This is part of my blog, which I have long since stopped maintaining. The page has been preserved in case its content is of any interest. Please go back to the homepage to see the current contents of this site.
Allow me to share with you one of the most bizarre and infuriating login forms I have ever seen. This is it, the one for CPP Identity Protection.
Yeah, you read that right. “Password or username” followed by “E-mail address”. The site drops hints that apparently passwords are discontinued, and since last year every customer has a username instead. Er, guys? Do you even understand how this works?
So when you join, you get a letter that contains your username, which is a pretty short alphanumeric string. It’s pretty much… a password. Not a very good one, but still.
First time you log in, you get a delightful series of prompts that up the WTF factor even more. The first one is “change your username”. My first reaction, as I guess it is for a lot of people, is “yeah, this alphanumeric string is crazy-hard to remember. I’ll just use the same username as I use everywhere!” I actually got as far as typing ‘tsuki_chama’ in the box before I realised. That would leave my online handle and e-mail address - both publicly-known information - as the only things protecting my account. On a website that deals with identity theft. Whaaaaat?
The second prompt is for the “username reminder”, i.e. password reminder, assuming you left your ‘username’ as a password-like string. Now there was no limitation on what you could have as a username, I guess you could have “abc” if you wanted. But here, your password reminder, is another story. There’s a drop-down box of Secret Questions, the usual sort - first pet, memorable place, etc. You have to pick one, there’s no free entry. And then you enter your answer to that secret question.
Which must be at least 8 characters and include at least one number.
Geez, do you think there might be another authentication field that you might want to apply that restriction to instead? But yeah, I’m fine, because I had a pet hamster called ROBOHAM-877.
So yay, the only vaguely secure string you’re providing is your password recovery answer, which is not needed to log you in at all, only to recover your bizarro-username in case you forget it, assuming you didn’t just go with the flow and set your username to the same damn username you use everywhere else.
Identity. Protection. Fail.
This e-mail was sent to Andrew Dumbreck at Ofcom on 16th September 2009.
I am writing to you regarding the document entitled “Enquiry to Ofcom from BBC Free to View Ltd concerning its DTT high definition multiplex licence”, which I have just been made aware of via an online news source.
As a Briton and a licence-fee payer, I would like to register my distress that, from this document, it looks like content providers are pressuring the BBC to protect content via a Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme that would require all end-user equipment in people’s homes to have the ability to decode it. This is a clear step backwards from the freedoms that the BBC introduced with the iPlayer, and a step away from the licence-fee payers being able to access the content they pay for in any way they want.
Furthermore, I use a custom-built PC as a digital video recorder in my living room, using open-source software. These open-source applications generally do not have a corporate sponsor or a pot of money from which they could pay to licence the decoding technology that is being suggested, which would render my and similar devices useless for recording these signals.
I am strongly of the opinion that the BBC should be working to make its broadcasts more widely available, not less, and thus that the introduction of DRM on BBC broadcasts is not in the public interest that the BBC attempts to serve.
Thank you for your time.
This letter was sent to Sir John Butterfill MP (Conservative, Bournemouth West) on 22nd April 2009.
Dear Mr Butterfill,
The content of the Government’s proposed Intercept Modernisation Programme and discussions regarding the creation of a central government database for recording internet traffic data have been brought to my attention by the Open Rights Group. I am writing to you to express my concern and to ask that, if you are in agreement with my points below, you oppose any such motions if and when they arise.
Firstly, the expense involved in maintaining such a central database would be enormous - compared to the current level of information the government holds on its citizens, the amount of internet traffic information generated by each person is vast. This information is currently gathered and stored for some time by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), but a single central database would be much more expensive to set up, maintain, and search. I’m sure in the current recession the majority of Britons could name any number of things they’d rather their tax revenue was spent on!
The second issue that concerns me is privacy. Though this kind of data is currently stored by ISPs, I do not believe civil servants have free (or even easy) access to it. The Police can have access to data on specific individuals given due cause, and I have no issues with that system. However, one central database or easy government access to existing ISP databases implies “data mining” - analysing large data sets, including data from individuals who are not suspected of any wrongdoing, in order to pick out suspicious behaviour. I do not believe that individuals who are overwhelmingly likely to be innocent ought to be routinely monitored in this way.
