Spy on them?


Apparently today is the day we fight back, with the launch of Don’t Spy On Us in the UK.

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It’s puzzling why digital interactions are somehow viewed differently to other aspects of everyday life. I suspect the economics of getting away with mass surveillance online vs. offline has a lot to do with it. Whatever the reason, making it explicit that our offline rights extend online is well overdue. The six proposed principles don’t seem all that unreasonable:

1. No surveillance without suspicion
Mass surveillance must end. Surveillance is only legitimate when it is targeted, authorised by a warrant, and is necessary and proportionate.

2. Transparent laws, not secret laws
The Government is using secret agreements and abusing archaic laws. We need a clear legal framework governing surveillance to protect our rights.

3. Judicial not political authorisation
Ministers should not have the power to authorise surveillance. All surveillance should be sanctioned by an independent judge on a case-by-case basis.

4. Effective democratic oversight
Parliament has failed to hold the intelligence agencies to account. Parliamentary oversight must be independent, properly resourced, and able to command public confidence through regular reporting and public sessions.

5. The right to redress
Innocent people have had their rights violated. Everyone should have the right to challenge surveillance in an open court.

6. A secure web for all
Weakening the general security and privacy of communications systems erodes protections for everyone, and undermines trust in digital services. Secret operations by government agencies should be targeted, and not attack widely used technologies, protocols and standards.

If we miss this opportunity, there’s a real risk to democracy. How is oversight possible if the people you’re overseeing know things about you that you’d rather keep private. My last MP, a candidate for the Lib Dem leadership, certainly had things to hide. Perhaps we need to know more about MPs. A lot more.

Photo © Veronica Aguilar (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Unfiltered


According to BT its parental controls are ‘completely customisable’ and apparently it is possible to add specific sites to allow or block which, unless you’re Claire Perry, is obviously essential. Even so I’ve experienced just how pointless internet filters are before, so I’m keen to avoid ‘porn’ filters on my home broadband connection for as long as possible.

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I don’t know how filtering works on other ISPs but these are just a few of the problems with BT’s implementation which contributed to an upcoming switch to a completely unfiltered broadband provider:

  • Applies same filtering to every device… hopefully there aren’t actually any homes without adults around. Apparently they do allow you to schedule when the filter is active but that seems like a solution from the last century.
  • There’s no way for me to find out if a site would be blocked by the filter. There are sites I might want to make certain are blocked but I obviously wouldn’t want to have to visit them to find out!
  • There’s no way for site owners to find out if their own site would be blocked by the filter.
  • The standard filtering has a couple of glaring omissions which I would be interested in: I want to block adverts targeted at children, and I want to block any form of tracking.

There are more details of BT’s filtering in the Open Rights Group blog post, BT answers our questions about parental controls.

Photo © Mark (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Warning: This post contains pornographic words


Apparently few things matter more to David Cameron than protecting children on the internet. Perhaps he’s planning to increase the funding available to tackle online child abuse, which would be useful. Apparently not, which is a pity because Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

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So what is David going to do to protect children on the internet? Nothing very useful as far as I can tell. In fact, probably the opposite. The internet, like life, is complicated. In the simplest terms I can think of, the internet is not safe for children, but actually that’s ok, and is no different to a lot of other things.

You wouldn’t expect young children to be using a chainsaw on their own, but you would also find it pretty difficult to cut a tree down with plastic safety scissors. You wouldn’t expect older children to use a band saw on their own, but it would be ok if they were supervised while learning to use one safely.

I would agree with the suggestion that parents aren’t given enough help, but a ‘one click’ on/off filter on a shared internet connection is really really not the answer. You need lots of tools; maybe playpens for the very young, corner protectors when they can walk, right up to an idiots guide to the internet for older politicians!

Aside from the fact that blocking and filtering just tend to annoy people who are trying to access perfectly legitimate content, and MPs haven’t even really defined what they want to block, there are downsides to creating a UK intranet. There are already more than enough places with over zealous filters, like O2 and Orange, or libraries, and there can already be real financial implications to manipulating search engine results with no transparency or oversight.

Perhaps even this post/blog has been blocked. Ok, the world wouldn’t be much worse off in that case, but I am more concerned about other sites which are likely to be blocked unintentionally, especially now that I have a child. You see, it’s not quite as simple as the Prime Minister makes out. I may face some very tricky conversations as my child grows up, and they would be more difficult if they and I aren’t able to search for information and support. I had naively assumed that banning rape porn would be one simple thing that everyone would agree with, but even that subject isn’t quite as straight forward as you would hope. I hope that reading challenging articles about difficult subjects will prepare me for being a better parent. I know that a web filter won’t.

I’ll be holding on to unfiltered internet access as long as possible.

(Of course the internet isn’t the only place children might see porn. I assume they’ll be announcing a filtered version of the Sun tomorrow…)

Photo © Anne Petersen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Communications Data Bill doesn’t go far enough


There’s been some great news for security in this country recently: the Conservatives have finally given up on their silly agreement to roll back state intrusion. Let’s hope Nick doesn’t succeed in blocking such crucial legislation but, if he does, it seems like the US could already be doing the surveillance for us!

