Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Last chance for free speech

Polly Toynbee tells MPs: vote tonight against "incitement to religious hatred" thought crimes!

Already there is a frosty caution about disrespect towards religion: it causes a more shocking frisson than it did five years ago. Abuse of religious beliefs feels like a personal insult, the religious want it silenced and they are winning. How long before no MP dare call themselves an atheist? Will anyone speak up against growing faith schools in this secular nation? MPs should go into the chamber tonight to stop all this religious appeasement in its tracks.

UPDATE: "In a humiliating blow to Mr Blair's authority, MPs voted by 288 to 278, majority 10, to back a key Lords amendment to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill … Home secretary Charles Clarke quickly announced the government was bowing to the Commons' will and the bill would go for Royal Assent to become law as it stood."

Satanic RFIDs, begone!

One responder to the US State Department's consultation on RFID-infested passports was not too impressed by the idea:

No mark of the beast for me you Luciferian beehivers. You can take all those RFID chips wrapped like a burrito in the HR 4(6+6+6) national id bill and stick it up yor own arse!

Jesus is the way, not the antichrist of the beast system. Read God's words in the Book of Revelation lest your soul is burned in hell. The great test is upon us all...

The State Department also managed to publish the name, address and phone numbers of many of those who had privacy objections to the scheme. (Via BoingBoing)

Monday, January 30, 2006


I had a fun old time this morning speaking at a Digital Rights Management conference in London. My own attempt to introduce some reality on the security limits of DRM was generally well-received, aside from a couple of myopic content industry representatives. There were several other interesting presentations which I've summarised below.

Amir Majidimehr, Corporate VP at Microsoft's Windows Digital Media Division, gave the standard presentation of the capabilities of Windows and Media Player. He did though reveal some interesting strategic business decisions made by his company. Their "open" DRM platform requires licencees to sign an agreement with Microsoft, and pay a licence fee that serves to keep the number of licencees small. A fellow attendee's verbatim note was: "We don't want this technology to be available to every hobbyist. We need to keep the number of licensees down to a manageable number. We charge a license fee to keep the number of people we have to deal with down to a level we can handle." This may excite the US Federal Trade Commission and the EU Competition Directorate, who already have … issues with Microsoft's behaviour.

Microsoft has not made any attempt to standardise their DRM technology through a standards group. They want to control the media business model through control of the platform. They admit their technology is not foolproof, but should serve to keep honest customers honest. (The real problem is the dishonest customers, who will break their DRM and share the resulting files on P2P networks that will never be shut down, as Microsoft researchers have stated).

Cory Doctorow was good value as always. His checklist on whether a business model is Internet-ready should be required reading for venture capitalists and senior technology managers. An amazing statistic I hadn't heard before was that a survey by Big Champagne found that DRM-protected files exclusively released through iTunes typically appear in unprotected form on P2P networks 180 seconds later.

Stuart Rosove, Senior Director of Licensing and Business Development at Digimarc Corp. described his firm's successful business model. They are focusing on the use of watermarks to track the distribution and use of digital media, particularly in a business-to-business context. If the WIPO Internet treaties had stuck to protecting rights management information and left out the rules against the circumvention of Technological Protection Mechanisms, more companies would have realised that this is the realistic way to build a business on top of DRM tools.

Laurence Kaye gave an overview of the wider range of other applicable legislation, covering interjurisdictional contract enforcement, divergent copyright regimes and data protection law — which will prove a large obstacle for companies expecting to gather detailed information about consumers' media use through DRM in the European Union.

Andy Jones, Research Group Leader at British Telecom's Security Research Centre, had a number of difficult questions that businesses looking at DRM need to consider. They need to solve yesterday's and tomorrow's problems at the same time. They need to consider how security breach disclosure legislation will affect their storage of sensitive customer data. They need to sort out the interaction of DRM and fair use/dealing.

Finally, we had the privilege to hear of a new "unbreakable" watermarking algorithm from Eric Silberstein, CEO of Activated Content and a business partner of the International Federation of Phonogram and Videogram Producers (IFPI). I'd be fascinated to see how many days one of Ed Felten or Ross Anderson's PhD students would take to test that theory to destruction.

Some technology and content companies seem to be realising that there are real limits to the business models they can build on the shaky technology of DRM. Let's hope their colleagues see the light sooner rather than later.

Lord ga-ga over Google Books

Lord Rees-Mogg is yet again spreading misinformation about Google Books via the Times. I've even written the following letter to defend the service:

Sir — where does William Rees-Mogg get the idea that Google wishes to make whole books available over the Internet without permission from their authors or publishers? Their new Google Books search facility will show a few sentences at most from a book that matches a query from a user. Only when the book's publisher has explicitly agreed will more of the book be shown.

Rees-Mogg's last article on the subject also made this mistake. I hope he researches his policy positions in the House of Lords more carefully.

Dr Ian Brown

Terror law watchdog questions ID cards

Lord Carlile QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation appointed by the government, has changed his mind on ID cards:

"I cannot think of a terrorist incident in which ID cards could have brought the incident to an earlier end … Generally, from a security viewpoint in the curtailment of civil liberties I think parliament is so unenthused about ID cards. It's a debate, not a reality. I don't think they will get through a compulsory ID card."

So we now have another very senior member of the national security establishment telling the government their "anti-terrorism" justification for cards is nonsense. Perhaps this is why Tony Blair is currently focusing on the benefits of cards in preventing identity fraud — also nonsense, of course.

There is no stop button in the race for human re-engineering

Madeleine Bunting has some interesting thoughts on bio-engineering, and the need for public debate sooner rather than later on its regulation:

What place will equality have in this brave new world? What place will privacy have when brain imaging can read our thoughts and transcranial magnetic stimulation can manipulate our thoughts? What powers over our brains will the state demand in the war against terror?

By jingo, our brave boys are off to tame the Afghan

Simon Jenkins points out the utter futility of sending thousands more UK troops to Afghanisatan to "eradicate opium" when even the Americans have realised that it is the lesser of two evils in that country:

The political economy of Helmand means one thing: opium. The poppy crop is what oil is to Kuwait. With Taliban activity increasing, American tactics have been to tolerate the drug barons and their allies the warlords as a buffer against infiltration. Officials in Kabul have distanced themselves from Britain’s obsession with destroying poppies, apparently rooted in Reid’s belief that narcotic demand at home can be stifled by restricting supply abroad. It is a policy of market regulation that the Americans have grimly failed to validate in South America.

