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Well, this is my first post on DW as opposed to LJ so here's hoping this whole cross-posting thing works.

As many people know I've been involved for a long time with a number of groups that are involved with young people and technology including but not limited to STEMNet, Young Rewired State, Code Club, Mozilla, Apps for Good and The Social Mobility Foundation. For some time I've been meaning to find out more about Computing at School - the education arm of the British Computer Society. For those folks in the tech industry that  have heard of the organisation at all often have an unfortunate idea that it's a stuffy organisation dominated by the likes of Microsoft. So, when I had the opportunity to go along to their meeting at BETT this evening (having to cancel an evening with Martha Lane Fox at NESTA to do so!) I jumped at the chance.

What I found was an extremely open and welcoming group with a very much "no them, only us" policy. Jointly made up of folks with a technology background as well as teachers (of all ages), teacher trainers and academics I was very much impressed at what the group has achieved since it's inception. For example the inclusion of Computing Science as the "fourth science" in the upcoming National Bacalaureat is to be celebrated. This level of policy work, after dedicated and step-by-step work with the DfE, goes hand in hand with building up a nation-wide Network of Excellence of inspired folks of all backgrounds who really want to make a difference from the ground up. These are organised into Regional Hubs and I will certainly be looking into the one in my area.

Which brings me to my first observation:

There are many bottom up organisations working in this area - how can they best work together?

I asked the CAS folks if they work with the groups I've listed above. They answered that while they are impressed and inspired by their work their work they don't meet regularly with them and there is certainly the possibility of work being unnecessarily duplicated. I've strongly suggested that one way to help ameliorate this issue is to start by meeting regularly with the Digital Makers folks at NESTA as a cornerstone of starting to help get these groups working together.

Connected to that another observation:

How can groups in this arena share resources?

We all want the same things - to teach teachers, ideally to help kids teach each other and to produce projects that will delight and inspire the next generation of digital makers. The problem is that the groups doing this are locking what they are doing behind their own walled gardens. Is this due to how they get their funding, is it brand protection or are their other reasons? What can be done to overcome this?

For a start I would love to put together (in conjunction with someone with some actual design skills) one online map which can be toggled to show primary schools working with Code Club, unaffiliated computer clubs, schools involved with CAS (especially Lead Schools), locations of CAS Master Teachers, locations of hackspaces and similar organisations, involved university and college departments (both Computing and Education), etc, etc.

My next observation was:

There was a lack of hairy people in the audience.

It's a truism that long hair and beards do tend to go with the "hacker" end of UK technical community. While organisations like Microsoft were well represented and it was excellent to see a solid commitment from the folks at Raspberry Pi there wasn't much, at least in this meeting, from folks involved in what might be called the "hacker" or possibly "start-up" community. I spoke to a couple of the folks who run CAS and suggested that I could work with them to highlight a number of places (Google Campus, Silicon Drinkabit, Hacks and Hackers, Hackspace Network, many others) where such motivated people hang out on a regular basis and lightning talks and chats over beer could be done to help spread the word and generate new volunteers.

Another thought:

Should CAS and the other groups get involved in gamification of this area?

Should thought be given to awards at different levels for schools, teachers, teacher trainers, techie helpers and most of all kids for achievement in key areas? If so how would this be managed given the current level of limited resources?

I was extremely pleased to hear people discussing the idea of running multiple "hack days" (some people don't like the name) to bring teachers and technologists together. I've been suggesting to the Digital Makers folks for a while that this is desperately needed to get CAS and the other folks I've mentioned under the same roof while mixing with teachers and teacher representatives.

How do we best run a number of awesome "mixer" events without it becoming overwhelming for non-techies?

Lots of thought needs to go into this but I think the most important objective has to be coming up with something like "5 things I can do after I leave in order to stay in touch and make this a success" for each type of attendee so the ball keeps rolling. There are so many awesome technical groups that could get involved - starting with the folks that were at the recent Mozfest.

On top of all this there are still my long-term questions:

How do we fix the terrible CRB system?

