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 2003

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22nd Dec

   Revenue Tracking and Back Tracking

I am waiting for one's income to be top of the police computer print out. Eg on traffic patrol pulling over a BMW

  • "He can't afford that car...we'll have 'im"
  • "He's a rich bastard...we'll have 'im"

From The Guardian

A huge new database is being created in Whitehall, giving officials unprecedented knowledge of the daily lives of all UK residents who have ever paid tax or national insurance or received social security.

In January work will start on merging millions of hitherto separate files containing the details of people's employment and their claims for benefits and pensions. With details on more than 50 million individuals, the state will acquire a powerful tool for tracing individuals as they move in and out of jobs or change addresses. Once in the system, they will remain identifiable until they die or cease claiming a pension.

Children of parents who are receiving tax credits and other benefits will go on the database, along with anyone who has ever been sent a P45 or P60 tax form.

The new database is being established at the same time as the Home Office sets up its huge new data source based on driving-licence and passport information, and the Office of National Statistics computerises its data on births, deaths and marriages.

There are concerns that if these were linked up, the state would acquire a comprehensive tracking tool that might even make personal identity cards redundant.

"I'm perturbed", said Richard Alldritt, chief executive of the Statistics Commission, the independent watchdog. "How are they going to be related to each other? Is it desirable that they should?"

As a safeguard against misuse, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which already possesses powers to exchange data with the Inland Revenue, is convening an ethics committee, including some non civil servants. How the new data is used is to be audited within a year by the Office of the Information Commissioner, the independent supervisor of the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts.

Its compliance manager for Whitehall, Peter Bloomfield, said the DWP was being "open and honest", but he wanted more debate about how citizens interacted with a state using new technology to join up what it knew about them.

The DWP says its work and pensions longitudinal study will improve detection of fraudulent benefit claims and increase the take-up of benefits. In the foreword to a report last year by the Performance and Innovation Unit, Tony Blair said there was "great potential" to make better use of personal information through increased data sharing. These benefits will only be realised if people trust the way that public services handle their personal data, the prime minister said.

The new data set will give the DWP a tool for reassessing the £7bn claimed each year in invalidity benefits. Civil servants will be able to cross-check the 2.7 million people who say they are disabled against employment records collected by the Inland Revenue. The DWP will evaluate its New Deal programme and jobcentres by tracing how many people find work after being trained or advised by benefits staff. The new data will make it easier to judge the success of the chancellor's controversial tax credits for low-income families in work.

For that reason, social researchers welcome the change. This could be incredibly valuable , said Professor John Hills, director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics. From a citizen's point of view, it's surely not unreasonable that government should be able to check, if I am claiming benefits of some kind, what I am simultaneously telling other bits of government about my circumstances.

I have received the following update:

Having just read the recent entry regarding the Guardion report on plans to link DWP and Inland Revenue computer systems. I felt it neccessary to point out some errors in their facts. We get so much flack already from our customers at DWP that misleading reports in the press get right up our collective noses.

  • DWP does not have any powers to pass on its information to Inland Revenue, local authorities or anyone else for that matter. I know that we would require the written permission of the person concerned before we gave any information about them to a third party, and this would be severely restricted as to what was passed on. Under no circumstances would we be allowed to simply tell anyone what we knew about someone without serious legal repercussions. Perhaps the writer needs to be reminded of Data Protection Act, Human Rights Act, etc.
     
  • There would be no need to develop a system for tracking possible benefit fraud, as one already exists to do this. It's called a Fraud Investigation Officer, a human being who does a far better job than any computer could possibly do. Systems do exist to compare information given on different benefit claims eg customer claims Incapacity Benefit and Income Support but states conflicting circumstances. These systems, however, are only for internal use and cannot (and should not) be used in conjunction with outside sources. Regular 'drives' are carried out to visit employers and check their employee records to compare with benefit claim records, but the consent of all employees must be obtained before the employer can supply us with any details.

 

20th Nov

    Bush Disconnected

From The Times

Phone operators have refused to co-operate with police to block anti-Bush protesters from using mobile telephones in Central London. An emergency plan to create a mobile-free “bubble” for the President was branded “hysteria” by Orange, the second-largest mobile phone provider. It said that the police had no power to compel Orange to switch off its transmitters.

Scotland Yard wants to prevent mobile calls and text messages whenever the President arrives or leaves Buckingham Palace. But an Orange spokeswoman said: The rules state that we only have to block phone calls in this manner when there is a national emergency. That means during a war. The visit of a foreign dignitary is not a national emergency. It’s Bush hysteria.

