Archive for the 'Governments' Category

Minimum prices for booze

The government’s recent flirtation with setting a minimum price for alcohol has exposed some of the problems government’s have with drug policy generally.  Since the US declared a “Global War on Drugs” (GWoD) at the start of the last century, government’s throughout the world have struggled with finding a social policy on intoxicants that has successfully fulfilled some of their basic aims.

This hasn’t been helped by the lack of clarity about what their basic aims actually are.  The original intentions of the GWoD were twofold, both core forces in US politics: racism and religious puritanism.  Since the original social forces were so unpalatable, it’s not entirely surprising that their achievements have been so destructive.

Racism has always been a key component of laws on intoxicants.  It’s an obvious but sometimes overlooked fact that every cultural group has it’s own preferred intoxicants.  The preferred intoxicant amongst the vast majority of Europeans has always been alcohol, which is why it has generally been very lightly regulated.

However, if you belong to a less powerful cultural group, your access to your preferred intoxicants will have been severely limited since around 1900.  Cannabis, for example, was first made illegal in California.  This wasn’t because the drug itself is harmful (it basically is not), but because it was the preferred intoxicant of Mexicans, who at the time were moving to California in great numbers.  By targeting Cannabis, the authorities could legitimately abuse any Mexicans they saw.

Since then of course, intoxicants legislation has been variously targeted at blacks, hippies, flappers, ravers, hells angels and pretty much anyone else who is out of favour.

Gordon Brown was explicit about their aims in the climbdown on their alcohol price legislation. He said the aims of the legislation was in response to “the excesses of a small minority”, but that he didn’t want to punish the “sensible majority”.

In essence what he said is that it isn’t alcohol he has a problem with, it’s a specific group of people, and that they were attempting to discriminate against them specifically with a law on the use of alcohol.  Unfortunately for them, they are unable to target this group sufficiently, because of the use of alcohol in the general population.

You can be certain that if the people he didn’t like had chosen an intoxicant that wasn’t in general use amongst his own constituency, he would have happily promoted harsh penalties for it’s use, even if it was completely harmless.

How is all this Stasi stuff supposed to work anyhow?

After the ringing endorsement for more “talking rubbish” from Tom in the comments to my last post, I feel newly inspired to spout off.

So, a couple of news items in recent weeks about our government’s incompetent attempts to turn our generally-mostly-well-behaved-as-long-as-you-are-white police force into some kind of robo-stasi.  The ethics of these things are pretty obvious, but what perplexes me is how some of these powers are supposed to be used.

First, the Computer Misuse Act (1995) allows the police to hack into “compromised” systems without a warrant.  Who knew?  Not me. Anyway, apparently they plan to “step up this activity”.

Now as it happens I have briefly met some of the chaps from SOCA, who presumably would be executing this brief.  I am sure they are fine upstanding members of the constabulary, but leet haxors they are not.  Frankly I think it’s unlikely they could drive a pivot table in Excel, let alone devise a 0-day.  The drafters of this act perhaps envisaged the police employing uber hackers from the underground, which superficially sounds quite exciting, but it’s an ITV plot I’m afraid.  If the Old Bill know of uber hackers in the UK they’re most likely to feel their collars.

Alternatively of course they could employ russian hackers, but the amazingly bad idea of involving anyone associated with the FSB with sensitive police business may be apparent even to the clouded minds of our senior officers.

Security firms, on the whole, will also try their best to keep the police off your network, since they won’t be able to tell if it’s the police or not.  For all the fretting about these powers, in practice it’s only those who take no care at all who need to worry, and their machines are probably infested with viruses already.

Second is the rather more disturbing intention of the Government’s to require ISPs to log every email sent. Again, the ethical problems with this are pretty obvious but the practical implications are bizarre.

When you send an email from your workplace to someone else, it’s very likely that your emails never directly touch one of your ISPs mail servers – your mail goes to your corporate mailserver, then over the internet to your receipient’s mailserver.  That mail does traverse your ISPs network, but not their mailservers.

So to log this activity, your ISP would need to run a filter on all TCP traffic for port 25, decode this traffic and extract the headers.  Although this is onerous for ISPs, it’s possible.  It will inevitably make email less reliable, and slower, but hey who cares, right.

But, and this is a but you could drive a truck through, a whole load of people use opportunistic strong encryption for email. It’s enabled out of the box on all decent mail systems these days, and from watching our own logs I guess well more than half of email is encrypted for transport now.

Cracking this is not only difficult-to-impossible, but illegal in many cases. It certainly is more than onerous.

So, may  I just ask, WTF?  Are they really proposing on making laws to legislate for the impossible just to irritate everyone?

Seeing yellow

Seeing yellow: When you print on a color laser printer, it’s likely that you are also printing a pattern of invisible yellow dots. These marks exist to allow the printer companies and governments to track and identify you — presumably as a way to combat money counterfeiting. When one person asked his printer manufacturer about turning off the tracking dots, Secret Service agents showed up at his door several days later.

Give us the Daleks

Charlie Brooker is at it again, with a tirade about the talking CCTV cameras.

Of course I welcome our robot overlords as much as the next chap, but I do think Brooker has gone a bit far this time.

How paranoid can you get?

In a marvellous example of why people employed to find bugbears will always find some, the FBI thought [It’s a Wonderful Life was Communist propaganda]( .

It’s bizarre reading, that memo. The mental obtuseness required to think like that is a lesson to behold.