Friday, October 31, 2008

Bebo kids will value privacy when adults do

"When we tell kids to safeguard their privacy from everyone except governments, merchants, advertisers, entertainment giants, schools, Transport for London and parents, we tell them that we're not really serious about this stuff. Worse, when we allow our own private information to be taken by all these parties, we tell them that privacy is the cheapest coin of all. When BT secretly installs spyware in our browsers and captures all our clicks in order to serve ads to us, our lack of outrage tells our kids everything they need to know about the value of privacy.

"Kids do care about their privacy, but blatant hypocrisy in 'pro-privacy' campaigns triggers kids' lie detectors and sends them fleeing in the opposite direction. Give your kids honest, useful privacy information and watch them become deadly privacy ninjas — hope for a world in which citizens understand security and demand effective measures from their governments." —Cory Doctorow

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Conservatives for Obama

Conservatives (as opposed to the neo-con crazies that run the current Republican party) are lining up behind Barack Obama for president. Christopher Hitchens writes:
This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just "people of faith" but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.

Andrew Sullivan has 10 reasons to vote Obama. Here are his top three:
3. Two words: President Palin.

2. Conservative reform. Until conservatism can get a distance from the big-spending, privacy-busting, debt-ridden, crony-laden, fundamentalist, intolerant, incompetent and arrogant faux conservatism of the Bush-Cheney years, it will never regain a coherent message to actually govern this country again. The survival of conservatism requires a temporary eclipse of today's Republicanism. Losing would be the best thing to happen to conservatism since 1964. Back then, conservatives lost in a landslide for the right reasons. Now, Republicans are losing in a landslide for the wrong reasons.

1. The War Against Islamist terror. The strategy deployed by Bush and Cheney has failed. It has failed to destroy al Qaeda, except in a country, Iraq, where their presence was minimal before the US invasion. It has failed to bring any of the terrorists to justice, instead creating the excrescence of Gitmo, torture, secret sites, and the collapse of America's reputation abroad. It has empowered Iran, allowed al Qaeda to regroup in Pakistan, made the next vast generation of Muslims loathe America, and imperiled our alliances. We need smarter leadership of the war: balancing force with diplomacy, hard power with better p.r., deploying strategy rather than mere tactics, and self-confidence rather than a bunker mentality.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Home Office to deploy mobile fingerprint scanners

Mobile fingerprint scannerThe Guardian is today reporting plans to equip police with mobile fingerprint scanners. While it is a sensible use of technology to save the police from arresting suspects simply in order to take their fingerprints at the station, suppliers are already salivating at the potential for feature creep — for example, including cameras linked to a national facial recognition database.

It is almost almost inevitable that once fingerprinting becomes much faster and cheaper, it will be used much more widely. How happy would you feel at being randomly stopped in the street and fingerprinted by a police officer "just in case"? How often is this likely to happen in the streets of Brixton and Hackney, compared to say Oxford?

A nation of suspects and informers

"I was once an advocate of joined-up government, because I wanted efficiency. But too often joined-up government seems to mean joined-up fascism. In June, a select committee of MPs heard some astonishing evidence from respected campaign groups. One, Parents Against Injustice, gave instances where people whose children were being taken into care had not been allowed to challenge the allegations against them. The Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (Aims), said that midwives were being turned into 'health police'. Jean Robinson, of Aims, said that she had seen case after case where health visitors and midwives were not supporting postnatally depressed mothers but reporting them to police and social workers, whose interventions largely made things worse." —Camilla Cavendish

"Is Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, a pocket dictator? Is there no drop of liberalism in her veins, no concept of personal freedom, no fear of a repressive state? Or is she just another home secretary? This month she apparently felt obliged by dark forces beyond her control to add another weapon to the armoury of illiberal power. She wants to record at her Cheltenham communications headquarters every mobile phone call, text and internet message of every Briton living. This is close to madness." —Simon Jenkins

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Home Office blanches at Big Brother database

Big Brother databases
How astonishing. It appears that the government's authoritarian appetite for a massive central database of all UK communications is facing opposition even within the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office.

ACPO's Data Communications Group member Jack Wraith told the Sunday Times: "If someone’s got enough personal data on you and they don’t afford it the right protection and that data falls into the wrong hands, then it becomes a threat to you.” A leaked memo reveals that officials believe the plans are “impractical, disproportionate, politically unattractive and possibly unlawful from a human rights perspective.” No2ID has a list of the practical difficulties. Lord Carlile QC, the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, said that the idea was "awful."

