Justice, mercy or revenge

Today’s news has been pretty much filled with items about the decision to allow Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man jailed for blowing up a US airliner over Lockerbie in 1988, to go home to die. al-Megrahi is suffering from terminal cancer and, according to some reports at least, has about three months to live. It is probably unsurprising that this release has generated a lot of vox pop about what an “outrage” it is that he be allowed home to die. One of the terms of his release is that al-Megrahi dropped his series of appeals against his conviction, saving the UK taxpayer a large amount of money; however I can only assume that he still thinks he is innocent (or at least has a chance of being found innocent) but no longer had the will to fight this.

In the UK a life sentence doesn’t actually mean you are expected to die in jail. The criminal justice system is, in theory at least, based upon the principles of removing an offender from society as long as they present a danger to society, while providing correctional education to allow them to reintegrate to society upon release.

Equally, in the UK (and the US I am fairly sure) there are frequent cases where a prisoner is released from jail on compassionate grounds. There is nothing specifically unusual about this case.

The biggest difference here is that this is a person who has killed Americans. As a result, President Obama felt the urge to pressurise the “Scottish Government” (hmm) to change its mind about al-Megrahi’s release. President Obamba is not alone in this, almost every US politician has tried to convince the Scottish Justice Minister to change his mind. The UK radio and TV news is running headlines about how this has “all been ignored” – as if the requests of US politicians should carry some weight in this matter. I notice that previously the US government fell over itself to listen to pleas from UK politicians about the treatment of Gary McKinnon… Or not.

All this is only mildly interesting. I notice with more interest, and a lot of amusement, that the same parts of the British media objecting to this were crying for the release of the convicted Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs. Obviously there are differences, Biggs is unrepentant, proud of his crime and white so the objections of Jack Mill‘s son went largely ignored.

Unusually for a missive from WhyDontYou Towers, I have no real opinion one way or another over the treatment and final disposal of al-Megrahi other than to wish there was some actual justice and consistency in the UK Criminal Justice system. Justice is not about revenge. Fair treatment includes compassion. Nothing that happens to al-Megrahi will bring back the dead or turn the clock back to before the murders. If justice is allowed to become revenge, then Al Qaeda can give up, we’ve destroyed western society ourselves. There can be no doubt that al-Megrahi showed his victims no compassion, but so what? Do two wrongs make a right? Does anyone honestly think al-Megrahi remains a danger to society? The news is showing traumatic footage of the night Pan Am Flight 103 went down – what can this do other than inflame people about the decision, which I think is at least consistent with the UK criminal justice policy.

As is always the case, the BBC is an example of the odd responses. There is the frequently wrong idea that those who are emotionally entangled can give a just and reasoned opinion – the BBC website has an entire page devoted to “Reaction – Lockerbie Bomber Set Free.” Show the effects of emotional involvement, the sister of a victim understandably says:

I don’t know how you show compassion to someone who has shown no remorse for what he has done and as Mr MacAskill praised the justice system and the investigation and the trial, how do you then show this person compassion? It’s just utterly despicable. I think he should have died in prison. Why should he be returned to Libya? That’s not what we were promised. We were always told he would serve out his full sentence in Scotland.

It is understandable, but wrong. I cant begin to imagine the suffering this person has undergone, but that is not grounds for a policy decision. This is why in the Dark Ages we moved away from blood feuds and instituted a system of courts and laws.  While she may not, yet, see it, the only way to show compassion is in situations like this. There is no compassion in being nice to nice people you like. Compassion involves doing what is right even when you dont want to.

The inherently evil David Cameron gives us a sign of the Criminal Justice system we can look forward to if the Tories come to power:

This man was convicted of murdering 270 people, he showed no compassion to them, they weren’t allowed to go home and die with their relatives in their own bed and I think this is a very bad decision

Ah, an eye for an eye eh? Does the body count matter? If he had killed just one, would he be objecting? Is the only reason to keep him in jail the fact that 270 families were torn apart rather than one or two? I suspect that if you are a grieving family member, the pain is not reduced simply because no one else died.

