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Archive for June, 2010

Friday
Jun 18,2010

According to “The Voice of Russia“, Kyrgyzstan is on the verge of cyber war.  Apparently, the escalating ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan has already given rise to cyber attacks carried out on government and media websites.  Official information servers with .kg domain names have been broght down by DDoS attacks, so that local residents and others are denied access to official information.

The article warns that:

“The information war has not yet started in full force and effect in Kyrgyzstan, according to Russian IT-analyst Andrei Masalovich of DialogueScience Inc. He believes cyber attacks could be launched on every country which will send its troops to Kyrgyzstan to help resolve the ethnic conflict. Russia should not therefore intervene in the current situation, the businessman said.

Further aggravation of the ongoing conflict will result in a full-scale information war. Those who will bring armed forces to the republic, will be definitely exposed to massive cyber attacks.

Battles in cyberspace are an integral part of armed conflicts, like for instance, the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia in 2008. Tbilisi then unleashed another kind of war, blocking the country’s entire web segment, so that the world could not find out the truth about the origins of the conflict.”

The comments are interesting in that they put forward the argument that because of the risk of cyber-retaliation Russia should not intervene in the conflict.  This either suggests that the author has little confidence in the ability of the Russian Government to withstand cyber-attacks or that virtually any excuse will be sufficient to keep Russia out of Kyrgyzstan.

Of more general salience is the point that battles in cyberspace are becoming an integral part of more conventional armed conflict.

I wonder how prepared the UK would be?

Thursday
Jun 17,2010

It has been reported by Reuters that 178 people suspected of cloning credit cards have been arrested in a major international police operation initiated by Spanish police.

The scam itself was worth €20 million.  In Spain alone, where76 people were arrested, 120,000 stolen credit card numbers and 5,000 cloned cards were discovered and six cloning labs were dismantled.

Police in fourteen countries participated the two-year investigation and there were also major raids in Romania, France, Italy, Germany, Ireland and the United States, with additional arrests in Australia, Sweden, Greece, Finland and Hungary.

According to the police, the detainees are also suspected of armed robbery, blackmail, sexual exploitation and money-laundering.

Hardly the time for the Coalition Government in the UK to be cutting the money it gives to the national Police e-Crime Unit.

Thursday
Jun 17,2010

According to Crabbyolbastard there are now some extremely sophisticated hacking tools available on Jihadi website forums.   Apparently, the techniques offered are “the real deal” and are nicely packaged with an accompanying music track.

In the past, many have scoffed at concerns about potential cyber-terror attacks.  Perhaps now is the time to stop scoffing and start preparing.

Wednesday
Jun 16,2010

An 89% turnout amongst Labour Peers has seen Lord Steve Bassam re-elected as Chief Whip by 117 votes to 74.

Wednesday
Jun 16,2010

In Lords Question Time today, there was an exchange about the future of the BBC digital radio channel 6 Music.  The Minister replying, Lord Shutt of Greetland, the Deputy Chief Whip (or Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard of Yeoman of the Guard to give him his proper title), a LibDem component of the coalition, quite properly said this was a matter for the BBC Trust and that the Government was keeping out of it.

I sought – as one does – to widen the scope of discussion by asking about the Government’s attempts – described by Gavin Allen, Executive Editor of BBC1’s “Question Time” programme – to demand a change in the Labour representative on the programme before they would allow a Cabinet Minister to appear.

To loud exclamations and laughter, the Minister described the whole incident as “a strange affair” but that people “get up to ideas like that” when they work in places such as No 10.

The exchange is below:

Lord Clement-Jones

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the BBC regarding the future of BBC 6 Music radio station.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, the Government have made no representations to the BBC. This is a matter for the BBC Trust.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I am sure that it stems from a desire for the BBC Trust to be seen to be totally independent, but I hope that he does not consider the BBC Trust to be impervious as well as independent. Will he, with his departmental colleagues, ask the BBC Trust to take note of something in the order of 1 million people per week who now listen to 6 Music? With the demise of NME digital radio, it is the only radio station that is showcasing new British music. The destruction of 6 Music, I hope he will agree, would be cultural and economic vandalism.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his supplementary question. There has been consultation about 6 Music over a 12-week period and the BBC is considering this. Anybody who happened to switch on to Radio 4 this morning at about 7 o’clock would also hear about further consultations for Radios 3, 4 and 7 that are taking place. The remarkable thing is that, since the suggestion arose that this particular radio station would cease to be, the listenership has doubled.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, while the noble Lord may wish to retain the independence of the BBC to make these decisions, will he understand and communicate to the BBC that many of us are wedded to the more recondite products of the BBC, including Radio 3 which, as he has just announced, is also receiving invitations from the BBC for commentary? The BBC is the pearl of radio output and it would be a severe loss to this country and culture if it were to be reduced in any way.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I understand exactly what the noble Lord is saying. He will be heartened to know that the listenership of Radio 3 is double that of 6 Music. The BBC will no doubt look at today’s Hansard and note the comments of noble Lords. I am happy to make certain that that happens.

Lord Addington: My Lords, will my noble friend give some thought to the fact that this House is probably not the best place to discuss new, cutting-edge music for the young? We should listen to people outside before we make any decision.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: I am well aware that the BBC is there, as Lord Reith said,

“to inform, educate and entertain”,

and 6 Music is at the “entertain” end of that. I happen to believe that the BBC is for all three objectives. Whether this particular station is to the taste of their Lordships or not, with all the consultation that has taken place, proper regard of the way forward must be taken in coming to a view.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, in his initial Answer, the noble Lord gave a very proper statement about the BBC’s independence and the independence of the BBC Trust. Does he therefore condemn the actions of spin doctors at No. 10 who apparently felt that it was proper for them to tell the BBC who it should invite on to the “Question Time” panel?

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I do not quite think that the decision about who should appear on “Question Time” relates to the business of whether 6 Music should continue. It struck me as a strange affair but people come up with ideas like that when they work in organisations such as No. 10.

Noble Lords: Oh!”

Wednesday
Jun 16,2010

Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde is Leader of the House of Lords.  As such, he is supposed to act as Leader of the WHOLE House.  The Companion to the Standing Orders of the House of Lords is quite explicit on his role:

“The Leader of the House is appointed by the Prime Minister, is a member of the Cabinet, and is responsible for the conduct of government business in the Lords. Because the Lord Speaker has no powers to rule on matters of procedure, the Leader also advises the House on procedure and order, and has the responsibility of drawing attention to violations or abuse.”

The advice on procedure and order is supposed to be impartial and at Question Time he is expected to ensure – in the case of dispute – that supplementary questions are asked in order by the different sections of the House and that the House sticks to 7 1/2 minutes per topic.  This afternoon, however, he chose to ignore impartiality and to ignore the time limit by favouring Lord Tebbit over Labour’s Baroness Rosalie Wilkins.

The question was asking the Government what plans they have for improving the lives of carers and Lord Tebbit made several attempts to get in, including being trumped by the former Conservative Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.  After Lord Mackay’s question had been answered, it should have been a Labour Peer’s turn.  However, two Government Peers tried to get in: Lord Tebbit (for the third time) and Lord Alderdice, the Convenor of the Liberal Democrat Peers.  So too did, Rosalie Wilkins, but because she is in a wheelchair she could not rise in her place – so Lord Strathclyde ignored her.  And in the ensuing fuss, the question went over time as well.

You can watch it here.  And there was real anger in the House.

But I expect there is more to come.  Next week’s business has now been published and three consecutive days of Committee deliberations on the Government’s Academies Bill have been scheduled.  No-one I have spoken to can recall three consecutive days being scheduled like this without the agreement of the Opposition.  It is beginning to look that the normal courtesies are being abandonned and the consensual approach to managing business is being ditched by the Coalition.

Tuesday
Jun 15,2010

The Register is reporting that GCHQ has refused to authorise the use of iPhones by Ministers and civil servants for official business, although Blackberries are permitted for material up to “Restricted” level.

I wonder how long the ban will last?

My guess is that the desire of politicians and senior mandarins to have the latest technological toy to play with and the advent of the iPhone 4G will mean that subtle pressure is applied to CESG (the part of GCHQ that decides these things) to find a way of permitting the iPhone’s use.

