Blue Thunder

June 13, 2008

It would be fair to say that posts you find here could be classed as largely critical, and steadfastly non-partisan. But it seems necessary at this moment to redress the balance a bit, and tip a hat to the Tories for the sterling job they’ve been doing recently as the Opposition.

Davis’s just-announced resignation is inspiring, and is made even more so by the fact that it seems not to be a party-political stunt, but rather a personal crusade for the sake of what is right. Before now, his opposition to Labour’s totalitarianism – ID cards, detention without trial, surveillance society, etc., etc. – could easily be put down to him just doing his job; as the Shadow Home Secretary, one would expect him to always express the party line irrespective of his personal opinions. And you can never quite be sure if the criticism generated by the opposition is really down to true disagreement with the things that the ruling party are doing, or just simply a contrary attitude aiming to gain political capital from decisions that they would have made anyway.

However, it would appear that Davis’s actions originate from strongly held personal beliefs, and have clearly taken both friend and foe by surprise, which makes it unlikely that it is an elaborately orchestrated coup de grace by the Conservatives (although it may indeed add further pressure to the already beleaguered Brown camp). This appears to be simply one man’s principles being forcefully expressed, and with no material support for his re-election offered or expected from his party, these principles are all he is standing on.

Davis’s steadfast opposition to Labours continual erosion of civil liberties over recent years have been very much appreciated by very many people and, despite the fact that he may be guilty of foolish self-indulgence in this matter, his admiration and respect is only multiplied by the confirmation that he has in fact meant what he’s said. The real tragedy is that he will no longer have the influence to bring his opinions to bear on his opponents now that he has left the position as Shadow Home Secretary. We can only hope Dominic Grieve proves a worthy successor.

As for Cameron, well he hasn’t been slacking either. In a recent speech to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, he came out with these gems:

For the last decade or so, in the name of modernisation, rationalisation and efficiency, we have been living under a regime of government by management consultant and policy by PowerPoint.

“The result has not been a contented, streamlined nation humming with efficiency and gleaming with modernity.

“The result has been an explosion of bureaucracy, cost and irritation, endless upheavals and pointless reorganisations, the elbowing aside of colourful, human, informal relationships based on common sense and trust in favour of the grey, mechanical, joyless mantras of the master planner with his calculations, projections and impact assessments.”

The outcome had been “socially destructive” but also “economically inefficient”, he said, undermining institutions that are the foundations of society and creating extra costs for the state to pick up.

“All this because we live under a regime that prizes bureaucratic neatness above all else,” he went on.

“A regime – indeed a whole culture that it has spawned – which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Well dare I say it David, but you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head there. You’ve deftly expressed what is so blatantly apparent to all of us, but so very hard to articulate. I just hope you believe in your soliloquys as much as your ex-Home Secretary does.My 2p


Beer Goggles

March 13, 2008

From the Indy:

Doctors welcome alcohol tax rises

Doctors today gave their strong backing to increases in alcohol duty announced today in the Budget saying that “tough action” was needed to tackle the culture of binge drinking.

But the rise in duty on beer was attacked by representatives of the brewing industry who said the move would lead to a fall in beer sales and pub closures.

Well I’m sorry, but they’re both talking absolute tripe. From tramps scraping together their pennies to raucous townie office workers blowing their newly minted pay-cheques, you won’t find any of them thinking ‘ooh, I’m a bit skint at the moment, best give the next pint a miss, eh?’ after a measly 4p/pint price rise.

To the lone drinker, 4p is just a bubble in a beer glass, but factored over the population it’s quite a meaty sum:

… Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said: “The millions of people who enjoy beer have just been hit by a £50.5 million a month tax raid on their family budgets.

He added that the Government was punishing “all beer drinkers” rather than tackling the “minority” of drunken hooligans.

Now that’s something to think about over a swift half. £50.5 million a month – that’s £606 million, over £half a billion a year! And where’s all that money going then Darling? That’ll pay for plenty of MP’s subsidised beer and second homes, with even some cash left over; somehow I can’t see it being ring-fenced for rehabilitation or dealing with alcohol-related problems, myself.

Even if this wasn’t some thinly-veiled money-raising stunt by the big G, the problems we have with alcohol are societal and cultural, and they’ll have a tough time using economics to fix them, especially when the tax penalties applied don’t even rival inflation.

ps. have one on me…

Privacy and Security

March 11, 2008

A couple of good articles seen out and about on the web… first ‘Privacy and Power‘ by the inimitable Bruce Schneier:

‘… In a world of ubiquitous surveillance, you’ll know all about me, but I will also know all about you. The government will be watching us, but we’ll also be watching the government. This is different than before, but it’s not automatically worse. And because I know your secrets, you can’t use my secrets as a weapon against me.

