Row about cancellation of July Metropolitan Police Authority

A row has broken out about the decision to cancel the July meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority.  The main item of business had been intended to be consideration of the MPA’s Race and Faith Inquiry, but that won’t be ready in time.

Some suspicious souls have suggested that the cancellation may have more to do with Mayor Boris Johnson’s diary (holidays?) or alternatively that of the Uber Vice Chairman, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse.

Now Dee Doocey on behalf of all non-Conservative members of the London Assembly who sit on the Police Authority (and an independent member or two as well) has pointed out that it seems crazy for the Authority not to be meeting again until September.  There are important issues to discuss – not least the report of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into the policing of the G20 protests.  In any event, is it really a sign of openness and accountability for the Commissioner not to have an opportunity to report to the full Authority for a three month period?

Steve O’Connell, who chaired the meeting at which the decision to cancel was taken, has said that he expected “the progressive alliance to kick up”.

So will “the non-progressive alliance” dig in and hold firm or will they concede and re-call the meeting?  Watch this space ….

Meeting at the Department for Transport about Segway personal transporters

I have just had a meeting with Paul Clark MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport.  This was a follow up to the short debate I introduced in the Lords in May on the case for allowing the use of personal transporters, such as those manufactured by Segway, on road or cycle ways. 

My interest remains that there could be a wide variety of beneficial uses for such transporters by the police (Segways are used by police  in over a thousand jurisdictions world-wide) and by local authorities (eg for street enforcement).  However, there is also some evidence from overseas that personal transporters may lead to some modal shift by car users for short journeys by individuals who would not use a bicycle or walk.

The Minister, of course, stuck to the Departmental line:  legislation would be required to permit their use other than on private property; and more evidence is required to justify the costs of making the changes.  He was not, however, wholly negative.  He felt that evidence from the Netherlands and from Germany might be helpful and was keen to maintain a dialogue with Segway.  How much more patience the company will have, given that they feel that they have provided ample material about the safety and use of  personal transporters in the USA and elsewhere, remains to be seen.

Postponing the CSR makes sense – so why the hysteria?

Any Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) is a huge undertaking, if it is done properly.  Every Department’s spending has to be reviewed and scrutinised (“Star-Chambered”), bids (“wish-lists”) are prepared and cuts (“efficiency savings”) negotiated.  Crucial to any CSR is the set of assumptions used to determine the economic (and consequent fiscal) outlook.  So does it make sense to embark on such an exercise when the world economy remains so turbulent and while the UK’s prospects (whilst better than many other countries) remain so uncertain? In case you are wondering, the answer is “No”. 

To conduct such a CSR in the last few months before a General Election when the minds of Ministers (and for that matter civil servants – let alone Shadow Ministers) will be focused on that Election and its aftermath would be an exercise in utter futility.

So why the fuss?  Perhaps, those making the most noise are those that are so used to being futile that they have come to enjoy that state far more  than doing anything purposeful.  Or am I being unfair?

How much cant can we all take over Michael Jackson

Am I alone in wondering why politicians feel the need to comment on such matters as Michael Jackson’s death?  Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have got in on the act.  At least, David Cameron seems to have acknowledged that there were some issues about Michael Jackson …

However, under most circumstances, politicians would be extremely reluctant to associate themselves with an individual who, while acquitted of charges of child molestation, avoided earlier charges following a $20 million settlement with the family of a young boy – let alone those accused of animal cruelty.

Cyber Security Strategy published at last

The Government has today published its much-heraldedCyber Security Strategy of the United Kingdom“.  The document is welcome and will lead to an Office of Cyber Security (OCS) being set up to “provide strategic leadership” across Government.  In addition, a Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC) will be set up as part of GCHQ.  This Centre will be responsible for “incident response”, as well as monitoring “the health of cyber space” and providing advice and information.

This all looks extremely positive, as does the philosophy under-pinning the Strategy which includes working in partnership with industry, being more integrated within government, tackling security challenges early, and being grounded in a set of core values based on human rights.

As ever, (forgive the lapse into cliche) the devil will be in the detail – and the detail is not contained in the Strategy.  How much clout and authority will the OCS have within Government?  Will the CSOC have the resources it needs to be sufficiently pro-active and will it have the legal powers to take appropriate action?

Metropolitan Police Authority meeting stands on its head over the Civil Liberties Panel

At its last meeting the Metropolitan Police Authority established a new Civil Liberties Panel which would consider just about everything.  There was much debate then about how long it would take to set the whole thing up and the need for the Panel to meet urgently to discuss G20 et al. 

The panel’s membership has now been confirmed – listed bizarrely under “Outside and Other Bodies” in the meeting’s papers – as Victoria Borwick, Dee Doocey, Kirsten Hearn, Jenny Jones, Joanne McCartney and Richard Tracey (who after all appears to be the putative chair), although Clive Lawton seemed to think he would also be a member but that his name had been left off in error.

