Letters It's a full to bursting letters bag this week, set to explode like a letter bomb. And boy, oh boy, the UK government was certainly top of the hit-list - whether ID cards, IT systems, or fingerprinting kids, you had a LOT to say about our incumbents. Take cover. Low flying missiles to follow:
First up, the news that managing director of fingerprint scanner supplier Softlink did a u-turn on his advice for parents about whether they should let their kids' prints be nabbed by schools. Yes, then no, then...
I am struggling to make any sense of the pronouncements here as this Alisdair Darrock seems to struggle with his English. From what I can decipher it sounds like he is asking us to believe that he is a champion of civil liberties but disagrees that fingerprinting children is an abuse of their rights. My children have instructions to refuse and phone me immediately should they be requested to provide prints. Darrock is a charlatan and a part of a sinister movement towards total control, starting with those judged too young to form a considered opinion on what they are being requested to provide. If my kids don't get to use the library then thats tough. I will buy them them books they miss rather than allow abuse of the sort Darrock is dishing out. And if he is one of these 'nothing to hide...blah, blah' idiots then can he send me his childrens fingerprints, photographs, description, just in case......
There you go, a whole paragraph and I fought the urge to accuse him of being an unethical prick.
I am not a parent but I was until recently a pupil. Here is what I hope is a coherent argument against fingerprinting pupils which hopefully is not too complicated for Mr. Darrock to understand: "I don't want you to".
I don't want you to as an ex-pupil, and I don't want you to as a one-day-maybe-parent.
A smidgen more sympathy for the poor fella from this reader:
Hi Mark -
I sympathise with Mr Darrock. The trouble is, he doesn't have control over the threats to privacy and liberty posed by database systems in school libraries, whether or not they contain fingerprinting - and nor do schools. Perfectly legitimate and ethical biometric technology businesses are being caught up in the current official obsession with identity, monitoring and tracking, of which biometrics have become emblematic.
Mr Darrock isn't the problem; the problem is what various authorities may do - or be compelled to do - do with his systems. Information sharing under the Children Act 2004 can defy confidentiality, and it is in any case dangerously unclear who controls information in school library systems and whether it can be used for other purposes than the administration of borrowings.
The imperious attitude of education authorities, Whitehall, and some schools, is what's at the heart of parental concerns about fingerprinting. The authorities feel entitled to do anything at all to children, parents just being a nuisance to them. But parents see their chidren being further conditioned to be treated like sheep and they don't like it. If the initial physical interference with kids can be sanctioned arbitrarily, without meaningful consent or choice, then why should any of us have any faith in the subsequent handling of the information?
Mark, I see someone has started up a petition against this at:
There isn't one set up for Scotland yet as far as I can tell. I'll get round to that at some point though.....
Next up, the NAO released a report this week questioning how the government calculates its "efficiency savings". £13bn of savings so far, and "only" £8.2bn more to save by next March? Whatever!
It's not the size of the £2.8bn that is a disgrace, but what it points to. The civil service *is* the government. The size of these bills indicates the extent to which the business of government is in the hands of a tiny number of transnational corporations.
What the NAO report shows is that the politicians supposed to represent our interests either can't or won't. That is the disgrace.
Government spend also rattled cages on the ID card front. The IT industry, through trade body Intellect, locked horns with the Tories over Conservative plans to scrap ID cards, should they win power from Labour:
It's with great dismay that I hear those five terrible words "I'm not a racist, but..." at the beginning of a sentence. Notwithstanding, I'm not a Tory, but I have to agree with the shadow Home Sec on this one.
Government almost always overspends on IT contracts, and The ID Cards Fiasco [aka DRM for Government, v2.0] will be but a great big fat example. Everyone in IT is watching this, and meticulously sharpening their carving knives, including myself.
Higgins of all people should know that if you're going to become involved in something of such high social and political sensitivity as ID cards, then you should be prepared for Interesting Times Ahead, and tender your bids accordingly. I don't mean to sound cynical, it's just that I am.
Though not all comments were aimed at UK.gov...
Has there ever been a less appropriately named body than Intellect? Have they considered rebranding to Fuckwit?
And as the the Conservatives fleshed out their opposition to ID cards, we wrote an enlightening piece about the party's stance, which finished up with: "Watered down, the message is: why do you need ID cards, when you can just lock more people up?" This reader quite rightly pointed out our folly:
Heyyyy, that wasn't watered down, that was concentrated!
