Health Ministry of Truth

Combining theThe War against Terror with The War Against the National Health Service, the UK Home Secretary is about to propose that doctors be co-opted into the TWAT, by reporting on potential terrorists amongst their patients.

Doctors and other health professionals will be asked to identify people who are “vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism” as part of the government’s redrawn counter-terrorism programme to be detailed on Tuesday. (from The Guardian)

In a departure from recent government style, it seems that, for once, the Lib-Dems aren’t even being used as a human shield for this particular mad idea. Theresa May is putting it forward herself.

Theresa May and her advisers didn’t grow up in Fairyland, so they may have had occasion to visit a doctor. In which case, they should have noticed that, although doctors ask patients some very personal questions indeed, they don’t normally ask about plans to carry out suicide bomb attacks.

Doctors are indeed often too busy to ask where we stand on the single transferable vote or the extension of the eurozone. How wonderfully relaxed must some surgeries be, if doctors can take the time to engage their patients on a wide range of political topics and rank their answers on an extremism scale?

Temporarily ignore the monstrousness of treating medical confidentiality as a disposable luxury. This plan doesn’t even make sense in pragmatic terms. Potential terrorists can avoid getting caught by it by the simple expedient of not discussing their views with doctors. Can this be beyond the wit of even the stupidest terrorist?

Do we really have an Oxford-educated Home Secretary who believes that a terrorist will walk into his local surgery and says “I’ve got a bit of a sore throat but I’m planning an explosive attack on a plane this week and I’d hate to miss it”?

Another two strikes for Jacqui

Jacqui Smith has already won my coveted “Most hated UK female politician after Margaret Thatcher” award. But she’s still in there fighting for the crown, seeing off any opposition. On current showing she could even beat Anne Widdecombe into the ground.

Two triumphs for Jacqui today, then, in her claim to the title. And it’s a Sunday, ffs. Surely Parliament is shut? Who’d have expected she’d even be in London today. She must be staying in her “main residence?” *snigger*

The first was just annoyingly typical of the Home office’s recent encroachments into every area of civil life. The police have apparently taken to rounding up teenagers who are out late at night and taking them home.

Operation Staysafe was intended to stop children becoming victims of crime or being drawn into criminal behaviour.

This was a police operation that was supposedly for the good of the community and for the young people’s own good.

More than 1,000 young people were spoken to by Staysafe teams, and 103 were referred to other services, according to Home Office figures.

Oh, yes, and add all their personal details to the stop and search database, in passing.

You have to assume this is a general Home Office policy. The Home Secretary is happy to take credit for it, anyway.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith says it is unacceptable for parents not to know what their children are up to at night.

Do I have to explain the nature of adolescence, Jacqui? Teenagers tell lies to their parents. (They are “going to the library” or staying with acceptable friend X. ) So they can hang out with their mates and get drunk and so on. It’s part of being a youth. Transgressing, defining one’s identity in opposition to the adult world, all that complex natural stuff.

Sure teenagers make mistakes. that’s generally part of the learning process. Sometimes those mistakes have really bad consequences but there are few circumstances in which getting dragged home to your Mum and Dad in a squad car would be a better option.

More seriously, Jacqui has been responding to the immigrant-scapegoating agenda set by the BNP and the Daily Mail. By parroting their nonsense.

She is trying to steal the anti-immigrant sector’s clothing and wear it as her own.

Immigrants should not be able to take a skilled job in the UK unless it has been advertised to British workers, the home secretary has said.

This can only apply to non-EU workers, of course. So she is actually referring to a tiny number of immigrants. Not enough to satisfy the anti-immigration opportunists, but accepting their definition of “immigration” as a serious problem.

From April, non-EU workers wanting to come to Britain without securing a job beforehand must have a master’s degree – rather than a bachelor’s degree, as currently – and a previous salary equivalent to at least Β£20,000.

What is this about? A master’s degree? A salary of Β£20k?

The BBC sets some context for this, but somehow – like the BNP and the Home Secretary and the Tory party – is determined to present it as an inti-immigrant issue:

The employment of foreign labour has been a high-profile issue recently after a week-long dispute at the French-owned Lindsey oil refinery in eastern England, which was settled when operators Total agreed to hire more local employees.