How do we build a social network of people who are keen to be involved in this area?

Pertinent given Emma M.'s recent "thunderclap" post

How do we fix the problem of kid-to-kid and adult-to-kid online communication?

Possibly by using a platform like What I'm very keen to do is leverage the new Government Digital Platform Identity Assurance platform to allow adult-to-child online communication by solidly verified adult users.

Now - on top of those I can add:

Which awesome people can I find to help me realise my dream of building a production line of Scratch / Arduino powered micro quadcopters?

Who was it tonight that said that they had a great set of "Wonders of Computer Science" slides? Can I steal them?

How do we answer the "why bother learning this stuff?" question? Should the community be building a set of videos by people kids know (a-la Brian Cox et al) and kids themselves showing off what they can do that can be used to answer this question?

Anyway - that got less and less structured as it went on but I think I covered everything I meant to ;-). Tomorrow it's time to sign up to the CAS forum and start opening some of these as threads!
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Dear Mr Burrowes,

Since your election in 2001 I have been impressed with the work that you have done both for your Enfield Southgate constituency, of which I am a member, and in parliament. In particular your work in relation to Chalk Farm hospital and Mr Gary Mckinnon are worthy of mention and praise. I have personally contacted you a number of times in relation to political causes I care about and, while we often disagree, you have never been anything less than courteous and informative.

It is therefore with disappointment that I read your 17th December 2012 article in Conservative Home entitled Let's take the gay marriage debate out of the party political arena.

I fully agree that the debate about the introduction of gay marriage should not be one that is drawn along party political lines. Like any decision based on personal MP ethics this should be a free vote - which is now the case as you indicated in your essay.

I must disagree however about your statement that "Unlike the Republicans, thankfully, we Conservatives do not do culture wars and should not start now." The Conservative Party has a long history of starting 'culture wars' with perhaps the most famous being the 'Back to Basics' campaign of the John Major era. Of course, the Conservative Party is far from the only political group to do this but to claim that this is something that conservatives do not engage in is rather naive.

I appreciate your concern that MPs have no yet had an opportunity to vote on any government proposals in this area. This is because they are currently under discussion. Now is the ideal time for those who have strong views on this measure, such as you and I, to state them loudly and clearly before a vote is put before parliament.

While none of the major parties have put gay marriage as a plank in their manifestos it is far from unusual for legislation to brought before parliament that is not planned out in full before the election. After all, part of the skill of governance is the ability to respond to changes in circumstance.

There is now a strong support for gay marriage in the UK backed by the majority of citizens from all walks of life. This support continues to grow and now is the ideal time to have this debate and implement appropriate legislation. The fact that less than 10% of currently sitting MPs signed the open letter in today’s Daily Telegraph is surely indicative of national feeling.

I am saddened that you speak of gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell as having “made some noise on the steps of CCHQ”. While I am not a fan of Mr Tatchell myself I respect the tireless work he has done on behalf of the LGBTQ community and I think your statement does him a disservice

Likewise your statement that Ben Summerskill, CEO of Stonewall, informed you in 2010 that gay marriage did not feature on one of their surveys appears to be deliberately misleading. Stonewall now strongly supports Mr Cameron’s proposals for gay marriage and has a web-page dedicated to that effect at :

I do agree that recent petition run by the Government's Equalities Office was a waste of time. Currently such online petitions are far too easy to ‘spoof’ - hopefully something that will be avoided in future via the introduction of the National Online ID Assurance Programme in 2013. In the meantime I believe the way to gather such information is via national surveys. For example the June 2012 YouGov survey carried out by Stonewall entitled "Living together: British attitudes to lesbian, gay and bisexual people in 2012" showed 71% in favour of gay marriage (see

I am glad you bring up the important differentiation between churches, of whatever religion and denomination, being allowed to perform same-sex marriages and being forced to do so. I am strongly in favour of such organisations being given free choice of conscience in these matters. However, that is not relevant in the discussion of the state definition of marriage. The recent statement by Culture Secretary Maria Miller that the Church of England and the Church in Wales will specifically be exempt from any forthcoming laws about gay marriage shows that the present government intends to codify this exemption with respect to those specific institutions.