Police sources said that they were considering introducing the measure during Bush’s visit as mobile phones have been used to detonate bombs.

It is possible to bar mobile phone users from making calls in small areas by switching off individual stations. This can stop mobile telephone use across half a square mile in built-up areas and more in rural areas. It is understood that the police carried out tests this week outside London to see if the technology worked. They are believed to have been successful. Scotland Yard would need approval from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office to implement such a measure.

However, mobile phone operators said that they would have the final decision over using the technology. A spokeswoman for Vodafone said that the only time the police or the Government had the power to restrict the use of its network was during a national emergency. At all other times the decision would rest with the company and they would not automatically comply with a police request to do so. If we are requested to do something, we would take that seriously but stopping the service to our subscribers is not something we would want to do lightly , she said.

A spokesman for T-Mobile said that if the network received a request from the Home Office to help it to create a mobile-free zone, the company would judge each suggestion on its merits .

Blocking calls is not without precedent. The police are believed to have requested that calls were jammed in parts of Central London on Millennium Eve, amid fears that bottlenecks, including bridges, were becoming overcrowded.

According to Vodafone, restrictions on mobile telephone use were also introduced after the Potters Bar crash last year, following a request from the emergency services. Non-emergency calls around the station were barred for more than an hour. Senior officers said that it would be up to the Cabinet Office to deal with any claims for compensation from the telephone operators.

The plan being considered is to create a “sterile area” some 15 minutes before Mr Bush gets into his armoured Cadillac and 15 minutes after his return. Among the many demands made by the White House was a mobile telephone blackout whenever the President left Buckingham Palace.

US officials were kept informed of the tests carried out by Scotland Yard. It is understood that mobile users in the test area did not realise that the short break in signals was due to the experiment.

Senior officers insist that such a draconian step is to combat terrorists, though such a ban will disrupt the activities of militant anarchist groups who rely on their mobile telephones to co-ordinate attacks during mass demonstrations in the capital.

Scotland Yard admits that it is waging a high-tech battle with the groups to try to eavesdrop on their plans for disruption over the next three days. The worry is that they can send text-messages to alert small groups who have infiltrated the main march.

Internet-enabled phones can send more elaborate messages and maps with last-minute instructions, and some militants have made use of mobiles that can transmit pictures of where they want followers to gather. They would be rendered useless by the shutdown.

 

1st Nov

    VodaSpy

From The Evening Standard

Secret plans to turn mobile phone masts into "Big Brother" spy stations have been revealed.

The new system will allow mobile phone masts to become radar spy posts in the war against terrorist attacks.

The technology works by analysing radio waves sent out by all phone masts. When these waves hit an object they are reflected to the mast.

By analysing the reflections, a picture can be built of anything nearby. The Standard has learned that the the Ministry of Defence plans a test later this month. An MoD spokesman said he was unable to comment on the project.

The system, called Celldar, is seen as a way of spotting unauthorised planes and vehicles as the Government continues to clamp down on terrorists. The City is already on high alert, and now Government officials hope the Celldar technology could also allow them to trace the movement of individuals almost anywhere in the country. It can utilise the existing 35,000 mobile phone masts in the UK.

Paul Stein, managing director of Roke Manor Research which developed Celldar, said: We are currently doing a lot of testing of the range and accuracy, so we cannot release those figures just yet. We are also yet to carry out testing of tracking individuals but we know we can track cars and other vehicles.

Civil liberties groups claim the technology could go too far.

Simon Davies, head of Privacy International, said: This has profound implications for our personal privacy. I would urge the developers to conduct a full privacy assessment of this.

 

26th Sept

    Identifying Enemy Number One

And I thought that porn, sex and violence was to blame for all ills. I must be getting old, clearly asylum seekers are now enemy number one. Perhaps one day the Government will usurp the asylum seekers. After all I can't think of many asylum seekers that have led a nation into an unjust war and deleted so many of the freedoms that we hold so dear. Nah...I am just dreaming.

From Silicon News

While David Blunkett may be keen on getting identity cards into the hands and wallets of the British public, it seems that a lack of government support could keep the UK ID-free for a while yet.

Blunkett is pushing to get the ID scheme included in this year's Queen's speech in November, in order to see legislation to introduce the cards hit parliament in the next session, but despite his enthusiasm for the scheme, cabinet colleagues' lukewarm response may see Her Majesty keeping tight-lipped on the subject.