These disputes were not anti-foreigner. (In any case, the French, Portuguese etc workers that the firms have been planning to import were all EU workers.) They were about the awarding of contracts for crucial UK infrastructure projects to foreign firms, which then imported their own employees.

Now, this seems to me to be a completely different issue. These were projects which would gather profits from British customers and the UK government for non-UK companies. They could at least have had the grace to provide some UK jobs. The workers were angry at the process of awarding contracts not at the workers who were brought in.

The far right have tried to frame these disputes in anti-immigrant terms that would make them appear to have political leadership. And, who could blame individual workers for seeing the disputes in anti-immigrant terms if the government is willing to do so.

Shame on you, Jacqui Smith. Shame on the government if you allow the Daily Mail or worse to drive your agenda.

Ministers object to normal treatment

You have to feel sorry for members of the government and their allies. I mean, how dare they be treated like mere mortals, when they are so obviously in need of special treatment – like being assumed innocent until proven otherwise.

In an interesting example of double standards, the former home secretary lashed out at the police for their heavy handed tactics: (from the guardian)

David Blunkett, the former home secretary, yesterday led a cross-party attack on the police for what he described as “overkill” in arresting the shadow home office minister, Damian Green, after he published Home Office documents allegedly leaked by a civil servant.

As fresh details emerged of a nine-hour police operation against Green, whose parliamentary computer was seized and whose wife was forced to witness a search of their London home, Blunkett questioned police tactics.

Drawing a parallel with police behaviour in the cash-for-honours affair, in which a former Downing Street aide was arrested in a dawn raid, he spoke of “the danger of overkill, of treating every case as though we are dealing with a suspicious character”.

Woo, cry me a river Mr Blunkett. The irony here is astounding.

Lets look at this: The police were investigating a possible crime and as part of this they seized items of evidence (computer) and conducted a warranted search of the home address. Gosh. I have a suspicion that in London alone this will have happened 100 times that day. Nationally, there will be over a thousand people who have “witnessed a search of their house” – most will turn out to be innocent. Interestingly, despite the claim in the paper, his wife wasn’t forced to watch – she could have left them to it.

In a nutshell, this is routine police work. Thanks to Mr Blunkett’s drive to increase the draconian powers of the police this is happening to people all over the country every day. We are closer and closer to being “guilty until proven innocent” and it is (largely) down to things that happened on Mr Blunkett’s watch. That he can now whine about overkill almost defies belief. That this gibberish has news coverage is equally bizarre.

Equally weird is the subheading that “Brown and Smith were not consulted” – why should they be? Police investigate illegal activity daily. That is their job. If they had to consult the PM before every police investigation it would truly grind to a halt (and the Bill would be a lot less interesting).

The actual case in question here is of so little interest it has hardly generated any news coverage. For example, the only reference to it in this particular article is:

The police inquiry began when the Cabinet Office made a complaint to the Met about the leaking of confidential information from the Home Office.

Yawn. It happens all the time so who cares. Politicians have become so slippery in their urge to court tabloid popularity they think nothing about “Leaking” things on purpose, so should we really get upset when it happens without their explicit approval?

The reality of daily life for normal people is that if the police think you have committed a crime (or are planning to, or thinking about, or know someone who has, or look like someone who has, or live near someone who has) then a dawn raid, followed by a house search and computer seizure is a constant possibility. This is the world Blunkett et al created (and Cameron will only perpetuate), why are they upset to live in it?

Please, Jacqui, can I have an ID card now

Message from Bizzarro world: People in the UK can’t wait to get their hands on ID cards. They are constantly bothering the Home Secretary, badgering her to hurry up and introduce them.

Well, she says so, anyway.

Jacqui Smith says public demand means people will be able to pre-register for an ID card within the next few months.
The cards will be available for all from 2012 but she said: “I regularly have people coming up to me and saying they don’t want to wait that long.” (from the BBC website)

Are there enough smileys and ROTFLMAOs in the world to do internet justice to this idea? I doubt it but here goes anyway.

πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ ad infinitum

More from our Home Secretary:

“I now want to put that to the test and find a way to allow those people who want a card sooner to be able to pre-register their interest as early as the first few months of next year.”
She told the BBC: “We’ll see where that interest is, and then we’ll see if we can issue some cards to those who’ve expressed an interest by the end of next year.”
People applying for cards and passports from 2012 will have to provide fingerprints, photographs and a signature, which Ms Smith believes will create a market worth about Β£200m a year.
And in changes to earlier plans the Home Office is talking to retailers and the Post Office about setting up booths to gather biometric data.

A plan to have booths all over the country collecting biometric data is going to create a “market.” A market in what exactly? The economy must be in an even worse state than we’ve been told.

Estimated costs for the ID scheme have been revised upwards yet again to Β£5.1 billions. Even if the – how can I put this? – fiscally optimistic figure of a new “market” in selling our own biometric data back to us is worth Β£200 million a year, it’ll take a good few years to recover Β£5.1 billions. And that’s without taking into account the costs of setting up the booths and taking out the profit margins for those PFI companies that are unwary enough to sign up for the opportunity.

I suggest that anyone who’s been badgering the Home Secretary for an ID card – momentarily assuming such people exist outside the Land of Porkie Pies- get a driving licence or a passport. Problem solved.

Or here’s my alternative instant identity document. Just fill it out and carry it round. OK, it’s only half-thought out but then I’m saving you loads of time and money.

Instant ID card

Instant ID card

Now, stop bothering our busy Home Secretary with your whining demands for something to show you who you are.

Oh, you want it to be stored on a database, do you? Just as cheap and easy. Type all your personal details into any database or spreadsheet program on your PC (or send it to me to store in PHPMyAdmin, if you must be all formal about this) then copy it to a memory stick, get on some public transport and leave it down the back of the seat.

Of course, if you want it to be really secure, find a big overseas-based subcontractor and pay them a lot of money to send it offshore first, before the random jettisoning bit, but I’m just thinking of the savings you’ll make by cutting out the middle man. Read the papers, we’re all supposed to be belt-tightening you know. Do it yourself.

The WAT isn’t working….

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith seems to have accidentally condemned her own anti-terror strategy in an interview with scandal-sheet New-Newspaper-of-Record,the News of the World.

She claimed that the threat of terrorism is growing:

Ms Smith said: “We now face a threat level that is severe. It’s not getting any less, it’s actually growing.
“There are 2,000 individuals they are monitoring. There are 200 networks. There are 30 active plots.

With the tenuous grasp on logic with which she is increasingly becoming associated, she treats this as a justification for the plan to extend detention without trial for 42 days. She claims the current strategy isn’t working, to the point at which the danger is actually increasing? Why call for a extension of the same strategy?
The BBC reported that MPs of all parties are increasingly unwilling to sign off on this.

Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, said ministers did not have enough support in parliament to carry the plans.

Way to go, Jacqui! You can’t get MPs to agree to this doomed and self-defeating nonsense, although you’ve been pushing it for a long time. So, you go straight to the critical-thinking-challenged among the masses and try to fill them with more fear, in a last-ditch attempt to get support for a policy that defies logic.

Jacqui Smith’s nice round numbers raise instant suspicion. 30 active plots? Either a plot exists or it doesn’t. If a government knows about a terrorist plot but ignores it, is it doing its job at all? And haven’t there been “30 plots” for months now? Haven’t any been attempted or abandoned in the interim?

Maybe, there’s a shortage of evidence. In which case the words “suspected plots” might have been more appropriate. And how would the blurry details of these suspected plots become magically clearer if the suspected protagonists are to be held without trial for 42 days?

Selfish human that I am, I don’t like the idea of getting suicide bombed on the Underground. I expect my government to be working to provide some reasonable level of security.

It’s just that I don’t see how this can ever be achieved by strengthening extremism by:
* Carrying out foreign policies that actively make the world more dangerous;
* Supporting communal division by encouraging faith schools;
* Fostering enmity amongst the friends and families of the falsely accused.
* and so on…… I can’t keep repeating this stuff.

Plus, of course, bringing in repressive laws to “fight terrorism” then blithely using them at will…..