Are you feeling lucky, geek?

Google.cn isn't just after political activists. Unlike Microsoft and Yahoo!, their filters also block searches on teen pregnancy, homosexuality, dating, beer and jokes. (Via BoingBoing)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Operation Iraqi Freedom

I sat open-mouthed reading Jesus' General's update on the latest Dubya outrage: the use of innocent Iraqi women and children as hostages. We could be talking centuries rather than decades to fix the hatred this is building for the "Coalition of the Willing."

Both incidents occurred in 2004. In one, members of a shadowy military task force seized a mother who had three young children, still nursing the youngest, "in order to leverage" her husband's surrender, according to an account by a civilian Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence officer.

In the other, an e-mail exchange includes a U.S. military officer asking "have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?"

Cory Doctorow speaking in London

The Open Rights Group, the UK's fledgling new digital rights organisation that I have been proud to help get going, is having its second networking event on 7 February. It's a corker: Cory Doctorow, all-round Internet superhero, will be talking about Hollywood's machinations to put DRM crippleware in your TV:

A pan-European digital television restrictions proposal will turn the studios from companies that can control copying of movies into companies that can control the design of all digital TV devices, that get to define how big your family is allowed to be, that get to take away all the rights you get under copyright law and sell them back to you, one painful, expensive dribble at a time. It's not really a business plan: more like a urinary tract infection. Europe's coming Broadcast Flag will ban open source for digital TV, break the devices in your living room, and turn you into a truly captive audience. Get your torch and pitchfork, for this genuinely sucks -- and you shouldn't take it lying down!

The event is free, but you need to sign up quick — only 100 places are available. See you there!

China+Google double-plus ungood

Google has published an apologia for their Chinese censorship efforts that is worthy of David Blunkett. Allow me to précis:

Our advertisers are salivating at the prospect of 2 billion new Chinese eyeballs. We aren't going to lose them to Microsoft, Yahoo! or any other organisation that has already proved its capacity to "help" users on behalf of Departments of Justice in the US or Beijing.

Our existing search engines work badly in China, where they are blocked and filtered by the great firewall. Our solution is to install our servers in China, so that we can more efficiently implement the very same blocking and filtering rules using our own systems.

Forget the "don't be evil" corporate motto. Banning search terms like "democracy" and "human rights" is the only way to encourage those concepts to develop in China. Our new owners on Wall St. don't care which tyrannical regimes we collaborate with if it boosts their fund returns.

China knows it, just like Hitler knew American companies would happily design computer systems to assist with his Final Solution.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Eighteen snoopers arrested

For those who think they have nothing to hide (thanks, Banisar!)…

Eighteen men have been charged with a range of offences after a long-running telecoms snooping investigation… The men will appear in court next month on charges ranging from accessing NHS files for blackmail to intercepting phone calls.

Government by doodle

Matthew Parris despairs of the government's analytical skills:

Sometimes it seems to be government by doodle. You have to hand it to him. He has done an immense amount to induce in ordinary citizens a new confidence in our own powers of analysis. Half the people on your average bus now suspect that they aren’t nearly as daft as the Prime Minister and his entire Cabinet. Which of us has not lain in bed listening to the morning radio and been able, at 30 seconds’ notice and from a horizontal position, to shoot down in flames whatever kite is being flown by ministers that day? Ideas that would not survive the second thoughts of four blokes in a pub are reaching their second reading in the House of Commons. Whatever hurdles proposals have to clear these days, on their way from the Downing Street sofa to Royal Assent, must be less challenging that the critical appraisal they would face in the average high-street hairdressing salon.

Make your own RFID zapper

Fry that spy-chip now!

It generates a strong electromagnetic field with a coil, which should be placed as near to the target RFID-Tag as possible. The RFID-Tag then will receive a strong shock of energy comparable with an EMP and some part of it will blow, thus deactivating the chip forever.

Of course, you wouldn't have to nuke products if their makers were more careful about your privacy in the first place. (Thanks, BoingBoing!)

Phone stalking

The mobile phone companies seem to be remarkably careless with the sensitive real-time location data they are gathering on their customers. My mate Ben writes:

I asked my girlfriend if I could, in principle, track her for a day, without telling her how: she agreed and I set the service up on her phone, in five minutes, while she was asleep. I have a map of her movements in front of me right now. It feels very wrong. And it required no technical knowledge, or “hacking”, whatsoever. That this is possible, and so easy, to my mind, is extremely sinister. I had a squabble with one of these companies on Radio 4 yesterday, and they seemed astonished at what I was saying. They promised that they would tighten up security, and think about getting better consent for tracking people’s location than one response to a text message. The notion that this technology could be misused in this way had not, apparently, occurred to them.

It has certainly occurred to the police and intelligence agencies, who will shortly have powers to require companies to store this data for 12 months. And then get access for an extremely large number of purposes under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Along with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, and a wide range of other government agencies.

Friday, January 27, 2006

No more dodgy dossiers

The dodgy dossier debacle has left the UK's intelligence agencies reluctant to get embroiled in political debate again:

Mr Scarlett has learnt the lesson that the intelligence agencies should not allow themselves to be used to make an essentially political case. According to the memos in the New Statesman about the proposed banning of some Islamic political groups, an official reported that the agencies “do not oppose proscription but oppose reliance on their assessment to justify what they see as a change of policy, not fact”. Mr Scarlett is reported as saying that he “sees this as a political issue and a matter for the Foreign Secretary”.

Just a litttle bit evil?

The New York Post has an article on how ethical consumers can avoid censor-friendly search engines:

An item in last week's edition dismisses MSN as part of Bill Gates' evil empire, and similarly scored Google and Yahoo! for doing the same. The entry points out that AltaVista is ultimately owned by Yahoo!, and that Amazon's A9 is powered by Google, and it similarly dismisses the others out there: meta-searchers WebCrawler and DogPile, AOL, Technorati, Feedster, and Snap. In the end, the writer, Ned Vizzini, suggests AskJeeves, but says the issue is troubling to free-speech advocates: "Those who want to use a non-China complicit search engine have only one viable option."

Fons Tuinstra points out that Google is perhaps not acting as evily as it might appear. (Thanks, Alex!)

