Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Greenpeace protesters delay Blair's speech

At time of writing (9.45am), 2 Greenpeace protestors are disrupting the CBI conference, at which Blair was supposed to be setting out (at 9.15am) his agenda on future energy, by hooking into the roof, wandering round and dropping "Nuclear: wrong answer" leaflets.

Now the initial confusion has cleared a little, some details are emerging, and demands being made. Looks like Greenpeace want to give a 10 minute speech before Blair gives his, and then they'll bring the protestors down. Sir Digby Jones has refused to acquiese, and seems to be moving Blair's talk to an adjoining room - how easy it is to get into this room from the roof (where the protestors are) I have no idea... It also turns out that the protestors set up some kind of fake company and got in as valid delegates. Questions over how the climbing gear

The hype is building. The phrase "Social inclusive side of wealth creation" has been brought into play by Sir Digby, who is currently explaining the situation. This "inclusive" aspect of the debate is one that's being plugged repeatedly by the conference organisers, as a stage for embarassing Greenpeace by claiming that they are disrupting the open debate that this conference was engendering.

This issue of "free speech" over the matter at hand is a particularly interesting direction of spin. While the CBI are maintaining that the conference was "inclusive" and open to all, and the aims pertinent to "citizens", it would be of course folly to take such statements at face value - my sense of scepticism is tingling like Spidey in town on a Friday night. The BBC reporter is right now pointing out that it would be businesses investing in nuclear power, not the public. The claims of "debate" are somewhat hampered by the ongoing doubt over the government's insistence that nuclear policy has yet to be decided. My impression of the extent of the debate that we've already had, and how much it has actually fed into policy, is perhaps tarnished by listening to various lecturers over the last few months point out the various shortcomings in existing nuclear technology and methodology, and the attitude we as a country take towards such things. Indeed, Greenpeace's main point is that we've had the Energy Whitepaper discussion and, as the BBC reporter confirms, the outcome wasn't particularly pro-nuclear.

The irony to be realised is that Nuclear power plants will entail even greater security processes in place - security processes that, as people are currently pointing out live on TV, can be circumvented given a thoughtful and resourceful person.

Blair's appeared. The new location is packed. "Free speech wins," say John Sunderland, the CBI President. This idea of "open" discussion and debate may turn out to be one that the CBI wishes it never brought up.

Here's Greenpeace's press release for today.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Burnham in Brighton, and why we're shit

A busy week (read "month") here, including preparations for the upcoming Burnham vs Tatchell showdown on Dec 6th in Brighton. On that front, and in a name-and-shame bid, the last two letters I sent to my MP, David Lepper, regarding terrorism and ID Cards have yet to be answered. Where Are You, David?

Meanwhile, some news round-ups that I feel have particular relevance to each other, and the respect agenda that continually manages to go nowhere. Here be th' links...

First up, the BBC reports on a YouGov poll that says "more than half of adults who left school at 16 say they did so to make money".

And secondly, Britons 'fess up to being Europe's biggest cokeheads.

I could probably pick out some more, but these randomly attracted my sparse attention span. It's the morning after the first real night of 24-hour opening, and so far the news isn't crammed full of stories about apocalyptic bingers wasting their cities. (All quiet at Harry's Place, for instance.) Of course, the real "test" will be the weekend - what percentage of binge drinkers are real boozers, able to carry their pint-waving cries past the 3am mark and on into the wee hours of Monday morning? Probably not too many. Neither can those who want to party it up until the cold, winter Sun dawns probably afford to extend their existing rate of purchase for an extra few hours. In short, those who want to drink longer will most probably spread the drinks out - possibly relieving the amount of booze hitting the system in one short shock (the optimal "binge pivot point", so to speak). On the other hand, judging from behaviour at kicking out time currently, those who are insistent on cramming another 60 mintue's worth of short, shots and cocktails down their gullet will hopefully/likely be unable to stand/speak/swear/punch squarely even moreso than usual. A self-weeding problem then?

But in actual fact, I digress. Binge-drinking is not "the" problem, I argue, and this is where I bring the 2 stories above into the spotlight. The last quote in the second article highlights the real issue: "Cocaine has a completely misplaced reputation as a glamour drug"

Glamour. Money. Fame. Popularity. These are the things we've defined as "success". At the risk of sounding like a religious nut, the squabble for attention that arises from such a "misplaced" sense of success means that shock, outrageousness, and the ability to make people like you because you're more foolish than they are has left us with an industrial minefield hellbent on self-destruction.

Binge-drinking is not the problem (although drinking may lead to other problems such as noise "pollution"). Drugs are not the problem. The problem is that we believe that the way to happiness is through wealth and status. Yes, this could be perceived as a particularly... "new age" argument, let's say, but the truth is that many of the problems we face today are intrinsically linked with the values we inherently promote through culture and through policy - whether it be a lusting after economic and competitive superiority, or the idea of being able to "choose" whichever reality you want to live in today.

