Tag: law

A question of a few centimetres

It’s funny to see that in a short span of time, a few centimetres can make a difference. This month, Austria authorised Niko Alm to wear a pasta strainer as “religious headgear” on his driving-licence (BBC). This month too, Belgian law banned women from wearing the full Islamic veil in public (BBC).

Well, the Belgian law doesn’t exactly formally forbid the Islamic veil although it was often named as the “anti-burqa law”. The exact terms are:

Seront punis d’une amende de quinze euros à vingt-cinq euros et d’un emprisonnement d’un jour à sept jours ou d’une de ces peines seulement, ceux qui, sauf dispositions légales contraires, se présentent dans les lieux accessibles au public le visage masqué ou dissimulé en tout ou en partie, de manière telle qu’ils ne soient pas identifiables.
Toutefois, ne sont pas visés par l’alinéa 1er, ceux qui circulent dans les lieux accessibles au public le visage masqué ou dissimulé en tout ou en partie de manière telle qu’ils ne soient pas indentifiables et ce, en vertu de règlements de travail ou d’une ordonnance de police à l’occasion de manifestations festives.

The automated Google translation gives:

Shall be punished by a fine of fifteen to twenty-five euros euros and imprisonment from one day to seven days or one of these penalties, who, unless required by law, occur in places accessible to public masked or concealed in whole or in part, in such a way that they are not identifiable.
However, are not covered by paragraph 1, those that circulate in places accessible to the public masked or concealed in whole or in part in such a way that they are not identifiable and that, under regulations of work or Order of Police on the occasion of festivities.

This is even more scary: the law basically asks everyone to clearly show her/his face in public spaces except for work (e.g. construction workers with dust protection) or when the police explicitly authorised it during events. If it’s too cold in winter and your hood is hiding part of your face, you may be arrested. On top of that, you add the increasing number of CCTV in operation in Belgium as well as some good face recognition software and you have a tightly controlled society. 😦

Photo credits. Left: Masked by Katayun on Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa). Right: Heiliger Führerschein (Episode #6 – Das Finale) on Niko Alm’s blog.

Belgian State Security report 2008

When I first opened the Belgian State Security Report 2008 (PDF in French or in Dutch), I had the a feeling of déjà vu: the cover picture is in fact a part of the Great Court of the British Museum in London, UK. Strange for a report on Belgian security and surveillance …

The British Museum as illustration for a Security report
Comparison between an actual photo of the British Museum Great Court (left, by Guillermo Viciano, under CC-by-sa) and the cover of the Belgian State Security Report 2008 (right)

Then I saw it’s only a light version for the web, not the full version. I had a look at the Justice website and the Security web page but I couldn’t find the original version (if you have the full version, I’m interested).

The report summarizes all the activities done by the Security in 2008, including the groups, countries and activities watched, a report on the cases where it was involved (Belliraj, Benali, Trabelsi cases, a.o.) and a broad view of what they did to check people background, protect some others and check various accreditations.

The most interesting part for me, however, was a short description of a bill about data collection methods by the Security. This bill was submitted to the Belgian Senate in December 2008 and was recently adopted (the full text is here, in French). It’s now submitted to the Belgian king for signature.

Briefly, this bill modifies an existing law from 1998 and, among other things, tells apart ordinary data collection methods from specific (articles 18/7 and 18/8) and exceptional ones (articles starting from 18/9). As expected, the bill allows the use of techniques to intercept and read private communications between persons. The bill also allows entering into computer systems, removing protections, installing spyware, decrypting and collecting data (but it does not allow their destruction).

All these methods are controlled post hoc by two different bodies, an ad hoc administrative commission composed of magistrates (renewed each year by the king following a suggestion by the government) and a permanent “R” committee. Specific and exceptional methods needs to be approved first by the administrative commission but there is always the possibility for the Security hierarchy to bypass this and send a written notice to the commission later on. How many times can this last step be forgotten?

Although it’s nice to have the reference to the bill and be able to look for it on the internet, I would have liked to see some statistics about how many times these specific and exceptional measures were applied, how many times they were refused by the administrative commission, how many times the hierarchy allowed a mission and informed the commission later on, etc. in the same way they proudly show graphs of the number of hours spent protecting VIPs. I know details are protected by secret but it would still have been nice to have an idea on how often these methods are used.

Belgian police is storing personal details in a database

If you live in Belgium, you probably noticed a small buzz about a database police is building about Belgian citizens and, more precisely, about the access control of this database. The “problem” is that this database already exists and it has a legal basis since … 1998 (10 years!). But mainstream media won’t tell you that (or I’m unaware of it). I don’t think there is a conspiracy. It’s just that, sadly, the current economic environment doesn’t leave much space for this kind of information. The Minister of Justice’s website has more info on this database and its content (excerpt of translation below):

The database already appeared a royal decree. This decree states that the police can store a bunch of sensitive data about certain categories of Belgian citizens since they are 14-years-old.
These include information on about family ties, consumption habits, ethnicity, physical and mental health, political and religious beliefs, membership of trade unions and political parties and suspicions of criminal offenses.

So what can we do about it? Human rights organisations as well as members of the Parliament (La Chambre, look for “P0499”) questioned the Minister of Justice, Jo Vandeurzen. He agreed that there should be both internal and external controls on what is inserted, who have access to the data, who can check the data and the access, … He promised the “Committee P“, the privacy committee and a supervisory body headed by a magistrate will be consulted. Let’s see …