Given the above I think it is rash to start using phrases like “threat to religious freedom”. The proposed changes are not a threat to any manner of worship and will not affect the conduct of any church in the UK unless they wish to opt-in to performing gay marriages. It is a fallacy to propose that giving someone the right to do something that you disagree with is a reduction in your freedom. Allowing interracial couples to marry was not a reduction in the freedom of miscegenationists.

I value your statements about the number of times “marriage” appears in current British laws. This gives us an idea of the extent that those soon to be able to marry will be bound by the law and convention of this country. The introduction of Civil Partnerships in 2004 was surely a larger change to British Common Law since, as you state, the laws regarding marriage in this country date from at least the 13th century so many precedents are well established. The simple matter of extending the nature of those allowed to marry will not require the re-examination of those statues.

I strongly agree with you in the appalling case of Mr Adrian Smith of Trafford. No public organisation should consider themselves able to negatively affect the employment of one of their workers for personal statements made outside of working hours. As long as Mr Smith treated all the clients of Trafford Housing Trust with equal respect he should have been in no way impacted by his statements.

However, I could not disagree more over your statements regarding education. The notion that teachers have a “freedom of conscience” during their working periods is also a fallacy. While speaking on behalf of the state they are already constrained by a number of regulations as to what is appropriate. For example, no openly racist teachers would be allowed to continue to teach in an British schools. However, I believe that as long as they conform to agreed regulations inside school anything they say out of hours is open to full common law free speech practices. Most local authority guidelines for teachers already cover how to deal with questions of homosexuality. These would merely need to be expanded to indicate that gay marriage is normal - removing the need to the teacher to make a personal statement about their opinion on the matter one way or another.

There may be some minor confusion due to the difference between the recognition of such weddings by the state versus that from religion but I believe that, as with everything to do with personal religion, this is something that should be discussed in private between parents and their children. The state has absolutely no business making any statements regarding religion in schools outside of comparative religion classes.

I join with you in hoping that hate-filled voices on both sides of the argument are relegated to the sidelines and that calmer voices prevail in the discussion.

I commend your personal “commitment to the equal value of people whatever their sexuality” but I strongly disagree with your view that marriage is a “distinctive institution for a man and woman”. This is a view inspired by a particular religious world-view and, with respect, such considerations should not be the basis for ethical decisions made by the state.

Finally, I agree that there are many important political discussions currently underway. Given the paucity of opposing opinion to Mr Cameron’s proposals, both within parliament and within the British population in general, I hope this legislation can be quickly passed so that politicians can return to the vital discussions of state.


David Durant
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This morning while I was working from home I listened to my boss giving evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee for a new report that's being worked on about digital engagement in government in the UK. There was recorded video at the usually excellent Parliament TV site but it's broken tonight so I can't find a link. Google it if you're interested.

Now, I'm very into this as you can tell from my twitter feed which is largely made up of places like the Government Digital Service (GDS), OpenGov Hub, etc but it's nice to see MPs finally getting people in to ask the right questions (even if it's just to ask 38 Degrees to stop sending them so much spam).

However, while there was a lot of good back-and-forth what disappointed me was that, despite repeated questions brushing on the topic, there was no explicit statements by anyone on the difference between representative democracy and direct democracy. I am a great fan of the former and deeply suspicious of the latter. As one of the MPs put it, direct democracy quickly leads to "tabloid based voting" and given the make-up of ownership of mass media in this country I find that a very scary concept.

While many on the committee seemed focused on how internet based tools could be used to shape legislation I think their power will next be felt, as Tom put forward, in making MPs lives easier. Tom suggested that an MP could have a tool which showed currently proposed amendments coming up for votes alongside an easy to use list of comments from varying sources (other MPs, the media, specialists, the general public, etc). This is an excellent idea but there is something else I would focus on at the same time.