The Scottish Labour Leader has shown a tendency towards fluid politics that is characteristic of the Labour Party in general:

While one can have sympathy for the family of a gravely ill prisoner, on balance, our duty is to honour and respect the victims of Lockerbie and have compassion for them. The SNP’s handling of this case has let down Scotland

Yes, have compassion for the victims. Making someone suffer because not doing so would upset the families is not compassionate. It is pretty much a cowardly response.

Annoyingly for a committed Atheist, the Reverend Ian Galloway (Church of Scotland) says what is, IMHO, the right thing:

We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not chose mercy? This was not about whether one man was guilty or innocent. Nor is it about whether he had a right to mercy but whether we as a nation, despite the continuing pain of many, are willing to be merciful. I understand the deep anger and grief that still grips the souls of the victims’ families and I respect their views, but to them, I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy. Instead our deepest humanity is expressed for the better. To choose mercy is the tough choice and today our nation met that challenge.

Infuriatingly I cant help but agree with everything he has said here.

If you want to read some genuinely insane arguments on this matter have a look at the BBC “Have Your Say” Pages. Here the hatred really flows. The whole of Europe is called “Cowardly” because the Scottish National Party stood up to American pressure. The irony is amusing, if the ranting is disturbing.

It saddens me that people are still suffering to such an extent about this. Their suffering will not be changed by this persons release, nor would their suffering end if he had died in jail. That political figures in both countries are making so much capital out of this is an example of how craven politics really is. When I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with a Church of Scotland Reverend, its time to lie down.

I’m a Photographer not a Terrorist

Spread the word – especially if you live in the UK. If you live elsewhere see if there are similar protests in your country. Visit Photographer Not a Terrorist.org to find out more.

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…

Police Disorder

Over the last few years there has been a steady flow of people warning how, in the west, we are sleepwalking into a surveillance state. Often this is accompanied with references to 1984 and how our government and national leadership seem to view this book as an instruction manual, rather than a stark warning. It seems, however, that we are growing a generation of people who are immune to this, they live under constant surveillance (even aspire to it in the form of Big Brother reality TV) and the idea of privacy may one day be alien.

There is (IMHO of course) a darker aspect to this. In our rush to accept everything the government tells us when it is linked to the Evil Terrorist, we are giving up the basic rights and concepts that make a country a “free” democracy. The press, and police, love the high profile terror raids (such as the “Easter Bomb Plot“) which generate torrents of media coverage – along with huge amounts of right wing outrage at how easy it is for these evil Islamic terrorists to get into our country. These events are used to justify insane amounts of secrecy about police activity and huge public funding, even though it has no apparent return in public safety. When the inevitable happens, and those arrested are released without charge, there is often a short note at the end of the news and no withdrawal of the right-wing outrage. The damage has well and truly been done, so the fact it was a pointless event doesn’t need saying… In this, we are far from a free press. As an example we can look at two events:

1 – Police raid addresses in Lurgan, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, and trigger riots that last over a day – followed by a series of hoax car bombs and attacks on other police patrols. All this was to find the people involved in the fatal shooting of two soldiers and a police officer a few days earlier.

2 – Police raid a few addresses in Manchester and Liverpool, England, and peacefully arrest 12 people. No community response.

The first event generated almost no coverage from the national media outlets. Few people would have known it happened. Less would have cared. The second event was “Breaking news” 24hours a day for days – even when most of the coverage consisted of bored police officers standing outside a house in some unknown street. It resulted in heated diplomatic exchanges with foreign nations and untold amounts of right wing outrage about “furriners” coming into our country.

It is in the states interest to present the situation in Northern Ireland as a closed deal. Peace has broken out. Unless the terrorists are actually “lucky” enough to kill, it gets no news coverage. There are hundreds of actual attacks and bomb plots over there but these are carried out by white Christians who were born in the United Kingdom (or occasionally the Republic of Ireland). There is no where to deport them and no amount of border controls can prevent them. Crucially they look like us, so cant easily be profiled at ports and for stop & search powers. Overall the peace process is working but the dissident republicans present a clear and present danger to the security forces. They carry out attacks, they have wounded dozens of people (and killed several innocents). They carry out atrocious punishment beatings.  They are real terrorists.

