Xtreme bingo

Get your playing card for the great new game of “Domestic Extremist Bingo” from the Guardian Online.

Not sure how to claim your prize, sorry, but there seems to be a £9 million jackpot up for grabs.

So get marking those cards.

No prizes for spotting comedian Mark Thomas in there, either. But you can have him as your starter, so you don’t have to actually see him at a protest to cross him off your scorecard.

Breaking news:
Sorry kids, it looks as if the Information Commissioner has finally tried to spoil your fun. By actually spotting the outrageous nature of the information in this Guardian story .

Welcome to Minority Report

On the BBC

Bus CCTV could predict assaults
The system would monitor suspicious behaviour on buses
CCTV security systems could soon spot an assault on a bus before it happens, according to a major research project.(from the BBC)


OK, admittedly, this is what is more often known as “vapourware” than a fully-working Minority Report system.

Although much of the work is currently at the theoretical stage, the team from the university’s newly-founded Centre for Secure Information Technologies predict that within five years their software will be able to profile people as they board a bus. (from the BBC)

I bet they haven’t even bred the mutants for the tank yet.

“Profile” bus passengers troublemakers? Through CCTV? With software that does exactly what a bus driver thinking “I don’t like the look of him” would do?

Leaping to conclusions on the basis of appearance and movements?

I can do that for free. I try to stop myself doing it because I believe the more accurate word is “stereotyping,” rather than “profiling,” but then, I’m only human…..

Oh right, that was why Minority Report seemed such a good choice of title. 😀

Security sense

This is quite an astonishing news item.

East Lancashire youngsters see film on terrorism danger
More than 2,000 10 and 11-year-olds will see a short film, which urges them to tell the police, their parents or a teacher if they hear anyone expressing extremist views.
The film has been made by school liaison officers and Eastern Division’s new Preventing Violent Extremism team, based at Blackburn….
The terrorism message is also illustrated with a re-telling of the story of Guy Fawkes, saying that his strong views began forming when he was at school in York. It has been designed to deliver the message of fighting terrorism in accessible way for children. (from the Lancashire Telegraph)

(h/t Bruce Schneier’s blog)

No, really. It’s a real news item. You can check. I didn’t make it up.

It seems that the area around Lancashire is quite fertile territory for anyone trying to get kids to do free police-work. This blog item is also about kids being recruited to provide low-level spying services in their community. A Sefton school designed posters for a Community Information Box initiative. These are displayed in libraries, buses and so on. Sadly, I can’t find an image of the winning poster online but I’ve had my attention drawn to one.

The poster presents a list of things that public-spirited citizens should look out for and drop anonymous notes about in their local Community Information Box. The list is bizarrely inclusive: from swearing and dog-crap through to real crimes like physical attacks and terrorism.

(I hope that the anonymity is designed to protect the kids from life-threatening comebacks if they accidentally inform on some really vicious people. However, this only works if you assume that really vicious people are not just vicious but are also too stupid to make inferences about who reported them, from the content, context and timing of information. And I rather suspect some of them may have those skills. So, I hope that they also have a child witness protection programme in place. )

I really hope that the school students generated the volunteer informer’s checklist, rather than some adult with no sense of perspective. Because, although I am still womanfully resisting a fear of terrorism that is used to manipulate us out of any concern for our civil liberties, I can’t help but be filled with the fear of creeping totalitarianism.

What a wonderful tool for any authoritarian state – compliant children, ready to report any odd behaviour or unorthodox opinions to the authorities out of fear of potential terrorism.

So, what a good job that our democracy is so secure. It’s not as if real extremists – say, people promoting a myth of indigenous ethic Britishness, frinstance – are getting any spurious legitimacy as a result of a British population that has been driven half-mad by its fear of dicey expenses claims, or anything……… Well, that’s OK then isn’t it?

New MHWiBPsMT award

A strong bid for the title of “Most-Hated Woman in British Politics since Margaret Thatcher” from Jacqui* Smith.