While Blunkett has so far refused to give a definitive answer on whether the cards will be compulsory, he has stated that no-one would be able to work, claim benefits or access other public services without one - which pretty much equates to them being compulsory.

Ian Brown, director of technology think tank Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), believes that the government is starting to get cold feet on the subject.

Brown said: David Blunkett is still determined, but a lot of the cabinet are getting nervous about packing their parliamentary timetable with controversial issues after Iraq and the Hutton inquiry.

The Home Secretary is pinning his hopes of getting the scheme through parliament on the issue of immigration. He told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme that he had no idea of the number of illegal immigrants in Britain at the moment, but hoped that an ID card scheme would solve that problem.

FIPR's Brown told silicon.com that he views Blunkett's pronouncement on immigration as a way of piggy-backing ID cards on the issue of the day, but doesn't believe it will gain him any more public support
.
It's thought that the card will carry details including name, address, passport and driving licence numbers, as well as a PIN and a biometric element and will cost around £3bn to roll out, according to government estimates. The substantial cost of the programme is also holding up its implementation, with neither Gordon Brown's Treasury nor the public likely to willingly bear the brunt of the cost - which could be up to £100 per card.

 

1st August    Forbidden Fruit...

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An outrageous presumption of state control

seedlings for saleThe dealer wishes to remain anonymous. Not that he's ashamed of his seeds: on the contrary, he's doubts you'll find better in England. Once you've tried their crop, he believes, you'll be hooked. But if he told you how to buy them, he could be prosecuted - and a small businessman like him can ill-afford a £5,000 fine.

He plies his illicit trade in Devon, in a small nursery. He cannot publicise it, for obvious reasons; but word of mouth ensures that a furtive army of enthusiastic users buys his moonshine seeds in their thousands. Many in turn will risk prosecution by growing themand selling their seed themselves. Others, more cautiously, will restrict themselves to "personal use".

The crop in question goes by the exotic name of 'White Princess'. But it is not, as you might suspect, a variety of cannabis. Rather, it is a tomato - a "meltingly, sumptuously tasty" variety, according to the pusher, but a mere tomato none the less. And if that strikes you as surprising, you'll be even more surprised to discover that 'White Princess' are just the tip of the iceberg.

This is a story of the bizarre, seldom-seen subculture of unlicensed vegetable-growing. Its wares include rogue tomatoes, "bad" apples and "hot" potatoes; tomatoes are as good an illustration as any of how the market works.

Most of us buy our tomatoes from supermarkets. They're convenient, but their cool, watery flavour is disappointingly bland. If you're willing to pay double, you can sometimes buy tomatoes that actually taste of something from the supermarkets' posh ranges. But even these are difficult to get excited about.

For those who know where to get their hands on the hard stuff, though, the tomato is an altogether different proposition. Insipid, shop-bought fruits are for losers, but the words 'Tibet Appels', 'Sundrop' and 'Fakel' are whispered by connoisseurs like the names of Pagan goddesses, and just to inhale the scent of a 'Spanish Big Globe' can make grown men weep with pleasure. The only problem with these fat, tangy little balls of perfection is that you, the consumer, just can't have them.

The Plant Varieties and Seeds Act (1964) makes these tomatoes forbidden fruit - well, at least the seeds from which they are grown. According to the act, anyone wanting to sell the seeds of a fruit or vegetable must first register the variety on a National List. Before registration, it must be tested to ensure it is "distinct, uniform and stable", and a fee must be paid. Sadly for amateur growers, these fees add up to nearly £1,000, in the case of tomatoes, plus an annual renewal fee of £185. There are no exceptions, no grants for amateur growers, and it is illegal for anyone to sell the seeds of unregistered fruit or, by implication, the fruit itself.

Even if they can pass the tests (and the variety 'My Girl' is many things, but its fruits - anything between cherry and avocado-sized - could never be called "uniform") the only people who can afford to register them are huge companies that sell to supermarket chains (the familiar comedy-villain Monsanto being one example); the result is that only mass-market, supermarket-friendly varieties are registered. Varieties of interest only to amateurs are ignored, and it becomes illegal to sell them; so, with no growing plants providing seeds for the future, they're simply becoming extinct.