On the other hand, we have the Islamic terrorist cells. Yes, they got “lucky” once with devastating effect, but they have managed one attack in the UK. Ever. The biggest difference is they dont look like “us.” Often they are first or second generation immigrants. They speak a “funny” language. They (sometimes) dress differently. They are easy to spot in public. That most of this is nonsense hasn’t stopped Islamic terrorism becoming a massive bugbear, while the actual violence carried out by Republican terrorists is ignored.

The cynic in me suggests that targetting the Islamic terrorist is in the states best interest. Without turning into V for Vengeance, by generating this public fear there is little argument against draconian laws, huge spending on “anti-terror,” crazy policies (no fluids on planes for example), intrusive surveillance and out of control policing. We have to accept this because if we dont the Islamic Terrorist will get us. That the press pander to this crazy idea, and are instrumental in producing it, which can only benefit the state makes me strongly question how “free” our press is.

Without a free press, can we really have a democracy? Is it possible for the public to have an informed vote if their information is controlled by the state?

This leads on to the next bit, and the thing that really got me going. The Police.

Recently the UK enacted a law (part of the Terrorism Act) which has made it illegal to take pictures of police, military or intelligence services personnel. This has been presented as being important to prevent terrorism (how?) and the government claimed it would not be used out of context nor would it be used to restrict journalism.

This is nonsense. Every law gets used out of context. Councils use anti-terrorism powers to mount surveillance on people to see if they live in the correct district for their children’s school. This will always happen – if you give someone a legal authority to do something, they will do it if it makes their job easier. The only alternative is to right better laws – something often lacking with regards to rushed terrorism legislation.

The police are no better. The terrorism act is regularly used out of context. Be it climate change protesters or tourists, the various legislation is often misused. Crucially, looking at the tourist incident, the police not only misused their legislation but they broke the law doing so: (From the guardian):

Like most visitors to London, Klaus Matzka and his teenage son Loris took several photographs of some of the city’s sights, including the famous red double-decker buses. More unusually perhaps, they also took pictures of the Vauxhall bus station, which Matzka regards as “modern sculpture”.

But the tourists have said they had to return home to Vienna without their holiday pictures after two policemen forced them to delete the photographs from their cameras in the name of preventing terrorism.

Matzka, a 69-year-old retired television cameraman with a taste for modern architecture, was told that photographing anything to do with transport was “strictly forbidden”. The policemen also recorded the pair’s details, including passport numbers and hotel addresses.

If we assume the police were right to carry out the stop under TACT legislation, and this was information useful to terrorist, why did they destroy the evidence? Either they thought these two tourists were covert Jihadists, in which case an intelligence stop should have been conducted, with the pictures retained for the DPS to look at (and the intelligence services to brief the Daily Mail as to the plans to attack the bus station) or they knew these were innocent tourists and there was no reason to destroy the pictures. This seems to be unlawful destruction of evidence pertaining to a criminal act. Will anything be done about it?

The Metropolitan police said it was investigating the allegations.

Ok, thats “no” then. In magazines like Amateur Photographer there are regular reports of how people are stopped under similar circumstances (to the point at which a photo-friendly MP has tried tabling this in Parliment) however nothing has changed. Nothing is likely to change because the police dont care.

I am loathe to scream about how our police forces are out of control, but they appear to be under less and less force to obey the will of the people. The police enforce the rule of law with public consent. They are not an occupying army seeking to repress us. They are not here to control and dominate the public. They are public servants who have chosen to do a job which means they will protect the public. They protect no one by harassing tourists. They protect no one by killing newspaper sellers as they try to get home. The tragic death of Ian Tomlinson has opened up a whole can of worms about police behaviour, but it is unlikely to change anything.