(You might think there’s limited competition. You haven’t thought about the repellent Anne Widdecombe, then. Or even, how about the likes of Harriet Harman who seem to have happily betrayed everything they ever once represented, just to be in government? And that’s without even counting some of female political commentators that the Mail can bring out.)

The House of Lords did the noble thing (well, the clue should be in the name) when its Constitution Committee came out with some forceful opposition to the database state:

“Electronic surveillance and collection of personal data are “pervasive” in British society and threaten to undermine democracy, peers have warned. (from the BBC website)

(There are quite a few pieces in the Guardian about this.)

What did Jacqui have to say:

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has rejected claims of a surveillance society and called for “common sense” guidelines on CCTV and DNA.

And where is this sudden upsurge of common sense going to come from? Who’s responsible for setting guidelines on CCTV and DNA. Blimey, it turns out to be you. So how can you be calling for other mythical common sense-exuding person or ministry to do the decent thing?

Forget the Lords, the European Court of Human Rights gave you some “common sense” guidelines on DNA…(hint, stop collecting it from innocent people, as a bare minimum)…

The Home Office “said CCTV and DNA were essential crime-fighting tools and that it was already reviewing the retention of DNA samples and consulting on the use of RIPA. The European Court of Human Rights told the Home Office in December that the retention of innocent people’s DNA was illegal.” (from the Register)

… and you haven’t even rushed to implement European law.

In fact, in the time since that ruling, rather than concentrate on dismantling the procedures that got the UK in trouble, you’ve been busy sneaking in new intrusions, like the innocuous-sounding Coroners and Justice Bil* which no2id is getting rather annoyed about.

Hidden in the new Coroners and Justice Bill is one clause (cl.152) amending the Data Protection Act. It would allow ministers to make ‘Information Sharing Orders’, that can alter any Act of Parliament and cancel all rules of confidentiality in order to use information obtained for one purpose to be used for another.

This single clause is as grave a threat to privacy as the entire ID Scheme. Combine it with the index to your life formed by the planned National Identity Register and everything recorded about you anywhere could be accessible to any official body.

Let me just refresh your memory about the safety of “anything recorded about you anywhere” In November 2008, IT Pro wrote about a year of data losses, starting with a Revenue and Customs loss of data on 20 million people and going upwards from there.

Which reminds me…. What happened to all those people hassling Jacqui for the chance to get an ID card back, also in November 2008? Have they got one yet, Jacqueline**.

* Do I have to use they Orwellian word again? It’s getting to be a cliche.
** Can I call you Jacqueline? It just seems so much more authentic. Or at least more predictably spellable. Jacqui sets my teeth on edge. Jackie would be fine, but it’s obviously not pretentious enough.

Councils not authoritarian enough for Interception Kommisar

The print version of the the Metro, the free bus paper, headlined a story that “Interception of Communications Commissioner” Sir Paul Kennedy believes that UK councils haven’t yet been making the full use of terrorist powers to investigate people. And he’s disappointed.

“Terror laws should be used even more to snoop on the public, councils have been urged” (Quotes painstakingly copied out by me from the print Metro, 12/08/08)

Apparently, last year, there were a mere 500,000 “spying requests from councils, police and other officials” to phone and internet companies. Half a million. What a pathetic waste of the Stasi powers, hey? There are over 60 million of us, ffs. Must try harder. In fact, local councils only checked the comms of 3,000 people.

So, whom does the unusually honestly-job-titled Commissioner say that councils should be spying on?

criminals who “persistently rip off consumers, cheat the taxpayer, deal in counterfeit goods and prey on the elderly and vulnerable”

See what he did there? Threw in preying on “the elderly and vulnerable”, in case the listener dared to imagine that dealing in counterfeit goods and ripping off consumers wasn’t quite a serious enough crime to warrant the use of anti-terrorist laws. Oh, those poor vulnerable people…. Apparently the police can’t protect them so plucky local councils have to spring to their defence.

It is very very hard to see what even the shadiest blag goods market stall has to do with terrorism. In fact, dare I say it, but it’s even hard to see what robbing the vulnerable has to do with terrorism. Or councils. Either crimes are police issues or they aren’t. If they are, then what use will a council’s intercepting comms do, ffs? Are council investigators so superior to the police that they can get all manner of information about scams straight from lists of phone calls? Maybe I just lack the breadth of vision of the town hall experts but it smells of bullshit.

