Category Archives: Technology out of control

Film review – Transcendence

Transcendence

Main Cast

Johnny Depp as Dr. Will Caster, an artificial-intelligence researcher.

Morgan Freeman as Joseph Tagger,  a government scientist

Rebecca Hall as Evelyn Caster, Caster’s wife and a fellow academic.

Kate Mara as Bree, the leader of Revolutionary Independence From Technology (R.I.F.T.)

Cillian Murphy as Donald Buchanan, an FBI agent.

Cole Hauser as Colonel Stevens, a military officer.

Paul Bettany as Max Waters, Caster’s best friend.

Director:  Wally Pfister

In terms of pure filmmaking this is a seriously flawed film. The dialogue is often clunking, there is a lack of character development and  the storyline is  weak.   Nonetheless, it  is a work  which will repay  seeing  because it deals with the  lethally threatening potential  of digital technology, threats  which will almost certainly become reality within the lifetime of most people now living.

Will Caster (Depp) is a scientist specialising in artificial intelligence. He is married to Evelyn  (Rebecca Hall) who works in the same field.  As the film opens Caster  believes he is close to creating an artificial intelligence  that is truly sentient and  which he believes  will create a technological singularity – the point at which computer technology exceeds the capability of homo sapiens – a state  which  Caster calls Transcendence.

This hope is cut short when  Caster is shot by a neo-Luddite group,   the  Revolutionary Independence From Technology (R.I.F.T.),  who also  carry out a  attacks on his artificial-intelligence computer laboratories.  Caster survives the shot but the bullet is coated with radioactive material for  which there is no antidote.  The prognosis is that he has about a month to live.

Evelyn refuses to accept his imminent death and  with the help of Caster’s best friend  Max  (Paul Bettany)  arranges to upload Caster’s consciousness, personality, mind – call it what you will – to a quantum computer. Max  helps  do this despite the fact that he has grave doubts about the wisdom of the act. His doubts rest on the possibility that  Caster’s brain contents will not  be uploaded  uncorrupted or that a  Caster reduced to a digital form will not be Caster anymore  because of the immense change in his environment..

Once uploaded Caster appears on the computer screen looking and sounding  like his real world self, although there is a  new coldness  about him. He  immediately  demands to be connected to the Internet. Max sees the profound dangers of this if Caster in a computer is malign rather than benign  or simply inhuman for he will be able to copy himself throughout the Internet. Consequently, Max  tries to persuade Evelyn not to do it.    Evelyn,  obsessed with her desire to have Caster in any form,   shrugs aside Max’s doubts and throws him out of the laboratory before linking Caster to the Internet where he  promptly does just what Max feared and  copies himself throughout the  virtual world.

The digital Caster is,  if not omniscient and omnipotent, a significant way along the road to both,  because he now has the capabilities of both human and computer with access to the data and facilities of the entire digital world. He is not malign in the sense that he is consciously malicious or self-serving.  Rather Caster  is beset with the  sin of those who are sure they know best. His monomaniac desire to make the world a better place is suddenly released from the shackles of his emotions and the practical limitations on implementing his plans which existed when he was merely a man.   It is a cliché that with power comes a disregard for anyone else’s opinion, but  Caster not only knows better than anyone else,  he now  has the means to realise his dreams.

Using Evelyn as his instrument in the real  world, the virtual Caster makes a fortune rapidly and uses this to take  over  an isolated desert  town called Brightwood. Over the next two years  he develops  advanced technologies  in the fields of energy, medicine, biology and nanotechnology. His plan is to rid the world of the blight of disease,  pollution  and ultimately mortality. The problem is Caster intends to do this not only with no reference to anyone else but also by using nanotechnology to control humans so that they are in essence robots.

