Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"Ambassador, with these ASBOs you are really spoiling us."

Word on the street is that crime experts will be sent out to advise people to use ASBOs. More coverage from the Guardian as well. Would the Home Office now have us believe that petty crime and louty behaviour has now become so out of hand that "experts" are now needed to solve the problem? Have we forgotten how to raise our society ourselves so much? Apparently so. Still, supposedly the answer is more Orders to push the unruly even further away from community and further into the realm of the outcaste.

And no, calling the experts "ambassadors" doesn't make it any more impressive. Perhaps it makes it sound even more desparate to impress than the whole half-cooked, self-clappy Flunkett schemes already do.

Talking Politics on Prisons

On Radio 4 this weekend just gone was a Talking Politics programme on the role of prisons in society. Sir David Ramsbotham, Theodore Dalrymple, Nick Cohen and Ann Widdecombe all present some interesting and salient points - so can we expect to see some thinking above and beyond the Dredd-esque "lock up the juves" mentality?

I'll try to get it as an mp3/ogg sometime soon, but in the meantime you can stream it from the BBC.

Update: The programme is now available in .ogg format as a 19MB download.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

More Signs and Portents

The Independent reports that Robin Cook warns against alienation of British Muslims, although the way the Home Office is going, it's looking to alienate anyone and everyone that disagrees with it, whomever they are.

Elsewhere, more evidence that simply putting more cameras in and hoping for the best really doesn't work.

Unfortunately, modern "civil" thinking seems to be continuing along the lines that it's better to catch those causing trouble/mayhem after the fact, than to construct a more responsible, respectful society in the first place. Keep watching as the government maintain a steadily-concocted confusion between what it means to be "liberal", and what it means to be "self-interested". The erosion of our language continues apace.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Quote from Roger Scruton

The Guardian yesterday had a round-up of media quotes on whether we are becoming a surveillance society, in which Roger Scruton cuts through the usual (and apparently currently popular) argument of "the idea's great, but the government must do it properly", and gets to the nub of the matter:

"In almost every area, the recent expansion of the law has involved an attempt to put legal norms in place of social norms. The consequence is a withering away of community, an undermining of family sentiment and a demoralisation of society"

(Of course, expansion of law is always going to be about legal norms, by its definition, surely?)

Unfortunately, I think the original piece is subscriber-only. More annoyingly, the link to Scruton's old article "We must have ID cards if we value freedom" doesn't work...

Even the suspects don't know what they're doing wrong

"I'm a what? A terrorist? Why? Oh, I'm not allowed to know?"

BBC News: My week as a terror suspect.

Assistant Chief Constable Rob Beckley says that "Riaz's claim that he still does not know why he was held is understandable, as the sensitive nature of anti-terrorism intelligence means police cannot always reveal why they acted."

Just WTF is going on? This is turning into a game of Mornington Crescent - you can only play if you know what the rules are, but no-one ever tells you them.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


According to this BBC News article, "there have been 609 arrests under terrorism legislation between September 11, 2001 and 30 June 2004. Of those people, 99 have been charged with terrorism-related offences, and 15 convicted."

That's 16.26% and 2.46% respectively. I'm not certain of this, but that sounds a little... disparate. Just why are we arresting so many people that don't get charged, let alone convicted?

Does anyone know what similar non-terrorist-related ratios are like?

Update: Aha, an older BBC article on the issue, and this Muslim news article also sheds some more light on it:

"The Home Office said, "Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 gives the police power to arrest anyone reasonably suspected of being a terrorist or having committed certain offences under the Act. The decision to arrest a person under the Act may be the result of an intelligence-led operation or the result of an officer's judgment in circumstances where he feels an arrest is appropriate."

Nice and specific then. Good to see arrests these days are the result of many manhours of work and careful intelligence, and not just rash decisions being made on the spot.

