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The UK government sticks to its priorities

You might think that with all the worries about recession, bank failures and so on, that political leaders might want to avoid making ever greater commitments on public spending. Not so. Just to remind us about the kinds of concerns that animate the political classes, here is this story:

Everyone who buys a mobile telephone will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance.

Phone buyers would have to present a passport or other official form of identification at the point of purchase. Privacy campaigners fear it marks the latest government move to create a surveillance society.

It is hardly a fear. It is a reality.

A compulsory national register for the owners of all 72m mobile phones in Britain would be part of a much bigger database to combat terrorism and crime. Whitehall officials have raised the idea of a register containing the names and addresses of everyone who buys a phone in recent talks with Vodafone and other telephone companies, insiders say.

It is important to remember that even supposedly private sector firms such as Vodafone can easily find it next-to-impossible not to co-operate with governments on stuff like this, particularly if the government can threaten to cut off licences.

The move is targeted at monitoring the owners of Britain’s estimated 40m prepaid mobile phones. They can be purchased with cash by customers who do not wish to give their names, addresses or credit card details.

So let’s assume that the government has data on the 40 million-plus people who buy a pre-paid phone. Even leaving aside the moral objections to such a database, the practical issue of how on earth one can sift through the haystack of millions of such details for the possible pin of a terrorist plot does not seem to register.

But then again, one must remember that the database state is not really about terrorism. It is a beast that is now acquiring a life of its own. After all, thousands of jobs, millions of profits, are tied up with this. If the Tories really do stick to their pledge to shut this thing down – and I would not want to bet my house on it – it is going to put a lot of “consultants” out of a job. A certain grim satisfaction would be involved in that. My wife, who is a consultant, refuses to work on any such things, god love her.

28 comments to The UK government sticks to its priorities

  • 1327

    The problem now is that data mining technology does allow you to make sense of the huge amounts of data generated by mobile phone networks. This article gives a good introduction to the technology ..


    and this is a mirror of the Webinar referenced in the article ..


  • guy bromby

    Yes if you have done nothing wrong, what on earth have you got to fear……HAHAHAHAHA!!!

  • dagamore

    Am I the only one that would put his phone in to a farad cage, so that i could not be tracked via my phone while in my car?

  • Darling has announced they’re going to spend UK out of recession using taxpayer money – so you’re surprised by yet another bureaucrat heavy, kick-back laden contracts, National Security (i.e. important details kept secret), scheme for tossing money into a pile and burning it? Looks ideal to me – no quantifiable end product and infinitely adjustable (upwards only, of course) budget on whatever justification-du-jour is politically appropriate. Get with the programme.

  • agn


    Probably easier just to switch it off – it’s not going to be much use to you as a communications device inside a faraday cage…

    In any event, you should always switch your mobile off in your car (removes the temptation to answer it if it rings, which of course is a serious criminal offence in this country, though funnily enough not in many others…)

  • Mart

    This is a pretty damn thick piece of the wedge. At this rate you’ll have to show ID to buy a kitchen knife soon. Personally, i find the idea of having to prove my identity to government repugnant- it should be the other way around. We’re now all assumed to be liars.

  • criminal

    awesome, ive a few old prepay sims lying about, they will be worth somthing sold on the low low,

    Great news.

  • And of course, the terrorists and major criminals who this is claimed to target would never think of buying a phone overseas, in a more liberal regime where you can buy an anonymous phone and sim (China for example) and using it in the UK.

  • Why buy a phone overseas,when you can take one off someone else. Perfect gives the police an identity,confuses the issue and is free.
    What a truly stupid and incompetent government.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “My wife, who is a consultant, refuses to work on any such things,”

    Moi aussi.

    I don’t care how interesting or challenging the contracts are at Crapita, or how much they are paying.

    I won’t be helping the snoopers in any way.

  • Eddie Willers

    Interestingly, the Mexican federal government posited the very same idea just a few weeks ago – ostensibly to combat kidnapping, telephone-based extortion and narco-violence.

    Even at that stage, some voices were raised in objection on the grounds that it would cause an increase in street crime as folk were robbed of their phones.

    It’s possible to get just about any phone unlocked, reprogrammed, cracked and hacked here – what a register would accomplish, then, is beyond rational knowledge.

  • david

    And when you come to sell your phone, hand it on or whatever will you get fined for not passing on the details?

  • Sunfish

    The last six phones I bought[1] I bought off of Ebay.

    Is UKGov going to force Ebay to stop allowing phone listings to be seen in the UK? Another Yahoo-France thing? (How well did that work?)

    What next, a ban on alphanumeric pagers and coin-op phones? How about a ban on plugging into the gray box on the back of someone’s house?

    [1] I have this bad habit of losing them, usually in tragic boating accidents

  • Midwesterner

    [1] I have this bad habit of losing them, usually in tragic boating accidents

    I assumed you were electrocuting their innards with high voltage while fishing. 🙂

    I’ve been watching The Last Enemy on PBS. I discovered it by accident after watching a certain Belgian detective with the magnificent mustaches defeat criminals.

    I highly recommend it and hope they broadcast it again. Very interesting that the final episode is the Sunday before the Tuesday.

  • llamas

    It never ceases to amaze me – the ability of HMG to choose the path that will be the least-effective, and yet the most-corrosive-of-individual-liberties. They never fail. It must be something in the water.

    If I were a criminal or a terrorist, I would welcome such legislation, because it puts me in a position to be able to wag the dog – to make the police or security agencies dance to my tune.

    As said, mobile phones are easy to steal, easy to reprogram, easy to hack, easy to clone, easy to pass from one person to another. As an identifier of identity, there are few things less-secure and more-easily-corrupted than a mobile phone.

    From a police perspective, this approach will rapidly go from interesting, to useless, to seriously-negative. The time it will take criminals to beat such a system (as described above) will be measured with an egg-timer. After a few cases in which totally-innocent people are bothered to death (hopefully, just a figure of speech) based on completely-incorrect cell-phone ‘evidence’, police will figure out that, more-likely than not, any data that comes from cell-phone surveillance is not merely completely wrong, but likely to be actually formulated to decieve and mislead. It’s never a good idea to give a criminal the means to provide you with believable evidence.



  • RAB

    Yes Mid, one of the best series we’ve produced for ages. Up there with Heart of Darkness of many years ago. I thought that someone would have put up a thread about it when it was first shown over here, but bye the bye.

    As to the efficacy of such a scheme well Llamas and others have nailed it.
    It will not just be useless, it will be worse than useless, actually more dangerous to national security.Oh and ridiculously bloody expensive.

    Dearest Darling is proposing to spend our way out of ressession. Classic Keynesianism that will also make the whole mess worse, and much more prolonged.
    Government borrowing is already at the highest level since records began in 1946.So where does the twat think the money is coming from?Dont any of our masters have O level Economics even!!
    Well us taxpayers. But if we are all on the dole because of the crash, that dog wont hunt either.
    He’s trying to sell the idea by pretending that he is going to spend it on infrastucture. Roads, housing, a few fast rail links north to south and some new runways here and there.
    This has to be paid for and the debt will cripple us for decades, but at least we will end up with “Tangible” things.
    If these IT illiterates try to push through these database schemes like this one and ID cards , that even the average six year old knows wont work, the mood of the Electorate is going to get very ugly indeed!
    And add in that we will lose 40% of our power production capacity because of loony targets and directives to beat AGW, coming out of the EU, with no hope of replacing it, well we are in for some really really nasty times ahead.
    When we had power cuts in the early 70s the lights went out, but trade could continue because nothing was computerised.
    Now everything down to the tills in a humble corner shop are.
    We are going to be well and truly fucked this time folks.
    Some people love to talk of the Revolution coming, and we all scoff, but this time it may really happen.
    God I’m depressed!

  • jerry

    Dagamore – nope, you are no the only one –
    guaranteed !!

    agn – switching it off does NOTHING to prevent tracking unless you remove the battery ( because it really isn’t TOTALLY powered off unless the battery is dead or removed )

    Inside a Faraday cage ( except when in use ) lessens the chance of being the phone being tracked in any meaningful fashion.

    Given hacking, sim chips, theft, swapping, buying phones in other countries, on and on, basically the multitude of way around this, only a bureaucrat could have thought of it.

    Wait till they discover the realities of accuracy ( or lack thereof ) in VERY LARGE databases and the headaches incurred ( by the victims !! ) because of same.

    Reminds me of the silly ‘ballistic fingerprinting’ schemes over here that will ‘help stop crime’ where the number of ways of defeating it are never discussed.

    I have suspected for sometime it more about CONTROL over people than ANYTHING ELSE.

  • Dr Dan

    The thing I don’t understand about all of this is, why on earth would you even want to bother trying to control the population when by purposefully doing as good a job as cheaply as possible you can, as a government, out-compete the competition and be assured of a job for life.

    Controlling a population only works some of the time on the law-abiding ones, and given that the UK government seems loath to spend money on prisons to confine criminals, they are forever going to be doomed to spend money uselessly on silly boondoggles which never address the actual public needs.

    Sorting out even some of the problems with controlled drugs by, for instance, prescribing heroin to registered addicts to knock the bottom out of the illegal heroin market and administering anti-cocaine immunoglobulins to all persons arrested for possession of cocaine and derivatives (which makes it impossible to get high off cocaine for a month or two) would seriously reduce the problems seen with drugs, which are at the root of a lot of criminal activity.

    Sorting out the burgeoning benefits culture by freezing benefits and letting inflation erode their value would also help, as would ceasing to pay people to churn out children; theseare all relatively easy to do, would actually save the government money and don’t need the erosion of civil liberties.

    Better yet, people would thank a government for doing it. People would actually like them for it! Being liked is a really good way to control a population, and to be liked as a politician all you have to do is do your job well…

  • APL

    Dagamore: “Am I the only one that would put his phone in to a farad cage, so that i could not be tracked via my phone while in my car?”

    I too think it better to switch the thing off. But yes, my biometric radio tagged passport will be snuggly located in its own little metalic mesh sleeve.

  • Mart

    Wouldn’t logging SIMs make a lot more sense anyway? My last two phones have been unlocked and SIM-free, and i don’t always use the same SIM in them. You can’t link a phone to a person or to a number. If i buy a phone a present for someone (already done this 3 times), what happens?
    My limited exposure to government-collected data at work also tells me that the design will fail to account for any non-typical scenario, and that it’ll become filled quickly with garbage.

  • John K

    I think we can now safely say that there is no sort of intrusive or obnoxious system of control which a government official can devise, which will not, sooner or later, be put into practice.

    Anything they physically can do, sooner or later they will attempt to do, simply because they can, or, more accurately, think they can. They can have no concept of limited government, because the very idea challenges the validity of their existence. They work for the government, and seem to believe that government work is good in some way. It therefore must follow that if some government is good, more government must be better. By such means, government must continue to expand until it destroys the very society it is attempting to govern, at which point the cycle of misery can start again.

  • Sunfish

    I wish my losses of cellphones had nearly so good a story. Mostly, I’m just really, really clumsy. (And my blonde bad-breath-having child developed a taste for them when she was younger.)

    Police here have enough trouble with identifying the right bad guy in terror cases. Remember the lawyer on Oregon who got pinned as a jihaddi, based on what turned out to be bad fingerprints? And I’d like to think that we’re better than the world average. Now, imagine evidence of this quality being put into the process that fingered de Menezes as a terrorist.

    Maybe there’s a perfectly reasonable and legitimate explanation for how the Met ended up shooting him as opposed to someone else. I don’t know. However, the Met’s failure to actually identify what went wrong and what they plan to do differently does not bode well.

    Bad information and bad intelligence for police and security services is IMHO never a good thing. At the one end, it can lead to the wrong guy getting fingered, as in the Tube aftermath or the Oregon lawyer. At the other end, the pieces of the puzzle never get assembled, and 3000 people die. And this de-facto cellphone registration MAY be a little useful, but the possibilities for mischief are endless and the risk of harassment of people who aren’t actually doing anything wrong, unacceptable IMHO.

    You mention ‘ballistic fingerprinting.’ Never mind how easy it is to spoof them.[1] They’re not magic bullets in the first place if you’ll pardon the pun. And I don’t know of any cases where we’ve ended up saying “Damn, if only we had ‘fingerprints’ of extractor/ejector markings, firing pin penetrations, and rifling marks, we could have solved this!” (But then, we don’t have too many murders where I work and a patrol monkey like me wouldn’t normally deal with that anyway)

    And here’s my question for anyone at all: Has anybody seen any press coverage of any cases that would have been broken by cellphone registration that weren’t? Or has first-hand knowledge that didn’t make the press? Or hell, I’d even take second-hand if it came from someone who had first-hand and you know them well enough to trust them. But so far, everything has been either off-the-record “friend of a friend” or “we can’t tell you because it’s classified,” which is bullshit when it’s used to justify intrusion into civil liberties.

    [1] Example: the SIG-Sauer P226 that’s been my daily companion since the Clinton administration just turned 20,000 rounds old. When that happens, the armorer’s manual recommends changing firing pin and possibly extractor. I just swapped both over the weekend. Guess what? I’ve just changed every useful marking that could be left on ejected brass, for 10 minutes’ work and about $50.

  • Alice

    “the SIG-Sauer P226 that’s been my daily companion since the Clinton administration just turned 20,000 rounds old.”

    Either you patrol a very interesting section of town, Sunfish, or you are really diligent about target practice!

    Either way, all joking aside, glad you are on the case.

  • Alice

    “Some people love to talk of the Revolution coming, and we all scoff, but this time it may really happen.
    God I’m depressed!”

    Don’t get depressed, RAB. Get fired up!

    Back when the baby-boomers were young, Obama’s friends were bombing & killing (because you don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, as Bob Dylan wrote). They were the revolutionaries, fighting against the stodgy, backward-looking Establishment intent only on preserving its own privileges.

    But look what has happened! And in less than a human lifetime, too.

    Now the stodgy old Establishment is those same Weathermen turned bureaucrats and tax-sponges. The revolutionaries today are the kids who go to Church, join the Army, and read the Federalist Papers. Yes, the revolution is coming. And the outcome is in absolutely no doubt.

    In the US, the supposedly democratically-elected Congress has the confidence of less than 20% of the population; the US military has the confidence of better than 80%. The nice solution would be the Turkish model — where the military will intervene to toss out the political class when required. But first, the Second American Revolution against tyranny!

  • RAB

    Don’t get depressed, RAB. Get fired up!

    Sigh, ok Alice just for you
    Yabba dabba doo

    Nope I’m afraid it isn’t working.

    Think Gullivers Travels and Lilliput.

    The marxist bastards are going to tie down the giant with so many strings, it may never get loose.

  • guy herbert

    “At this rate you’ll have to show ID to buy a kitchen knife soon”

    Outside specialist shops who don’t want to ‘challenge’ every customer, you already do, in practice. Trading standards departments run covert operations aggressively to enforce the absurd law that prevents those under 18 from buying knives, and push for retailers to have a policy of asking for proof of age from people who look older.

    This mini-terror is then being offered to retailers as a reason for them to support a national identity scheme:

  • Alice

    “The marxist bastards are going to tie down the giant with so many strings, it may never get loose.”

    Read ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ again, RAB. The Lilliputians let the giant loose because he was useful to them — think of the Chinese dalliance with markets.

    And remember Gulliver’s unforgivable faux-pas in Lilliput — he put out a fire in the royal palace by urinating on it. Liberty will always end up pissing on Marxism, provided we don’t give up.

  • RAB

    Thanks Alice, nicely put. That has cheered me up a bit;-)

    I havent read it since I was about thirteen, and had forgotten the details.