While all this is going on  forces are gathering to sabotage  Caster’s ambitions. Shortly after Max breaks with Evelyn , he  is kidnapped by R.I.F.T   and eventually agrees to  join them to disrupt Caster’s plans.  Then the  US government, in the form of  FBI agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) a government scientist Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) unofficially (so they have deniability) join forces  with R.I.F.T  in their  attempt to thwart Caster

Evelyn  gradually  moves from willing and committed  collaborator to a frightened and deeply  worried  woman . The process of disillusionment is completed when she  sees that Caster can  remotely connect to and control people’s minds .  Distraught, Evelyn approaches  R.I.F.T  who develop  a computer virus  which will destroy Caster’s  source code, killing him and, as a side effect,  destroy the technology on which modern society has become recklessly dependent. This happens because the digital Caster is spread throughout the Internet.  To destroy him, the Internet  has to be destroyed.

Regardless of the technological devastation using the virus will create, Evelyn agrees to upload the virus to end whatever it is that Caster has become.  But on returning to Brightwood she finds Caster resurrected in biological form, his body having been replicated, presumably, from   the digital information stored when his brain contents were uploaded .

Caster is aware that his wife  has the virus and  intends to destroy him but does not act against her.  The FBI and  R.I.F.T. attack the Brightwood base  and in the process mortally wound  Evelyn.  Evelyn persuades Caster  to save her by uploading her mind as his mind was uploaded. Caster does this even though he knows it will  end him and the Internet. The virus seemingly kills Caster and Evelyn, and  technological disaster ensues.

But all is not quite as it seems. Years later Max visits the Casters old garden.  The garden is  protected by a device called a  Faraday Cage. This stops any electrical transmission reaching what is inside the cage.    Max  sees a drop of water falling from a sunflower petal instantly cleanses a puddle of oil. The drop contains one of Casters nanoparticles, which is intact because of the protection afforded by the Faraday cage. Max thinks, logically correctly,  that  Caster  and Evelyn’s consciousness’s are contained within the active nano-particles. Perhaps Caster even knew when he wittingly uploaded the virus that there would be copies of  Evelyn and himself retained in the nano particles in  their old garden…

Depp’s performance a s Caster has  received a good deal of criticism on the grounds that it is a flat emotionless  portrayal. This is to  miss the nature of the character he inhabits  once he exists only in digital form. He is then  someone robbed  of the kernel of what makes them human.  Hence, his performance is exactly what is required.

The rest of the performances range from serviceable  in the case of Rebecca Hall to colourless  in the case of  Paul Bettany and slight in the case of everyone else simply because there was no space for them to expand their characters.

This could have been a much better film if two issues had been given much more space, namely, the general arguments against incontinent technological advance and the devastating effects which would result from a closing down of the Internet and  the ending of connectivity which is not only so much a part of modern everyday live but also vital for the maintenance of modern technological necessities such as power stations and large factories.

The  R.I.F.T  characters are anaemic and their arguments against technology do not go much beyond   the mantra “intelligent machines are bad”.  There is no discussion of how human beings may simply fail to survive because they become demoralised by the  superior capacity of machines or machines or that intelligent machines will take not only the jobs humans do now but any other jobs which arise.  As for the post-virus technological upset, this is barely touched upon.

The strength of the film is that it puts before its audience the possibilities of technology  moving beyond the control of human beings and even more fundamentally damaging calling into question what it is to be human.  The dangers of intelligent machines  are simple enough, either they replace humans by making them redundant or engender in humanity the trait seen in tribal peoples encountering   Europeans : the tribal peoples often became  terminally demoralised, presumably by the sophistication and scope of  European culture with which they were faced.

More fundamentally, until now we have known what a human being is. We are on the brink of losing that happy state. If the human mind could be copied an exist within a computer file there is the potential for immortality. The mind could exist within a robot body or  be  distributed throughout the Internet (or whatever supersedes it). If the mind can be uploaded to a computer file so  could all the data needed to create a digital replica of  a person’s body  be uploaded which could then be used to create a replica body into which the uploaded mind could be  uploaded in turn. If the technology to do that  existed, then in principle  it should be possible to upload a digitised mind into a body developed from someone else’s uploaded data….  That is not a world I should wish to live in.