Agreeing with Peter Hitchens! Oh Noes!

By Zeus, it must be time for me to kill myself. I have obviously suffered some kind of brain injury and am clinging on to reality by the thinnest of threads. Today, not only did I actually buy the Mail on Sunday (*), but I found myself agreeing with the obnoxious Peter Hitchens’ commentary. I will report to the euthanasia centre forthwith.

In a piece titled “Nothing to hide, but plenty to fear from Ms ID Card“, Annoying Hitchens makes some actually good, valid points:

She says we “need” to “prove who we are”. But mainly we need to do this because the Government has spun a spider’s web of silly rules, which snags the law-abiding and spares real troublemakers.

I agree. Hitchens continues by identifying some of the future strictures ID cards will place upon us then the bit I agree with most:

These precautions are useless against real money-launderers, paedophiles, gangsters and terrorists, who laugh at them. But they make people like Ms Smith look and feel as if they are doing something.

This is the whole problem with the idea. The implementation of ID cards is useless for its stated aims — criminals will not be inconvenienced by them in anyway. It is a shame I agree with Hitchens on something, but for now I have just put it down to his rabid hatred of the Labour government — if ID cards had been a Conservative party idea, he would be behind them all the way.

Back on the subject of ID cards, proper though — another point I neglected last time I ranted is the madness that ID cards can work if less than every member of society carries one. As long as they are optional, they are pointless for pretty much any of the ideas Ms Smith suggests they could be used for. If an immigrant is challenged and they say “I am not an immigrant” what could the government do about it? As they claim to not be a non-EU migrant, they wouldn’t be expected to carry an ID card therefore you can’t demand to see their ID card…

What passes for Logic in Ms Smiths world amazes me.

(*) In my defence it did have a good “free” music CD, which is the real reason I bought it. Odin only knows why I actually opened the “newspaper” (in the loosest sense of the word) and read anything.

ID Cards for your own good…

Well, Orwell is still spinning in his grave. Despite some apparently premature optimism, it seems that ID cards are very much on the government’s agenda. Today’s news headlines have been very much about the “ID Card Rethink [bbc as example]” and how we are all going to end up with one.

This is all despite the House of Lords “setback” and the massive online YouGov poll that showed a significant percentage of the population were against the idea. To me, in addition to the hateful ideas of forced identity documents, the fact the government is able and willing to completely ignore over a million of the electorate’s opinions speaks volumes for how modern democracy works…

In a token gesture to people’s opinions, the government is planning to bring ID card by stealth in a phased manner. I assume the thinking is target the least popular / most vulnerable parts of society then, in a few years everyone will have come round to the idea and we will all carry one. Distasteful is an understatement.

In her speech announcing the new Identity Card plans, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith made the following statements:

I start from the premise that the National Identity Scheme is a public good.

Starting from a false premise is never going to lead to anything of value… This is largely, Smith saying the assumption was always we were going to have Identity Cards, like it or not.

As citizens, it will offer us a new, secure and convenient way to protect and prove our identity.

What is new about it? How is it more secure than, say, a passport or driving licence? Equally, how the **** does the existence of an ID card protect your identity?

And it will provide us with the reassurance we need that others who occupy positions of trust in our society are who they say they are as well.

This is odd, and the radio news made a big deal about this. What people who occupy positions of trust don’t already carry a form of ID? Lots of news sources go on about how Airport staff will be early ones to get them – oddly, you already need to have an ID card to get airside at an airport. What will have actually changed? Are the current procedures flawed?

Now, at this point I was going to do a line by line rebuttal of her claims but as they are all insane it will take much too long. Nearly every sentence she utters in her speech contains falsehoods and spin to trick people into thinking ID Cards will solve the worlds problems. They wont.

In an effort to be brief, I will try to address her main points.