Furthermore, the more freely this information moves around, the more easily it can be lost or stolen or hacked into and make its way into the hands of those who could use it to steal identities, steal money or simply sell lists of e-mail addresses to spammers.
Lastly, I do not believe that there is even an advantage to these plans. I’m sure the given purpose will once again be anti-terrorism, but I do not believe the proposed plans are likely to reveal any evidence of serious terrorist activity being planned. For a fairly tech-savvy user (as we must assume terrorists who conduct operations online are) with the motivation to do so, encrypting one’s e-mail or even one’s entire internet traffic is not difficult. This degree of internet traffic monitoring will only affect those innocent people who either don’t know how to encrypt their communications, or don’t believe that they ought to have to do so just to stop their own government snooping on them.
This letter was sent to Sir John Butterfill MP (Conservative, Bournemouth West) on 13th October 2009.
Dear Sir John Butterfill,
The Internet has been buzzing today with the news that the Guardian newspaper was prevented from publishing a question that is due to be answered by the Secretary of State for Justice tomorrow (Wednesday 14th October). This action was brought about by solicitors Carter-Ruck on behalf of their client, Trafigura.
Regardless of the nature of the question and of the Guardian and Trafigura’s less-than-amiable relationship, I’m concerned about this clear attempt to restrict a fundamental freedom of the press - to report on activities at Westminster - by lawyers acting in the interests of a large multinational corporation.
Although Carter-Ruck have (as of about 1.30pm today) dropped their gag order, this kind of thing could easily happen again in the future, and next time the legal challenge may not be dropped so quickly.
I would like to know if you or your Party would support a proposal strengthening and clarifying the right of the press to report on parliamentary activity, to ensure that this situation does not happen again.
EDIT: Victory. Original post follows:
In the unlikely event that you haven’t already heard this, considering the crosses self blogosphere and Twitter are on fire with it:
The Guardian newspaper has been blocked from reporting on a question being put to the House of Commons tomorrow, by London solicitors Carter-Ruck representing their client Trafigura. This explicitly goes against the long-established right of the media to report on the House of Commons, and thus on our right to know what our elected representatives are doing on our behalf. It is a worryingly successful attack on the freedom of the press, and naturally the internet has taken it upon itself to get the word out, at the expense of Carter-Ruck’s reputation if necessary. (Trafigura’s reputation is probably dead already.)
The question that the Guardian is forbidden from reporting on is believed to be “question for written answer” number 61 on this list. The Minton Report referred to in this question can be found here, on Wikileaks.
The deadline for responding to this proposal was Wednesday 16th September 2009. Since you are reading this after UK office hours on that date, it is probably too late for you to have your say. Sorry!
DRM, on My BBC Broadcasts? It’s more likely than you think. </meme>
It’s citizen power time again folks - and you have about 8 hours! The BBC have applied to Ofcom to include DRM (Digital Rights Management) encoding in their HD broadcasts, at the behest of the content providers. Not only would this reduce licence-payers’ rights to watch what they have funded, but it could also stop open-source TV tuner apps like MythTV from accessing these signals legally.
If you have a view on this proposal, the e-mail address to write to is: Andrew.Dumbreck@ofcom.org.uk.
If you wish to use it for inspiration, the contents of my e-mail can be found here. Please do not copy it word-for-word, its effectiveness will be greatly reduced if everyone sends the same thing!
Do I blog anything these days apart from new software? Oh well, here goes:
“Full Width Facebook Lite” is possibly the world’s shortest Greasemonkey script: it simply removes the right-hand bar in the new Facebook Lite, thus removing the ad and the big white space, allowing the actual content to span the full width. Useful for people who don’t like ads, and people with small displays!
To reiterate, this is for the new Lite version of Facebook that’s currently in beta at http://lite.facebook.com. It has no effect on regular Facebook.