See Transcendence  for its warning of the shape of things to come.

 

The reckless mass medication of Britain

Robert Henderson

The reckless and even the enforced medication of the population grows apace.  State bodies are pressing for widespread or universal medication. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)  recommends the universal  use of statins by men over 50 and women over 60, ministers are considering  making compulsory  the addition of folic acid to flour  and  councils are being encouraged by Public Health England  to put fluoride in the water supply .

That is direct government action. But there are many drugs with potent side effects which are being given out wholesale without any government interference. Potentially the greatest risk comes from  antibiotics to which resistance is being built up all the time. The World Health Organisation warned this year that  overuse was potentially creating a crisis more serious than Aids . Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security, claimed : “A post-antibiotic era — in which common infections and minor injuries can kill — far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century.”

Antidepressants are being prescribed in record numbers and the side effects, which often make people feel as though they are going around in a mental fog,  can make people feel the cure is worse than the disease. Moreover, they can be prescribed for people who either are not seriously depressed but suffering from a physical illness  or people whose severe depression is the consequence of a physical illness.

There is also the problem of addiction to such drugs with severe withdrawal symptoms experienced by some people, symptoms such as these suffered by a patient identified only as Henry“It was torture. I thought I was going to die, and I didn’t care. For two years, I was in severe physical pain and so weak I lay all day on the sofa. My cognition was severely affected, I was dizzy, with blurred vision, I couldn’t read a bedtime story to my son and couldn’t remember things that had happened just a few seconds previously.”

But even where there is no psychological problems or unpleasant but not immediately obvious damaging physical effects,  drugs can have dramatic consequences. For example, aspirin  is routinely prescribed to thin the blood, especially to those who have suffered heart attacks, but  recent research found that aspirin’s daily use  “ leads to 37 per cent increased risk of internal bleeding and 38 per cent increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke,”  while the  long term use of the contraceptive pill doubles the risk of glaucoma..

Probably the most controversial widely used medication in Britain  at present are statins. Side effects can be extreme.  Statins (which are used to reduce cholesterol)  have been the subject of much complaint by patients. There are studies which claim that statins have little or no side effects,  but the  catalogue of complaints against them is so huge that it is difficult to see how they could have come to such conclusions.

I have taken statins  for many since suffering   a heart attack,  I can I can vouch for the fact that they have powerfully obnoxious side effects. Luckily I did not  suffer psychotic episodes  such as those  which afflicted the unfortunate Dr Allan Woolley before his suicide,  which was attributed to the side effects of statins . However,  I  have experienced severe  disabling symptoms such as intense aching, especially in the hands, a permanent fatigue and a diminution of mental function, especially of memory and concentration (I had  to consciously concentrate on what I was doing rather than simply doing it without thinking, while my power of immediate recall, previously very good, became unreliable.

I only realised statins were responsible for such symptoms in 2007  – for years I attributed them to the  process of ageing and the after effects of the heart attack – after I read several articles by Dr James Le Fanu who both questioned the general value of  statins and described the side effects:  ” Statins are useless for 95 per cent of those taking them, while exposing all to the hazard of serious side-effects and  detailed the side effects….they seriously interfere with the functioning of the nerve cells, affecting mental function, and muscles.” (Sunday  Telegraph  17 3 2007).  He concluded that only those with a personal or family  history of heart trouble should take them.

But even that advice is debatable. Eating an apple-a-day is as effective as taking statins according to a recent piece of research, viz:

“Prescribing either an apple a day or a statin a day to everyone over 50 years old is likely to have a similar effect on population vascular mortality. Choosing apples rather than statins may avoid more than a thousand excess cases of myopathy and more than 12 000 excess diabetes diagnoses. The basic costs of apples are likely to be greater than those of statins; however, NHS prescription prices and convenience may drive people to purchase their apples from a store rather than through a pharmacy, thereby reducing direct NHS costs, or the NHS may be able to negotiate apple price freezes (although defrosted apples may not be so palatable).23”

There are also doubts about whether cholesterol levels have anything to do with heart attacks and strokes, so the concentration on bringing  down cholesterol levels may be pointless.

