Protect your data

Compulsory ID cards are instruments of evil. They will not make protect you from crime and will not make you safer, unless they end up produced out of bomb proof kevlar and big enough to wear. They serve no purpose for any member of the public but will cost you money. The only conceivable reason why the government is so keen to force the British public into paying for them is to allow the intelligence and security agencies unparalleled access to personal data and activity.

This is actually the only bones to the “make you safer” argument, in that by allowing the Police / Security services access to your ID card data (which would, one assumes, include all the locations where your ID has been checked and what purposes it was checked for) it will increase their ability to find criminals and terrorists. If you have read any of my previous posts you will be well aware that I think this is very, very, wrong. But this is an argument for another day. Today’s ironic turn of events is that even if MI5 have all your data and are watching your every move it wont help – because al-Qaida are actually working for MI5 in the first place.

From today’s Guardian:

A senior Tory MP today called for an investigation into whether MI5 mistakenly recruited al-Qaida sympathisers.

Patrick Mercer, the chairman of the counter-terrorism subcommittee, said six Muslim recruits had been thrown out of the service because of serious concerns over their pasts.

The MP said he was writing to the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to call for an investigation into the matter.

Two of the six men allegedly attended al-Qaida training camps in Pakistan while the others had unexplained gaps of up to three months in their CVs.

The irony here is really not lost on me and points to two issues.

First off, and possibly most importantly, no matter how much vetting takes place BADPEOPLE™ will get into the police or government. This has been the case since the dawn of secrecy. By their very nature spies are people who are able to infiltrate the highest levels of an organisation by appearing trustworthy. Equally, as the police and intelligence/security services well know, agents are people who are currently trusted by an organisation but are vulnerable to being expolited by hostile groups. This is done all the time against “enemies” (criminal or political), and it is even done in the “civilian” business world. I am sure this is stating the obvious but it is important background.

Knowing this, do you think that having all your identity data in one central location is a good idea? For ID cards to work, huge swathes of people need to be able to access the database – which causes errors. The data has to be entered and maintained, which causes errors. These are accidental problems which would be bad enough. Criminals and terrorists have the funding and will to deliberately corrupt the data. The concept of an ID card moves the burden of proof from the government to the “innocent until proven otherwise” citizen. Do you have the resources and will power of an organised crime gang or terrorist group?

If a criminal can compromise one aspect of your ID data that is a BADTHING©™® but you can take steps to rectify it, knowing that it shouldn’t lead to a cascade of ID failures. Stealing your National Insurance number, for example, shouldn’t lead to them getting access to your bank account details or your drivers licence. Crucially, should a criminal use your NI Number – and nothing else –  in the process of a crime (odd but possible) then it is unlikely that you would be the suspect. However, with a central ID card that is not the case.

Now back to MI5 and the other police and security agencies. Given the number of people involved, and recent large scale recruitment campaigns, it is unfathomable that some bad eggs haven’t slipped through the net. In the case of MI5 the pay is so pitiful by London terms that it is equally certain that there are some members of the organisation who would be open to financial corruption – not to mention the ones who could be co-opted in a million different ways. Do you trust them with all your data? Do you trust them to treat you fairly at all times?

Secondly: what sort of crazy world is it where an “unexplained gaps of up to three months” in your CV means you are a terrorist? I hope they never see my CV otherwise its Gitmo for me. Or is it just 3+ month gaps in the CV of people of middle-eastern descent? What is happening?

I’d say the world had gone mad but it seems an understatement. What really worries me is an old saying that keeps going round my head about when everyone else in the world seems mad its probably you…

The Irony, It burns…

Don’t you just love “Have Your Say“? What a wonderful place for those without any education, or any concept of the society they live in, to get burning issues off their chest without any fear of being punched in the face.

One of today’s topics is “Should witnesses have the right to anonymity” (link may be dead by the time you read this but it lives in the BBC archives). In a nutshell, the Law Lords upheld a long standing British legal tradition that says you have the right to face your accuser, and now the moaning-right want to abolish it. Ostensibly this is to allow people to give evidence without fear of criminal retribution (which, incidentally already happens and has happened for many, many years).

I think removing this right would be insane. It wouldn’t really help the police as they can already protect a witness under threat, but would allow people to lie without having to suffer the consequences. This is, IMHO, a very bad thing.

Anyway, on HYS there is a healthy mix of reactions. This is good as it means there are sane people out there. Ironically, the pro-anonymity argument seems to wrap itself up in contradictions…

Take this tirade against the law lords for their ruling:

The government is supposed to make the laws in this country, not a bunch of sad, senile old freaks. It’s patently obvious to anyone with an IQ greater than that of a prune that witnesses should be allowed anonymity, otherwise no one in their right mind would ever give evidence against criminal gangs. These idiots should not be allowed to make any more decisions of this kind.

Wow. The elected government (so often the brunt of right-wingers ire) is better a the law than the Law lords? Hmm. I disagree but that is not the issue. From this madness we get on to how the quality of the witness will be determined if the accussed can not challenge them:

The quality of the evidence will be taken into consideration by the judge during the trial. This will determine the validity and the Jury will be directed accordingly.

Wow. Ironic, isn’t it?

Blame the Cold War

Yet another “downside” of the thawing tensions between East and West was announced on the BBC today. Sir Edmund Burton was investigating the MOD’s woeful inability to prevent laptops going missing, and one of his conclusions was reported as:

Armed forces recruits from the “Facebook generation” do not take data security seriously enough, a Ministry of Defence security probe has found. (…)
In a highly critical report, he says the MoD had lost its Cold War discipline for data security and there was “little awareness” of its importance among staff. As a result a major security incident had been “inevitable”.

I sort of agree in that such a loss was (and still is) inevitable. However, I am not convinced it is as clear cut as the “facebook” generation or the end of the cold war.

First off, most of these breaches are not made by inexperienced recruits – they are not the sort of person who carries a laptop around with huge amounts of classified material. The people who do this are senior members of staff (even MPs…), I doubt Hazel Blears is part of the “facebook” generation – she simply had material on her machine that shouldn’t have been there and it got stolen. The MOD losses are similar.

Portable IT equipment is a high value target for theives, by its very nature it lends itself to being carted away easily. Of course people will try to steal things like this so any security plan must take that as an assumption and build from there (such as not putting unnecessary data there in the first place…). It is not the cold war’s fault for having the barefaced cheek to end.

The larger “issue” of all this, is despite the poor record, our government is continually trying to record and store more and more data on its citizens. Imagine the security compromise possible when a laptop containing 25,000,000 (not a made up number) people’s ID card details goes missing…

Remind me again why ID cards are good?

Identity Cards Will Cure All That Ails You

Well, first off, thanks to Alun sending me the link to the monstrously funny site called “spEak You’re bRanes” and the simply amazing Twat O Tron, I no longer have the faintest idea if the garbage posted on the BBC website’s have your say section is even slightly real. Worryingly, I think that the gibberish there is actually posted by real people. I say real people, but now I am convinced they are actually employees of the Home Secretary posting nonsense in a thinly disguised attempt to change public opinion. I would hate to think that people this stupid would be able to use a computer well enough to access the internet.

One of today’s talking points is the prospect of introducing Identity Cards to this once free nation. Weirdly the BBC seems to have used the wrong tense with the title, but it is called “Is the government creating a ‘surveillance society’?” and, boy, has it generated some nonsense.

Take this wonder from “Joy Pattinson” (claiming to be from Switzerland, but that just makes me think it is the Twat o Tron):

I have no confidence in this “government” whatsoever! They are unelected, uncouth and incompetent. But I am for ID cards 100% but think they should include everybody over the age of 12 with so much knife crimes in the UK. ID cards are in focus in other European countries and they are not considered security states. But I prefer to live in on with security and less personal freedom than the other way around. ID card protect the honest and legitimates. Those protesting are suspect! Joy

What? Seriously this idiot is claiming that carrying ID cards will prevent knife crime. How, Zeus only knows. I honestly cant even work out where to begin with this bit of nonsense. And, as a point of note, the Labour Party were elected to power in the UK, it is down to the party to decide on the leader of the government.

