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]

Samizdata quote of the day

“Many seem to believe that the capital based in so-called tax havens is sitting there gathering dust, like many a Saudi prince’s Lamborghini. It isn’t. For the most part, capital in offshore centres is invested around the world, fetching rates of return far in excess of bond yields and the value that most government expenditure can generate. It is unfashionable to praise tax avoidance, but ask yourself the following: would you rather corporate profits be spent on the white elephant of the day, whether HS2 or a ghost airport in Spain? Or is the money better allocated on research and development by private firms? Bear in mind that nothing illegal is going on here: we are talking about entirely legal alternative uses of capital. If capital mobility were halted, individuals and firms would have a much harder time voting with their feet against confiscatory rates of taxation such as those implemented by François Hollande. People in countries with a weak rule of law would be at the mercy of satraps and triple-digit inflation. Never mind that Meg Hillier, the surely well-meaning chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, is just calling for greater transparency. The reason we have banking secrecy is precisely so that persecuted groups, such as Europe’s Jews in the run-up to World War II, could take financial refuge from their persecutors.”

Diego Zuluaga

He is writing following the latest mass data “leak” (aka theft) of offshore account data from the law firm Appleby. The saga is being dubbed “Paradise Papers” (the data comes from the Caribbean, geddit?) Here is another item in defence of offshore centres. 

What I dislike about targetted advertising

The Sun had a story recently (and I presume many other organs did too) about a pizza advert in Norway which changed its message according to who was looking at it. It spied on those who spied it, you might say. But the advert broke down, very visibly, and revealed its inner secrets to passers-by, many of whom immediately told the world about this advert via all those social media that media outlets like The Sun (and Samizdata come to that) now have to coexist with.

What I personally find depressing about adverts targetted at me personally is that I stop learning things. I already know what I like. What I get – or used to get – from adverts is a sense of what the world in general likes, or at least what someone willing to back his guess with money guesses it might like.

Advertising on television, for example, is currently telling me that I am not the only one suffering from itchy eyes, a bunged up nose, and such like. Hay fever symptoms, in other words. My television didn’t push all these adverts at me personally, because it heard me sniffing or saw the shape and colour of my face change or saw me putting my hands in my eyes, the way a cat does when it’s washing its face. All the people watching the TV show I was watching got the same adverts. I found this reassuring. I am not uniquely ill. I am somewhat ill, in the same way that thousands of others are somewhat ill. Nothing to worry about. It will soon pass.

TV adverts, as of now, tell me about who else is watching what I am watching. Adverts for baths with doors on them, for chair lifts, for over-fifties health insurance, tell me who we all are, watching this show. Lots of old woman adverts also tell me when I have wandered into that audience. Other shows have adverts attached for fizzy drinks, electronic gadgets, or short-term loans or on-line gambling dens. I find all this interesting and informative. It tells me not about me, but about the world I am living in. Often what I learn is rather depressing (as with those short-term loans and the gambling dens), but I do learn.

Advertising that is aimed directly at me annoys me not by threatening to know everything about me, and rat on me to the government or the CIA or whoever. Although I can well imagine that becoming a problem for me, it is not my problem with this stuff right now. No, what I object to now is the thought that I may soon be wandering through life in a cocoon that is constantly being rearranged in order to bounce back at me nothing but my own tastes and prejudices. It’s as if I will soon be walking around in my personal private Potemkin Village.

I already know what sort of stuff I like. The constant nagging from the www the buy whatever I was looking at yesterday is depressing to me, not because it spies on me, but because it isolates me. Not because others learn about me, but because I stop learning about others.

The fact that this Norwegian pizza advert was switched off once word got around about it tells me that I am not the only one in the world who finds this kind of targetted advertising in public places rather creepy and off-putting. But what exactly is it that people object to about such advertising? What you have just read is my little contribution to this latter discussion.

LATER: I originally wrote this piece with my personal blog in mind as its destination, and the mind-set of that blog is different from the mind-set that prevails here. Since this is Samizdata, let me clarify that the above is not a plea for the government regulation of targetted advertising, merely an expression by me of my dislike of it. There are plenty of other products and services which I also dislike, which I also don’t think the government should forbid or interfere with.

