On the telebox, innit.
Posts Tagged ‘nick pickles’
Talking SOPA and the Wikipedia blackout
Are we sleepwalking into the end of freedom online?
With a perfect storm of security, child protection and sexualisation and copyright enforcement we may be sleepwalking into the end of freedom online as we know it.
Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) may sound like something you definitely don’t want to hear your GP say, but the reality is arguably far worse.
The legal action against file sharing site Newzbin2 was the first large-scale legal action of its kind, and resulted in a legal order mandating BT to block its customers from accessing the site.
There are various ways of achieving this, from simply blocking the web address to more complex technical methods. But the question of key concern is whether BT should be able to inspect everything you see and do online to ensure that you’re not looking at a website.
In other words, is the price for copyright enforcement our privacy?
According to the Honourable Mr Justice Arnold, BT not only should be able to see every detail of what we do online, but the court expects it to look.
In section 6 of his ruling of the 26 October, Arnold says BT’s Cleanfeed technology should be used to stop users accessing the site, believing Cleanfeed involves “a two-stage system of IP address re-routing and DPI-based URL blocking.”
In human-speak, this means looking at the digital address of the website you want to look at, not just the www name, but also that BT should look at the individual ‘packets’ of data your PC transmits to make absolutely sure you’re not looking at that website. To use a well-worn analogy, it’s like the Royal Mail opening every letter you write to check one of them doesn’t include a copied CD.
Let’s be clear, there is no law, and this court order does not make it illegal, to view the contents of Newzbin2. Cleanfeed was developed to block images and sites connected to child abuse, and it’s suitability for this kind of enforcement is far from clear.
It’s also unlawful in the UK for a private company to intercept communications without the prior consent of both the sender and recipient. So, it would appear a UK judge has just ordered BT to break the criminal law, in the name of copyright enforcement – which remains a civil matter.
This kind of uncertainty and contradiction is not new; it has been at the heart of policy formulation in the UK for several years, and is evident in the hand-wringing around the Digital Economy Act and its enforcement.
However, this ruling does have a wider impact - it brings into question the way in which individual privacy is protected online and the regard with which it is held.
It should not be forgotten that no UK regulator took action against BT when it used deep packet inspection as part of its advertising business development. The UK’s attitude to privacy online has been one of a badly blurred human right, a data protection regime created before Google existed and mismatched legislation that authorises investigations into suspected terrorists.
There is little discussion of how online privacy can be protected, with most of the debate focused on whether privacy comes at too great a cost to society. This cannot be a healthy situation for a society that is democratic.
As the legal question of protecting intellectual property and enforcing the criminal law becomes blurred with the moral questions posed by the likes of Claire Perry, the future of British access – private access – to a free internet becomes ever less certain.
This week, the great and the good of the internet world gathered in London to discuss the impending doom that an explosion in cybercrime entails.
Yet perhaps the greatest threat lies from within, and with a perfect storm of security, child protection and sexualisation and copyright enforcement we may be sleepwalking into the end of freedom online as we know it.
First posted on the Commentator.
Two protests, one NUS, no option.
Anyone involved in politics has heard tales of student sit-ins, demos and protests at times of great international unrest - from Mandela to the Cuban Missile Crisis, many an MP and Peer can recount tales of their own student activism and how the student movement played a major role in countless reforms.
Sadly, the modern NUS bears little resemblance to those ideals and finds itself a machine for wannabe Labour MPs, held hostage by hard-left factions. The events of the past two days have born this out, as President Aaron Porter struggles to play a reasonable card that won’t upset his potential boss Ed Miliband, while at the same time knowing his own power relies on the support of some in the hard-left who were on the front lines as Millbank Towers was disgracefully attacked.
As a former Student Union President, (2005-6) I had a front row seat for some entertaining NUS politics. I was on the last mass protest against top-up fees, watching in the chamber as Labour MPs tried to justify breaking a manifesto commitment (again) and meeting my own MP to lobby him on the issue. Then, as now, there remained a core of NUS activists - sadly the ones in control - to whom reasoned debate is alien. These are the students who boldly carried ‘F**k Fees’ placards, shouted abuse at the police and had no alternatives.
Yet there is one striking difference. When Labour twice broke manifesto commitments on fees, there was no mass riot outside their office, no reckless acts of violence and certainly no NUS officers baying the mob.
Sadly, the events at Millbank Tower bore out a painful truth for NUS. While its members care about the issue of funding, its organisation care about the politics. And in truth, that means they care about attacking the Tories.
Aaron Porter should bear responsibility for the chaos and mindless destruction that took place on his watch and resign - and call publicly for the resignation of every NUS officer who was part of the Millbank fracas. He should call publicly for the prosecution, for attempted murder, of the student who threw a fire extinguisher from the roof of the tower.
While I quickly realised that for the sake of my sanity (and indeed the chance to actually do something of use to the students who elected me) I was better off avoiding NUS, many students union officers see their office as a stepping stone to NUS office. Small cliques of obsessive activists dominate students unions, passing dogmatic motion after boycott, and the majority of students have their voice stolen by these small cliques, under the guise of the National Union of Students.
There is no option - ordinary students must reclaim their voice and take back their agenda, without NUS.
Conservative Conference 2010 in pictures
In a rather rare opportunity to blend my music photography and politics, I had my camera with me at this year’s Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.
If you’d like to see the results, I’ve put a gallery up on my photography website here.
6music saved - and rightly so.
I was having a conversation about the music industry with a friend who PRs several big acts, and we came to the conclusion that more than ever before, it’s TV and radio that breaks acts. The mainstream media’s role has largely diminished to a fringe (NME regular circulation down from 250,000 in John peel’s heyday to sub-40,000 now) and no digital player has grown quite big enough to ‘break’ an artist (although iTunes is now recognised as hugely valuable.)
During the election campaign, I was struck by how many people in my own party were quite aggressive in supporting the closure of 6Music. Yes, it caters for niche audiences, but equally offering a platform to break new bands that was unrivalled anywhere else.
There is something absolutely true about the cultural vibrancy of a country and progress. Innovation comes from unexpected places, not least the creative industries.
Yes – the BBC, like the rest of the economy, needs to reduce spending. I for one would certainly oppose any increase in the license fee, and support the top-slicing proposed to increase the roll out of digital and broadband services.
But equally, the BBC has a role to fulfil. Many people feel simply that we should abolish the license fee – why should taxpayers be forced to pay for a service with no opt-out? And I do sympathise with that viewpoint. But then again, the BBC does lots of great things for a relatively small amount of money that would just disappear – not profitable enough for the commercial broadcasters to take up.
In my view, part of the BBC’s role is offer a ‘sandpit’ for up and coming artists, be they comedians/musicians/writers – and that comes with a cost. In the same way the easiest cut to make in a business is to stop R&D and training, it’s also the best way to guarantee you go out of business in a few years.
6music offered this function, along with playing a great mix of older music. It’s also worth noting 6music also plays a role within the BBC – scouting out talent and sharing it around the wider organisation. That’s a function that on a cost basis is much cheaper than having the function duplicated in every department.
Yes, in part the rigidity of the Radio 1 playlist contributes to the problem which 6 music is solving, but John Peel never had a peak slot, so to think that a rough demo from an unsigned band could be broken on lunchtime shows is pretty naive. You can almost hear the complaints of ‘I refuse to listen to Radio 1 because it doesn’t play anything I know’ now.
Many of the people who wanted 6music closed simply did so because of either a lack of understanding about the role it played in the industry, or because they’d support any part of the BBC being shut.
Perhaps the greatest irony of all this is hearing many of the people who so vocally championed 6music closing talking about how much they enjoyed seeing an artist who a few years ago was given their first major broadcast exposure by 6Music.
I for one am glad the BBC trust listened and stopped this short-sighted decision. I just hope they don’t stop here and actually go on to tackle the massively bloated salaries of some of the BBC’s top stars. Working for the BBC is a privilege because they have things like 6music – if stars want mega salaries they can go elsewhere. It’s the same process by which Glastonbury book headliners, avoiding the massive fees of V and Reading/Leeds and they never seem to have any problem booking people.
I know I’m probably in a minority of Conservatives who think this, but I was also in a minority at a gig many years back at a pub in Sheffield watching some student band plugging away. It cost me £4 and the singer brought me a cup of tea because I looked cold in the que outside. At the time I struggled to give away my spare ticket to friends. Had I gone to Conservative conference and asked people to come with me, I imagine I would have got a similar response to this blog post.
The point? Well, that band was Coldplay.
Sometimes bigger things start from minorities. So let’s not stamp on them to save a few quid.
(Yes I also appreciate some readers would be quite happy for Coldplay to never have happened but the wider point is still true!)
Disclosure – in the interests of openness, I should add I work for the BBC as a photographer a few times a year, but with the interactive team, and do not work directly for 6music.
Reform should start with the electoral roll and postal votes
I was pretty amazed to see the head of the Electoral Commission lambasting problems in polling at the General Election evidence of a “19th-century system for running elections was “buckling” under the weight of 21st-century democracy.”
Jenny Watson has launched an inquiry into what happened. Well, it doesnt seem too complicated.
The scenes of voters being turned away at polling stations should not happen in a modern democracy. I don’t agree that just by turning up at 9.59pm you should expect to waltz straight in and vote, but some of the people turned away had been queing for hours and they should have been able to vote. Equally, the idea that some councils predict how many people won’t turn out before putting the necessary resources in place has a woefull, Ryanair/Travelodge feel to it and those responsible should be given a very strong dressing down.
