otherwise keep an eye on this site, on Facebook or Twitter and make yourself known at one our events.

 

 


You may want to watch this amazing video which is both telling and amusing: –


Sajid Javid proposes allowing ISIL individuals to be sent to the USA with the risk of torture and execution

UPDATE: 1 August.  Article by Bharat Malkani in British Politics and Policy published by LSE which goes into the wider aspects of British policy in connection with executions on foreign soil. 

UPDATE: 26 July.  Following considerable protest over this decision, the government today announced a temporary suspension of the cooperation with the US over the case.

It has been widely reported today that the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, is withdrawing the long-standing objections the UK has had to sending people to the USA where they risk being executed. The USA is the only country in the Americas which still has the death penalty. We continue to document cases in our monthly reports.

The two individuals who are involved are Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, both from West London.  They were part of a group of individuals from the UK who joined ISIS and allegedly perpetrated some dreadful crimes including beheadings.  They allegedly murdered two US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and aid worker and Iraq war veteran Peter Kassig.  Investigations have been continuing for 4 years and the question has arisen of where they should be tried.

The UK government has a long-standing policy of opposing the death penalty abroad in all circumstances.  It has also been active in trying to persuade those countries which continue to use it, to stop.  Amnesty is opposed to the practice as it has a number of serious flaws.  It is ineffective in preventing crime and it is not a deterrent.  Mistakes cannot be put right.  In the case of terrorists, it risks creating martyrs and spawning others who want to avenge the executions.

It is therefore particularly depressing to see our home secretary acceding to the request.  The full text shows that it is because he believes a successful federal prosecution in the US is more likely to be possible because of differences in their statute book and the restrictions on challenges to the route by which defendants appear in US courts.  In his leaked letter to Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, he says on the matter of sending them to the States:

[…] All assistance and material will be provided on the condition that it may only be used for the purpose sought in that request, namely a federal criminal investigation or prosecution.

Furthermore, I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.  From the letter published in the Mail Online [accessed 23 July 2018]

The decision has received widespread criticism.  Alan Howarth, the head of advocacy and programmes, at Amnesty International said:

This is a deeply worrying development.  The home secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain’s longstanding position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast-iron assurances from the US that it will not be used.

A failure to seek assurances on this case seriously jeopardises the UK’s position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and its work encouraging others to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice.

Other criticisms have come from Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow Attorney General and Lord Carlile who said on the BBC the decision was extraordinary and:

It is a dramatic change of policy by a minister, secretly, without any discussion in parliament.  It flies in the face of what has been said repeatedly and recently by the Home Office – including when Theresa May was home secretary – and very recently by the highly respected security minister, Ben Wallace.

Britain has always said that it will pass information and intelligence, in appropriate cases, provided there is no death penalty.  That is a decades-old policy and it is not for the home secretary to change that policy.  BBC Today programme 23 July 2018

There is also the question of the use of torture.  Will either or both of them be sent to Guantanamo Bay to receive abusive treatment including water boarding?  Coming so soon after a select committee roundly criticized the government for its role in torture and rendition, this is a surprising and disappointing development.

The full text of the letter can be seen here.

Sources: Amnesty; BBC; the Guardian; Mail on line


If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in human rights issues please feel free to join us.  Keep and eye on this site and Facebook for events and come along and make yourself known.  It is free to join the local group but there is a joining fee to join AIUK.

 

 


Ice and Fire to perform in Salisbury

The performing group Ice and Fire are to perform in Salisbury at Sarum College on 18 September starting at 7:30.  The performance will consist of readings from testimonies of refugees, human rights lawyers and home office workers, to show how the system of asylum seeking and acquiring refugee status works in reality in the UK.  It forms part of Amnesty’s continuing campaign to highlight the plight of refugees and how they are treated here.

There is considerable hostility to refugees and asylum seekers with many stories in our tabloid newspapers of such people abusing the system.  People are led to believe that hoards are arriving here and living in hotels by the seaside and costing the country huge sums of money.  The reality is the UK has only 1% of the world’s refugees and has received around 3% of asylum claims made in the EU.

The event is FREE but there will be a parting collection.

A review by The Cambridge Student of an earlier performance.


If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in joining us you would be very welcome.  If you can come to this event, several group members will be about so just make yourself known.  It is free to join the local group.  Details of other activities will be on this site and on Facebook and Twitter – salisburyai.


A Salisbury based firm, Gamma TSE, has been accused of supplying spyware to enable Bahraini activists to be arrested

UPDATE 15 March 17

Extract from a recent University of Toronto report:

[…] Far from using this spyware solely to track what might be considered legitimate targets, these countries and their shadowy agencies have repeatedly used them to get inside the computers of human rights activists, journalists, opposition politicians, and even health advocates supporting a soda tax in Mexico. Some of the victims of these campaigns have found themselves arrested and tortured. Leaked emails from certain companies reveal that, despite public assurances by executives, the vendors seem cavalier about these type of abuses, have few internal checks in place to prevent them, and, indeed, knowingly court the clandestine agencies responsible for such abuses. Despite these alarming incidents, however, the dynamics of and participants in the market at large remain opaque. 