What I have wanted to see for some time is a system that replaces the painful spamming of 38 Degrees with a simple dashboard based system that constituency MPs can use to see what registered voters in their area think of proposed legislation or particular national (or local) campaigns. Up to now such a site would have been impossible due to their being no system for positively identifying whether a person lived in a particular MPs constituency. However, in what I believe is one of the most important technical projects currently under way, GDS is working on enabling 3rd party identity assurance for government websites and, I very much hope, as a mechanism that then can be used by non-governmental services. Once a website can prove that someone lives in a particular constituency and can vote it's a short step to a dashboard that says "In the ward of Enfield Southgate 41% of 22,243 voters who indicated a preference (31%) stated that they were not in favour of the Draft Communications Data Bill. Click here for detailed comments". Comments would be voted up by karma-based commenting in the style of slashdot. MPs would be able to leave their own feedback on the proposition and, importantly, by hooking the system up to They Work For You there would also be a dashboard for voters in that constituency to show how many times, and on what subjects, the local MP differed from local views recorded on the site.

It is absolutely not the job of an MP to always reflect the views of the majority of people in their constituency - they must vote with their conscience. However, it is perfectly legitimate for the voters to record their views on particular issues and then use the response of the local MP to guide how they wish to vote come the next election.
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It's important to say up-front that this wasn't given by me or, in fact, given for anyone I knew. My friend Simon H. knew Matt well and has received permission from the speaker (Ian) to have a copy of this put up online. I certainly think it bares repeating.


Lots of gaps here too, key missing points include Matt as ace and prolific reviewer of Who fiction, as a generous helper of other writers (there must be at least a dozen Dr Who books with a thanks credit for Matt as a test-reader, including one for his double expertise in the academic book- Doctor Who and Philosophy) and the fact his initials are on the front of a guide to the 5th Dr as a little nod from the cover artist. Then there's his hilarious Dr Who websites, his 3D Computer rendered models and photoshopped art for when Lego wasn't enough. The saga of Matt's quest to become a full member of the Dalek Builders League to get hold of accurate blueprints for a computer model tickles me immensely. It is a quest of asking lots of slightly curious chaps questions you already know the answers too until they trust you enough to finally tell you something you don't know. It is a quest few complete and only slightly more would bother with.  Aren't you glad I didn't go on?

'I'm talking to you about Matt and Doctor Who because Matt loved Doctor Who. I love Doctor Who and I loved Matt loving Doctor Who. I think there's some algebra there you can probably work out for yourselves.

'So why did Matt love this frankly ridiculous programme? There are a hundred answers but here's one of the ones I think is most right. Because it demanded your involvement back. Doctor Who at its worst, and sometimes its best, requires a viewer actively engaged, excusing the plot holes, ignoring the dodgy effects, filling in the hinted at back-stories and cosmic histories. 'It's a story full of stories and full of gaps in between them, and it invites those of us who love it to play gleefully in those gaps. As the Doctor once said “What's the point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes?” You start off making your new stories with Lego and end up forced to just use words.

'Matt wrote just one “official” Doctor Who story. If there'd been more Matt I know there would have been more. Some of us had a plan. 'He also wrote three glorious spin off stories featuring characters that had escaped into their own adventures beyond the Doctor's pull. They're unsurprisingly delicious because Matt's writing reflects the best of Who- a sense of wonder and the ridiculous- concepts bigger than your head and dizzying gear shifts from the comic to the poignant. A giant space woodlouse falls over in the mud while you learn about despair, acceptance and people moving on.

'Heart, mind, soul, qualia- it's full of that stuff you can't quite pin down and dissect.
And, woven through it, one idea that keeps coming back-“The universe is made not of atoms, but of stories.”

'All of life's a story in the end and Doctor Who's as easy to love as life itself. It's a story made of other stories, and like life it's sometimes awful and painful and sometimes so glorious time seems to stop, and the hero who wanders through it is clever and kind and wise and, no matter how old he gets, always a child. Matt loved Doctor Who and it loved him back. He's part of its story now and he always will be.'
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So, it's all over for another year. I discovered how difficult it is to mentor a team of remote kids based in their own homes across the internet. Not because of technology issues, although we had those, but because it's very easy for them to drop out at any time and not come back (or for their parents to drag them away to do chores).

