Friday, September 28, 2007

Odd Security Court Cases in 2 Parts

Part I: Letter-bombing caretaker jailed. End of the paper trail for Miles Cooper (covered in the previous post) who apparently wanted to bring awareness to the surveillance state after his Dad couldn't get his DNA off the database. This bit what the judge said caught my eye:
"Anyone who tries through violence or threat of violence to change the political will is a terrorist and that is precisely what you did."
Now, is it just me, or does claiming that "The Terrorists [tm] are among us!" also amount to a "threat of violence"? Maybe Bin Laden threatening to blow stuff up if stuff don't happen is on a similar line to a politician claiming that if we don't have certain changes in law, then we'll get blown up. Either way, fear of being blown up is a strong emotive argument. Resorting to fear seems to be not just a course for terrorists though. They're the party that carry out the violence, but resorting to perception of this violence is a powerful rhetoric tool.

Part II: Hoax calls made to get time off. Seems a pretty extreme way to take a sicky, but hey, if it works... Just goes to show though that it's not just terrorists and protesters that can bring a city to a standstill. (People going on strike and people flinging themselves on the rail should also probably be made illegal, for threatening the economic and emotional wellbeing of commuters.)

Amusingly, a recent bomb call saw my partner's train go straight through the affected station, speeding the journey up. Yay! Of course, engineering delays further down the line meant they got put back, so there's a certain sick justice in the world...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fighting Fire with Fire

It's interesting to see the BBC pushing the story of Miles Cooper, who's been sending letter bombs. Today's article, "Bombs sent 'in protest at state'" is just under the main headline of the Burmese protests. The previous article on Tuesday mentioned his reasons in the headline, as I recall, but it's not until the 6th paragraph down that these are noted:
He sent them because "of an overbearing and over-intrusive surveillance society," Mr Wolkind said.
I'm all for coverage of such attacks with such reasoning behind them, but one can't help but think the BBC are pushing this fairly hard - harder than needed, perhaps?

On the one hand, it could well be an interesting backlash against a surveillance society. There's a certain level of anger building up over ever-increasing acceptance of a submissive population. On the other hand, Mr Cooper might just be combining this "public" level of anger with a slightly ... deranged desire to blow shit up. Of course, without knowing him personally or reading the court transcripts, it's difficult to say which. But his method - references to animal rights on the letters - doesn't exactly pinpoint the locus of discussion he might be trying to raise.

That said, violent terrorism seems to be the protest tool of choice these days. Maybe this ties in with a question I raised ages ago - what is the best way of getting a point across, today? We don't trust politicians, or corporates, yet we let ourselves be ruled by them and buy their crap. Through tolerance, things are forced upon us - a subtle, masochistic violence. Do we need violence to counter it?

I had some thoughts on this that I'll try to coalesce and post somewhere soon.

Friday, September 21, 2007

CCTV Sucks... But how to turn Stats into Action?

Shock! Horror! Awe! Etc! Lib Dems reveal some figures which show how ineffective CCTV is at actually clearing up crimes - the average clear-up rate is about 21%, with some highly-infested areas (Hackney: 1,484 cams) just beating that (22.2%), but others falling short, despite having a few less cameras. On the other hand, some areas have less cameras, but a high solve rate (e.g. Brent have the highest: 164 cams, 25.9% clear-up).

The article confuses capture with deterrence once it spits outs its stats (and in any case, stats are worth a closer look in all circumstances). There's a certain (but not necessarily true ;) logic that says if you spend more on street lighting, CCTV camera work will be more effective, I'd think.

But reports are one thing. As with the DNA Database report from Nuffield earlier this week (apologies for not chasing that one up yet...), if things are really going to change, then we have to hammer home the points being made by these reports. We need to turn one press release into serious societal questioning. These are serious issues, and simply going "Yup, told you so" is not enough. We know we don't trust politicians, so why do we let them keep getting their way? Apathetic Acceptance is the hallmark of a successful reign of elitism, and nothing to do with how any democracy runs.

This is the big challenge now then - keeping up the momentum. Not easy in our culture of disposability, daily press releases, and feelgood politics.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Big-database-stick authoritarianism.

An intriguing turn of debate. "The whole population and every UK visitor should be added to the national DNA database, a
senior judge has said. My first thought was, naturally, WTF? But the article has a cunning line of argument. ord Justice Sedley actually says it would be fairer to put everyone on the DNA system than the system we have now. The accompanying "news" of an innocent man's DNA permanently stored certainly isn't new to anyone who's heard of the database, but serves to support the judge's point. Currently, there is very little ethical rationale behind the collection of DNA.

One of those things - you know, the map of who you are as an individual, the thing that defines your biological (and, some would claim, your mental) uniqueness - that should be discussed if it's going to start getting collected, tracked, compared. You'd thing we'd have asked questions about the appropriateness of this kind of thing already, but apparently we're all far to British to argue against something that solves crime.

Tony McNulty loves this idea, of course, although it's a shame it's just so difficult to do, you know?
"I have said in the past I think there is a case for a compulsory database. It would be a huge endeavour, both in practical terms and have real ethical and political dimensions to it"
Fortunately, even this far into the scheme, he's glad that "a debate had begun". Begun? Surely the debate should be over by now, given the nonsensical state of the "law" surrounding it.

Here are some refutals in order to contribute to the "debate":

1. McNutty claims the database "helped police solve as many as 20,000 crimes a year." Pushing the definition of "as many as" aside, what does this really mean? Would they have solved it without the database? It might make solving them easier, though, just as more surveillance might make it easier, but more on this below.

2. Readers of Dredd will find resonance with this bit of Sedley's talk:
It means that everybody, guilty or innocent, should expect their DNA to be on file for the absolutely rigorously restricted purpose of crime detection and prevention."
This gets right to the heart of the matter: everybody becomes a suspect. No longer are you tracked once you have committed a crime. Instead, you are tracked in advance, so that if when you commit a crime, you are caught. The presumption is of guilt, and the solution is to keep watch of everyone. Innocence is forced. Authoritarianism through shaking-a-big-database-stick at everyone is complete.

3. Will this actually decrease crime then? No, it just helps to catch those who commit it. As we've seen time and time again with CCTV, surveillance does not deter the delinquent, but generates it through an omission of trust and responsibility. All that stick shaking above, funnily enough, breeds contempt. Britain becomes yet more of a prison state than it already is.

Apparently the public might get consulted about all this, but the usual definition of "debate" will probably apply. Debate involves people talking with each other, but modern politics just means individuals ranting into a central set of tubes, wherein all echoes and disappears. If we want debate on the subject, and the accompanying awareness of who we really are, then we have to do it ourselves.

Erratum: Oops, that last link was from November last year. But according to the Nuffield site, the report is due out on the the 18th of this month. The "debate", of course, consisted of one "public" meeting (oddly in February 2006, with 25 people present - see the PDF notes), and a working party.

Update: ORG raise some brief, but interesting points on further uses of DNA such as family links and health issues. In other words, the potential function crepes (mmm, tasty) of the info stored have implications we can't even begin to think about. IIRC, insurance companies aren't allowed to know the results of genetic tests for disease (I may be wrong/out of date here). Why should the government? (There are many more reasons other than financial why not...)

Update 2: Spyblog has more talk and links here.