However, she does have a point about one thing - the electoral roll framework, initially designed for 5m people, is now creaking under 45m records.
The electoral roll is the basis of an incredible amount of systems. From council tax to school allocation, it is used by a host of government departments and agencies who treat it as gospel. Yet the British electoral roll is widely regarded by experts as one of the most inaccurate sources of data going.
The frenetic drive to increase postal vote registrations from all parties has not made the situation any easier, and the current system is woefully ill-equipped to deliver secure and transparent elections, as some election monitors from Kenya noted.
The words of Marie Marilyn Jalloh, an MP from Sierra Leone, are particularly cutting: “[The British] system is a recipe for corruption; it was a massive shock when I saw you didn’t need any identification to vote. In Sierra Leone you need an identity card and also to give your fingerprint. Here you need nothing. In this respect, our own system is more secure than yours.”
The example of Alfie McKenzie, who at 14 very nearly cast a vote, is not an isolated incident - the continuing situation of students being sent ballot cards or postal votes for multiple addresses continues unabated. Not to mention the acceptance from all quarters that there remain a large number of ‘ghost’ voters, who for one reason or another no longer live at the address they have a vote sent to.
Let me make myself clear - the reason for low turnout is not the hugley impractical process of having to get to a polling station. It’s because people either don’t feel their vote will matter, feel the politicians on offer are all as bad as each other, or because for one reason or another they are not engaged by the political debate. Plus, there will always be some people, however depressing it is to say, who will simply not be bothered enough to vote.
As I watched the rejected ballots be sifted for my own constituency, there were several people who had opted to spoil their ballots (some in more creative and defamatory ways than others!) and I was reminded that one great principle of the British electoral system is the ability to spoil your ballot. (Not possible in e-elections or mechanical telling machines - unless you’re trying to vote for Al Gore in Florida)
The solution to this isnt a mammoth, national IT database, but if one local authority could pilot an alternative way of managing the electoral roll, and perhaps test some innovations in how the poll could work, we might improve participation and reduce the risk of fraud at the same time.
What kind of innovations? Well, here are a few points I think should be considered:
- Fundamental reform in the way the electoral register is created and managed - perhaps using a ‘live’ database to cross reference, such as National Insurance or PAYE records - this should also include serious reform of voter registration processes
- A tightening up of the postal vote system, restricting it to pensioners, the incapacitated and those out of the country on polling day
- An ‘advance vote’ system where instead of postal votes, a single polling booth is made available (possibly at the head office of the relevant local authority) where people can vote in advance (ie between close of nominations and polling day) to remove need for postal/proxy votes
- A formal ID check at polling stations
- Serious consideration should be given to moving polling day to a Saturday or Sunday
Labour’s betrayal of working people
Normanton might not be the sort of place you’d expect to turn blue. Then again, you could say that about lots of places in West Yorkshire.
Whether it’s in the council estates of Wakefield or the terraced streets of Outwood, people are turning to the Conservatives to mend their communities, get the local economy moving and change not just the district council (Labour’s last in West Yorkshire) but the country.
Across Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, I’ve been struck by just how badly the current government has served those who most need real help. The seat is home in every sense for me – it’s where I was born, where I grew up and where I live – and my campaign has been inundated by people who have always voted Labour, but are now desperate to avoid five more years of Gordon Brown.
In taking on Yvette Cooper in her existing constituency and parts of the seat currently occupied by her husband, Ed Balls, I have been shocked by the apathy towards politics that they have fostered. Life-long Labour voters, not to mention people like me, have seen letters, e-mails and phone calls go unanswered and pleas for help ignored. Their photographs may regularly appear on the pages of the local newspaper, but their detachment from the communities they were elected to serve is all too clear.
Westminster is an alien land to too many people here, while the policies pursued from Whitehall hit the vulnerable hardest. From uncontrolled immigration to the collapse of discipline in schools, the target culture driving nurses to despair to the early release of criminals, thousands of once stalwart Labour voters have had enough and are ready for change.
I seem to come across a harrowing tale of Government failure every day. In Castleford, children have nicknamed one play area the ‘Glass Park’, such is the level of debris, yet just a few miles away more than £4m was spent on a bridge that doesn’t lead anywhere.
On the doorstep, you hear tales of how people working forty-hours plus weeks live alongside people just as well off on benefits, while others are desperate to work but are penalised by a complex and regressive tax credits regime.
These aren’t just statistics – they are the very real examples of how desperately Britain needs change.
Labour have betrayed the trust of working class people and it is the Conservatives offering a vision of a Britain built on work, responsibility and community.
