Sunday, 29 March 2009

Ambiguous, if not agressive, Police posters

The UK Home Office has released a series of three posters, which read:
  • "We'd like to give you a good talking to"
  • "Anything you say may be taken down and used as evidence"
  • "You have the right not to remain silent"
These are supposed to be part of the advertising campaign for the new "Policing Pledge"(PDF - 88K).

They may be intended to be clever and ironic, but...
They do seem to be rather aggressive, at least at first glance. They take their style from the "Keep Calm Carry on" series of World War II posters, available from Barter Books, of which my favourite is shown here.

I have this poster, and plan to display it in my front window - it may be possible to subvert this poorly targeted campaign for the cause of liberty.

Friday, 27 March 2009

The first rule of gagging orders

The BBC reported early this morning on Radio 4 news, I think it was at 6:30am, that Lord Oakeshott used parliamentary privilege to expose where documents detailing the Barclays tax 'avoidance' scheme can be found online (ie wikileaks). This has now dropped from their reports and is to be found no where on their web site (as of 7:30am). It is, however, this on the Guardian's site.

Are we to presume that the frantic efforts that Barclays has made to avoid government funding was to prevent anyone looking at the books?

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Counting paper, versus counting bits...

I would like to hear from anyone with a technical background who can defend the idea that electronic voting systems are a good alternative to paper based ones. Yes, I know there are some highly theoretical defences of the technology, but honestly...

It was reported by McClatchy that "Most electronic voting isn't secure" - appearing last month before a U.S. Election Assistance Commission field hearing in Orlando, Fla., a CIA cybersecurity expert said:
"You heard the old adage 'follow the money,' " Stigall said, according to a transcript of his hour-long presentation that McClatchy obtained. "I follow the vote. And wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that's an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to . . . make bad things happen."
In a separate report, in Bruce Schneier's respected blog, we hear:
the first documented case of election fraud in the U.S. using electronic voting machines (there have been lots of documented cases of errors and voting problems, but this one involves actual maliciousness)
So, the CIA can do it in any other country, and in the USA it takes five Clay County officials, including the circuit court judge, the county clerk, and election officer.

Many things are stupid, but electronic voting is high up the list. I wouldn't say that Governments wanted it because they could fiddle it, I think they just don't know enough to realise that it is inherently insecure.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Database State stutters

It will have come as a relief to many that the ContactPoint database has been 'halted' - whatever that means. I would hope that the UK Government has learnt its lesson from this latest IT cock-up.

OK, I know that was a silly hope.

How can we convince our leaders to be sensible? Here is a quote from the Times On-line article:
All of this will continue to happen as long as the Government continues to think that IT contracts and databases can be fully effective and 100 per cent secure. Some problems cannot be fixed with computers. The Rowntree report has the following advice for ministers: “If you think IT is the solution to your problem, then you don’t understand IT, and you don’t understand your problem either.”
So we need to education our leaders.

OK, I know that was a silly thought.

The worry is that these fools will eventually manage to push through some sort of integrated system that links all our data. They tried with Clause 152, and we managed to stop them; they will try again, and we need to be vigilant. We need to make a concerted effort to keep this in the forefront of debate.

So, make a noise about this - we are allowed, for now, to do that.

Pointing out the errors of the ContactPoint database may be a useful arguement to prevent the proposed identity database.


The coverage in the Telegraph is quite interesting.
The automatic flow of data into ContactPoint from sources such as the child benefit database has also been halted, to prevent further duplicate files [sic] being created.
Just how bad a job did EDS do in designing this database? How much have they been paid? Does anyone in government understand what a database is or do they think of some well known desktop application. Do you think that Gordon Brown, or indeed any member of the cabinet, knows what 'referential integrity' means?

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Taking DNA from existing prisoners...

As you may have noticed I tend to be on the side of the individual against the State. However, I was somewhat surprised to discover that, in the UK, DNA has not been taken from existing prisoners.

Why not? You may ask...

Well, given the release of Mr Sean Hodgson after 27 years in prison for a crime which he did not commit, we may have an answer. First, the facts...
  • since April 2004 almost everyone arrested in England and Wales on suspicion of involvement in any recordable offence has had their DNA taken;
  • anyone in prison, but arrested before this date is not on the DNA database;
  • they are considering collecting these prisoners' DNA on release.
So why not take DNA from the existing long stay prisoners?

Given this extreme miscarriage of justice, it may well be that the State is not collecting their DNA because it would mean holding evidence that proved some of them innocent...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Let's stop e-Borders

The stated purpose of the Government's e-Borders scheme is to:

...transform our border control to ensure greater security, effectiveness, and efficiency. To do so, we will make full use of the latest electronic technology to provide a way of collecting and analysing information on everyone who travels to or from the United Kingdom. Other technologies, particularly biometrics, will ensure we identify people securely and effectively.
Hmm. The press coverage in the past few days has been less than positive. See the Telegraph and the Times. NO2ID, Privacy International, yachting clubs, Eurostar, Eurotunnel and ferry companies all have major issues with this scheme.