This might not be everybody’s idea of utopia — and it certainly doesn’t address the inherent value of privacy — but this theory has a glossy appeal, and could easily be mistaken for a way out of the problem of technology’s continuing erosion of privacy. Except it doesn’t work, because it ignores the crucial dissimilarity of power.

You cannot evaluate the value of privacy and disclosure unless you account for the relative power levels of the discloser and the disclosee.’

And for afters, perhaps you think it’s ‘Time to fight security superstition‘ by Cory Doctorow:

We can’t mention terrorist attacks at the airport while we’re being subjected to systematic anti-dignity depredations; your bank won’t let you open an account with a passport – you need to supply a laser-printed utility bill as well (“to prevent money laundering” … you can just hear Osama’s chief forgers gnashing their teeth for lack of a piece of A4).

The superstitions that grip airport checkpoints and banks are themselves a threat to security, because the security that does not admit of examination and discussion is no security at all.

If terrorists are a danger to London, then the only way to be safe is to talk about real threats and real countermeasures, to question the security around us and shut down the systems that don’t work.

Just remember kids – KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.

The Crosby Show

March 8, 2008

As an addendum to the recent post about ID Card news, the Governments release of the National Identity Scheme Delivery Plan 2008 served to help bury a bit of bad news: the release of The Crosby Report – Challenges and opportunities in identity assurance (PDF).

The conclusions of this report largely contradict the actions and plans being implemented by the Government with respect to the National Identity Scheme, and the release of their own report a few hours before Crosby’s is a blatant and despicable piece of media manipulation.

Critics have been quick to jump on the case; This news release from No2ID puts it pretty clearly:

…Crosby’s conclusions set out 10 clear principles for the design
of a “consumer-driven universal ID assurance system” scheme. The Home Office
scheme breaks every one of them.

The report was overshadowed by yesterday’s announcements about the ID scheme
timetable from the Home Secretary, which were made several hours before the
Crosby Report was released. NO2ID condemns this mendacious news management.
Jacqui Smith’s speech claimed Crosby in support of her plans. The opposite is true.

The principles are:

1. The purpose of any scheme should be restricted to enabling citizens to assert their identity

… BROKEN. The Government’s ID scheme is explicitly for government functions.

2. Governance should inspire trust. It should be independent of Government

… BROKEN. The Government’s ID scheme is run by a Home Office agency, and will be overseen by a commissioner who reports to the Home Secretary.

3. The amount of data stored should be minimised. Full biometric images (other than photographs) should not be kept

… BROKEN. The Identity Cards Act 2006 lists FIFTY categories of information that will be kept, and that information will build up over a lifetime. For example, not just a current contact address, but every address
at which you’ve ever lived anywhere in the world.

4. Citizens should “own” their entry. It should not be possible, except for national security, for any data to be shared without informed consent

… BROKEN. The Government’s ID scheme is designed to propagate information between government agencies, without (or with coerced) consent.

5. Enrolment should minimise costs and give citizens a hassle-free experience

… BROKEN. The Government’s ID Scheme has been sold on the ‘security’ provided by personal interview and fingerprinting at one of the IPS’s 69
newly commissioned interrogation centres.

6. To respond to consumers and give benefits, it should be capable of being rolled out quickly

… BROKEN. There is a ten-year timetable, one set by the means of coercion Government intends to use, not any consumer demand. The pace of an already unpopular [3] scheme will not be market-driven.

7. Citizens who lose cards or whose identity is compromised should be able to get it fixed quickly and efficiently

… BROKEN. Passports applications, the model for ID, are now slower and much more inconvenient as a direct result of merging them into the ID scheme.

8. The scheme’s systems should work with existing, efficient, bank systems to reduce risks

… BROKEN. The Government’s ID scheme is being built on the DWP’s Citizen Information Service systems, which are already full of junk data.

9. To engage consumers enrolment and cards should be provided free of charge

… BROKEN. The Government ID scheme is notionally self-funding, with both charges and a system of heavy penalties to compel compliance. Enrolment may
involve substantial travel and costs for some.

10. The market should play a role in creating standards, to ensure ease of use and minimise costs

… BROKEN. The Government offers a centralised, top-down scheme, specified by Whitehall in secret, and implemented by non-competing contractors. This
amounts to nationalising personal identity as a Government monopoly.