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The only problem is that this kind of blanket online monitoring just doesn’t go far enough. With the public in fear of the ever present threat of terrorism, we need to collecting metadata about all forms of communication, from the postal system, to peoples front rooms:

  • We shouldn’t expect to just put a letter in the post without any form of tracking. All post should be taken to post offices, along with photo ID, so that sender and recipient can be properly logged.
  • Oyster can already keep track of public transport journeys in London and needs to be extended across the country as a matter of urgency.
  • Every journey by road also needs to be logged. Submitting a route plan should be required in advance of each journey, with automatic number plate recognition verifying the actual route taken.
  • And finally, to cover the last mile of any journey, as well as pedestrians and cyclists, it should be compulsory for every citizen to carry a smart phone and use a UK government 4wrnd app. This will enable location and proximity to other citizens to be tracked in real time.

Terrahawks need to push ahead with these measures and more, before it’s too late.

Admittedly this new surveillance will undoubtedly cost a lot of money, which could impact other methods of protecting citizens. What some people have conveniently overlooked is that, once collected, the new data will be a valuable source of revenue. If mobile phone companies can sell data, there’s no reason for the government not to do the same. From insurance companies and worried parents, to foreign governments, people will be queuing up to access this valuable new big data resource.

Photo © walkingwalking (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Leaflet watch


Election day is fast approaching and the leaflets are stacking up. We’ve had more election leaflets than takeaway menus through the door lately!

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I don’t know about anyone else but none of the leaflets are actually helping me decide who to vote for. All the favourite NIMBY issues are covered, lots of helpful comments about who can win, who would ‘get in’ if you wasted your vote, where people live, what terrible deeds the other party has committed, and so on. They do waste a tiny bit of space on their own policies, but practically none on anything as boring as evidence.

To be fair, all the leaflets are a complete waste of paper, but somehow the Lib Dem leaflets always manage to wind me up the most. Perhaps it’s because they really don’t just appear at election time- they annoy me all year long! That and their habit of being ever so slightly economical with the truth. After years of campaigning on protecting green fields the most high profile exposure has been green field gate gate. Shortly afterwards we got a leaflet with three ‘facts’ about the Boorley Green development- perhaps it would have been better to be up-front about the complexities of local planning. A step in the right direction but they seem to be suggesting that it’s a choice between the golf course and all the other countryside that’s helpfully coloured in green. Let’s see how that map looks in 50 years.

Amazingly they’ve moved on from protecting the countryside. (The last leaflet didn’t mention it once!) Unfortunately the new topics are about what the Conservatives are doing, not about what the Lib Dems are promising to do. So negative as well as misleading.

Apparently the county council has been wasting money on new offices. No mention of the Lib Dem’s own office move but it’s the £12,000 price tag for 6 taps that really stands out. It would be nice if they explained how you can spend that much on taps, except that might make them appear even more petty.

And finally, my personal favourite is how the county council is ‘wasting’ money on streaming meetings. Now you could quibble about the exact cost (I expect you get what you pay for to some extent) but it seems to me like they’re actually saying it’s not worth spending money on improving transparency and democracy. Given the track record of the town council, I can understand that. It would have been great to see what happened in Botley recently as well, but that wasn’t available online either. Sadly, democracy costs money. I wonder how much money the by-election is costing. Remind me why we actually need a by-election?

Photo © Richard Jacks

Another uninspiring election


Looking for Beer, Baccy and Crumpet party? Thanks to Ray for pointing out that their manifesto is now online!

Despite having twice the number of candidates, I think I may have been a tad optimistic to think that this election would be any more interesting than usual.

Being 2013 unable to adapt, almost all the parties are effectively engaging with voters using a variety of social media tools pushing tons of leaflets through doors. So far I have one letter and one leaflet from UKIP, three leaflets from the Conservatives, five leaflets from the Lib Dems …and nothing from the other candidates. The other candidates shouldn’t be too concerned though since:

  • I don’t want a free booklet about how many people will move here from Romania and Bulgaria
  • Everyone seems to be fighting to save our green fields
  • The Lib Dem leaflets are as infuriating as ever (that rant will have to wait for a future blog post!)

I have actually found a few of the candidates amongst the people talking about the election on twitter. It wouldn’t be a huge loss if they weren’t though- not exactly much substance, more:

  • where they’re canvassing (need to do a uksnow style map for this in time for the next general election!)
  • what the weather is like
  • how great their support is
  • how busy their HQ is
  • who’s interviewing them

In just two missed opportunities:

  • John O’Farrell revealed that he spoke about local issues to Ed Milliband, just not what those issues were
  • Maria Hutchings is against building on green fields in Botley/Boorley green but less willing to engage in discussions about where the houses might go instead (I actually thought Maria’s twitter stream was reasonably good before the election- maybe she’s too busy knocking on doors to tweet now)

As for everyone else on twitter, today seems to have been mainly:

But what about the other candidates? There are plenty of them but finding out about them is not quite so easy. Maybe if I lived in the centre of Eastleigh, I’d know more. Luckily, Eastleigh News has some articles, including one for the Beer, Baccy and & Crumpet Party, and The Independent has a brief introduction to some of the lesser known candidates. Even better, Matthew Myatt has managed to record a few interviews with the candidates, including Howling Laud Hope.

All of which makes for a pretty miserable choice. So far Laud Hope is most likely to get my vote! If I get time, I’m planning to try out the 38degrees email the candidates form to actually try and extract some useful information to base my vote on. In the mean time, if you are a candidate, please feel free to leave a message below!

Update: most people seem to find this post while looking for the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet manifesto so added link to their manifesto! (22 February 2013)