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Archive for the ‘Culture media and sport’ Category

Nov 19,2011

I see that the US Congress is to investigate Chinese equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE to see whether they present a threat to US national security.  According to PC World, the House Intelligence Committee wants to:

“examine if Huawei’s and ZTE’s expansion into the U.S. market gives the Chinese government an opportunity to hijack the nation’s infrastructure to conduct espionage. U.S. lawmakers worry that the networking equipment sold could secretly contain Chinese military technology to spy and interfere with U.S. telecommunications.”

Huawei has many links to the Chinese Government and its security apparatus.  As Jeffrey Carr summarises the key facts as follows:

  1. The company’s founder Ren Zhengfei was an engineer in the PLA prior to forming his company.
  2. The company’s chairwoman Sun Yafang worked for the Ministry of State Security and while there helped arrange loans for Huawei before joining the company as an employee.
  3. The government of China is Huawei’s biggest customer; specifically the State-owned telecommunications services.
  4. Huawei equipment is used to intercept communications in China for state-mandated monitoring.

Nevertheless, despite this its products are already widely used in the UK’s infrastructure particularly given its role in providing key components to BT.  I have expressed concern about this before and back in 2006 Newsweek recorded the Conservative Party’s concerns, saying:

“Political conservatives in Britain expressed the same security concerns about Huawei last spring. In April, the company won a $140 million contract to build part of British Telecom’s “21st Century Network,” a major overhaul of its equipment. But when rumors began circulating that the Chinese company might then bid on Marconi, a landmark electronics and information technology firm that was being put up for sale, a Conservative Party spokesman sounded the alarm. The Tories asked the British government to consider the implications for Britain’s defense industry of a Chinese takeover of Marconi. In the end, Huawei didn’t make an offer, and the Swedish telecom giant Ericsson is in the process of buying Marconi.”

Huawei continue to try and expand their access to the UK infrastructure market – see, for example, their wooing of Mayor Boris Johnson with an offer to provide mobile phone infrastructure for the Underground in time for the London Olympics.  In August, they recruited the former Government chief information officer, John Suffolk.

Their latest move to gain respectability is to sponsor a charity Christmas concert in support of The Prince’s Trust at the Royal Festival Hall next month, to which they have invited large numbers of senior Government officials and Parliamentarians.

No doubt, Huawei will say they are much-maligned, but I do wonder whether a UK Parliamentary Committee shouldn’t be following the lead of the US House Intelligence Committee and launch an investigation into the company’s growing influence in the UK and any possible implications for security.

Nov 8,2011

Ben Brogan, the Daily Telegraph’s Deputy Editor, is fed up with the tent protest at Parliament Square. 

And what is more, he is fed up with Mayor Boris Johnson’s failure to sort it out:

“Well, those of you who have long wondered about that ghost town of dirty tents lining two sides of the square might have a look at this video, which we filmed a few days ago. We used a thermal camera in the same way we did at the St Paul’s protest. If anything the result is even more damning. Turns out the ‘peace camp’ looks deserted because… it’s deserted. MPs might like to ask why the Met/Westminster Council/Boris Johnson don’t pop round and take these abandoned articles away. Either that or stop bullying us about left luggage and locked bicycles being destroyed. The Mayor should get down there this afternoon with a van and clear the lot himself.”

Strong words: “get down there this afternoon”.

Is even the Daily Telegraph beginning to realise that the Mayor needs to get a grip?

Running London is not about sound bites and photo ops – it is about doing things for London and Londoners.

Whether Londoners agree with the Daily Telegraph’s fixation about tented protests or not, they do agree that London needs a Mayor who takes the job seriously and really does care about the city.

Nov 4,2011

I’ve already asked what exactly was William Hague’s grand international conference on cyberspace for, but it is clear that my scepticism is shared by the journalists who were sent to cover it and came away disappointed or as the Daily Telegraph put it:

“So what did we learn over the course of the two-day meeting? Well, in short, almost nothing. ….

As the show limped to its finale on Wednesday, many of Mr Hague’s conclusions could have been written at any point in the last six months.

“All delegates agreed that the immediate next steps must be to take practical measures to develop shared understanding and agree common approaches and confidence-building measures,” the Foreign Secretary declared. Well, quite.”

And serious experts like Richard Clayton from Cambridge University were pretty underwhelmed too.
Nov 1,2011

In August, David Cameron wanted to block Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry Messenger.

Today, William Hague said:

“Some governments block online services and content, imposing restrictive regulation, or incorporate surveillance tools into their internet infrastructure so that they can identify activists and critics. Such actions either directly restrict freedom of expression or aim to deter political debate.”

And just in case the Prime Minister had missed the point went on:

““Human rights are universal, and apply online as much as they do offline… Everyone has the right to free and uncensored access to the internet.  … We saw in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya that cutting off the internet, blocking Facebook, jamming Al Jazeera, intimidating journalists and imprisoning bloggers does not create stability or make grievances go away.”