Discussion point: porn on the bus

Here are two contrasting articles from the Guardian:

Watching porn in public is not OK. It’s harassment – Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Pussy Riot celebrate the vagina in lyrical riposte to Trump – Luke Harding

It is no discredit to the Guardian that different writers for the paper have said contradictory things, although none of the dozens of comments I read to Ms Cosslett’s article brought up the the difference between the views of old and new feminists on whether it was liberating or deplorable to shock the public.

Many Libertarian-ish people would say that incompatible preferences across different groups of people regarding what should be seen in public could be solved by property rights and competition. Each shopping mall and bus company could set its own rules, some catering to the puritans, some to the libertines. That would be nice, but until we find the door into Libertopia we must deal with the major regulator of such things being the State.

What do you think? How should people behave here and now? Do the existing laws come first or ten millionth on our list of things to oppose – or should we support them? Is there more of a problem than there used to be, now that people can watch R18 movies on their Kindles on the bus while a twelve year old sits next to them? Or is this just another moral panic that could be solved if people kept their eyes to themselves?

By the way, consider this blog post to be a a venue where, as they say on the cinema screens, “Strong language may be permitted, depending on the manner in which it is used, who is using the language, its frequency within the work as a whole and any special contextual justification”.

The UK just legalised everything that Snowden warned us about

There is a good article on the Verge laying out the horrendous Investigatory Powers Act.

Dear UKIP, you’ve changed

“UKIP leader Paul Nuttall says UK should ban burqa”, the Independent reports.

In the 2015 election I was pleased to note that UKIP, the third most popular party in the UK in terms of number of votes, was also the closest to libertarian among the mainstream parties. Since then the United Kingdom Independence Party has both fulfilled and lost its purpose. Its new leader, Paul Nuttall, seems to want to achieve his aim of supplanting Labour as the main opposition to the Tories by outcompeting Labour in the field of authoritarianism. Just listen to the tail-wags-the-dog justification for banning the burqa that Mr Nutall gives in the video clip linked to by the Independent:

“Whether we like it or not we are the most watched people in the world. There’s more CCTV in Britain per head than anywhere else on the planet and for the CCTV to be effective you need to see people’s faces.”

Fake news – Putin has been pushing it for some time before Mrs Clinton noticed

From Observer (not the leftist UK newspaper, but another site):

The Washington Post reported this week that Kremlin-backed websites pushed “fake news” regularly portraying Hillary and the Democrats in a negative light. There’s really nothing new here for anybody who’s followed Russian propaganda for any length of time. Kremlin agitprop aimed at the West—properly termed disinformation—contains an amalgam of fact and fiction, plus lots of gray information somewhere in between which can be difficult and time-consuming to refute.

Back in the 1980s, when the KGB was pumping all kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories into Western media outlets to smear the Reagan administration, Washington got proficient at countering this sort of nasty deception (the Pentagon created AIDS, for instance). The Active Measures Working Group, an interagency entity stood up expressly to debunk Kremlin lies, became effective at its job, drawing on expertise from various government departments and agencies. With Cold War victory, however, it folded along with the Soviet Union.

By mid-2014, it was apparent that Moscow was up to its old disinformation tricks again, and it was obvious to anybody acquainted with the Kremlin that Washington needed to react to the torrents of lies filtering into Western media thanks to Russian intelligence and its friends in the West. Putin, that wily KGB veteran, is familiar with Active Measures, and his Kremlin has become more aggressive about employing it abroad than the Politburo ever was.

The Digital Economy Bill

The Bill’s intention is to create better data sharing gateways. The plans to digitise our birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates – which will be stored and shared in bulk – will make the sharing of our personal information as easy as clicking a mouse. There will be no requirement for them to consult you. You won’t be asked in advance, you won’t even be told after the event and you won’t have the chance to opt out.

Worried? You should be. Do you remember the ID card furore before the 2010 general election? The scheme was axed at great expense when public support for the plans plummeted after it was revealed that HMRC had lost personal information belonging to 25 million child benefit claimants.

Only then did the reality of how insecure our data is sink in. It’s worth noting the lost information still hasn’t been recovered almost 10 years later.

Don’t be fooled that things have improved. In 2014/15 government departments experienced almost 9,000 data breaches, according to a recent National Audit Office report.