Government's surprising decision to introduce electronic voting schemes in the May 2007 local elections, despite concerns over unproven technologies and the lack of an audit trail, left many of you gobsmacked:
"Why the government thinks the internet is inherently less subvertable than the postal system is something it is keeping to itself".
And quite understandably so. The default hypothesis is that they are actually as ignorant as they seem, and don't begin to understand what they are talking about. That's quite likely.
Another possibility that can't be ruled out is that they understand full well, but have plans of their own. Sometime in the future...
"You mean this Internet thingy is not secure enough for electronic voting? Well, obviously we must take it over and make sure that it becomes secure. We can't have people entrusting their important business and data to a network that can be hacked, can we?"
First reading of the Internet (Control and Regulation) Bill 2008...
Perhaps the 'apathetic electorate' would vote if they gave a 'none of the above' option on ballot forms?
While others saw the "funny" side:
"E-voting pilots don't make sense"
Well, of course they don't. How are they meant to vote while flying a plane?
Another subject dear to your hearts this week was DRM - notably, ol' Steve's call to scrap it altogether:
Jobs is (IMO) a bit of a whacko but he does seem to have hit the nail on the head here.
The problems with licensing FairPlay should be turned around and looked at as how this would take place: would the licensing rate be fixed? Would it have to be to EVERYONE?
However, the only reason FairPlay is required is because the big labels require it.
Jobs could also have offered to put out a crack that DVDJon produced that unlocks YOUR OWN iTunes purchases. The resulting file no longer requires iTunes or an iPod to play: anything playing AACS (?) will manage it. It doesn't unlock someone else's, only the owner ^W purchaser can. 'course the RIAA would cry that this was a circumvention tool...
But that's where the sympathy for Steve-o seems to end:
Why does iTunes exist?
If the analyses I've seen on the Register and other sites are correct, iTunes can't be doing much more than covering it's operational costs. So there's not a good business case for it itself.
If Mr. Jobs' analysis is correct in that over 90% of music on iPods doesn't come from iTunes, than it's not necessary as a driver for the profitable hardware.
Finally, if Mr. Jobs' statements on the futility of DRM are honest, then it must be morally repugnant to him as a technologist to push technology that he KNOWS does not work for the customer* -- not to mention that he must believe that iTunes as it is must die before his non-DRM utopia can come to life.
Seems to me that a good way to help that along would be to open that DRM up to competitors and allow the breakdown of DRM which Mr. Jobs himself prophesizes would come of such an act...
* meaning either consumers or the music industry.
Very interesting that Jobs is only raising a furore when governments are breathing down his neck... Did he think that QTFairUse or playfair were merely student projects? I think after the iPhone fiasco, poor Steve has felt the need to play up the "Apple=compassionate, understanding, sympathetic" act a bit.
Passing the buck. Eventually we will discover that all this is about muscians actually wanting to get paid and make money from their work. How selfish of them! Can't they just work for free like open-source programmers?
And what about open journalism? Should news articles be copyright free, and journalists should also work for free?
"Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free"
Really makes you feel sorry for Lol' Ol' Stevie, doesn't it? I mean, Apple is obviously the victim here. Clearly they have plaid no role in the propagation of DRM at all! Its all the Big Bad Music Industry!
Pass that buck, Steve-O.
"DVD Jon" posted his views on that. http://nanocrew.net/2007/02/06/steves-thoughts-on-music/ http://nanocrew.net/2007/02/06/steves-misleading-statistics/ http://nanocrew.net/2007/02/06/steve-on-licensing-fairplay/
And to sum up. Small, but perfectly formed:
Steve Jobs dribble = BabbleGate
On the subject of fairplay, Fujitsu techs have signed up for more strike action until they settle their long-running pay dispute. Poor unpaid workers. Yes? No, you say:
So the unionised, TUPE protected, always-had-the-same-ok-wage, newly Fujitsu-ised workers want their yearly pay increase to match inflation? Boo-fucking-hoo, cry me a river.
They should try being one of us thousands of agency workers unfortunate to have our contracts controlled by Fujitusu. We typically get absolute minimum wage, no increases other than what they can legally get away with, if we even hint at joining a union we are out the door faster than we can even say "Amicus?". And take a day or two off and you are disposed like the replaceable cog you are, never mind living it up with weekly strike days. Welcome to Fujitsu, you spawny gets. Try whining when your TUPE expires.
"Unionised technical support staff at Fujitsu IT Services..."
I read this initially as "un-ion-ised technical support staff..."
I'm glad that the situation is not as highly charged as a scaremongering-ElReg would have us believe! B^>