Henry Porter adds in the Observer:
Two years ago I wondered in these pages when the penny would drop with the British public and the media about the attack on civil liberties. It is plainly beginning to. The public is worried about the shoddy laws the government tries to rush past them with its phony calls for consensus and reasonableness.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Playground national security policy

Stella Rimington"After the [42 days] vote in the House of Lords, one heard the home secretary saying something like, 'Well nobody can say I'm not tough on terrorism'. As though the implication was there are people who aren't. Which strikes me as very odd. Because most of the people in the House of Lords whose contributions to that debate I'd read were serious people, who'd possibly spent a life, as I have, trying to protect the country from serious threats. So the implication that, you know, a politician was going to say 'I'm tougher on terrorism than you are' struck me as …" —Dame Stella Rimington, former director-general of MI5

Friday, October 17, 2008

Losing the war on trust

"The home secretary's entire argument about the [terrorist] threat and its nature has to rest on our taking many of her assertions on trust. If we can see that the government can't even be accurate about past threats, why should we believe their analysis of current ones? Why should we give up every last vestige of privacy in our private lives because the government asserts that this may be helpful to them sometime in the future? The Home Office may have recognised the need to win this argument, but it hasn't constructed an effective one yet." —Jenni Russell

Woman killed over Facebook relationship status

The Press Association reports the horrifying aftermath of a breakup:

A jealous husband who stabbed his wife to death because he felt "humiliated" over a posting she made on the social networking website Facebook was jailed for life today.

Wayne Forrester told police he was "devastated" that wife Emma had changed her online profile to "single" four days after he had moved out.

Forrester, an HGV driver, drove to the marital home in New Addington, near Croydon, south London, armed with a kitchen knife and a meat cleaver in the early hours of February 18.

Fuelled by cocaine and alcohol, he attacked his wife as she lay in bed, beating her, tearing out clumps of her hair, and stabbing her in the head and neck.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

There are rewards for us all in this crunch

"H L Mencken said practical politics was the business of 'keeping the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary'. Today’s hobgoblin has been a war on terror. The credit crunch is not imaginary. It should cause government to concentrate on things that matter. It should mean no more macho distractions such as 42-day detention, extravagant surveillance and Home Office-generated anti-Muslim prejudice. There should be no more crazy defence projects and bloated security programmes." —Simon Jenkins

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Freedom not Fear

Freedom not Fear
To Parliament Square this morning, for an event organised by ORG and No2ID as part of the international Freedom not Fear day. Photographers from around the country have uploaded hundreds of images of the UK's slide into a surveillance state. The ORG/No2ID production team cleverly combined them into a collage that was revealed to the fascination of hundreds of tourists milling around. Let's hope it encourages more people to think about where exactly the authoritarian technology programme of this government is taking our society.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

US needs to get over its cultural civil war

"The world needs the United States to get over its cultural civil war, and get over it fast. Not that these moral, cultural and social issues are unimportant. They are among the most important things. But they are also among the most private things. The business of government and the law should be confined to providing a liberal (in the classical sense) framework in which men and women can make personal choices about private goods. That should be only a small part of what government does. By contrast, the central business of government is to provide public goods such as national and personal security, the regulation of markets in which private enterprise can flourish, the international development that is in all our national interests, and a clean environment using diversified, sustainable energy supplies. That's what the United States needs from its new president, and that's what the world needs from the United States." —Timothy Garton-Ash

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Terrorism is social, not political

Bruce Schneier points out an extremely interesting paper from Max Abrahms: What Terrorists Really Want — Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy. Abrahms' conclusion is that terrorists are principally motivated by social goals, and hence counterterrorism policy should be focused upon weakening their social bonds:

Demand-side strategies should focus on divesting terrorism's social utility, in two ways. First, it is vital to drive a wedge between organization members. Since the advent of modern terrorism in the late 1960s, the sole counter-terrorism strategy that was a clear-cut success attacked the social bonds of the terrorist organization, not its utility as a political instrument. By commuting prison sentences in the early 1980s in exchange for actionable intelligence against their fellow Brigatisti, the Italian government infiltrated the Red Brigades, bred mistrust and resentment among the members, and quickly rolled up the organization. Similar deals should be cut with al-Qaida in cases where detainees' prior involvement in terrorism and their likelihood of rejoining the underground are minor. Greater investment in developing and seeding double agents will also go a long way toward weakening the social ties undergirding terrorist organizations and cells around the world. Second, counter-terrorism strategies must reduce the demand for at-risk populations to turn to terrorist organizations in the first place. To lessen Muslims' sense of alienation from democratic societies, these societies must improve their records of cracking down on bigotry, supporting hate-crime legislation, and most crucially, encouraging moderate places of worship—an important alternative for dislocated youth to develop strong affective ties with politically moderate peers and mentors.

