Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The proud moment when I realised I was worth hacking
The inimitable Boris Johnson on PRISM and internet privacy: "An Englishman’s laptop is his castle"
Shock horror! Hold the front page. It turns out the internet is a gigantic snooperama, a sinister governmental periscope inside your most personal electronic possession – by which THEY can keep a watch on YOU. Even now there are men in dark glasses in Langley, Virginia, whose task is to track the websites you visit, chortling with incredulous laughter. Out in Beijing, there are special agents building your psychological profile from the stuff you like to buy from Ocado. It’s a global conspiracy to invade your privacy, my friends.
It seems that the big US internet companies have been helping the American security services with a Big Brother-type probe called Prism; and the suggestion now is that UK spooks may somehow have been using the results. Everyone is getting understandably worked up. The champions of liberty are in full cry, and in principle I am with them all the way. An Englishman’s laptop is his castle, and all that kind of thing.
My only question is: what on earth did you expect? I have never trusted the security of the internet, or emails, or indeed texts – because it was obvious from the very dawn of what was once called the information superhighway that any data you sent to some server or database or gizmo could no longer be in any sense private. It was no longer shared between you and one recipient. It was stored in the memory of some vast global intermediary. It was out there, in the ether, just waiting to be hacked or lost or stolen or accidentally blurted to your enemies. That is why I have always rather assumed that any email I send should be drafted as if for public consumption, and that all kinds of people could be reading it – should they wish so to fritter their lives – as soon as I pressed “send”.
One night, a few years ago, I was working very late in China, when a hilarious warning sign came up on my screen informing me – I have forgotten the exact words – that “other users” were on my machine. I felt very proud. Someone thought I was worth hacking! I am afraid I just forged on with whatever I was doing, and it may be that the moles are still there in the innards of my laptop, secretly relaying useless information to their masters. Maybe the only way to get rid of them is to take out the hard drive and melt it down, rather as Arnie kills the Terminator. But then I will need a new machine, and that, too, will be immediately vulnerable to infestation.
The whole point about the internet is that everything is, as they say, everywhere; and that makes it hard for anything to be properly private. I see that Larry Page, the CEO of Google, claims it is “completely false” to say that his company gives away information about your internet activity. Pull the other one, Larry. If that is the case, how come all users of your Gmail email accounts get those advertisements pinged at them – ads triggered by words in the very CONTENT of the emails themselves? I don’t give a monkey’s whether it is a machine or a person: someone out there is monitoring my thoughts, as reflected in my emails, and that someone is trying to sell me stuff on the basis of what they have gleaned from my PRIVATE BLOOMING CONVERSATIONS!
I think if I were Shami Chakrabarti, or my old chum David Davis, I might get thoroughly aerated at this point; and I have some sympathy with their general position. But then I am afraid I also have sympathy with our security services, and their very powerful need to use the internet to catch the bad guys – the terrorists, the jihadis, the child porn creeps. There is a trade-off between freedom and security, as Barack Obama rightly says; between the citizen’s right to total internet privacy, and the duty of the state to protect us all from harm.
The question is where you draw the line, and how you enforce it; and in the meantime, I have two suggestions for those libertarians who have been scandalised by the revelations from America. The first is to look at the bestseller lists, and the amazing success of a sweet little book called Letters to Lupin – the gin-sodden epistles of Home Counties racing buff Roger Mortimer to his wayward son.
People adore this book because it evokes those men who fought in the war – Dear Bill characters whose conversation involved dirty jokes, the state of the lawn, the soundness of horses, what the dog had done on the carpet and the general insanity of their wives and other female relatives. They remind us of a generation now fading, capable of stiff upper lip but also of expressing great love and devotion; and they remind us of how that love was expressed. The letter was an event in itself. It wasn’t just a piece of information pinged into your inbox. It was a lovely hodge-podge of gossip and news and jokes, an art-form that needs to be revived, and so all those who want to beat the internet snoops – just get out the old Basildon Bond, suck the end of your biro, assemble your thoughts carefully and do as our grandparents did.
Failing that, there is clearly a massive business opportunity for a British tech company. Look at all these US tech giants: I don’t need to name them – you know who I mean. They don’t pay their fair share of tax; they collaborate with US snoopers; they are altogether too big and powerful. They have had a lot of paint chipped off them lately. We in Britain have produced all sorts of technological breakthroughs – indeed, Tim Berners-Lee actually came up with the World Wide Web. But we have not yet produced a giant on the American scale – and now the gap yawns for a British internet provider that somehow roots out the terrorists and the child molesters, and yet allows the blameless punter to send an email in complete security. We want a British Google that cracks the freedom vs security conundrum. Come on, you Tech City brainboxes, it can’t be that hard!
Stop tip-toeing around race of grooming gangs, say MPs: Committee says police and prosecutors must be able to raise issue without being accused of racism
Public officials must stop ‘tip-toeing’ around race when tackling child sex gangs, MPs said last night.
A dangerous trend of Pakistani men grooming young white girls does exist, according to a Commons home affairs committee report.
Police, prosecutors and social workers must be able to raise the issue without fear of being accused of racism, the committee said.
But it warned against stereotyping offenders because there is no straightforward link between race and child sexual exploitation. In shocking conclusions to a year-long inquiry, MPs said there were still areas where victims were being failed by the authorities.
They accused councils in Rochdale and Rotherham of being ‘inexcusably slow’ to realise sex abuse was taking place on their doorstep.
And they said both councils had a ‘woeful lack of professional curiosity’ and were responsible for the ‘appalling consequences of their indifference to the suffering of vulnerable children’.
Writing in the report, MPs said: ‘There is no simple link between race and child sexual exploitation.’
However, as the Mail has frequently highlighted, they add: ‘Evidence presented to us suggests there is a model of localised grooming of Pakistani-heritage men targeting young white girls.
‘This must be acknowledged by official agencies who, we were concerned to hear in some areas of particular community tension, had reportedly been slow to draw attention to the issue for fear of affecting community cohesion.
‘The condemnation from those communities of this vile crime should demonstrate that there is no excuse for tip-toeing around this issue. It is important that police, social workers and others be able to raise their concerns freely, without fear of being labelled racist.’
Last month seven Oxford men, mostly of Pakistani heritage, were convicted at the Old Bailey of running an appalling paedophile sex ring.
The case followed another, almost exactly 12 months earlier, in which nine Asian men based in Rochdale were involved.
In both crimes, teenage girls, most of whom were vulnerable and in care, were picked up in the street and at takeaways and groomed for sex with gifts of drugs and alcohol.
The committee called on the Government to introduce special courts to ensure child sex attackers are brought to justice.
It said vulnerable victims deserve better treatment and demanded the Ministry of Justice act quickly to protect them.
The committee highlighted how some young victims found the trial of their abusers more harrowing than their crimes.
Some vulnerable victims were subjected to marathon cross-examinations by teams of aggressive defence barristers.
On one occasion bungling staff showed the face of a victim to everyone in court, despite the judge ordering only an audio link was needed.
Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: ‘Protection of these vulnerable children must be our first priority.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘We constantly look for new ways to support and protect vulnerable witnesses when appearing in court.’
The foul British police again
A businessman who confronted suspected burglars raiding his premises at night could be jailed after he grabbed one of the gang’s weapons and used it to fight back.
Andrew Woodhouse, 43, claims he was chasing thieves off his property when one of them ‘came at’ him with a wooden stick.
In the scuffle, he managed to grab the stick and used it to injure the man’s legs before holding him down and screaming at his wife to call the police.
After a series of burglaries at his paving firm in Abergavenny, South Wales, Mr Woodhouse thought he might finally have helped to bring one of the robbers to justice.
But then police arrested Mr Woodhouse as well and held him in a cell for 18 hours.
He has been charged with grievous bodily harm with intent and will appear before magistrates on Thursday, along with the two men he apprehended.
‘I was scared. It was pitch dark, they had hoods on and I was getting hit,’ the father of five said last night.
‘I can’t see what else I could have done. I thought it was a man’s right to protect his property. I’ll fight to clear my name.’
While the law was changed a few months ago to protect those who use force against burglars, the rules apply only at home, not if thieves are chased outside.
Mr Woodhouse’s case has led to calls for the Crown Prosecution Service to show ‘common sense’ in dealing with those who defend themselves outside, with MPs calling the decision to prosecute him ‘astonishing’.
If found guilty, he could face a sentence of life imprisonment.
Mr Woodhouse was in bed with his wife Lisa at their detached home in the village of Govilon when his burglar alarm went off at about 12.30am. The alarm is fitted to his business premises on an industrial estate a mile from his six-bedroom £350,000 home.
He drove to the estate, where he saw two men trying to steal diesel from the engines of his fleet of vehicles. His wife, 42, said: ‘He shouted at them to stop and when they turned and ran he chased them.
‘One of them turned and faced Andrew. He was holding a stick. Andrew defended himself, he grabbed the stick off the bloke and whacked him with it.
‘The fellow was on the floor screaming at him. It all happened so quick, it was dark, I’m not sure anyone knew what was really going on.’
As Mr Woodhouse held Kevin Green, 52, the other alleged burglar, Timothy Cross, 31, is said to have returned with a third man, both carrying planks.
Mrs Woodhouse had, by this time, also driven to the scene. She said: ‘When I got there Andrew was chasing one of the chaps. He saw me and shouted, “Get the police, get the police”.
‘The police arrived and Andrew admitted he’d whacked the chap with the stick. The police said he had two broken legs and a broken wrist. They arrested Andrew and took him into custody. I didn’t see him until 6pm the next day.’
Police charged Mr Woodhouse with causing grievous bodily harm with intent because he used ‘unreasonable’ force.
His wife said: ‘I fail to see where there was any intent on Andrew’s part. He didn’t intend to get up in the middle of the night to assault anyone. All he did was protect his property.
‘People may think he took the law into his own hands but what was he supposed to do, stand by and watch?’
Mr Woodhouse employs six staff including two of his sons at the family business, which was set up 20 years ago. The firm has lost £15,000 in recent years to thefts of diesel and tools.
There is much support for him locally. He claims to have collected about 50 character references, including ones from a policeman and a priest.
MPs are calling on the CPS to drop the case against Mr Woodhouse and his local MP, Tory David Davies, said he would raise the issue in Parliament.
‘If someone came at him with a piece of wood, my sympathy is with the hard-working businessman, not with the people breaking into his property,’ he added.
Gwent Police said the 52-year-old man arrested at the scene had been taken to hospital with ‘serious leg and arm injuries’. A spokesman added that the decision to charge Mr Woodhouse was taken after CPS advice.
Don't be horrible to the Germans! First World War commemorations begin next year... but ministers are afraid of saying who started it
Britain should mark the centenary of the First World War without being too patriotic – or causing offence to the Germans, ministers declared yesterday.
Commemorations would simply ‘set out the facts’ rather than making a judgment on who was to blame for the conflict, Culture Secretary Maria Miller said.
And Communities Secretary Eric Pickles also warned against memorial events turning into ‘an anti-German festival’.
The announcement came as Mrs Miller revealed that two children from every state secondary school will be sent to the former battlefields of the Western Front as part of a four-year, £50million programme to mark 100 years since the outbreak of hostilities.
She said a range of national events would highlight the sacrifice and lessons of the Great War of 1914-18, which left more than 900,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers dead and affected ‘every family, every village, every town’.
The programme will include a candlelit vigil at Westminster Abbey on August 4 next year – a century after Britain declared war on Germany – and a remembrance service near Mons, Belgium, where the first and last British soldiers to be killed in the war are buried.
Major battles, including the Somme, will also be commemorated.
But there was criticism that ministers are reluctant to recognise the importance of the UK’s victory over the Kaiser’s armies for fear of offending the Germans.
Military historian Professor Sir Hew Strachan, a member of the advisory board for the commemorations, said the events should symbolise the reasons Britain went to war – to fight for freedom.
How we shall remember them
‘At one level it is completely accepted in Germany that Germany was responsible for causing the war, though I think it’s actually debatable,’ he said.
‘But with a possible British referendum on the EU, they are worried about the centenary being used for Germany-bashing by the British Press. For understandable reasons, given Germany’s history, just using the word ‘krieg’ [war] is very difficult.’
Mr Pickles said it would be a ‘tremendous tragedy’ if the occasion was used to bash Germany and its Great War ally Turkey.
‘Equally, it would be a tragedy if we forgot what happened, if we forgot why we fought, if we forgot we won,’ he added. Some £5.3million will be spent sending two ‘student ambassadors’ and a teacher from every state secondary school to sites of battles including the Somme, Verdun and Fromelles from spring next year.
Around £10million of Lottery money will help fund a series of cultural events, while £1million will go towards securing the future in Belfast of HMS Caroline, the Great War’s last surviving warship.
Mrs Miller said: ‘Every day of the conflict saw extraordinary acts of courage, ingenuity and valour both on the battlefield and on the Home Front.
‘It is right we remember and mark the centenary, bringing its importance alive for younger generations and remembering the price that was paid by all involved.’
Andrew Murrison, the minister asked by Downing Street to coordinate commemorations, said he had consulted officials in Germany, Austria and Turkey about the anniversary.
He added: ‘They are fully apprised of the need to engage, and the discussions I’ve had with the countries leads me to suppose they wish to commemorate this.’
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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