Oh dear …..

Oct 21,2011

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.

Oct 13,2011

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 ….

Oct 5,2011

Today is the Second Reading in the House of Lords of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill, which replaces Control Orders with the new TPIMs.  The Bill is a shabby tawdry compromise between the different wings of the Coalition Government and is likely to satisfy no-one.  This is my speech (without the interruptions):

“My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority with particular responsibility for overseeing the Met’s work on security and counter-terrorism.

Earlier this week, I went to a meeting with Carie Lemack.  Her mother was killed on American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center ten years ago.  She went on to co-found Families of September 11 and later the Global Survivors Network which brings together the survivors of terrorist attacks across the world and their family members.

Her testimony is an international reminder about why the fight to combat terrorism is so important: families are destroyed, individuals are left bereft and the effects last a lifetime.  I am sure no one in your Lordship’s House wants to see repeated the suffering of those terribly injured in the London transport attacks or the grief felt by those bereaved.

And that is why it is a paramount duty of Governments to protect the security of their citizens, to protect those citizens’ right to life, and to protect all of us against terrorism.

The problem that Government faces is simple to state, but is not easy to resolve. 

In essence, it is this: what does the Home Secretary do about those individuals who pose a serious risk to the lives of British citizens, but against whom there is insufficient evidence to bring them before a court charged with a terrorist offence?  The evidence may not be admissible in British Courts or it may rely on material gathered by UK intelligence agencies that would compromise the safety and security of others if it were publicly disclosed or it is derived from intelligence from overseas agencies that is provided on the basis that it must not be disclosed. 

Yet a responsible Home Secretary cannot ignore that those individuals pose a significant risk, cannot turn a blind eye to the threat that is there and cannot fail to take some action to protect the rest of us.  To do nothing would be a dereliction of that responsibility to protect the public.  Control orders were an attempt to provide us with that protection in those very small number of cases where no other action is possible.  And it is a power that has been rarely used, despite the dire warnings that were issued when the powers were first proposed.

This Bill, however, is nothing more than a shoddy compromise which weakens our security and yet does nothing to satisfy those with concerns about civil liberties. 

It is a compromise that demonstrates the weakness of this Government as it tries to square the circle between the two wings of the coalition, epitomised by a Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister and a Conservative Home Secretary – trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

The current Control Order regime is not, of course, satisfactory.  No-one has ever seriously tried to pretend that it was.  However, it was an honest attempt by the previous Government to balance the free and liberal tradition of this country with the need for security. 

The present Government was formed with an explicit commitment to replace the Control Order regime.  It was a commitment made in the coalition agreement.  And the Deputy Prime Minister was voluble in his promises about what this would mean, telling us that this would – and I quote – “give people’s freedom back”. 

However, let us be quite clear, the Bill does not do anything like enough to satisfy those who have reservations about the previous control order regime and its implications for the civil liberties of those subject to that regime.  

Shami Chakrabati, the Director of Liberty, has said that control orders have simply been rebranded, albeit in a slightly “lower-fat” form, or as their briefing puts it:

“the TPIM regime essentially mirrors the control order system in all of its most offensive elements”

Indeed, this Bill must be something of an embarrassment for those Liberal Democrats who spent so long in this House criticising the previous Government for introducing and using Control Orders. 

There is silence today from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who in 2005 when the control order legislation was going through your Lordships House, said on behalf of the Liberal Democrats that control orders would constitute:

“a blatant abuse of what we have known as the proper processes of justice.”

There is silence today from the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who again spoke out unequivocally from the Lib Dem frontbench:

“The first and fundamental issue, which is central to all the arguments advanced in this debate, is who should be responsible for the decision to make control orders. On these Benches, it is clear that the proposals made in the Bill are not acceptable.“

The silence of the LibDem lambs. 

I should say that I absolve from the accusation of silence the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who we will be hearing from in a moment.  In 2005, he was equally trenchant, but I have faith that he at least will be consistent when he speaks.

So this Bill cannot satisfy those who feel that the current arrangements are disproportionate, draconian and destructive of our liberties.

Yet, the Bill does water down the control order regime.  It raises the threshold from “reasonable suspicion of involvement in terrorism” to “reasonable belief that the individual is or has been involved” before action can be taken against an individual. 

It limits what conditions can be placed on those individuals and crucially it removes the power to relocate individuals away from those localities where they may mix and conspire with others.

For those of us who believe that sometimes the Government must take unpalatable measures to protect us, those are crucial changes.  They leave us all vulnerable.

Let no-one pretend that the threat has gone away – the recent arrests of seven individuals (now charged) in Birmingham as the Liberal Democrats gathered there for their conference are a reminder that we must continue to be vigilant against that threat.

