‘We can intercept your Google and Facebook activity all we want, so screw you!’ says UK government

June 17, 2014

The British government has for the first time spelt out why it thinks it has the right to snoop on our Google, Facebook and other internet traffic all it wants.

Charles Farr, the Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, has made a statement (available here) that claims according to UK law the security services only need to get warrants to snoop on communications from one UK party to another. Traffic to and from services like Google (which includes Gmail) and Facebook are classed as “external communications”, for which no warrants are required.

This is horrendous. The internet is a network of networks, many of which are in other countries. So a large amount of our online activity will be transferred via networks in the USA and other countries even if the activity is practically domestic. If you send an email via Gmail to another UK citizen, the government classes it as an “external communication”. The same will be true of activity on Facebook, Twitter, and a great many other services, even though your intention is to communicate or share with other UK residents. Tempora, the program run by the British snooping agency GCHQ, gathers data and metadata, then shares it with the NSA. This means that practically all our online activities are stored, and can be used in fishing expeditions, even though GCHQ or NSA do not suspect you of any potentially criminal activity. Tempora is a “buffer” which stores internet data for 3 days and metadata for 30 days. GCHQ’s computers sift through all this data, storing anything that is “of interest”, which means that online privacy really is nonexistent. Which is what many of us have assumed for ages (especially after Edward Snowden’s revelations), but now it’s official.

What really exasperates me is that major criminals and terrorists will be taking steps to avoid this already, for example by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). The real victims of GCHQ’s activities are us ordinary joes who are not engaged in criminal conspiracies but who want privacy (like people who send letters in sealed envelopes rather than postcards). We could encrypt our communications; but how many of us want to do this? and I’ll bet Tempora looks out for encrypted traffic and logs it as suspect.

The law needs changing. But that’s not going to happen. Why would the government give up these powers? So, I’m going to use my VPN account when I go online, and I advise everyone else to do the same. Tempora’s alarms will be set off by my suspicious activity; but if everyone is doing it GCHQ’s systems will overload. I hope. Remember, GCHQ has supercomputers and massive storage facilities. Big Brother, man! 1984 man!

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June 7, 2014

Googling round the internet, checking out the idea of freelance war reporting, I came across an interesting piece in The Independent (by Tom Goulding, on 25 February 2013).

Gould wrote:

As the targets of government shelling, many have speculated their deaths were a warning to the outside world; scare tactics designed to drive foreign journalists out of a war that has so far claimed the lives of over 60,000 people.

Normally I would have expected the British press to show the various Syrian factions their proverbial longbowmen’s fingers. But no – all of a sudden the British media “care” about their on-site sources. And this isn’t just a Syrian issue. Gould went on:

Similar strategies deployed around the world saw 2012 become one of the deadliest years for journalists on record. Overall, journalist fatalities soared 13 per cent, with a total of 121 losing their lives in Syria, Pakistan, Mexico, Brazil, Iraq, the Philippines, and Somalia, described by the International Federation of Journalists as a “media killing field”.

So, it’s clear various combatants in various combat zones think killing journalists will make a difference. But they are clearly wrong. All they’ll do is alienate journalists as soon as their boots hit the ground. One thing all these various groups share is hope that international media will paint them as the “good guy”… or at least no worse than the other guy.

But the papers are getting antsy. Earlier in the month Press Gazette broke the news that the Sunday Times would no longer accept speculatively submitted pictures from the Syrian front because they did not “wish to encourage freelancers to take exceptional risks”. The Times, Guardian, Observer and Independent all have similar policies in place.

Photographer Rick Findler submitted work to the News International paper The Sunday Times, stuff he had shot in Aleppo, Syria. The paper’s foreign desk that “it looks like you have done some exceptional work” but “we have a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great”. AKA: “Your work is great, but if you get hurt/die in a war zone it might make us look bad.”

And it isn’t just the Sunday Times pursuing this policy. The Times, Guardian, Observer and Independent have each revealed that they have similar policies. (No other newspapers asked had responded to Press Gazette’s enquiries at the time of publication. But it wouldn’t surprise me if every British paper with an international news desk was doing the same.)

