Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cheney should not have ignored Constitution

"'I'll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities,' Cheney said in his recent speech. But this defense does not stand up. The Bush administration's response actually undermined the principles and values America has always stood for in the world, values that should have survived this traumatic event. The White House thought that 9/11 changed everything. It may have changed many things, but it did not change the Constitution, which the vice president, the national security adviser and all of us who were in the White House that tragic day had pledged to protect and preserve." —Richard Clarke

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Obama's cybersecurity review

The White House has just published the report of its 60-day review of US cybersecurity policy. It contains a range of recommendations to improve online security, many of which echo those in the House of Lords' Personal Internet Security report (and the McAfee Virtual Criminology Report 2008 I wrote with Lilian Edwards). It also pays welcome attention to safeguarding privacy and civil liberties alongside improving security. Several of those involved in the review discuss their conclusions in this video:

The New York Times has commentary from Bruce Schneier, Gus Hosein and others.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cameron: I will reduce PM's power

"We're living in an age where technology can put information that was previously held by a few into the hands of almost every one. So the argument that has applied for well over a century — that in every area of life we need people at the centre to make sense of the world for us and make decisions on our behalf — simply falls down. In its place rises up a vision of real people power. This is what we mean by the Post-Bureaucratic Age. The information revolution meets the progressive Conservative philosophy: sceptical about big state power; committed to social responsibility and non-state collective action. The effects of this redistribution of power will be felt throughout our politics, with people in control of the things that matter to them, a country where the political system is open and trustworthy, and power redistributed from the political elite to the man and woman in the street." —David Cameron MP, leader of the Conservative party and almost certainly the UK's next prime minister

Cyber Security and Global Affairs

St Peter's College and George Mason University are organising an interdisciplinary workshop on cyber security and global affairs in August that should be fascinating. I'm excited to be speaking there alongside some extremely distinguished individuals, including the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Information and Identity Assurance and the former Acting Director of the US National Cyber Security Division. Hope some Blogzilla readers can join us.

Data breaches go on, and on…

Losses of personal data are so commonplace these days that they barely seem newsworthy. But today's reports are really quite spectacular:
The personal medical records of tens of thousands of people have been lost by the NHS in a series of grave data security leaks. Between January and April this year, 140 security breaches were reported within the NHS — more than the total number from inside central Government and all local authorities combined.

Yet the government ploughs on with centralised databases containing tens of millions of medical records.
Sensitive files detailing the extra marital affairs, drug taking and use of prostitutes by very senior officers in the RAF have been stolen, raising fears within the Ministry of Defence that personnel could be vulnerable to blackmail. Up to 500 people in the service could be affected by the theft.

That has finally laid to rest my belief that the British armed forces were among the very few organisations with an adequate understanding of information security. Aside from wide-eyed disbelief, you get the feeling that the design of systems containing the most sensitive personal information imaginable is being conducted in the manner of toddlers throwing toy bricks around at playschool.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A new Speaker is not enough

"Those parliamentarians yelling at [the Speaker] to get out now should also look to their own behaviour. Mr Martin did not compel honest MPs to strip bare Homebase and Harrods like a swarm of locusts. Far from being an officious overlord of greed, he was the emblem and, advertently or not, the facilitator of an odious culture from which too many of his colleagues gratefully benefited." —Mary Riddell

Disillusion made rage

"This waywardness in the political sphere goes beyond personal gain. It also means fudging statistics and cherry-picking research as has happened in the Home Office; it means manufacturing dodgy dossiers on intelligence as happened in the run-up to the Iraq war. It means public consultation exercises which are purely cosmetic and where the outcome has been decided in advance. But the public have been smelling a rat for a long time.

"The temptation for the parties will be to sack a few people and redesign the allowance system but if public trust is to be restored there has to be a much more radical rethink." —Baroness Kennedy

Monday, May 18, 2009

Record labels are blocking digital progress

"Clearly, some form of P2P subscription service is the way forward, if only because it provides the most convenient way for consumers to access music. Yet for the major labels, the success of such an initiative would mean the end of their control over the distribution of music. Is this the real reason why they seem determined to do everything they can to clip the wings of the fledgling digital industry before it can fly?" —Billy Bragg

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Waterboarding Cheney

"I was water boarded, so I know — at SERE School, Survival Escape Resistance Evasion. It was a required school you had to go to prior to going into the combat zone, which in my era was Vietnam. All of us had to go there. We were all, in essence — every one of us was waterboarded. It is torture… It's drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you — I'll put it to you this way, you give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders." —Former Navy SEAL Governor Jesse Ventura

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Privacy, trust and biometrics

I spoke this morning at a meeting of GCHQ's Biometrics Working Group about privacy, trust and biometrics. Let's just say I had a different perspective from some of the Home Office civil servants in the room.