Surveillance is everywhereFirstly, ID cards are supposed to be brought in to prevent crime and terrorism. Wow. If having to carry an ID card would prevent someone from being a terrorist, why are there still terrorists in the world? Same with crime. Neither activity will be deterred simply by the existence of a voluntary ID scheme. The best that could possibly be hoped for would be for a compulsory ID card, with fingerprint data, that may enable the police to catch people after a crime(*). In years gone by crazy ideas were often supported with a “wont anyone think of the children” (as parodied by the Simpsons), now we have Prevent Terrorism as the buzzword. If the government want to pass laws people will hate it is always linked to prevention of terrorism. Didn’t anyone watch “In the Name of the Father?”

Secondly they are supposed to prevent Identity Fraud. How this happens is never, ever, mentioned and, frankly, defies even the most cursory examination. Again reading through Ms Smith’s speech is an exercise in logical fallacies, there are more appeals to fear than I care to count. The phrases basically go along the lines of criminals steal identities so get an ID card. This sounds good and there is a half-hearted example of one person who defrauded the state out of Β£2.5m over five years. Compare this to Northern Rock who have taken over Β£100billion from the state in as many months. Who is the worse criminal? On a more personal level, ID theft is a terrible thing and I genuinely feel for anyone it happens to. Would the national ID card prevent it? Ninety nine times out of a hundred the answer is no, and in the other one is it a maybe.

CCTV Cameras Cover the CountryFor example, if some one hacks your Ebay account and runs up charges would an ID card have protected you? Same with anything online (where most ID theft apparently takes place) and in the offline world it only works when it interacts with the government. Someone can steal your ID and apply for credit cards, loans etc., and unless the issuing authority has access to the central database there is no way to find out.

This leads to the other problem. The database itself becomes a single point of failure. All a person needs to do is attack that to gain a legitimate, but false, identity. As recent months (and years) have shown, the Government is a largely inept organisation when it comes to protecting the data it holds. The news has covered dozens of “accidents” where huge amounts of personal data have been lost into the public domain. Do you feel safe thinking that a group with this track record will hold the gold standard of data about your identity?

Ms Smith has considered this and some reassurance is given:

Private firms will be encouraged to set-up “biometric enrolment centres” where passport and ID card applicants will be fingerprinted. [BBC news]

WTF! To make matters worse, this personal and private data will be collected by non-accountable organisations who have, by definition, their primary goal of making profit. By Toutatis this is madness. Here we will have the situation where staff on a minimum wage will be responsible for inputting your ID details and making sure no one else can get access to them. People who can be bribed with the price of a pint down the pub. Terrifying.

When Ms Smith talks about how they will protect the data the ID system will store, she manages to confuse me as to how it will work:

Β The way in which we are designing the National Identity Register, with separate databases holding personal biographic details physically and technologically separately from biometric fingerprints and photographs, will greatly reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosures of information being used to damaging effect. …(followed by)…Β  I should make it clear that none of the databases will be online, so it won’t be possible to hack into them. [BBC transcript]

Now call me an old fashioned security professional, but there is a bit here that makes sense. By preventing people from getting access to the data you really do reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosure. However, and this shows more madness, if huge segments of society can’t access the data it is useless. The idea as I see it is that you go into the bank to open an account and show them your ID card. They scan it and compare it to the record of you. If it matches you get account. Seems easy, except now it looks like the bank wont have access and even if they did there is an air gap between the two technologies.

How is it supposed to work?

Lastly (phew, I hear you cry), the introduction by stealth. This shows the government KNOW this is an unpopular idea and it would never get off the ground if they tried to roll it out now. Instead they are going to play on the “white working class fear” of the Evil Immigrants by making them carry ID cards (why not force them to carry a sign round…(**)). What effect this will have is beyond me because if I was an immigrant and challenged by “authority” I would simply say I wasn’t an immigrant. Prove me wrong. Next come the “UK citizens and EU nationals who work in ‘sensitive’ airport jobs” who already carry ID cards and aren’t likely to complain, but again the question is “why?” Finally in 2011 it will be an opt-out option on passport renewals. Passports already have biometric data and are acceptable as proof of ID the world over. Why do we need another form of ID?

That is it in a nutshell, though. Why on Earth do we need another form of ID?

(*) remembering to account for the error bars of partial fingerprint matches when you have a database of 60+ million entries, and hoping the criminals are too stupid to wear gloves…

(**) Hmm. This seems familiar. I wonder why…