The fruits you see here are the ones that are typical victims of this discrimination. They are too irregular in size, their growing seasons are too leisurely, or their very ugliness is considered too offensive to the imaginary consumer to be profitable. The most delicate, such as the pungent, purple 'Black Prince' and the silken 'Tibet Appel', have skins so diaphanously thin that to container-load them across Britain in articulated lorries would reduce them immediately to ketchup. Other varieties ripen continually all summer long - perfect for the gardener, but not much use to a supermarket grower, who needs to harvest his crop mechanically and simultaneously. Some, such as the gooseberry-like 'Green Zebra' or the pepper-shaped 'My Girl', are just assumed to be too funny-looking for our modest British tastes. So, somewhere in an ivory tower on Planet Sainsbury, the buyers have decided that what British consumers need are bland, uniform spheres that will sit in neat rows under artificial lighting, and taste like water.

Fortunately, for those who prefer their tomatoes a little more, well, tomatoey, there is an alternative to this inexorable slide into strip-lit homogeneity. All over the country, guerrilla bands of disgruntled gardeners are meeting under cover of darkness to exchange or even sell contraband seed. "Gardeners are reasonably law-abiding people," says Bob Flowerdew, the Gardeners' Question Time panellist and author of books about growing vegetables. "But there are ways of getting round the law..."

Some companies in America, for example, are cashing in on our tomato drought. At www.seedfest.co.uk, Kelley Spurling sells seeds of hundreds of varieties that are illegal in Britain from his farm in Oregon. "It would look a bit ridiculous to imprison someone for having the wrong tomatoes," he says. And the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) agrees this "raises complex legal issues". But Flowerdew would not encourage buying seeds from abroad: "You just can't monitor it," he says. "If you end up with tobacco mosaic virus on all your plants from seeds you've bought illegally, you can't go back to the person who sold them and complain."

The Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA) in Coventry, therefore, is a sanctuary for off-list tomatoes. Its operations are perfectly legal but dedicated to the cultivation of plants whose seed would be, technically, illegal to sell. It works like a sort of vegetable refugee camp, where horticulturalists with an eye to the future will nurture the green, the knobbly and the dispossessed. Hundreds of heritage varieties are grown here in constant rotation. Racks of seeds with names like Thomas Hardy virgins ('Nectar Rose', 'Nova', 'Stupice') are kept in cold storage while, out in the fields, a dozen lucky cousins get their day in the sun. This year, the sweet, beautiful 'Orange Banana' is just beginning to ripen, while vines nearby creak with 'Caro Rich': the Incredible Hulk of tomatoes. Plum-shaped sprays of 'Pink Cherry' hang prettily from their canes among plants that look as if they've been hung with Smarties: the tiny, orangey-flavoured 'Texas Wild'.

While it is illegal to sell unregistered seed, there's nothing to stop the association giving it away. So, for about £20 a year, tomato lovers can access the "Orphans List". The payment entitles them to six free packets of seed and access to a "seed exchange": a sort of Multicoloured Swap Shop for unregistered seeds.

While HDRA struggles to persuade the European Union to write a get-out clause for amateur varieties, seed swaps are a viable way around the regulations. In Brighton this February, the second annual Seedy Sunday drew hundreds of gardeners from all over southern England. "We're selling seed potatoes for lots of old varieties, as well as some of the unique seeds from the HDRA," says Alan Phillips, the chairman of the Brighton and Hove Organic Gardening Group. "The idea is from Canada but it's catching on. Lots of other places in Britain are looking at it."

Of course, seed swapping is nothing new. According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the author of the River Cottage cookbooks, gardeners have been at it for ages. "Here in Dorset there's some runner-bean seed that's passed around from the winners of the longest-bean competition," he tells me. "The big seed companies should consider it their cultural obligation to widen the choice of vegetables for amateur gardeners. They can afford to register stuff. They should sell more heritage varieties, instead of the same old same old." Sadly, the magnanimity of the big growers does not always extend to providing gardeners with the seeds of tasty produce or turning a blind eye to small-scale, under-the-counter tomato production. According to Defra, "It is generally an offence to market a variety of seeds not on the National List or EC Common Catalogue." It's fair to say Defra doesn't police the law with much conviction, but the multinationals are always watching. In 1998 a company that illegally marketed grass seed was successfully prosecuted under the Plant Varieties and Seeds Act 1964. It was fined a total of £7,500 and ordered to pay costs of £7,964.

Although cases like this are rare, the threat is enough to discourage most growers. "I'd like to start breeding and selling my own varieties and I think I could do quite well, because of my name as a gardener," says Bob Flowerdew, "but I couldn't afford to register them. I complained to the Ministry about it, and they said, 'Come on, we're not going to prosecute you'. But if I advised something like that in my books or on the radio, I'd be breaking the law. And the law is the law. Particularly if I want to keep my job with the BBC."

