A technical hitch

And I’m back in the room or something. Sorry for that disruption in service, it seems that after gradually getting worse and worse over the last year the company Anonymong was hosted with finally went tits up. They decided that the best way to notify their customers of this impending doom wasn’t to actually e-mail them but to post to their support forum saying “you’ve got two weeks to save your data”. Oddly I missed this post as I’m not in the habit of checking support forums randomly, so was rather like putting an announcement “on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’”.

There’s quite a kerfuffle about this amongst the ex-users of Textdrive, as quite a lot of us were caught out. As it was a paid for life service I’m not shocked it went bust and I really did get my moneys worth out of it with over 10 years of hosting, but am a teensy bit peeved at the lack of notice. Fortunately I did have a back up that wasn’t too ancient and I’ve been really lazy so far this year and not had a lot to say, or rather not had the time to say much. In fact it looking at my random posts on FaceBook I think I’ve been even quieter than I thought and haven’t lost anything.

I shall try to use this annoyance to give myself a boot up the arse and resume wasting electrons with my random ramblings once more.

There may be a few glitches lurking around over the next few days as I get things sorted out.

  
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Fun with facts

Benefits street myth and reality Apparently Channel 4 are showing yet another poverty porn series, which seem rather the fashion these days. This one is called “Benefits street” and has caused something of a stir – which is probably why they chose the title. After the first episode there has been all sorts of people claiming that the program is either highlighting a really important issue or cruel evil exploitation of honest working class people. Many people are claiming that it’s just fueling hatred and dividing people as some part of an evil Tory scheme, and that the program is distorting the facts. This has lead to things such as the Infographic on the left produced by Haze Magazine. Now I’ve no idea if the numbers it presents are correct or not and to a large extent I don’t really care, what caught my attention however was the sneaky change of argument in the graphic there. The argument that most people make is that the benefits system is broken because it is possible to earn more than someone working by claiming benefits. This Infographic tries to debunk this my showing how much better off the hypothetical family would be by just working 30 hours on minimum wage, except they only consider Job Seekers Allowance not the total amount of benefits available.
Couple on Job seekers
So you’ll note that we’ve gone from talking about benefits to just talking about how much an unemployed couple with two school age children receive only in job seekers allowance. Which really isn’t the same argument as off the top of my head such a couple would also receive:

  • Housing benefit
  • Child benefit for both children
  • Council tax rebate

So that’s a bit more than just the very low sum that JSA provides and which no-one is claiming people are better off on. I believe there may be further benefits available beyond those above but that depends on the details of our hypothetical family, and also being asked to pay less tax isn’t really a benefit, just as companies paying less tax aren’t being subsidised – although of course it does help make money go further. If they started work they might lose some of those benefits but then they might start getting tax credits and other such things, I’ve no idea like I say not really interested. However if you’re going to argue about Myths Vs. Reality, it probably helps to actually be having the same argument as the people you’re trying to correct. Being devious with your data like this doesn’t really help advance the debate but then “reframing” debates in this way is a commonly used tactic as shown by things such as the “bedroom tax”.

  
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Last week elsewhere

Random round up of stuff from last week.

  
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Crime and policing bill reaches the Lords

Quite a while back I wrote about the crime and policing bill, this horrendous piece of legislation has finally reached the Lords. None of the political parties sitting in Westminster are kicking up much of a fuss, although some amendments have been tabled, despite this bit of the mainstream media are finally starting to notice what a colossal pile of authoritarian shit the bill is. Even Mr Monbiot has decide its a bad thing – which tells you just how truly awful it is, as the Guardian usually quite likes handing the state more power to ban things.

The good news is that our unelected Lords that so many people seem to be in a hurry to get rid of are putting up more resistance than our elected representatives. It’s rather telling that we so often depend upon such an undemocratic body to defend our liberties from those we elect. As Archbishop Cranmer observes:
“It beggars belief that the Government which (finally) amended Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, thereby restoring the right to be “insulting”, should now seek to outlaw “annoyance”.”

If you find the proposed law as abhorrent as I do there is a bit you can do, in the first case obviously write to your MP, but there are are also two petitions against this bill one on
E-gov the other with 38 Degrees. Finally there is also the Reform Clause 1 campaign.

  
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Last week elsewhere

Another week another attempt to remember to do this, though very quiet this week.

There’s also quite a bit happening over on

  
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Drinkuary returns

Drinkuary - Calling time on the Puritans It is that time of year once more when the puritans once more fill the airwaves and bill boards with exhortations to abstinence and to pay them for indulgences to forgive us our evil fun filled ways. However fear not for Drinkuary has not gone away and is once more saying “enough already” – and this year they’d like to hear from you! Yes you, you at the back holding your pint, and you with your bottle of spirits, and you with the glass of wine, and you with the alcopop, and you enjoying a quiet sherry and especially you who doesn’t drink but is fed up with the puritans stomping on everyone elses fun. So why not take 5 minutes and drop Drinkuary a tale of your encounters with or response to the joyless husks of people that we call the new-puritans or their machinations? E-mail tales@drinkuary.org (all articles will be posted under whatever by-line is requested).

  
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Well that didn’t take long

Whilst I expected this to happen I’m slightly surprised that it’s been quite this quick. Just the other day BT announce they’re turning on censorship by default and before you can say “cluster fuck” it emerges that O2 are blocking a support site for homeless LGBT teens. This isn’t an accident, or at least not much of one, this is the filters working as designed. The New Statesman covers it very well, the debate was always framed as anti-porn when it was never just about porn, we don’t know who compiles the lists, the lists get changed and updated all of the time and who defines “objectionable”? This question becomes even more important when you discover that Governments are routinely asking Google to remove political content. For January to June 2013 the UK Government asked Google to remove 556 items and the American government 3,887 items. As the numerous times our Government has said “take the action we suggest lest we legislate” I can’t help but be put in mind of a line from Hamlet,
Rozencrantz : “Both your majesties
Might, by the sovereign power you have of us,
Put your dread pleasures more into command
Than to entreaty.”

There is now a standard format for transferring data for DNS based black lists, most commercial implementations will (if they haven’t already) adopt this standard. The Government can then just “suggest” that ISPs might be well advised to subscribe to the Government provided black list, so that they can block things in a timely fashion and thus avoid any nastiness. All it would take is an extra line or two in the ISPs configuration, keep providing the optional categories your customers expect and subscribe everyone to the Governments list – to avoid special liability (a precedent established by hacked off and the press charter – thanks guys). ISPs already block some illegal content after it’s been properly checked, by the unaccountable IWF, but that is so far quite restricted. The state is slowly but surely putting in place all the building blocks needed to kill dissent on the internet, wait till some random high percentage of people have the filters turned on for something and then make it harder to opt out, or just impossible to opt out of that all important government feed. I’ve said this before and I’ll no doubt say it again, the time to stop the state is not when they start rounding people up but when they start building the fences – here we see another fence post going up to keep us safe. Once the fence is in place the struggle for freedom is harder – I shall leave it up to you to decide if we’re seeing the posts going up or the first strands of the fence.

  
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Last week else where

Apparently I still haven’t quite got the hang of this regular posting lark, so late in the week here’s some stuff from last week.

  
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Welcome to censorship Britain

default porn filter not just pornFrom this month following repeated nudges from the Government Britain no longer has an uncensored internet by default. As of this month BT will be asking all new customers what level of internet censorship they want. Whilst this is being described as a porn filter, it’s quite clear that even at the “light” level it’s not just “porn” that’s being blocked. The details of the other categories are really worryingly vague, from BT’s control panel it’s revealed what those categories refer to:

  • Obscene and tasteless
    Sites where content is offensive or tasteless such as criminal activity, bathroom humour, or gruesome or frightening content such as cruel animal treatment.
  • Hate and self harm
    Sites that promote self-harm or encourage the oppression of people or groups
  • Drugs
    Sites where content refers to information on illegal drugs or misuse of prescription drugs.
  • Alcohol and tobacco
    Sites promoting or selling alcohol or tobacco related products.
  • Dating
    Sites which promote/facilitate interpersonal relationships – match making, online dating, spousal introduction and escort services.