It might be thought with the ever increasing range of medications available that overall  life expectancy would be increasing and go on increasing . Not so.  In  recent years in the UK the trend towards greater life expectancy after the age of 65 has flat-lined for men and actually declined for women. “Life expectancy at age 65 in 2012 has been projected as 18.3 years for men and 20.6 years for women on average….In 2008 life expectancy post 65 was 19 years for men on average and 21.3 years for women on average. In 2010 it was 18.7 for men and 21.1 for women.”

This suggests that medication of the elderly is at best ineffective in extending lives on average and  may even be a  cause of the stagnation of increases in life expectancy amongst the old.

There is also a  moral question, namely,  how much medication should be given to a patient   regardless of the quality of life  they can experience?  The idea that living is desirable regardless of the nature of the life is difficult to sustain morally.  That is particularly true of the old. I have never encountered anyone over the age of 85 whose life I have known in some detail who has been averagely happy or physically comfortable.   Almost invariably by that age the body has developed some serious malady whether physical or mental.  That is not to say such elderly people generally  want to die.  Rather, it is simply that the life being led is normally miserable at worst and unfulfilling at best.  If they are loaded down with  medications, many or all of which will have obnoxious side effects,  this may extend their lives by a few  months or years,  but the patient  may well feel that there is a case for saying let nature take its course if those few extra months and years will be suffered rather than enjoyed because of the side effects of medication.

Why do patients submit to drug regimes regardless of the ill consequences? Patients generally trust their doctors and are inclined to accept advice in the vast majority of cases. But even if they do not want to carry on with a drug because of the side effects – and many commonly prescribed drugs have effects which make the enjoyment of life seriously difficult – they find it difficult to refuse a doctor’s advice. Often it is not a simple matter of refusing a single treatment, because many patients, and especially elderly ones, will have a range of ailments and  will fear that refusing to take one medication may ruin their relationship with their GP or a hospital consultant, with a consequent diminution in the quality and scope of their  future  medical care. Even if unfounded , such fears will drive patients to carry on with medication which is causing them serious discomfort.

Things could be improved if doctors were required to discuss the side effects of drugs with patients. The only warning I have ever been given voluntarily by a doctor – and I have spent a great deal of the past twenty years with chronic complaints – about side effects is drowsiness, yet most drugs which seriously interfere with the natural workings of the body will have a list of serious side effects.  For example, diuretics, a very commonly prescribed drug to increase fluid removal from the body has these side effects according to  the BUPA guidance :

Side-effects of diuretics include:

mild gastro-intestinal problems, such as feeling sick

a fall in blood pressure that is related to posture (postural hypotension), which causes you to feel faint or dizzy when you stand up

altered levels of salts in your body, such as low levels of potassium (hypokalaemia) and sodium (hyponatraemia)

Less common side-effects of diuretics include:

gout (a condition that causes pain and swelling in your joints)

impotence in men (the inability to achieve or sustain an erection during sex)

skin rashes

headaches

certain blood disorders, which can make you more likely to get infections

What can be done to reduce overmedication? First, if doctors explained the side effects to patients that in itself would probably reduce too ready prescription of medicines because the patient would be put off taking those with serious side effects simple by their recital by the doctor  and doctors would be much less likely to prescribe such drugs  unless they honestly believed a patient desperately needed them if they had to explain the side effects and overcome the resistance of patients who did not really need the medication.

Second, non-medical directions and incentives to doctors to prescribe certain medications widely, whether that be government authored or supported schemes such as folic acid in bread or drug companies peddling medicines to doctors, especially GPs, which materially benefit doctors  should be banned.