Others in the rogue vegetable-growing community are less particular about keeping their noses clean, and may even relish the anti-establishment flavour of their activities. "I do it as a political point," says the anonymous 'White Princess' enthusiast quoted earlier. "Genetic erosion is a real threat to biodiversity, and anyway, I'm not competing with the big sellers. I don't think they could object. They're not providing the same service." Luckily, he seems to have hit upon a rare thing: a government official prepared to bend the rules. "I'm a registered seller, so I'm subject to Ministry inspections," he tells me. "The inspector comes round once a year but he turns a blind eye to what I sell. He's a local boy, so he knows how the land lies."

It may be foolhardy and illegal, but subversive farmers like this could be the only thing preventing all our fruits and vegetables going the way of strawberries. "'Elsanta' [the most popular strawberry variety] was developed by men in white coats in the Sixties," explains Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. "It has a long shelf-life and resistance to softening and mould, but there was no thought for flavour. There's some acidity but little aroma. If you compare it with a popular English fruit-cage strawberry like 'Royal Sovereign' it has nothing like the complexity. But because of its ability to be transported, it dominates 80 per cent of the market." It's the same with apples. "There were once many hundreds, even thousands of British apple varieties. There's no knowing how many have been lost."

But it's not just the staggering superiority of flavour that makes heritage varieties important. Only by continuing to grow them can we discover which varieties might be blight resistant, or grow abundantly in a drought, or turn out to be a miracle cure for cancer. "If we find one of our tomatoes standing up particularly well to these scorching conditions," said Alan Gear, the co-director of the HDRA, from a 40C poly-tunnel on Monday, "that could be incredibly important if predictions of global warming come true." Diversity, in all species, is nature's way of surviving unpredictable disasters.

"We could be damaging the country's future," says Bob Flowerdew. "In 10 to 15 years, the only choice will be between GM Type A and GM Type B. And I'll be walking through London and a shifty bloke in a shop doorway will stop me and hiss, 'Oi, mate... you want some tomatoes?' " Red, round and tasteless? Not these beauties. Katy Guest enters the murky world of contraband tomatoes and samples the best crop that money can't buy 19 August 2003

 

28th July

    Weapons of Mass Anonymization

The land of the not so free calling the kettle black

From The Register

A pact between the U.S. government and the electronic privacy company Anonymizer , Inc. is making the Internet a safer place for controversial websites and subversive opinions -- if you're Iranian.

This month Anonymizer began providing Iranians with free access to a Web proxy service designed to circumvent their government's online censorship efforts. In May, government ministers issued a blacklist of 15,000 forbidden "immoral" websites that ISPs in the country must block -- reportedly a mix of adult sites and political news and information outlets. An estimated two million Iranians have Internet access. (So how many off shore gambling sites would the US like to forbid?)

Among the banned sites are the website for the U.S.-funded Voice of America broadcast service, and the site for Radio Farda, another U.S. station that beams Iranian youth a mix of pop music and westernized news. Both stations are run by the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the U.S. government's overseas news and propaganda arm. (Weapons of Mass Hallucination research department)

The U.S. responded to the filtering this month by paying Anonymizer (neither the IBB nor Anonymizer will disclose how much) to create and maintain a special version of the Anonymizer proxy which only accepts connections from Iran's IP address space, and features instructions in Farsi. (Sounds suspicious though, the Americans hardly excel in the truth department when it comes to war mongering, it would be a coup indeed if Iranians were encouraged to use a service with a back door straight into the CIA)

The deliberately generic-sounding URLs for the service are publicized over Radio Farda broadcasts and through bulk e-mails that Anonymizer sends to addresses in the country. The addresses are provided by human rights groups and other sources, says Anonymizer president Lance Cottrell. We're providing a system whereby the people in the countries that are suffering Internet censorship can bypass the government filtering and access all the pages that are blocked, says Cottrell.

The services' navigation boxes default to Radio Farda or Voice of America, but surfers are invited to put in any address they like, and browse free of the Iranian government's filtering.

Dissident sites, religious sites, the L.L. Bean catalog -- we point them to the Voice of America site, but they can go anywhere, " says Ken Berman, program manager for Internet anticensorship at the IBB, They're free explore the Internet in an unfettered fashion.

BUT!

Mostly unfettered. Like the Iranian filters, the U.S. service blocks porn sites -- There's a limit to what taxpayers should pay for, says Berman. But the United States' hope is that a freer flow of online information will improve America's image in the Arab world. The service is similar to one Anonymizer provided to Chinese citizens under a previous government contract that ran-out ended earlier this year.

