Friday, August 19, 2005

In absentia

Scribe is away for 2 weeks, so blog posts may be sparse. I leave you in the good hands of Charlie, though - look after the country while I'm gone.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Clarke Before the Horse

If you want something to be true, you might eventually find evidence to support your view. But you'll be (dis)missing a whole bunch of other evidence that may go against your beliefs. "Science proves it."

So it's a shame that Charles Clarke is going on faith rather than evidence when it comes to the connectedness of various bombers. Perhaps this is in response to Saturday's story in the Independent (reg required now, but see this article which seems to mirror it) about an MI5/MI6/GCHQ/Police inquiry into the links finding, well, none.

Yet despite "the biggest anti-terrorist investigation held in the country", Clarkey still holds out. Is there any point to these inquiries if the government continue to ignore them?

And doesn't Charles' attitude hold a certain resemblance to previous "certainties"?

Leaks in the Public Interest

Yet again we have to rely on leaks to dispute the "facts" fed to us by people whose interest it's in to lie to us.

Brazilian probably wasn't acting or dressed suspiciously, was already restrained when shot (8 times - I thought it was 5 still...), and wasn't even identified properly because a "police officer was relieving himself" when de Menezes left his home. One leak to reveal another.

It cannot be overstated as to just how much of a cock-up this all is. Yet the powers that be - the powers that have insisted on giving themselves all the more power without any real accountability - will probably cloak themselves in silence until this all goes away. The BBC article currently states at the bottom:

"Scotland Yard and the Home Office have so far said it would be inappropriate to comment."

Translated, I read this as "Scotland Yard and the Home Office realise that anything they say could be taken down and used against them, just as the lies they've already come up have made them look foolish." But that's just me. Personally, I think that if you want power to shoot anyone dead on a mere whim, you must have accountability. If you have accountability, you'd better be prepared to take responsibility for all of your actions.

A member of the public has been shot dead after repeated police bungles and an overly-paranoid atmosphere of panic. This is not the way to run a city, no matter what threats we're told we face. I've lost track a bit - when's the public inquiry?

Furthermore, it's interesting to compare the leaked reports with the original BBC eyewitnesses and their Q&A on the shooting. From the latter:

"The police do not make their exact tactics public."

It's really time we started demanding an answer to the question, "Why not?"

Friday, August 12, 2005

"There are risks to attracting media attention."

As the government sets out its procurement requirements for an ID system with one sweeping hand, they also seem to be hiding the failure of their GPS-tracking system with another. Praise be for leaked documents.

(via spyblog)

Remembering that accusations of repeated government incompetence, when it comes to IT projects, are oft swept aside, it's worth considering just what relationship the illustrious members of Whitehall have with technology. Hype is so easy to believe when you're under pressure. What's intruiging is not simply the failure of the technology (tests wil always be needed, and technology will always remain a progressive frontier by nature), but the extent to which it failed:

"[GPS] relies on sight of the sky to give a location. The strength and accuracy of the signal generally relies on at least four satellites being visible. If the subject is between tall buildings, a canyon effect can prevent accurate location. Leaf cover and cloud cover can mask the strength of the signal. Location cannot be obtained on planes, some intercity trains and the Underground. Location is usually lost inside buildings. ... There is little prospect of overcoming these limitations in any substantial way during the lifetime of the pilot."

GPS is not new. As such, I suspect that these are facets of the system that any urban-bound GPS enthusaiast could probably have told you before starting the project. It is this utter contrast between what our MPs think technology will do, and what a large number of people know it probably won't do, that I find disturbing.

The FAQ linked to above states:

"We will ensure that lessons are learned from past IT projects."

But what really needs to be fixed is this mismatch between expectation and reality.

The second thing of note in the failed GPS project is the extent to which bad results are actively hidden from public scrutiny, and conclusions are only announced once the "right" result has been obtained:

"We have not sought to publicise the pilot scheme since its launch in September 2004 due to the risks of negative media coverage of the poor results to date. ... We recommend that you agree to the proposed extension of the pilot until 31 March 2006. This would allow sufficient time for improved results and deliver justification of the large financial commitment."

I seem to remember doing something similar in my physics experiments days - namely, reporting what people wanted, not what the truth was. I was, however, 13 years old at the time, and I'm certainly not a physicist in charge of large swathes of people now. If I were, I'd be worried.

Hopefully this is one of those leaked documents that gets leaked properly, into the wide world of the Net. Any links, or any sugestions/information ergarding FOIA-related retrieval, graciously welcomed...