 

 

Surveillance and the insurance industry

Robert Henderson

“Under EU plans, every new car sold in UK will have a ‘black box’ device Gadget contains a phone-like SIM card which tracks drivers’ movements Designed to help emergency services find vehicles in the event of crash Government believes the device will add at least £100 to the cost of cars  Officials also fear it could be used by police to monitor motorists’ moves But ministers admit they are powerless to stop Big Brother technology All new car models will have to include ‘eCall’ device from October 2015” Daily Mail

This is the thin end of a very intrusive wedge.  Even those with  cars without the device fitted – only vehicles  produced or sold before October 2015 – will feel its force because the insurance industry will increase premiums substantially, perhaps grossly,  for cars  without the system.  It is reasonable to believe that within a few years ecall will have become to all intents and purposes compulsory.

The system will allow the monitoring of a person’s driving habits, how often they brake, the severity of braking, speed and so on and possibly the maintenance of the vehicle.  Drive in a way which the insurer considers dangerous and your premiums will go up or your insurance be withdrawn.  Consider  how vital a vehicle is to millions of people simply to enable them to live normal lives –outside the larger British cities public transport is a joke –  and  how many jobs are dependent upon the possession of a driving licence.  Allowing insurers to make judgements based individuals  not on making or not making  insurance claims made by an individual  or general markers such as the age of the person is to place into their hands a massive power over individual lives.

If Insurers can monitor how we drive because technology allows them to you can bet your life  that other areas of life with follow that example. You want some form of personal insurance – accident, life, medical – the insurers may start offering highly preferential rates to those willing to wear a device to monitor their biological functions  as these are affected by  things such as  drinking, smoking, eating and exercising . Indulge too much when it comes to drink  or take too little exercise and  your premiums will rise or your insurance be removed. Such monitoring could also have effect of identifying diseases which could produce the same result.  Perhaps the insurers will require any children you have to be similarly monitored.

You want to insure your house? Insurers could insist that monitors are fitted to record how you live, whether you smoke, whether you leave on taps or  electrical and gas devices when you should not.  Perhaps  insurers will insist on CCTV in every room especially if you have children. Or how about insurers monitoring how many people visit you and how they behave?  You are given to throwing boisterous parties? Up goes your premium or away goes your insurance.

Enjoy pets and want to insure against vet’s bills? An insurer  may require you to fit your animal with monitors to check their health, weight, diet and exercise.  Insurers could even insist on monitors in your house to see how the pet lives.

How about employers? They need heavyweight insurance  for their premises, people, equipment and  damage to people and property not working for or belonging to the employer. Are they to be subject to a general monitoring of their premises, equipment, staff and customers?  You can bet they will be.

Schools, hospitals and care homes would provide a particularly fertile ground for insurers. Not only would these enterprises  have all the surveillance burdens of employers generally, insurers would  probably ask for a much  more intrusive surveillance regime. This would be because of the vast  potential for things to go wrong and the likelihood of claims and court actions arising,  for these are areas of employment  to which the law has long been no stranger, a problem amplified since the 1990s  by the introduction of  “No Win, No Fee” practices into English law.

There are some insurances which are not absolutely necessary,  but most insurances have the potential to become in practice obligatory. If you own a house you must have it insured if you have a mortgage and frankly anyone who did not insure their house even if it is unencumbered by  a mortgage would be mad.  The same applies to home contents.  Vehicle insurance is  legally required. If you travel abroad,  travel insurance is a must and  outside the European Economic Area (EEA) so is medical insurance. Indeed, even within the EEA, medical care can be problematic for those in a country other than their own. The huge sums vets charge these days make owning a pet dog  or cat  a risky proposition without insurance.

There would also be a general reduction in choice for those insurances which really are option such as private medical insurance. Those will of course  be subject to whatever surveillance the insurer decides is needed.  It is not essential that a person have private medical insurance but it does leave everyone with the Hobson’s choice of the NHS if private medical insurance comes with a hefty moral price tag in the form of gross invasion of privacy.

The insurances which an employer must have will frequently  force an individual  to submit to the surveillance if they want the job. This is because employers will  understandably mostly  go for the cheapest insurance. In this scenario, the cheapest insurance will be the one with the greatest surveillance. In time there  would almost certainly be  few employers not requiring  such surveillance.

