For Sarah, Who Is Lovely

Ah my lover, I see that you have discovered my filthy habit! What ? No not that one, this one, the ranty blogging.

Thankyou, my love for your kind comments.

Know that I love you, always and forever.

That is all.

xxxx

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Iain Dale : Why I am still not an MP

Let’s be clear, as Iain is wont to say, Iain Dale is far and away my favourite media whore. He’s a tireless self promoter and you have to admire someone who has actually achieved a mild degree of celebrity for, well, saying stuff.

He is also my second favourite Tory, after Michael Portillo. Both of them share my favourite attribute of a Tory in that neither of them are currently in power (Hague is disqualified from participating because of this rule, although Boris might sneak in on an exception, who knows.)

Sometimes, I wonder how he manages to keep missing out on being selected, then other times, you get such gems as this tweet from the Dublin Web Summit, tweeted by @tweetminster

8 million watch strictly come dancing, same number watched Nick Griffin “it’s the same people” Iain Dale (much audience LOL here) #dws

Let’s be clear (that’s enough Dale impressions – ed) Iain didn’t necessarily in fact just say that everyone who watches Strictly Come Dancing is a racist.

Digital Democracy – Part The First : Good uses for biometric ID

Next Stop : Utopia Island

Let us imagine for a moment a world without New Labour’s overarching Orwellian horror of a vision for a national ID card and the cripplingly expensive behemoth of a database that would be required to back it.

Ahh. Nice, isn’t it. Now, hold onto that thought for a moment, because in the first in this (possibly) series of posts I’m going to suggest that the functionality proposed for a biometric ID card, quite contrary from being used to enslave us all in some dystopian socialist police state, could in fact be a cornerstone of our future democracy. Yes, really.

Identity Politics

First up, what do we actually mean by ‘identity’ ? For the purposes of this post – hopefully the first in a series, and hopefully mercifully brief – we will cheat a bit and redefine ‘identity’ to mean a token issued to you by some third-party (the Electoral Commission, say) which can be used to prove your eligibility to do something (vote, in this case), and which, since it is unique to you, can be used to make sure you have only done it once. It can of course also be used in all transactions with the third-party, much like a ‘customer number’ of which it is a variant.

For our purposes, then, we have decoupled this from an actual ‘identity’, as traditionally defined. We assume that if it is necessary to prove eligibility or identity it is done at the point at which the token is issued.

We also assume, just for the purposes of this post mind you, that at the point of issue, the token is not actually associated with any identity information. Pie in the sky, no doubt, but let’s just assume it for now as we’re talking utopian techno democracy here.

Now, we don’t want anyone else to be able to get at this token and use it, or change it so we will encrypt it. In fact, it is probably already some kind of cryptographic token, we’ll get to the tech later, but basically the issuing party will have ‘signed‘ it cryptographically so that they can verify it has not been tampered with at the point of use.

Not just a pretty face

What we want now is some way to encrypt the token so that only you can decode it and use it. This is where the biometric part comes in. Please bear in mind that there are other ways of going about this that may be more appropriate. We will use biometrics only as an example.

Using a set (not a single one, oh no sir) of biometrics (or by some other method) we now generate a cryptographic key (or possibly a set thereof) and use one of them to encrypt the voting token which is stored on your ‘ID card’ At this point it is necessary to be weasely again, and redefine ‘ID card’ to mean some mechanism for storing identity data as defined for the purposes of this post. It may be in card form, but one way or another it will be some kind of computing device, like the chip on your Chip’n’Pin card.

At this point, only you can decrypt the token and use it. Still with me ? Good.

Third Party Politics

The key thing to remember at this point is that when you authenticate yourself in order to unlock this token, you do not do it with a third-party. This is quite different from NuLab’s proposed scheme where checks are made against a central database. In this model, you authenticate yourself to the ‘ID card’.

Your only interaction with a third-party begins with the presentation of the token. This may, or may not, infer further information about you.

Secure exchange is no robbery

Now we need some means to get the token securely to its destination, again we will use cryptography. Let’s assume that our existing protocols are secure and that as such we can easily set up a secure end to end connection much as we do every day with online shopping or banking.