As has happened countless times in the past (anyone remember Stockwell?), following Ian Tomlinson’s death the police were quick to issue a completely erroneous statement. It took a newspaper getting (what was actually illegal) footage of police violence before they would do anything. Even then, it took days before they actually got into action and started the investigation. Worryingly there were dozens of police officers there when Ian Tomlinson was hit, yet none thought to come forward about his death. This speaks of an institutionalised idea that hitting people from behind is acceptable. It isnt.

The police are faced with dangerous situations on a daily basis. They are also taught how to react and how to identify when the danger has passed. Although it was a few years ago, and for a different place, I have had considerable amounts of riot training (in the shield wall, as snatch squads and controlling) although thankfully I rarely had to put it into practice. However there were some basic lessons. You stood there knowing you would get abused. Verbal abuse was something to be ignored. No matter what the crowd shouted to taunt you, you were supposed to stand your ground. The idea that you would get a sly hit on someone walking away was unthinkable. It happened, but people reported it because it was a breakdown in discipline, and without that we were the same as the mob. Despite this, footage has come to light of several police officers attacking non-violent members of the public.

There is a time where the use of force by the police is acceptable. Backhanding a woman who has called you a name is not it. Hitting people who are shouting at you is not it. The police are there to PROTECT the public from violence, not be the cause of it. There is a harrowing amount of footage on the Guardian website which shows police failing in their primary duty. I have no idea if this is simply due to the group on the ground having become “maverick” or if this is a sign of larger problems with the police, but it is a problem.

For example: Police on the ground removed their ID badges to make it harder for people to identify them at a later date. This is wrong, as Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) stated. It is very wrong and borderline criminal in itself. It means the officer was intending to do something wrong and mens rea is an important part of the law. What concerns me is the comment made by the HMIC:

“I firmly hope that will be rectified with some certainty”

What? Pure weasel words. What is the point in having the HMIC? Equally disturbing is the fact that these officers were not taken to task by their seniors before deploying. Instutionalised failure. How do you rectify that if the HMIC is beating around the bush? The simple solution is to punish the Sgts and Inspectors as well as the constables (when finally identified). That would very quickly change the behaviour.

This is tied into the behavour of the police on the day. In this video, the police carry out a baton charge against the crowd (who appear to be commiting the offence of singing badly and out of tune in a public place) and attack the press in the process. They are not carrying out a controlled act to move the crowd back, they are simply trying to break heads. At 36 seconds you can see them baton a guy with a camera facing away from them. That is unjustifable. They are not using controled violence, otherwise why hit the press photographer facing away? He is no danger to them and is not part of the crowd. Force is a last resort. Not a first one. The photographer lies on the floor until the police line moves back again (what was the point in the charge if it wasnt to dominate new ground?), when some one finally helps him up.

In the next video, the police impose Section 14 of the Public Order act to make the press go away for “about half an hour.”  Two big issues with this.

First off – why? Why did the senior office want the press out of view? Was it to calm the protesters down? (unlikely) or was it to remove public oversight of the police behaviour? We may never know.

Secondly – section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 provides police the power to impose conditions on assemblies “to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community.” It is not a lawful use of the act to make the press move on. This act is often misused by the police so its almost understandable that they would try to misuse it here. However, how can they not have known better? Did the senior officer on the ground really think it was an appropriate use of Sect 14 powers? If so, why isnt he being sent away for retraining? Were the police just trying their luck to see if they could make the pesky press go away, hoping most wouldnt question the legality? Again we may never know.

In all, this has been a long rant (sorry) but it is infuriating that we accept this behaviour from the representatives of the public. How can we live in a free democracy while this goes on?

EDITED TO ADD: Sadly I posted this rant before I saw an excellent version written by Alun over on Archaeoastronomy. If you havent already read it, get over there now and read. As always, Aluns post is well written and to the point. I especially like his closing remarks: (emphasis mine)

policing cannot happen without the consent of a community. Otherwise it’s just a paramilitary occupation. The video shows plenty of witnesses in yellow jackets. If they won’t assist the law, who will?

Well said.

Back on the bus

Buses have really stepped up their game in the culture wars recently. It’s getting so that, if it’s not written along the side of a moving public service vehicle, it can’t be true. The Atheist Bus campaign may have accidentally tuned into previously unsuspected 21st zeitgeist.