The online Metro apparently doesn’t think this news item, which fills the print edition’s front page, is lively enough for the morons who they must think read the news on tinterweb. The online version leads with some content-free Sienna Miller story. It doesn’t bother with text on the dull old freedoms issue, but it it has tried to give it a nuMedia buzz by mentioning the topic in a sentence and having a “poll”. For what it’s worth, 81% of respondents to the question Should councils be allowed to use terror laws to spy on members of the public? think that it’s well out of order.

This is exactly the point that Jenni Russell made in the Guardian last week. Acknowledging that there are still plenty of us who would rather gnaw off their own arms at the elbow than welcome a Conservative government, let alone vote for the buggers, she pointed out that the nuLabour government has come to be overwhelmingly identified with totally illiberal policies.

The new dividing line between Labour and the Tories is less about a left-right split than about an authoritarian approach on one side and a more liberal one on the other. And Labour are on the wrong side of it. Many of their social and economic policies may have failed, but where they have succeeded is in developing a targeting, controlling, distrustful state. From the micromanagement of civil servants, teachers, doctors and the police, to ID cards, super databases and the growth of surveillance.

If you’ve got nothing to hide..

Two good (even entertaining, on a serious subject) articles in the Guardian: Jan Morris’s Davis fight is not just for liberty: It is for Britain’s soul. (This was published a couple of days ago but it’s well worth reading just to remind yourself that the whole world is not mad.)

She says that Britain is becoming divided into two camps – those who care about freedom and those who are happy to give it up:

of the contemporary two nations, it seems to me, by far the greater is giving up on liberty. Anyone can see that in Britain, 2008, individuality is being suppressed, so that year by year, generation by generation, the people are being bullied or brainwashed into docile conformity. What is more ominous is that so many want to be docile. They want to be supervised, cosseted, homogenised, obedient.

She suspects that even those of us who don’t want to be brainwashed are dreaming of autocratic powers to put paid to the current nonsense.

Already every free soul, I suspect, has sometimes wished that we had a benevolent dictator to sweep all the nonsense aside, the flabbiness and the conformity, the brainwash and all.

There is something in the point she is making – so many people are becoming so passive and fearful, it’s quite a temptation to think they don’t deserve any freedom.

Today, the intermittently-brilliant Marina Hyde also takes a strong stance against our incorporation into an authoritarian Truman Show world: This surveillance onslaught is draconian and creepy. She says that the level of surveillance for petty offences makes her ashamed to be British.

The past few years have thrown up dozens of instances which made one wince to be a citizen of this septic isle, but a personal low came with the discovery that 500,000 bins had been fitted with electronic tracking devices. Transponders in bins … Could any morning news item be more designed to force one back against the pillows, too embarrassed about one’s country to start the day? Yes, as it turned out…

(referring to the Poole Council’s surveillance of parents suspected of trying to get their kids in a specific school.)

She suggests that wearing a hood or hijab might become a necessity for anyone who wants any degree of privacy in public space.

Yet there does seem a vaguely depressing irony in governments insisting that constant surveillance is essential to prevent our being overrun by repressive regimes who’d make us all cover our heads and the like. It’s these initiatives that drive even the most pliant members of society to dream of taking just that precaution themselves, if only for a bit of privacy.

Of course these articles got a fair number of comments from people who could be replaced by the Twat-a-tron with no loss to the planet and a valuable net saving of air.

I’d repeat some of the more comedic ones here, if only I could see them again on the Guardian website… and if Firefox didn’t die every time I pay attention to its “unencrypted- information- being-sent” warning about the Guardian website and refuse to send whatever is harvested every time I open a page. I’ve looked at the Guardian’s privacy policy and it doesn’t say its cookies will dial home every time you look at a page.

Swedish surveillance

Last bastion of progressive liberal democracy, Sweden? Sorry, no.

