We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Two discussion points inspired by Stephen Wolfram

The first one is straightforward. The internet threw me a talk by the computer scientist and businessman Stephen Wolfram today. It lasts three minutes 21 seconds and is called “How humans can communicate with aliens”.The subject is one that has so often been used as the basis for fiction that we sometimes forget that when you look up at night, what you see is real. There is a whole universe out there. It might have intelligences in it. Mr Wolfram contends that we might have been seeing evidence of intelligences all the time without realising it.

Do you think he is right? And assuming we can talk to them, should we?

Alien contact sounds wonderful at first but then becomes terrifying as you think more deeply. The second topic for discussion I want to put forward sounds terrifying at first but then becomes –

Well, you tell me what it becomes. There is a very strange final paragraph to Mr Wolfram’s Wikipedia page:

Personal analytics

The significance data has on the products Wolfram creates transfers into his own life. He has an extensive log of personal analytics, including emails received and sent, keystrokes made, meetings and events attended, phone calls, even physical movement dating back to the 1980s. He has stated “[personal analytics] can give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives”.

One of my recurring nightmares is that as spy devices get smaller and the computational power available to analyse what they learn gets bigger someone – or lots of someones – will be able to analyse my life in that sort of detail, down to every keystroke I make. It had never occurred to me to think of it as something I might like to do to myself.

Does anyone reading this do anything similar? Would you like to?

Putting the ‘social’ in socialised medicine

The NHS is trialling group consultations. Instead of seeing your doctor one-on-one, up to 15 people will be seen all at the same time. One’s experience of medicine (or rather, ten or fifteen’s experience of it) will certainly be more social under these plans – especially as these group consultations will apparently include such issues as erectile disfunction. This should help achieve the old marxist aim of ‘abolishing the private sphere of life’.

As usual, however, socialism’s compassionate attempt to provide

a “fun and efficient” way to carry out consultations with patients who shared the same conditions

is being resisted by some old-fashioned reactionaries who claim to feel

“incredibly uncomfortable” discussing personal matters with large groups of strangers

overlooking the fact that, since the average NHS GP serves a specific contiguous area, such groups will not always be of strangers – they may often include neighbours and acquaintances.

China’s hardware hack: massive implications if true

Bloomberg is running an utterly astounding story about a massive Chinese hardware hack that if true will have considerable political impact but truly enormous economic implications.

This will have a long-term bearish effect on China’s hitherto unchallengeable position as the overwhelmingly dominant manufacturer of computers, phones and high tech IT component.

And yet… I hesitate to immediately take this entire story at face value, precisely because the geo-political/economic implications are so dramatic that I can hear the sound of a great many axes grinding.

Still, it is certainly something I can well believe the Chinese government would do, even with the associated risk to China’s IT marketability. But then the same is probably true of the US government, I would not put such a thing past them either.

The Shadow Education Secretary wants to make teachers more vulnerable

The Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner MP (Lab), has called for a ban on anonymous online accounts.

The education spokesperson also called for social media companies to ban anonymous accounts, complaining at a fringe event organised by the Guardian in Liverpool that most of the people that abused her online did so without using their real names.

Rayner said that social media firms should take greater responsibility for their users and complained in particular that Facebook seemed to have indicated that politicians should accept a higher level of abuse.

When asked what she thought about social media, Rayner said: “One of the first things they should do is stop anonymous accounts. Most people who send me abuse me do so from anonymous accounts and wouldn’t dream of doing it in their own name.”

Rayner conceded that using real names would not stop abuse but “it would certainly help a little bit. I think they should do more, they do have a responsibility for online”.

As I mentioned earlier, Angela Rayner is the Shadow Education Secretary. That ought to mean that she is aware that teachers, like MPs, are often subject to harassment. The Times Educational Supplement had an article on that very subject just a few days ago: “Why your social account is not as private as you think”. It began:

The teacher’s Facebook account was set to private. She was certain of that. Yet, in the past week, she had received four friend requests from former pupils. She could not work out how they had found her.

So, as I am a researcher at the Greater Manchester Police – and her friend – she asked me to take a look. Within 10 minutes, I had not just found her, but I also had her full name, her partner’s name, the school she worked at, the name of one of her children and multiple images of the street she lives on.

The writer, Chris Glover, proceeded to give ten tips that teachers should employ to protect themselves: 1. Keep accounts separate. 2. Vary usernames. 3. Check posts about you. 4. Beware of public posts. 5. Review privacy settings. 6. Don’t follow your school account. 7. Avoid using your real name. 8. Change the friends-list setting. 9. Switch off location. 10. Delete dormant accounts.