Cottrell and Berman agree that it's only a matter of time before the Iranonymity service winds on the official blacklist. But Berman hints that the U.S. is ready for a prolonged electronic shell game with Tehran. " In China we're continually monitoring the state of the proxy, and when we see the traffic drop off, we change the proxy's address, usually within 24 hours , says Berman. In Iran, we're prepared to change the proxy address every day if necessary.

A bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month would create an Office of Global Internet Freedom that would have up to a $50 million annual budget to help citizens of foreign repressive governments skirt Internet censorship.

I think the Americans need to spend another $50 million to help their own citizens  skirt Internet censorship of their own repressive government.

 

28th July

    Snitch in the Car

From The Observer

Drivers face automatic speeding fines without being caught by the police or roadside cameras under a proposal being studied by the Government to fit all cars with satellite tracking devices for road tolls.

Under the anti-congestion tolling plan being examined by the Department for Transport, all vehicles would be fitted with a 'black box' to charge drivers according to the type of road they are using and when they are driving.

But transport experts believe the equipment will pave the way for 24-hour monitoring of drivers to see if they break the speed limit. It could also be used to determine whether drivers were speeding before an accident.

The Government is backing trials of an advanced system which would tell the black box when it entered a speed limit and prevent the vehicle going faster. The equipment could also find drivers who have not paid vehicle duty or insurance.

The system would use global positioning systems and computer technology. It would be easy to catch speeders and there are no legal obstacles - tachographs in lorries, which record speed and length of time behind the wheel, are already examined after accidents.

'It [the equipment] probably will be used for speeding,' said Tony Grayling, associate director of the centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank. 'It's an offence to break the limit and it's appropriate that evidence is generated to demonstrate the law has been broken.'

Much of the technology that would be used for the tolling devices is already in lorry tachographs, and in commercial satellite navigation devices. The prototype planned for UK car drivers should be introduced for lorries in Germany this year and in the UK in 2006. However, a compulsory extension to every vehicle would be a big political risk.

Leading German motoring journalist Wolfgang König believes the lorry toll is a Trojan horse for all vehicles - for tolling and speeding. Speeders could be easily identified and electronically charged. Any place, any time , König said last week.

In Britain, the Freight Transport Association went further. It believes the equipment will be used to put speed limiters on every car. You won't be able to go faster than the limit, no matter how hard you press the pedal, said Gavin Scott, the association's policy manager.

The company behind the technology said the only problems were political. Nick Rendell, managing director of the UK subsidiary of Siemens, which is making the black boxes in Germany, said politicians would only be concerned about winning votes. But with speeding being the biggest single cause of death on the roads, there would also be pressure to introduce it, he added.

Speeding is blamed for a third of the 3,600 annual deaths on Britain's roads. The Department for Transport acknowledges research that has shown how automatic speed limiters could cut fatal accidents by a fifth. Clearly if people wanted to save lots of life on the roads they could reduce the speeding of vehicles, Rendell said.

Opposing attempts to crack down on speeding is a sensitive issue as no one wants to be seen as supporting something dangerous and against the law. The latest government figures showed that more than half of drivers broke the limit in 30mph zones and more than a quarter in 40mph areas.

However, motoring organisations have warned of a possible backlash against the whole tolling system and that the plans were a step too far. Edmund King, director of the RAC Foundation, said drivers were right to be concerned. There's no doubt the technology is there already... it's just a question of how it's used. In some areas, being able to track vehicles could have very positive consequences, [but] do we in this society want all our movements to be monitored 24 hours a day? King said.

Launching his national consultation, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling repeated the Government's promise not to introduce national tolling before 2010. But advisers believe a national system could be in place in a decade. The RAC said the Government should promote benefits of the black boxes to win support.

Possible additions could include satellite navigation and congestion warnings and help in finding parking spaces and automatic payment. Private companies could offer location-based services, such as searching for cheap hotels.

The AA Motoring Trust, the policy arm of the organisation, wants Ministers to set up a board representing motorists, which would monitor how information was used.

A Department for Transport official said it was too soon to discuss black boxes for cars.

(No mention of the damage would occur if private investigators could slip a 100pounds to obtain a complete readout of where you have been. Extra marital activities or taking sickies may become very dangerous indeed).

 

28th July

    Liberty Donor Cards

Perhaps if we had ID cards, the iris scans would have revealed that Tony Blair was in fact a CIA trained performing poodle and we wouldn't have had to listen to his lies about weapons of mass destruction.