“John from Wilts” also produces a strangely “Twat-0-Tron”-esque comment with:

I have 2 ID cards both Spanish. One has my name and address on it and my Spanish NHS number and my fingerprint on the reverse. The 2nd card is my medical card with my NHS number and date of birth. Should I have an accident anywhere in Spain when the card is swiped it gives my doctors name my Consultorio (Surgery) and access to my medical records which would include any time spent in hospital and the treatment recieved. What fuss people make about ID cards here is entirely childish and petty.

Again we have another magical use for ID cards to save lives. Quite why some one from Wiltshire thinks a Spanish health service card is any use to them – or different from carrying your British NHS card – is beyond me. Does the NHS even have a system which would allow this?

Oddly, this wonderful life saving use of ID cards is not one they could be put to – so quite how John From Wilts thinks it is relevant is beyond me. Is this an opening shot in the inevitable mission creep ID cards are going to suffer from?

People who support ID cards have a list of things they think the ID card will protect them from. The fact that none of these match the government claims is ignored. Weirdly, the government itself seems unable to quantify what value ID cards will give to our society. What crimes in the (say) last 10 years would have been prevented by people carrying ID cards?

Still, despite this, there seem to be people capable of at least some higher brain functions who support ID cards.

Why?

False Promises and False Hope

The governments plans for 42 days detention of innocent people is unpopular and the government knows this. Unsurprisingly the opposition are currying public favour and seem set against the plans, but a few Conservatives remain true to their party’s ideas. Extended detention seems a very “Tory” policy so it is strange that the Labour party are trying to implement it and the Conservatives are against it but, I suppose, that is 21st century politics – no party has a policy any more they just want to get votes by any means…

Anyway, the irritating Ann Widdecombe seems willing to stick by her “Ideal” rather than curry public favour and she is going to vote for the inhumane six week imprisonment (with altered access to legal counsel as well) of innocent people. (Do I sound biased? I hope so).

Still, Widdecombe is not so principled that she can actually be honest with the public and, like most supporters of this madness, she wraps it up in false promises and an empty hope:

Widdecombe said that plans to extend the time terror suspects could be detained from 28 to 42 days would be acceptable if there was a “sunset” clause requiring the legislation to be renewed by MPs each year.

“My reasoning is very simple indeed: it’s that if we have a state of emergency then the government should be able to ask parliament for emergency powers, as we did for example over Northern Ireland … providing that the legislation does not remain on the statute books indefinitely until somebody gets around to repealing it,” she told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One.

This infuriates me. The idea that a “sunset clause” would do anything other than give MPs something to vote on every 12 months is madness. If this shocking law makes it onto the statute books it will remain indefinitely.

If we are, as some mad people claim, in a “state of emergency,” how will we get out of it? Seriously?

Al Qaeda is not an organised terrorist group in the manner of the IRA so there will be no Good Friday Agreement. They are not a nation like Iraq/Iran so there will be no invasion then “end of combat operations” (however spurious a claim). Even if Osama Bin Laden surrenders or calls for peace, how will this affect the countless (or 200 if you believe the PM) other terrorist networks?

Our state of emergency, if one indeed exists, is permanent. The whole meaningless-ness of “War on Terror” means it falls into that never ending list of “wars” we fight since we became a peaceful nation. War on Crime, Drugs, Obesity, none will end. None can end until everyone is dead. Bringing specific “war-time” legislation on the basis of this is genuine, evil, madness.

More worryingly, go back to Widdecombe’s example. The government did, indeed, bring in special emergency powers as a result of the IRA bombing campaigns. Policemen in NI were allowed to carry weapons. Civil liberties were curtailed because of the conflict.