Putin throws spy rock at NGOs

Timothy Garton Ash warns of the dangers of the Moscow spy rock to NGOs in the country:

This comes at a moment when Russia has just passed a law giving the Kremlin far-reaching powers to monitor and control NGOs, including the right to suspend them should they threaten Russia's sovereignty or independence. Colonel Sergei Ignatchenko, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) claims that Marc Doe, one of the British diplomats alleged to be a secret rock operator, had authorised several payments to Russian NGOs, including £23,000 to the Moscow Helsinki Group. Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group said: "They are preparing public opinion for a government move to close us down, which they can now do under the new law." Thus may Russia celebrate its presidency of the G8.

Meanwhile, Russia experts are claiming the rock is most likely a Kremlin plant.

More haste, less speed

I am none-too-impressed with the 26 seats in the House of Lords given to the Church of England. Still, their newest Lord Spiritual has made a good start:

The Archbishop said: “What I feel very strongly about is when you make a lot of laws all the time, one has to be extremely careful they are not made in haste.” He called for a study on exactly how many laws had been passed since Labour was elected in 1997. “I think there have been too many,” he said. “The more laws you pass, the greater the insecurity you create in society.”

The MPAA is coming


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Securing Windows, or a Sisyphean task

/. has an interesting interview with Mike Nash, Microsoft's Security VP:

A key thing that came out of our experience with Blaster in 2003 was something called the Security Development Lifecycle (SDL). Really the SDL is the formalization of work we were doing previously. Remember Blaster exploited a vulnerability in Windows Server 2003 -- a product that had been through a security push (it also affected Windows XP). When we did the post mortem on how the vulnerability happened, what we realized was that while there were huge improvements in the quality of our code between Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003, there was still more work to do. In particular, we needed to have: 1) a documented, repeatable process, 2) internal education so that everyone involved in the product release process knew what to do, and 3) a checkpoint in the release process to make sure that this process was followed.

This type of process is key for software security. Let's see how much practical difference this makes to the next version of Windows, due later this year!

Who trusts trusted computing?

Attended a Chatham House/DTI meeting on "trusted computing" this morning. A couple of the presentations were excellent: Alan Cox on the promise and pitfalls of TC, and Ross Anderson on the implications for competition policy. Ross's presentation was based on FIPR's submission to the All-Party Internet Group investigation into copyright and Digital Rights Management.

The presentations should be available online shortly.

Bush ignored Iraq warnings

Sidney Blumenthal says that Bush cannot claim to have been in the dark about the potential for chaos caused by his war in Iraq:

elder statesmen of the foreign policy establishment and the Republican party repeatedly warned Bush to his face what the consequences of the war would be - including the former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former secretaries of state James Baker and Lawrence Eagleburger. It was "never thought the war would come off right", one of those who spoke to Bush told me. "It was going to end with an Islamic republic dominated by Shias and influenced by Iran ... If you know history, you don't have to be a genius." But Bush would not listen. "It's a sad story."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Google is Evil

Thanks to BoingBoing for pointing out this disgraceful news from the Googleplex:

It's like watching little Anakin grow into Darth Vader… Apparently you can scratch "censorship in pursuit of profit" off your list of Things That Are Evil. On Wednesday, Google plans to roll out google.cn, a version of its search service custom tailored to the specs of the Chinese government and designed to reach China's 100 million Web surfers without returning counterrevolutionary results for searches on, say, Taiwan or Tiananmen.

Are teenagers competent or not?

Carol Sarler points out an interesting corollary of the recent Axon judgment:

if the law upholds the principle that a girl of 14 is competent to choose an abortion without invoking the responsibility of a parent, how can it then say that if her twin brother chooses to smash a midnight hole in the back window of Boots and make off with horse tranquillisers, his decision was less competently made and hence becomes the responsibility of a parent? Either teenagers are capable of taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions or they are not. You cannot, common sense would suggest, have it both ways. And yet, as the political wind blows, it appears that the authorities are trying to do precisely that.

Blair and Adonis are taking our schools back to the 30s

The biggest irony of Blair's attempts to return to selection to the state education system is that a fair test of aptitude will reject many children of the middle classes whose votes are so prized by New Labour. Simon Jenkins points out:

Whoever runs a school, there are only two equitable ways of admitting pupils to it. One is central to the comprehensive principle, that entry be open to all in the local community as determined by catchment area, warts and all. The task of the state is to make that school as good as can be. The other way sees children admitted to school on some other criterion. In that case the admission must be seen as fair, especially if so critical a decision is to be made at the tender age of 11. There is only one such fairness, a universal examination sat by all. The fairest was the 11-plus. Those who cannot bear catchment areas have no alternative.

The horrified middle class parents of "failures" of the 1940s and 1950s first forced the 11-plus to become a test of middle-classness (e.g. previous education and social connections). When that still led some of their children to be labelled as duds, they demanded that the test be dropped.

The UK education system is ever thus. Don Foster MP made the following telling comment on previous education reforms:

On a more general note, after looking at the code of practice overall and at the way in which it is packaged, one wonders whether the Government have not gone out of their way to try to produce a policy deliberately designed to maintain the English class structure and to protect the interests of upwardly mobile white middle-class parents.

Just for clarity, I think any system that labels 70% of children as failures at the age of 11 is morally repellent.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The carbon spy

I've met before with enthusiasts for personal carbon trading schemes, who believe each UK citizen should be allocated a set amount of carbon emissions each year and tracked as they use up that allowance:

In a few years from now you will have another plastic card in your wallet - your carbon card. You will start the year with 1,000 points on it and each time you fill up your car, you put the card in a slot on the pump and it will deduct a few points.

Each time you buy an airline ticket, it will cost you a minimum of 100 points. If you fly regularly, you may have to buy more points through the carbon market - but since it is all in the cause of reducing greenhouse gas emissions you do not mind so much.

If this technology allowed you to "spend" your carbon allowance anonymously, it might only be massively inconvenient. But you can bet this government would make the credits fully traceable, providing yet another detailed window into your life.

The proponents of this scheme accept that citizens should be able to buy and sell carbon allowances. So why not just fold the system into a general emissions tax? This would be far more efficient and offer fewer opportunities for privacy invasion and social control. Oh — now I understand.

Between a rock and the KGB

MI6 has been incompetent in its technology design, agent training, or both. Imagine having your spies walking up to a fake "rock" to upload and download information from the storage device inside, rather than transmitting from a nearby park bench…

Left near a tree on a nondescript street on the outskirts of Moscow, the fake rock at the centre of the most embarrassing espionage scandal between Britain and Russia since the end of the cold war looks innocuous enough.

Light brown, 30 centimetres wide, and hollowed out to allow a waterproof box to fit snugly inside, the rock yesterday took on Gibraltar-sized proportions as Russia accused Britain of using it as a covert transmitter to pass messages to agents.

Closer to man than ape

New DNA evidence strengthens the case that chimpanzees should be classified alongside humans in the Homo genus:

The tests showed that even though humans and chimps split from a common ancestor between 5m and 7m years ago, the rate at which their genetic codes were evolving was extremely similar, differing by only 3%, and much slower than gorillas and orang-utans…

In 1991, the Pulitzer prize-winning ecologist Jared Diamond called humans "the third chimpanzee", setting us alongside the common chimp (Pan troglodytes) and its less aggressive but astoundingly promiscuous cousin, the bonobo (Pan paniscus). By 1999 confusion over the biological status of chimpanzees prompted scientists in New Zealand to join forces with lawyers to petition the country's government to pass a bill conferring "rights" on chimpanzees and other primates.

Chimps and bonobos are the subject of a fascinating book I read during my psychology degree, The Demonic Male. They are also the stars (along with Tinky Winky) of the funniest cartoon I have ever read.

They really are out to get you

David Rowan thinks that Times readers should be glad Google has refused to hand over search data to the US government:

If the Justice Department subpoena prompts a wider debate about digital privacy, it will come at a valuable moment for British citizens too. As the Government rushes to track us on databases covering ID cards, medical records, children’s development, even real-time movements of our cars by numberplate recognition, we need to question the data security of their systems, their propensity to propagate inaccurate and often damaging personal histories, and the pernicious tendency for information collected for one purpose to be quietly extended to others completely unrelated. Most of all, we have to consider how prepared we are to tolerate the malicious uses to which our private information will inevitably be put. Whether it is 40 million credit card accounts hacked last summer, or the Merseyside council CCTV operators caught training their camera on a woman’s bathroom, the bad guys will inevitably get through.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Lords make ID cards voluntary

The Lords have made another key set of amendments to the ID Cards Bill, removing the means by which the government could force applicants for new passports or driving licences to register for a card:

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I consider the amendment of great importance. It raises fundamental issues of liberty. Noble Lords will recall that in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith saw written on the walls of the Ministry of Truth “War is peace. Freedom is slavery”. I was reminded of those words the other day when some noble Lords on the government Benches said that requiring a person to register, requiring a person to buy an identity card, was to grant him “a new kind of freedom”. Those were the very words used by the noble Lord, Lord Gould, on 15 November last year, at col. 1012, when talking about these matters.

I believe that most people will agree that while identity cards might bring some benefits to the individual, compulsory registration means an inroad on liberty and privacy and that when the Lord Chancellor said at the weekend that identity cards would make it easier for the citizen to deal with the state, what he really meant was that they would make it easier for the state to deal with the citizen.

Nothing to fear

Marcel Berlins' ears prick up whenever he hears the "nothing to hide" defence of surveillance:

"If you've done nothing wrong, why should you object to your DNA and fingerprints, or CCTV film on which you appear being kept, or your phone being bugged?" This is a dangerous misunderstanding of privacy in a democracy. It is not for the government or police to tell us that we don't really need to exercise our right because we're innocent.

Teenagers have right to medical privacy

A High Court judge has ruled that teenagers may receive confidential sexual health advice and treatment (such as an abortion) without compulsory notification of their parents:

Mr Justice Silber ruled that Ms Axon, who has five children - or any other parent - had no right to know unless the child decided otherwise.

To force a girl to tell her parents "may lead her to make a decision that she later regrets or seek the assistance of an unofficial abortionist"

The plaintiff claimed her only objective was to ensure the trust, transparency and respect that are essential for family life. Trying to prevent her daughters from receiving confidential medical advice does not seem the best way to instill these values in her children.

King Content

The Economist thinks that old media should chill out. There's life in Hollywood yet:

Some people worry that new media companies may over time shunt old ones aside as producers of content. Certainly, digital media will create new stars and new businesses, but making high-quality video content will always be a daunting and expensive task. Music or a blog can be composed from a bedroom, but not an episode of “Friends”. Just last month DreamWorks, Hollywood's youngest studio, sold itself to Viacom, despite its strong financial backing and the talent of Hollywood luminaries. It made some money, but could not afford a billion-dollar investment in films year-in, year-out. Yahoo! has a media unit, but so far it hasn't had any hits. Responding to the news this week that Yahoo! intends to spend up to $10m on a reality-TV concept called “The Runner”, analysts complained that the investment would damage its margins.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bonfire of the school regulations

Simon Jenkins has a short-and-sweet alternative to the government's controversial Education Bill:

Clause 1. Her Majesty’s government is proud of British secondary education since 1997 and sees no reason to screw it up all over again.

Clause 2. Her Majesty’s government regards schools as critical in holding communities together, in socialising, training and disciplining young people. That account is best rendered through local education authorities not central government. Ministers see no reason to undermine that accountability.

Clause 3. The government accordingly withdraws its 500 regulations, 350 policy targets, 175 efficiency targets, 700 notes of guidance, 17 plans and 26 grant streams, in addition to its home/school agreements, desirable learning outcomes, social inclusion initiatives, behaviour improvement taskforces and national grids for this and that. They were all a regrettable lapse into madness, chiefly under David Blunkett. They can be burnt.

Byte by byte, our identity is being stolen

Interesting that criticism of privacy-invasive technologies is now becoming mainstream. Google's refusal to hand over search terms to the US Department of Justice, and UK GPs' vote last week to require explicit consent from patients before transferring their records to a national database, are attracting praise all over the place. From Minette Marrin in the Sunday Times, for example:

IT is one of the most powerful tools and at the same time one of the most serious problems for public services today. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service, for instance, have had serious problems with IT interface and as for the NHS computer system, one can only call it an expensive disaster. The much vaunted electronic booking system is a year behind schedule and the entire £6.2 billion NHS computer system is in danger of collapsing, according to a recent leak from a civil servant. Would you seriously trust such a system with details about a mental illness or an abortion?

Henry Porter is a little more full-on in The Observer:

We do not yet live in a police state, but we are certainly building a society where free speech, the right to protest and conduct our lives without scrutiny by a central authority could be seriously threatened. There is no government in the Western alliance, not even America, which has taken such a bewildering lurch to the authoritarian right since 11 September and met with such little opposition, either in the media or in parliament.

FIPR has a letter that allows you to opt-out of NHS data-sharing to the fullest extent legally possible. I am still waiting to hear back from the Department of Health after sending them this letter in December.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Inside the mind of President Pinochet

Jesus' General is upset that Fred Barnes' new biography of George Bush is not quite sycophantic enough:

The presidents to whom Barnes compares Our Leader are the Roosevelts, Franklin and Teddy, a socialist Democrat and a trust-busting commie. If Barnes had given it a little more thought, he'd have matched Our Leader with someone else who shares the same authoritarian and rebel qualities, someone like the great Chilean strongman, Augusto Pinochet.

It's the obvious comparison to make. Both men seized power from popularly elected leftists and both rebelled against the inconvenient provisions of their nations' laws and constitutions in order to enhance security by practicing torture, denying due process, and spying on their citizenry.

Sue Dubya for illegal wiretapping!

David Barron suggests that the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Bush's NSA-related high crimes and misdemeanours would not go nearly far enough:

A better solution, I think, would be for Congress to pass a statute that kicks the question to the Supreme Court by amending FISA to confer standing for a declaratory judgment that the NSA program is unlawful. The statute could authorize suits by persons who have a reasonable basis for claiming that they are chilled by the spying program, designating such persons as those whose employment regularly requires them to make overseas calls in connection with academic or journalistic work related to the war on terrorism. Such a statute would significantly help overcome the myriad jurisdictional obstacles that the plaintiffs in the ACLU's suit are likely to face -- obstacles that arise because no one knows if the plainitffs have been wiretapped or not and because the discovery process is itself likely to be a nightmare even if it is permitted to get underway.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Anarchy and science

IPKat is a blog that has some useful information on intellectual property, but that takes its subject (and itself) rather too seriously. (Except when it is busy infringing authors' and photographers' copyright in words and images reproduced in the blog).

The Kat is not impressed by a survey that claims that patents are having a chilling effect on scientific research:

IP rights are bound to have a chilling effect on anything that tends towards anarchy, just as road traffic laws have a chilling effect on the freedom of motorists to drive around residential neighbourhoods at top speed ...

It is rather more pertinent to consider whether this "tendency towards anarchy" helps or hinders science, rather than make tendentious comparisons with road safety law.

The surveillance society has arrived

The Guardian has an interview with Stewart Room, an information lawyer, law lecturer and the chair of National Association of Data Protection Officers (Nadpo):

"We're not talking about sleepwalking into a surveillance society anymore," he says. "The surveillance society has arrived. And the laws in place are not sufficient to protect us against the state and against the private sector, and against all those who will want to use our personal information."

ID cards: the new Titanic

Professor Ian Angell, head of Information Systems at the London School of Economics, has mixed feelings about the government's ID card proposals:

As a taxpayer, I'm horrified. As a professor of information systems, I'd love them to implement the scheme, because a lot of work will come from this. It'll be like watching the Titanic from the drawing board to the iceberg.

Breaking down the Great Firewall

William Pesek wants Chinese consumers to stand up to the Western technology giants that are collaborating with the Communist Party to impose censorship and strengthen the Great Firewall:

Why, with all his wealth and global prestige, isn't Microsoft founder Bill Gates standing up to Beijing? Why isn't Google taking that $467 share price out for a spin and challenging China? Why is a global household name like Yahoo bowing to a repressive regime? Companies seem to think their mere presence will help open China. That's just bunk.

(Thanks, Keith!)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Galloway costs £1,491 per vote

George Galloway has been widely criticised for spending several weeks on the inane Channel 4 reality TV show, "Celebrity Big Brother." Now an academic report has found that he is one of the costliest MPs, spending £1,491 in expenses per vote in the House of Commons.

The report's authors, Professor Timothy Besley and Dr Valentino Larcinese, admitted that their measure of MPs' value for money was "crude".

But they added: "It is probably no cruder than the kinds of performance measures that MPs themselves have regularly voted to impose on other areas of the public sector."

Galloway's staff rightly point out that he does much work outside the Commons, including confronting the US Senate ;) However, this cost-per-vote measure could be another data point for TheyWorkForYou.com, which monitors the speed at which MPs respond to electronic queries from constituents. (Thanks, Steve!)


Second Jake Gyllenhaal movie in 10 days! He plays a very different character to the cowboy of Brokeback Mountain: a young Marine sniper sent to fight Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, who goes half-mad hanging around in Kuwait for the fighting to begin.

The plot is too weak to sustain a 122-min film, but the cinematography is beautiful. The orange hues from flaming oil wells playing over the desert sands look stunning. Gyllenhaal captures the vulnerability of his character, but director Sam Mendes obviously needs some real stars like Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening to come up with a triumph like American Beauty.

The film has been criticised in some quarters for not adopting an anti-war tone. This is unfair, as it is explicitly a very personal view of the war (based on the autobiography by Lance Corporal Anthony Swafford). The film certainly conveys the futility of the soldier as a pawn in the mighty technological struggle and geopoliticking of modern warfare. It pulls no punches in its portrayal of the death and destruction visited upon Iraq. Only the most gung-ho would come away from the film feeling anything but disgust.

National Broonsday

Gordon Brown is a few weeks early. My birthday isn't until March ;) If anyone's looking for a present, here's a suggestion!

Reclaiming social democracy

David Marquand is most distressed by the perversion of social democracy into New Labour authoritarianism:

For most of the past hundred years social democrats could take it for granted that Britain was a liberal democracy in which there were no serious threats to individual freedom or the rule of law. In Popper's language, it was already an "open society", in which the ghosts of Plato, Hegel and Marx - the progenitors of modern totalitarianism - had been laid to rest, and where the public culture was one of the most tolerant in the world. The threats to freedom came from abroad. And with the battle for liberty won, as social democrats assumed, the task now was to fight the battle for equality. As the enemies of equality were multifarious, powerful, deeply entrenched and ever-watchful in defence of their privileges, it would be a dereliction of duty to worry overmuch about infringements of liberty while that battle was in progress. They were the political equivalent of collateral damage in modern warfare - regrettable, no doubt, but not very serious. Little by little, the "social" element in social democracy drowned out the "democratic" element. Freedom, tolerance, human rights, civil liberty and the rule of law slowly fell off the social-democratic radar screen. It is time to redress the balance.

