Archive for November, 2006

We must use science to defeat al-Qa’eda

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

(I was thinking of some good wordplay for the title but the plain quote can’t be bettered)


The Telegraph

John Reid yesterday compared the technological advances needed to fight Islamic terrorism to Britains battle against the Nazis.

The Home Secretary invoked the spirt of great wartime scientists like Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb, as he spoke of the ”enduring struggle facing the country.

‘Enduring’ oh dear, the shoddy rhetoric starts early, let us read into ‘enduring’ costly, irrelevant and misplaced.
This is the same government that tells us these “religious fantics” cannot be “reasoned with”?

And of course such unobjective faith in the power of technology belies the ‘irrational’ basis of government policy.

Mr Reid said he was setting up a taskforce drawn from business and the academic world to pool ideas that would keep one step ahead of al-Qaeda, which is increasingly sophisticated in its use of computers and weaponry.

So Neu Labour Politician wants to ‘do something’:
1. Form a quango of acolytes
2. (If you haven’t been lobbied recently) ring up business for a product/’solution.
3. Comission a report to see if it is technically sound.

Western governments are already two steps behind their al-queda golem never mind one step ahead.

”It is a race between those who would find the weaknesses in our defences and use that to wreak havoc on our society; and those of us involved in a constant search to defend our country, our freedoms and our democracy, he said in London. ”Just as the innovators Barnes Wallis, Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers were vital in our battle to beat the Nazis, so now we must be able to utilise the skills and expertise of all in our battle against terror.

Constant improvement of defences? I refer you to the W.G. Sebald passage I quoted last year

The comparison of the counter-terrorist campaign with the Second World War marks a step change in the rhetoric being deployed by ministers about the nature of the threat.

Mr Reid said, notwithstanding the prospect of obliteration during the Cold War or the IRAs 30-year bombing campaign, that ”in the UK we are living through the most sustained period of severe threat since World War Two.

The only threat is that maintained, overseen and fed by this government.

He added: ‘This assessment is the diligent product of intelligence professionals. It is no exaggeration. On the strength of such an assessment it would be easy to pump up the politics of fear. But this is not the basis for advancing our values today.

Left is the new Right.

Mr Reid was attending a conference of businessmen and specialists from the security sector which has been developing new technology to combat terrorism and decrypt encoded computer programs.

The Home Secretary said that in the past in five years, 387 people had been charged with terrorist offences. Of those, 214 have already been convicted, with a further 98 awaiting trial.

How many people have been temporarily held/harassed by police using anti-terrorism legislationwithout final charges being brought? where all 214 convicted for ‘terrorism’ or rather for subsequent charges?

He added: That is an indication of the scale of the threat which we face. In responding to it, the struggle has to be at every level, in every way and by every single person in this country. It is easy between trials and between headlines to forget just how deep this on-going struggle is.

Mr Reid said the current threat was even more worrying than during the Cold War. ”For all the potential horror of Mutually Assured Destruction, the dangers were both stark and, in retrospect, the risks straightforward, he said. ”It is folly to assume that the struggle to advance the values we prize most came to an end with the defeat of Soviet totalitarianism…We cannot underestimate the rate at which those who would do us harm innovate.

Coming from a ‘former communist’ the phrase “It is folly to assume that the struggle to advance the values we prize most came to an end with the defeat of Soviet totalitarianism” is rather terrifying is it not?

Mr Reid was shown some of the new security measures now being developed, including a screening device called a Tadar, which uses the bodys naturally-released electromagnetic radiation to see beneath the clothes of suspect passengers – though with a ”fuzzy picture to preserve their modesty.

Concealed objects such as guns, knives or explosives – even those that are non-metallic – are exposed. Stephen Phipson, managing director of Smiths Detection, part of the group that organised the conference, said the machine, costing between 80,000 and 100,000 generated images with no risk to the person being inspected.

No,no,no! The point is not the dignity of whether some jobsworth can ‘see’ your tackle. It is that of ‘innocent people’ being able to live their lives without intervention (and being hammered into F.E.A.R. driven complicity).

He also envisaged architects building security devices into the design of buildings in future and welcomed Mr Reids idea of a taskforce to bring together inventive expertise from business and the academic world.

Architects should concentrate on not creating ugly rabbit hutches No one should pander to govenment rhetoric when going about their private business.

Praising the Grauniad!

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Normally, discussion pieces leave us with that empty feeling of, ‘yes, but what are you going to DO about it?’.

Well, here’s a piece – the leader piece in today’s online Grauniad – which fills that gap.

Warning over privacy of 50m patient files

Call for boycott of medical database accessible by up to 250,000 NHS staff

What you can do

!!! Immediate, and so unexpected as to be almost missable, is the link to The Proposed Solution.

David Leigh and Rob Evans
Wednesday November 1, 2006
The Guardian

Millions of personal medical records are to be uploaded regardless of patients’ wishes to a central national database from where information can be made available to police and security services, the Guardian has learned.Details of mental illnesses, abortions, pregnancy, HIV status, drug-taking, or alcoholism may also be included, and there are no laws to prevent DNA profiles being added.
DNA records are not taken as part of any normal health service process. They are part of criminal records. Genetic screening for health problems is still relatively rare. The authors here miss a chance to link up their story with the problems of database-sharing across departments.
The uploading is planned under Whitehall’s bedevilled 12bn scheme to computerise the health service.
Read Private Eye for some of the best journalism regarding this fiasco. Again, if the government is unable to implement a ‘simple’ database of existing records, what chance does it have with the NIR? And don’t forget, these are our taxes slipping effortlessly into the unimaginably deep pockets of the immoral, inefficient, inept companies more than willing to take advantage of ridiculous public policy.
After two years of confusion and delays, the system will start coming into effect in stages early next year.
No it won’t. There are ‘significant’ delays. One of the major partners was Accenture. Accenture, who as Arthur Andersen were heavily involved with Enron, have dumped iSoft. That tells you all you need to know!
Though the government says the database will revolutionise management of the NHS, civil liberties critics are calling it “data rape” and are urging Britons to boycott it. The British Medical Association also has reservations. “We believe that the government should get the explicit permission of patients before transferring their information on to the central database,” a spokeswoman said yesterday.
As usual, you won’t even be told this is happening. No letter will drop through the door saying ‘your data is ours, unless you tick this box’. There are no offers of boxes to tick. It will be impossible to remove your data, or to exclude yourself. The only option available will be to restrict NHS staff access. And it seems even this can be overidden at the whim of a suit.
And a Guardian inquiry has found a lack of safeguards against access to the records once they are on the Spine, the computer designed to collect details automatically from doctors and hospitals. The NHS initiative is the world’s biggest civilian IT project. In the scheme, each person’s cradle-to-grave medical records no longer remain in the confidential custody of their GP practice. Instead, up to 50m medical summaries will be loaded on the Spine.The health department’s IT agency has made it clear that the public will not be able to object to information being loaded on to the database: “Patients will have data uploaded … Patients do not have the right to say the information cannot be held.”Once the data is uploaded, the onus is on patients to speak out if they do not want their records seen by other people. If they do object, an on-screen “flag” will be added to their records. But any objection can be overridden “in the public interest”.
What interest ‘the public’ could have in your personal medical data is beyond me.
Harry Cayton, a key ministerial adviser, warned last month of “considerable pressure to obtain access to [the] data from … police and immigration services”, but he is confident that these demands can be resisted by his department.
Here again, the link to other databases and external (non-healthcare) access. These scum will be trawling, data-mining for potential suspects with specific mental health problems, those on certain medications, those with a history of physical injuries… Guilt by data-association.
Another concern is the number of people who can view the data. The health department has issued 250,000 pin-coded smart cards to NHS staff. These will grant varied access from more than 30,000 terminals – greater access for medical staff, and less for receptionists. Health managers, council social workers, private medical firms, ambulance staff, and commercial researchers will also be able to see varying levels of information. Officials say the data will be shared only on a need-to-know basis. But Guardian inquiries show a lack of safeguards.
We have already published numerous posts on how any system like this can be subverted. These cards can be cloned, data can be sold to, for example, insurance companies. You will be black-balled from credit, mortgages, insurance, travel, job applications…
Although data protection laws supposedly ban unnecessary build-ups of computer information, patients will get no right to choose whether their history is put on the Spine. Once uploading has taken place, a government PR blitz will follow. This will be said to bring about “implied consent” to allow others view the data. Those objecting will be told that their medical care could suffer.
Closing the door after the horse has been shot.Your government has no right to even threaten to deny you services which you pay for. It is important to remember this. They are public servants, yet they act like lords berating the serfs. They must be taken down, reminded of their place in society. And you must remind yourself of yours.
The government claims that computerised “sealed envelopes” will allow patients selectively to protect sensitive parts of their uploaded history from being widely accessed. But no such software is yet in existence.
Oh, I’m sure some sort of patient-held gpg key could be implemented should they wish, allowing only the patient to open the file when requested to do so by a valid healthcare professional. But an IT company like iSoft can’t even make a database, let alone this.Besides, this only serves to magnify the ridiculous insecurity of this ill-conceived and awfully executed system.
It is being promised for an unspecified date. Some doctors say “sealed envelopes” may be too complex to be workable. The design also allows NHS staff to “break the seal” under some circumstances. Police will be able to seek data, including on grounds of national security. Government agencies can get at records, according to the health department, if “the interests of the general public are thought to be of greater importance than your confidentiality”. Examples given of such cases include “serious crime and national security”.The department’s guidelines say: “The definition of serious crime is not entirely clear … Serious harm to the security of the state or to public order, and crimes that involve substantial financial gain or loss will … generally fall within this category.” The health department says confidentiality can already be breached in such cases.At present, police have to persuade a GP, who knows the patient, to divulge limited facts, or insist on a court order.
This is a good system. It’s not broken. It does not need ‘fixing’.
Under the new system, data may be disclosed centrally and anonymously, at the touch of a button. Health department privacy advisers say they do not wish to allow police to have clinical information. But they are prepared to disclose patients’ addresses.Another safeguard initially promised was that all patients would be able to check their records on the internet for mistakes. But a system involving the issue of smart cards to patients has not yet been tried out.
Why would a patient need a smart card? Anyway, have these people not heard of hackers? They are people with far more knowledge of systems than iSoft. There will be so many open doors to this information I would expect it to be available as a searchable DVD within a short time of going live.
Current criminal penalties are so weak they have failed to stop tabloid journalists and private detectives raiding such data on an industrial scale, according to a recent special report by Richard Thomas, the information commissioner.
There you go. Even tabloid journalists can do it!
Sir John Bourn’s National Audit Office also wrote a recent report warning of significant concerns among NHS staff “that the confidentiality of patient information may be at risk”. But officials persuaded the NAO to delete the warnings in the published version.The original draft said: “Patient confidentiality remains a controversial issue among critics … both as regards the adequacy of the planned safeguards to protect information, and whether patients should have a right to opt out of having their information recorded”.