It turns out there’s a Florida version of our own bus debate. It’s quite a bit uglier, though. And it doesn’t involve atheism. It’s an advert for Islam. The Sun Sentinel from Broward County (yes, me neither) said

Muslim ads on county buses drive Jewish group to protest
Muslim group says reference to Abraham, Moses and Jesus not intended to offend, but Americans Against Hate activist says message is misleading

There’s a picture of an Islamic advert bus showing the words “ISLAM: The Way of Life of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.”

It would be quite hard to spot any hate-crime in that sentence. The “Jewish group” that sees this apparently innocuous piece of meaninglessness religi-drivel as hate speech is not just any old “Jewish group”, of course. It seems to be even less representative of the average Jewish person’s views than Christian Voice is of the average Christian. (If that is indeed possible.)

Both the advertisers and the protestors accuse each other of terrorism.

Kaufman notes the U.S. Department of Justice labeled CAIR an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a Dallas case which last November saw five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim charity, convicted of providing more than $12 million in support to the Hamas terrorist organization.
Ali, who lives in Pembroke Pines, counters that Kaufman is affiliated with the Kahanist Movement founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated removing all Muslims from Israel.
Because of its terrorist activities, the group was banned in Israel and its U.S. assets were frozen.
Kaufman writes for the right-leaning Web publication Front Page Magazine, and once called for nuclear attacks on Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Since founding Americans Against Hate as a terrorism watchdog group, he wrote that “pure merciless force” was the only way to deal with Muslims. (from the sun-sentinel)

Can someone define “terrorism” for me please, because I think my dictionary must be broken?

Banks continue to control us

Untouched by their reckless behaviour (and blatant lack of any real knowledge of the mystical “market forces”) the true leaders of the Western World continue to flex their muscles and show that the interests of ordinary people are, on the whole, irrelevant. They remain blind to contradiction in demanding huge public subsidies, then refusing any form of public control. They continue to assert, in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary, that “they know best” over the current financial crisis. They ignore the problem of begging money with one hand, and paying out huge bonuses to their own staff. They know they are so important that whatever they do we, the public, will continue to bow to their demands. It beggars belief how most banks haven’t been declared International Terrorist Organisations – they demand money and threaten global meltdown if we don’t comply, they have a non-democratic influence in governmental policy and are happy to crush small businesses; the only thing missing is they aren’t (on the whole) Islamic.

Anyway, enough of that rant. You could easily be excused for thinking that giving a bank your money (often paying for the privileged) would mean it stayed your money and the bank just looked after it (although they would use it to make more money for themselves). You would be excused for thinking that you should be able to get access to your money.  You would, however, be wrong.

Not content with charging customers £1.75 for cash withdrawals (except those customers well off enough to be able to get to the increasingly rare free cash machines [ATM], if they can find a working one), the banks are now unveiling measures to make it harder for you to use your cash/credit card. All in the name of security though… so that makes it ok…

A few years ago we heard how Chip and PIN was being brought in to prevent card fraud. Gone were the days in which your signature was enough to prove who you were, now all it took was a 4 digit PIN. This seemed like madness, and in fact creates the current situation where my wife can use my card without anyone noticing she is not a Mr, but the banks were adamant it would prevent fraud. They added to this the demand for every Cardholder Not Present (CNP) transaction to use the 3 digit verification number (CVV) on the back of the card (ironically where the pointless signature strip lives). It was claimed that this would reduce CNP fraud and the two measures would reduce fraud to such an extent that their costs would be negligible.

Except, it never worked out like that.

People buy things over the internet, and give out their CVV with alarming ease – every time you do an online transaction you are asked for it – so after a while it becomes impossible to use this as verification. You would like to think the people you are carrying out an online purchase from are PCI-DSS accredited, but do you check? Do you read through their audits to make sure your holy grail of card number and CVV are safe? Do you assume the credit card companies are doing that? The padlock icon is just to tell you that the data link between you and the shop is secure, it says nothing about the long term storage of your data. I have even seen companies that email out a receipt with the card number in full and the CVV code used – all in a plain text email… Far from secure.

