Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Bump the Prime Minister's Resignation Petition

Hat tip to Justin McKeating of Chicken Yoghurt fame - he points out that the petition on the Downing Street website for the Prime Minister to resign is now in the top five most popular, so it's now reached the front page of the site.

The top five list is prefaced with the words:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to…"

"Resign" says it all in just one word, but gosh, how awkward for Gordon if that word made it to the top slot and neatly completed the sentence? (Currently 4619 votes off the top slot...)

UPDATE: Now trailing by 4451...

Successful wind farm to be nuked?

A successful wind farm close to the Lake District national park is one of the sites recently approved by the Government for a new generation of nuclear power plants.
From the Guardian:

One of the oldest and most efficient wind farms in Britain is to be dismantled and replaced by a nuclear power station under plans drawn up by the German-owned power group RWE.

The site at Kirksanton in Cumbria - home to the Haverigg turbines - has just been approved by the government for potential atomic newbuild in a move that has infuriated the wind power industry.

Colin Palmer, founder of the Windcluster company, which owns part of the Haverigg wind farm, said he was horrified that such a plan could be considered at a time when Britain risks missing its green energy targets and after reassurance from ministers that nuclear and renewables were not incompatible.

In a masterful understatement which belies the local anger and bewilderment at the lack of early consultation, Matthew Clayton of Triodos Renewables, the company which owns three turbines on the site said:

Government afraid of technology offers to protect the public

The Government has launched a consultation on their plans to keep a record of all our "communications data" - that is, the time and recipient of each email, text message or phone call we make, the websites we visit and the place from which we do this.

Although the Government has climbed down from its plans to establish a central database of all communications data, it proposes to make communications service providers hold it instead, for a whole year. Then "public authorities" and "investigators" would be given access to it for their purposes.

The title of the consultation document itself is an irony-free piece of doublethink: "Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment." In this the author has tried to establish a false common enemy. It implies that it's us and the Government against Technology, against Change itself. "We'll protect you," can then run the argument.

For all the mentions of balance in the document (7 of them, in fact) it's hard to present a balanced choice once the frame has been set.

No wonder they want to tip the balance: the Government is worried that the pace of technological change is running away from them faster than their salami-slicing tactics of hoarding up every last piece of data about us can keep up. Methods of communication are improving and increasing so mass surveillance is getting cumbersome and expensive.

Note the use of words like "degrade" in the foreword, which make date stamps on our text messages sound like some kind of weapons-grade data plutonium in the war against the bogeyman:

Monday, 27 April 2009

How to Tweet by thought alone

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have developed a way for people with disabilities to access social networks using a "brain-computer interface".

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook were preferred by users, rather than email, because they are a simpler and quicker way to communicate. The ability to be instantly in touch with a whole community, on the same terms as everyone else, is vital for people with physical injury.

From Wired:
Early on the afternoon of April 1, Adam Wilson posted a message to Twitter. But instead of using his hands to type, the University of Wisconsin biomedical engineer used his brain. "USING EEG TO SEND TWEET," he thought.

That message may be a modern equivalent of Alexander Graham Bell’s "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you." Brain-computer interfaces are no longer just a gee-whiz technology, but a platform for researchers interested in immediate real-world applications for people who can think, but can’t move.

"We’re more interested in the applications," said Justin Williams, head of the University of Wisconsin’s Neural Interfaces lab. "How do we actually make these technologies useful for people with disabilities?"

The researchers built upon the BCI2000, a software tool pioneered by Williams and Wadsworth Center neural injury specialist Gerwin Schalk. The software translates thought-induced changes in a scalp’s electrical fields to control an on-screen cursor.

Twelepathy? A breakthrough. Kind of glad there's not a way to receive tweets by thought alone, too...

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Eastleigh Labour PPC defects to Liberal Democrats

Daniel Clarke, Labour's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Eastleigh, has resigned from the party and joined the Liberal Democrats.

He cites "government policies which... are becoming increasingly indefensible" and says that "the likes of Damian McBride and Derek Draper have somehow been allowed to smear opponents and bring shame on the party"

From Labourhome:
I will leave the Labour Party and I am joining the Liberal Democrats. At the next election I will back Chris Huhne. Eastleigh is a two horse race, between Chris who has a proven record as a progressive politician and a hard worker for Eastleigh or Maria Hutchings, who - whatever her personal qualities - supports right wing reactionary policies on Europe, immigration and local issues.

I want to be a political activist who works for what is right. I have concluded that joining the Liberal Democrats will allow me to do this. Time and again, I have found myself thinking that Chris Huhne is right on issues as varied as Trident, Climate Change, the economy and civil liberties whilst the government is wrong on them.

