What exactly is the FCO’s international conference on cyberspace for?

In July the Foreign Secretary announced that the UK would be hosting an international conference on cyberspace.  The purpose was to bring together governments, international organisations, NGOs and businesses from around the world to “address the challenges presented by the networked world including cyber crime that threatens individuals, companies, and governments.”  William Hague said that it was “vital that cyberspace remains a safe and trusted environment in which to operate. This can only be done effectively through international cooperation, engaging both the public and private sectors. Together I hope that we can begin to build the broadest possible international consensus.”

In case you missed it this major attempt to build international consensus is taking place tomorrow and Wednesday – indeed the process of international bonding began over drinks and nibbles at the Science Museum earlier this evening.

However, looking at the programme, it is not clear what the programme offers that is going to be different from numerous similar gatherings over the last few years.  Nor is it apparent where the “broadest possible international consensus” is going to be hammered out.

But we are assured that it is going to look good …..


But this picture really does deserve a caption competition:


Printable suggestions only please.

“Now it’s personal” – St Paul’s protesters target the City of London Police

The protesters encamped outside St Paul’s Cathedral are issuing a statement of demands later today.

And it is clear from the draft that is being circulated that the stand-off with the police is getting personal.

The draft states that the protesters want to see “the decommissioning of the City of London police with officers being brought under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police force.”  A demand with which I personally have some sympathy.

However, it is hardly the sort of proposal likely to endear them to the police who may be charged with evicting them.

And why do they think they would fare so much better if the HULK was in charge?

A worryingly convincing bit of social engineering – I wonder how many businesses would be taken in by something similar?

What would the people in your office do if a couple of people looking the part turned up at your office door saying that they were there to do a fire inspection?  Or said they were more or less any other branch of officialdom flashing ID and saying they needed to do an inspection?

Here is a salutory warning:

“Let’s say I am posing as a fire inspector. The first thing I will have besides my badge and uniform is a walkie-talkie, like all firemen. Outside, we’ll have our car guy. The guy that sits in the car, and basically his job in the beginning is to send chatter through to our walkie-talkies. We will have a recording of all that chatter you’ll hear on walkie-talkies. He sits in the car and plays it and sends it through to our walkie-talkies.

We walk into the facility and make sure that all the chatter is coming loudly into to the walkie-talkies as soon as we walk in their door so that we are immediately the center of attention. When I walk in, I want everyone to know that I mean business. My walkie-talkie is loud and everyone looks over as I apologize and turn it down.

I show the person at the front desk my badge. They’ll say “Hi, how’s it going?” I’ll say “Good, I’m here to do a fire inspection.” They say “Great” and assign someone to us, like a teller. It’s generally someone who’s nice. I’ll start talking with them, flirting with them, or whatever it takes. We’ll start walking around.

While I’m talking with the person who has been assigned to us, my partner knows his job is to immediately wander away from us. So, my partner will immediately walk off. In most cases our escort will say “Can you come back here? I need to keep you guys together.” We say “Sure, sorry.” But really that means nothing to us. All it means is that we keep doing it until she gives up. My partner will wander off two or three times more times and get warned until she finally stops and gives up. She just thinks he’s a fireman and thinks “Let’s just let him do what he needs to do.”

At that point, my partner’s job is to start stealing everything he can steal and start putting it in his bag. And he also has to get under the desks of any employee he can find and start installing these little keyboard loggers. I stay with the person who is escorting me and my whole job now is keeping them entertained. I keep walking around rooms, giving them advice on keeping their facility fire safe, even though I really have no idea what I’m talking about. I make stuff up and probably give the worst advice ever. I’ll pull out cords and say “This looks a little bit dangerous.” I’ll comment on space heaters. I’m completely winging it.”

You can see how it might happen.  Read on here …..

I may be losing the will to live, but seriously what is it that the Home Office is hiding?

My regular reader (he knows who he is) will be aware that for most of this year I have been trying to find out whether Home Office Ministers have spent disproportionately more time seeing the senior leadership of the Metropolitan Police than the political leadership (ie the Mayor or the Deputy Mayor for Policing/Chair of the MPA).

I started in March with a Parliamentary Question.  I got a non-answer in May (way beyond the normal time limit).  I tried again and got another non-answer in July.  I complained about this to the Leader of the House of Lords, whilst at the same time trying for the third time to get the answer via a Parliamentary Question.  Within a week, the Leader of the House came back agreeing with me that the Home Office responses were inadequate and he wrote to the Home Office Minister asking that the Home Office supply me with the information requested.

The Home Office then wrote back to me and to the Leader of the House on 29th July, saying in essence that they always replied to questions about Home Office meetings in this unhelpful way.

So on 10th August, I made a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the Permanent Secretary asking her to supply me with a schedule of all meetings held by Home Office Ministers since 1st May 2010 with (a) the Mayor of London and/or the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and (b) the Commissioner and/or Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, showing the dates of all such meetings, their duration and a list of all those present.