Not to be outdone by the UK and Germany, the Swedes are also now jumping on the “get as many repressive powers as you like, cos the TWAT justifies everything” Euro- bandwagon. According to the Register the Swedish parliament has just passed a law that will allow bugging of all comms.

Sweden ushers in bugging for all

(one commenter on the Register mistook the fourth word in this headline for a longer, although possibly apt word.)

This story might give you an uncanny sense case of deja vu, if you live in the UK (or pretty well anywhere else )

Under the new law, all communication across Swedish borders will be tapped, and information can also be traded with international security agencies, such as America’s National Security Agency…..Key members of parliament who were likely to vote against the proposition were put under pressure by their parties, according to some reports.

The Register had earlier reported that Parliament had defeated the law. Hiowever, the government got the vote by making a few concessions. It’s setting up an agency to monitor the granting of permissions, though , so these powers will never be misused then…. (*sarcasm*)

Despite receiving copies of George Orwell’s book 1984 from protesters earlier this week, MPs from Sweden’s ruling party believe the law does not constitute the final nail in the coffin of democracy.

Well, duh, 1984 is starting to become a blueprint.

An external group comprising members appointed by the government will monitor privacy and integrity issues

Oh, so impartial oversight is in place then. My bad. (*more pathetic sarcasm*)

More database state stupidity

This is becoming a bit too much of theme. So, with apologies for the nagging, a brief rant on yet another BBC article about the database state:

Plans for a super-database containing the details of all phone calls and e-mails sent in the UK have been heavily criticised by experts.

Well, duh. I’m no “expert”. So I’m not going to criticise this for its inherent insecurity. Or the enormous cost of feeding and maintaining such a database.

I’m not even going to criticise this plan for its blatant attack on civil liberties. That should be screamingly clear to anyone with more than a dozen working brain cells.

Instead, I’m going to take the anti-terrorist claim at face value and assume, for the sake of argument, that this is not a cynical manipulation of public fear to gain draconian powers. So, I’m sticking with the sheer stupidity.

I’m going to assume that the expensively-educated people in the upper reaches of government have somehow failed to grasp some basic things about the plotting process. Maybe they should watch more TV and movies and read some detective or spy fiction.

Do terrorists really send emails to each other’s home email addresses, saying “Bring the semtex to 23 Green Street on Thursday at 3:00 o’clock?” I’m not saying it’s impossible that this happens. I just think it would be in the low single figures on a probability scale of 1 to 100.

Even without going into the far reaches of steganography and secure encryption and the dozens of effective technological ways to obscure information, the simplest of agreed code words can convey any amount of meaning. “Happy birthday!” could easily mean “Bring the …. etc”

Phone calls? Do terrorists have to call each other’s home phones? There are still a few call-boxes, for a start. Anyone can get hold of a used mobile and then use it to call another used mobile. Phone theft is hardly unheard of. Your stolen mobile phone can have arranged a dozen dastardly plots before you’ve even noticed that your bag’s been dipped. Blimey, people could even break into your house and use the phone.

Plus language. Anyone with any facility in an obscure language could openly discuss their plots on an open and attributable phone connection for 6 months before the government’s listeners get round to finding a security-cleared speaker of idiomatic Finnish to translate.

The embarrassing dictionaries of youth slang that appear occasionally in the media are testament to the fact that even speakers of a common language may have no idea what a subcultural group are saying. If you are anything like me, your conversations with close friends and family will be basically impenetrable to anyone else, with obscure catchphrases and references to long-ago lame jokes that don’t need spelling out for the recipient but would be (suspiciously) meaningless to a listener.

In any case, a serious terrorist or master-criminal would surely choose to pass messages face-to-face to their co-conspirators, in the face of electronic surveillance.

So these measures are so dumb as to be completely pointless, in terms of their supposed objective. A suspicious person might think that this suggests there is another agenda.

But, let us be charitable and assume that the WAT is being conducted by morons. In that case, may I politely suggest the “talk and resolve the issues” route….. Yet again………

Cameras and Security

A comment on a recent post, by someone apparently called Video Surveillance, got me thinking about some common misconceptions. In case you are wondering, I the link I munged goes no where of any value – it certainly doesn’t continue the “story” began in the comment.