Anyway, it seems that despite these new measures the banks are still suffering almost as much fraud as before (which begs the question…)  and have now unveiled new measures. Basically they will look at your transactions and if the bank thinks you are doing something unusual they will block your card. Its crucial to note here, that this happens if the bank thinks you are doing something odd. They will monitor your activity and then make a decision as to if your behaviour falls within their idea of what is normal. The BBC report on this is interesting:

A leading bank is introducing new technology that will mean every credit card transaction is scrutinised for fraud.
HSBC is introducing the programme, which will affect 10 million card accounts and millions of transactions.

Hmm. You have to wonder what other data the HSBC will be able to mine from this, but we will leave the big brother rant for another day.

The banking industry has warned that more legitimate transactions will be queried or cancelled as a result.

So, what they are basically saying is that because the banks are losing money, ordinary people will be inconvenienced even more than normal. Imagine the scene, you are on holiday in a foreign country (several time zones away), you go for a meal and pay with your card. Only to have your card rejected. What do you do? The banks don’t care. You have to do the running to get everything sorted and cant even claim back any costs incurred from the banks mistake. Outrageous. The standard banking advice is to tell your bank when you are going on holiday but this is crap. It rarely works. From the same BBC page:

When Sally Wiber went on holiday to Borneo, she followed industry advice and told her bank where she was going.
But her credit and debit cards were blocked when she tried to use them on her first day.
“I spent much of the first day trying to deal with my bank and getting internet access, and then had a rather frustrating phone call trying to make sure that I could use my cards for the rest of my holiday,” she said.

Wonderful eh? I can support this from personal experience. My employment has me travelling around Europe a lot. My bank know this. I have told them about my travel and they know my job. However, in France last year, despite my bank being told in writing about my travel, my card was blocked on the second day. I used it on the first day to withdraw cash and make purchases, but on the second day it was decided my activity was unusual. Apparently, as I was on a family holiday, I had been committing the heinous crime of buying presents… I had told the bank I was going on a family holiday. The first days purchases (to a greater value) were fine, but the second day triggered something. The biggest problem I faced here was being stuck, in France, with no phone and no bank account and no money. How do you resolve that?

Does the banking industry care? Again from the BBC:

But Mark Bowerman of the card issuers’ trade body APACS said it was something consumers would have to accept.

That is a “no” then. He continues:

“If we as customers expect banks to do something about this we have to expect that from time to time we’ll be in a shop and the transaction will be queried or card declined. These systems are designed to stop cards being used fraudulently, so if that’s the price we have to pay I think people should be prepared to pay that price,” he said.

Crikey, doesn’t that sound like the war on terror? It actually reads that because the banks want to put a stop to card fraud people have to pay the price. I love the glib way he says that from time to time we’ll have a transaction declined. Like it doesn’t mean anything. Like it doesn’t mean embarrassment and possible legal problems for you when it happens. Try paying for a meal, having your card declined and then explaining that’s just the price you have to pay. Please let me know how far it gets you.

The BBC continues:

Spending large amounts of money or using your card frequently can trigger the alarm at the user’s bank, and with so much fraud taking place abroad, the same goes for using a card outside the UK.

So, basically, using your card can trigger alarms. This happened to me a few weeks ago when I was buying a new suit. I used a credit card that gives me loyalty points, and as I pay it off in full each month I was well within my credit. I spent a while buying an expensive new suit in the January sales, with a shop assistant fawning over me. When it came to pay, I hand my card over (knowing I had a credit limit more than £2000 over the cost of the suit and coat) only for it to be rejected. Shame is an understatement. Queue of people behind me and a shop assistant now convinced I am a petty thief. All because I tried to spend £300 in one transaction, rather than lots of £50 transactions.

There is a solution, and one which may shoot the credit card companies in the foot, but one I am heading towards more and more. Give up with the card. Credit cards are different, as it enables you to spend money you dont have, but you can live without your bank card. This is the travel advice from ABTA on the BBC, to try and get round the problem of having your card blocked at random:

Take a range of payment methods. Take cash for immediate expenses, take two cards, preferably from different banks and take travellers’ cheques as well for extra security if it goes disastrously wrong.

