Daily Archives: October 20, 2008

Centuries of British freedoms being broken by relentless security state

Centuries of British civil liberties risk being broken by the relentless pressure from the ‘security state’, the country’s top prosecutor has warned.

Could create a world future generations “can’t bear”.

Telegraph | Oct 20, 2008

Centuries of British freedoms being ‘broken’ by security state, says Sir Ken Macdonald

By Christopher Hope

Outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald warned that the expansion of technology by the state into everyday life could create a world future generations “can’t bear”.

In his wide-ranging speech, Sir Ken appeared to condemn a series of key Government policies, attacking terrorism proposals – including 42 day detention – identity card plans and the “paraphernalia of paranoia”.

Instead, he said, the Government should insist that “our rights are priceless” and that: “The best way to face down those threats is to strengthen our institutions rather than to degrade them.”

The intervention will be seen as a significant setback to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith who last week saw her plans to lock up terror suspects for 42 days before being charged thrown out by the House of Lords.

It is also a blow to Miss Smith’s plans for a super-database to record the details of millions of people’s online presence, including emails, SMS messages and Facebook profiles as well as the controversial identity card programme.

Sir Ken chose to issue his tough warning about the perils of the “Big Brother” state in his final speech as DPP, days before he leaves his post at the end of this month.

He warned that MPs should “take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can’t bear”.

Sir Ken, who has held the post for the past five years, said: “We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom’s back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security State.

“Technology gives the State enormous powers of access to knowledge and information about each of us, and the ability to collect and store it at will.”

At the last estimate, there were 4,285,000 cctv cameras in Britain.

Last week Miss Smith said the Government was examining ways to “collect and store’’ records of phone calls, emails and internet traffic.

Plans for the new snooper databases, which will be held by the Government or by phone companies, will be included in a draft Communications Data Bill, which will go out for consultation in the new year.

The new law was necessary to allow officials to keep track of potential terrorists who use social networks, such as Facebook, to plot attacks free from detection, she said.

But Sir Ken warned that increasing the powers of the state in law meant that any new powers would be “with us forever”.

He said: “It is in the nature of State power that decisions taken in the next few months and years about how the State may use these powers, and to what extent, are likely to be irreversible.

“They will be with us forever. And they in turn will be built upon. So we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can’t bear.”

Sir Ken warned Parliament to resist “special courts, vetted judges and all the other paraphernalia of paranoia” in the fight against terrorism.

That risked copying “the Guantanamo model…. which says that we cannot afford to give people their rights, that rights are too expensive because of the nature of the threats we are facing”.

He added: “It is difficult to see who will maintain a cool head if governments do not. Or who will protect our Constitution if governments unwittingly disarm it.”

Britain was right to tackle terrorism and other “medieval delusions” through the courts, he said. This was “in accordance with our constitution”.

Miss Smith is facing a major battle to force through plans for the legislation, which could also force people who use pay as you go mobile phones to register their identities with phone companies.

Last week, Lord Carlisle of Berriew, the Government’s independent review of anti-terrorism laws, said the “raw idea’’ of the database was “awful’’ and called for controls to stop government agencies from abusing it.

There has been criticism after councils have used powers which were designed to tackled terrorism to spy on local people.

It is thought that staunch opposition from within Whitehall to the plan forced Miss Smith to abandon hopes to unveil a bill in the Queen’s Speech next month.

The Tories’ shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve, said: “Sir Ken has been at the forefront of our counter-terrorism effort for several years, so he knows the security challenges we face.

“This Government’s approach has all too often proved cavalier – unjustified powers, sprawling databases and excessive use of surveillance powers risk undermining both our security and our way of life.”

Sir Ken’s replacement from the end of this month is Keir Starmer, QC, 45, who comes from the Doughty Street chambers, and who made his name for his ground-breaking human rights work.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, said; “Sir Ken has sounded a clarion call for freedom. He is absolutely right to highlight the dangers of a Leviathan state that wants to know all and control all about the citizens it should serve and not master.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Government agrees with the Director of Public Prosecution that technology and Communications Data is critically important in tackling all forms of serious crime as well as in the fight against terrorism.