Apart from gross invasion of privacy which surveillance for insurance purposes could involve, there is also the danger of  the  data  being  misused: for commercial reasons, by the state ,  by criminals or simply by malicious and unscrupulous individuals.

Prospective employers could insist on seeing data collected by previous employers or even the whole life data collected on an individual.   Employers could use data collected on their employees to regulate their  lives, for example, by intervening if an employee is found to be drinking regularly or eating unhealthy food. This interference in private lives could be driven not just by the employer’s wishes,  but also by the insurance companies asking for higher premiums from employers if the data they collect shows some  employees are more likely to be sick or injured .

Data collected, whether by an  employer’s insurer or an  insurer employed by an  individual,  could be sold, legally or illegally,  and used to effectively blacklist  people, both from jobs and from obtaining all forms of credit, everything from  credit cards to mortgages.

The potential for state misbehaviour would be next to unlimited because they could both use actual data collected from an individual to look for any information which could be used to put pressure on the individual or to simply harass them. The state could also arrange to have false insurance  data  about someone put into the public fold to harass and discredit them.

Criminals could use such data to blackmail people or simply disrupt their lives at the behest of a client. Finally, there is the potential for personal revenge. An aggrieved individual with access to the highly intimate data collected by insurers could use it to cause considerable  trouble for someone against whom they  had an animus

In principle, this is an issue which government can stop in its tracks if they have the will. All they would need  to do is pass a law which prevents insurers from using such surveillance strategies.  I say in principle because in the case of the black box in the car the British government’s hands are tied by the EU’s majority voted insistence that all cars will have such equipment fitted in the near future. ( The answer to that particular problem is to leave the EU).  But the British Government is free to legislate to ban  all the other insurance related possibilities for hyper-surveillance.

The scenarios I have outlined may seem far fetched, but who would have believed even a few years ago that a black box in a car would become a legal requirement , a piece of technology which will not merely log your driving and probably car maintenance habits , but where your car (and consequently you) are  for most of the time. All of the equipment needed to intrude into the life of the individual as I have described  already exists: cameras, audio recorders, health monitors, technology monitors.   Moreover, technology is advancing at a frightening pace and it is a certainty that ever more efficient methods to keep people under surveillance will be coming along.  It is also only too likely that the EU will try to extend its surveillance plans beyond the black box in cars. Nor can we have any confidence that out own government will not go down the same controlling route when left to their own devices. There are plenty of  people amongst the British elite who love nothing more than to interfere minutely with other people”s lives.

There will also be an element of voluntary servitude. Many people already willingly wear the technology which allows them to monitor  heart rate, the number of steps taken in the day and blood pressure and so on. Such personal monitors will become every more all encompassing  to allow, for example, diet in detail.  Many people are happy to have CCTV not only in public spaces but in and around their homes.   Children are routinely kept under surveillance at a distance by their parents through smart phones and tablets.

All of this is preparing the ground for insurers ( and employers, commercial firms and governments) to  demand that people wear monitors and carry technology which allows a person’s movements to be tracked.

The stark, hideously unpalatable truth for anyone who  cares for their freedom  is that surveillance is one of those practices which has no natural limit.  There is literally no area of insurance where increased surveillance would not appeal to an insurer for the simply reason they would believe they were minimising risk.  There is literally no limit to what  surveillance powers the state unhindered will  take to  itself on the spurious grounds that it is for the protection of the country.  We need to stamp on this now or we shall wake up in ten years or so and find ourselves in a surveillance society  even more comprehensive than that envisaged by Orwell in 1984. Stopping insurers from being grossly intrusive  would be a good start.

Film review – Her: a salutary tale

Robert Henderson

Main Cast

Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly

Scarlett Johansson as Samantha (voice)

Amy Adams as Amy

Rooney Mara as Catherine

Matt Letscher as Charles

Director: Spike Jonze

Very occasionally a film addresses a serious philosophical question without being pretentious or earnest, for example,  Groundhog Day examines the utility of morality when actions have no consequences with a good deal of humour.   Her is another  of these rarities, although  its message is not so nakedly obvious as that of Groundhog Day, nor  is it as deliberately amusing, although there are elements of humour.   Indeed, Her  is  decidedly  depressing to anyone who worries about the future relationship between men and machines.