The odd thing is one of the concepts the commenter (bot?) has brought up. Do video cameras make you safer?

With crime on the rise many people and business are looking for added security.

Well, I agree with this. There is a very strong argument that crime being on the rise is a misleading claim, but the fact is people think crime is on the rise, so they are looking for added security. Sadly, people who are easily misled into thinking crime is on the rise, are also easily misled over how to improve their security.

Video surveillance is one the top ways to improve the security of your belongings and loved ones.

Well, after a good start this amazing claim. Here I strongly disagree. This is the standard “marketing” crap pushed out by people selling woo to the public. Tell them they should be scared, then lie about your product solving their fears.

As with all the best lies, there is an element of truth. As part of a robust security package, video surveillance will improve your overall security, slightly. I am not sure what “top ways” means, but it certainly is not the “best way” or the “most cost effective way.”

Security is a many headed beast, and it will mean different things to different people. The best that can be claimed about video surveillance is that it offers a “deterrent” effect in that people who SEE a CCTV camera may be less inclined to commit a crime because they know the chances of being caught AFTER the event are slightly greater. The same can be said about a robust lock or a big thick door, however. A functioning, real, burglar alarm which is actually responded to is more effective than a CCTV system.

Here we hit a crux of the problem. For CCTV to be anything other an an “after-incident” investigation tool it has to be monitored 24/7 by people capable and willing to respond to an incident within an effective time scale. I could set up the best CCTV system in the world to monitor my house, but if I didn’t lock the door when I went on holiday it would be useless. CCTV is defeated by the simple expedient of wearing a hood – what sort of security system is that. Without monitors and responders it is the most pointless security system (do you really want to watch a video of someone breaking into your house?). With monitors and responders it becomes prohibitively expensive.

All in all, selling CCTV as “security” is tricking fools out of their money. CCTV has value in identifying criminals and will have some deterrent effect but it certainly is not a remotely cost effective method of improving your security.

If you want real, tested, cost effective security advice, my rates are reasonable 🙂

Traffic safety or surveillance?

Any road user in the UK will know about the hordes of traffic cameras all over the country. These wonderful things are supposed to be there to prevent people from speeding – basically they are set up to trigger if you go past at a speed that is above the limit for that stretch of road. If you speed past one, it takes your photo and you get fine & penalty points through the post.

I am not going to use this post to complain about how they don’t actually prevent speeding and are little more than income generation for the local council. That is a rant for another day.

This rant is about the nature of the cameras themselves.

The idea as sold to the population is that this is not “surveillance” of the public (Thor knows we have enough CCTV for that) and photographs of vehicles would only be taken if they exceeded a certain speed (generally the speed limit +10%). However, a comical item on the BBC seems to show a difference.

Leaving aside the whining, simpsonesque “wont anybody think of the children” rant, the concern I have is why on Earth did this camera take a picture of a vehicle that wasn’t speeding? Why was a speed camera recording images of a non-speeding vehicle so the police could dream up other charges?

Welcome to 1984… (again)

Photographers become new enemies of the state

Greetings, any time travellers who’ve accidentally crash-landed in the present. If you’ve come from ten years ago, say, you really have my sympathy. You may find some things are a bit of shock. I bet this little story will come as a surprise, for a start, but this is just one of the subtle but wonderful improvements we’ve made to your superficially identical world.

Labour MP Austin Mitchell has tabled a Parliamentary motion in support of photographers’ rights.

As a time traveller, you may have idly wondered about the elongated metal rectangles and darkened globes that you see everywhere. They are not uninspired art pieces. These are cameras. CCTV cameras. They don’t need any “rights” because they already have them all. (They are theoretically under the control of some data protection law that says you can have any footage of you but Dom Joly showed, on television last week, that you have a 0 out of 35 chance of getting it.)

It turns out that it’s only the meat-based photographers who are short of rights. The humanoids with visble cameras, with lenses and lens caps and a carrying strap and a bag full of odds and ends. These humanoids are increasingly being challenged for taking pictures. Camerabots are free to take pictures of whatever they want. I think it’s guaranteed in Asimov’s Forth Law of Robotics or something.

The BBC page mentions a photographer who was stopped from taking a picture of a soap star switching on Christmas lights. (I will pointedly not wonder why anyone wants a picture of a Y-list celeb showing that they are capable of operating an On switch.)

The 49-year-old started by firing off a few shots of the warm-up act on stage. But before the main attraction showed up, Mr Smith was challenged by a police officer who asked if he had a licence for the camera.
After explaining he didn’t need one, he was taken down a side-street for a formal “stop and search”, then asked to delete the photos and ordered not to take any more. (from the BBC)

A licence? To take pictures in public place? Where do we get these handy licences? I might need to pick one up when I get my next mp3-player operation licence and my permit to read on the bus.

Even Austin Mitchell has found that he’s been stopped from taking pictures:

Mr Mitchell, himself a keen photographer, was challenged twice, once by a lock-keeper while photographing a barge on the Leeds to Liverpool canal and once on the beach at Cleethorpes.
“There’s a general alarm about terrorism and about paedophiles, two heady cocktails, and police and PCSOs [police community support officers] and wardens and authorities generally seem to be worried about this.” (from the BBC)

The BBC shows a Metropolitan police poster that asks the public to be vigilant about people taking photographs. (I couldn’t find mention of it on their website.) Hmm, that will be people taking photographs in public in London. That was “London”:a popular (if sometimes inexplicably so) global tourist destination. Tourists: you know, the ones with the cameras.

And the shamelessnessness of constantly using the terrorist/paedophile-kneejerk-panic-effect to get us into line. Terrorists with any intelligence would take their pictures on a phone camera or a hidden camera. They wouldn’t walk round with a big obtrusively-lensed Nikon slung round their necks. And I suspect that there is nothing magic about photos for paedophiles, either. If they can see a kid in the street, they can see a kid in the street, whether or not they’ve taken their picture. Do kids magically become invisible to paedophiles when they aren’t in digital format?

*********Asides – related and random***************

1. In a charming irony, there is an incredibly expensive (£250 million, almost $500 million) and laughable plan to get all the Metropolitan police electronically tagged, like so many absconding juveniles. Who watches the watchers indeed? Well, you can watch them with a GPS but you’d better not take their pictures.

2. The Mr Smith story above reminds me of the orchestrated Daily Mail-style clamour for an extension of “stop and search” powers. This man was pulled out of a crowd and searched, apparently on the basis of being in possession of a photographic device with intent to use it.

It’s pretty obvious that Mr Smith didn’t look “a bit muslim” (unlike Jean Charles de Menezes) or the story might have been much worse. And just imagine what would have happened if he didn’t understand enough English to know that he was being “stopped and searched” so he’d just carried on taking pictures at will.

3. This blog gets many more hits when we don’t actually post. (That speaks volumes for the quality of the prose. Yes, I know.)

Welcome to HM Open Prison United Kingdom

Anti-terrorism laws were used to carry out surveillance on a family that wanted to get their 3-year-old into a certain school. The local council tracked them for a fortnight to make sure they lived in the right catchment area.

No, really.

The title was stolen from a comment by Steve Woods on the post about this in The Register. This story is also on the BBC website and a fair number of newspapers.

In a followup BBC article about an interview with the family:

The council has defended its actions, carried out under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
The council admitted using RIPA laws, which were designed to track criminals and terrorists, on six occasions in total

You may have a problem with intrusive cameras (Well, if you don’t, you should have, if you put any value on personal liberty) but RIPA ups the game quite a bit from them. There’s a very balanced BBC piece on it which, in itself, should put the fear of Odin in you.

It’s not as if this sort of thing should be a surprise. An “anonymous coward” commented on the Register post:

WE were warned at the time that such powers would inevitably be used for trivial matters. The reason is the same as the answer to “why do dogs lick their balls ?” [1]

[1] Because they can.