It requires Firefox with Greasemonkey, and probably works in anything else that supports the same kind of user scripts.
There’s no point putting this under the GPL, it’s so simple, so it’s public domain. You can grab it using the links below.
For the last few days I’ve been working on a simple web-based Twitter client, to fill the void between the simplicity of Twitter’s own web interface and the broken-in-IE6 complexity of BeTwittered and Seesmic Desktop’s web interface.
It’s still under heavy development, and there are probably a ton of bugs and missing useful features. Please give it a try and let me know what you think. Bug reports are more than welcome!
The source code is licenced under the GNU GPL v3.
Update: Due to a move to the proper OAuth API, the software could no longer continue to be called FailWhale, as someone’s already written a Twitter app with that name! Thus, until I or someone else comes up with a good idea, it’s called SuccessWhale.
“Forgotten Children” is an idea that’s been kicking around my head for a long while, and it’s always felt like it ought to be novel-length, albeit possibly a short novel. For several years I’ve laboured under the misapprehension that it might be publishable, and that if it was, I should keep it to myself until it’s done.
However, it’s become abundantly clear that if there’s no kind of pressure on me, I just don’t do it. Thus, I’m going to serialise the damn thing on the internet. Hopefully, the fact that a few people out there might be reading it and waiting for the next chapter will encourage me to get off my arse and write. I can’t promise my ability to write it quickly, or frankly even well, but I’m going to put it out there in case someone enjoys it.
This is a thought exercise around the idea of an idealised democracy. I do not pretend that it is likely to be achieved at any point, nor do intend to actively campaign for it. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.
On the whole my country, the United Kingdom, does Democracy pretty well. One only has to look at numerous examples around the globe to know how bad some of the alternatives can be. I just can’t help feel that the entire system is inefficient. We vote by constituency, which is fine for me as a traditionally Lib Dem voter in a constituency that swings about evenly between Lib Dem and Conservative. But what about the Labour voter here, who has pretty much no chance of successfully electing his candidate?
I’m not just arguing in favour of Proportional Representation, though. The MPs that we elect represent us, at least in theory. But how well do they, or even can they? Each constituency has people with so many wide-ranging opinions that one man or woman can’t hope to represent all of them. And then how well does an MP in government represent their constituents compared to an MP in opposition? Doesn’t the Whip system and the concept of “toeing the party line” blur the line between us being represented by an MP and us being represented by that MP’s party? And if we’re being represented by such a huge unwieldy thing as a party, how can we ever hope to agree with everything a party believes in?
What I propose is an open and transparent implementation of the extreme of direct democracy - a weakening of the powers of MPs to vote on our behalf, and a radical expansion of the power of public referendum. I also propose that the government, be it in the form of MPs or merely a body of civil servants, have the following core functions:
- Maintain an open and fair system of staging referendums. Referendums, in which members of the public vote directly on national policy, must be fair and free from corruption. Infrastructure must be in place to allow them to happen regularly. Referendums should take place over media such as the Internet only if they can be independently proven to be unrigged, and so long as other means are also provided so that no-one is left out. Results of the votes much be published accurately and in a timely manner using an open format and an open licence. There must be traceability between a referendum and the policy change it causes.
- Provide an unbiased source of information. If the public are expected to vote directly on matters of policy, they must have the information to make an informed decision. Raw facts and unbiased analysis must be provided in formats that are accessible to all. Be it the BBC or some other institution, it must be regularly and rigorously checked to ensure it is bias-free.
- Maintain the economy. Ensure that the public cannot vote to do irreparable damage the the economy. Maintain the free market where at all possible, and if services should remain nationalised, such as the NHS, they must be rigorously examined for inefficiencies to avoid wasting public money.
- Maintain the welfare state. Ensure that the public cannot vote to further disadvantage those already poor and disadvantaged. Social security benefits must be maintained and improved upon to ensure that poverty is eliminated and quality of life improves.
- Maintain diplomatic relations. Represent the country internationally. Ensure that the will of the people is accurately reflected in our dealings with other nations and international bodies.