There were tons of amazing projects at the Festival of Code weekend - these are some of my favourites:
  • Way to Go (uses crowd-sourcing to provide accessibility information for disabled folks)
  • Marauder's Map (funny and great display of technology. If you have a microphone click the microphone and say "I solemnly swear I am up to no good" to log in!) 
  • TruMps (amusing, great use of HTML5 and CSS3 for whizzy graphics)
  • Manchester Image Archive (compare old pictures of locations to current views on Streetmap)
  • Dog Journeys (use GPS to map the routes you use to walk your dog and share with and use other people's)
  • Humap (updates navigation directions from google maps to including references to landmarks - "turn left at Tescos" instead of "take the 3rd left")
  • Smart Move (build custom heatmaps of London using criteria rated by you in order to find places you might like to live and then view properties for sale in those areas)
  • ISS Track (track the current position of the ISS)
  • Postcode Wars (compare two different areas, really beautiful layout and plugin architecture -- a must for all coders)
A one minute wrap-up from Tiffany St James.

Tiffany St James-YRS2012 from Rebel Uncut on Vimeo.

20 minute thoughts from the SAP sponsors.

A brilliant thank-you video.
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The way to happier society is through more democracy and a fairer economic model. The way to achieve those things is through open information and sharing. A major way to foster openness and collaboration is to do so through software. Want to create a better future? Teach kids to code!
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I've just finished reading Emma Mulqueeny's blog post about What to do when you cannot find a developer. In brief Emma says that she gets a lot of requests from organisations looking for developers to create websites and apps and that the response is that Rewired State is not a tech agency and that they neither have the resources or the remit to do that. She especially says "Obviously if you are trying to do this on mates rates or for equity then you need to move on and find another thing to do in life".

I completely agree with what Emma says in her post. It's definitely not the responsibility of Rewired State to act as a broker between devs and those that need them. That said, she recently passed on a request from Consumer Focus to me asking if I could run a project for them using coders that I knew. I set up the project with two YRS alumni and it ran for a number of weeks, delivered an excellent first release on time and earned the two young programmers great testimonials for university applications and a fair wage for their work (I chose not to take a cut in this instance).

There are developers out there that are keen to find such projects to do - especially for NGOs. The fact this drive has been around for a while is shown by fact the website created by my group in YRS 2010 (Will Work for Peanuts) was specifically designed to bring those groups together.

Rewired State is not the organisation to do this but I think there could be enough momentum for one to be created. It would need to bring together developers, project managers, designers and groups needing web / app work in a way that is realistic about what can be done, how much time can be committed from those involved and what is a fair payment (or at least be extremely up front about lack of payment).

If people are interested in discussing how this might be done drop me a line ( and we'll see about starting the conversation after YRS 2012.

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I had this grand plan (yes, another one). I was going to write a "Coding for Kids" website. I was going to be epic with links to websites (including thumbnails), tons of resources, how to set up your own coding club, online peer-to-peer mentoring, forums, etc, etc. I just needed to sit down and get it down.

That was about eight months ago.

Of course it doesn't help that I'm not really a website designer. It could probably be done in something like Drupal fairly easily but there's always been more pressing projects to do. In the meantime I've collected my own person list of articles, blogs, blog posts, twitter feeds, website, etc, etc and it's already over a 100 links.

There is another the huge list of links at the Coding for Kids wiki and the already long contacts page there. I'm not sure how often the wiki is updated though (the last entry on the links page appears to be a couple of months old). The Coding for Kids mailing list (something else I never manage to catch up with) not to mention the BCS-driving Computing at School one are thriving. Code Club has come into existence, YRS is going to be huge this year and the list of cool stuff goes on and on.