Vote Early, Vote Often

Next thing to do is cast our vote! To prevent just anyone at the far end changing our vote (naughty!) we will also to encrypt that, we will encipher it with the ‘public key‘ of the third-party who issued our token. This means that only they can decipher it and read it.

Livin’ in America

Now then, we need to bring to mind for a moment the horrors of the epic fail that has befallen every e-voting system so far tried, particularly in the USA. Especially in California. Bearing in mind that most of these were straight replacements for other ‘in person’ voting methods, we need not dwell too much, but we need to overcome the major problems that they reveal.

The ones that concern us are twofold. We shall not fear to speak their names, which are Auditing and Transparency. Auditing we can deal with some more technical trickery, which we will explore in more depth later on. Transparency is something else entirely. I will explore this is some depth at a later date

For the purposes of this post, let us assume that the problems are surmountable.

Put ’em all together and whaddya got?

Well, what have we got ? It’s slightly different from the rather more statist, centralist model proposed by the Home Office and its pets, but we have many of the same ingredients. A card, some set of tokens for doing stuff with, and a way to make sure that only the person who is supposed to can access them (we are missing some very important technical mechanisms, but again, that’s for later)

To some extent, we have decoupled the card holder’s ‘identity’ from the contents of the card. As described, it doesn’t even need a photo on it. No policeman can stop the holder in the street and ask “papers, please”, because the only person who can get the data off the card is the person who can authenticate themselves to the card.

But what we can do with it is this. We can use it to provide a universal rolling plebiscite. Universal meaning that anyone who wants to vote (and is eligible to do so) can vote.

In this utopian e-voting world, we no longer need MPs to represent our interests in parliament, not that the fuckers do much of that in any case, because we can all do it for ourselves. No more representative democracy, a genuine, direct democratic process. What kind of ‘government’ you would need to support this kind of democracy is an interesting question, sadly outside the scope of this post.

And the really cool thing is that we can genuinely achieve much of this, from a technological point of view, already. The components are there, for the most part, as we shall see in a later digital democracy post.

And, of course, you could, in fact, still do this with Blunkett and Co’s National ID scheme. Although you’d still have to put up with all the other crap.

Tweetgate : MPs who block followers – gotta collect them all

Scandal in the internets! Oh noes!
An interesting blog post from Mark Reckons today suggests that some MPs have been blocking people from following them on twitter.

Apprantly, this has happened to a few people as evidenced by further blog posts from Sarah Bedford – who seems to have been blocked by Nadine Dorries MP for some perceived slight – and Parlez~me~’n~Tory who details the rather more serious case of Parmjit Dhanda MP apparently blocking one of his constituents and subsequently writing her an abusive letter after a tweet that even a fully paid up member of the Permanently Outraged would be hard pressed to take offence at.

Mark asked if any others had been blocked by MPs. And it was in fact only then that I realised that my twitterverse had been blissfully empty of empty headed rhetoric from “Twitter Tsar” Kerry McCarthy MP and egregious bullshit from perennial blowhard Tom Harris MP, both of whom I had been following at some point.

So I popped over to their twitter profiles to click the follow button and lo! Both of them had blocked me. Sweet! Now in fairness to them, and in the spirit of openness and transparency, I will publish the last tweets that I directed at them here. If you’ve never read this blog before, I should tell you up front that I am not very nice.

Swearing, it is big, and it is clever
KerryMP had just made some extraordinarily bitchy remark about Nadine Dorries, I don’t much give a toss about Nadine Dorries, but KerryMP had been in full flow about her for some time, so what the hell.

@kerrymp OMFG you’re so FUCKING FUNNY

Tom Harris had just written some arse clenchingly gushing blog post about how wonderful Tony Blair is, ending with this gem.

So I’m looking forward to what I guess can be called the third part of “The Blair Trilogy”. But not half as much as I’m looking forward, on this one occasion, to deleting any comment that describes Tony as either a liar or a war criminal.

Because he is neither.

And he posted a link to it in twitter, as you do. To which I rather thoughtfully replied

RT @TomHarrisMP: The return of Tony Blair! http://tr.im/ophy Blair is both a liar and a war criminal. Delete that, fucktard.

I did say I wasn’t very nice, but jeez, Louise, talk about thin skinned. I mean I don’t know if Tom just hates me because I think Blair is a liar and a war criminal or because made a sweary at him.

