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Ben Laurie blathering

4 Jan 2007

The Shape Of Things To Come

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Digital Rights,Security — Ben @ 15:42

Business Week has an article about the consequences of “medical identity theft”

When Weaver was hospitalized a year later for a hysterectomy, she realized the amputee’s medical info was now mixed in with her own after a nurse reviewed her chart and said, “I see you have diabetes.” (She doesn’t.) With medical data expected to begin flowing more freely among health-care providers, Weaver now frets that if she is ever rushed to a hospital, she could receive improper care—a transfusion with the wrong type of blood, for instance, or a medicine to which she’s allergic. “I now live in fear that if something ever happened to me, I could get the wrong kind of medical treatment,” she says.

So, one of the things NHS Spine enthusiasts keep trying to sell us is how access to all this information will benefit us. Unless its someone else’s information, that is, in which case it might kill us instead. Until the Spine gives me a way to control the information it holds, I won’t be able to trust it.

3 Jan 2007

EU Video Madness II

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Digital Rights — Ben @ 18:18

I wrote recently about the EU claiming Linux video was illegal. When I wrote that, I also asked them why they thought that. Apparently it was a statement made in error, so they have revised the FAQ.

On which platforms can I view the live streaming media service of the Council of the European Union?
The live streaming media service of the Council of the European Union can be viewed on Microsoft Windows and Macintosh platforms.

OK, so now its not illegal, what possible reason could they have for not supporting free software? I’ve asked.

2 Jan 2007

Soley on Data Spine Opt-out

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Digital Rights,Rants — Ben @ 15:35

My ex-MP, Clive Soley, has a blog. In it, he displays his usual grasp of the important issues

Fine Dan. You opt out of the NHS system as is your proper right but don’t blame me if in an emergency you don’t get the right treatment quickly enough because they have to ask permission to get your record when your unconscious!

Anyone who has looked into this even a little bit knows perfectly well that A&E aren’t interested in your medical history, apart from any that’s drastic enough to make you carry a warning about your person. For which, of course, a central database is totally not required. Incidentally, I wrote to my GP asking her to opt me and my immediate family, which she did without any fuss (see “Big Brother Knows Best“).
In the same post, amazingly

DNA. Any state system of collecting information is always a balance between the usefulness of the information to the individual (see above) and to society and those aspects have to be set against any dangers to overall freedom. As I have already said collection of DNA seems to me to be fairly easily justified.

The advantages are :

1. A very useful way of avoiding some of the wrongful convictions we have seen in the past:

2. A strong deterrent for crimes of extreme violence especially rape and murder:

3. A way of increasing the speed at which an offender can be caught – think how many murders and rape cases in the past could have been cleared up quickly before further offences could be committed.

Funnily enough, there’s no corresponding list of disadvantages.

It reminds me of the one time I interacted with him as my MP. I wrote to him about trespass, which was, at the time, to be criminalised. His response? “Law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear”. Apart, that is, from the ones that were law-abiding yesterday and are criminals today. He also went on to respond to a number of points I had not raised, presumably because I was being fobbed off with a form letter for a campaign that was running at the time.

1 Jan 2007

EU Video Madness

Filed under: Civil Liberties — Ben @ 13:10

The EU thinks it can’t create open source compatible video

On which platforms can I view the live streaming media service of the Council of the European Union?
The live streaming media service of the Council of the European Union can be viewed on Microsoft Windows and Macintosh platforms. We cannot support Linux in a legal way. So the answer is: No support for Linux

WTF? Does anyone know why they think this? Anyway, in the meantime there’s a petition you can sign. I’m not in love with the petition website, but it can’t hurt, right?

I’m not even going to get into why the EU thinks the only platform other than ‘doze and MacOS is Linux…

4 Dec 2006

Big Brother Knows Best

Filed under: Anonymity/Privacy,Civil Liberties — Ben @ 13:18

The Guardian printed a coupon last week that you could fill in and mail to the NHS asking to not have your medical records included on the NHS’ Spine.

In keeping with their policy of establishing consensus through advertising, the Department of Health have apparently responded that

nobody could have genuine grounds for claiming “substantial and unwarranted distress” as a result of having their intimate medical details included on a national computer system

Since, it seems, the criterion for being allowed to opt out is that you must demonstrate “substantial and unwarranted distress”, this means that no-one can opt out!

No doubt in a few months the fact that no-one has opted out will be quoted as evidence that there is widespread public support for the Spine.

Update: According to The Register, Lord Warner, health minister said:

“Patients will be informed in advance about new ways in which their information will be held and shared and they will be told they have the right to dissent – or ‘opt out’ – of having information shared.”

which doesn’t really tally with a statement by another minister, John Hutton:

“The Data Protection Act also provides patients with a right, where they are suffering substantial damage or distress, to object to processing of their data, including to prevent their data being held at all in an identifiable form, though this is expected to be a very rare event. We are currently considering how this right should apply to implementation of the NHS care record.”

If you care about this stuff, you might want to take a look at The Big Opt Out.

21 Nov 2006

Fantastic Quote

Filed under: Civil Liberties — Ben @ 15:06

I spoke at an ID card event the other day. Dave Birch also spoke and had this fantastic quote on one of his slides. I liked it so much I had to blog about it, even though I don’t really have anything to link it to (other than the crazed attitude of the current government, that is):

They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect
that no one will need to be good.

T.S. Eliot
The Rock (1934)

8 Nov 2006

Germany Is Good For Privacy

Filed under: Anonymity/Privacy,Civil Liberties — Ben @ 5:03

A German court has ruled that ISPs have no right to store IP logs. You have to complain in order to get them erased, but that’s still way better than the usual situation.

Now all we need is the same ruling in the UK.

7 Nov 2006

A Surveillance Society

Filed under: Anonymity/Privacy,Civil Liberties,Security — Ben @ 10:32

Not exactly news, but apparently our Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has realised that we now live in a surveillance society. Apparently he’d like us to talk about what’s OK and what’s not. As if we hadn’t been.

As ever-more information is collected, shared and used, it intrudes into our private
space and leads to decisions which directly influence people’s lives. Mistakes can
also easily be made with serious consequences – false matches and other cases of
mistaken identity, inaccurate facts or inferences, suspicions taken as reality, and
breaches of security. I am keen to start a debate about where the lines should be
drawn. What is acceptable and what is not?

I suppose its progress, even if of a rather 20th century kind.

The report itself has some sensible things to say

A third concern regard technologies is that many argue (mistakenly, as
we shall see) that anxieties about surveillance society may be allayed by
technical means. Certainly, some so-called privacy-enhancing technologies
serve well to curb the growth of technological surveillance (PETs) and their use
should be encouraged where appropriate. But these are at best only ever part of
the answer. We are correct to be wary of any offers to fix what are taken to be
technical problems with technical solutions. As we shall see, the real world of
surveillance society is far to complex for such superficial responses.

I often get the impression that people think I believe I can fix the world by providing cunning crypto. As they say above, its not the whole answer, but I do believe its vital to start from a position of anonymity or you can’t choose what you do reveal about yourself.

3 Nov 2006

All Your Data Are Belong To NHS

Filed under: Anonymity/Privacy,Civil Liberties,Security — Ben @ 11:15

The disaster in waiting that is the NHS’ Spine has been well known to privacy zealots for quite some time, but I’m glad to see that its not just us that are worried.

The Guardian has an article all about it.

Patients will have data uploaded … Patients do not have the right to say the information cannot be held.

But that’s OK, because

Once uploading has taken place, a government PR blitz will follow. This will be said to bring about “implied consent” to allow others view the data. Those objecting will be told that their medical care could suffer.

I’m so relieved. I don’t even have to think about whether I agree with the government anymore. They can figure out what I think just by advertising! Isn’t that great? Perhaps we should replace those pesky elections with advertising, life would be so much easier. I’m sure we’re all happy with giving our “implied consent” to Blair as dictator-for-life, aren’t we?

25 Aug 2006

ID Cards Help Paedophiles

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Identity Management — Ben @ 10:25

Well, I don’t know if they actually do, but since the government and the police are happy to make such claims on the flimsiest evidence, I’m following suit. And here’s my evidence. Kim Cameron blogs about an article he read in the Sydney Morning Herald

the Child Support Agency had 405 privacy breaches in nine months – two of which required mothers and their children to be relocated at taxpayers’ expense.

There ya go. What could be clearer? Now all I need is to find “proof” they help terrorists.

On a more serious note

Smartcard Privacy Taskforce head Allan Fels said the breaches highlighted why data on the proposed new card should be kept to a minimum.

I have nothing to add to that.

22 Aug 2006

The Great Firewall of China

Filed under: Civil Liberties — Ben @ 12:08

Catching up with my email after being out and about for a while, I came across this article by the Open Rights Group

Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google are each singled out for criticism in the report. Although they have defended themselves by claiming China’s laws force them to censor internet material, it is significant that none of the companies has been willing or able to precisely specify which laws or legal processes oblige this censorship.

This rather missed the point. As my friend Richard Clayton (and many others, but I’m familiar with his paper) has documented, the firewall filters based on keywords, so search engines either comply with the filtering rules or get blocked. The firewall itself is obviously run by the government, who choose the keywords, so to that extent it is Chinese laws that force compliance with censorship.

In any case, I’m generally struggling with the concept that some kinds of censorship are OK when others are not. No-one seems to mind that Yahoo!, for example, complied with France’s demand that it not allow the sale of Nazi memorabilia. Similarly the UK’s rules on “hate speech” disallow certain topics; but that, apparently, is hunky dory. It seems to me that all censorship is to be despised, so why pick on China in particular?

There is also this important question: are the citizens of China better served by a censored search engine or no search engine at all? Keyword-based filtering is well known to be far from perfect, so presumably the average Chinese citizen can easily figure ways around it. Furthermore, all they need is a good proxy and they can easily get at the uncensored versions of the ‘net available in the rest of the world.

(Declaration of interest: I am a director of the Open Rights Group and an employee of Google).

17 Aug 2006

The Great Firewall of Europe?

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Rants,Security — Ben @ 14:23

Once more I am amazed by the complete bollocks floating around in the wake of last week’s terrorist alert.

Franco Frattini, apparently the vice-president of the EU, said

… that the internet should be made a “hostile environment” for terrorists. “I think it’s very important to explore further possibilities of blocking websites that incite to commit terrorist actions”

The Guardian’s Alan Travis goes one further and invents some new laws, just for fun

A new legal framework is to be developed by June to ensure that illegal material such as manuals or instructions for homemade explosives or bombs are removed from the internet [his lower case].

Right, because Al-Qaida will helpfully publish their manuals in Europe where you can get them shut down. Or are they really suggesting the Great Firewall of Europe? Oh yeah, don’t forget that chemistry books are illegal – you did know that, right?

Also, apparently, EU interior ministers are considering

… introducing positive profiling of air passengers based on biometrics rather than ethnic background.

What does this mean? They’ll test my DNA for terrorist tendencies? Phrenology? Read the lines in my hands? Should I expect a huge recruiting drive for people called Gypsy Rose Lee?

What it means, of course, is they’ll figure out whether you’re bad by knowing who you are. Ooo, cunning plan. And this involves biometrics because, well, passports are so 20th century. And because we all know that biometrics will be The Solution To The Terrorist Problem, and here’s further proof. Please ignore the fact that every terrorist on a plane had ID when they boarded, that’s entirely immaterial.

20 Jun 2006

The Shape of Things to Come

Filed under: Anonymity/Privacy,Civil Liberties,Security — Ben @ 9:24

The Times has an article about Operation Ore, a huge child porn investigation which turns out to be based on lies. This investigation has led to thousands of arrests and dozens of suicides, at least one of whom was innocent.

Just think how much more efficiently the justice system will be able to abuse innocent people if we continue to permit the erosion of our privacy that is so popular with politicians at the moment.

4 Jun 2006

Computing Want Big Brother

Sarah Arnott writes

Computing has argued consistently that a government-centred, crime-focused who-goes-there scheme would be to miss an opportunity so gargantuan as to make the Millennium Dome look like Disney World. That view remains.

The government has a choice. It can spend vast sums on a public sector ID card scheme that promises little beyond a civil liberties row, an extremely nebulous impression of improved security, and a large white elephant joining the troupe at the media circus.

Or it can pursue a broader concept with infinitely broader benefits: a government-endorsed identity management scheme, for use by everyone – citizens, businesses and government.

The anonymity of cyberspace is holding back the internet’s revolutionary potential. Imagine a world with a guaranteed electronic identification. No more passwords to forget, no more phishing, no more grooming in chatrooms. And what about online payment methods, personalised content, computing on demand?

Seems to me she missed a bit

no more privacy, no more whistleblowers. And what about the rise of the police state?

28 Mar 2006

Untrusted Computing

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Digital Rights — Ben @ 9:59

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission don’t think that letting China control the manufacture of computers for the State Department is such a great idea.

Somehow this reminds me of the DRM hardware Microsoft, IBM, Disney, the US Government and friends are so keen to impose on us.

(via BoingBoing)

26 Mar 2006

Nitke v. Gonzales

Filed under: Civil Liberties — Ben @ 16:54

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal against the decision in Nitke v. Gonzales (in which I was an expert witness for Nitke), a case attempting to overthrow the remaing part of the Communications Decency Act. This means that the decency of a website is determined by the whole of the US – if any community anywhere finds it indecent then that’s enough to prosecute.

This is clearly ridiculous. I rather like the suggestion made here:

Find a community composed of more Muslims of the branch that insist women must be covered head to ankle by burkas. Within that community, bring suit against the US government, Sears, Wal-mart, etc for putting pictures on the internet of women who are not covering their hair and face. Let’s see how far Miller flies once we push its ethical relativism roots into the light. It doesn’t work in a national judicial process.

Lie To A Computer, Go To Jail

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Digital Rights — Ben @ 16:48

In a move that I think best described as interesting, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, has added a clause to the Fraud Bill making it illegal to “dishonestly make a false representation … to any system or device designed to receive, convey or respond to communications (with or without human intervention) … to make a gain … or … cause a loss” (I wonder how one honestly makes a false representation?).

Since much spam, particularly phishing, involves lying, presumably this makes some spam a criminal offence. I wonder if we’ll have any luck interesting the police in it?

I also wonder if this might prove to be a little too far-reaching, though I’ll admit I can’t currently think of a case where bad things happen.

2 Mar 2006

The BBC Thinks RC4 is Crackable

Newsnight got a ton of flak over describing file sharing as theft. But, they whine, the real point is that encryption is being used, like, all over the place! And this means that the good folk at GCHQ will have a terrible time decrypting it all. Which they need to do to catch all the paedophiles and terrorists, obviously.

What they’ve totally missed is that the volume is not the issue, the strength of the encryption is. Newsnight’s self-styled “resident ubergeek”, Adam Livingstone, thinks RC4 is weak and could be cracked if only those pesky BitTorrenters wouldn’t clutter up the ‘net with their encrypted copies of broadcast TV (which, of course, they shouldn’t be sharing anyway – just because anyone can watch it, it doesn’t mean anyone can watch it, now does it? That stands to reason).

Mr. Livingstone should try consulting some real geeks before he opens his big mouth again.

Oh, and they also sob:

What we’d really like to hear is a debate on the issue we did raise. If the ISPs can’t now detect torrent data, then how will the security services manage it? And if they do figure it out, won’t RnySmile and company just up the ante again?

If you want a debate on that, dude, then provide somewhere to debate it. Or just read my blog – that’s your kind of debate: unidirectional.

16 Jan 2006

The Open Rights Group

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Digital Rights — Ben @ 17:27

Towards the end of last year I was approached to serve on the board of the Open Rights Group, an organisation set up to campaign for digital rights and civil liberties in the digital world.

In the face of increasingly draconian laws, both here in the UK and in the rest of Europe, this seems to me to be a very important cause.

Anyway, I haven’t blogged about it before because its taken us a while to get ourselves set up to allow supporters to support us. I’m pleased to say that you can now do so.

26 Dec 2005

Big Brother Has Arrived

Filed under: Civil Liberties — Ben @ 15:24

According to The Independent, Big Brother intends to use automatic number plate reading and a massive network of surveillance cameras to record every journey by every vehicle in the UK.

I’m waiting for mandatory forehead barcodes so they can do the same for journeys on foot. You know it makes sense.

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