Friday, February 27, 2009

Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms

"In the world outside, great events take place, great figures move and act, great matters unfold, and this nation of Albion murmurs and stirs while malevolent voices whisper in the darkness — the voices of the new laws that are silently strangling the old freedoms the nation still dreams it enjoys." —Philip Pullman

The Reality of Internet Governance

My seminar yesterday at the James Martin 21st Century School in Oxford seemed to be well-received, with some interesting discussion following my presentation. You can see the slides below, now with added audio, although unfortunately the first couple of minutes have been snipped.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Good politics has made bad policy

"Our legislators faltered because they seemed to ignore the fact that what makes good politics doesn't always make good policy. And they didn't want to tackle the more complex issues that really affect safety in people's lives. It was easier to throw increasingly illiberal sound bites at a shadowy and fearsome enemy…

"Let's have fewer terrorism acts, fewer laws attacking our right to speak frankly and freely. Let's stop filling our prisons with junkies, inadequates and the mentally damaged. How apposite in 2009 to have, instead, a few more laws to confront the clever people who have done their best to steal our economy." Sir Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions

Monday, February 23, 2009

Torture is the last straw for Labour

"We now know that this government connived with the Bush administration to hold people illegally, to kidnap them in secret, and to torture them while in custody – all in the name of a war against the forces of darkness. The perpetrators of these outrages seem to believe that they can be washed clean by simply declaring their superior morality.

"Nothing more clearly distinguishes those beyond the pale than their willingness to use the secret, illegal and cowardly infliction of pain to terrify, cow and bend to their will helpless people being held without charge or trial or legal redress. It beggars belief that any British government could, in a supposed democracy, do so, and not even bother to respond to its critics. It is simply incredible that a Labour government claiming to represent the values of the Labour movement could believe in these circumstances that it has any right to remain in office." —former Labour election coordinator Bryan Gould

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Science is a gene away from defeating religion

"The process of Christian accommodation [to science] is a bit like the fate of fieldmice confronted by a combine harvester, continuously retreating into the shrinking patch of uncut wheat." —Prof. Colin Blakemore

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Liberty is facing death by a thousand cuts

"The East Germans are now more free than we are, at least in terms of law and administrative practice in such areas as surveillance and data collection. Thirty years ago, they had the Stasi. Today, Britain has such broadly drawn and elastic surveillance laws that Poole borough council could exploit them to spend two weeks spying on a family wrongly accused of lying on a school application form. The official spies reportedly made copious notes on the movements of the mother and her three children, whom they referred to as 'targets', and watched the family go home at night to establish where they were sleeping. And this is supposed to be modern Britain?" —Timothy Garton Ash

"Stella Rimington is right. The former head of MI5 who made her career running the security service's dirtiest operations in the 1980s, against the miners' union and the IRA, has warned that the government has given terrorists the chance to find 'greater justification' by making people feel they 'live in fear and under a police state' … To have the woman once hailed as Britain's Queen of Spies accusing the government of recklessly counter-productive authoritarianism carries a special weight" —Seumas Milne

"We should keep our nerve and our faith in our own values. Our own behaviour — especially with respect to the rule of law — is very important." —Former MI6 Assistant Chief Nigel Inkster

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Judges can challenge surveillance

"Perhaps the British are content to be the most spied upon people in the democratic world. But this would be surprising given their traditional resistance to official intrusion and their traditional belief that the state should mind its own business, not theirs. The qualified right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence, embodied in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, is not an ideal weapon to counter the growth of a surveillance society; but failing parliamentary restraint and adequate regulatory oversight, it may be the best weapon there is." —Lord Bingham

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Constitutions and tussles in cyberspace

EIFFEL is a group of leading networking researchers funded by the European Commission to "provide a place for discussing and exchanging ideas and research trajectories on the future of the Internet architecture and governance building as a foundation of the future networked society." I'm proud they have asked me to speak on Tuesday at their second meeting, alongside such luminaries as MIT's Dr David "end-to-end principle" Clark. You can see my presentation below — any comments (before or after Tuesday morning) most welcome!

The Running of the Bears

"The Running of the Bears only happens every ten years or so, so you’ve got to give the likes of Roubini, Whitney, Schiff, and Taleb a break for seeking to monopolize our attention while they’ve got it. After all, nobody likes a pessimist, and we’ll tune them out as soon as we’re brave enough to do so. That said, the depth of the current crisis suggests this bear market may last a little longer than the last few, so get used to hearing their names. Taleb’s got at least one more book in him about how smart he is." —Duff McDonald

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The rot in the Home Office

"There is something very tenth-rate about the illiberal, restrictive, humourless, narrow-minded, meddling, coercive, uneducated and punitive Home Office ever since David Blunkett, begetter of this rot, made it such a blight on the fabric of Britain. It passes understanding why Blair and Brown have put such useless people in charge of it; but the thought that they cannot be better advised is worrying." —A.C. Grayling

Friday, February 06, 2009

The all-seeing eye

"Privacy is not only a precondition to a life of any quality, it is part of the meaning of liberty. The rule of law in Britain is not codified in a constitution, but underpinned by shared support for the twin ideals of executive restraint and individual freedom. Under the gaze of 4 million CCTV cameras, and in the face of the burgeoning electronic tabs being kept on citizens, both ideals are strained. Bit by bit the state — and private firms — cease to believe that the courtroom is the place to hold individuals to account, and instead grow used to monitoring them in all sorts of contexts in the name of convenience. Bit by bit, meanwhile, individuals learn to live with the ubiquitous prying eye." —The Guardian

Torture is illegal and dumb

"However ruthless or disrespectful our foes, however seemingly persuasive the argument to resort to atrocity, however acute the dilemmas we face, there remains a fundamental incoherence in the idea that we can sacrifice our morality nobly. That is a rule that has not changed, nor ever will. Human rights are the object of terrorist attacks, and they are integral to the credibility of any counter- terrorist response. Torture is not only illegal, unethical, ineffective, cruel and counter-productive, it is also dumb." —Lord Guthrie, former Chief of Defence Staff

Christian Bale techno

Monday, February 02, 2009

Whitehall's IT plans spin out of control

Good to see the mainstream media is now picking up on just what a disaster the last decade of government mega-IT projects have proven:

Some of Whitehall’s biggest computer projects have spiralled out of control, with total cost overruns of more than £18 billion, an investigation by The Times can reveal. Plans for new computer systems are years behind schedule and have ballooned in cost; others have been scaled back or even scrapped. Yet companies continue to make hundreds of millions of pounds in profit, with £102.3 billion forecast to be spent on government IT projects over the next five years.