A meeting of the Panel had been scheduled for this afternoon but Dee Doocey proposed that this be postponed because only three members could be present and Jenny Jones had to catch a train to Glastonbury and couldn’t stay.  So suddenly, all the urgency seemed to have evaporated.

The Authority did, however, unanimously agree to support a motion calling for the MPS to publish the report of its investigation into the death of Blair Peach in 1979 following a demonstration in Southall, West London.

The announcement on the Cyber Security Strategy looks like being tomorrow

According to the Independent this morning, the announcement of the new Cyber Security Strategy that was promised last week and that I have been calling for over the weeks (years?) will take place tomorrow.  Earlier this week I chaired a seminar on “Meeting the Threats in Cyberspace”.  One of the most impressive (worrying?) presentations was from Scott Borg of the US Cyber Consequences Unit.  His conclusions, which spell out why a fresh approach from the UK Government is so urgent, can be summarised as follows:

Based on the work the US-CCU has already done, it is evident that the potential economic and strategic consequences of cyber-attacks are very great.  The US-CCU’s research has demonstrated that the numbers widely quoted for the costs of denial-of-service cyber-attacks lasting up to three days are actually wildly inflated.  But the US-CCU’s findings show that other types of cyber-attacks are potentially much more destructive.  Especially worrisome are the cyber-attacks that would hijack systems with false information in order to discredit the systems or do lasting physical damage.  At a corporate level, attacks of this kind have the potential to create liabilities and losses large enough to bankrupt most companies.  At a national level, attacks of this kind, directed at critical infrastructure industries, have the potential to cause hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage and to cause thousands of deaths.

Some of the attack scenarios that would produce the most devastating consequences are now being outlined on hacker websites and at hacker conventions.  The overall patterns of cyber intrusion campaigns suggest that a number of potentially hostile groups and nation states are actively acquiring the capability to carry out such attacks.  Meanwhile, the many ways in which criminal organizations could reap huge profits from highly destructive attacks are also now being widely discussed.  This means that American corporations and American citizens need urgently to be informed, not just of their technical vulnerabilities, but of the economic and strategic consequences if those vulnerabilities are exploited.  It is only by basing our cyber-defenses on a comprehensive assessment of cyber-attack consequences that we can make sure those defenses are sensible and adequate.”

New Privy Council appointments

Earlier this week Downing Street announced that seven members of the House of Lords are to become members of the Privy Council: the Conservative Chief Whip in the Lords, Baroness Anelay; the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip in the Lords, Lord Shutt; the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, Baroness D’Souza; and four Labour colleagues.  Three of the Labour colleagues are Ministers: Philip Hunt (the extremely able and popular Deputy Leader of the House of Lords); Ara Darzi (the part-time surgeon and Health Minister); and Shriti Vadera (Minister in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and in the Cabinet Office).  The final appointment is Swraj Paul, the industrialist and patron of London Zoo.

Digital Britain report praises “The Geek Squad” and the “Tech Guys” but don’t the public need more assurance about services such as these?

Today’s “Digital Britain” report has an interesting paragraph on “Securing Home Networks” which says:

“In addition, the market is increasingly providing a high level of after sales support to its customers through additional assistance in relation to dealing with technical complexity – a sort of “AA breakdown” assistance for your personal networking needs. As home networks become more complex, it is legitimate to expect that these types of service will continue to grow. Services such as “the Geek Squad” from Carphone Warehouse and “Tech Guys” at PC World provide consumers with fast and effective advice on a range of issues including computer optimisation, device set-up, software installation, parental control set-up and tuition, security and software installation, back-up services and many others.”

I expressed some reservations about this when the report was introduced in the House of Lords this afternoon by Lord Stephen Carter. saying:

“I note in the report the support for the after-sales services provided by a number of computer retailers, such as the Geek Squad, the Tech Guys and so forth.  Have the Government given any thought to the personnel who visit people in their homes and put things on their computers?  What steps are being taken to ensure that those individuals are quality-assured and regulated in the same way that physical security personnel are regulated by the Security Industry Authority? “

My concern was that at present the individuals who work in such areas are unregulated, there is no agreed quyalification standard, and there is no guarantee that they are honest.  Those people who rely on such services to protect or maintain their IT equipment are the least likely individuals to know whether something adverse (such as installing a key-logger) has been done to their systems.

The Minister’s response recognised that there was an issue, although he sidestepped the point about regulation,:

“I do not know what checks and balances those operators put in place, but I will do further due diligence to find out. My noble friend raises an interesting question; as people’s domestic IT systems become more and more sophisticated—which they will—the level of complexity, and therefore the level of security and trust that people will want to have with the providers of those services, will only increase. My view is that it will be four or five years before we have a sort of AA or RAC of the IT world providing that level of assistance at scale for many homes. It is an intriguing question.”

The issue may well be worth pursuing ….