And this creates a situation where no one knows what the hell is going on in war-torn regions. Some papers are lucky enough to have accredited “full-time” journos and/or togs in trouble zone. For instance, despite its freelance ban The Sunday Times still regularly devotes staff resources to reporting from Syria. So it isn’t a refusal to report – rather it is an apparent boycott of freelance reporters and photographers. It is, in the words of BBC World Affairs producer Stuart Hughes, an attempt to stem the rising tide of fresh-faced freelancers who are “skipping the unglamorous training grounds of local newsrooms” to report from hazardous locations in search of that coveted career break

So why are the papers doing this? Surely it’s useful to have a “man on the ground” who might produce scoops on big stories? It’s certainly dangerous work, especially for inexperienced journalists. They can end up as targets for kidnapping or murder. From the Independent:

In August 2012, American freelancer Austin Tice went missing in Syria. The 31-year-old, who recently received the George Polk Award for his work, is currently believed to be in the hands of Assad loyal forces. Clues to his whereabouts are scant; a YouTube video posted in September shows armed men leading a blindfolded Tice through mountainous terrain. While some experts have refuted the disturbing footage, the former marine’s disappearance proves that, regardless of age or experience, no reporter is safe in Syria.

In the words of Tom Goulding:

Young journalists are now caught between a rock and a hard place. Despite financial constraints, there will always be a place for good war journalism, and those freelancers determined enough to make it in the industry will find an audience regardless of boycott. It falls on editors to ensure this new generation receives the same advice and respect that all journalists are entitled to. Such courage does not deserve the cold shoulder.

Freelancers can be, and often are better experienced and equipped to get the story rather than a paper’s regulars. Are the papers really going to boycott running quality content? And are they really going to pretend that they’re saying “no” to the freelancers because they “care” about them? Good quality copy and images are good, whether or not the reporter has served a “tea boy” apprenticeship. Forget the CV, look at what you’ve been offered. Good is good, end of story.

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Secret trials… “Trust the judges” says justice secretary Grayling

June 5, 2014

For the first time in modern history, a criminal trial involving 2 “terror suspects” is to be heard behind closed doors. You ever heard the much-quoted aphorism: “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done”? Justice minister Chris Grayling is telling us that we must trust our judges to do the right thing. Which is surely one of the most stupid comments of the week. We can barely trust some judges to behave properly when the media spotlight is on them; why should we trust the self-interested idiots when no one’s looking over their shoulders?

The Guardian reports:

Until now it has not even been possible to report the existence of the forthcoming trial against the two men, known only as AB and CD. But three appeal court judges lifted a gagging order allowing reporting of a hearing challenging the plans.

The trial would be the first criminal case to be held behind closed doors for hundreds of years. It involves two defendants who are charged with terrorism but whose names are being withheld from the public. Unless the appeal succeeds, journalists will be banned from being present in court to report the proceedings on 16 June or the outcome of the trial.

The men will be tried by a jury but no report of the case will be made public and no members of the media or public will be given access to the court.

So, if the (still officially unnamed) defendants hadn’t appealed against these reporting restrictions, we the public would never have heard about it. As things are, the accused (whatever it is they’re accused of) are known to us only by the code-names “AB” and “CD”. We don’t know what they’re accused of; and journalists are barred from even reporting whether they are found guilty or not guilty!

If this travesty of justice is allowed to go ahead, it will be repeated again and again. After all, no major political party wants to be seen as “soft on terrorism”.

Worse than the “secret court” idea is the gagging component. Let’s say I’m a defendant in a secret court: people who know I’m innocent (for instance people who saw me in a pub in Glasgow when the crime took place in London will not come forward with this evidence because they won’t even know I’m being tried for it). The men will be tried by a jury but no report of the case will be made public and no members of the media or public will be given access to the court.

The court was told that the crown has sought and obtained legal orders on the grounds of national security, arguing that if the trial were held in public the prosecution might not proceed with the case. This reminds me of the terrorist suspects who are living under onerous “control orders” because if they were tried in court some terrible Godzilla monster will flatten Tokyo or something.

And what’s going to happen if the accused are found not guilty? Will the (obviously protected) prosecution witnesses be outed as liars and perverters of justice? Of course not.

Justice? What justice?

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Free supermarket carrier bags in England about to be banned

June 4, 2014

Bloody Daily Mail! They’re responsible!  Checkout their headline:

At last! Plastic bags are banished: Victory for Mail’s six-year campaign as Ministers force reluctant supermarkets to impose 5p charge

I understand the thinking: if carrier bags cot 10p, a number of customers will reuse old bags, cutting down on littering, perfectly fine bags being chucked in the bin ending up in landfill where it takes a billion years for the bags to decompose etc.  And it’s certainly an idea.  But a good idea? I HATE HATE!!! says Nooo!!!