Blair fully aware of US torture flights

The New Statesman has obtained a memo from the Foreign Office to Number 10 on "extraordinary rendition". The memo is certainly extraordinary; it advises on spin control, and makes clear that the government was fully aware of what the US was doing.

The most hilarious section points out the hypocrisy of the UK criticising assurances from torture states when Blunkett was trying to rely on said assurances to deport immigrants back to those states:

The document advises the government to rely on a statement by Condoleezza Rice last month when the US secretary of state said America did not transport anyone to a country where it believed they would be tortured and that, "where appropriate", Washington would seek assurances.

The document notes: "We would not want to cast doubt on the principle of such government-to-government assurances, not least given our own attempts to secure these from countries to which we wish to deport their nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism: Algeria etc."

Manners maketh the man

Tony Long has an excellent piece in Wired on mobile phone manners:

Look, the world is not your personal playground. Do not share with us your musical tastes; do not share with us your latest wheelings and dealings. In public places, you have an obligation to hold up your end of the implied social contract by not imposing yourself on those around you. This is crucial to a civilized society and just because technology allows you to act like a braying ass in public doesn't mean you should do it.

Civil liberties reduce terror

Bruce Schneier points out this fascinating quote from Princeton professor Alan Krueger in Scientific American:

countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which have spawned relatively many terrorists, are economically well off yet lacking in civil liberties. Poor countries with a tradition of protecting civil liberties are unlikely to spawn suicide terrorists. Evidently, the freedom to assemble and protest peacefully without interference from the government goes a long way to providing an alternative to terrorism.

When you look at the UK's experience in Northern Ireland, it was always clear that attacking the civil liberties of Catholics was hugely helpful to the IRA, providing new "volunteers" and the general community support that is essential for terrorists to operate.

The public policy consequences are clear. The United States and European Union must use their influence on allies such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and China to increase civil liberties in those states — or risk the perpetuation of global terror for decades to come.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Cameron attacks ID cards in Prime Minister's Questions

David Cameron went for the jugular on ID cards during today's questions to the Prime Minister: "With rising deficits in the NHS, huge costs of pension reform and tighter pressures on public spending, how can you claim that spending at least £600m a year on your ID cards scheme is a good use of public money?"

The BBC as always has video of the session.

The west has picked a fight with Iran that it cannot win

Simon Jenkins points out that the West must plan its Iran strategy extremely carefully:

By all accounts Ahmadinejad is not secure. He is subject to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His foe, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, retains some power. Tehran is not a Saddamist dictatorship or a Taliban autocracy. It is a shambolic oligarchy with bureaucrats and technocrats jostling for power with clerics. Despite a quarter century of effort, the latter have not created a truly fundamentalist islamic state. Iran is a classic candidate for the politics of subtle engagement.

Economic sanctions killed over half a million children in Iraq between 1991 and 1998. They would not likely have the effect in Iran that we want. John Pilger's recent collection of investigative journalism, Tell Me No Lies, contains much more information on this topic.

Your right to a fair trial? Whatever

Blair's "respect" agenda is much more far-reaching and sinister than it sounds. It would introduce summary justice into UK law across a wide range of offences. I cannot understand how a "leading human rights lawyer" such as Cherie Booth QC (aka Mrs Blair) can want much to do with the man. Magnus Linklater comments:

From the attempt to reduce trial by jury to the removal of the right to silence, the “rebalancing” of justice in favour of the victim, the use of hearsay evidence on character, the introduction of previous convictions into the evidence and the undermining of the reputation of judges, the Blair administration has steadily undermined civil liberties and left an indelible stain on its reputation for fair dealing.

Lords strike again

Lord Lloyd of BerwickThe Lords have defeated another illiberal government measure, a ludicrously over-broad ban on the "glorification" of terrorism. An amendment was moved by crossbencher Lord Lloyd of Berwick, a former Law Lord:

A series of peers denounced the offence as pointless and said that its removal from the Terrorism Bill would still allow suspects to be charged with indirect encouragement to commit acts of terror. A move to strike glorification of terrorism from the Bill was carried by 270 votes to 144, a majority of 126, at its report stage despite government protests that the power was needed.

How enlivening to have such significant blows struck for privacy and freedom of speech on two successive days. Perhaps their Lordships could now turn their attention to another article of the European Convention on Human Rights, the ban on torture...

Brokeback Sims

Timmy Ray has spotted these hilarious Sim characters based on the movie Brokeback Mountain. All I can say is: don't quit the day job. All Timmy Ray can say is: where are the Sim sheep for some real brokeback action?!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bizarre Guardian interview with Lawrence Lessig

Louise Ferguson spotted this bizarre interview with Lawrence Lessig in yesterday's Guardian. I've written to the letters page as follows:

Sir — John Sutherland's interview with Lawrence Lessig (16 Jan) reads as though it was written by one of the rabid representatives of the US recording and movie industries. The Internet is an "anarchic" "wild west" populated by "rustlers". Weren't these clichés out-of-date by the mid-90s?

I would have preferred to hear more about ways that authors can take advantage of the Internet using Lessig's Creative Commons licences, and less of Sutherland's surprisingly out-of-date views of the technology.

Dr Ian Brown

Halfway to Bonkers Island

David Aaranovitch is a rare glimmer of sanity in the latest paedophile hysteria to hit the scandal sheets:

The Education Secretary is under threat and according to her Labour colleague, the ever-helpful Ian Gibson MP, has only till the middle of the week (ie, tomorrow) to show that she’s in full command of the school paedophile crisis that has so suddenly engulfed her. The BBC news spoke yesterday morning of a “weekend of revelations” concerning dodgy teachers, and then seemed only to be able to find one new one, and a decent Sunday broadsheet ran a headline about how Ruth Kelly had known about the paedo problem since last year — only to reveal in the text that by “last year” what was meant was the December just gone.