Stunning! That those charged with serving your best interests treat you with such open contempt. You are meat. You are data. You are a commodity belonging to the nation, and anything you have or hold can be stolen and sold for ‘the public interest’. Are you ready to sold?

So, coming back to the good and bad of this article… it is a good stand-alone piece. However, no database now stands alone. It is clear from the above how police, immigration et al want access to every detail of peoples lives. This cannot be pointed out strongly enough. And it must be resisted with every fibre.

No apathy, apathy is complicity. No compliance, compliance is treachery. No NIR registration, registration is slavery.

What can you do? Today, against this NHS database, you can go back to the top and follow the link.

Finally a “How” in The Guardian!

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Wednesday November 1, 2006
The Guardian

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, believes that patients do have legal rights over their medical records: “Write and insist that you are not put on the NHS data spine,” Prof Anderson says. “If enough people boycott having centralised NHS records, with a bit of luck the service will be abandoned.”

If you are concerned, you should discuss it with your GP. You can put a block on your own data by writing to:

The Secretary of State for Health
Richmond House
79 Whitehall Terrace
London SW1A 2NS

And send the same letter to your GP.

It should say:

Dear Sir/ Madam

I require you not to begin processing my sensitive personal data to the proposed NHS Summary Care Record on the Spine. It is likely to cause me substantial unwarranted distress because:

1. No ‘sealed envelopes’ yet exist to limit access

2. No online patient system yet exists to correct errors

3. Data uploaded may include genetic, psychological or sexual information

4. It is intended to make my data available to social workers, researchers and commercial firms

5. My consent will not be asked before beginning processing

6. Adequate criminal penalties against abuse do not yet exist

7. Police and other agencies can gain access to a potentially unlimited range of information about me. There is abundant evidence that computer databases – including police, vehicle licensing and banking computers – are routinely penetrated by private investigators on behalf of clients, including media organisations

8. 250,000 smart cards have been issued granting access to the Spine

9. The department threatens to withhold appropriate medical care to objectors

10. Doctors say there is no necessity to design the Spine in this way

For these reasons, among others, I strongly fear that I am in danger of having false or damaging health information fall into the wrong hands. My privacy is being unnecessarily violated.

Yours faithfully

[…]

Via Blogzilla

Personally I think points 5, 7 & 10 are compelling enough reasons for why this scheme is ‘bad news’ and point 2 (implicitly requesting online access) could actually make data safety worse.
Hopefully this means a progression in the mainstream media from the simple reporting of undesirable schemes and legislation into a more robust way of enabling their readers to oppose wayward Statist interventionism.

Now they need to do the same for the looming NIR roll out – and soon.