Gotta collect ’em all!
This got me to thinking, if such it can be called, that it might be fun to have @ various tweeting MPs to see how many I can get to block to me. The only thing that’s stopping me is the high probability that I would quickly end up on the radar of the The Fixated Threat Assessment Centre.

But still, the urge is perversely strong. Perhaps if I do it slowly, subtly …

@DavidLammyMP Doesn’t love the NHS! You can tell from his twitter pic, which lacks the current standard logo. Pah.

Captains Log, Supplemental
If you do find yourself blocked from some MP’s tweet feed, for making swearies at them or for some other reason, despair not, you can still read their tweets via their twitter pages, and you can, in fact, still send them messages.

You can also try the rather fun apps from tweetminster, with whom I am in no way affiliated (just a fan). Their web app LiveWire and their Adobe Air twetdeck-a-like desktop app ‘The Tweetminster Wire Lite‘, which I’ve been playing with today.

These should slake your MP stalking thirst as they list tweets from all MPs, PPCs and various other political bods.

Avast! Pirates! Mandelson set to lash ye scurvy currs. Yarr!

Blow me down (that’s enough piratical merriment – ed) it’s a tech post. These don’t come along very often, but when they do they tend to draw a lot of attention and comment. This is because :

  1. The web is (obviously) full of tech geeks.  We were in the internets long before all you normal people got here, long before there was even a web.
  2. All tech geeks believe that they know tech much better than all other tech geeks, even when the evidence stands clearly against them.
  3. See below.

Duty Calls

So it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I venture in the frosty waters of the ‘illegal file sharing’ meme, which I have no doubt is already the subject of bitter infighting in the techier parts of the blogosphere that I tend to avoid.

 

Full disclosure : I am a professional tech geek, part of my job involves reverse engineering security systems and encryption and that sort of thing. Right then, on with the post.

It has been all over the MSM today that once again, the disconnection of ‘illegal’ file sharers is back on the cards, we’ll skip most of what’s actually in the MSM reports, because they employ people who know the square root of fuck all about technology with very few exceptions, and jump straight to the source, a speech given by Lord Mandy of Gobshite at the cringe inducingly named “C&BInet” forum (erm, guys, that would actually expand as ‘candbinet’).

I will try really hard not to fisk to much of it and get to the issues, it’s hard with Mandy, just take this for instance

I’ve been trying to think of the first time that I was really aware of just how seriously Britain’s impact as a creative economy is out of all proportion to its size. I think it was some time in the last decade, probably looking up at Norman Foster’s glass dome for the Reichstag or reflecting on Harry Potter’s decade of global conquest, or maybe it was watching Robbie Williams charm the socks off 15000 Belgians – and at least one Englishman – in Antwerp a few years ago.

Oh, puke. Or was it perhaps while you were dining in Corfu with billionare producer David Geffen, well known file sharing hardliner ? Hard to tell, but since it was only a couple of days afterwards well, I think we can draw our our own conclusions.

Anyway, the upshot is that Mandy now has a hard on for content protection, and when a New Labour type has a hard on for any issue, you just know they’re going to be jizzing out some new legislation so they can be seen to be doing something. When it’s Mandy, you know he’s about to stick his spanner in the works of the market and start twisting it about, and so it came to pass

Now, it seems self-evident to me that trying to evolve new business models against these kind of attitudes is very hard, and I take my hat off to those who have tried. Further investment in new business models is important

Wait for it …

But the Government also has a responsibility to act.

Here it comes …

That is why we have decided to intervene and legislate to tackle the problem of file-sharing

Thar she blows! (avast! – ed)

So, M’Lord, what is it exactly that you intend to propose in your legislation ?

What we will be putting before Parliament is a proportionate measure that will give people ample awareness and opportunity to stop breaking the rules. It will be clear to them that they have been detected, that they are breaking the law and that they risk prosecution. If necessary we have also made it clear that we will go further and make technical measures available, including account suspension. In this case, there will be a proper route of appeal

Ah, the old ‘three strikes’.

Let us not dwell to much further on the emetic speech, lest we start to imagine Mandy’s voice, which is a little like being caressed by the blade of a serial killer, we shall leave it at this last extract.