Certainly more constructive than attempting to throw terrorist suspects in jail for 42 days without charge.

Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists

A panel of highly distinguished statesmen and academics convened by the US National Research Council has just published a report on the efficacy of data mining in tracking down terrorist suspects. Their conclusion:

The preliminary nature of the scientific evidence, the risk of false positives, and operational vulnerability to countermeasures argue for behavioral observation and physiological monitoring being used at most as a preliminary screening method for identifying individuals who merit additional follow-up investigation. Although laboratory research and development of techniques for automated, remote detection and assessment of anomalous behavior, for example deceptive behavior, may be justified, there is not a consensus within the relevant scientific community nor on the committee regarding whether any behavioral surveillance or physiological monitoring techniques are ready for use at all in the counterterrorist context given the present state of the science.

Since data grabbing and mining has been a central focus for post-9/11 US and UK counter-terrorism policy, this is a dynamite report. The silver lining is that in these difficult financial times, the UK government could save £32bn by scrapping the Intercept Modernisation Programme (£12bn) and National Identity Register (£20bn) alone.

We clearly now need to sweep away the Database State groupthink that has infested Downing Street and the White House. If Gordon Brown and George Bush cannot achieve that, perhaps their political opponents will.

More from Ryan Singel, Cory Doctorow and Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom.

The all-seeing state

"We all have a gulf between who we really are and the face we present to the world. Suddenly that barrier will be taken away. Would a protester at the Kingsnorth power station feel quite so confident in facing the police if she knew that the minute she was arrested, the police could find out that she'd just spent a week looking at abortion on the web? Would a rebel politician stand up against the prime minister if he knew security services had access to the 100 text messages a week he exchanged with a woman who wasn't his wife? It isn't just the certainty that such data would be used against people that is a deterrent, it's the fear. As the realisation of this power grew, we would gradually start living in the prison of our minds." —Jenni Russell

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Something is rotten in the House of Commons

"There is an authoritarian cancer in the British system that has metastasised. From the Treasury-inspired 'transformational government', to local council CCTV, to the interception modernisation programme that proposes to 'live tap' all electronic communication, to ID cards — you name it, it seems, and they will be onto it — an official will is at work to police, control, arrest and expel. It regards restraints, from the Human Rights Act to parliamentary scrutiny as 'old thinking'. And it is turbo-charged by the huge funding opportunities that 'new thinking' permits." —Anthony Barnett

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Wiretap Nation

GCHQ doughnutGCHQ and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) have been lobbying behind the scenes for the last year for a massive increase in the level of surveillance of the UK Internet. The government has agreed in principle to spend £12bn installing deep packet inspection equipment into Internet Service Providers around the country, feeding "communications data" about every e-mail, instant message and website visit to a centralised data warehouse that can be accessed by 653 government agencies. However, they have recently backed off from providing new surveillance powers in the forthcoming Communications Data Bill. More details of the GCHQ plan have been revealed today in the Sunday Times.

Should we really be competing with Russia, China and other autocratic nations for the title of most wiretapped country? As Dominic Grieve, Tory shadow home secretary, commented: "Any suggestion of the government using existing powers to intercept communications data without public discussion is going to sound extremely sinister.” Officials may be panicking about the changing nature of communications technology. Instead of hyperventilating they might consider how proportionate is their proposed response of monitoring everyone's associates, movements and information consumption.

You can find out more about UK law on communications surveillance (and how it might be restrained) in a draft of a forthcoming book chapter I recently completed. You can also read about the wider human rights issues in a forthcoming European Journal of Criminology article by myself and Douwe Korff.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Terrorism and human rights

"Terrorism must be fought with means that fully respect human rights and the rule of law, excluding all forms of arbitrariness. Injustice breads terrorism and undermines the legitimacy of the fight against it." —Committee on Legal Affairs and Human RIghts, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe