Daily Archives: September 7, 2008

Anti-terrorism laws used to spy on noisy children

Councils are using anti-terrorism laws to spy on residents and tackle barking dogs and noisy children.

Telegraph | Sep 6, 2008

By Chris Hastings

An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph found that three quarters of local authorities have used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 over the past year.

The Act gives councils the right to place residents and businesses under surveillance, trace telephone and email accounts and even send staff on undercover missions.

The findings alarmed civil liberties campaigners. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: “Councils do a grave disservice to professional policing by using serious surveillance against litterbugs instead of terrorists.”

The RIPA was introduced to help fight terrorism and crime. But a series of extensions, first authorised by David Blunkett in 2003, mean that Britain’s 474 councils can use the law to tackle minor misdemeanours.

Councils are using the Act to tackle dog fouling, the unauthorised sale of pizzas and the abuse of the blue badge scheme for disabled drivers.

Among 115 councils that responded to a Freedom of Information request, 89 admitted that they had instigated investigations under the Act. The 82 councils that provided figures said that they authorised or carried out a total of 867 RIPA investigations during the year to August

Durham county council emerged as the biggest user, with just over 100 surveillance operations launched during the period. Newcastle city council used the powers 82 times, and Middlesbrough council 70 times.

Derby council made sound recordings of a property after a complaint about noisy children.

Surveillance operations aimed at individual homes and businesses can last for months. Calderdale council in West Yorkshire began “direct covert surveillance” targeting one business in May that is still going on.

Local authorities including Bassetlaw, Easington, Bolsover and Darlington have placed houses under video or photographic surveillance to tackle problems such as anti-social behaviour, unauthorised entry into gardens and benefit fraud. Others admitted using council staff to follow residents to determine whether they were working while claiming benefits.

Northampton council, which did not implement the Act during the past 12 months, said that it had used the legislation on five previous occasions to tackle dog fouling. Councils have used the RIPA to recruit children for surveillance operations. Dudley and County Durham exploited the Act to send children into shops with secret video and audio equipment to see whether they could buy cigarettes and alcohol. Officials in Durham have mounted 60 RIPA investigations against these kinds of businesses in the past 12 months.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, the acting chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents councils, said last night: “Councils are tuned into people’s fears about the potential overzealous use of these crime- fighting powers. They know that they’re only to be used to tackle residents’ complaints about serious offences, like when benefit cheats are robbing hard-working taxpayers or fly-by-night traders are ripping off vulnerable pensioners.”

He added: “Councils do not use these powers to mount fishing expeditions. First and foremost it is about protecting the public, not intruding on privacy. Crime-busting powers are targeted at suspected criminals and used only when absolutely necessary.”
Smokers, drivers and even emails are being monitored

* Newcastle City Council used the Act to monitor noise levels from smoking shelters at two different licensed premises. The council has twice used the legislation to monitor noise from a vet’s practice following a complaint about barking.

* Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council used it to deal with 16 complaints about barking dogs.

* Derby Council made sound recordings at a property following a complaint about noisy children.

* Peterborough Council investigated the operation of the blue badge scheme for disabled drivers.

* Poole Council used it to detect illegal fishing in Poole Harbour.

* Basingstoke Council used photographic surveillance against one of its own refuse collectors after allegations he was charging residents for a service that should be free. The operation was dropped when it was decided the allegation was false.

* Aberdeenshire Council admitted using the Scottish version of the Act to request the name and address of a mobile phone user as part of an investigation into offences under the Weights and Measures Act.

* Easington council put a resident’s garden under camera surveillance after a complaint from neighbours about noise.

* Canterbury City Council used CCTV surveillance and an officer’s observations to monitor illegal street trading.

* Brighton and Hove council launched four operations against graffiti artists

* Torbay Council accessed an employee’s emails after an allegation that suspect material had been sent. A second employee was investigated over the “use of council vehicle for personal gain”.

* Westminster City Council covertly filmed a locksmith following allegations of fraud.

* Durham County Council obtained authorisation to monitor car boot sales during an investigation into the sale of counterfeit goods.

Power in the hands of local authorities

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act allows for the interception of communications, acquisition and disclosure of data relating to communications, carrying-out of surveillance, use of covert intelligence sources and access to encrypted or password-protected data.

It can be evoked by public servants on the grounds of national security, and for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, preventing disorder, public safety, protecting public health, or in the interests of the UK’s economic well-being. Councils were first granted use of the legislation in 2003.

Kim Jong-Il ‘died in 2003’, says Japanese professor

The health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is not worsening, according to South Korean official, but a Tokyo professor has meanwhile asserted that Kim died in any case in 2003.

Telegraph | Sep 7, 2008

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo

Speculation has recently grown again that Kim, who is 66 and has not been seen in public for more than three weeks, is unwell. Some media have long thought that Kim, a former smoker and heavy drinker, was ill but Seoul intelligence officials say they believe he has diabetes and heart problems, but those are not serious enough to affect his job.

But a book by Japan’s Professor Toshimitsu Shigemura at Japan’s respected Waseda University says Kim died in the autumn of 2003 and a series of stand-ins have since taken his place at official state event.

Prof Shigemura says Kim was not seen in public for the 42 days after September 10, 2003, and in his book “The True Character of Kim Jong Il” claims the man that North Koreans refer to as the “Dear Leader” died of diabetes.

“In the years before he died, Kim took some really big decisions on North Korea’s relationships with the outside world,” says the professor, pointing to the historic June 2000 summit with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, a visit from Russian leader Vladimir Putin the following month and then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in October 2000.

The following January he was in China, met Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in September 2002 – and admitted that Pyongyang had abducted Japanese nationals to train its spies – and August 2003 saw the opening of six-way talks on halting North Korea’s nuclear weapons programmes.

Then, suddenly, Kim disappeared, says Shigemura, and there was chaos in the upper echelons of the country’s leadership. “I have been working on the book for four years,” said Shigemura, a former journalist for the Mainichi newspaper who was posted to Seoul for six years from 1979 and then served for another five years in Washington D.C. A North Korean agent told him in 1995 that he had met one of Kim’s doubles – there have been as many as four – and that he used them to stand in at outside ceremonies because he was fearful of a coup.

After Kim’s death, a group of four very senior officials in the regime decided to protect their own positions by making the stand-in more permanent. Whenever anyone meets the North Korean leader, Shigemura says one of the four is alongside him “like a puppet-master.”

A spokesman for Chongryun, the association of North Korean residents of Japan that effectively acts as Pyongyang’s embassy in Tokyo, denied that Kim was dead.

“This is absolutely a lie,” said Tae-shik Jon. “We do not want to even comment on such a stupid claim.”

The world’s tallest building – Burj Dubai – reaches 2,257ft … and still growing

Extreme: Once completed the Burj Dubai tower will surpass 700m. Final height is a secret


Daily Mail | Sep 2, 2008

By  Robert Hardman

The statistics are almost as spectacular as the view.

This is Burj Dubai and, once again, the editors of the Guinness Book Of Records have got to rewrite the chapter on buildings.

This is not simply the tallest structure in the world; it smashed the tallest-building record a year ago and, this April, it overtook the world’s tallest antenna.

Now it has gone one further. As of this week, Burj Dubai – meaning ‘Dubai Tower’ –  has officially become the tallest man-made thing ever.

From its 2,257ft (688m) peak, you do not merely view the entire Gulf state of Dubai. On a good day, you can see 100 miles away into sunny Iran. And the Burj Dubai has not stopped growing.

It already boasts 160 floors and the developer, Emaar, is adding new ones at the rate of around one per week. Its eventual height remains a secret in order to confuse any rival constructors.

‘Only a handful of senior designers know the final idea,’ says project director Greg Sang, adding that Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, is also in on the plot.

‘But I can say that we will be going above 700m.’

When it is finished some time next year, Burj Dubai will accommodate up to 35,000 people in a mixture of hotels, offices and apartments and, doubtless, it will clock up a few more records en route.

For example, the swimming pool on the 76th floor will almost certainly be the highest of its kind in the world.

Visiting the site recently, my initial problem was absorbing the size of the thing without damaging my neck.

The answer was to lie down on the road and look up. There is no scaffolding and all the building work goes upwards from the inside.

Every tool is attached to its user by a lanyard and safety codes are rigidly enforced among all 5,000 construction workers. Thus far, the project has claimed two lives.

New Zealand-born Greg, 42, has built several skyscrapers, including an 88-storey tower in Hong Kong.

The key to this one, he says, is to use tried-and-tested techniques: ‘There is no magic, no special invention. With a project like this, it’s no time to start experimenting.’

I am afraid I cannot look at this without a bubble appearing over my head containing the words ‘Twin Towers’.

But the developers point out that this building is made from heavy-duty concrete, whereas the World Trade Centre, which collapsed after the 9/11 attacks of 2001, was a steel frame.

Safety features include reinforced ‘refuge rooms’ on every 25 floors, complete with independent air supplies, plus extra staircases and luminous paint on all escape routes.

The supporting pillars have been designed with a ‘long-wave’ effect to absorb any earthquake activity along the Iran/Iraq faultline.

The foundations drop 150ft (46m) below ground and the three-pronged ‘footprint’ of the building replicates the design of a desert flower.

The first eight floors will consist of a hotel, restaurants, gyms and a nightclub.

Floors nine to 37 will be ‘Armani residences’ –  luxury flats designed by the Italian fashion house.

There are a few more floors of hotel around the 40-storey mark and then floors 42 to 108 will be more apartments.

From 112 to the top will be offices, and Emaar is still open to offers for the top floor (whatever number it may be).

Other features include an observation platform on the 124th floor, while the tallest restaurant in the world will be on the 122nd floor.

And linking the whole lot will be double-decker, 42-man elevators travelling at up to 40mph.

For all the superlatives, Greg acknowledges that, one day, his creation will be overtaken. But when?

Until April, the world’s tallest structure was a 2,063ft (629m) television mast in North Dakota, U.S.

But the all-time tallest was an old communist radio mast in Poland which reached 2,121ft (647m) in 1974, and then fell down in 1991.

Now, Burj Dubai has officially – and comfortably – beaten that record, too.

Childish arguments about the world’s tallest buildings – as opposed to masts – have been going on for years, as rival skyscrapers have claimed the record.

But Burj Dubai is now unassailable. The old squabble between Toronto’s CN Tower, Chicago’s Sears Tower and Taipei’s ‘101’ building is redundant.

Compared to Burj Dubai, they are midgets.

For the first time in centuries, the Middle East can again lay claim to the world’s tallest building.

For thousands of years, the title belonged to the Great Pyramid of Giza (481ft or 147m); from 2570BC right up until 1311AD, when it was overtaken by Lincoln Cathedral.

Various European churches then claimed the record until the Eiffel Tower popped up in 1889, followed by a 20thcentury outburst of U.S. skyscrapers.

As I lie in the road, gawping at Greg’s handiwork, another thought occurs: how will they clean the windows?

‘Oh, we’ll have gondolas which flip out on cantilevered arms,’ he says nonchalantly. ‘The guys can clean it in the usual way with a hose and a squeegee.’

If that sounds like the worst job in Dubai, then think again. There will be an aviation warning-light in a mast up on the roof. And, every now and then, one poor soul will have to get up there to change the bulb.

Nepalese leader says not to worry about a Maoist totalitarian regime coming to power

Girija Prasad Koirala, left, and Prachanda address the media after signing a peace deal in Kathmandu, Nov 2006. Photo: Reuters/Gopal Chitraka

Maoists cannot establish totalitarian regime: Koirala

Koirala also revealed that former King Gyanendra had offered Prachanda to share power by imprisoning all political leaders

PTI | Sep 5, 2008

Kathmandu (PTI): Former Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has said it was not possible for the Maoists to capture power through the use of force to establish a totalitarian regime in the Himalayan nation and asked his party men not be scared to face the former rebels.

Koirala, who is also the President of the Nepali Congress, accused Prachanda of breaching the agreement reached between the Maoists and the political parties to move ahead unitedly.

“I asked Prachanda why did he breach the politics of consensus and unity among parties, but he did not answer,” Koirala said in his speech to the Central Committee of the party at the conclusion of party’s CWC meeting at Sanepa.

Asking party cadres to fan out in the countryside to mobilise opinion, Koirala said they should not be scared of the Maoists and had a duty to play the role of a constructive opposition.

Koirala also revealed that former King Gyanendra had offered Prachanda to share power by imprisoning all political leaders, which he (Prachanda) had rejected at that time.

“But now I doubt his intention,” the former prime minister was quoted as saying by party secretary Bimalendra Nidhi.

“When Koirala met Prachanda for the first time in Delhi in November 2005 before signing the 12 point agreement with the political parties, Prachanda had admitted that he had met Gyanendra,” Koirala was quoted by Nidhi.