Based on an article in The Independent

Blair has put off the launch of a plan to compel every Briton to hold an ID card in response to fears that it will turn into an expensive and frustrating assault on liberty.

One version of the scheme would require every adult to report personally to a government office to have their identity checked. British citizens who fail to register for an ID card could be denied access to the NHS or state benefits, and prevented from renewing their driving licence or passport. Any foreign national living here without a proper ID card would be committing a criminal offence and would be liable to summary harrassment by the police.

But the Home Secretary Blunkett has quietly dropped the idea that people stopped by the police could be ordered to report to a police station with their ID card.

Blunkett first proposed to introduce ID cards as an anti-crime measure after the 11 September attacks, but his latest version emphasises their use in combating illegal immigration. A recent Home Office study conceded that there could be thousands of people working illegally in Britain. Blunkett believes that making it known that people without ID cards will be denied access to benefits or free health care would act as a deterrent.

The Home Secretary had been expected to announce the scheme before MPs left for their summer break, but the announcement was postponed after a private meeting with Blair on 15 July.

Home Office officials have been told to make adjustments to the scheme to minimise the inconvenience to the general public. This could mean allowing people to renew an ID card by post, so they need make only one trip to a government office for the necessary tests to register their identity.

New details of the scheme were set out by Blunkett in a letter to members of the Cabinet's domestic affairs committee, chaired by John Prescott. Angered by an earlier leak, Blunkett urged members to be extra careful to prevent leaks of his proposals. He said: Only those in your office and the key official dealing with these matters should have sight of this document, and I would be grateful if you would also keep a register of those who have seen this material.

The letter, dated 4 July, revealed that Blair and Blunkett had met three days earlier and agreed that anyone who claims state benefits or NHS treatment would have to produce an ID card.

But it also revealed that the Prime Minister had demanded "more clarity" over "basic design questions". The Independent on Sunday has learned that the argument dragged on for a fortnight, until Blair told Blunkett on 15 July to put the matter back to the autumn.

Under Blunkett's scheme, every citizen over 16 will report once a decade to be questioned and digitally photographed, and to have biometric information such an iris image recorded. And they will be charged £40 for the card.

 

21st July

    I Spy Sky Spy

Southeast Airlines said it plans to install digital video cameras throughout the cabins of its planes to record the faces and activities of its passengers at all times, as a precaution against terrorism and other safety threats.

In addition, the charter airline, based in Largo, Florida, will store the digitized video for up to 10 years. And it may use face recognition software to match faces to names and personal records, the airline said.

One of the strong capabilities of the system is for the corporate office to be able to monitor what is going on at all times, said Scott Bacon, Southeast's vice president of planning. From a security standpoint, this provides a great advantage to assure that there is a safe environment at all times.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the newly created Homeland Security Department do not require airlines to take such security measures. But Southeast said it's just a matter of time before they do, and it will be prepared.

While other airlines have not announced similar plans, privacy and consumer advocates are alarmed by the tiny airline. They said the move is a big invasion of privacy and see no reason why an airline needs to retain video.

What's the point of keeping track of everyone when nothing happens on the flight? said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Tien said the airlines and law enforcement would be able to track private, personal information. Not only would they keep a record of every recreational or business trip, they could record conversations between spouses and capture every book title or magazine a passenger reads.

The video system is manufactured by SkyWay Communications, based in Clearwater, Florida. The company installs the cameras and stores the information for its customers.

We can install up to 16 cameras that can be located throughout the plane and could be covert or overt, said David Huy, SkyWay vice president of sales and marketing. It enables us to monitor the activity in the aircraft in real time. We feel this will be very important. The federal government is looking at mandating some camera security and surveillance. " Huy said cameras wouldn't be installed in the restrooms.

The Department for Homeland Security hasn't yet mandated the use of video cameras in flights. These are just a number of technologies out there that we are considering in reference to security, said Michelle Petrovich, a spokeswoman for the department's science and technology bureau. We haven't made a decision or awarded a contract yet.

 

11th May

    Enforcing Corporate Greed

From Reuters

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a trade group representing major record labels that has served as the industry's voice against online music piracy, has stepped up its campaign against file-sharing services by sending individual instant messages to users of Kazaa and Grokster, warning them of the penalties of criminal copyright infringement. When you offer music on these systems, you are not anonymous and you can easily be identified, reads part of the message sent to around 200,000 file-sharing service users recently

The RIAA told Reuters that at least one million users will receive the message by the end of the week. We're going to be sending messages to the very people who are offering music, in real time, as they do it, RIAA president Cary Sherman told CNET News.com. The hope is that this way we'll be reaching the people who need to know that they are not anonymous, that there are risks of legal consequences if they continue, and also that there are risks to privacy and security.