What seems obvious to me know is that what this community needs is not a leader (heaven forbid) but a really good curator who pledges to keep track of everything that is going on (including submission of interesting links and event from anyone). They would need to organise the information in ways that are useful to kids, teachers, adult mentors / hackers, etc and, possibly most important, keeps an up-to-date directory of people who are active in this area with a view to putting people in touch with each other and maybe organising future in-person gatherings.

Let's be clear - this is not what many people would call a sexy job. This isn't hacking, it's not PR and they won't be spending a lot of fun time exciting the kids about code. It's really a librarian role and is extraordinarily unlikely that they'd get any money for doing it. However I'm coming to the conclusion that this role is vital for our community as it grows exponentially (globally!) not only to avoid duplication but so we can all stand on the shoulders of other folks doing excellent work in this area.

But now comes that hard part. I don't have time to do this. No-one I know has time to do this (and hacker-type folks would much rather be writing code). So - over to everyone else - how do you think we can find someone really motivated to stand up and say "This is for me!"?
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As part of the previously mentioned Day Zero Project [ profile] alobear and I have been asking people to recommend books and films for us to read/view. Mostly we've piled these up so far but the two books I have read have been an unfortunate disappointment (Jamrac's Menagerie) and now a really pleasant success with Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke.

Skip now if you don't want fairly serious spoliers.

I read this book maybe two decades ago but I count it as a 'new read' as I couldn't remember any of the plot bar the techno-muguffin that makes the plot possible. It's discovered in the early 21st century that the sun is going to turn into a supernova but that it won't happen for over 1,000 years. During that time many 'seedships' are sent to other worlds. There, automated systems create and raise a first generation of humans that then build a new society. Meanwhile, in the final years leading up to the end of Earth humanity discovers zero-point-energy and the ability to drive ships up to virtually light speed. This leads to a ship directly from Earth arriving at a 700 year old self-developed colony.

The book reads very strongly as an allegory for the culture clash between English sailors arriving at Polynesian islands in the 19th century. The step-differences in technology and culture are similar and the
 polyamorous nature of the locals also reflects history.

The Thalassan culture is very interesting as the creators of the original seed ship decided to remove all references to humanitie's obsession with god (including all references to religion) and the militaristic nature of Earth's history. On the one hand this has lead to a highly rational and peaceful society. On the other the majority of the major works of human artistic culture are lost to them. The new arrivals must decide whether to pass on the parts that are missing. This is on top of what the effect of dropping millions (billions?) of new pieces of literature, music and art onto a small slowly developing culture.

The people from Earth do hand over plans for the quantum power system but state that 'only 3 people on the ship understand how it works and they are all in statis'. This leads to a discussion about whether any sufficiently competent engineer with the right tools and design plans can make anything - even if they don't understand what it does. 

There are a number of minor niggles including the lack of AIs and robots. Both are mentioned but very few robots and no AIs appear in the story. There's a one-line mention of 'electronic ghosts' which might be the stored personalities of dead people but, if so, we never get to meet one. There's equally a one-off mention of cybernetic implants when, if this was possible, you'd assume that everyone would have them and use them constantly. There's a scene where a law-enforcement officer uses a machine that can perfectly detect lies. There's no real mention of how such a machine would change a society (a-la James Halperin's Truth Machine). Likewise a one-off mention of a "replicator" but no comments of how the existence of such things would change a society that no longer needs to have people making things.

Two things in particular stand out as being a bit irritating. The first is that a major accident could have been easily prevented by a simple call phone call. The second is not a technical but a story issue of how someone makes a decision that a person who is killed would rather remain dead than be brought back to life in a completely different culture. It made me very angry that they would dare make such a decision on his behalf.

There are some lovely touches though. I particularly liked that if couples marry they keep their original names but if their first child is a boy they all take the man's last name but if it's a girl they all take the woman's.

I really enjoyed the book. It's lightweight, can be read quickly and doesn't contain any really new concepts but it is very well done, is sweet and has a great deal of heart. Certainly recommended.
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I found this article particularly interesting. Like things I have read about this before it's not going to stop me eating meat but I find the psychology of the people involved fascinating. In particular the 'myth' of the 'knocker' and the different attitude to the escaped animals 'in the wild' vs those, de-personified, going through the slaughterhouse process.
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Back in June was the last time I posted an update on a running theme of mine that the world is running to catch up in time to be ready to become the universe of the roleplaying game Cyberpunk 2020.

