Spy on them?


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

lynsey_wells83-slow-down

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.

CoffeeGeek-filter

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.

opacity-toolset

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!

walkingwalking-stasifiles

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!

byelection-leaflets

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)

Anyone can win here!


Well it turns out you can resign from the House of Commons, so if I was crazy enough to stand in the by-election I wouldn’t have to break any manifesto promises! (Even when it comes to resigning those weasily MPs have to bend the rules ever so slightly to get round the slight inconvenience of not actually being allowed to resign, which I guess isn’t a huge shock.)

The Eastleigh by-election should at least be a little more interesting than the last general election and, finally, I’ll get the chance to vote Monster Raving Loony! If there don’t turn out to be any better alternatives that is- at least it’s marginally less pointless than spoiling a ballet paper for a change.

I was wondering how the local Lib Dems might adapt their irritating campaign tactics for the by-election. The result won’t make any difference to which party is in government, and that’s already a coalition of the only two parties who can win in Eastleigh. Well, it appears that old habits die hard. I do hope they’re wrong; it would be so nice to have a change!

So far it looks like we can expect a massive seven candidates to stand but I’d still like to see more independents. There’s not long left to get nominations in but if anyone needs help with signatures, please get in touch!

Day 365 in the big leaky house


Well, it’s been a year since we finally moved (and it’s not far off five years since we first tried!) so now seems as good a time as any to grumble about the whole process. Hopefully there will be marginally less cursing a year on but if you’re an estate agent, look away now.

Photo © Andy D’Agorne (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Actually, to start with one positive, I’m pretty sure we’d have lost our buyer before completion without our estate agent on the case, especially towards the end when they were getting increasingly twitchy. Perhaps there is a point to estate agents after all?

One of the reasons that our buyer was getting so twitchy was the length of time the whole process took. There were a few big delays along the way although, surprisingly given our usual decisiveness and the slow market, we did find somewhere to buy pretty quickly. So quickly that we were asked to appear in the estate agent’s newsletter. It’s just a shame that purchase fell through. Annoying it fell through because the solicitor discovered that the description of the house wasn’t entirely accurate: it had one parking space, not three. What’s more annoying is that it was being sold by the same estate agent we used, they knew parking was high on our list of priorities, we specifically confirmed with them that there really were three parking spaces, we lost money on the purchase, and there’s pretty much nothing we could do about it. Finding out that the vendor had put the house back on the market via a friend who noticed on Rightmove, instead of hearing from the estate agent first, was a pretty low point in the process. (And if you think they fixed the description before putting it back on, think again.) Maybe we’d be better off without estate agents after all.

The second purchase was only marginally less bumpy, mostly due to the vendor’s exceedingly poor choice of solicitor. Even when we finally made it to moving day, they didn’t release the keys until 4pm- thank goodness we were at the start of the chain! On the subject of solicitors, their solution to everything seems to be an indemnity policy. So just in case some nasty legal thing happens, like the church wants money for no apparent reason, you should pay for protection…. isn’t that extortion? It’s lucky we didn’t end up buying a house with a shared driveway because covenants seem to be another legal mine field.

After the event we also discovered that the survey was erring towards fiction in places. It seems to contain details which you probably couldn’t get from street view, although I still wouldn’t be surprised to find out no one had actually been to look at the house in person. I’ve always thought surveys were a bit of a rip off, but this one wasn’t really worth the paper it was printed on.

I guess that’s more than enough moaning, suffice to say that we aren’t in any hurry to move again! By the time we do inevitably move again, I sincerely hope things have improved. Here are a few ideas that might help, some more crazy than others:

  • Home information packs were an expensive waste of space but it would be useful to simply have the full deeds, with covenants, available with the estate agent before a house being marketed.
  • Both parties should deposit money when an offer is accepted, and perhaps even lenders if they’ve agreed a mortgage. This would need to be well defined and universal, with arbitration for any disputes that arise if a sale falls through, otherwise it’s just a distraction/another legal cost.
  • Quite sensibly buyers and sellers cannot use the same solicitor, but there is also a massive conflict of interest if you buy and sell through the same estate agent. (Avoid it if you can!) In fact, estate agents working for the seller seems increasingly backwards to me. Why not simply register a house for sale, and use buying agents instead? Without the traditional estate agent working for the seller there might also be less opportunity for passing the buck- solicitors could be wholly responsible for the smooth running of the sale process instead.
  • Does anyone really think it’s right that parish churches should still be able to demand money for upkeep? We should put an end to that little racket.
  • Instead of indemnities for everything, couldn’t we do better at making it simple to address problems in title deeds and covenants?
  • Perhaps you should get something in return for that stamp duty, like managing notice of house sales (so buyers and buying agents can still find houses easily without estate agents), title deed/covenant adjustments, arbitration services, etc.

There’s a good discussion with other ideas and examples from other countries in the comments on the “House buying process suffers withdrawal symptoms” post. Unfortunately there are probably just too many vested interests for any real change.

Digital Curtain


The internet was a bit dingy yesterday as part of a worldwide protest against some proposed US legislation. There is already plenty of information and commentary about the latest attempts to tackle issues of ‘piracy’ at the expense of a free and open internet so I won’t try and repeat it all here. I did want to say something though since, basically, I don’t actually get a say. While the Digital Economy Act here in the UK was hardly a shinning example of democracy in action, its impact was at least limited to people within the UK who could in theory influence the final outcome at an election.

The thing that seriously concerns me about the US proposals are the extraterritorial implications. Perhaps I’ll be getting a postal vote in the next US elections, along with everyone else using the internet. I hope they send it to my new address.

Every cloud has a silver lining though, and I hope attempts to tamper with the workings of the internet only make it better. I’ve long thought that DNS is basically flawed, so perhaps this is an ideal opportunity to work on improvements like IDONS (Internet Distributed Open Name System). And the sooner the internet routes around the UK and US, the better!

Photo © Federico Negro (CC BY-NC 2.0)

International Year of Cooperatives


Apparently 2012 is the International Year of Cooperatives. Unfortunately, after a small error of judgement with my Christmas shopping in December, there’s one cooperative which won’t be on my Christmas list next year.

The Co-operative Electrical Shop claim that they…

“…pride ourselves on our high standards of Customer Service and want you to be happy with your purchase.”

So, being keen on good customer service, I decided to pay marginally more to buy from them. This was a Christmas present, so I wanted to avoid any problems. Things didn’t get off to a great start when this arrived at the door…

Just to clarify, that’s not the state it was in after opening any packaging. It arrived like that, completely unpackaged with an address label on the bottom! The other tiny problem with the lack of packaging, aside from looking like it had been kicked all the way from the warehouse, is that the intended recipient was the one who answered the door. Lucky it wasn’t a surprise gift or anything then!

Oh well, not a great start, but I’m sure a company so keen on customer service will only be too happy to rectify the mistake. I was feeling a little more optimistic after phoning their customer service line; there was no argument over a full refund and they arranged a pick up for the next day, since I was already going to be working at home waiting for another delivery. What could possibly go wrong…

One thing that could go wrong, and did, is no one showing up to pick up the return! When I phoned to find out why, it appears that they managed to miss off my house number when booking the parcel company pick up. So, two mistakes. Unlucky. They pride themselves on customer service though, so at this point I’d expect some serious effort to put things right.

I was disappointed. I wasn’t able to work at home to wait for another attempted pick up the same week, and despite explaining that a shorter time slot than all-day-maybe or at least a Saturday might be a good idea having been messed about so much already… the computer said no.

At this point I’d like to point out that eSpares managed to deliver 1 minute in to a very specific one hour delivery slot at the same time of year, and they got the order right first time! I mention this because it’s nice to point out that I don’t always complain… and because they gave me a recommend a friend code!!

So, to cut a long story short, they did eventually pick up the ‘parcel’, and they did eventually refund my money, but I’d call that grudging just about managing the legal minimum of customer service, and certainly nothing to be proud of. I wrote to point this out but unsurprisingly no one bothered to reply. Not even a stock, we got your letter and are basically going to ignore you, response.

I won’t be making the mistake of using the Co-operative Electrical Shop again. I’ll be sticking to these instead:

  • By appointment to Jo and JT. Purveyors of home appliances and more, John Lewis. John Lewis have been getting worse recently. Not as bad as Ikea but I’m unlikely to be using their electrical department again.
  • By appointment to Jo and JT. Purveyors of spare parts, eSpares.

Updated: I haven’t got round to posting about John Lewis yet but they aren’t as good as they once were. (19 November 2012)