All of your travel out of the UK will be recorded and stored for 10 years. The potential uses of this data are considerable. They are already stopping people accused of crimes, well that sounds reasonable. But what about:
  • school aged children during term times;
  • those claiming benefits;
  • people with outstanding parking tickets;
  • any other mashup with the data the Government holds on you.
And somehow they are claiming that by telling who is not in the UK they can increase security in the UK. I don't get that.

We stopped Clause 152, let's stop this.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Understanding the quiet coverage over Clause 152.

Today Jack Straw sent the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice) into the Committee scrutinising "Coroners and Justice Bill" to officially announce his U-turn over Clause 152. So it's official - they are backing down, but planning to try again. It really worth reading. Here's a little quote:

As a result of our scrutinising matters in Committee, we have decided to remove clause 152. I apologise to the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk that such details should have appeared in the press before they were brought to the attention of the Committee. However, I have followed the proper process and have asked Cabinet colleagues to withdraw the clause from the Bill so that we can have further consultation.

The timeline in the press goes like this:
  • Saturday 7th March - Jack Straw and his cronies, sorry team, brief the Sunday Telegraph.
  • Sunday 8th March - the story in The Sunday Telegraph gets a little publicity, it moves through the Guardian, Mail, Slashot and Facebook. Most of this is churnalism...
  • Monday and Tuesday - the story gets a little coverage, with a few of the people saying that they have checked the story with the so called Justice officials.
  • Wednesday - very little coverage, even after the U-turn is announced to the committee.
So where is the coverage for this important climb down? Why has the BBC still not covered this item - even though I know they have been informed? Yes, there are dreadful things happening in the world, but why no coverage of the impact of a mass mobilisation of public opinion? I can only guess how many e-mails the average MP has received, but the Clause 152 Facebook group has over 4,000 members, plus the other campaigns - so 15, 50 or 150?

Straw is suggesting that the medical lobby influenced this back down. This I just don't believe. It was the opinion of the masses. This threatens both the political status-quo and the press. That we can organise, and know more about what is going on than they do, is a real threat to them.

Conspiracy? No just a self-interested mob of scared individuals.

They are scared - let's keep them on the run. Keep listening, keep organising, keep pestering your MP. We get the government and press that we deserve, let's deserve something better than what we have.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Clause 152 - the next generation

It has been fun to watch the slowly evolving press coverage of Jack Straw's climb down over this attempt to grab all our data. It has now hit the specialist press as well as the Telegraph, Mail, Guardian and Observer - though most of this coverage is derived from the Telegraph article.

We await a formal statement from the so called Justice department, rather than what SpyBlog refers to as a Weekend Media Statement...

One thing that we can be certain of is that the steam roller that is the Government will attempt to get this legislation passed another day. The price of freedom would indeed seem to be eternal vigilance. Not just watching this government but the next as well.

I have no idea who first said it, but it is true - "Whoever you vote for, the government still gets in".

Sunday, 8 March 2009

A small but important victory

Public opinion through the Internet, with many thanks to NO2ID, would appear to have held off Clause 152 and the repealing of the DPA for government - for now.

The Sunday Telegraph reports today that Jack Straw has backed down. He states that this is due to pressure from the medical lobby, but I think he is being economical with the truth.

Why do I say this?

Well I reckon that over three thousand of emails have arrived with MPs from the NO2ID/Facebook campaign alone. There will have been many more, including those from my Slashdot article.

Last December I predicted that:
E-democracy will show signs of coming of age. It is probable that the attempts to push through web censorship will encourage this. Large, rapidly mobilised mass pressure groups will become more active and effective.
I got the cause wrong, but would argue that we are now on the cusp of being able to rapidly influence Government with rapidly organised online action.

Watch this space for the Government's next attempt to curb our liberties. We have won this skirmish, but the battle will rumble on for many years.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

YAPD - Yet another police database

Once again the Guardian is living up to its name and doing some proper journalism to protect our liberties:

Superintendent David Hartshorn, from the Met's public order branch, conceded law-abiding campaigners were being added to the database. He said individuals on the system included people convicted or suspected of public order offences.
No I don't think we live in a Police State - yet.

Mind you, it would appear that even thinking about photographing a sewer grate is enough to hold you for two days as a suspected terrorist.

To quote David Davis from the Andrew Marr Show:

Now what I said was it's not a police state, but you know what have we got? We've got a situation now where the Government is building databases for everybody from birth to grave, from cradle to grave, and they're going to know almost everything about all of us. They want to have a database of every single email, text, telephone call, which they can then search. They want to be able to maintain…Well you can go on and on and on.
Welcome the Database State...