Adding to that we now have...

The increase of tent cities in the US.

Google to release 'net shades.
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More things I've tagged recently.

Encryption: In the US one prosecutor maintains that a woman must decrypt her data while she claims to not remember the password. The decision of what that means to be decided.  Meanwhile the Supreme Court says that a person cannot be forced to decrypt their HD if the police don't already have strong reasons to believe they know what is on it (no fishing for evidence)

ORG talks about the 'Do Not Track' initiative and most large tech companies sign up to it.

Francis Fukuyama (of 'The End of History' fame) builds his own surveillance drone.

Depressingly spending on CCTV in the UK continues to climb despite no evidence that it's remotely useful in gaining convictions or deterring crime and while the amount of money councils have to spend overall decreases.

Some potentially useful tools: Find out what data your apps are leaking. A Chrome extension of encrypting data on FaceBook (I find it much easier to just not use FB personally).

Lastly, Google asks (and gets) people to record everything they do online for a year for $25.
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Some things I've tagged over the past few weeks.

Following my previous post about warrantless GPS tagging of cars in the US (c.f. USA vs Knotts) the Supreme Court has clarified the situation by unambiguously saying that warrants are needed for attaching GPS trackers to vehicles. Apparently this has caused the FBI to switch off 3,000 tracking devices.

I'm very disappointed that the three men convicted of "distributing threatening written material intending to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation" went down for that rather than encouraging violent behaviour. Yes, people like this need to be stopped from promoting violence but doing by attacking their right to speak out on matters they strongly believe in is the wrong way to do it.

Lastly, I find it deeply ironic that at the same time that the government refuses to offer a posthumous pardon for Alan Turing for being gay they are also working to insert a provision into the upcoming (very late) Protections of Freedoms Bill that will remove existing convictions for consensual gay sex with people over 16 from every still living person previously convicted for that offence.


Jan. 30th, 2012 04:01 pm
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I've been writing letters, faxes and emails on behalf of Amnesty International's Urgent Action network for over ten years.

No-one's ever responded before - never mind the Attorney General of the Republic of Mexico!


Dear David Durant,

I would like to inform you that I have instructed Victoria Pacheco Jimenez, the Assistant Attorney General for Regional Control, Criminal Proceedings and Amparo, to expeditiously respond to the matter in reference. She will be contacting you shortly.

Furthermore, I would also like to inform you that said public official may be located at <snipped>.

I wish to reiterate to you the commitment of this Office of the Attorney General of the Republic to protecting personal rights and to strictly observing the law.


Marisela Morales Ibañez

Attorney General of the Republic

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Instead of being sensible and going to sleep I'm going to write about another in the Future of the C onstitution series. This one is Is the Fourth Amendment Relevant in a Technological Age? by Christopher Slobogin.

The essay covers the current mess surrounding the interpretation by the American courts of the 4th Amendment to the American Constitution which says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The problems here are multiple stemming from obvious "wiggle-words" such as unreasonable but also in straightforward words such as house.

There is also the issue of probably cause - i.e. that the police must have a 50% of higher probability that potentially intrusive surveillance will lead to uncovering a crime. The huge increase in the number of CCTV cameras covering public areas in the US, UK and elsewhere is one obvious area of contention for this.

While Katz vs United States concluded that the police bugging phone boxes to entrap people was illegal as "the Amendment protects people, not places" increasing use of Deep Packet Inspection tools on the internet make a mockery of that ruling.
In United States vs Knotts the court ruled that it was okay to attach a GPS tracker to a suspect's car without a warrant as "[a] person travelling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another.” 

Further caselaw states that even a person's garden behind a high fence is fully open to police surveillance as "“[a]ny member of the public flying in navigable airspace could have seen what the police saw."