A few weeks later, I received a letter (undated) from an official (status and title not specified, and with no contact details apart from the main Home Office postal address supplied), saying that my request was being considered as to whether it was covered by Section 36(2)(c) of the Act – ie that it might be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs.  This consideration was so difficult that they would “need to extend the 20 day working day response period” (which is of course specified in the Act).  He promised a full response (presumably as to whether Section 36(2)(c) applied or not) by 30th September.

Meanwhile on 6th September, the Home Office responded to my latest Parliamentary Question, which had requested that the list of meetings be placed in the Library of the House, by saying that “Ministers do not routinely place records of their meetings in the House Library”.

I must admit that by now I was beginning to lose the will to live.

However, today – a further twenty working days having passed since the 30th September and still not having heard from the Home Office – I have written again to the Permanent Secretary in the following terms:

“Dear Dame Helen

You will recall that I wrote to you on 10th August making the following request under the Freedom of Information Act: please supply me with a schedule of all meetings held by Home Office Ministers since 1st May 2010 with (a) the Mayor of London and/or the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and (b) the Commissioner and/or Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, showing the dates of all such meetings, their duration and a list of all those present.

I received an undated reply from Stephen Donaghy about a month later.  This said that the request was being considered under the exemption in Section 36(2)(c) of the Act, which relates to prejudice of the effective conduct of public affairs and that to consider the public interest test fully you needed to extend the response period.  You undertook a full response by 20th September.

A further twenty working days have elapsed since the 20th September and I have still to receive any reply or any explanation of the public interest issues that you feel may apply.

Given the Government’s commitment to openness, I cannot conceive of any reasons why this information should not be supplied.  I certainly cannot understand why it is taking so long to provide the answers.

I look forward to hearing from you shortly.  In the meantime, I am copying this letter to Sir Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner.”

You might almost think the Home Office had something to hide ….



The MOPSY is coming, but the Metropolitan Police Authority is not yet demob-happy

The Metropolitan Police Authority is in session and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, Deputy MOPSY*-in-Waiting, is in the Chair.  He hastened to start the meeting by announcing that the Home Office is working towards the abolition of the MPA and its replacement by the new MOPSY structures on 16th January 2012 – just 123 days before the Olympics Torch arrives in the country, fifteen weeks before the London Mayoral elections, and ten months before the rest of the country elects its Police and Crime Commissioners.

The Deputy MOPSY-in-Waiting admitted that his detailed plans for how the new arrangements were going to work were still being developed, but he did promise that he would publish these soon for discussion. He asserted that he wanted the public to feel more engaged with policing issues under the new arrangements.  John (“not for me to be critical”) Biggs AM (a Labour member) was keen for there to be clear structures for this, which goaded Tony Arbour AM and Steve O’Connell AM (both Tory members) to assure the meeting that as elected Assembly Members they were fully engaged with all of their several hundred thousand constituents all of the time.

The Commissioner was keen to live up to his blunt-but-fair tough-guy “Hulk” image and announced that he was a HIT MAN (“My values are Humility, Integrity and Transparency” who wants to be open and accountable.

So that’s all right then.


* more properly MOPC – the Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime

Again the LibDems in the House of Lords refuse to uphold the principles of the National Health Service

The first day of Committee stage consideration of the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill is taking place in the House of Lords today. 

To no-one’s surprise the LibDems again demonstrated that they are happy to place their loyalty to the Coalition with the Tories above the future of the National Health Service. 

They voted en masse to reject a Labour amendment which would have reaffirmed the basic principles of the NHS as the first clause of the Bill.

The amendment was to begin the Bill by stating:

Principles of the Health Service in England

(1) Any person or body performing functions or exercising powers under this Act in relation to the Health Service in England must have regard to the principles and values outlined in the NHS Constitution.

(2) Any person or body performing functions or exercising powers under this Act in relation to the Health Service in England, or providing services as part of the Health Service in England, must provide quality, equity, integration and accountability, not the market.

(3) The primacy of patient care shall not be compromised by any structural or financial re-organisation of the Health Service in England.

(4) There must be transparency and openness wherever taxpayers’ money is being spent, and all accountable individuals and bodies should abide by the Nolan principles.

(5) “The Nolan principles” means the seven general principles of public life set out in the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Cm 2850).

(6) Schedule (Principles of the Health Service in England) has effect.”

The amendment was rejected by 212 votes to 244.

59 Liberal Democrats voted against the amendment with only one (Baroness Tonge) in favour.*

So can someone just remind me – after all the fuss about how the LibDems were going to fight for the NHS – when did they decide that it wasn’t necessary to require providers of health and social care to provide “quality, equity,  integration and accountability”, when did they decide that it doesn’t matter if the primacy of patient care is compromised by structural or financial re-organisation, and when did they decide that the Nolan principles of public life weren’t necessary for those responsible for the provision of the NHS?