Neither do we want Internet Service Providers to be unfairly burdened. ISPs and rights holders will share the costs, on the basis of a flat fee that will allow both sides to budget and to plan.

Which pretty much sums up the kind of market meddling the man thinks is acceptable in one sentence, really.

I haven’t looked yet, but I expect the ISPs will be incandescent about this for several reasons. Avast! I shall have a quick Google …

ISP TalkTalk said the plans were “ill-conceived” and said it was prepared to challenge measures “in the courts”.

“What is being proposed is wrong in principle and won’t work in practice,” the firm said.

“In the event we are instructed to impose extra judicial technical measures we will challenge the instruction in the courts.”

Yeah, pretty incandescent.

Anyhoo, this will all lead to a seriously epic fail, there are technological reasons, and there are legal reasons. And of course there are economic reasons. With some trepidation of the storm of geek comments about to be flung at me, I will elucidate some of them just far enough to illustrate what a typical FUBAR this will end up as when the relevant legislation passes through parliament. Which it undoubtedly will if Mandy’s gnomes can get it before the house while it’s full of Labour seat warmers.

Technical Fail
Lets cut to the chase and skip lightly over the details, which I can fill in later if anyone decides they care. It is not technically possible to implement an automated solution that will work at the level of a large ISP. It simply isn’t. Let no one tell you different. The ISPs know this.

The problem is that you have to be able to identify illegal content. There are a number of ways of going about this, some cleverer than others, but none (so far) that can’t be subverted. All of these, even the clever ones, rely on being able to intercept (note that word) the traffic flowing through the network and then perform some processing on it to see what’s in it. Then if it looks like it might be some file sharing traffic, perform some more processing on it to see if it’s protected content. The cleverer the method, the more processing is needed. More processing means more processors. Which means more money. And more electricity, which also means more money. And more air conditioning to stop the whole lot catching on fire. Which means even more money, and even more electricity, and even more money for electricity. And so on.

Quite apart from which, even the cleverest methods like ‘acoustic fingerprinting‘ require an unencrypted stream of traffic to work with. Once you introduce end to end encryption into the mix, your clever technical solution has stopped working and you are left with a warehouse full of hot, noisy, power consuming paperweights. Epic fail. Encryption is already available in most P2P file sharing clients.

As it is, from the bum gravy I have seen in the MSM, the proposed technical solution is not even that clever. We shall not examine it in any detail, because it will almost certainly be freshly minted bullshit dreamed up by some bright some thing in Mandy’s employ and wilfully misinterpreted by the retards who deign to call themselves technology journalists. We may return to the subject once the proper tech media have had a chew on it. No, let us skip lightly over to the next issue.

Seriously Epic Legal Fail
We can sum half of this up in a single word. RIPA. Ok, that’s an acronym, RIPA is the Regulation Of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Without digging through the minutiae, much of which is tedious beyond belief, RIPA makes what Mandy wants the ISPs to do illegal. Put simply, an ISP is allowed to look at as much of your network traffic as is required for them to deliver it properly, anything further than that is classed as an interception (remember that word from earlier ?).

Interception without a warrant is serious offence, worth up to five years at Brenda’s pleasure, and while some ISPs have Phorm for playing fast and loose with these regulations at the behest of the Home Office, they don’t have any particular urge to get into the business of mass interception.

RIPA neophytes please note that interception is not the same as looking at your ‘communications data’, which you can do with a note from your mum.

More importantly from the ISPs’ point of view is the catchily titled Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002. Again, avoiding the gory detail, which is all in there if you want it, this piece of EU legislation essentially indemnifies ISPs against claims for, e.g., libel in the case that some libellous material is transmitted across their network.

ISPs are naturally very keen to keep this indemnity, because if they don’t, some waste of oxygen horse fuckers libel law firm like Carter-Ruck will sue them all to oblivion then next time someone puts up a blog post.

The catch is, though, that the definition of an Internet Service Provider in the regs is very tight, and intercepting traffic to look for illegal file sharing traffic falls explicitly outside it. Currently ISPs skim very close to the edge in implementing the Internet Watch Foundation’s kiddy porn blacklist. That’s just about allowed, because of vagaries in the technical implementation and because it’s a child protection issue. No one has the guts to challenge child protection issues. Of which much more later.