Koirala also said that the Maoist government would not last long. Though the Maoists and the Nepali Congress are now estranged, the former prime minister said there is still was a need for unity and cooperation.

UN: Start cutting down on meat to fight global warming

Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (seen here in May), told The Observer that people should start to help combat climate change by having one meat-free day per week then cut back further.  (DDP/AFP/File/Sebastian Willnow)

Eat less meat to fight climate change: UN expert

AFP | Sep 6, 2008

LONDON (AFP) – People should cut their consumption of meat to help combat climate change, a top United Nations expert told a British Sunday newspaper.

Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told The Observer that people should start by having one meat-free day per week then cut back further.

The 68-year-old Indian economist, who is a vegetarian, said diet change was important in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental problems associated with rearing cattle and other animals.

“Give up meat for one day (per week) initially, and decrease it from there,” he said.

“In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity.”

Other small-scale lifestyle changes would also help to combat climate change, he said without elaborating.

“That’s what I want to emphasise: we really have to bring about reductions in every sector of the economy.”

Pachauri is due to give a speech in London on Monday under the title: “Global Warning: the impact of meat production and consumption on climate change”.

Pachauri, who was re-elected for a second term six-year term as IPCC chairman last week, has headed the organisation since 2002 and oversaw its seminal assessment report in 2007 which gave graphic forecasts of the risks posed by global warming.

The IPCC warned then that without action the planet’s rising temperatures could unleash potentially catastrophic change to earth’s climate system, leading to hunger, drought, storms and massive species loss.

The organisation also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 along with former US vice president Al Gore.

Fidel Castro compares Hurricane Gustav to atomic bomb blast

Castro called upon his compatriots to prepare themselves for tough times ahead

Earth Times | Sep 3, 2008

Havana – Hurricane Gustav hit Cuba like an atomic bomb last weekend, said the island’s ailing former leader Fidel Castro. In a commentary published under his name in the Communist Party daily Granma on Wednesday, Castro said the storm caused damages estimated at many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This amount would be needed only to satisfy the most elementary needs of the population, the 82-year-old former president said under the headline “A Nuclear Blow.”

Gustav hit western Cuba on Saturday as a category-4 hurricane in the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds of over 230 kilometres per hour. The smaller island Isla de la Juventud and the region of Pinar del Rio were particularly devastated.

“What national television broadcast on Sunday reminded me of the desolation I saw when I visited Hiroshima, which was the victim of the attack with the first atom bomb in August 1945,” Castro said.

He called upon his compatriots to prepare themselves for tough times and to reverse the effects of the hurricane using every bit of material that is available.

“We have to fight our superficiality and selfishness,” the aging Castro said.

Castro stepped down in February after nearly a half century at the helm of the communist island.

Canadian privacy commissioner says biometric scanners nothing to worry about

Privacy commissioner Frank Work. Biometric scanners “no threat to privacy”

SUN MEDIA | Sep 4, 2008

By ANDREW HANON

Alberta’s information watchdog has given the green light for employers to use biometric scanning devices after ruling the technology does not violate individuals’ privacy.

Privacy commissioner Frank Work began probing the issue after two separate complaints from people who had been ordered by their bosses to use the instruments.

In Edmonton, an employee of the Empire Ballroom nightclub at West Edmonton Mall refused a management edict to sign in and out of work by using a biometric thumb scanner, which she complained was highly intrusive. She also claimed she was fired for refusing to do so.

In a similar case in Calgary, an extended care centre employee complained that their privacy was violated when they had to use a biometric hand scanner.

Both investigations determined that the devices do not violate privacy because they do not actually scan or retain thumb or hand prints. Rather, the systems collect measurements of each employees’ print and generates an ID number. The numbers are used to document when employees sign in and out of work.

Empire Ballroom general manager Sergio Maione said there’s “no way” the information in the device can be used for things like identity theft.

Customers don’t come into contact with the device. The nightclub has been using the system for about a year and Maione says it’s “eliminated a lot of paperwork.”

It also prevents employees from signing in other co-workers, he said. “We have 60 employees, and everyone else is OK with it,” he said.

Maione said it’s “absolutely untrue” that the employee was fired over thumb scans, but declined to say why she was terminated because it’s a private matter.