 

29th April

    Copying Corporate Greed

Reuters recently published a preview of a court hearing in a case that pits Hollywood movie studios against a software company distributing a program that allows users to make perfect copies of their DVD movies.

 Movie studios claim St. Louis-based 321 Studios' software violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, while the company says that its DVD X Copy program lets users exercise their traditional "fair use" rights by making back-up copies of discs in case they are damaged or lost.

 

27th April

    Sharing Out Privacy

So the United States of War Criminals wants to harangue file sharers. Its one thing bullying people who can't bomb back but to turn on one's own citizens...

The US Department of Justice has sided with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in its dispute with Verizon Communications over whether Verizon must disclose the identity of a customer who is an alleged copyright infringer.

The Justice Department argued that the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which requires Internet service providers to turn over information about subscribers who are alleged to be copyright infringers, does not violate the Constitution. Verizon, however, argues that the law violates consumers' rights to privacy and due process. The district court ruled in favor of the RIAA in January, and Verizon appealed the decision

 

27th April

    Financing Persecution

Perhaps the US are relying on music sales to fund their next batch of cluster bombs.

Two of the world's five major record labels have sued Hummer Winblad, a venture capital firm that invested in defunct file-sharing service Napster, alleging the firm through its investment knowingly facilitated infringement of plaintiff's copyrights for its direct financial benefit.

The suit was filed by Universal Music Group and EMI Recorded Music, both of which were also party to the suits that eventually resulted in Napster's shutdown. Hummer Winblad was an early Napster investor, sinking around $13 million into the company and inserting partner Hank Barry as the company's interim CEO.

 

5th March

    Passenger Air Worthiness

I wonder if it will detect a weapon of mass civilian destruction like George Bush

From CNN

According to the Transportation Department Agency, CAPPS II will be rolled out within 90 days. CAPPS II (Computer Assisted Passenger Prejudice System) will check such things as credit report and bank account activity to determine the security level risk that each and every individual passenger poses.

All airline passengers meeting certain criteria will be assigned security risk levels of green, yellow and red. Those with red levels will not be allowed to fly. Passengers will not be allowed to view their personal information used in such determinations, and the information used will be on file for 50 years.

Possible drawbacks include but are not limited to, increased surveillance on certain people whose credit reports are not inline with security policy, dovetailing with other government agencies (whose policies regarding individual citizens' privacy are not paramount and/or will be abused), and downgrading of credit worthiness due to increased requests/inquiries of credit reports. Most of all, it represents a continued erosion of civil liberties, particularly for those who do not have the means to counter any charges of being a security risk.

 

14th January

    At Liberty to Keep it that Way

From Liberty

Urgent Action: Last Chance to Comment on UK ID Card Proposal

With only two weeks left in the UK government's "silent consultation" on the National ID card, the government is still claiming that there is a majority in support of ID Cards http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/page6806.asp Now is the time to register your concern!

Liberty, Privacy International and a range of other organisations have been working to open the consultation fully to the public. At a recent public meeting on the 11 December there was an enormous vote of no confidence in the government's entitlement card proposals. But we need people to register their objection. There are three ways you can do this:

1. The easiest way is to simply email us here at Liberty stating clearly that you are
opposed to the introduction of any national ID card system. Please leave
your name and address in order to ensure that your response will count
towards the official total number of consultations received by the Home
Office. We will be passing all these responses on to the Home Office before
the end of the month and your objection will be counted.

Alternatively, you can leave a phone message stating your views against the
introduction of any ID Card: 0845 330 7246. This is a phone line run by
Privacy International. Each message left on these lines will be converted
to an audio file, and then emailed to the Home Office. Again, you will need
to leave your name and address in order to ensure that your response will be
counted.

Finally, you may prefer to contact the Home Office directly to register your
objection:

Entitlement Cards Unit
Home Office
50 Queen Anne's Gate
London
SW1H 9AT

Or by email at: entitlementcardsunit@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

If you are undecided or you feel you need to know more about the
government's proposals - and the arguments for and against them - then you
can look at the Liberty guide to ID cards where you will
also find Liberty and Charter 88's new pamphlet on entitlement cards.

Feel free to distribute this email to your contacts. - the consultation ends
on January 31

Some other useful ID Card sites:

Privacy International
STAND
No to ID Cards