Over 8,000,000 requests have been made by American police for tracking of mobile phone locations by mobile network operators - often handing over weeks or months of location data. It is unknown how many of these cases lead to a conviction.

United States vs Kyllo states that the police could not use a thermal imaging camera to see what is happening inside a house - bizarrely because such as a device is "not in general public use" (rather than base their decision on a ethical footing). However, they can still be used in an non-home location such as a person's back yard, work or any public area.

Devices "in general public use" such as zoom lenses, night-vision equipment, boom mikes, etc are fair game to look inside people's homes. It's assumed that more technological devices will become "common" over time.

Moving to state acquisition of data United States vs Miller (1976) says that an individual “takes the risk, in revealing his affairs to another, that the information will be conveyed by that person to the government . . . even if the information is revealed on the assumption that it will be used only for a limited purpose and the confidence placed in the third party will not be betrayed.” This text is used in its widest interpretation when "to another" can make a corporation - in Miller this was a Bank. This means that there is no private speech between Americans and American companies unless covered by separate legislation (doctors, lawyers, etc). From Smith vs Maryland this was extended to every number any subscriber had dialed using a named phone company.

The issue with the above, obviously, is whether this can be interpreted, for example, as carte blanch for the state to collect all the phone numbers anyone ever dials "just in case" they need to use them later in a criminal investigation. Various forms of state information aggregation have been created - most infamously Total Information Awareness (with the creepiest logo ever) which was defunded in 2003 but has continued under different, less public, titles ever since. 

This is all outside repeated statements by the Supreme Court that any operation focused on terrorism, such as suspicionless searched on NYC public transport, fall outside the usual jurisdiction of the courts as “in those exceptional circumstances in which special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement, make the warrant and probable-cause requirement impracticable.”

The paper continues in it's final 3rd by making recommendations on ways to re-balance the status quo so that there is a more even keel between state's acquisition of information and individual rights. I encourage interested parties to read it.


Jan. 9th, 2012 11:10 pm
cholten99: (Default)
As I've mentioned before I'm a big fan of the Future of the Constitution series from the Brookings Institution. I still have a backlog of their excellent articles to read but tonight I've found time to go through Endowed by Their Creator?: The Future of Constitutional Personhood.

This is an excellent essay covering both the creation of intelligence in machines (via AI) and the reduction of intelligence in humans (via genetics) to present arguments on exactly what makes a "person". Comments comparing AI restriction to abortion mix with warnings about the previous times in history groups of people have decided that some entities are not 'persons'. Statements such as those suggesting that any being that can hold moral values is 'human' is dispatched by pointing out that many animals can be shown to act 'morally'. Further reflection on already existing corporate non-human persons is briefly touched on.

However, perhaps the only solid conclusion is that while liberals struggle with the weighty problems of defining what is a 'person' conservatives and theologians will continue to resist the expansion of fundamental rights to any further group of beings - just as they have for women, gays, 'lesser races' and people with heretical thoughts.
cholten99: (Default)

Paddy Ashdown has an interesting talk up on TED. However, I'm more impressed that French ex-pats gathered together in significant numbers are now going to have their own MPs. If you happen to have French passport but are allowed to be resident in the UK and are currently based in China but are on a year's work secondment to Brazil how much longer is the nation state going to make sense to you? It doesn't take a genius to see a gap opening up for the creation of the sort of trans-national communities referenced in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books or Stevenson's Diamond Age.

While I'm here - is it just me or are people posting a lot less on LJ these days? Some of use have moved to Twitter for meme-spreading, which is mostly what I used LJ for anyway, but everyone else just seems to be posting less. *shrug*


Dec. 14th, 2011 01:08 am
cholten99: (Default)
Memage from [ profile] etcetera_cat:

Comment to this post, and I will list five things I associate with you, They might make sense or they might be totally random. Then post that list, with your commentary, to your LJ (or just add a reply back to me). Other people (including me) can get lists from you, and the meme merrily perpetuates itself.

I got these questions from Emma (cut for length) )
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