The conflict in NI is now officially over. The IRA / Sinn Fein want peace. The government says there is peace there now and Operation Banner is now over. However all the emergency legislation remains – in lots of cases it has got much, much stronger. The original 1974 reason for bringing in 7 days detention for terrorist suspects was the “difficulty” In prosecuting the IRA. This caused public outrage and was described as an “emergency measure” to offset the massive success the IRA were having – ten times as many died at their hands each year in the 1970s as have been killed by Islamic Terrorists in the UK, ever. It is also implicated in several wrongful prosecutions (eg Guilford Four). It seems the end of the state of emergency which allowed for 7 days detention has simply resulted in it increasing six fold.

The recent ordeal of the student who was detained for only a fraction of this time highlights how this is not something a civilised nation should ever do to its population. If I was detained for 6 weeks without charge I would certainly be close to confessing to things I have never done. Likewise, when I was released I would certainly hold a monumental grudge against the state that instituted such acts.

Another thing which really concerns me about this is: The politicians in support of this law, and the media, seem to carry the basic assumption that the person is guilty. The talk is about detaining the person while they gather enough evidence for a successful prosecution. No mention is made of the fact this person is innocent. No mention is made that an innocent person has been put in jail while the police look for evidence of guilt. We have actually gone to the stage of allowing the police to decide guilt on our behalf. Wonderful.

It is a good job we can trust the state to never make mistakes, never falsify claims and all public servants are so well behaved no one will ever misuse these powers. It is a good job because the state is certainly not answerable to the public in the Wonderful Britain of 1984 2008.

I suppose, if people were allowed to sue the government if they were detained for 42 days then not found guilty (or not charged) it would be a bit more reasonable. But, basically, you will spend six weeks at Her Majesty’s Pleasure what ever the outcome.

That can never be right.

Finally, a good MP

There was a depressing 1984-in-2008 story that wasn’t already blogged to death here (because there are far too many. I have to pace myself.) Here’s the Register’s version. The Register heading and sub-heading give you the flavour of the story:

The New Order: When reading is a crime
Download a book, get arrested

A student downloaded the AlQaeda Training manual, which was on his Politics reading list. He asked his friend – who was on the University staff – to print it for him. The University spotted it in the print queue and called the police. Student and staff member were detained for a week and the member of staff is now about to be deported for “irregularities” in his application to live in the UK, after ten years here. (Yes, you’ve guessed it. They were muslims.)

I’m not going to go into the civil liberties aspects of this. They speak for themselves. Some of the comments on the Register article expressed them better than I can.

Instead I’m going to look on the bright side. This grim and shameful affair has highlighted the fact that there is still a sane and courageous UK Labour MP. No really. Alan Simpson, MP for Nottingham South.

He described the original arrest as a “dreadful cock-up”. The subsequent deportation was a blatant attempt “to try to justify the abuse of that power under the Terrorism Act. If we allow this to be done in our name, in our silent collusion, we become the architects of our own totalitarianism. We live in fear of speaking openly. We live in fear of enquiring and researching openly… We live in fear of the quiet unannounced knock on the door and we live in fear of our own shallowness, in terms of the willingness to stand side-by-side with each other in order to defend the very basis of an open democracy that we claim that terrorism is a threat to.” (From the Register)

Somebody make that man Prime Minister.

This is his home page. I was even deliberately looking for something to stop me posting a fan-post here – to spare my own shame at having to applaud a politician. As far as I can determine (there’s only so much you can read on an MP’s website, ffs) – he doesn’t put a foot wrong. For example, here is a 2007 article he wrote about the Blair and the Iraq War.

However, I found out, from an article in which the Independent was singing his praises last year, that he is resigning at the next election. He is “to carry on campaigning on “green” issues outside Parliament.”

Bah.

An Anonymous Coward comment on the Register article:

don’t believe that this bloke is really “New Labour”! That is the first and only anti-Stasi/ Stalinist/ Big-Brother statement I’ve ever heard from New Labour – it is obvious that he’ll never make the cabinet and that he’ll brought back in line by the Whips.
It was nice while it lasted…

My own blacklist

It’s going beyond boring to keep plugging this “1984 in the 21st century” stuff, so I’ve been willfully blanking lots of it, but this story is too chilling to ignore.