While arguments rage in the USA concerning the alleged interference by Russia of the

Porton Business Centre

Porton Business Centre

presidential elections, a secretive Salisbury based firm, Gamma TSE, has been accused by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development of supplying software called FinFisher or FinSpy to the authorities in Bahrain and elsewhere.  This software enables intelligence agencies to insert Trojan software into computers and mobile phones.  This in turn enables people critical of the regime to be tracked and if necessary arrested by the security services.  The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab is documenting the widespread use of this spying software.

Privacy International, Bahrain Watch, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders lodged a complaint with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.  They allege that the equipment is used by repressive regimes to harass and target dissidents, politicians and human rights activists.

Our involvement with repressive states – especially those in the Gulf – is well-known and Theresa May recently visited Bahrain to promote business interests in the kingdom.  As we have noted many times before, there seems little interest in the consequences of our arms and security companies activities on the ordinary people who live in those countries, the death and destruction in Yemen being particularly awful.

Part of the units occupied by Gamma in Porton

Part of the units occupied by Gamma in Porton

Gamma is again in the news today (9 January 2017, p13) in a Times article entitled ‘No 10 linked to spyware in human rights row’ which reveals that despite the criticism by the OECD, they have been invited to the Home Office sponsored International Security and Policing exhibition in London.  Amnesty reports show that the human rights situation in Bahrain is very poor with reports of torture and other forms of abuse:

[it] details dozens of cases of detainees being beaten, deprived of sleep and adequate food, burned with cigarettes, sexually assaulted, subjected to electric shocks and burned with an iron.  One was raped by having a plastic pipe inserted into his anus.

It said the report showed torture, arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force against peaceful activists and government critics remained widespread in Bahrain.

The OECD report was not conclusive about Gamma as it was a ‘reluctant participant in the proceedings refusing to productively engage in a September 2013 mediation and employed stalling efforts.’

Privacy International say:

Gamma has proven itself to be and irresponsible corporate actor that is indifferent to the human rights impacts of its activities.

The Amnesty report also says:

The government [of Bahrain] continued to curtail freedoms of expression, association and assembly and cracked down further on online and other dissent. Opposition leaders remained imprisoned; some were prisoners of conscience. Torture and other ill-treatment remained common. Scores were sentenced to long prison terms after unfair trials. Authorities stripped at least 208 people of their Bahraini nationality. Eight people were sentenced to death; there were no executions.

A firm helping regimes with a record of mistreating its citizens and regularly using torture, is based in the village of Porton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire.

 

 

 


Secretive Security and Policing Exhibition this week

This week, in Farnborough, the secretive Security and Policing Exhibition takes place behind closed doors.  On the face of it, the event, organised by the Home Office, is innocent enough.  It brings together firms providing security equipment with police and other security personnel who might have an interest in purchasing it.   The UK has a high-profile in this industry.

The first puzzle however, is why the taxpayer is funding this exhibition?  The current government is extremely keen on the private sector and in promoting free enterprise.  It has a distaste for the public sector and seeks every opportunity to outsource or privatise services previously provided by them.  So why, may one ask, is the Home Office organising and sponsoring this event?  Surely since these are profit-making enterprises – some hugely so – can they not organise their own event without subsidy from the taxpayer?

But the bigger concern is the use some of this equipment is put to and the customers being invited to the exhibition.  The list of countries include many well-known abusers of human rights and include Brunei; Indonesia, Saudi Arabia; Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and UAE.  The equipment being sold is likely to be used to violently and brutally repress individuals or groups of protestors who may be carrying out perfectly lawful demonstrations.  Once arrested, many will be tortured, mistreated and in some cases ‘disappeared.’  The UK will be complicit in this activity.

There is clearly some sensitivity around this exhibition – which as we’ve noted, is not open to the public – and its website says:

Established as one of the most important events in the security calendar, this unique event is aimed at police, law enforcement and offender management professionals who are tasked with security, civil protection and national resilience.
Security & Policing enables those with operational needs to meet companies with the relevant solutions. Exhibitors get the opportunity to display products that would be too sensitive to show in a more open environment. Visitors get to see the very latest products, services and technologies available – all within a secure environment. (emphasis added)

Reading some of the exhibitors’ websites is quite chilling with descriptions of real-time interception, harvesting millions of communications a minute and access to the ‘dark web.’  Clearly, if the public were to see some of the equipment it would be alarming so making the exhibition closed gets over that.

In addition to the Home Office, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be attendance to show the delegates round and make them welcome.  John Glen MP is PPS to the Minister and will no doubt be taking part.  We look forward to his piece in the Salisbury Journal telling us about this.  UPDATE 17 March – no mention in the Salisbury Journal (17th March) so perhaps he didn’t attend.

We have previously commented on Britain’s role is supplying weapons and service personnel in various countries and in particular Yemen, where civilians and hospitals are being bombed using our equipment.  In addition to selling weapons, we sell repressive regimes the means to crack down on their citizens and we seem to be quite proud to do so as well.  Claims by the Prime Minister, other ministers and Mr Glen to be promoting human rights seem quite hollow in the light of these activities.


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