Rather than standing against him, I will be voting for Chris at the next General Election.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Not carrying mobile phone = suspicious activity

When did you last leave home without your mobile phone?

The Register describes cases in Germany and France where people were accused of being terrorists because they didn’t use mobile phones:

By design, phones pass their location on to local base stations. You can gauge how effectively the networks can track you by requesting your personal information from your network provider using a data subject access under the Data Protection Act, or by just running Google Mobile Maps on your phone. The smaller 3G cells in central London give an even better location than on GSM.

Mobile phone penetration in Europe reached an average of 111.26 per cent in 2007 according to ITU estimates, while in the UK it was 118.47 per cent. We love them so much that we are more likely to leave our wallet at home than our mobile.

The location breadcrumbs from these, along with other communication traffic data, are kept as part of a mass surveillance operation affecting everyone. They are collected by the networks, retained for a year, and handed over to the police and other bodies on request.

... Mobile phones and email are used by everyone, including terrorists and other criminals. The data can be instrumental in tracking down criminals, with the caveat that having a bigger haystack does not make it easier to find a needle. But it misses one perverse effect - those who will be stigmatised in the future are those who don't have traffic data retained.

Could it happen here? As the Government wants to keep tabs on all our mobile phone calls there’s plenty of scope for recording our whereabouts too.

So: is it dodgy if I don’t carry a mobile phone, or dodgy if I carry too many? Confused now.

Perhaps there’s an optimum, state-sanctioned number of mobile phones for people to carry?

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Wanstead by-election result: Lib Dem share up 17.1%

Liberal Democrats in Redbridge are celebrating huge gains from the Conservatives in yesterday's Wanstead by-election.

With a swing of 11.1% from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats, Kate Garrett came a close second to the Conservative candidate - she's in an excellent position to win the seat in next year's Council elections and has already said she intends to keep campaigning on behalf of her local area.

From This is Local London:
"Conservative Alex Wilson has won the Wanstead by-election - but the Lib Dems are also celebrating a huge gain in the ward.

Mr Wilson, who now will become the area's new councillor, got 1,300 votes, with Lib Dem nominee Kate Garrett close behind on 1,030.

Meanwhile Labour slipped from second to third in the ward, with candidate Ross Hatfull managing 694 votes.

During a tense count at Ilford Town Hall, election officials had to recount several bundles of voting papers when they realised the votes did not add up, and there were widespread fears a full recount would have to be held.

In the last elections in Wanstead ward, during the 2006 local government elections, the Lib Dems got almost 13 per cent of the vote. This time they got 30 per cent. The Conservatives slipped from over 43 per cent to 37 per cent, while the Greens and Labour also suffered losses."

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Police who hide ID numbers face the sack

Police officers who conceal their Force Identification Numbers “will face the sack” according to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson. He said it is “totally unacceptable” for officers not to wear their shoulder numbers.

From the BBC:
His comments follow allegation against several officers at the G20 protests - including the man who pushed newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson before he died.

New footage has emerged of the moments leading up to his death, as a third post-mortem examination was held.

Mr Tomlinson, 47, died minutes after he was pushed over during the demonstrations in central London.

The officer at the centre of the allegations has been suspended and interviewed under caution on suspicion of manslaughter.

Two previous post-mortem examinations have come to different conclusions on the cause of death - one coronary artery disease, the other abdominal bleeding.

Sir Paul said: "If somebody is trying to deliberately avoid being identified and the reason he is doing it is so he can behave inappropriately, badly or criminally, then of course they will face the sack."

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Why are voters switching parties?

"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing..."

A poll in the Guardian caught my eye this week. Readers who were changing parties were asked their reasons for doing so.

Some extracts:

Switching from Labour in 2005 to Conservative now

• The economy is going down, people have no jobs, they are unemployed and they've got family and children to feed

• Because I am not happy with Labour's performance - that's it

• Because Labour is changing the rules and laws and made a mess of everything

• Because of the Conservatives' policies

Lib Dem in 2005 to Conservative now

• There's an actual possibility of the Conservatives getting in

• Don't think Liberal Democrats will get enough votes to form a government

Labour in 2005 to Lib Dem now

• Because of taxation; they dealt with the financial crises poorly

• They should get a chance. Labour has been moving to the right and I am worried about things - the lack of civil liberty, they don't represent the poor, only the privileged

• I am disappointed with Labour government and have no faith in the Conservatives. Mr Brown is useless, not very capable. We need a change.

Interesting that whilst voters complain that political parties campaigns focus too much on the negative, their reasons for switching are often just that.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Former Tory A-lister defects to the Liberal Democrats

From Conservative Home:

Beverley Nielsen: A former Midlands Businesswoman of the Year, ConservativeHome has learnt that she resigned from her local Conservative association in West Worcestershire in December and that she has now defected to the Liberal Democrats, for whom she is due to stand for election to Worcestershire County Council in June.