UPDATE: Oh, look! "The use of closed-circuit television in city and town centres and public housing estates does not have a significant effect on crime, according to Home Office-funded research to be distributed to all police forces in England and Wales this summer."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Labour is watching you, not the bankers

"A liberal state demands that its citizens give up only those freedoms that are vital for the benefit of the common weal; it doesn't aggrandise to itself the maximum amount of power and then hand back limited freedoms grudgingly and only when it sees fit. The notion that nobody has anything to fear from a powerful yet well-meaning state has been the cry of the totalitarian down the ages." —Larry Elliott

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Snouts in the trough II

Live free like an MP!
"Despite the many sleaze eruptions, I have clung to the increasingly unfashionable view that most MPs are not venal graspers motivated entirely by the pursuit of their own interests. It is becoming harder to sustain that faith. If politicians do not arrive at the Commons corrupt, there is clearly a culture in Parliament that is corrupting." —Andrew Rawnsley

"While ordinary families are struggling to cope with the deepest recession in the post-war era, our politicians are having a jolly old time living it up at taxpayers’ expense. Not only do MPs have their snouts in the trough, but they bought it on expenses, had it embellished with mock Tudor beams and acquired similar troughs for other homes dotted around the country." —The Sunday Times

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Privacy, neuroimaging and public policy

Spent an interesting day yesterday at a conference on neuroethics in London. Here's my presentation, which should hopefully turn into a chapter in an OUP edited volume next year:

Snouts in the trough

Whatever happened to nothing to hide, nothing to fear?
Labour MPs believe that a mole may be feeding sensitive personal information to the Daily Telegraph… "There is something horrible going on. I have never been so frightened. What is happening is disgusting."

"It's customary when decrying the DNA database to focus on what would happen should such potent material fall into the wrong hands. This week, we surely reached the point at which even the most slavishly deferential can concur that the very hands in which it currently resides are the wrong hands. How much wronger their hands can get, only time will show. But on current form, rule nothing bar competence out." —Marina Hyde

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Spin or incompetence? You decide

The Home Secretary has announced today plans to raise "two fingers to the European Court of Human Rights" over DNA retention, with profiles of those arrested but not convicted stored for up to 12 years. They come with some typical Home Office spin from Ms Smith over the apprehension of Mark Dixie, the murderer of Sally Anne Bowman, in 2006:
"I have real sympathy for all those with concerns that any move could undermine a system that helped trap Sally Anne’s killer. And I want to reassure Sally Anne’s father that I will not let that happen."

This misrepresents the salience of the Bowman case for the European Court's ruling in two ways:
  1. Dixie was arrested after a pub brawl and his DNA was matched to a sample retrieved from Bowman's body. Nobody is suggesting that crime scene samples should be destroyed.
  2. Dixie had previously been convicted several times for violent and sexual offences. Nobody is suggesting that DNA profiles should not be retained for those convicted of these serious crimes.

Perhaps the Statistics Authority should have to vet government press releases in the same way they now have to approve government statistics.

Innocentish until proven guilty

"Smith's new regime leaves the innocent who have been cleared of charges of minor, non-violent crime on the [DNA] database for six years, which erodes the principle of innocent until proven guilty and in classic New Labour fashion creates a third way, neither innocent or guilty but innocentish." —Mark Thomas

"There is an unspoken assumption in here that these thousands of crimes that will not be detected by not having the DNA will remain undetected and that simply isn't the case. A significant number of these will be detectable through conventional police work, including the obtaining of fresh police DNA samples.

"We have been told some very cursory figures. One would like to know a great deal more. Are these serious crimes? Are they a relatively small number of individuals, for example serial burglars? We don't have that information at all. And we need that information to be able to balance the improved ability to detect these crimes against the right to a private life." —Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, inventor of DNA fingerprinting

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The best and brightest? Spare me

"London, Singapore or Dubai are sometimes mentioned as possible rival financial centers that would be eager to welcome the kind of overpaid financiers who wrecked the U.S. and global economy. Most Americans, I think, would agree that it is worth the risk. The voluntary expatriation of leading Wall Street geniuses might help to restore the U.S. economy and wreck potential rival financial capitals at the same time. The thought brings to mind the observation by a wag on the defection in the 1970s by John Connally from the Democrats to the Republicans: 'He raised the IQ of both parties.'" —Michael Lind

Hackers hold 8m Virginia patient records to $10m ransom

What an exciting business opportunity awaits UK hackers as the NHS sets up a similar system (thanks, Dave!):
This is the second major extortion attack related to the theft of health care data in the past year. In October 2008, Express Scripts, one of the nation's largest processors of pharmacy prescriptions, disclosed that extortionists were threatening to disclose personal and medical information on millions of Americans if the company failed to meet payment demands. Express Scripts is currently offering a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for trying to extort money from the company.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Thatcher the libertarian

Margaret ThatcherInteresting article in today's FT by Lord Saatchi (thanks, Gus!):
[Margaret Thatcher] would despise the vision that is opening up before us — in which the state controls your mortgage, your bank account and your life insurance; where the state routinely passes your papers from one government department to another, your phone bills to the health department, your health records to Revenue & Customs, your tax records to the benefits department; your car journeys tracked by state sensors; your bus and Tube journeys caught on state cameras; your foreign trips notified to the authorities; every click on your computer available for inspection; your identity card always ready for presentation; one in three on the state’s payroll; two in three receive a state payment; cities where half the jobs are with the state, and where the state has views on how you fill your rubbish bin.

Lady Thatcher would see this for what it is. She would block it with every ounce of her body. Because she knows where it is headed.

Historians might argue that Thatcher was more on the authoritarian/social conservative wing of her party than the libertarians currently in the ascendant. Still, one must take help from wherever it comes ;)