Phorm not dead but is looking terminal

ARS Technica reports that British Telecom the UK’s largest ISP have decided not to roll out the controversial Phorm system of targeted marketing.

In April of this year, however, the EC decided to open an infringement proceeding against Phorm and urged the UK to reform its privacy laws.

That brings us to today, with BT announcing that it remains interested in the technology but that it wants to allocate resources to “developing next-generation broadband and television services in the UK.”

Digital rights groups are pleased with the news. The Open Rights Group described the move as “the right decision for BT and other online providers who respect privacy,” and urged other UK ISPs to follow BT’s lead in dropping Phorm. Another group, No Deep Packet Inspection, said that “Phorm’s House of Cards is falling” as the company’s stock continues to drop following the BT announcement.

BT’s association with Phorm was one of the reasons that I decided to take my business elsewhere and sign up with a different Internet Service Provider.

Who’s Watching You?

First episode of the BBC’s documentary Who’s Watching You in which Richard Bilton uncovers the hidden world of surveillance in Britain. Quite wide ranging in its scope it takes in everything from RIPA abuses by local councils to surveillance carried out by unmanned drones.

It was a little disjointed as it tried to be balanced in its approach and show both the good and bad sides of surveillance. I think the very fact that the BBC has produced a documentary like this is great and hopefully it will spark some debate amongst the general public about the need for blanket surveillance.

Do the benefits to society outweigh the costs? I think in many cases that the answer is no. For example public CCTV which many people are in favour of because they believe that the cameras reduce incidence of crime. If we consider just in financial terms and ignore possible infringements of civil liberties does spending hundreds of millions of pounds make sense when there is evidence that they have a negligible effect on reducing crime although they are useful in catching criminals after the fact. So the question must now be are our CCTV systems in Britain worth the massive cost just to catch and convict the number of criminals it does. Could the money not be better spent by putting more policeman on the beat?

I think viewers may have had their eyes opened with the part of the programme about ANPR (Automatic number plate recognition). I’d be surprised if the majority of the public knew that ANPR even existed let alone how extensive it was and how long the data that was collected by systems across the country was retained for.

Two more episodes to follow, but on the evidence so far this seems like an interesting and important documentary.

Camera grid to log number plates

The BBC reports that a national network of cameras and computers automatically logging car number plates will be in place within months. [via]

There is a place for it for the tracking of cars known to have been involved in crime or for the surveillance of suspects in the same way that court approved wiretaps are used to monitor suspects but not for the blanket surveillance of the entire population.

CCTV has little effect on crime

The Guardian reports that CCTV schemes in city and town centres have little effect on crime.

The review of 44 research studies on CCTV schemes by the Campbell Collaboration found that they do have a modest impact on crime overall but are at their most effective in cutting vehicle crime in car parks, especially when used alongside improved lighting and the introduction of security guards.

CCTV has become like security theatre, the cameras’ primary purpose is to make it look like something is being done about crime in a particular location.

Surveillance State: No worries, nobody’s watching

Telegraph: Only incompetence will save us from Orwell’s surveillance state

The vast amount of data now being generated, and the impossibility of looking at it all, is, together with bureaucratic incompetence, the best guarantee we have that we’re not going to wake up one morning and find we are living in a version of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

True to an extent but the worry is that eventually when the state realises that the flaw in the system is the human element they will move towards more and more automated systems that can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned with and doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear.*

Seriously though, the failures of major IT projects like the NHS database might be the one thing that prevents the implementation of the National Identity Register and if they don’t then I can guarantee that Britain will end up with one hell of a flawed database with people being misidentified as benefit cheats or fraudsters or in extreme cases terrorist suspects due to the incompetence of the data entry.

* The Terminator (1984)

The abusive relationship that are we are stuck in with the British government.

Charlie Brooker vents in his inimitable fashion about the state of British politics. To politicians, we’re little more than meaningless blobs on a monitor.

My personal snapping point was reached last week, at the precise moment Jack Straw announced the government was vetoing the Information Tribunal’s order for the release of cabinet minutes relating to that whole invasion-of-Iraq thing

I agree that many of the British people will reach their own snapping point with regard to our government sometime soon and that perhaps the state of the economy will be the metaphorical straw that causes them to stop rolling over and accepting the ongoing series of government malfeasance.