Anyway, that’s by the by. It would be a bloody impressive piece of legislation that could rewrite the EU regs, and I’d like to see it. It would have to start off something like “We hereby secede from the European Union”.

So basically, Mandy’s super legislation will have to modify the RIPA definition of interception, and then either modify or repeal the EU regs, or make the ISPs relinquish their ‘mere conduit’ status, thus exposing them to so much liability that we may as well switch the internet off the day the bill passes.

This is not going to have a happy ending.

Manufactured Outrage II – The Revenge of BBCQT

Splice up your main brace, batten your hatches and prepare for the fail whale, someone let twitter know ! Fresh outrage is being manufactured. Clearly not satisfied with mass media consumption orgy caused by the appearance of BNP Leader Nick Griffin MEP on Question Time, the MSM are trying to drum up some more profitable hysteria with headlines like this one in the Times

BBC chief – BNP will get annual Question Time slot

And even this one from the BBC itself.

BNP ‘on Question Time annually’

Note well those ‘quotation’ marks around the BBC headline, because in fact what ‘BBC Chief’ Mark Thompson actually said was more like this

Asked how often the BNP might appear on Question Time, he said: “I would say that we’re talking about, in the case of a party which… if it continued to receive that level of support, appearances (would) probably be no more than once a year and could be less.”

No more than once a year and could be less. That’s quite a far cry from the headlines, isn’t it ?

Are you really sure that democracy is for you ?

Well, it’s finally time for me to follow the herd and delve into the events of Thursday 22 October 2009. The day when Question Time’s guests included Nick Griffin, MEP for the Northwest of England.

People will remember the first BNP/QT intersection for various reasons : Hysterical players of ethnic top trumps like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, keen to join in with the manufactured outrage, will remember it as the day that National Socialism stormed to power in Britain

I can’t believe or hope the forces of good in the UK can overcome the march of the jackboots. Things can only get worse. Sleepless in Pittsburgh, I struggle with the woeful possibility that my unborn grandchildren may still have to fight to be accepted in Britain.

A man was on telly, Yasmin.

Sadly, that’s only a runner up in the hyperbole stakes, Jerry Dammers, interviewed on BBC News 24 said it was

One of the saddest days since the end of World War II

No, really, he did, here he is

A man was on telly, Jerry.

Largest Natural Disasters Since WW II (Reuters)

Date

Type

Location

Deaths

1970

Cyclone

East Pakistan (Bangladesh)

300,000

1976

Quake

China, Tangshan

255,000

2004

Tsunami

Indian Ocean

226,000

1991

Cyclone

Bangladesh

138,000

1948

Quake

Turkmenistan

110,000

2003

Quake

Iran,
Bam

31,000

Can we think of some other things that might be a bit sadder than a man being on the telly, Jerry ?

Second airliner ploughs into the World Trade Center, September 11 2001

11 September, 2001

Result of suicide bomb, London, 7 July 2005

7 July, 2005

The UAF and associated lefty types ought to remember it it as a day that that their ‘peaceful‘ attempt to enforce their ‘no platform’ policy (by the use of violence, trespass and criminal damage) failed so epically that it will be entered in the annals of fail as the very definition of an Epic Fail.

Their purpose for the day was to prevent Griffin from getting any media attention.

Below is some video of them ensuring that instead of it’s usual 2.6 million viewers, that particular episode of Question Time achieved an audience almost as large as Eastenders.

You will note that this footage is from BBC News 24 three hours before the program was even due to start filming. So in fact they managed to ensure a constant stream of media exposure pretty much throughout the day.

Epic. Epic. Fail.

I doubt that they will remember it that way however, because of comments like this from Dianne Abbot, a woman for whom I find my respect diminishing at breakneck speed.

“Everyone is talking about Nick Griffin. The programme has given him unnecessary exposure, unnecessary credibility and giving more credibility to a fascist party in the middle of a recession is a very dangerous thing.”

Well Dianne, maybe you shouldn’t have been on News 24 and Sky every five minutes from 9 AM banging on about it ? Maybe then no one would have bothered ? The fact that this comment was made with hindsight, after watching the whole sorry episode unfold with a kind of hysterical, sweaty inevitability makes me think that rather a lot of people really didn’t learn anything at all.