Is it any surprise, then, that some people view us with suspicion when it seems like we're trying to export these values to far-flung places?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rimmington Raises Concern

Dame Stella Rimington picks up on the forgability of all ID documents.

A reminder that the issue here isn't just the economic cost of replacing either cards/identities that have been forged, or of updating the fallible system. The real crunch is the false sense of security that such a system can provide - making the awakening all the more harsh when that failure is revealed in stony cold daylight.

In other words, how do we know the system is secure?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Harding changes his mind

Neil Harding looks into the details of the ID System and comes to a new conclusion. I've lost track of whether the governemnt are still talking about in terms of principle of implementation - dreams or reality.

Big post on stuff coming soon, I hope. I know you miss them.

Bollocks to the Lords

Them bloody Lords again: "Ministers were furious about the Lords vote, warning that it would cause 'complete chaos' to the new licensing system. They insisted that they would ignore the peers' views."

Good-oh. Glad to see that the true definition of ignorance hasn't been lost yet.

Sit down over a nice cup of tea and talk about it

It's too early for me. I'm confused. Ian Blair talks sense? Am I about to wake up or something?

"He said police work was being hampered by the lack of a proper examination of what they were for - whether it was to fight crime or fight its causes, to build stronger communities or enforce zero tolerance.

"If the public did not decide what kind of force it wanted, then the police would drift into deciding on their own, which would not be "right", he added."

The trick now is to ensure sensible debate without the outcome being decided in advance by people with various agendas. Tony might even be tempted to turn this into another "people's choice" awards, whereby the power to choose who protects you and switch to a more superior force once you get stabbed at 3.30am is considered Power!

A debate would be good. We haven't had a proper one of those in a while. How about it Whitehall - can we have a vast sponsored series of talks and discussion seminars situated in every quaint teahouse of Britain? Or a free soapbox to anyone that wants one (followed by a soapbox amnesty once people start using them to "preach dissent"...) With all-day alcohol being served up, we can't fail to have enlightened, lively debate - just someone write it down so we can remember what we said in the morning...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Three Thousand Words

Ah, dear Flickr, what would we do without you? Thanks to Pete Woodhead, even we who wussed out of the annual Lewes throng get to partake in the final, explosive moments of Charles Clarke...

(For the confused amongst you, I can assure you that the real Clarke is not made of papier mache. He may or may not be 20 feet high, though.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

So who's to blame? Step up to the block...

Some headlines are so good, you can't help but cut out and keep them.

The detention period has, at least, been reduced to 28 days, which if nothing else shows that many MPs aren't willing to simply accept Police-led reasoning at face value.

There is, however, a little confusion over just what this means. Compare this quote from the BBC article above:

"But the prime minister's official spokesman said: "We don't see this as a matter of confidence in the prime minister as it was a proposal put forward by the police and which we supported.""

...which performs the traditional tactic of saying that "it wasn't our argument, it was the Police what made us say it" - the same tactic often used to shift blame to scientists and other "expert" advisers who merely provide one side of the story.

Now, further down the article, the same spokesman (it seems) claims that:

"The police and public supported what the government was trying to do...,"

So which is it - are the government supporting the police's request, or are the police (along with the public) supporting the government's proposal?

The difference is bound to be a vicious circle, ultimately, with Tony in the Commissioner's pocket and vice versa. The desired outcome, from both party's view, is obviously that both carry the blame. Which means that neither carries the blame. See how this works?

But as Curious Hamster points out in a very salient post (and dont' worry, I'll stop quoting him one day ;), this should not be the end of it - shouldn't be allowed to be the end of it. It is the Police's job to defend us against wrongdoers, fair enough, but parallel to this, it is also the politician's job to a) weigh up the arguments and evidence put forwards by a particular consulting party and b) consider that reasoning in the light of all other reasons being put forward. By completely ignoring the other aspects of this case - namely, civil liberties and the theory of freedom - Blair (the Tony one) showed his true colours - not as a reasoner (if that's a word), but as a guy who, committed to fighting odd wars, is threatened with the image of a legacy of "homeland" bombs. He knows that, given further incidents, people will certainly remember him as a failure.

The bind is that if he admits to a link between war and terrorism, he will also be seen as a failure - or worse yet, an instigator. To see things from his view is to see a level of personal pride, built upon 3 elections like the funeral pyre of a Roman emperor proclaimed as a deity. With his stepdown confirmed, it's becoming a race against time to put barricades in place, to offset the culmination of 8 years in power with a final run of even more stringent demands to stem the blood.