“The Government also agrees that care is needed to agree what safeguards are needed, in addition to the many we have in place already, to provide a solid legal framework which protects civil liberties.

“That is why the Home Secretary made it very clear last week that the Government will consult widely with the public and all interested parties to set out emerging problems with technology, the important capability gaps that we need to address in collecting data and to look at the possible solutions.”

After Maoists, Marxist-Leninists too plan name change in Nepal

Press Trust India| Oct 19, 2008

By Shirish B Pradhan

Kathmandu, Oct 19 (PTI) After the Maoists indicated shedding the tag binding them to ‘Chairman’ Mao to erase their guerrilla past, the other major Communist party of Nepal is planning to shake off Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.

The Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist is also against keeping the “tail” in its name, UML chief Jhalanath Khanal told reporters at the party office here yesterday. “The final decision will be taken at the general convention of the party,” he said.

The convention of the CPN-UML is scheduled to take place in Butwal from February 16-21 next year. If the meet endorses the proposal, the country’s second largest Communist party will drop the tag ‘United Marxist Leninist’.

However, the move may pit the two Communist parties — CPN (Maoist) and CPN-UML — against each other for rights over the name ‘Communist Party of Nepal’. There is no possibility of the two parties getting the same name.

Indications that the former guerrillas who waged a decade-long insurgency in the impoverished Himalayan nation may no longer identify themselves as ‘Maoists’ came from Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai on Friday.

The Maoist number two leader told reporters on his return from Washington that his party was contemplating a change in its name.

“It would be enough to identify the largest Leftist party as the Communist Party of Nepal,” and towards this “we could drop the tag of Maoist,” he had said. PTI

Psychiatrists warn extreme environmental awareness creating a generation of “carborexics”

Dark green fanatics strive toward “zero consumption”

Psychiatrists in the United States are warning that extreme environmental awareness may be creating a generation of “carborexics”.

Telegraph | Oct 20, 2008

Dark Green ‘carborexics’: The obsessive generation of extreme environmental activists

By Tom Leonard in New York

A new survey claims that seven per cent of Americans now qualify as “dark green”, hard core recyclers and carbon footprint worriers. But it is unclear whether some of their behaviour qualifies as eco-leadership or bordering on the obsessive-compulsive.

A report in the New York Times found evidence of all manner of lifestyles that might be considered carborexic. Dark green activities in the US include running cars on waste vegetable oil and using one’s lawn as a bathroom to save water. Others sleep en masse to reduce heating bills.

Sharon Astyk, a farmer in New York state, is using a special calculator to reduce her family’s energy consumption to 10 per cent of the national average.

She and her husband grow almost all their own produce, keep chickens and turkeys, and spend less than £500 on consumer goods each year, most of which are second-hand.

Their four children often sleep in a huddle to conserve body heat. Miss Astyk said she was aware that some neighbours regarded them as “energy anorexics” but said their attitude had softened as energy prices had risen.

Anita Lavine and Joe Turcotte, a couple in Seattle, reuse the same Ziploc bag for a year.

When her two small children return from kindergarten, Miss Lavine scrubs the bag that held their soiled clothes and biodegradable nappies so she can use them the next day.

She keeps the thermostat in their home at 60 degrees Fahrenheit and is about to acquire three chickens to enhance the family’s recycling and self-sufficiency.

“My friends think I’m the craziest person,” she said.

Jay Matsueda, a Californian, runs his Mercedes on waste oil from a local restaurant and gives reusable bamboo cutlery as presents so people do not need to take plastic cutlery from takeaways.

He occasionally relieves himself on his lawn to “save a flush”, he told the newspaper.

David Chameides, a Los Angeles cameraman, is collecting all the waste he accumulates in a year in his basement and writing about it regularly on an internet blog.

But some mental health experts are worried. “If you can’t have something in your house that isn’t green or organic… if you’re criticising friends because they’re not living up to your standards of green, that’s a problem,” said Elizabeth Carl, a psychologist and specialist in obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Dr Jack Hirschowitz, a New York psychiatrist, said such behaviour qualified as a disorder if it was taking precedence over everything else in the subject’s life.

David Zucker, a sustainability specialist at Porter Novelli, a PR company which has studied America’s “dark greens”, said they were inordinately influential over other people’s behaviour.

He said the “deepest dark greens” were “bordering on the fanatic”, adding: “They’re pushing towards a lifestyle of zero consumption”.

He added: “You know Americans. We take everything to an extreme.”

New law allows police to secretly harvast DNA samples from teacups and cigarette butts in homes

Minister Lord, Sir Alan William John West, Baron of Spithead, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, wants citizen’s personal data to be shared internationally between governments. Human rights activists fear the new powers could lead to more innocent people having their DNA stored, or being falsely accused of crimes or terrorism.

Daily Mail | Oct 19, 2008

MI5 and the police may be allowed to secretly collect genetic samples from items such as cigarette butts and teacups under new laws that could massively expand the national DNA database.

The powers would allow investigators to break in to suspects’ homes to collect DNA which could then be shared with foreign governments to check for links to crime and terrorism.

The new law, being discussed by Parliament, would mean the ‘stolen’ samples – thousands of which have already been taken by the security services – would be admissible in court and at a stroke hugely expand the Government’s controversial DNA database.

But human rights activists fear the new powers could lead to more innocent people having their DNA stored and, due to cross-contamination, being wrongly accused of crimes or terrorism.

The proposals, which are contained in the Counter-Terrorism Bill, were outlined last week by Security Minister Lord West in the wake of Labour’s unsuccessful attempt to introduce legislation to hold terror suspects for 42 days without charge.

The move comes despite growing fears about the rapid expansion of the national database, which stores the details of 4.2million people, including 573,639 who have not been convicted, cautioned or reprimanded for any offence.

Lord West said: ‘During surveillance, a DNA sample may be obtained without a warrant. A good example might be where a person discards a cigarette or a drinks container. It can be collected covertly and a sample taken.

‘Or, should a covert human intelligence source be used, the person under surveillance could visit the source’s house and a sample could be taken from a teacup.

‘There is a real need to share this data internationally, especially where terrorism is concerned.’

But opponents say taking DNA samples without their being cross-contaminated is difficult, even for trained specialists.

Last night Dr Helen Wallace of watchdog group Genewatch said: ‘This kind of DNA collection leads to a real danger of cross-contamination or genetic samples being taken from a person who may prove to be innocent.’

Gareth Crossman, policy director of human rights group Liberty, said: ‘Authorities will be able to take our DNA without our knowledge, without any formal legal process, and retain it regardless of whether a suspect is arrested.

‘It will be carte blanche for them to take DNA and to keep that in perpetuity.’

The emerging surveillance society in Japan

Japan Probe | Oct 13, 2008

by James

For much of the last year, the following Denso commercial has appeared on Japanese TV:

In the commercial, Denso introduces a Utopian future where technology has eliminated traffic accidents. The system in development would rely on surveillance cameras placed at nearly every street corner in Japan. When the little kid was glasses complains that the system will make it impossible to play hide and seek, his privacy concern is laughed off as if it was some sort of joke.

Today’s news brought word of an act of vandalism in Aichi Prefecture that reminded me of the serious concerns ridiculed in the Denso commercial:

The Japanese media gave a lot of coverage to Friday’s launch of a special vending machine equipped with a security camera, an emergency 110 phone, and an alert buzzer. Reporters assembled and viewed a victim use the machine to respond to a mock purse snatching. The machine was hailed as a new tool in the fight against crime, with some hoping that similar machines be deployed across Japan.

However, as the above video shows, somebody clearly saw the camera as an invasion of privacy. The vending machine was found this morning with its camera ripped off and the words “surveillance society” [監視社会] spray painted on its side.

It was an illegal act to vandalize the vending machine, but I cannot help but sympathize with the criminal. I do not see the global trend towards installing surveillance cameras in every public place as a good thing. It’s possible that such cameras could help the police find and fight crime (some studies prove otherwise), but I feel that the resulting invasion of privacy and the expansion of government power over residents as something more dangerous than the crime surveillance cameras might prevent.

Interpol wants facial recognition database to catch suspects

Interpol is planning to expand its role into the mass screening of passengers moving around the world by creating a face recognition database to catch wanted suspects.

The Guardian | Oct 20, 2008

By Owen Bowcott

Every year more than 800 million international travellers fail to undergo “the most basic scrutiny” to check whether their identity documents have been stolen, the global policing cooperation body has warned.

Senior figures want a system that lets immigration officials capture digital images of passengers and immediately cross-check them against a database of pictures of terror suspects, international criminals and fugitives.

The UK’s first automated face recognition gates – matching passengers to their digital image in the latest generation of passports – began operating at Manchester airport in August.

Mark Branchflower, head of Interpol’s fingerprint unit, will this week unveil proposals in London for the creation of biometric identification systems that could be linked to such immigration checks.

The civil liberties group No2ID, which campaigns against identity cards, expressed alarm at the plans.

“This is a move away from seeking specific persons to GCHQ-style bulk interception of information,” warned spokesman Michael Parker.

“There’s already a fair amount of information collected in terms of passenger records. This is the next step. Law enforcement agencies want the most efficient systems but there has to be a balance between security and privacy.” The growth of international criminal gangs and the spread of terrorist threats has increased demand for Interpol’s services.

Last year it carried out 10,000 fingerprint searches; this year the figure will reach 20,000.

An automated fingerprint identification system with far greater capacity, known as Metamorpho, will be installed next year. Earlier this month Interpol launched its “global security initiative” aimed at raising $1bn (£577m) to strengthen its law enforcement programmes. It claims to hold the “names and identifiers” of 9,000 terrorist suspects.

Branchflower will speak at the opening of the Biometrics 2008 conference in Westminster about the possibility of extending its biometric database.

Before the conference he said that Interpol wanted to create a face recognition database, to match its fingerprint and DNA records, that could be searched and matched automatically.

“Facial recognition is a step we could go to quite quickly,” said Branchflower, “and it’s increasingly of use to [all] countries. There’s so much data we have but they are in records we can’t search.”

If Interpol had been operating a face recognition database linked to national border controls last autumn, he said, it might have picked up a Canadian teacher wanted for child abuse as he entered Thailand. The paedophile was the subject of a high-profile manhunt.

“We could have picked him up the moment he entered Bangkok rather than having to wait another two weeks,” said Branchflower.”We need to get our data to the border entry points. There will be such a large role in the future for fingerprints and facial recognition.”

Harry Potter invisibility cloak a step closer to reality

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter using his invisibility cloak

Telegraph | Oct 16, 2008

By Richard Alleyne

An invisibility cloak, like the one Harry Potter used to wander around Hogwarts unseen, may be a reality within five years, claim scientists.

Radical advances in optical technology mean that scientists may soon be able to direct light around an object “like water around a pebble” thus rendering it invisible.

Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana are using new ultra small “nanotechnology” and “metamaterials” combined with the mathematical principles of Einstein.

“One of the most exciting applications is an electromagnetic cloak that could bend light around itself, similar to the flow of water around a stone, making invisible both the cloak and an object hidden inside,” said Professor Vladminr Shalaev, lead researcher who published his work in Science.

His team’s theoretical design uses an array of tiny needles radiating outward from a central glass spoke, resembling a round hairbrush, and would bend light around the object being cloaked inside.

The needles are so small that it reduces refraction or distortion of the light to almost zero so that any one looking at the cloak would not notice the light is being re-directed.

The research which is funded by the US Army Research Office would be especially useful to the military who think it could be used to make tanks, buildings or even soldiers disappear.

The experiments are a development of work by Sir John Pendry at the Imperial College, London, who originally outlined how metamaterials could be constructed to cloak objects by deflecting and cloaking objects.

He said his cloaking device would be used to hide objects such as aircraft or tanks from radar.

“Whereas (Einstein’s) relativity demonstrates the curved nature of space and time, we are able to curve space for light, and we can design and engineer tiny devices to do this,” said Prof Shalaev.

As well as a cloak of invisibility other uses include computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information, and “planar hyperlens” that could make optical microscopes 10 times more powerful and able to see objects as small as DNA.