Of the original priority list of 100 Conservative candidates, 27 are no longer seeking a Parliamentary seat at the next election.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

All North West terror suspects released without charge

All 12 men who were arrested two weeks ago in terror raids in the north west of England are to be released without charge.

However, nine of the men are to be deported for breaching the terms of their entry into the UK. Greater Manchester Police have released them into the custody (oxymoron, surely?) of the UK Border Agency.

The police raids, which were hastily brought forward and led to the resignation of Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick are now under renewed scrutiny.

Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary said,

“This is yet another embarrassment for Jacqui Smith coming hot on the heels of claims that the Government exaggerated the national security threat during the arrest of Damian Green.

“The Home Secretary must now come before Parliament again to explain her department’s bunglings.

“Serious questions need to be answered about whether Bob Quick’s blunder distorted this operation and on what grounds these men are being deported.”

You can read more on this story in the Guardian.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Mayor challenged to make London bus travel cheaper and easier

What a good idea: a one-hour bus ticket that you can use on London's buses rather than having to buy separate tickets for multiple hops.

Liberal Democrats including Caroline Pidgeon, Transport Spokesperson on the London Assembly and Tom Brake MP have launched a London-wide campaign to persuade the Mayor to introduce one-hour bus tickets.

Caroline Pidgeon said:

“You can already switch from tube to tube on the same ticket, so it makes real sense to allow people to do the same with buses. It really is unfair that people who use Oyster pay as you go have to pay a new fare every time they change buses.

“One hour bus tickets already operate successfully in Paris, Rome and Brussels. It is now time London caught up and gave bus users a fair deal.”

“One hour bus tickets would also make bus travel very attractive to a lot of people who often don’t use the bus at present. One hour tickets could even lead to a shift away from people using their cars for short trips and help to reduce congestion across London.”

Join the campaign! You can sign the petition at http://ourcampaign.org.uk/1hourbusticket

MEP charged with fraud

Tom Wise, independent MEP for East Anglia has been charged with false accounting and money laundering. Mr Wise was originally elected to the European Parliament for UKIP in 2004.

His researcher, Lindsay Jenkins has also been charged.

From Cambridge News Online:

Derek Frame, reviewing lawyer, CPS Special Crime Division, said: "Following the publication of a news article in October 2005 relating to Mr Wise and Ms Jenkins, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) began an investigation into Mr Wises’ use of allowances. OLAF subsequently passed the investigation to Bedfordshire Police Economic Crime Unit for investigation."

He said the charges related to offences alleged to have been committed in 2004 and 2005.

Mr Wise and Ms Jenkins have been released on bail and are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 27 April.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Can we click it? (Yes, we can) - Politics and the internet

The revolution will be tweeted? Well, it was in Moldova.

Two more stories which show that politicians and the mainstream press underestimate new media at their peril:

From Jemima Kiss at the Guardian:

Telegraph.co.uk has taken the 'brave' decision to publish a live Twitterfall stream of #budget tags on its Budget 2009 homepage.

Sounds simple enough, but, as some of Twitter's more mischievous users have demonstrated, it does rather leave the Telegraph website open to editorial sabotage. Anything with a budget hashtag makes the page. Some moderation required, me thinks.

The Telegraph has now removed Twitterfall from its Budget 2009 homepage, but only after plenty of irreverent Tweeps had had their say, including:

worldsmycountry: Breaking news: Barclay Brothers to pick up your tax bill in unprecedented act of philanthropy. #Budget

natmandu: Can anyone offer any tips? I have parked my Range Rover in my hallway by accident and now I can't #budget.

natmandu: Subliminal message: b u y a d i f f e r e n t n e w s p a p e r #budget

I don't know whether to be annoyed or relieved that James Graham wasn't in there, hashjacking* with the rest of 'em - but why not - media should be democratic, for and by individuals who can define the terms of the debate.

And from Pew Internet in the US, thoughts on the internet's role in Campaign 2008:

Some 74% of internet users--representing 55% of the entire adult population--went online in 2008 to get involved in the political process or to get news and information about the election. This marks the first time that a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey has found that more than half of the voting-age population used the internet to get involved in the political process during an election year.

Several online activities rose to prominence in 2008. In particular, Americans were eager to share their views on the race with others and to take part in the online debate on social media sites such as blogs and social networking sites. Among the key findings of our survey:

Nearly one in five (18%) internet users posted their thoughts, comments or questions about the campaign on an online forum such as a blog or social networking site.
Fully 45% of internet users went online to watch a video related to the campaign.

One in three internet users forwarded political content to others. Indeed, the sharing of political content (whether writing and commentary or audio and video clips) increased notably over the course of the 2008 election cycle. While young adults led the way in many political activities, seniors were highly engaged in forwarding political content to their friends and family members.

Young voters continued to engage heavily in the political debate on social networking sites. Fully 83% of those age 18-24 have a social networking profile, and two-thirds of young profile owners took part in some form of political activity on these sites in 2008.

The relative importance of the internet also continued to grow within the overall political media ecosystem. Among the entire population (internet users and non-users alike) the internet is now equal to newspapers and roughly twice as important as radio as a source of election news and information. Among internet users and young adults, these differences are even more magnified.

(Hat-tip: tweetminster)

*I can't believe I typed "hashjacking", either. With a straight face. It's not even on Urban Dictionary. Off to scrub myself clean with a wire brush now...

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Dee Doocey: "Surveillance cuts both ways"

“Never again,” says Dee Doocey AM, Member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, on the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 demonstrations on April 1st.

Writing on the Progressive London blog today, Dee lists six basic principles which should be reflected in future police policy towards protest:

• Demonstrations and other peaceful forms of protest are a fundamental democratic right

• Demonstrations are usually peaceful

• Policing should be proportionate

• It is unacceptable for any officer deliberately to obscure his or her identification number

• The police must exercise due care and attention when making statements to the media

• The police have Britain’s reputation to consider

On police accountability, Dee welcomes the review requested by Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and points out that:
the police must also wake up to the reality that surveillance cuts both ways. Most people nowadays carry mobile phones, which can be used to take photos, record short videos or broadcast live reports via the Internet. Within minutes of an incident, this information can be posted online for anyone in the world to see. And the police cannot prevent it – not that they haven’t tried.

As protestors left the ‘climate camp’ in Bishopsgate on 1st April, the police were demanding that demonstrators delete images of police officers from their cameras before they left, under threat of seizure, falsely citing anti-terror laws as a justification.

ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) subsequently confirmed that the police could not make such a demand without a court order.

Read the full piece at Progressive London.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Government: if you suspect them, report them

After I blogged about the Metropolitan Police's "terror tools" poster, a friend of mine (let's call him @ALiberalHelping) has made me this one:

Video: Gadgets and travel = dodgy behaviour?

Yesterday I blogged over at Lib Dem Voice about the variety of ways you can get yourself arrested or lumbered with an ID card.

It was a serious message, delivered in a light-hearted tone, with a poster from the Metropolitan Police thrown in at the end. It has some hints for spotting suspicious behaviour based on people's use of gadgets and communications.

Oh yes, job done. Pleased with myself, I could then turn my attentions to getting ready for my trip abroad in a few days' time.

It wasn't long before it dawned on me... I might as well use that poster as my packing list. Gulp... I wonder whether I'll even make it onto the plane.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Do you belong to a suspicious group? It’s hard not to...

So far-fetched have been recent grounds for arrest, or for flagging yourself up as a terrorist suspect, that people keep asking me if Lib Dem Voice is running a series of hoax posts. (We've had lingering near street ironworks, ordering vegetarian airline meals, handing in lost property, scaring ducks, putting your bin out on the wrong day, looking at things and - easily the most heinous, in my opinion - going equipped with balloons.)

I thought I was joking (albeit darkly) when I said on LibDig that people might one day be singled out for their taste in music, but even that now appears to have happened. Home Office Watch features the terrifying ordeal of a jazz musician arrested by anti-terror police who had taken his soundproofed studio, replete with wires, as a sign of bomb-making.

We read everywhere of the bewildering array of groups whom the Government has decided should carry ID cards, from Mancunians to pilots, or in a happy Venn-style coincidence, both.

Then there's people travelling outside the UK... people travelling inside the UK...

(Are you remembering all these vital clues? Tricky when there doesn't seem to be any particular pattern behind them.)

So who should we be wary of? What we need is a handy guide in pictures. Never mind Keeping Calm and Carrying On nor indeed not keeping calm and carrying on. At last, I've found just the thing:

Friday, 3 April 2009

Teenager arrested for handing in a mobile phone

"Police have found a new way to plug those gaps in the DNA database by arresting people for being honest." - Home Office Watch has spotted the story of a Southport teenager who was arrested after handing in a mobile phone he had found, to a police station. Paul Leicester was held for four hours, questioned and had his DNA, fingerprints and photo taken.

His alleged offence was "theft by finding" - even though he had not attempted to deprive the phone's owner of their property, and handed it in as soon as possible. Merseyside Police have now withdrawn the case.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.