Particularly as the lumpen thugs of the UAF have promised to do the same thing for every media appearance that Griffin will make, thus ensuring that it will be at the top of the news agenda every time it happens. Duh! You can’t buy publicity that good.

I, on the other hand, will remember it for different reasons. Firstly because I have never, ever, seen so many people make utter twats of themselves on TV. Secondly, I will remember the sick enjoyment lighting the eyes of the mob as they burned Griffin in effigy. The joy that these people were experiencing having found a minority that they could dehumanise and persecute without the opprobriumof their peers was a disgusting sight which will haunt me for years to come.

But, getting to the point, I will mostly remember it as the day that I realised that many British people hate and distrust both democracy and the concept of freedom of speech. And they are going to get to a point before long where they are going to have to face up to this particular problem.

To illustrate, I will cherry pick a mere two quotes. The first from Twitter about freedom of speech. While this particular quote wasn’t particularly typical of Twitter – most tweets seemed to be in favour – it is typical of the type of opinion it represents.

@Zhastein : Free speech does not give anyone the right to spread pure hatred filth although protester behavior isn’t helping #thebnparetwats #bbcqt

The major disconnect here is that, in fact, it does. Freedom of speech confers on a person the right to say whatever they damn well please, however abhorrent, insulting, offensive or hateful it may seem to those who hear it. Once you start to hedge it about with limits of what is ‘acceptable’ it is no longer free speech.

What we have here is an example of a person who honestly thinks they believe in free speech, but who deep down really believes in speech which is free up to some arbitrarily defined boundary. Personally, I don’t agree with this viewpoint at all, but if the whole BNP/QT shitstorm has demonstrated anything, it is that there are at least a very vocal minority of people who do.

On a similar theme, but throwing the wider issue of democracy into the mix, spEak You’re bRanes blogger ‘Nelson’ demonstrates a profound distrust of the democratic process while also throwing in racism, misogyny and child protection edge cases, with confuded rhetpric like this, he should probably stand as a Labour MP

Would you allow a platform to a party that wanted to bring back slavery? A party that wanted to take away the right of women to vote? A party that wanted to lower the age of consent to 14? What about 10? 5? 2? I’m hoping we’d all draw the line somewhere. My point is simply that we can’t pretend there’s some kind of universal accepted threshold, written on a stone tablet by an omniscient moral arbiter. We have to decide, as a society, what is and isn’t acceptable and draw the line at that point.

In case you’re wondering, my answers for the questions posed are as follows : Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes. I would indeed allow people to have such beliefs, and if they chose to lobby for changes to the law via the democratic process, that is also fine.

Because that is what democracy is. Nelson, in common with rather a lot of the people who were so vociferous about the whole issue, clearly doesn’t trust democracy to laugh in these peoples faces and not let them have their way. I do, and I think that democracy is the way we “decide, as a society, what is and isn’t acceptable”.

The commonality of these types arguments is basically this : There are certain types of things that people should not be allowed to say and certain types of beliefs that people ought not to be able to lobby for. The state must enforce this.

I’m not going to lay into the proponents of such ideologies just now, more of that on this blog later, let us assume for the moment that they are basically decent and well meaning. The point is that by making such arguments, “freedom of speech, but not …”, “democracy, but not … ” they are implicitly arguing against democracy and freedom of speech.

What is being argued for here, is, in fact, a totalitarian state which will enforce a set of values which precisely match theirs.

This post is already far to long, so I am not going to spend time arguing about the desirability or otherwise of such an entity, or whether that is, in fact, exactly what we already have.

I will simply make the point that at some point soon, people are going to have to be honest about what they really want. If what a person wants really is a totalitarian state which will enforce a set of values which precisely match theirs, then they need to start saying so.

Binding up freedom and democracy with arbitrary limits turns them into something else entirely, and it’s time to start calling a spade a spade. I honestly believe that we can have a proper functioning democracy which can handle the full spectrum of opinions which would be allowed to surface given total freedom of speech, although there is quite a way to go before we get there. And I am very much in favour of it.

Are you sure you are ?

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