Thursday, September 24, 2009

Selling surveillance to authoritarian regimes

Timothy Garton Ash has a strong comment piece in today's Guardian on the continuing political developments in Iran. He suggests:
A textbook example of what democracies should not do was provided last year by a joint venture between Siemens and Nokia, called Nokia Siemens Networks. It sold the Iranian regime a sophisticated system with which they can monitor the internet, including emails, internet phone calls and social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, much used by Iranian protesters. In today's politics of people power, that is the equivalent of selling a dictator tanks or poison gas.

So, to be clear: a German company, Siemens, which used slave labour during the Third Reich, sold a Holocaust-denying president the instruments with which he can persecute young Iranians risking their lives for freedom. Think of that every time you buy something made by Siemens.

When this first hit the news in June, Nokia Siemens stated that they had sold technology that would allow Iran to monitor phone calls rather than Internet usage. The former is mandated in many countries' telephone networks under "lawful intercept" rules, including the US and UK. The latter is not, although the UK Home Office is doing its best with its proposed Intercept Modernisation Programme.

Democratic governments need to think much more carefully before requiring technology companies to develop products that could have an extremely repressive impact in undemocratic regimes lacking human rights protections. They should also update export controls to prevent the sale of these tools to states such as Iran. In the meantime, individuals can help by diverting their business away from companies that are aiding and abetting authoritarian regimes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Liberal-Conservative alliance?

"It's clear: the real enemy of progressive politics is not the Conservatives and I would not claim it is the Liberal Democrats. In truth, it is the bureaucratic, backward-looking, big state government that Labour epitomises. That is why at our conference, instead of trying to create some artificial dividing lines between Liberal Democrat policy and Conservative policy, my message will be: if you want rid of Gordon Brown and the big brother state, and if you care about our schools, our quality of life and our liberties, then join us in one national movement that can bring real change." —David Cameron MP

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tories to reverse rise of database state

It's always nice to see your research end up as Opposition policy. Even better, of course, once they are in power to implement it. Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve comments:
“This Government’s approach to our personal privacy is the worst of all worlds — intrusive, ineffective and enormously expensive.

“We cannot run government robotically. We cannot protect the public through automated systems. And we cannot eliminate the need for human judgment calls on risk, whether to children, or from criminal and terrorist threats.

“As we have seen time and time again, over-reliance on the database state is a poor substitute for the human judgment and care essential to the delivery of frontline public services. Labour’s surveillance state has exposed the public to greater — not less — risk.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Databases and child protection

Retired senior detective Chris Stevenson, who ran the investigation into the Soham murders, has an extremely sobering article in today's Times on why he believes new checks on the 11 million adults who have regular contact with children would not have made any difference in that case:
As a result of poor intelligence, [Ian] Huntley was appointed a school caretaker in Soham. Did that give him access to children? Yes, hundreds. Did he abuse them? No. In fact he reported to the headteacher that several teenage girls had made inappropriate comments. What Huntley did to Holly and Jessica was as bad as it gets, but did he come into contact with them through being a caretaker? Not exactly — he was caretaker of Soham Village College, a school for the over-11s. The two girls attended St Andrew’s Junior School. Different building, different caretaker. Huntley had contact with them because [girlfriend Maxine] Carr was employed at St Andrew’s as a classroom assistant. She worked in a class with Holly and Jessica, who both liked her. Holly’s mother sent Carr a box of chocolates on the last day of term to say thank you for helping her daughter.

Before trying to find policy solutions, it always helps to be sure exactly what the problem is. Headmaster Anthony Seldon adds:
Subjecting everyone in sight to checks, placing surveillance cameras everywhere, subjecting every institution to intimidating inspections, hemming in all relationships with contract and law, and driving everyone mad with bureaucracy is categorically not the way forward.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The case for legalising all drugs is unanswerable

"The war on drugs is a failed policy that has injured far more people than it has protected. Around 14,000 people have died in Mexico's drug wars since the end of 2006, more than 1,000 of them in the first three months of this year. Beyond the overflowing morgues in Mexican border towns, there are uncounted numbers who have been maimed, traumatised or displaced. From Liverpool to Moscow, Tokyo to Detroit, a punitive regime of prohibition has turned streets into battlefields, while drug use has remained embedded in the way we live. The anti-drug crusade will go down as among the greatest follies of modern times." —John Gray

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Could Paine inspire Cameron?

"We live under a government that has almost certainly been complicit in torture; given state officials unprecedented power to snoop; undermined local democracy in England; eroded trial by jury; continued the Thatcherite assault on the public domain; presided over growing inequality; and sustained London's ignoble role as a happy hunting-ground for the world's ultra-rich. The gap between the state's proclaimed civic values and its oligarchic practices is becoming too glaring to miss." —David Marquand

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The war on drugs has failed

"No country has devised a comprehensive solution to the drug abuse challenge. And a solution need not be a stark choice between prohibition and legalisation. Alternative approaches are being tested and must be carefully reviewed. But it is clear that the way forward will involve a strategy of reaching out, patiently and persistently, to the users, and not the continued waging of a misguided and counterproductive war that makes the users, rather than the drug lords, the primary victims." —former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso