James Blessing of the Internet Service Providers Association on the ‘Snooping’ Bill

It’s easy to be critical of legislation that proposes to monitor vast swathes of our internet usage, and we are. It’s less simple, however, to understand exactly what the anticipated ‘snooping’ bill will actually demand of ISPs, and how feasible it will be to meet those demands.

James Blessing of the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) lays out some of the concerns. He seems to suggest that the Government doesn’t really understand how the internet works, and yet that those in power want to exercise watertight surveillance over the myriad of chat features offered by particular services, many of which don’t relate specifically to the service the ISPs provide. He mentions, for example, Skype and (yes, really) World of Warcraft.

In addition to the complexity of even attempting to corral the vast range and diversity of communications that take place over the internet into a malleable whole, there’s the high cost involved. Blessing mentions £4 billion, £5 billion, but there’s really no way of telling how high costs could rise. Surely this is money that would be more effective directed to environmental protection, or the arts, or education, or the NHS, or … well, pretty much anywhere.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s the colossal risk that this data, once stored, could easily be misused for commercial gain or worse. Blessing notes that ISPs are already aware of the potential for this, but he doesn’t touch on the even more sinister possibility of widespread data leaks. Why should the Government have access to this information in the first place, and why on Earth would we trust them to use it responsibly and store it safely?

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Internet Freedom: fighting back to protect the web

You’ll probably remember that, back in January, Egypt was effectively taken offline by a government seeking to quell incendiary protests. More recently, in the wake of riots in the UK, David Cameron was reportedly toying with the idea of shutting off Twitter and Facebook ~ supposedly to prevent violence, but also with a disturbing disregard for the potential civil liberties consequences.

Now, James Burke and Chris Pinchen are making progress with the ChokePoint project, a real-time map of internet connectivity that can be used to identify weak spots (hence choke point), and help people circumvent state-imposed outages.

The project’s still in its early stages, but it offers some hope that the internet can remain a medium for the free exchange of ideas, despite government attempts to place it under their control.

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Tax Justice: It’s actually pretty simple

The front page of today’s Telegraph loudly trumpets the idea that maintaining the 50p tax rate on people earning more than £150, 000 per year is likely, not to earn revenue for the government, but rather to cost about £1 billion a year. Not this year, obviously. Probably in a few years time, though. Like, really. Almost certainly. That’ll definitely happen.

“How?” We hear you cry. How can increasing taxes cost money? Oh, you poor fools. Do you know nothing of economics? It works like this. If we ordinary folk insist upon pressurising the benighted few, the  wealth creators, the ‘entrepreneurs’, then … well, they’re only human, poor cherubs. At some stage, the hardships will simply become too much. They’ll be gone, fleeing the country in protest at our hard-hearted ways.

The Telegraph piece even suggests that a “psychological threshold” will be reached, as if to create the impression that a ‘crossing the Rubicon’ situation will ensue should we push our precious paragons beyond the limits of their endurance.

Sunny Hundal does a good job of debunking the ludicrous ‘evidence’ behind this perspective. He doesn’t, though, tackle the (in our eyes) frankly bizarre assumption that the rich are some kind of breed apart. That, should they depart these shores, all hope of a functioning economy would depart with them.

The possibility that they might have come about their wealth through any avenue other than hard work and innovation never enters the Telegraph‘s equation. The possibility that their aversion to paying tax may be harming the economy as a whole … that would be sheer heresy! The very fact of their wealth automatically qualifies them as highly valuable people that the UK simply cannot do without.

There are (thankfully!) other perspectives, though. Sunny Hundal, again, destroying the straw man that the 50p tax rate deters ‘talent’ from coming to the UK. Even more impressively, Peter Tatchell joins the dots between the responsibility of the super-rich to pay tax, the apparently-barren government coffers, and the long-term interests of us all.

It’s time we get very clear. There’s no hole in the UK economy that taxing the ridiclously-minted wouldn’t fill. Yes, they can afford it. No, it’s not an unfair imposition. That’s where all the money went. We’d like it back now, please.

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Hollow in the middle: the effect of the cuts

With unemployment figures showing that the government’s growth strategy is moving the UK in the opposite direction to its supposed intention, David Cameron has resorted to blaming the crisis in the eurozone for the continuing stagnation in the UK economy.

While we wouldn’t deny that has some impact, it seems to us that the real culprits lie much closer to home ~ those who appear to want to maintain their own vested interests while ‘reforming’ the rest of the UK economy.

30 years ago, the UK was one of the most equal economically equal countries in the developed world. Now, precisely the opposite is true. It’s one of the least equal. Only Russia has seen a comparable shift on a similar timescale.

The government’s austerity politics, supposedly brought in to address the ‘debt crisis’, conceal the fact that austerity applies only to those who … well, those who aren’t captains of industry, finance, or government. There’s plenty of money sloshing about. It’s just that almost all of it seems to be in the coffers of an ever-smaller number of people.

The concept of a winner-takes-all economy is beginning to be exposed as the falsehood it patently is. Competition is no panacea, and as any reader of Darwin understands, he never proposed the law of survival of the fittest in the sense it is often interpreted; as an invitation to highly individualistic striving. In fact, he was aware that “sometimes competition over rank could produce benefits to the individual at the expense of the group”.

So it is with cuts. They decrease the total resources available for tackling the challenges, and it’s already abundantly clear that the private sector is not picking up the slack caused by swingeing public sector job losses.

As False Economy demonstrates convincingly, cuts simply can’t perform the job they have been enlisted to perform. What’s needed is for those at the helm of our society to accept a cut in their colossal incomes for the sake of all our social and economic health. This includes their own; in the long term, a highly unequal society stifles the potential of all its members.

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Welcome to the Occupation

When R.E.M. first released Document, the occupation might more readily have referred to the occupation of The White House by Ronald Reagan, or the colonisation of our minds by neoliberal economic doctrines and assurances that There Is No Alternative. Since September 17th, it’s protestors around the U.S., and now around the world, who are doing the the occupying. Sing it, Michael.

Continue reading

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Is this the future of civil liberties?

We’re not big fans of full body scanners ~ those funny machines that reveal your naked body to security personnel, could give you cancer, and don’t seem to do what they’re supposed to do. They’re not such a big problem here in the UK, although still unpleasant if you get singled out to go through one. Plus, once they’re in operation, there’s always the chance of some new ‘crisis’ propelling an increase in their usage.

Enter the next generation, what the Huffington Post is describing as the ‘airport security checkpoint of the future’. Continue reading

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Occupy Wall Street: the start of a movement?

You’ve heard about Occupy Wall Street, right? We sure hope so. Beginning on September 17th, protestors showed up in Zuccotti Park, formerly Liberty Park Plaza, and … well, they’ve been there ever since. What do they want? Same as the rest of us: a society where social justice and equality are more than fond imaginings. When do they want it? Well, making a start sometime soon sure would be nice, rather than continuing to reward the people most responsible for near-epic levels of inequality. Since protests commenced, they’ve spread around the US, and they’re due to hit London on October 15th. Continue reading

Posted in Activism, Civil unrest, Justice, Occupy Wall Street, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments