Surveillance society turns citizens into iso-dopes

And confiscates segways

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Letters If there's one subject that's bound to divide opinion, it's the surveillance society, and Clive Longbottom's analysis of the database state certainly did just that:

Can we have one of these next Monday called 'Quocirca "Analysis": Is wasting two pages' worth of your readers' time a good idea?'

Seriously, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be getting out of Mr. Longbottom's latest. It seems to reduce to:

'Government-held personal information databases are good, except when they're not, and they can be very easily misused, so here's a vague idea that might give you a hint of the degree of indirection which is necessary to keep this stuff secure -- except we can't do it that way because then we'll have more dead children because one agency couldn't find out what another agency knew! So let's see how it all works out, and call that good.'


You appear to suggest that all the information held on us, by whoever, should be readily available to anyone else who wants it. You then go on to speak of safeguards akin to those used to protect our nuclear warheads although in Britain this would require permission from a foreign government.

Why would the fire brigade need to verify my ID, and how? Am I to visit them so they can scan my irises before they come to fight my fire? ID cards will not protect you from aggravated assault unless muggers are required to present their credentials to prospective victims. Your insurance premiums are high because the insurance community is still recouping its losses incurred in the attack on the twin towers.

You are promoting the use of technology which will most likely be run by its suppliers, not any government agency, and who is to say that these are not the very people who will use it against us? Try getting insurance against cancer when your DNA marks you as genetically pre-disposed.

May I suggest that you identify the problem, then look to a solution, not fasten on ID cards first then try to work out how they will help. Our government wants us to have ID cards and if it knows why it is not telling us. They are being advised by the providers of the technology whose motives, I suspect, are not entirely altruistic.


But, some of you liked it.


Its so nice to see a sensible aticle on this topic that isn't either a rabid denunciation with no alternative solutions proposed, or blind faith that that the politicians are doing whats best and that the innocent have nothing to hide, (a phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of innocents everywhere)

I'm sure people in both camps will be denouncing you as a heretic (and forced to pick either I'd definitely be in the former and will do all I can to avoid entering the currently planned UK ID card database) - however I thought I would say thank you for very sensible points you raised.

Here's hoping a few MPs might read your article....


Ahh, the voice of reason at last ! However, I fear you are, in the words of a song, "one voice, singing in the darkness".


It emerged this week that the police and Home Office are not happy with current CCTV laws and want more control. Singing the song LOUD and CLEAR is this reader who DOESN'T LIKE THE IDEA.

"If society's uncomfortable with the police being that effective, then they should say so," said Gerrard.



And rightly so, as this reader illustrates:

This is very interesting and explains the following which happened when we installed CCTV in our London office in 2005:

Shortly after we did this we received a letter from the police asking us to fill in a form with a lot of details about our CCTV system, camera angels, area covered, etc. etc.

The letter claimed that we had to provide this information in order to comply with the Data Protection Act 1984.

This is wrong; the act contains no such requirement and has been replaced by the DPA 1998.

Obviously the Police wants to build up a database of CCTV systems so that they know where to look for evidence in case of crime and terrorist activity. This is fair enough but giving false information about legal compliance is not. Anonymous

Here's a suggestion to end all speculation and fears about criminal behaviour in the general population. It is an adapted idea from the inimitable Jack Vance, whose books should be on the shelf of every human on the planet.

It is VERY easy if you do it right and it solves a bunch of problems in one stroke.

1. Everybody gets a fabulously sexy necklace that is coded with a unique and untransferable identifier [don't let Microsoft provide it]. 2. The necklace is equipped with a ludicrously expensive sound system that plays any kind of music the user wants [which handles the RIAA's woes all in one fell swoop], it's on the government's dime. Rock your arse off. 3. We have CCTV cameras -everywhere-, recording the pranks and general goofiness of everybody. 4. If an otherwise upstanding member of the citizenry starts to misbehave, you know: grievous bodily harm, arson, rape and sundry delights of the socially misaligned, the unique identifier code is transmitted and the necklace lights up like the 4th of July [works swell in the States]. 5. The lit necklace is a warning. It is a final warning. When the wearer of the necklace persists in whatever it is that has drawn the ire of Big Brother, a confirmation code for the unique identifier is transmitted and the shaped charge in the necklace is detonated, cleanly removing the head of the offender from his/her irreverent shoulders [sorry Will].

Society becomes a lot more sedate after a few well-reported instances of head removing. This requires the State to be utterly fair, moral and just. The people deciding whose head should come off have the identifier of their necklace [what did you think!] also linked to that of a loved one. You know, just to help remind them that there are consequences for bad decisions. [only people with significant others in their lives can be elected, they have to be aware and agree, just to keep Big Brother honest the politicians overseeing this project are also connected the system]

The Home Office kicked off an online petition system. We suggested you petition to see the PM juggling ice-cream. You had other ideas:

As much as I'd love to see the PM juggle ice-cream (who wouldn't, frankly?), I have to admit that I'm tempted not to sign that petition.

"Why, man?! Are you insane!?!", I hear you cry. Well, because this whole scheme is still in the trial stages, and I don't want to give the bastards any excuse to scrap the idea, or even ignore petitions on the grounds of "silliness" (how far could government spinola stretch that definition? Watch this space...).

So rather than have a chuckle at the silly man juggling ice-cream, I say we all sign up for the '"None of the above" on ballot cards' petition, and have a REALLY good laugh at all him when the majority of the British public place a vote of no confidence.


Hear, hear.

I was going to sign the ID card petition. But they wanted to know my ID... so I told them I was you.


There are penalties for pretending to be us, Tom. Harsh penalties. Be warned.

Signing a petition calling for the abandonment of ID cards?

Scene, The Special Branch, Whitehall.

Enter Pc Plod, stage right.

Pc Plod: Er, Sarge I've got the email addresses of several thousand people who, prima facie, have got something to hide.

Sarge: So you have, be a good lad and put them on the list.

Of course, this would never happen.


An on-line by the government...nyes. Excuse me while I don't sign anything.

Seems to me that this would be a perfect way to collect identifying those who oppose certain polices (e.g. ID Cards) and, as I am of an evil mind-set, ensure they are targeted in the first tranche for assignment. It would also be a good way to identify those who strongly disagree (by sign more than one petition) have send them off for "re-education".

I wonder where the servers are held...if they're within 1 km of parliament, would signing the petition constitute and an offence under the "Removal do Democratic Rights Act" (or whatever it was called).


Such conspiracy theorists, you lot.

Microsoft has promised to give artists half what it receives on the Zune device to artists. Sceptical, Steve Gordon suggested making MP3 players subject to the AHRA so both the artists and the songwriters are assured of sharing in these revenues. Ah, no, you say:

'I'm personally in favor of making MP3 players subject to the AHRA so that both the artists and the songwriters are assured of sharing in these revenues.'

Other than volume levels that regularly exceed 130 dB, what does an MP3 player have to do with the American Hot Rod Association (AHRA)?

There's an old tradition in writing: The first time an acronym is used in an article, one is expected to spell out what it means. This generally limits confusion amongst the readers.

While I still don't know what you mean by "AHRA," I personally favor an International body to collect and distribute royalties on digital recording media and digital music and video; distribution would be 99 percent to the artists (in the case of video, the "artists" would be the studios and independent filmmakers), 1 percent allowed as operating overhead, and zero, zilch, nada to the "labels" which exist for the sole purpose of *limiting* distribution of music. This body might be a division of the WTO, which seems currently to be an arm of the RIAA. I'd like to see that change.

The royalty would have to be extremely low for the media, but any site such as iTunes or might be reasonably required to turn over 70 percent of gross sales.

And let the labels go hang.


So, according to you, I should pay RIAA labels for the privelige of buying an MP3 player which I will use to play - entirely - music which is ripped from CDs I bought a long time ago, music I streamed from net radio (and which is from independant european labels), and music I wrote myself?

I should pay the RIAA's lawyers to try to make that device itself illegal, while not consuming any of what they've created? They can't come up with a product I'll buy, so you'll just make it impossible for me to not buy it if I want to listen to ANY music? You think this should be the law?

How does this make sense to you?


On far more important matters, many of you were concerned about Kim Jong-Il losing his segway (alright, you weren't really) among other luxuries:

As my friend Hahns (who is Korean incidentally) said when he heard this: "One would think that if your ultimate goal was the make the crackpot [Kim Jong-Il] an international pariah, you would want to SEND Segways to North Korea post-haste. After which the populace will try to figure out some way to make them into food..."


Surely "Wheels come off Axle of Evil" ...


Good point, made by many off you...and so we changed. Never let it be said that we don't listen.

Shock, horror, gasp. Polonium-210, the radioactive isotope fingered as the substance used to off exiled Russian KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, is available to buy online for just $69 plus shipping and handling.

Dear Chris,

Hmmmm ... I was wondering who would crack the mystery ... I believe you should stand up and take a little of the applause Mr Williams (I'll have the rest).

How has sooooooooo much nu-clear stuff been found on hairyplanes?! Are millions of people about to cop it due to an over-zealous "left leaning" secret service?! Have "they" poisoned all of BA's fleet?!!1!!one!

Will it ever be safe to fly again ... I know pregnant women who are now only prepared to sit on one of Stelios' (it's that serious!).

And then you provide the vital clue: We reported yesterday polonium-210 is avaliable to buy online. The vendor has since posted this message: "You would need about 15,000 of our Polonium-210 needle sources at a total cost of about $1 million - to have a toxic amount."

Aaaahh ... yes ... but I bet you would only need 0.1% of that many "needle-sources" to produce a trace in an aircraft. Let's push the boat out, and say you'd probably need one or two?. That'll be $133.33 please (plus shipping I assume).

Now then ... for about £70 ... What FUN you could have ... Take "source" out of pocket (and out of unknown wrapping to stop scanner detection ... don't tell me, foil does the job!?), rub on aircraft seat, replace in protective wrapping in pocket. Go to next plane.

Snigger ...

I'd like my very large fee sent to Sherlock Harrison No 1876.6 Baker Street, Cheshire




Fee in the post. Nice job, sir.

Now, if you want to get silly about the numbers...

Hello Chris,

Just some numbers relating to polonium-210, for context. The legal annual limit of intake (ALI) for 210Po is 3 microCuries (µCi). This is the maximum amount a radiation worker is allowed to be exposed to in a year (by ingestion in this case). This equates to a dose of 20 or 50 milliSievert (mSv), depending which country you're in. Background radiation gives you and me about 20 mSv a year. If someone is exposed to an acute dose of 100 mSv of any radioisotope then they have a 0.05% increased chance of dying of cancer in the next twenty years. A large enough acute dose to make you sick (everything from temporary sterility and worse), is generally reckoned to be around 1,000 mSv. To kill someone you need 5000 - 10000 mSv.

So if we were going to buy our polonium from United Nuclear and kill someone with it we'd need around 3,000 samples (3/0.1 µCi = 30 samples for the ALI, 5,000/50 = 100 x ALI required for serious effects). Which does not equate to a lot of money, but it's one hell of a load of samples for one company to be shipping. As far as I can tell UN ships calibration samples, not stuff that's actually usable. To get the amounts required to make someone sick you really are going to have to be friendly with your local neighbourhood reactor.



And you thought of many other places the deadly polonium can be found:

Besides, I'm pretty sure that polonium-210 can also be found in cigarettes. Extraction of meaningful amounts might be a bit annoying, and the belief that anyone would bother is ridiculous, but it's available ... for whatever that's worth. Next let's talk about unregulated soot from coal-burning power plants and the theoretically extractable nuclear contents in that... Sincerely, Arah Leonard

I just happen to have a few hundred kilobequerels worth of polonium in my old but reliable smoke detectors. Maybe the murderer should be sought in a smoke detector factory?

And to finish...where did you leave your irony this week? One reader really missed the point on Mark Ballard's story on Cameron's ID card policy:

"straight-talking public relations executive" - You, my good sir, have just won the Internet. Yes, all of it. Congratulations. You've actually beaten out the oxymorons, "military intelligence," and, "Microsoft Works." Where would you like the medal pinned?

Enough said. Have a super weekend, and be careful of sushi and flying British Airways... ®


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