"There can be a number of reasons for arrests so high in relation to those charged or convicted. For example, where an intelligence-led search of premises is made as part of an investigation, the police may find more than one person there. In these circumstances it is possible that a number of individuals could be arrested and subsequently released without charge because it is not clear at that stage which is the individual sought."

Which explains the more-than-6 to 1 ratio of arrests to charges above. Terrorists! Stop living with other people! Anyone caught swaying government statistics in such an underhand way will be forced to live alone. In a cage.

"Police have to make a decision to arrest based on the circumstances presented to them at a particular time, based on the need to conduct an effective investigation, and above all, to protect public safety."

OK, the bold highlighting was just a ploy to draw attention to the ongoing efforts to draw distinct boundaries between the "good" public and the "evil" terrorists.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Downing Street Says...

Downing Street on ID Cards:

"Asked for a reaction to doubts expressed by Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, regarding the purpose of ID cards and the information contained on them, the PMS said that Mr Thomas had made an important contribution to the debate on ID cards. A consultation was currently ongoing into the issue and we were therefore keen to hear people's views. However, as we had underlined in the past, there would be guarantees against any 'function creep' regarding the transfer of information about people to different parts of Government. As we had made clear, that was not going to happen. There would be proper oversight of such a scheme, as you would expect."

(Although I seem to remember my views were discounted...)

Downing Street on Blunkett:

"Asked if the Home Secretary continued to enjoy the Prime Minister's full confidence, the PMS said yes."

[via-ish Liberty on Demand]

3 times as good?

While many people seem to think that a single point of identification will make access to public services easier and less bureaucratic, my faith in such a utopia is under fire from news such as this: NHS patients will need 3 cards - one European one, one NHS one, and the Home Office's wunderkind. Now, perhaps the NHS will gradually integrate theirs with the Home Office's, and perhaps once Mr Blunkett's proven the validity, plausibility and effectiveness of it all, Europe will start to integrate with it too... (Mmm, EU-wide identity scheme, nice.)

My personal opinion is that their are far larger obstacles within public organisations to achieving less bureaucracy and more efficiency...

Meanwhile, lots of sources (e.g. BBC, ePolitix, Register) have been picking up on Information Commissioner Richard Thomas' interview in the Times (subscription-only), and his warnings over a "surveillance society." Although, by the looks of things, he's been mentioning this for a while, now. Still, good to see the media giving it big splashes.

There's a fair amount of critical momentum surrounding the issue now, which can only be a good thing. The difficult step is getting rational points across to people that have already been sold the idea of a "safe" society amongst all kinds of bogeymen. There are still far too many people out there who would rather lock the rest of the population up, or lock themselves up, in order to avoid dealing with problems many of which we should collectively take responsibility for. Those of you who've seen the final series of Buffy and laughed at the idea of "destroying the evil inherent in the world" know what I mean ;)

I can see the government finally recognising that this could become a real issue, just as with foundation hospitals, university fees and war. If they're sensible, they'll be reviewing the various criticism currently forthcoming, and making serious efforts to either a). get their plans in order first before spouting how good they are - although mainly to appease the critics, or b). implementing a much lesser identity scheme that seeks to partially achieve the intended goals. What I've yet to see from this government is any admission that There's More Than One Way To Do It, or that popular, dissenting, informed opinion has any sway in politics.

Friday, August 13, 2004

CBI wants ID, if it knew what it was

According to publictechnology.net (also ePolitix and the BBC), the CBI supports the principles behind ID cards, but fears for the reliability of the data:

"The government must spell out how broad its objectives for ID cards are and exactly how the scheme is intended to achieve them."

This is the most prominent mention of cards, I can think of, in an industry-usage sense - up until now the scope for use has been mostly governmental and public sector. Does this mean that anyone that wants to verify who someone is will have access to this identity database now? This certainly seems to indicate that that's what the CBI are pushing for:

"If it is to become widely accepted, the government must win the confidence of business or the scheme will be of little use."