Polly Toynbee points out that Ministers should not usually be making such decisions anyway:

This should be the cue for a long-overdue review of ministerial responsibility: Major did start one that Blair then scrapped. Ancient custom sends thousands of letters a day out in ministers' names averring what "the minister says" on cases he/she could not possibly see. Ministers should not make such decisions. In this example, before people are put on List 99 and banned from working with children, an education minister has to decide borderline cases; but he/she has no more clue than you or I. It needs a professional panel to examine each one. Ditto on the sex offenders' register, when deciding the gravity of an "offender" who at 17 had sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend many years ago. (Chris Woodhead, yesterday making hostile comments, could give expert evidence on teachers' relationships with teenagers). What all this reveals is the need now for a firm rule across all departments that ministers no longer do individual cases. They should do policy - that's their job - and oversee others, such as ombudsmen, special panels and judges, to adjudicate cases fairly.

Tree hugging not solution to global warming

George Monbiot has a good summary of recent research showing that tree-planting is not quite the tool for reducing global warming that had been thought:

While they have a pretty good idea of how much carbon our factories and planes and cars are releasing, scientists are much less certain about the amount of carbon tree-planting will absorb. When you drain or clear the soil to plant trees, for example, you are likely to release some carbon, but it is hard to tell how much. Planting trees in one place might stunt trees elsewhere, as they could dry up a river that was feeding a forest downstream. Or by protecting your forest against loggers, you might be driving them into another forest. As global temperatures rise, trees in many places will begin to die back, releasing the carbon they contain. Forest fires could wipe them out completely. The timing is also critical: emissions saved today are far more valuable, in terms of reducing climate change, than emissions saved in 10 years' time, yet the trees you plant start absorbing carbon long after your factories released it. All this made the figures speculative, but the new findings, with their massive uncertainty range (plants, the researchers say, produce somewhere between 10% and 30% of the planet's methane) make an honest sum impossible.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pigs fly, IP judge unhappy with software patents

Ross Anderson spotted a most unusual speech from a senior UK judge who previously specialised in intellectual property law and is now a member of the UK's second highest court. The Rt. Hon Lord Justice Jacob said that people must "look at all IP rights critically and say, 'Do we need them?'". He continued to ask:

IP rights themselves may have reached a bit of a swing of opinion. One is detecting public disquiet in a number of areas of intellectual property, asking: Are we going too far? There's a serious worry about patent offices and how you stop them from granting pretty ropey patents

Spending time with IP heretics such as myself and the rest of the Creative Commons UK team is obviously warping his mind ;)

That Lords amendment in full

More on the Lords amendment in the Guardian. The Times reports:

Today's Lords vote will delay the progress of the Bill which insiders say was the brainchild of Tony Blair and David Blunkett and is likely to be quietly dumped when, or if, Gordon Brown succeeds as Prime Minister.

The text is below. What a glorious day!

123* Insert the following new Clause—
"Commencement: report on costs and benefits
(1) No provision of this Act, except sections 38, 39, 45 and this section, shall be brought into force until the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a report in accordance with subsection (2) and that report has been approved by the House of Commons.
(2) The report shall contain—
(a) a detailed estimate of the revenue and capital costs arising from this Act (the "cost estimate"); and
(b) a statement of the expected benefits of this Act.
(3) The cost estimate shall cover costs incurred by the bodies specified in subsection (6) and shall comprise—
(a) a statement in the format of resource accounts as defined in the Government Resource and Accounts Act 2000;
(b) a statement of cash expenditures;
(c) a statement setting out the material assumptions that have been made in preparing the cost estimate.
(4) The cost estimate shall include—
(a) the actual costs incurred in the period from 26th April 2004 to the date to which the cost estimate is prepared; and
(b) the costs that are estimated to be incurred during a period of 10 years after the date to which the estimate is prepared or such longer future period as shall be determined by the Secretary of State.
(5) The cost estimate shall be analysed into each of the financial years ending 31st March covered by the cost estimate.
(6) The bodies referred to in subsection (3) are—
(a) all Government departments or agencies;
(b) any other person who carries out functions under this Act;
and for the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that "Government departments or agencies" includes any Northern Ireland department and the National Assembly for Wales.
(7) The cost estimate shall be examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General who shall prepare a report on it and shall lay the report before Parliament."

Lords demand to know cost of ID cards

Like Al Capone and his tax returns, it may be the financial details that finally kill the government's ID card proposals.

The Lords today demanded that the government stop its outrageous cover-up of the cost of their legislation, passing an amendment to the Bill that requires detailed financial estimates to be certified by the National Audit Office and approved by the House of Commons before the Bill can proceed further.

Lord Phillips, leading for the Liberal Democrats on the Bill, writes in today's Guardian:

The amendment to be debated today will tap into cross-chamber insistence that resisting calls for estimates of the full costs of such a massive initiative not only prevents proper scrutiny but aborts discussion of alternatives. It also seems to be unprecedented. The Home Office minister Baroness Scotland tried to justify the intransigence on the grounds of commercial secrecy during the tendering process. Besides wondering at the presumption of embarking on tenders long before the bill is through, to think that commercial convenience trumps parliament's right to know is a baleful reflection on our democratic ill-health.

Lord Rees-Mogg, writing in the Times, is grimly determined that this should mark the start of a fightback against excessive state control:

In the history of Britain there have been many periods when liberty was threatened. The immediate threat is a government with a lust for control, with little respect for liberty or for the House of Commons, but enjoying the opportunity of using new technologies for social control. The British are certainly less free than we were in 1997 or 2001. The fightback will be laborious and difficult, but there is a new mood. We do not want to reach 1984 25 years behind schedule in 2009.

The boiling point is coming for the fight against climate change

Madilaine Bunting points out how difficult the next phase of the battle against climate change will be :

The first 30 years were the easy bit, argues Tom Burke, a long-time environmentalist. Campaigns on specific issues such as clean air or water or cuddly animals had clear enemies and, crucially, generated more winners than losers. The second phase is much tougher because on climate change the campaign has to be to change our own behaviour: we are the enemies and we will be the losers. "No to low-cost flights to Ibiza" is never going to be a popular rallying cry.

The longer governments leave fair taxation of air travel, the more difficult they will find it to counteract the ever-growing political clout of the low-cost airlines and their millions of customers. But this is the only equitable way of stopping the growth in air travel destroying the benefits of clean energy and energy efficiency elsewhere in the economy.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sleaze oozes from Blunkett's political grave

Blunkett can still make the headlines over sleaze, even long after his resignation:

The tape reveals how Naviede's company asked Blunkett for help in lobbying the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown. The company was hoping to profit from a change in complex VAT rules that govern the renovation of residential property and wanted local authorities to be 'encouraged' to sell them more council flats...