Big Brother goes Shopping

Take the cameras that follow us everywhere. Increase their intrusiveness level by a factor of ten and you get an idea of how much staff surveillance a German-based supermarket chain thinks it needs. Lidl has been spying on its German and Czech workers in ways that might shock the most avid defenders of surveillance, according to the Guardian story.

The store employed detectives and used video cameras to gather an alarming amount of personal information about its workers. Information about their finances, their tattoos, their love lives, their friends, how many times they went to the toilet….

Recording how a German employee identified as Frau M spent her break, one report read: “Frau M wanted to make a call with her mobile phone at 14.05 … She received the recorded message that she only had 85 cents left on her prepaid mobile. She managed to reach a friend with whom she would like to cook this evening, but on condition that her wage had been paid into her bank, because she would otherwise not have enough money to go shopping.” (from The Guardian)

The Guardian writer saw this incident in a Czech Republic store as the most shocking:

.. a female worker was forbidden to go to the toilet during working hours. An internal memorandum, which is now the centre of a court case in the republic, allegedly advised staff that “female workers who have their periods may go to the toilet now and again, but to enjoy this privilege they should wear a visible headband.

The story was taken from the German magazine Stern. It appears in the Telegraph and other UK newspapers. There’s more on Lidl on AsdaWatch. Lidl’s Wikipedia page that refers to the Guardian article.

“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.

Ministry of Peace

Sorry if you were lulled into a false sense of living in Wallace and Grommit world. Welcome back to Oceania .

Under the title “Big Brother is watching us all” a BBC correspondent, Humphrey Hawkesley, decribes the next generation of surveillance being developed in Maryland University. “Gait DNA” is what they call the unique pattern of personal movements that will allow computers to track people walking through a crowd.

DARPA seemed to be developing a Babelfish style programme. Plus:

“And this idea about a total surveillance society,” I asked. “Is that science fiction?”
“No, that’s not science fiction. We’re developing an unmanned airplane – a UAV – which may be able to stay up five years with cameras on it, constantly being cued to look here and there. This is done today to a limited amount in Baghdad. But it’s the way to go.

“Wow, it’s so safe, there, in Baghdad. It’s obviously working well then. Can we have it here please?”

Unlikely as those sentences may seem to be to issue from the lips of a sentient being, it looks as if the developers of these boon technologies think that we want them.

Interestingly, we, the public, don’t seem to mind. Opinion polls, both in the US and Britain, say that about 75% of us want more, not less, surveillance. Some American cities like New York and Chicago are thinking of taking a lead from Britain where our movements are monitored round the clock by four million CCTV cameras.

Or how about these see through walls things they are developing? The Hawaian National Guard will be testing radio monitors that can read your heart rate through walls next year, in Iraq.

“… it will also show whether someone inside a house is looking to harm you, because if they are, their heart rate will be raised. And 10 years from now, the technology will be much smarter. We’ll scan a person with one of these things and tell what they’re actually thinking.”
He glanced at me quizzically, noticing my apprehension.
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “It sounds very Star Trekkish, but that’s what’s ahead.”

(The idea that a raised heart rate implies a will to murder would probably cause some surprise in a Baghdad gym, if any remain. That would certainly be one way to create a nation of inert people. Imagine taking your chances of going on a crosstrainer if there may be a surveillance bot in the street that notes your heart rate is outside the calm range)

Of course, the meaning of (the BBC man’s ) “apprehension” is “fear”, not “incredulity”. There is little doubt that these things are possible. Whether they are desirable is another matter.

Can it really be possible that most people want more of it?

I value peace and security as much as anyone. I would feel my long-term security was very much improved by a greater willingness to discuss issues and solve them.

I don’t feel my physical safety is improved by blanket surveillance. Anyone serious about circumventing this shit does so. The rest of us just seem to accept it passively.

It’s not inevitable. These are political and social choices. Are we really so pathetic that in the so-called liberal democracies we have absolutely NO control over what our societies are becoming?

[tags]Science, Technology, Society, Culture, Fear, 1984, Oceania, Paranoia, Surveillance, Democracy, Rant, Security, Government, Star Trek, UAV, BBC, Bablefish[/tags]