Don’t make me keep saying this

It’s rare to find good sense in an editorial in the Daily/Sunday Telegraph, but here goes. The Sunday Telegraph investigated how often local councils used the surveillance powers in RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act).

As you might guess, they got back a wide list of uses such as spying on noisy children that were never suggested to MPs as likely outcomes of their voting for a supposed anti-terrorism law, a few years ago.

Car boot sales, pizza shops open late, underage kids buying cigarettes and alcohol, fly-tipping, the list of threats to the fabric of British society goes on and on.

Littering and the unauthorised selling of pizzas can be irritating, as can dog fouling and car boot sales (two other activities which RIPA has been used to clamp down on). But no sane person thinks they pose the same threat to public safety as terrorism, or require the same response. (From the Telegraph)

Phew, what a relief. The slightly more ideologically acceptable Observer has an article making some related points on the expansion of policing powers into the realm of non-police bodies..It focuses on the story of the family who put up lamppost notices about their lost dog and were threatened with an “£80 on-the-spot fine for antisocial behaviour.”

Keith Porter says:

As the police retreat from the streets, we are prey to every type of snoop, informant, busybody and vindictive martinet, all of them licensed by the government’s accreditation scheme so that they may demand our names and addresses, photograph us, check car tax discs and seize alcohol, issue fines for truancy, rowdiness, graffiti and dog fouling………
…Even police officers have doubts about the blurring of lines between uniformed officers of the law, whom we know to have received standard training, and these upstarts and busybodies wearing red-and-white prefect’s badges. (from the Observer)

Comment Awards

We have a new winner. Not just one winner but several. Plus, an introduction to the most enticing product you have ever seen: The Playmobil Security Checkpoint.

If you’ve never seen them, Playmobil are sort of like cuter and better-designed bendy Lego figures. They are usually dressed for work, directing traffic, on construction sites or fighting fires. At the more esoteric reaches of the Playmobil world, you can find them doing more interesting jobs as knights and pirates. Now you can find their busy plastic bodies scanning your luggage….

This new set of toddler role models was first spotted in the Register, from which we’ve borrowed this picture:
Security Check point image from the Register

The comments are on Amazon, The product sadly isn’t available. (Well, yes, pedants, they are reviews rather than comments, but I reserve the right to define “comments” as whatever I choose the word to mean, in an Alice in Wonderland style way. It’s my ceremony.) There are a few and they are all brilliant.

Snips from Amazon’s featured pro and anti reviews are:

Educational and Fun!
Thank you Playmobil for allowing me to teach my 5-year old the importance of recognizing what a failing bureaucracy in a ever growing fascist state looks like. Sometimes it’s a hard lesson for kids to learn because not all pigs carry billy clubs and wear body armor. I applaud the people who created this toy for finally being hip to our changing times….. (By zampano)

Great lesson for the kids!
I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up…. (by loosenut)

Read the rest on Amazon, plus the other comments, most of which will have you giggling helplessly and/or will restore your faith in human nature.

No fancy icons for today’s winners, just another picture, taken from the Playmobil site.
Another view of Security checkpoint

Well done, all round.

“Web 2.0, or just Stasi?”

The title is quoted from the Register, in a post entitled “UK ID card service mounts birth, marriage, death landgrab” (The clue is in the title. )

The UK Identity & Passport Service (IPS) has staged an identity landgrab on birth, marriage and death records. From April 2008 the General Register Office, which is responsible for recording these matters and is currently a directorate of the Office of National Statistics, is to become part of IPS, meaning that IPS will be logging you from the moment you’re born until the moment you die.

Not only is the previously respected General Register office about to disappear into the gaping maw of the Orwellian Identity ministry, but its data will now feed

into the somewhat more chilling notion of of a continually updated life record. So was that Web 2.0, or just Stasi?
Considering the new owners, it’s now pretty clear which it is. (The Register, 11th October 2007)

Today, the Treasury announced its plan for cutting out all “avoidable contact” between the public and government services. Partly this consists of shutting down government websites and merging their information into one uber-website for citizens and one for businesses. It also involves minimising the chances that you might get to speak to a human being in the dole office or tax office. It’s supposed to be based on “customer journey mapping” which is supposed to be so successful in the private sector.

I assume that the government ministers and senior civil servants have other people to do their shopping for them. Otherwise they might know what a “customer journey” is like in the real world. There are few activities more infuriating than trying to get an answer to a nonstandard question from a phone-line that tells you how important your call is. Unless you count a call-centre operator with a preset script and limited understanding of any regional accent. Or a website that throws away all the details you have laboriously typed in after hours of searching through pages that were delivered over the Internet at a speed that would embarrass a partly squashed slug.

What does this whole new world of applying customer service principles mean for the UK citizen then? Well basically, yes, you’ve guessed it, extending their data sharing between departments. More ID.

Making better use of the customer information the public sector already holds. The types of transformation covered by this Agreement will simply not be possible unless the public sector can establish the identity of the customer it is dealing with simply and with certainty, and be able to pass relevant information between different parts of government. (The Treasury paper, 11th October 2007)


Page 19 of the Treasury document says

3.34 This is a highly complex challenge which will not be entirely solved within the CSR07 period. The public sector can, however, make progress:
• at a strategic level; with the work being lead by the Home Office (on identity management) and by the Ministry of Justice (on information sharing). …
• at a tactical level by tackling these issues within the context of specific projects, most importantly “Tell Us Once”. ….. In addition to “Tell Us Once” the Government will also sponsor and facilitate other specific projects including the Free School Meals pilot which is already
underway …………

This is all boring stuff. The social consequences of applying mad business models to delivering public services makes your eyes start to droop. I know. I feel just the same.

The writers know that peppering documents with enough empty phrases like “the context of specific projects” and “strategic” and “tactical” and “facilitate pilots” will switch us off. This stops us seeing the content.

The No2ID campaign makes the same point as the Register, mentioning “Stasi files. ”

In your face, bungling amateurs in the Stasi. The UK government can teach you a thing or two.