Tuesday
Jun 15,2010

Mayor Boris Johnson used the opportunity of speaking to the London Congress of Borough Leaders to outline his wish-list of new powers.

The City Hall press release quotes Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, as saying:

“I welcome this contribution from the Mayor of London. The new Government is committed to genuine decentralisation of power. In London, this means transferring power and responsibility down from Whitehall and its quangos progressively downwards to City Hall, to London boroughs and to local neighbourhoods.”

He also indicated that the Government would be publishing a Localism Bill in the autumn that would provide an opportunity to amend legislation.

So does the phrase “welcome this contribution” amount to an endorsement of the Mayoral package?

I am not sure that it does.

I raised the issue in today’s Lords Question Time (on a question about whether there would be a consultation about the role and number of elected mayors).  The exchange with the Lords’ Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government was as follows:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I add to the congratulations to the noble Baroness on her appointment. I fondly remember working opposite her on many occasions when she was a stout defender of traditional London boroughs and structures of local government. The Mayor of London today has made a power grab to take over the London region of the Homes and Communities Agency, the Olympic Park Legacy Company, the Royal Parks Agency and the Port of London Authority. It has also sought greater powers over traffic control and awarding rail franchises on routes into London and the allocation of the adult skills budget in London, and to have a greater say in health provision in the capital. Are those proposals supported by Her Majesty’s Government and, if so, will they be the powers on offer to the other prospective city mayors?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I appreciate that the Mayor of London is looking for greater powers and devolved policies. As the noble Lord will know, we welcome the contribution that the Mayor of London makes, and the new Government have already committed to genuine decentralisation of power. That may mean transferring further powers to the mayor, but that matter is still under consideration.”

Again, “the contribution” made by the Mayor was welcomed.

But then the put-down (I’ve added the emphasis): 

“That MAY mean transferring further powers to the Mayor, but that matter is still under consideration.”

 Sounds like a touch of the long grass there …..

Monday
Jun 14,2010

In Lords Question Time today I asked a supplementary which, although it rather strayed from the original question, gave me the opportunity to try and get some more flesh on the bones of the Coalition’s intentions on patient and service user representation in the NHS.

On 3rd June, in the Queen’s Speech debate, Earl Howe, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health, said this on patient representation:

“The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about the patient voice. We are going to give the public a strong and independent voice though Health Watch, which will be a statutory body with the power to investigate and support complaints. I hope that this will be music to the ears of my noble friend Lady Knight. Locally, we will strengthen the patient voice by having directly elected members of the public on the boards of PCTs. That will ensure that boards are balanced between locally accountable individuals and technical expertise.”

Today, there was a question

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government which health agencies and arm’s-length bodies will be affected by cuts in government spending.”

My supplementary (which as I acknowledge was a fair way away from the original focus of the question – a traditional House of Lords Question Time tactic) and the answer it elicited were as follows:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Earl has frequently argued in this House in favour of there being arm’s-length bodies to protect the patient’s interest in the NHS. Will extra resources be found to enable this aspiration of his—and I am sure, of the coalition’s—to be fully funded?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the budgetary implications of our plans are being worked through at the moment but we are clear that we need to have a more powerful patient voice within the system than at present. I believe that that goes hand-in-hand with our agenda for patient choice, greater quality standards and more information being made available to patients to enable them to make choices.”

I am not sure that much new light was shed on whether a properly independent patient voice will be created to take on the mantle of Community Health Councils and Patient Forums – successively abolished by the last Government.  We will no doubt have to await a definitive statement of Government policy ….

Monday
Jun 14,2010

ITV has had to apologise to its HD viewers after “a transmission problem” meant that viewers missed England’s goal against the United States on Saturday night.  Viewers saw an advert instead.

ITV has not explained what exactly happened, but I wonder whether they are going to adopt the Al Jazeera defence.

Al Jazeera, whose World Cup coverage has been repeatedly interrupted, have said their feed was hacked into and saboteurs somehow altered the feed.  Rather chillingly, reports add:

“The company said in a statement it did not know the identities of the perpetrators, but Nasser al Khalifi, its chairman, vowed yesterday to “go after whoever has caused this terrible act” and that the perpetrators would be found out “very soon”.”