I collect free carrier bags cos I have a dog and use bags to pick up her turds whn she craps.  From personal observation, I have seen the amount of dog shit being left on open ground.  True, some bags of shit get thrown up into trees, which must be a pita for the street cleaning folk etc.  But the cleaning people get paid for their work.  So, is this all part of a process to justify sacking cleaners?  If you read this blog often, you may have noticed my opinion on all the laws that get passed without good reas on.

I’m  not a user of e-cigs – I’ve tried them and I don’t like the taste.  But when I’m out and about in a large no-smoking area, the e-cig comes into its own: it has the “ritual” of smoking (holding the -e-cig, having a vape when the user feels like it) with no discernible health threat to owners.  And there’s also some evidence that e-cigs work helping smokers to quit where patches, chewing gum etc are useless.  Hard-core tobacco fiends have been able to cut down/quit the evil weed.

But no.  France, and now England have plans to ban the use of e-cigs in “public places”.  Their argument is two-fold: no-one knows the “long-term” side-effects of e-cigs, and their use somehow “normalise” smoking.  Complete bollocks of course.  Smoking is already normalised.  There are lots of cigarette smokers out there, who might be saved by e-cigs.  The harmful effects of smoking are all connected with the various tars and other substances in tobacco – not e-cigs.  The e-cigs deliver nicotine, which has no discernible effect on the “passive smoking” crowd (along with the pictures of the horrible internal organs used to decorate cigarette packs).  Smoking is here,get used to it.  And if they successfully help smokers too quit, all the better.  Nicotine addiction is hard to fight, anything available to help smokers to quit should be celebrated, not frowned on.

The JD Witherspoon chain of pubs has said e-cigs have been banned because “bar staff had found it difficult to distinguish e-cigarette users from real smokers”.  Of course, when a pub staff member is close-by, the appearance of the e-cigs, they fact they don’t produce any smoke or smell… FFS do Wetherspoon employ idiots?  Or is it just a poxy excuse?

I emailed the manager of my local Sainsburys, asking why the supermarket has decided to ban the use of e-cigs: all I got back was a pre-planned response that it hadn’t yet been proved that e-cigs are harmless and some kind of “gateway” product that will cause people  to “graduate” to tobacco, then probably crack and smack…

I said before that I can see a future where cigarette smoking has died off, with e-cig use being the norm amongst nicotine addicts.  But the puritanical state don’t like that.  If something is enjoyable, governments want to ban it before it becomes too popular. Hence the strict laws concerning o-called “legal highs”, hence bans on cannabis and, soon, e-cigs.  The bastards want us to do without of comforts, while they use e-cigs  and tobacco and who knows whatever other products that make one feel nice. We are the subjects of a puritanical-for-the-masses government. Insane.  So, how can we, the millions of Brits and billions around the world who smoke, challenge this?  Simply put: we can’t.  No party I’m aware of wants to abolish the nicotine laws.  So what we gonna do, mass civil disobedience?  Crowds of millions marching through London chanting: What do we want? Cigarettes! When do we want them?   Now!!

 


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The government’s stance is based on hygiene and on saving on all the emissions that come from manufacturing carrier bags.  I can buy expensive scented nappy (diaper) disposal bage, I can use paper from junk mail to somehow magic the smelly shit away…I dunno, maybe the Revolution will happen soon. Other dog  owners will let their mutts shit wherever (outside).  The government want me to use my magic powers to reverse this trend.  Bloody ridiculous.  I’m absolutely livid; I want to have a country of my own where I can smoke e-cigs and even real tobacco!   FFS!!!
I’m not too bad at writing. But there are obviously other things required that I don’t know crap about. Let’s crowd-source some cash (I don’t know shit about that either). We can buy or rent an island, live there (“This entire island is a designated smokingF zone. If you don’t like it, stop breathing. Or reveal yourself. The majority of people don’t smoke, but the smoking minority is a pretty big minority. Smoking is hard and cool, and you can’t get better than it!

BTW: interesting reading based on the pro-ban argument. The Daily Mail: France to ban e-cigarettes from public places and subject them to same controls as tobacco.
And:
E-cigarettes ‘help smokers to quit’
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