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#ldconf CRB checks – Accreditation by Association?

June 19, 2011

Since my last post on the new data requirements for Liberal Democrat Federal Conference (I refuse to call them security requirements, because I have no reason to believe that they provide any extra security), there has been some movement on the issues raised.

It seems that the decision to exclude anybody from conference will be advised by the police, but the decision will rest with the Party (though it seems to rest with the chair of FCC and the Chief Executive, rather than the Chief Steward as the Constitution states). Police have confirmed that the computer system used for attendee information is separate from the normal police computer systems, and is used only for conference accreditation – and that attendees will be able to have their information removed from the system on request.

However, it’s also been confirmed that the background checks used are Criminal Records Bureau checks, and these still present a problem for many people, as I’ve previously outlined. Some people are so unhappy with the idea of submitting to a CRB check, even if they have no criminal record, that they will not attend Conference this time. The current alternative plan proposed by FCC seems to be that people in certain specific circumstances can identify themselves to the conference team who will make sure their CRB check is ‘sensitively’ handled, but that seems to create at least as many problems as it solves.

I’m a big fan of Bruce Schneier, the American security guru whose book Beyond Fear is a must-read for anybody interested in security policy, from whether you should buy a burglar alarm or pay for contents insurance, to whether your country should have a national identity database. It doesn’t tell you what to think on these issues, but how to think about them to produce meaningful conclusions.

One of the things Schneier talks about is trust between parties. As it stands, all the background checking is being done by the police, who have no inherent reason to trust any Liberal Democrat. They will put us through CRB checks, and if we pass, deem us trustworthy. However, the Lib Dems are something like a family. A lot of us know each other well, and can vouch for each other. I have suggested to an FCC member that we investigate some kind of transitive reputational trust – where Lib Dems can vouch for other Lib Dems.

Perhaps if one or more local or regional party officers vouched for a member, then that member could avoid the CRB check – without having to give a reason for the avoidance. There are a number of different possibilities and safeguards, including not letting a voucher vouch for more than one or two attendees, but the principle is clear. I don’t think there’d be any way around having the people doing the vouching requiring a CRB check, if only to give the police reason to trust the vouchers, but it seems many attendees don’t have a problem with this.

Discussions on this remaining point of accreditation seem to have reached an impasse, with one side saying that CRB checks are simply unacceptable and the other saying that they are mandatory. I’m hoping that a more flexible system based around the idea I’ve proposed here will help move things forward, and I hope the FCC members will consider this approach and discuss it with the West Midlands Police.

Categories: Conference
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