Why go to all this trouble. The only reason you would take the cards is to spend your money abroad. If you take cards with cash and traveller’s cheques as “backup” you are mad. The card is a back up for the other two, but now you cant trust it. If you have a backup you cant rely on, it is worthless, so don’t take the cards. Go abroad with a bit of cash and traveller’s cheques. You don’t need anything else.

Equally, given the disastrous savings rates, you could probably live your day to day life cash only. Wouldn’t that be weird?

Just to show how effective the banks previous anti-fraud measures have been:

Card fraud is rising – up 14% in the first half of 2008 – and fraud abroad now accounts for 40% of all card crime.

Not very effective then. What is the future for these new checks? Will they learn enough to allow people to go on holiday? Will they work?

What we have seen with chip and pin – it was successful for 18 months, two years – the fraudsters have worked a way round it, so we are now looking at more sophisticated means.

So then, in 18 months we will be encumbered with a system causing us problems, making sure we cant rely on our cards (defeating the purpose of them) and it wont be stopping fraud.

Wonderful.

Die in a hail of gunfire

Who would have thought it, eh? Some crazy people have jumped on the Mumbai Massacre bandwagon to espouse their crazy ideas. Amazing…

Disappointingly predictably, certain individuals are using the massacre to promote their own crazy agendas. On the “Cybercast News Service” yesterday there was an article in which it was claimed that the killings would have been prevented if India didn’t have such strict gun laws:

India’s strict gun laws are partly to blame for the success of the terrorist attack in Mumbai, according to the head of an Indian gun rights group and a U.S. expert who has examined the impact of gun laws on crime and terrorism.

Abhijeet Singh, founder of Indians for Guns, told CNSNews.com Tuesday that if the citizens of Mumbai had been allowed to carry guns, terrorists would not have killed as many people as they did–and might have been deterred from attacking in the first place.

Wow. It still surprises me a little that people can (with apparent seriousness) claim that if everyone had guns, there would be less gunfights. I can see an element of appealing logic, although it flies counter to the current anti-knife crime campaign we have in the UK, which seems to be working. The idea hangs on the fact that Terrorist X wont carry out an attack because if they do, the people they attack will be able to return fire and kill them.

Flawed logic.

First off – if this was true, soldiers wouldn’t be attacked. Islamic terrorists are reasonably prepared to die in the course of their actions, so the return fire is not a deterrent. Equally, even if everyone is carrying guns, the terrorists still have the huge advantage of being the attacker. A crowd of people goin about their daily business is in no state to drop to cover and return handgun fire when they are ambushed by assault rifles. The terrorist has the initiative, dictates where and when the attack will happen and can still kill large numbers before fire is returned with sufficient effect to defeat them.

Another line of reasoning was that if the public had all been armed, the terrorists would have killed a few, then the return fire would have got them – reducing the overall casualty figures.

Wrong, but less flawed. Most people are not combat trained. Despite all the range time gun-lovers carry out, despite all the films they watch, and magazines they read, combat shooting is something very, very different. Battle inoculation is so important that soldiers undergo it so they can experience what being under fire is like – hopefully to reduce the chance they will fuck up when the time comes to fight. Even with all this, and months of specialist training, soldiers make mistakes in the heat of battle. Some people will panic and shoot randomly, some will miss, some will be good shots but poor at target identification. The potential for carnage is beyond belief. The only thing you could hope for is that the terrorist would be just as shocked by the bullets flying in every direction they’d panic and fuck up as well. The problem is terrorists have often been to training camps, where they are taught what it is like…

The whole idea is insane and creates a wonderful scenario for any budding terrorist planners.