Renate Samson

Samizdata quote of the day

You might not have noticed thanks to world events, but the UK parliament recently approved the government’s so-called Snooper’s Charter and it will soon become law. This nickname for the Investigatory Powers Bill is well earned. It represents a new level and nature of surveillance that goes beyond anything previously set out in law in a democratic society. It is not a modernisation of existing law, but something qualitatively different, something that intrudes upon every UK citizen’s life in a way that would even a decade ago have been inconceivable […] As David Davis said, before being distracted by Brexit, this kind of surveillance will only catch the innocent and the incompetent. The innocent should not be caught and the incompetent can be caught any number of ways.

Paul Bernal. Good article, even if I was a bit bemused by the author’s surprise that a paleo-socialist like Jeremy Corbyn acquiesced.

Repeal the new surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act)

If you are in the UK, please sign the petition to repeal the new surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act). We are half way to getting a Parliamentary debate (maybe 🙄 ).

Too many see Orwell’s “1984” not as a cautionary tale, but rather a compendium of interesting policy suggestions.

The tectonic plates are shifting

This is a statement by Geert Wilders about the attempts by the Dutch establishment to silence him for expressing a political opinion:

Now whatever you think of Wilders, this has been an astonishing attempt to simply shut down free expression in an western nation. And of course this will not silence him and will probably prove to be a spectacular establishment own-goal.

And in the UK, more and more infrastructure to censor internet porn is being put into place. Why is this related? Because once control infrastructure exists, it can and will be re-purposed, in much the same way the Department for Education’s “counter extremism unit“, set up ostensibly to prevent violent Islamic extremist views being taught in UK schools, gets re-purposed to shut down a gay secular journalist who has not called for any violence against anyone.

All across the Western World, political verities and assumption are starting to shift, and almost nothing can be accurately predicted any more. We live in times that are a danger and opportunity in equal measure, and people who care about liberty will have to get their hands dirty, making common cause with others who will not pass any purity sniff tests but with whom we share common enemies (however care does need to be taken in such matters for sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my enemy… but sometimes not), however now is the time for engagement and action.

Samizdata quote of the day

The Investigatory Powers Act legalises powers that the security agencies and police had been using for years without making this clear to either the public or parliament. In October, the investigatory powers tribunal, the only court that hears complaints against MI6, MI5 and GCHQ, ruled that they had been unlawfully collecting massive volumes of confidential personal data without proper oversight for 17 years.

Ewen MacAskill

All are subject to the people’s surveillance

A little over a week ago I came across a little “gotcha” story of political news, or rather gossip, which stuck in my mind, not because of the of the commonplace instance of political insincerity it revealed, but because of the way this story reached what we still call the newspapers.

Celebrity Corbyn cheerleader Paul Mason caught on video expressing his doubts about the LAB leader saying he should be replaced by Clive Lewis

One of the tireless advocates of Corbyn during the prolonged LAB leadership battle in the summer was the ex-Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason. As you’d expect he’s articulate and good on the telly and figured prominently in the coverage of the election.

But there’s one video of him which he’s probably less keen about. He was caught by someone sitting near him in a bar in Liverpool as he talked about Corbyn’s failings and lack of electoral appeal. This has now found its way into the hands of the Sun which is giving big coverage this morning.

This is one of the dangers about the modern world. Most people have smartphones with pretty sophisticated video facilities which they carry with them all the time.

The quote is from by Mike Smithson of politicalbetting.com. The emphasis was added by me. It is funny to see the “postcapitalist” journalist Paul Mason caught out, but disquieting to think that this is the future for everybody even slightly famous. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s famous meeting at the Granita restaurant in Islington in which Blair is said to have promised to pass the sceptre to Brown would not now be possible. Famous and powerful people must now remove themselves even further from normal people in order to have any hope of privacy. Is this on balance good? I don’t know.

However much I worry, the ability of every ordinary person to spy on the media-political elite (a category that most certainly includes the former Newsnight Business Correspondent and Channel 4 Economics Editor) is one of the few things that might temper their belief in their right to spy on and “expose” everybody else. It also reminds them that what constitutes “news” can be decided by people other than them.

Related: Perry de Havilland’s post from 2010: Why I Support Wikileaks