*  The full figures were as follows: in favour of the amendment – 172 Labour Peers, 37 Crossbenchers and others, two Bishops and one LibDem; against the amendment – 147 Tory Peers, 38 Crossbenchers and others, and 59 LibDems.

Parliament and Internet Conference 2011 – feedback from the session I chaired on the opportunities for the creative industries

I have just come across this YouTube clip of my report back to the Parliament and Internet Conference last week of the session I chaired on the opportunities presented to the creative industries by the internet.

What brings 191 Peers into the Chamber at 10.30 in the morning?

The answer is a procedural motion on a back-bench Bill on House of Lords (interim) reform.

For what seems like the tenth year running (although I suspect it is probably only the fourth year), Lord Steel of Aikwood (Sir David Steel in old money) has introduced a Bill to introduce some sensible interim reforms to the House of Lords, pending a fuller reform of the Second Chamber.  These are to:

  • end by-elections for hereditary peers (at present when one of the remaining ninety-odd hereditary peers dies, there is a by-election amongst existing hereditary peers – or sometimes all members of the House – to choose a replacement from a register of eligible hereditary peers who don’t sit in the House);
  • allow any member of the House of Lords to resign from the House permanently;
  • create a mechanism where peers who commit serious offences can be expelled from membership of the House; and
  • put the existing House of Lords Appointments Commission (which recommends names to be appointed as cross-bench peers) on a statutory footing.

There are those in the House who want to talk the Bill out – most notably a number of hereditary peers who argue that there should be no change at all, pending a move to an elected House.  The procedural motion was designed to outmanoeuvre them.

And the House was crowded (at least for 10.30am on a Friday) to vote on the matter and in the event the House voted by 175 to 16 in support of the procedural motion.

Procedural wranglings are nonetheless expected to go on for at least another six hours.

Cyber security and healthcare acquired infections

Earlier today I chaired a fascinating seminar for patient groups and professional organisations which discussed healthcare acquired infections (HCAIs) and, in particular, what needs to be done to better prevent such infections in community (rather than hospital) settings.

As the meeting continued, I was struck by the surprising number of parallels that exist between what needs to be done to cut the risk of such infections and what needs to be done to improve information security.

For example, there were those a few years ago who thought the situation with HCAIs in hospital was so bad that nothing effective could be done.  They have been proved wrong by the success of the initiatives taken over the last five or six years to reduce dramatically the incidence of MRSA and C Difficile in hospitals (80% and 60% reductions respectively). Likewise there are those who throw up their hands in horror about the current tide of cyber security problems and seem to believe that our systems will always be irredeemably compromised.  Hopefully, they will also be proved wrong in a few years time.

The response to HCAIs was in the past seen as better and stronger technical solutions (i.e. ever more powerful antibiotics) and, whilst such solutions remain necessary for those who are infected, the sharp reductions have been achieved by other means – largely through achieving major changes in behaviour amongst staff and patients (i.e. better and more effective hand-washing, greater emphasis on cleanliness etc).  This is mirrored by the increasing recognition that social engineering and behavioural change is an enormously important component of better cyber security and information assurance.

Similarly, without being too Cameron-esque about it, we all have to be in this together. Everyone has to play their part.  Thus, patients and their visitors need to understand the importance of washing their hands with alcohol gel and remembering to do it.  In the same way, individual computer users need to adopt precautions to prevent their systems being compromised.  At the same time, product manufacturers must play their part in making their products less vulnerable to infection (e.g. catheter or commode design can be used to make HCAIs less likely, just as computer software and hardware can have security built in).

Likewise, you cannot help but notice that meetings, whether about HCAIs or addressing cyber security, always conclude that more public education is needed and that the message needs to start at primary school ….

Well, I thought they were interesting parallels ….

LibDems show that the NHS cannot be trusted in their hands

After sixteen hours of debate on the Second Reading of the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill, the House of Lords voted on two motions.  The Government won both divisions. 

 The first would have killed the Bill outright by declining to give it a Second Reading – a very rare procedural vote in the House of Lords.  The Government won by 354 to 220.

The second vote was on a motion to refer three parts of the Bill to detailed scrutiny by a Special Select Committee of the House was defeated by 330 to 262.  The total vote reflected the largest turnout of Peers since 1993 (on the Maastricht Treaty – itself the largest vote recorded in the House of Lords since 1831) and it exceeded some of the big votes on Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill

The vote also saw 198 Labour Peers voting for the Select Committee referral.  This is the largest vote by Labour Peers ever in the history of the House of Lords.

So where were the LibDems in all of this?

By and large they were with the Tories in pushing the Bill through.  Just two of them (Baronesses Nicholson of Winterbourne and Tonge) rebelled, while 80 (yes, eighty) LibDem Peers trooped through the lobby with 193 Conservatives.  The cross-benchers and others split 56 for the referral motion to 57 against.  The Archbishop of York and five other Bishops also voted for the referral motion.

So the lesson?  You cannot trust the LibDems with the NHS>