Imagine the scene: A shopping mall filled with several hundred armed people going about their daily business. One armed terrorist, dressed like everyone else, walks into the mall and opens fire, dashes to cover, fires again and lies low. The crowd are under fire. Everyone draws their guns and shoots in the direction they think the attack is coming from… At this point, the mall is filled with people seeing other people pointing guns at them. In the ensuing carnage there is only a moderate chance the terrorist will actually get killed, if he has any sense he could easily lie low enough to avoid being hit. Better still, when the security forces arrive, they are faced with how ever many survivors there are, all shooting at each other – how do they decide who to take out?

It is pure madness. Is this really the scenario these people want, or do they think all the members of the public will do cowboy style quick-draws, drop to one knee and double tap the terrorists in the head? By Zeus, the madness makes my eyes water.

Guns do not keep you safe. They do not stop people shooting you. At best they give you the chance to shoot back, but a holstered gun is useless. Carrying a gun makes you a target for everyone else with a gun.  Carrying a gun, at best, gives you a false sense of security.

As ever, the comments for the CNS article are a fertile ground of madness. Some of the more, erm, entertaining ones:

Quote: “Distributing weapons to general public is not the wise and right idea to counter the terrorism.” Hmm, that’s funny, the citizens of Israel found the exact opposite to be true. You think maybe they might have some experience in the matter? Here in Michigan, USA, I carry a loaded pistol every day, everywhere I go. Nothing unusual, just normal everyday business. It’s nice to feel like a citizen instead of a subject.

Erm, no.

I, for one, have had a gun put to my head. I was lucky to have survived. I have vowed to never go through this again without a fight. Dispite my handing over everything to the robber, he still shot at me, but missed, thank God. I can’t carry at a bar, but look how many people are assulted leaving the bar to go to their car. Where would my pistol be? Locked in my car. Big help, isn’t it! I would like to see just one time where a person with a carry permit has gone on a shooting spree in a church, school, sports arena, or entertainment facility with a capacity of 2500 people plus, as these are the places Michigan law forbids my having my weapon with me at. Note! I can carry in a church with the permission of the church. It looks to me like none of the Government Law Makers or any of their families or friends have ever been assulted, so they don’t know what it is like. I suggest they get their heads out of the sand, look at reality and come up with laws that are reaistic.

God and Guns – dont they go together well… This person misses the whole point, but it isnt surprising really. I have been shot at, I have had mortars fired at me, I have had petrol bombs thrown at me by rioters. I was carrying a gun at the time and it didn’t help at all. This person doesn’t want protection, they want to be able to shoot the robber, after they have been robbed. Wonderful escalation that will result in the robber just shooting them first. I defy anyone in the real world to draw a gun and kill an attacker who has a loaded weapon drawn and pointed at them.

Armed,law abiding, citizens protect a nation and its people. But, an unarmed population is at the mercy of their own government, home grown thugs and terrorists as well as invaders from outside their country. Gandhi was right on!!! A realistic pacifist knows that force is the only way to meet force in the end. “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.” — The Dalai Lama, (May 15, 2001, The Seattle Times) speaking at the “Educating Heart Summit” in Portland, Oregon, when asked by a girl how to react when a shooter takes aim at a classmate

Well, while it may be true that “armed, law abiding citizens” protect a nation, they are called “soldiers.” Having every citizen armed is certainly not the same thing and does not protect a nation. An armed population is just as at the mercy of its government as an unarmed one. The realistic pacifist mentioned is not a pacifist, pretty much by definition. Self defence is important but if carrying a gun is not defence. A weapon is designed to be used to attack someone. Armour and a Sheild were defence, the sword was the offensive weapon. In modern times the gun is there for offensive activity. If you want to defend yourself, buy a kevlar vest and helmet. Yes, a good (military) defence is a good offence – however that does not carry over to every day life – unless you shoot all passers-by just in case.

If you are so scared that you feel the need to have a gun tucked inside your pants, fine – as long as you dont draw it anywhere near me, I don’t mind. Just remember though, that now you have a gun you are a threat to everyone around you who doesn’t know you. How do they know that you aren’t a screaming madman about to go on a killing rampage? What if you look at them a bit funny and they think its time for the offensive-defence…

Personally, even having been to most of the worlds war-zones, I’d rather not carry a gun.