The hate and obscene and tasteless categories are obviously really quite widely subject to all manner of interpretation. But consider “Alcohol and tobacco” allegedly to block sites promoting or selling booze, but not places like Tesco, Waitrose or other online supermarkets all of whom will quite happily sell booze on line, so just who gets included in that filter and who decides which retailers get a free pass? From the marketing these are “parental controls” so why should they be on by default, rather than just educating parents that these and other tools exist and they can turn them on to help with their parenting of their children. On the bright side it does seem that what will actually happen is you’ll be forced to choose if the filters should be on or not and at what level – though depending on how this is presented a lot of people may be getting a filtered internet by not paying attention. It is also worth noting that one of the per-configured groups that people can block is “sex education” and what that covers is rather surprising:
” Sites relating to sex education, including subjects such as respect for partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy.”
Amazingly learning about “respect for partner” is something we want children to be protected from, and quite how the gay and lesbian blocking will stand up to our equalities legislation is anyone guess.

From reading their help notes and a brief bit of experimentation they’re using fairly normal DNS “firewall” technology, so once it’s turned on they’ll intercept all of your DNS look ups and decide if the address you want to go to is suitable or not. DNS is just an address book, so every time your browser asks for an address you go to the BT address book and it decides if for that address it should tell you the truth or say “nope not allowed” . Although of course if the Government or someone else with the right access and malevolent intent decided instead of getting a “not allowed” page you could go through an invisible server that recorded everything you did, or you could go to a fake site that they controlled or all sorts of other devious things. This in malevolent hands is called “cache poisoning” and is used to carry out all sorts of nefarious things. Of course I’m sure the state will only use this functionality to protect us from bad and evil things, they won’t accidentally put UKIP or any legitimate political party in the “hate” category or anything like that. After all the other countries that enjoy state mandated internet censorship like North Korea and China don’t do that sort of thing do they?

One you enable “parental controls” (Which as a non-parent annoys me more every time I type it if it’s just for parents why do we all get it?) if you try to use a different DNS server then you get redirected to a page saying “Your DNS is misconfigured here’s how to fix it”. This is quite sensible and it would be fair to trivial for a child to work round if they could just use change their DNS settings and get round the block. However there’s a detail worth noting here you get that page because they have intercepted your DNS request and given you an answer of their choosing they’re not just blocking that rogue DNS traffic. This is again quite sensible it’ll save BT a load of help desk tickets and customer issues -however it also means that they have in place on their network the capacity to intercept and redirect any DNS query. I would note that setting this sort of thing up is really trivial to do, but until the Government insisted that an ISP did this they’d have little cause to do so. Once in place this technology is very adaptable, easy to add addresses to and has some really quite felixble and imaginative uses (I’ve deployed similar things in corporate environments). So given how well our spooks behave how long before this technology now it’s in place will be seen as another point to collect information about us or to hide sites the state objects to for everyone, or to send people to state versions of sites, or well you get the picture it’s really quite flexible technology. The interface once you opt in does provide reporting on how many sites have been blocked so it’s designed with data collection in mind.

If you’re wondering how well this technology will actually stop a reasonably smart child from getting to things they shouldn’t, using a proxy server or any sort of VPN service will by pass the filters like a neutron through gossamer – so not very. At which point obviously more controls will be needed, and the government will have to get the ISPs to put even more invasive filters in place “for the children”. This sort of technology is also not going to block everything and will catch innocent content, as new content is constantly appearing and the block is site based. So if the filter says there’s bad stuff on www.example.com/badstuff then as it can only block www.example.com everything else there is also blocked including www.example.com/goodstuff. To use our address book analogy it’s doesn’t say “You can’t talk to Nick at Number 10, but you can talk to Dave” it can merely say “You can’t talk to Number 10. In fact Number 10 doesn’t even exist”

As one final thought on the matter, I can’t find anywhere on BT’s help pages which tells me who decides what gets on the filter lists, gives any hint at the policy behind those decisions and certainly there’s no where you can down load the list of filtered addresses to actual check them. If they decide to just collect everyone’s address look ups there’s no way to detect this, and if they decide to filter everyone this way unless you suspect something is blocked and check that from else where it’s really quite hard to detect that anything is being done.

  
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Last week else where

Still not quite got the hang of this, but here’s some fun bits from last week.

  
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