Just think of every shitty boss you’ve ever worked for. Every dishonest co-worker. Every work dispute you’ve ever had. Every manager who’s made you take the rap for their own corruption or stupidity.

Now, just imagine that the aforementioned shitty bosses could get a lifelong revenge on you at no inconvenience or risk to themselves.

The BBC story says:

Workers accused of theft or damage could soon find themselves blacklisted on a register to be shared among employers. It will be good for profits but campaigners say innocent people could find it impossible to get another job.To critics it sounds like a scenario from some Orwellian nightmare.
An online database of workers accused of theft and dishonesty, regardless of whether they have been convicted of any crime, which bosses can access when vetting potential employees.
But this is no dystopian fantasy. Later this month, the National Staff Dismissal Register (NSDR) is expected to go live.

Note that you don’t get on this database by being convicted of a crime. That would see you on the Criminal Records Bureau computer, which – for all its shortcomings – requires there to have been a prosecution before you find yourself unable to work ever again.

You can get on this database just because someone suspects you of doing something untoward in their employment. Or, obviously, just hates you for any number of reasons.

The Trades Union Congress spokesperson said:

Individuals would be treated as criminals, even though the police have never been contacted

Precisely, thus overturning centuries of law based on the “innocent till proven guilty” premise.

For once, the comments on this story on the BBC website aren’t dominated by the “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear” battalion. Most commenters were understandably horrified and made some cogent arguments against it.

I’m still going to hammer a few of the arguments home.

  • A dispute with an employer can now permanently ruin your entire working life, even if you are completely in the right.
  • In many industries – bar and shop work – unjustified accusations of theft are pretty commonplace. Things get stolen or takings are down and a paranoid boss tends to blame anyone handy.
  • People who are stealing at work can be very good at casting the burden of doubt on other workers, especially if they are new or temporary. (A fortnight’s temporary work as a naive student could leave you so unemployable that you might as well not finish that course.)
  • If you are guilty, you might as well not bother going straight in future jobs because you won’t get any.
  • The private information to be held on these databases must contravene the Data UnProtection Act as it’s obviously not being used for the purposes it is collected for. (For instance, your NI number is supposed to exist to allow your contributions to be credited to you. )
  • The BBC article refers to some remedies under the law. They are too feeble to even merit a mention. And in case, they are purely personal. You yourself have to find out if you’re on the database. You have to ask for your record. You then have to require that errors of fact be corrected.
  • If you have anything against you – legitimate or not – as a UK citizen, you are at a big disadvantage in working in the UK, compared to other EC nationals. You need checkable references, legitimate qualifications and, increasingly, CRB checks. I suggest that you move to another EC country forthwith, so you can make up a few past jobs and some impressive trade qualifications, which no one will be able to question. Imagine you are a builder who has got caught taking home some bathroom fittings (pretty much seen as one of the perks of the job until recently.) That’s it. You’re sacked. You’re also finished up as a worker in the UK. Your job will go to someone with a completely spotless UK record – which probably means someone fresh from Eastern Europe. I can’t believe that free movement of labour in the EU was meant to allow countries – like the present-day UK – to willfully marginalise their own populations.

On a social – but also very selfish level – who wants to live in a world where one mistake – or one falsely attributed mistake – dooms people to a life in which legitimate earnings are just a pipe-dream? That is the way to turn the country into a crime-ridden wasteland. As the UK goes under ever more extreme lock down, life gets ever more desperate for the people outside of Daily-Mail world.

Boycotts are generally feeble tools for achieving anything. All the same, as far as I can see, the only possible recourse against this sort of thing – in the absence of any organised public concern – is to just refuse to buy any goods or services from the offending companies.

So I’m starting my own blacklist.

The BBC mentions Harrods, Selfridges and Reed Managed Services. They’ll do for a start, although that’s too easy. Never having used the services of any of these companies, it won’t make much of a dint in their balance sheets if I decide to boycott them. All the same great oaks, small acorns etc.

When I find out the names of more participants, I’ll post them here.