In fact, the whole press release suffers from the same unsure, ambiguous and short-sighted enthusiasm that those behind the plan suffer from.

But hey, at least they admit it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Detention without Trial

So a number of suspected foreign terrorists have failed in their case to be freed from 'Detention without Trial' under the Terrorism Act 2001. Source: BBC News

Would this be the same section of the Terrorism Act that a cross party group of peers and MPs recently declared should go? Source: BBC News

I do believe it was.


Together we can beat the Jargon

Here is an interesting web site. "Together - Tackling Anti-Scocial Behaivour".

There are two option to select when you log in.

"I am a member of the public"
"I am an anti-social behaivour practitioner" ?!?

What the hell is an anti-social behaivour practitioner? A yob, perhaps?


Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Michael Howard is an Arse

Woooeee, Blunkett has some competition, it seems. In an effort to out-H.O. the current H.O., Michael Howard sets out his sights for a new, determined, anti-crime vision across Britain. Is it enough? Apologies for going off the Blunkett-topic, but I think that many of the arguments laid out here apply equally to the direction that Blunkett is headed in.

This is a relatively long dissection of his speech, so to avoid taking up the front page of the blog with it whilst allowing people to add comments, I'll post it as the first comment on this post - if you're reading this on the front page, just click the "comments" link below. I've also posted it here.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Special Blunkett

Read Blunkett's piece in the Observer: "Why I refuse to feed the media's summer frenzy" Too hot and tired to comment now. Hum.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Tell them what you think...

Also just noticed the Home Office are waiting for your feedback on their site - doesn't take long, and at the end you can enter your name and e-mail if you want to beta test their new version. Take the survey, unless you don't use Javascript, in which case you're buggered. Accessiblity, eh?

Home Office prohibits happy biometric passports

The Register reports (via the Sun which probably got it from the Home Office press release) that there's no smiling for your ID card photo - opening your mouth would confuse the technology. 100% accurate and foolproof, eh? In the words of the press release...

"The photo must be of the applicant on their own, with no other people visible. It must show their full face, looking straight at the camera, with a neutral expression, with their mouth closed."

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

News Vom

Report finds that terror laws risk human rights, with a longer article at the Scotsman. Have yet to find the report, but the alternatives seem to involve more surveillance and more laws to put people on trial. Uh huh.

Home Office to be split up - to be replaced by a "Ministry of Justice" and a "Ministry of Rights". Closely followed by a Ministry of Love and a Ministry of Peace. Orwell would be proud. Or sick.

Also from the Scotsman, Blunkett warns US Animal Rights Protestors not to come to the UK, but he's not telling which ones, no. "Is he wearing a hat?" "Does he have a beard?" "It's Mike!" as the old advert goes...

Monday, August 02, 2004

More about that Terror Booklet

Received that booklet through the post this morning. Something else has just occurred to me about it too.

If you look at the logo (also to be found at the Preparing for Emergencies site), it is possible to decode this logo into a message.

The first circle, with an 'i', obviously stands for "Information Booklet".
The second circle, with '999', represents an emergency.
The third circle, with an arrow represents a direction, or "leads to".
The fourth circle, with a keyhole, is obviously John Locke, a C17 philosopher, at least partly responsible for the British (unwritten) constitution.
The fifth circle, with a dial, is to be rotated.
And the last circle, the cross, is an RIP symbol.

So put them all together and the subtext of the terror booklet is:

An Information Booklet about Emergencies that will Lead to John Locke Turning in his Grave.


Sunday, August 01, 2004

More Technology, Less Humanity

1. Paedophiles to take mandatory lie tests.

2. Schools to get US-style weapon detectors.

Emotional bullying seems fine with the authorities, so long as no-one gets physically injured. The smart ones will torture their victims with words, playground politics, and an atmosphere of fear rather than any discernible tangible threat. What then? Will nobody care, so long as knives can't be brought in?