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Your privacy can be undermined 'immorally'

How do these people sleep at night? A Guardian report has Sir David Omand, the former Whitehall security and intelligence co-ordinator, saying "Finding out other people's secrets is going to involve breaking everyday moral rules." He does say that government will need to work to maintain public trust while invading their privacy.

You don't say. Well I don't trust them one little bit.

The well known quote from Benjamin Franklin:

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Looks like we've got even more reasons to make placards.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Lie, damn lies and politicians.

From Clause 152, through to it being illegal to take photographs of the Police, we have an executive that is producing appalling legislation. The Dangerous Dogs Act used to be the bench mark of badly drafted and thought out legislation, but now wouldn't make the top ten!

We all know that this government won't be around for long, so there are two essential and urgent actions:
  • Stop the death throws of the Labour regime from destroying our liberties, and
  • Make sure that the replacement is better.
Please get involved, and Clause 152 is a good place to start.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Stop Clause 152 - update

I managed to get a story onto Slashdot on Clause 152, so we can hope that the Facebook group will gain momentum.

The Bill is currently in committee, and there is a detailed record of their discussions online. Once again, please write to your MP, it is easy, as the bill will be in third reading soon.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Stop Clause 152

It is really important that we all look at this piece of legislation - it is truly terrifying. It allows the government to aggregate all data that they keep about you. It would mean that the government was exempt of the key points of the Data Protection Act. NO2ID have presented a clear argument over this, and it is seems that Jack Straw is wavering. So please write to your MP - it is really easy.

So long as you make it absolutely clear that you refuse consent to have your information shared under any Information Sharing Order, and ask that they oppose Clause 152, whatever else you say is completely up to you.

You have a chance to safeguard our liberty today, sending that email will take you a few minutes, not stopping this clause will lead inevitably to every aspect of your life being visible to the state.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Modern Liberty or the nightmare state

Dystopia - 10 years in the future

I went to catch the train. Buying the ticket was easy - I didn't have to, as all I did was walk through the barrier, my National ID card and my Credit Card had been interrogated by contactless technology. The rescue services said it was much safer if they knew who was in which carriage when the train crashed.

As I walked into the shop my ID card registered my presence, and the CCTV checked it was me. Once or twice a week I get stopped by the security guards, they say it is my fault, because my beard causes more false negatives. The shop keepers say it has reduced shop lifting.

I get home to a message telling me that unless I walk more I will be deemed to have failed to keep my responsibilities to the State, and that the level of my health cover will be reduced. They promise that this will not impact emergency care, but that I will have lower priority in booking appointments. They list my travel over the past month, identifying 20 journeys that I could have walked rather than driven or taken the bus.

These are just examples of the level of surveillance that is possible with ID cards and a national database.

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend the Convention on Modern Liberty in London, and listened to many people who know much more about the threats to our liberty than I do. I would strongly recommend that you visit the site and distribute the information. I would also recommend that you look at NO2ID's campaign on the "information sharing order", a power currently being slipped onto the statute books in clause 152 of the coroners and justice bill.


The key thing that I got from this day was the feeling that the tracking and monitoring of citizens in the UK and the EU was a monster that was running out of control. The question was asked at one stage "Whose idea was such and such piece of legislation?" the panel didn't know. The impression I got was that this was not coming from our elected leaders, but from unelected bureaucrats.

These are drawn from my day:

  • The Tory party, who are most likely to become our next government, are promising to abandon the ID Card. Yet David Davis thinks that the battle against the affront on our liberties will run for at least the next decade. The only person that is in power for this government and the next is a civil servant.

  • Apparently rational ministers get moved to the Home Office (or what ever they are calling it this week) and become bug eyed monsters. I suspect this is not something in the water, just in the voice of the senior civil servants in the ear.

  • The ministers do not appear to have read the legislation they are proposing. Edward Garnier (QC, MP) said he was surprised by the number of times that ministers had asked for time to think things through when challenged in committee.

So what can we do about this unelected, permanent and powerful elite? How do we hold to account the senior members of the Civil Service? We need to understand why they are behaving in this fashion. Here are a few possibilities...

  • They consider the mass of the population so inept, stupid and irresponsible that we need to have our lives managed by the government (Noam Chomsky writes on this).
  • They think we are untidy and difficult to handle - it would be much easier if we marched in step.
  • They have some other ulterior motive; financial or other, for implementing a repressive authoritarian regime.
  • They don't understand the implications of the legislation they are proposing.

So we need to find out - are they elitist, fascist, corrupt or incompetent?

The best of these is that they have they failed to protect our freedoms by just not thinking about the long term implications of what they are doing.