And the Home Secretary has had to acknowledge how critical all of this.  Within days of taking office, within days of the Coalition Agreement being signed, she was presented with information that persuaded her – a rational and responsible individual – that despite the coalition rhetoric about control orders and the need for them to be abolished – that she should personally approve the imposition on a number of people of precisely the same orders that the Government is now abolishing.

And then, only in February – after the Government had announced its proposals, she agreed a control order on a British-Nigerian terror suspect, who apparently – according to MI5 – is a leading figure in a “close group of Islamic extremists in north London”.  He was banned from living in the capital under the terms of that control order.  In May, according to the Guardian, the high court dismissed an appeal by the man, saying that his removal to an undisclosed address “in a Midlands city” was necessary to protect the public from the “immediate and real” risk of a terrorist related-attack.

So in February, it was necessary to place restrictions on that individual as to where he could live – effectively relocating him from North London to the Midlands – something which under this Bill would not be possible. 

If this Bill becomes law, that individual will be free to move back to London in the New Year – just weeks before the Olympics – to renew the associations that only a few short months ago were deemed by a rational and responsible Home Secretary to be so dangerous that a control order was needed along with the relocation of that individual.

I would like to ask the noble Lord, the Minister, what will have changed between the time when the Home Secretary approved that order and the time when the individual concerned is to be allowed to move back to London.  Are we being told that the fresh air of the West Midlands conurbation and its bucolic atmosphere will have so changed the personality of the individual concerned that he now poses so much less of a threat.

Because just eight months ago that rational and responsible Home Secretary on the information presented to her felt that the individual concerned was so dangerous that not only did he need to be subject to a control order but that he should be relocated miles away from his previous environment. 

And she made that judgement knowing that this Bill would remove that option and would tie her hands in the future. 

That rational and responsible Home Secretary made that judgement knowing that however much of a danger that that person might be thought to be such an outcome was to be taken away.  So the noble Lord, the Minister, needs to reassure us, he needs to tell us why the judgement that the Home Secretary made then will no longer apply to this individual when this Bill becomes law.

Perhaps we should not expect the noble Lord the Minister to go through such contortions: all he needs to concede instead is that, yes, the Home Secretary made that judgement then in the interests of our nation’s security, but that this shabby, tawdry compromise of a Bill would prevent her making that same judgement in the future, and that this shabby, tawdry compromise is not just a compromise between two wings of an uneasy and unhappy coalition but that it is a compromise with this nation’s security.”




Sep 26,2011

Blair Gibbs is the Head of Crime and Justice at Policy Exchange, the Tory-leaning think tank.  He is also a former Chief of Staff to Nick Herbert MP, the Policing and Justice Minister.  He is at the Labour Party Conference trying to sell the policy of directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners to delegates (or, if not sell, at least get a grudging acquiescence that they are going to happen and will be elected in November 2012).  In a meeting this afternoon he acknowledged that the Conservative Party was looking for “capable and charismatic” individuals to stand as Police and Crime Commissioners as “Independents with Conservative support”.

I asked him what sort of people he had in mind who were “capable and charismatic” and might fulfil the role.  Quick as a flash, he suggested Nick “I’ve never worked with a minger” Ross for Thames Valley.

I don’t know whether anyone has mentioned it to him ……

Blair Gibbs wants Nick Ross as a PCC.

Sep 14,2011

The Guardian picked up on my post about the huge pile of copies of “The Racing Post” behind the reception desk at New Scotland Yard.

This prompted a response from a member of staff in the Commissioner’s Private Office.

In the interests of setting the record straight, I reproduce it below:

“Lord Harris,

A colleague pointed out your recent blog post regarding copies of the Racing Post being available in the NSY reception. Obviously I shared your concern! It turns out there is a simple explanation though…

The company that delivers newspapers to NSY will, on occasion, have a few too many copies of some newspapers. When this happens they kindly offer them to reception, rather than take them back to the depot. So occassionally there is a spare copy of the Telegraph, Times etc, on this occasion it was a few Racing Posts. There is no additional cost to the MPS though.

Best wishes,

Commissioner’s Private Office”

Aug 17,2011

I spent an enjoyable couple of hours today at the Barons Court Theatre (in the Curtains Up pub in Comeragh Road) watching a performance of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Professional Help Productions.

Some of the biggest laughs were reserved, as ever, for Lady Bracknell (played by Sarah Dearlove standing in at short notice for Judith Pollard), but particularly for those lines during her interrogation of Jack Worthing, designed to assess his suitability as a potential husband for Gwendolen, which seemed particularly pertinent to 2011 (a mere 116 years after the play’s first performance):

Lady Bracknell. I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?

Jack. [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

Lady Bracknell. I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to riots and acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”

And then a few moments later:

Lady Bracknell. [Sternly.] What are your polities?

Jack. Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal.

Lady Bracknell. Oh, they count as Tories. ….  Now to minor matters. Are your parents living?”