Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The system gets bigger...

Quick note. Spy Blog has info and questions on the "demise" of the Citizen Information Project, now that the Identity System Bill has gone through.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Making Jack a Dull Boy

This is good - the National Union of Teachers (NUT) recognise the importance of playing, and the possible demise of it in schools. In a time when "work-life balance" is being spouted by every street corner lifecoach around, and programmes about getting away from stuffiness are all the rage, why shouldn't children get a slice of the cake too?

Somewhere along the line, someone discovered that you could push people to limits. Tell people they want money for long enough, and they'll throw themselves in the road for you. Now work out that "telling" involves an entire educational system - work hard, play soft, and you'll get the magic beans at the end of the day - and you start to put the system into overdrive.

Is play dangerous? If it is indeed "imaginative" then how does that affect children? Doesn't imagination involve coming up with your own thoughts, developing your own sense of who you are? Not that I'm cynical of the "education" system (oh, ok, I am really), but the whole idea of "playfulness" really goes against the hard-working, hard-shopping, economic grain that the majority of the system seems to foster.

There's a fine line between "playfulness" and "rebellious" or "non-serious", for example. In the mind of the politician (or, indeed, the CEO, etc), "targets" and "imagination" are at loggerheads. The term "Imagination" conjures up images of crazy potheads deciding that plugging the PC into a cat would be "a great idea". The twist is that the same sense of imagination is needed - shock, horror, et al - to be creative, which is where all that lovely "innovation" that consultants love to talk about comes from. Heh.

Anyway, the NUT actually ties all this in with self-harm, which is an interesting link:

"General secretary Steve Sinnott said there was "increasing evidence of the damage to children's health and well-being" - with more self-harm among teenagers."

I'd love to see the research behind this. Maybe we're just breeding a nation of Goths.

(On a sidenote, this is one of the best ideas I've ever seen...)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Welcome to the Terrordome

The Terrorism Act has arrived today.

"(3) For the purposes of this section a publication is a terrorist publication ... if matter contained in it is likely-

(a) to be understood, by some or all of the persons to whom it is or may become available as a consequence of that conduct, as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to them to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism; ...

-- Part 1, section 2

"I pursue my enemies and overtake them;
I will not turn back till I have destroyed them.
I strike them down, and they cannot rise;
they fall defeated at my feet.
You have girded me with strength for the battle;
you have cast down my adversaries beneath me;
you have put my enemies to flight.
I destroy those who hate me;
they cry out, but there is none to help them;
they cry to the LORD, but he does not answer.
I beat them small like dust before the wind;
I trample them like mud in the streets.

-- Psalm 18

This is after a quarter of an hour flicking through a Bible, and adopting "terrorism" to infer violence. More time, and a wider definition (i.e. the legal definition), and I'm sure there would be reasonable grounds to have most things banned. An interesting exercise, I think.

(On a side note, is it illegal to encourage yourself to commit acts of terrorism? My own writing is certainly "available" to me...)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Problems with Profiling

The Observer hits a few top stories that tie in well together today - both relate to profiling, and the weaknesses inherent in placing so much trust in such a system.

The first, that a leaked inquiry reveals there was no direct Al-Quaeda link to the 7/7 bombs, highlights the main problem with profiling - that data within the system is only useful/valid so long as the factors "outside" of the system are "stable" too.

A little confusing? OK, in other words, if you have a system set up to find potential terrorists based on who's talking to whom, it only works so long as potential terrorists ONLY talk to existing known ones, to put it simply.

The problem we have now, though, is that the consequences of political action after political action have led to a number of people turning to terrorism independently (see Guardian story, and much older article). Profiling is no good at picking up "isolated" cells like this. The problem is further compounded when one remembers (or, in the case of many politicians, "realises") that you don't actually need to be a potential Peer to make a bomb. (Hell, you don't even need more than about 50p to just pretend to have a bomb, which would shut a station down for an hour or two.)

For too long, "terrorist training camps" and "terrorist networks" have been blamed for the spread of terrorism. But "terrorism" in its current form is nothing more than simple violence, which is as old as the hills. The true causes of violence have been around forever for anyone to "inquire" into, yet they continue to be ignored.

The second article, is both a reminder that a) profiling is highly dependent on the weakest link, and b) we look first to more profiling as the solution to the problems caused by a society of surveillance.

"Drivers use address scam to cheat speed cameras" picks up on a "loophole" (bug? feature?) involving the use of legitimate "business" addresses to avoid automatically-generated fines. By registering a car and its insurance at a "dummy" address, the Police have nowhere to look for the real owner.

Definitely a feature, but one that will probably be phased out as we continue the slide to be normalised, processable by the machine that looks over us. Proof comes at the end of the article:

"...the planned introduction of automatic number plate recognition cameras ... would be harder to deceive.

"A Home Office spokesman said the national identity register being introduced to back up planned ID cards would help...

Primed and ready for a surveillance state.