Following the above advice should help ensure that teachers can enjoy participating in life online while minimising the very real risk of being tracked down by former or current pupils bearing a grudge, or simply by people whom it is best to keep at arms length for professional or safeguarding reasons.

Until a Labour government gets in and makes Nos. (2) and (7) illegal outright, and demands that all of your personal details are held in one place by a social media company so as to be conveniently available for hackers and identity thieves.

A Labour MP who won’t let Theresa May beat her on authoritarianism

Lucy Powell MP has taken to the pages of the Guardian to tell us “Why I am seeking to stamp out online echo chambers of hate”.

She writes,

Closed forums on Facebook allow hateful views to spread unchallenged among terrifyingly large groups. My bill would change that.

and

Because these closed forums can be given a “secret” setting, they can be hidden away from everyone but their members. This locks out the police, intelligence services and charities that could otherwise engage with the groups and correct disinformation. This could be particularly crucial with groups where parents are told not to vaccinate their children against diseases.

Here is a video of Powell talking about her proposal.

Her Private Member’s Bill, like all Private Member’s Bills, has very little chance of passing. But it has cross-party support. Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry and David Lammy all count as members of the permanent ruling coalition, but I had thought better of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

If it did pass, I can see no logical reason not to extend its provisions to ban private face-to-face conversations. Why should the mere fact that the hate speech is conveyed by sound rather than text make any difference? Dangerous physical proximity allows the doings of these groups to be even more effectively hidden away from anyone but their members. These groups meeting in people’s living rooms literally lock out the police, intelligence services and charities that could otherwise engage with them and correct disinformation.

Samizdata quote of the day

I tried to get people to care about the pointless “security” provided by the TSA, which I see, in part, as obedience training for the American public to be docile in the face of having their rights yanked from them.

Surprise, surprise, scanners are toddling off from the airport to other areas of American life. Recently, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced a plan to begin deploying full-body scanners in the LA subway system.

Amy Alkon, The Trajectory Of The Restriction Of Privacy And Freedom

The UK imitates Red China’s ‘Social Credit’ with the ‘Honours’ system

Red China has, like the mature totalitarian society that it is, a system of ‘Social Credit‘, as Wikipedia puts it neatly:

The system is a form of mass surveillance which uses big data analysis technology.

The excellent YT channel, China Uncensored, has a video on this system.

Of course, the UK has nothing like this yet, everything with the State is a little bit feeble and almost useless, for now. But a little chink in the armour of our free society has appeared. The UK ‘Honours System’, we now know, depends on you not being in the ‘bad books’ of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (which combines the Inland Revenue – personal and corporate taxation, with Customs and Excise). Note that it is not that you have to commit a criminal offence or even a civil transgression with your taxes, it is enough that you be under suspicion of avoiding paying tax lawfully.

HM Revenue and Customs’ reported policy of advising against giving honours to tax-avoiding celebrities has been backed by Sir Vince Cable.
Celebrities who use lawful but controversial schemes are being “blacklisted” to protect the reputation of the honours list, says the Times.
A Freedom of Information request showed a traffic light system was used to identify an individual’s suitability.
The Liberal Democrat leader said HMRC’s tough stance was perfectly reasonable.
“The principle is right, I think the public is fed up with abusive tax avoidance by individuals and companies,” Sir Vince told the BBC.
He said: “It seems perfectly reasonable to me that the Inland Revenue should be taking a tough line on tax avoidance.”
Sir Vince, a former business secretary, added that some celebrities may “wonder why they’ve been caught up in it” as they may be unaware they have been involved in “aggressive tax avoidance” because accountants handle their affairs.

And how does this work?

HMRC analyses nominees for honours to check the risk of them being exposed over their tax affairs.
The FOI response revealed that people are categorised as green if they are low risk, amber for medium risk and red for high risk.

My first objection to this is that ‘Honours’ don’t exist, except as bits of ribbon, metal and enamel etc. There is the ludicrous fantasy that the Sovereign can spot ‘worthy’ individuals and somehow bestow ‘honours’ on them. What happens is, of course, that some people write someone’s name on a list, hand over a bit of painted metal and a ribbon and that person becomes honoured. If there is a scientific test that can tell me how someone changes when they receive an ‘honour’, and that this is not a voluntaristic fantasy, I’d be happy to hear about it.