SpyBlog also covers the story, and has a detailed breakdown and analysis of the Home Secretary’s recent speech here.

QuID venio?

March 8, 2008

Well it’s certainly been a busy few weeks for news about the UK’s ID Cards scheme. The increased media coverage is most welcome, especially considering much has been at least critical towards the plans, if not downright negative. For the interested amongst you, here’s some of what’s been going on.

We kick off with the leak of the Home Office’s National Identity Scheme Options Analysis Outcome” via the WikiLeaks site at the end of January. This gives a very interesting insight into the current governmental thinking about the scheme, and the announcements of recent days all fit nicely with the plans and attitudes expressed in the document.

The No2ID campaign have provided an annotated version (PDF), which is essential reading, picking apart the document and highlighting many points of concern. The key points were extracted and built into a No2ID press release, sent out on the 26th January, which said:

A Home Office document leaked to the Sunday People shows that the government is considering “various forms of coercion” to force people onto the ID cards database. Young people “who may be applying for their first Driving Licence” are picked out as a “target group“.

A slide headed “Contract Renewals” from last week’s leaked documents – which showed that airport workers, students and people applying for a bank account could be forced to register for ID cards from as soon as 2009 – indicates that the DVLA is intended to be the “interim card supplier” for the ID scheme until 31/10/2010.

Phil Booth, NO2ID’s National Coordinator, commented:

“We’ve now seen the documents that confirm what NO2ID has said all along – the database state will be introduced by coercion, pure and simple.”

Coercion. That’s the magic word here, and it is directly used by the Government in this report. It means “the use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance” – this is what they are down to. No-one apart from Brown and his cronies want ID Cards, no-one thinks it’s a good idea or a good use of our money, but they will ignore all of us and do it anyway.

Coercion is the method of tyrants, and these tyrants are destroying all the things that make our country good. This should be the death knell for the Labour rule in this land.

Fast-forward to the present day and, surprise surprise, as predicted in the No2ID press release our esteemed Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced in the last week that, after going for the soft target of foreign nationals, airport workers will be one of the first groups to have compulsory Identity Cards, with young people and students being the next targets for assimilation (albeit voluntary).

It all makes perfect sense: first make specific workers need ID cards to earn their wage – picking on airport workers is the easy choice, with the obvious terrorism fear connotations, although quite why National Identity Cards need to be involved at all is beyond me; I’m sure Heathrow has ID management and security systems to rival any airport in the world. But of course, most won’t think deeply enough about it to see this disparity. Next, target the vulnerable and those who don’t know better – young people are more softened up to compromising their rights in return for benefits or a brighter future.

Given that governmental strategy seems to have closely followed that which is outlined in this document, we can expect the remaining elements of the plan to be executed in due course. That is: further coercion applied to specific slices of society, the next being first time drivers (and after that, probably the rest of the driving population, given the DVLA’s involvement). Anyone wishing to travel out of the country will be next – after 2011 all passport applicants will be automatically enrolled on the National Identity Register, whether they want an ID card or not.

It’s compulsion by stealth, and all about dividing and conquering – coercion goes unpunished on a small scale, but this method of tyranny has been utilised many times in history, enough to inspire poetry.

Open Season?

February 28, 2008

A friend just brought to my attention the ramifications of the Road Traffic Management Act 2004, covered here by The Telegraph:

Millions of motorists are likely to incur parking fines without realising it after being caught on CCTV.

From March 31, councils across England and Wales will have the power to use remote cameras to enforce parking laws, then send tickets by post.

… Paul Watters, the AA’s head of Roads and Transport Policy [said] … “Using CCTV will be unpopular because it is a blunt instrument. A CCTV camera cannot spot a blue badge, note down a tax disc number or always spot loading or unloading.”

This is an interesting development as, up until now, CCTV has been promoted as a scheme for improving public safety, and its slow insinuation into our society appears to have been largely tolerated. But now it’s starting to be used to penalise and repress the populace, the tide could now begin to turn against it.

Once the potential for misuse of this technology begins to be realised, the apathetic acceptance of CCTV may turn into active rejection. How long before we start seeing large scale vandalisation of cameras? Assaulting a traffic warden to prevent them giving you a ticket is a vastly less agreeable proposition than disabling a CCTV camera at distance via some means that is not easily traceable.

Name that ‘toon

February 27, 2008

A couple of great cartoons I stumbled across on the web:

They speak for themselves really…