The Observer has established that Smith sent the tape to Blunkett in April. Smith then met Blunkett for a private supper to discuss these issues, two days before last May's general election.

Initially Blunkett's office and Smith denied that the issue had been taken any further after Blunkett returned to the cabinet after the election. But Blunkett has now admitted that as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions he sent a paper version of the tape to David Miliband, who had just been made Minister for Local Government in Prescott's department and had responsibility for housing and regeneration issues.

Blair to authorise wiretapping of MPs

Blair is now so suspicious of Parliament that he is to allow the wiretapping of MPs, overturning a 40-year ban:

A Downing Street spokesman last night said: "The recommendation has been received and will be considered in due course." Mr Blair was last night put on notice that any attempt to tap MPs' phones would be bitterly opposed in the Commons. Andrew Mackinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock, said it was a "hallmark of a civilised country" that its state did not spy on elected representatives.

How foolish of Mr Mackinlay to think that the Prime Minister intends Britain to be such a place.

Ciao Sardinia

Just got back from a long weekend in Sardinia. Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary's contempt for his customers has obviously filtered down to his cabin crew, who spent half of each trip screeching out adverts for junk such as lottery tickets. But otherwise we had a great time, with blazing sunshine to light up the spectacular coastline.

The food and wine were brilliant as always in Italy, especially the local gnocchi and ravioli. Alghero was a pretty if quiet fishing town; Bosa's maze of medieval streets were fun to wander around; and Cagliari had plenty of shops and nightlife to make the drive down worthwhile. Definitely a good antidote to London's winter weather.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Will Iran be Iraq II?

The US and EU's bluff has been called by Iran, which is unsealing assets that could allow the development of nuclear weapons within a few short years. Timothy Garton Ash asks how the West should proceed:

The seemingly half-crazed new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would probably regard a cost-benefit analysis as an invention of the Great Satan and a prime example of western secular decadence. Allah, he would say, is not an accountant. Yet if cooler heads in the regime behind him are making a cost-benefit analysis, they could still conclude that this is a risk worth taking. The mullahs are floating high on an ocean of oil revenue: an estimated $36bn last year. This money can be used to buy off material discontent at home.

Two essentials steps the West should be taking are progress towards global nuclear disarmament and a radical shift away from oil. Otherwise sufficient pressure cannot be put on regimes that join the existing nuclear powers in flouting the Non-Proliferation Treaty, funded by the most enormous flow of petrodollars to the Middle East. Yet Blair is pushing the UK towards a new generation of Trident missiles and nuclear power stations, while Bush tries desperately to avoid making any concessions to those scientists who argue that climate change is a greater threat to global security than terrorism.

Bush nominee threatens liberal democracy

Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, threatens to be one of the most right-wing justices ever to serve on that august body. He is a radical proponent of the idea that the President is effectively above the law on issues such as torture and wiretapping, and appears to feel that his mission in life is to reverse the social change that has occurred since the 1960s. Bush's legacy could be a court that casts a shadow over American democracy for a generation.

In the Reagan justice department, he argued that the federal government had no responsibility for the "health, safety and welfare" of Americans (a view rejected by Reagan); that "the constitution does not protect the right to an abortion"; that the executive should be immune from liability for illegal domestic wiretapping; that illegal immigrants have no "fundamental rights"; that police had a right to kill an unarmed 15-year-old accused of stealing $10 (a view rejected by the supreme court and every police group that filed in the case); and that it should be legal to fire, and exclude from funded federal programmes, people with Aids, because of "fear of contagion ... reasonable or not".

Against the majority of his court and six other federal courts, he argued that federal regulation of machine guns was unconstitutional. He approved the strip search of a mother and her daughter although they were not named in a warrant, a decision denounced by fellow judge Michael Chertoff, now secretary of homeland security. And Alito backed a law requiring women to tell husbands if they want an abortion, which was overturned by the supreme court on the vote of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Alito almost makes me think that Harriet "you're the best president EVER" Miers would have been a preferable choice...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

All this drivel does is bring Basra to our doorsteps

Simon Jenkins does not think much of Blair's latest "respect" proposals (aaaaaaaaaiiih!):

Under Blair, articulate citizens no longer take civic responsibility and the social obligations that go with it. They are not trusted to do so. Instead they are reduced to complaining and whingeing when things go wrong. But these communities are not historical abstractions. Blair's speechwriter quoted Hobbes, Tawney and Richard Sennett in implausible defence of his centralism. He should read De Tocqueville, who described a similarly atomised democracy in postrevolutionary France as one in which "each citizen stands apart, like a stranger to the destiny of others. His children and personal friends form for him the entire human race ... while above them rises an immense and tutelary power, that of the state".

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

ID cards win "loser" award

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has awarded the UK government's proposed ID card scheme a "Loser" award in their 2006 competition:

Critics say the government adopted an identity management architecture that was actually developed for corporate environments. They say the proposed system may work for a company but it will not work for a society. "Many experts are astonished that the government is pushing this corporate architecture as the solution for government-to-citizen interactions," says cryptography and privacy expert Stefan Brands, a professor at McGill University, in Montreal

Let's hope the House of Lords is listening; the report stage for the bill begins next Monday.

The man who knows too much

Marvellous real-life conspiracy theory stuff from Italy, where a judge fears for the life of the just-released almost-assassin of Pope John Paul II because he "knows too much":

Ferdinando Imposimato, the retired judge who led the initial inquiry and has since conducted his own research, said that 25 years after the shooting in St Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, “many mysteries remain”. He told The Times that he remained “120 per cent convinced” that the murder attempt was planned in Moscow.

The wit and wisdom of Tony Banks

The Guardian has a fine selection of the wit of the recently deceased Lord Banks:

To make things worse, the Tories have elected a foetus as leader. I bet a lot of them wish they had not voted against abortion now. (On William Hague, September 1997)

In his usual arrogant and high-handed fashion, he dons his Thatcherite jackboots and stamps all over local opinion. He is like Hitler with a beer belly. (On Kenneth Clarke MP)

At one point Portillo was polishing his jackboots and planning the next advance. And the next thing is he shows up as a TV presenter. It is rather like Pol Pot presenting the Teletubbies. (Tribune Rally, September 1997)