My second objection to this is that is the law of England (and indeed the UK) that no one is obliged to pay more tax than that properly due. Unless I am very much mistaken, this is the law of the land still (edit See Mary C’s helpful comment); the case of The Commissioners of Inland Revenue v The Duke of Westminster established, in 1935, under George V, the following from Lord Tomlin’s speech in the majority:

Apart, however, from the question of contract with which I have dealt, it is said that in revenue cases there is a doctrine that the Court may ignore the legal position and regard what is called “the substance of the matter,” and that here the substance of the matter is that the annuitant was serving the Duke for something equal to his former salary or wages, and that therefore, while he is so serving, the annuity must be treated as salary or wages. This supposed doctrine (upon which the Commissioners apparently acted) seems to rest for its support upon a misunderstanding of language used in some earlier cases. The sooner this misunderstanding is dispelled, and the supposed doctrine given its quietus, the better it will be for all concerned, for the doctrine seems to involve substituting “the incertain and crooked cord of discretion” for “the golden and streight metwand of the law.” 4 Inst 41 Every man is entitled if he can to order his affairs so as that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax. This so-called doctrine of “the substance” seems to me to be nothing more than an attempt to make a man pay notwithstanding that he has so ordered his affairs that the amount of tax sought from him is not legally claimable.

So even if you pay all taxes properly due under the law, you (or your accountant) might have been too clever by half, and you might have kept some of your own money, how is that wrong? I’m sorry, but I thought that King John no longer reigned. After all, if people pay more tax than they are due as a condition of getting an honour, isn’t that paying for them? Wasn’t Maundy Gregory put in jail for that?

My third objection to this is that an individual’s tax affairs are private, here is the declaration that Revenue Officers and Inspectors are required to make on taking up their positions:

Part III
Inspectors, Collectors and other Officers

” I, A.B., do solemnly declare that I will not disclose any information received by me in the execution of the duties which may from time to time be assigned to me by the Board of Inland Revenue except for the purposes of my duties, or to the Board of Inland Revenue or in accordance with their instructions, or for the purposes of any prosecution for an offence relating to inland revenue, or in such other cases as may be required by law.”

I fail to see how giving a nudge or a wink about someone’s affairs can be reconciled with this requirement, especially when it’s about them having followed the law all and having been smarter than the politicians and tax bureaucrats.

It has long been the case that the rule of law has died in this country, and some of our politicians have even boasted about it.

Isn’t it time to stick a fork in the ludicrous Honours system, and stop pretending? Most are not even decided on by the Queen, but by bureaucrats, at your expense. Even better, stick a fork in our tax system and acknowledge that paying as little tax as possible the honourable thing to do.

The watchers do not like it when you watch them…

Our masters do not think it is appropriate for us to observe and record the fact we are being observed and recorded…

That reminds me of of something I posted in 2002.

Get them while they’re young

The Courier reports:

Scottish Government asks eight-year-olds to reveal their Brexit views

The Scottish Government is appealing to children as young as eight to share their views on Brexit.

Critics branded the Twitter plea for youngsters to “work with” the government on a Europe panel “creepy”.

But the SNP administration defended the move as giving those who will be most affected by leaving the EU a “voice in the Brexit negotiations”.

The call by the Twitter account ScotGovEurope said: “Are you aged 8 – 18? Children and young people in Scotland are going to be affected by #Brexit, so we want your views!

“Apply to join the @cisweb Children & Young People’s Panel on Europe to work with @scotgov.”

It sparked claims that SNP ministers are trying to indoctrinate children on the constitution.

The charity says that young people have a “right to be heard in the discussions about Brexit”, which they say is backed up by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Brexit is the single biggest threat to our economy and future prosperity, and children and young people will be most affected in the coming years.

“We are therefore supporting Children in Scotland to establish the children and young people’s panel on Europe and enable them to have a voice in the Brexit negotiations.”

Here’s where you can apply to join the Panel, but first they recommend that you ask yourself

Is the project for me?

This project might be for you if you like standing up for the things you believe in, and
talking about:
• What Brexit might mean for your family and friends
• What people in charge should be doing to help children
• What rules people in charge should follow when they make
decisions about Brexit

I think we can safely say that most Samizdata readers qualify. However this one might be more tricky:

• Why children should have their say on Brexit

The question of whether those who think that children should not have their say on Brexit could or should join the Panel is left for the reader. Oh, I nearly forgot, to be eligible you do have to be aged between eight and eighteen. Reassuringly,

You don’t need to know much about Brexit to apply. We will share information with you to
help you to take part.

Anyone know how the new EU internet censorship & link tax law will affect the UK?

According to Lucian Armasu of Tom’s Hardware, in one week’s time I might no longer be able to link to Lucian Armasu of Tom’s Hardware and quote him like I’m about to do. Or have I misunderstood? I hope I have, because this sounds serious:

EU Expected To Pass Censorship Machines, Link Tax On June 20

As soon as June 20, next week, the European Parliament will vote a draft legislation proposed by the European Commission (EU’s executive body). Critics have attacked the proposal as being quite extreme because it could impact many digital industries too severely.

Censorship Machines (Article 13)

One of the biggest issues with the new EU copyright reform proposal is the Article 13, which mandates that websites that accept user content (anything from videos to online comments) must have an “upload filter” that would block all copyrighted content that’s uploaded by users. Critics, such as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julia Reda, have also called upload filters “censorship machines.”

Under the censorship machine proposal, companies would be required to get a license for any copyrighted content that is uploaded to their site by its users. In other words, websites would be liable for any content their users upload to the site. It goes without saying that this could significantly hamper innovation on the internet.

For instance, YouTube or a site like it, probably wouldn’t even exist today if the site would have been liable for what users uploaded from day one.

Link Tax (Article 11)

The “link tax” proposal in Article 11 of the copyright reform directive is another idea that’s not just seemingly bad, but it has also failed in countries such as Spain and Germany, where it has already been attempted. Instead of getting companies such as Google or other publishers to pay for the links, or article excerpts and previews, those companies simply stopped linking to content coming from Germany and Spain.

To make matters worse, the EC will allow EU member states to decide for themselves how the link tax should work. This seems contrary to the Commission’s “Digital Single Market” objective, because it will create significant complexity for all online publishers operating in the EU. They will have to abide by all the different copyright rules in the 27 member states. Existing fragmented copyright laws in the EU is one of the reasons why services such as Netflix took so long to arrive in most European countries, too.

Reda believes that a link tax would significantly reduce the number of hyperlinks we see on the web, which means websites will be much less connected to each other. Additionally, the link tax could boost fake news, because real publishers may require others to pay for linking to its content, but fake news operations evidently will not. These groups will want their content to be spread as easily as possible.

Reda also said that the link tax would be in violation of the Berne Convention, which guarantees news websites the right to quote articles and “press summaries.”

I have heard of Julia Reda MEP before. She sits with the Greens in the EU Parliament but don’t hold that against her; she is actually a member of the Pirate Party. She is fighting the good fight.

Samizdata quote of the day

At the end of a week in which the House of Commons defeated Labour’s draconian plans to regulate the press, the Tories revealed their own draconian plans to regulate the internet. The culture secretary, Matt Hancock, has pledged to make Britain ‘the safest place in the world’ to be online. But when the world’s ‘safest’ internet is currently found in China, where access is heavily restricted and censored by the state, it becomes clear how terrifying the government’s safety agenda really could be.

Fraser Myers

Press freedom lives another day

Earlier today the Press Gazette reported,

Guardian distances itself from ‘anti-press’ Data Protection Bill amendments which would exclude title from paying punitive legal costs

Peers’ Section 40 amendments to the bill, which would see publishers pay both sides’ legal costs in data protection disputes, win or lose, have been slammed by many publishers as “anti-press”.

Guardian News and Media has said it has written to all MPs making clear that it disagrees with “attempts to impose a selective sanction on the media” ahead of a Commons vote later today.

MPs will vote on an amendment, tabled by deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, this afternoon.

As it stands, news organisations signed up to a state-sponsored regulator – currently only Impress – would avoid the cost penalties.

You did read that right. Tom Watson’s amendment to Section 40 would have meant that newspapers refusing to join Max Moseley’s pet* regulator Impress would have been liable for costs when sued for libel even if they won the case. In recent years the Guardian has not often lived up to its name. But I am glad to note that even they balked at such blatant perversion of the justice system.

In the event Watson declined to put his amendment to a vote, and Ed Miliband’s less shameless but still repressive amendment regarding a second Leveson enquiry into press regulation was defeated.

Perhaps that’s the end of it, perhaps not. This monster has been apparently killed before but did not stay dead. I do not know what stage of the horror movie we are at.

*Impress is funded by Mosley. As is Watson.