These are the values communities across West Yorkshire are built on and why I believe on election night you’ll see a large swathe of Labour’s heartland turning blue.
(This post was first published on the Blue Blog - you can read it here)
Our pledge to pensioners
There have been some pretty worrying tales of Labour deliberately misleading pensioners about our plans. So, let’s set the record straight.
DAVID CAMERON’S PLEDGE TO PENSIONERS
“The Government I lead will make sure that older and retired people are treated with dignity and given the quality of life they deserve. This is my pledge to support pensioners.
My Government will:
- Increase the value of the basic state pension for all pensioners and help to stop the spread of the means test by linking pensions to earnings. You won’t get a repeat of Labour’s mean 75p rise with us.
- Freeze council tax for the next two years, in partnership with your council.
- Make it worthwhile to save for a personal pension and get rid of the rules that force people to get a compulsory annuity.
- Help people protect their home rather than have to sell it to pay for care.
- Take all family homes worth less than £1 million out of inheritance tax.
- Increase spending on the NHS every year, which is our number one priority.
- Cut paperwork so we get more police out on the beat fighting crime.
Our opponents are trying to scare older people by telling deliberate lies about our plans. So here is a personal promise, from me, about the things we will protect.
- I will protect your Winter Fuel Payment.
- I will protect your free bus pass and your free TV licence.
- I will protect the pension credit.
These vital benefits will not be cut under the Conservatives. You have my word on it.
If he wins the election, Gordon Brown wants to introduce a number of measures which will hit pensioners. A Conservative Government will not penalise pensioners, as Labour are planning to do:
- We will NOT introduce a ‘death tax’ of up to £50,000.
- We will NOT cut attendance allowance and disability allowance for the over 65s.
We can afford to make these pledges because we have found the money from other areas, like cutting government waste and bringing forward the date at which the state pension age will rise to 66.”
You can see David Cameron’s commitment to pensioners on behalf of the Conservative Party here.
Pontefract Hospital - save our A&E department
Have we been mislead over Pontefract Hospital?
We’ve seen our local MP Yvette Cooper in plenty of photo opportunities at the hospital, but we can’t go on with more of her empty rhetoric.
I have been contacted by several local NHS staff who have raised concerns the public are not being given the full picture and that the A&E services are set to be downgraded soon after the election.
The new hospital does not have any acute care beds, proper access for ambulances or a morgue. Ambulance crews are already under instructions that Pontefract does not accept trauma patients, while nobody seems to know how many beds the new site will have - I have been told it could be as low as 30.
To try and get to the bottom of this, I have also submitted several freedom of information requests to investigate the figures quoted by Yvette claiming 9 out of ten patients will continue to be treated at the hospital.
Staff have tipped me off that this figure has been achieved by not including patients arriving by ambulance and including some out patient treatments.
I find it astonishing that NHS staff have spoken so openly to me about their real concerns that the current A&E provision will be downgraded as soon as the election is out of the way.
On the eve of a general election people in Pontefract deserve answers from their Labour MPs and not just empty rhetoric.
I have previously contacted the NHS trust demanding answers to my concerns over parking charges at the hospital - after more than two weeks, I have still not had a reply.
Should Pontefract have a town council?
Last night I attended a lively meeting in Pontefract town hall as part of Wakefield council’s governance review for the town.
As various people pointed out, it is difficult to make a decision on an issue like this when only 1 in 8 of the population affected have expressed an opinion, and if you exclude those who signed petitions and responded to the council’s consultation, that figure falls to about 1 in 22. Hopefully after last night word will spread
I agree with the numerous speakers who said the argument is not about if more power should be devolved to communities, but how it should be done.
A town council is certainly one option. Particularly attractive is the re-establishment of the mayor’s position, a useful too in supporting the ceremonial and cultural life of the town. However, as pointed out several times in the meeting, this does not come without a cost. Town Councils can set a precept, above the local council tax, and unlike council tax there is no statutory limit. Examples from within West Yorkshire of precepts as high as £5 a week were highlighted by speakers.
In the current economic climate, I think the last thing people need is a new tax - however small it may seem at first. Yes, the district council needs to do much more to engage with communities in decision making and supporting the cultural identity of towns like Pontefract and Normanton, rather than an all-ecompassing ‘brand wakefield’. The local conservative group has proposed citizen’s assemblies, which would have powers devolved from the district council and draw from the local community and relevant groups, but be administered by existing capacity at Wakefield town hall. I fully support this idea.
As a final point, I think the whole debate illustrates once again the importance of transparency. Across the Wakefield district and my constituency, I hear people talking about the variations of how funds are allocated and new projects undertaken.
The only way to demonstrate the capital budget does not favour one area is to publish the figures over a multi-year period with a breakdown of towns, and let the residents see where the money has gone.