Category Archives: Uncategorised

Who the government is really spying on?

On Wednesday Theresa May revealed the government’s latest plans for legal surveillance of UK citizens. Given that GCHQ already monitors thousands of e-mails a day already, it may not be clear why we need a new law, so just what is this new Investigatory Powers law, and who is it going to catch?

The law will compel Internet Service Providers to store information about what web sites you visit for a year so that government agencies can access them should they need to. Sounds sensible? There are a few flaws – first of all, the list of people who will have access is not just “spies and police”. It extends to your local council, the tax man, the Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Transport, OFCOM, the Health and Safety Executive, the Food Standards Agency, the Department for Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ambulance Service and many more (see P213 for the full list). Think the local council won’t use it? Last year they requested access to our private communications 2,110 times, for purposes like checking on school admissions, and spying on journalists to stop them writng negative stories. So if the local council doesn’t like the look of you, they can have a good old peek in to your private life and see that in addition to the staples of BBC News, Amazon and Right Move, your household visited three gambling web sites, ten baldness cure clinics, alcoholics anonymous and some rather excellent satirical left wing blogs. And think you have nothing to fear because you are law abiding? Tory MP Richard Graham thinks the same, and he quoted Joseph Goebbels’ famous line “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing fear” to prove it.

But surely such access will need a warrant, and go before a judge to make sure it is OK? Well, no, not really. These requests can be reviewed and approved by ministers. In fact, given the volume of requests, it’s fairer to say not reviewed and simply rubber stamped. Theresa May personally approved over two thousand surveillance cases last year. Either she isn’t reviewing them very thoroughly, or she doesn’t do much else. I know what my money is on.

But at least it’s only the tenuously appropriate authorities that have access to your data, isn’t it? Well, given the extensive hack of Talk Talk last week where 157,000 customers had details, including unencrypted bank details stolen by a bunch of school kids, trusting telecoms companies to store all of your private information seems optimistic.

What about the cost of all of this? Well, the government sure aren’t going to foot the bill for spying on us. We’re going to have to pay for that ourselves. More specifically the Internet Service Providers need to pay for it, and you know who they’ll pass the cost on to. The Home Office estimated the cost at “just” £247m over a 10 year period. However, it has emerged that that cost missed out many unknowns, primarily because the government didn’t consult with the telecoms companies over it. When their costs are taken into account, the bill rises to something more like £2bn.

Still, at least all of this will help us stop terrorist attacks, won’t it? Well, no, it won’t. While this law will capture data from the average citizen, it is technically very simple to bypass. Freely available software allows you to route your internet data through anonymous servers. The most famous is the Tor project, which is a simple browser plugin to stop exactly this sort of spying. It works in the same way as VPN connections that many people use to access their office computers from home, and looks just as innocent to the authorities. All but the most stupid terrorists and criminals will spend a couple of minutes installing such software to instantly be invisible to this snooping.

So, the law does little to help national security, will cost a fortune, will allow numerous authorities to spy on people in intrusive detail, with little oversight. It’s pure evil. Mwhahaha.

Affordable housing isn’t

Housing in the UK is more unaffordable than ever. This is due to a number of factors. One of the biggest reasons is that stricter lending rules introduced after that financial crisis mean that a much larger deposit is required than in the past – 17% is the average at the moment – and that affordability tests are reducing the size of mortgage that people can get. Another reason is that right-to-buy and buy-to-let mortgages have reduced the stock of housing at the lower end of the market, driving up prices. At the end of the 80s, 9% of people were in private rented accommodation, and 23% in social accommodation. Fast forward to today, and we find that 19% of people are in private rented accommodation, and 17% in social accommodation. That increase is huge, but even worse, there is a massive generation gap hidden in those figures – over half of 20-39 year olds are in rented accommodation.

Clearly someone is making money out of this. As house prices go up, so do mortgages, and with them bank profits. Older people who already own their houses stand to make a fortune if they downsize. Landlords are making a killing. Basically, traditional Tory voters are winning, while other people are losing. So what is the Government going to do about this? Well, thankfully their response is truly evil. They are forcing housing associations to sell off their stock cheap (to ultimately create more private landlords), and they are dropping the requirement to create low rent social housing, replacing it with unaffordable “starter homes” which will be beyond the reach of people on the average wage – in London you need to earn £76,957 to buy one, and £50,226 in the rest of the country, putting you in the top 4% and 10% of earners respectively. Mwahaha.

Shelter have put together an excellent analysis of the policy, and looked at where people on the new National Living Wage can buy a Starter Home. Good news if you wanted to move to Hull, Barrow-in-Furness or Southport, but if not, look forward to spending the rest of your life paying high rent to a private landlord.

UK promotes Saudi Arabia as Human Rights champions

Saudi Arabia – a beautiful, ancient country full of wonderful heritage and mystical culture, not to mention the modern shopping malls and hotels. It is a magical tourist destination for 15 million people a year. However, despite all its splendour and wealth, one thing it is not renowned for us its human rights. There’s the 17 year old boy who has been tortured and sentenced to crucifixion for taking part in an anti-government protest. Women are forbidden from driving, going anywhere without a chaperone, and must cover themselves fully. It has executed 135 people so far this year, for such modern charges as witchcraft. In fact it ranks in the bottom 20 countries for human rights. So it’s completely inconceivable that they would be chosen to be part of the UN commission on human rights. That’s the commission whose founding resolution is that its members must be those who uphold the highest standards of human rights as an example to the rest of the world. Even more unbelievable that they would be chosen to lead the panel to select people to draft human rights legislation. But somehow that did happen.

So how did this happen? Wikileaks documents show that the UK government was instrumental in this atrocity. The Saudi government offered to swap votes with the UK in a Eurovision style pact – we vote for them if they vote for us. They also asked the UK to nominate them for membership – after all, who else could keep a straight face while nominating Saudi Arabia as a country which upholds the highest human rights standards. And finally, as if stooping to such depths is not evil enough, they paid the UK government for its efforts. Whether the UK government would have done the same for another valuable buyer of UK weapons, or whether such evil acts are reserved only for our best friends is unclear. Mwhahaha.

Freedom of information might not be so “Free” any more

Freedom of Information requests are a big nuisance. They have allowed ordinary members of the public to find out what the government is up to, which makes it harder to do evil and hide it. Even worse, journalists use them to ask questions too, and those guys really know what to dig for. Some examples of the evil that FOI requests have uncovered are;

However, government (no matter the party in power) hates the FOI. Tony Blair said in his memoirs that it was his biggest mistake. It probably wasn’t, but shows how much politicians hate being held to account. In fact when they don’t want to own up to something, they generally just refuse to give the information, with excuses like “we don’t have the information” (this was the initial claim about the number of deaths after being declared fit for work), or “it might be embarrassing” (Prince Charles’s lobbying of ministers), or they just release slightly related but irrelevant information while e-mailing their discussion of how to get away with that to a journalist.

Anyway, instead of just complaining about it in his memoirs 10 years later, Cameron is going to actually put a stop to much of this freedom. Mwhahaha.

Part of the plan is to add a £600 fee for appealing any rejected requests (which will price most individuals out of the market, but not journalists). Government departments are already automatically deleting e-mails so that they cannot be released. They also want to lower the cost threshold at which they can refuse to provide information (at the moment if it costs more than £600 to compile the information it will be rejected). The end result will be that it’s trivial to reject a request, and difficult to appeal the decision. And then it will be so much easier to get on with evil.

Stop the Lords – they help people

You wouldn’t know it from the press, but the House of Lords is distinctly un-evil. The men and women that sit in the Lords should in principle be evil. They are unelected, and free to do as they want. In general they come from a privileged class and should not be in touch with the common man. They have all of the ingredients for despotic behaviour.

But they go and squander their evil potential. They actually care about people. They take the time to research what is happening to the man on the street, they politely debate what is best to do, and then they vote with their conscience, not the whip of a party. They are the thorn in the government’s side, stopping them from passing the most evil bills that would hurt people the most. It’s not trendy to say so, but they have been the best friend that the British public could have for the past 6 years.

Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you given the drubbing that the Lords gets from both the left wing and right wing media. But here’s some actual examples.

Former justice secretary Chris Grayling wanted to stop ordinary people from judicially review government decisions (which is how we stop the government acting illegally). The lords managed to keep that right for us;

George Osborne wanted companies to be able to remove employment rights such as redundancy rights, in return for giving employees as little as £2000 in shares. The lords felt that this was too prone to abuse by unscrupulous employers and struck it out.

When discussing the Equality Act, the lords insisted that it also be illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste.

The Lords, keen to engage young people in democracy, have pushed the government to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 in council elections and the EU referendum;

So, with the Lords spoiling your evil plans, what do you do about it? The first thing that Cameron tried was to push for House of Lords reform. He (and the LibDems) wanted to have elected Lords, which sounds non-evil in principle, but in practice the power of the Lords comes from the very fact that they are unelected. An elected politician isn’t free to vote as they personally see fit. If they want to be selected by their party to stand at the next election, they need to toe the party line. Elected politicians on average do what their party leaders tell them to do. An unelected Lord does not have that restriction, and an appointed house therefore has more freedom to represent the people and do good. Unfortunately, some Tory back benchers scuppered the plans for an elected house (ironically because they thought it would limit the ability for the commons to be the most evil parliamentary body).

So what’s the latest tactic? Cameron has decided to throw his support behind the Lords, and to appoint a whole bunch of cronies to it.

The list of Lords included such people as former MP Douglas Hogg (who famously claimed on expenses £2,155 for moat cleaning and £18,000 for his gardener), as well as 7 former special advisers, one friend of George Osborne’s wife, and several party donors. Reportedly there were actually seven people excluded from the list for failing the relatively low threshold vetting process which pretty much just keeps out criminals and people who buy a peerage. Cameron also took the number of Lords up to 783, which is widely regarded as unnecessarily large. The obvious conclusion is that Cameron is intentionally giving his toxic support to the Lords, resulting in the weakening of it in the public eye. This allows him to force reform on his terms, making it a puppet of the Government rather than a friend of the people. The public will demand a reform that will ultimately hurt them. Mwhahaha.