It's true - the higher the pedestal, the further there is to fall. The line between finishing in glory (only for his successor to inherit the haemorrhaging), and being booed off the stage is now a fine one, sandwiched between an increasing desire to do something (anything!), and the increasing results of having done something.

What should he do then? A pickle, he is in. Pride before a fall, etc. We're still seeing the effects of - and judging - Thatcher after all this time, and I suspect Blair won't be any different. He may bow out whichever way he can now, but the real test will be in 10 years time once the database state is in full swing. The moralistic preacher in me longs to claim that there's glory in defeat and honour in admission - an apology for the state of Iraq (whether or not you agree with the invasion, Blair must share some blame for the lack of foresight following it, in hindsight), and an acceptance of the possibility, even, between international tensions raised by the war and the state of national security we find ourselves in now.

But then, if we were in our own little ivory tower looking up at the stars and how they spelt out our name, who's to say we wouldn't be thinking the same?

To end, it's good to see that Devil's Kitchen are celebrating in true limericky style. Let's see what we can concoct for the occasion...

He wanted a 90-day limit
But his own MPs voted to bin it
"Three months behind bars?
That can go up yer ars!"
At this rate he'll be gone in a minute.


Security in the face of Security

A reminder that 4.30pm sees the report stage of the Terrorism Bill hit the vote Let's hope that MPs can actually make it this time, unlike the last.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Common Sense vs the Law vs Policy: "I Am the Law!"

"The Long View" on BBC Radio 4 this morning was a historical look at surveillance in society, with comparisons between city watchmen in the 19th century, and a look at a CCTV data centre of today. You can listen to it here.

Bill Rammell says that Universities have nothing to fear from the Terrorism Bill, but the Universities aren't so sure. Loose legislation backed up by a sense of trust seems to be the norm these days - indeed, a lot of the difference in opinion comes down to the same idea - that a large proportion of judicial action is to be inferred, and carried out more according to some idea of "common sense" than formal decree. Isn't it exactly that level of flexible ambiguity in law that the modern system evolved to avoid? Maybe it's time to do away with laws completely, and rule simply by common sense - many seem to think that a plausible option under a civilised government.

Are laws there to guide or restrict policy-makers? Will legislation evolve to take inherent common sense into account, or will the holes left in new Bills simply let politicians expand to interpret them as they want/need? Let me think^W read some Judge Dredd for a moment...

Meanwhile, I wrote a fax to my MP. Hopefully he'll reply this time.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Some quick, random bobs n bits:

Curious Hamster takes a look at the recent YouGov poll. Not had much chance to look at it properly myself yet though.

Have added Into The Machine to Wikablog, which may explain the new button on the right. If you're so inclined, feel free to head over and review us.

Also I seem to have ranted more than I expected over on Neil Harding's summary of the ID System debate. Neil is one of the few pro-ID System bloggers out there, so it's good to have someone who's willing to put the other side of the argument across. Challenge and discussion is sorely lacking in this era.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

It's all in the Timing...

Curious Hamster picks up on the timing of the release of 999-call material, and the backlash on anti-terrorism laws. I seem to remember similar material being made available following September the 11th, but can't recall if it coincided with similar US legislation...

Quote of the day

"Mr Marshall-Andrews said: 'There is no defence, there is no proviso which is placed in the act which would enable Cherie Booth QC, if the director chose to prosecute her, to defend herself.'"

Info Commissioner criticises ID Cards Bill

Oops, almost let this one slip. Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has a proper go at the ID register. (You can read his statement hither.) Note this quote...

"The extent of the information retained as a core part of the National Identity
Register is unwarranted and intrusive.

Make sure your MP gets to read it.

(Also added to the badly-CSSed list of reports.)
Germany is the first country in Europe to implement the new biometric passport. This is the item that our government claims will cost 70% of the cost of the full ID card system.

So, how did they do it? Well the BBC report gives a few hints:

'Mr Schaar's main concern is unauthorised access to the confidential biometric data. He wants to see more safeguards.

The German government has ruled out a centralised database of the confidential information. "But who says this won't happen abroad?" he says. "We need an EU-wide ruling to prevent storage of this data. This has all happened too fast."'

No central database should mean a vastely reduced cost compared to the British version.

I'll see if I can find some documentation about the new German biometric passport, and how it conforms to the EU regulations, and how much it all costs (in real money, not vague claims of 'double').

Watch this space.


Edit: A swift Google translator tells me that the passport has a unit price of £40 for ten years (an increase of £20 from the non-biometric passport). I'm unsure whether that represents the total price, or whether it is government subsidised in some way - most likely the former.