Thinking it over? That'll be 5 years.

Ten in court for 'shielding' July 21 suspects - the ten include the alleged bomber's wife, and sister-in-law ...but what exactly does the Times mean by "shielding" in this context? Or, more specifically, what do the crimes (of which most, if not all, of the ten are accused simultaneously of) of "failing to disclose information about [alleged attempted bomber] Mr Osman and ... assisting him in evading arrest" mean? And what of, well, friendship and love?

For a "definition" of the crimes, see section 39 of the Terrorism Act. The crime is "interfering" with relevant information, by which the bill means that if a person "falsifies it, conceals it, destroys it or disposes of it, or if he causes or permits another to do any of those things" then -blam- 5 years for you (if it's an conviction of indictment - 6 months if a summary conviction).

Now ask yourself the question... what would you do for the person you're closest to? Would you immediately shop them to the police? Chances are you'd probably spend a whole lot of time at least mulling it over, which in itself is plausibly illegal. By not saying anything, you are necessarily "concealing" information. Furthermore, anyone you seek to gain guidance from - a friend, a family member - is virally drawn into the net of illegality at the same time.

This is the spread of the wretchedness we've got ourselves into. Even when it's not your fault - when fate dumps a situation like this into your lap - the power to make your own decision about what to do about it has been completely removed. As with many aspecs of modern life, our responsibilities - to ourselves, and to the ones around us that make up our daily lives - are no longer ours. Now, however, this state-run morality has so much momentum that no-one even questions it any more.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Rebranding Ethinic Minorities by Hazel Blears

It just seems odd to me that the names under consideration are things like "Indian-British", or "Asian-British", neither of which exactly roll off the tounge (and are likely to be shortened to Indian or Asian in common usage anyway).

It seems to be blindly following the American example (Italian-American, Irish-American) without considering the linguistic ramifications.

American starts will a soft vowel and as such is suited to being the second word in a joined phrase. British starts with a very hard consonant group and is more suitable as the first word in the construct.

Try it:
Indian-British vs. British-Indian*
Asian-British vs. British-Asian
Pakistani-British vs. British-Pakistani

All of which ignores the silly idea that attitudes will change simply because the words have changed - but if they're going to do this, at least do it right.


* I can't think of a single word with 'nbr' in the middle - but I can think of plenty with 'shi'.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Some timely climb down

The BBC News headline reads "Labour admits ID card 'oversell'" Tony McNulty's following quote stands out in particular:

"Perhaps in the past the government, in its enthusiasm, oversold the advantages of identity cards. We did suggest, or at least implied, that they might well be a panacea for identity fraud, for benefit fraud, terrorism, entitlement and access to public services."

Does this represent some shift in attitude towards the ID system by those who have, up til now, had their "reputation" on the line? Or does it merely represent yet another change in PR tactics for the mission to get public approval for the scheme? As the article puts it:

In its "enthusiasm", the government had over-emphasised the benefits to the state rather than for "the individual in providing a gold standard in proving your identity"

This could be a move in the right direction. Identity is important, don't let us forget that. The struggle that exists in the Government plans is between letting the individual have control over their own life, and information - history - about an individual's every transaction being owned by the government. The two are not necessarily unentanglable.

Have had some thoughts in this vein recently, but want to tidy them up before presenting them. Still, just remember that everyone has something to hide, and not because they're criminal.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"UK should quit human rights convention"

EPolitix again... More
calls to replace human rights with extensive Police powers, this time from shadow education secretary David Cameron.

It's pretty clear that to many MPs, "rights" are only fundamental and good so long as the governing class have a firm hold over society. But in that case - once we have stablished that these rights are purely circumstantial and subject to change - we must agree to call them "privileges" instead. Unfortunately a "privilege to speak freely" and a "privilege to worship" don't sound quite so empowering, do they?

Is it time to re-establish the meaning of what a "right" is? Or are we now too afraid to question people when they try to take them away from us?

Testing the security water

Epolitix's newsletter today: "Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart launches a new high security web-based sex offenders register."

Naturally it's a vastly different to the proposed ID system database, but it's not different in terms of the amount of security that the government should be applying to data protection. Can't find any details about it yet (I assume the press releases will hit later) so it's difficult to say what the scope of the project is, but in terms of a highly sensitive, connected Home Office data storage project, this could be one to watch as a litmus test for the ID system.