Another Edit: I've just realised why the german quoted is so worried about the storage of this data - and it's nothing to do with his government and everything to do with ours. Spy Blog recently reported on the procurement documents released by the government for the ID card scheme. One of the items that is contained in the documents is that the British Biometric database should be able to contain 100million entries. This is an astonishing number, given that the British population elegible for the card is about 40million (possibly 50million, I forget). Where do the remaining 60million entries come from? Possibly the plan is to permanently store the biometric details of everyone who enters the country (legally - through the ports). No wonder the german is worried!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

International Data Retention

This is bizarre. Or, at least, the point where my knowledge of trans-national business/privacy laws breaks down.

O2, the second largest mobile operator in the UK, has been paid £875,000 to retain call data for a year. So first-off, that's public money being used to keep tabs ("spying", some might say) on the "public's" phone calls. (I say public, as a. everyone has a mobile phone now, and b. the plan's being extended to the other networks as we speak.)

But at the same time, a Spanish company, Telefonica, looks like it will be buying O2 up very soon.

The multi-level privacy aspects of this are confusing, although concerning either way. I'm not currently sure what the RIP Act says, although it looks like now that government plans have been thwarted by industries (complaining about retention costs) and civil liberty campaigners alike (although probably moreso the former...), they've opted for a different tack and are trying to get the data available through public-private economic coercion instead.

So does this mean that they're allowed to access the data, once it's stored and searchable, or does that still require some further passing of legislation?

And should we be raising questions about having this level of data being stored by a foreign-owned company? How do national/international surveillance laws get applied in this case?

Answers on a postcard...

Blunkett's relegated, Ian Blair rants

Forget about Scooter, it's all go on this side of the Pond. While Blunky, prior unofficial patron to these pages, realises his untenability and joins the ranks of the sordid backbench masses (again), how much pressure will Blair be looking at over the next few weeks?

Still, not to be outdone by the ever-dahling, media-hugging Minister, Metropol Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair rants his face off in the Sun today (besides such wonderful headlines as "Sassy's guide to better bonks"... respect, Ian). The Commissioner should be up for a Booker next year, as he sets about weaving a tale of dark, grimacing times, smouldering violence and a life so post-nuclear that we'll be living off mutated rats unless we hand over all our power to him. "Trust us to beat bombers", the big letters say.

His comments should be taken in context of course. Near the end of the article where no-one reads, he affirms that...

"We have no interest in making Britain a police state. We have no interest in detaining lots of people but we do have an interest, and a duty, to detain some people long enough for us to understand what they are planning..."

Of course, why would the Police have an interest in a Police State? Similarly, why would the government want us to question their decisions less? If you lack the answers to these questions, I suggest giving up now.

The rule being played by both Blairs is that Police Powers are a necessity. This is where Ian stretches himself so marvellously, painting a picture so bleak it makes me want to hide under my desk right now...

"The reasons are simple. These people present a threat so profound that as soon as we begin to understand they are planning an attack we must disrupt them by arrest. There is no choice." (emph mine.)

"This is the new reality."

And my favourite...

"The sky is dark."

Obviously not living in a city, then.

The Police want our trust. Tony wants our trust, and our respect. And yet both of these sides have shown their complete willingness to burn the village down in the race for salvation.

The new reality is that the rules we've played by for so long - 2 centuries or more - no longer work. The global infrastructure that "we" are intent on relying upon has led to a sense of peace, yes, but also very serious artifacts that threaten that peace. The new "reality" is, perhaps, simply a disillusionment, as we find ourselves face-to-face with the harsh predicaments of our society in the dull daylight.

You can defeat bombers by strip-searching everyone in the street, and keeping them tagged from birth/entry. You can also start to get a long-term grip on what's really going on in the world, rather than ignoring causality and hoping that everyone will eventually come round to your way of thinking.

See, maybe there's a choice after all.

Update: Apparently it would cost too much to determine the background and motivation of terrorists.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Parcel tracking

Let me put this as simply as I can. One day I might get bored of going on about it. But not today.

Section 1, subsection (5) (h) of the ID Cards Bill says that information can be recorded about every time your details are accessed from the National ID Register. This is not restricted to use of the card - just when any validation is required (e.g. to confirm your fingerprints).

(In Schedule 1, section 7 expands upon this.)

Now in an interview with the FT, Andy Burnham is quite clear that ID Cards are designed to be as applicable as possible:

"We think ID cards could be the single gateway into a whole range of services that people need in their everyday lives from picking up a parcel or hiring a car to applying for a loan or registering with a doctor."

Amongst other things, why do the government need to know when I pick up a parcel? Furthermore, assuming the Post Office/Delivery Company track parcels by ID, this makes it a very simple, technically to know exactly who's sending parcels to whom. Again, why? I've yet to understand how this isn't a Big Brother plan.

(N.B. Section 7 of Schedule 1 above also says that information "may" be recorded. Does this, I assume, mean that the government aren't obliged to inform you, through the database, when they've been checking your details for whatever reason? Is there any way to know that we're being spied on?)