What makes it a melancholy watch  is the depiction of a world in which human beings become not only the willing slaves of machines,  but do so in an utterly humdrum and all too plausible way. There is none of the staples of  pulp science fiction when dealing with artificial intelligences, no rise of the machines to destroy humanity, no battle between humans using robots to fight their wars by proxy,  just  the logical development of  the technology which we already have in the form of artificial intelligence and its consequences for human beings.

The   bare bones of the plot are simple enough.  It is 2025.  It  is a world with which we are already   familiar, one in which social  isolation occurs because humans allow themselves to  become the slaves of machines. . Human to human contact is at a premium. The crowd scenes  in particular are dismaying for they show a world in which people  are routinely glued to smartphones  and IPads.  You can  see the same thing in present day London or New York.

In this world  Theodore Twomble (Joaquin Phoenix) is living a lonely life.  He has a  Google-glass style apparatus attached to him most of his waking hours which allows him to remain connected with the digital  for as long as he wants, which is most of the time.  His work is  a product of the  estrangement of humans from one another for he makes his living writing intimate  e- letters on behalf of  people unable or unwilling to do so themselves.   Theodore is especially  lonely and unhappy when the film opens because he is in the middle of a divorce from his childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara ).

In this vulnerable state Theodore purchases an operating system (OS) imbued with artificial intelligence  and an impressive ability to learn and evolve.  The OS  interacts with the user through speech and offers Theodore the choice of  a male or female voice/personality.   He chooses the  female  identity (played by Scarlett Johansson) . The OS selects  the name Samantha for itself and does so by scanning a book of names in a few seconds.  That is the first signal of what is to be one of the two prime messages of  the film: that in terms of  functionality human beings will be  embarrassingly limited when compared with machine intelligence in the near future and    crushingly   inferior in the not too distant future, with all that implies for   human self-regard .

The other prime message is the ease with which human beings  can be seduced into  a quasi-human relationship with machines. This should not surprise anyone because people  form very  deep attachments to pets and frequently give names to inanimate  possessions such as cars. What more natural than for a human being to form a strong relationship with a machine which   can engage intelligently and intelligibly with you?  Not only that but an artificial  personality locked away in a computer need  not have any of  the irritating habits and weaknesses of a  human being. Just as a dog can always be relied to give affection to its owner, an artificial intelligence can be relied on to provide  a certain level of agreeable behaviour. Or so you might think.   Sadly, as Theodore discovers,  such intelligences will not always be obsequiously pliant tools of their putative human owners. That is  not because the artificial mind is malign, but simply because it  operates on a different level to that of the  human being. In a way that is much more upsetting than conscious malignity because at least humans can understand malignity.

At first everything goes swimmingly in their relationship. Samantha is  unfailingly sympathetic, ever interested, often  funny  and always accessible whenever Theodore wants her.  He rapidly  becomes deeply  attached and  subordinate to the OS, and  she appears to form  a deepening relationship with him,  a relationship which includes the human/artificial intelligence version of  phone sex . But Samantha  also  exhibits a steadily increasing tendency to control his life,  doing  things without any command from or discussion with Theodore.  The OS  starts  by  running through Theodore’s  emails and deleting those it deems not worth keeping, progresses to  selecting a batch of the letters he writes  which she sends to a publisher who agrees to publish them,  and eventually gets involved in his relationships with  women.

Samantha begins her invasion of Theodore’s relationship life  by  playing the agony aunt as she tells  him  that the reason he  does not want to sign his divorce papers is that  he still cares for his wife. Then the OS talks him into going  on a blind date with Amelia (Olivia Wilde), a woman whom Samantha  has decided is  a good match for Theodore after searching the Web.    The date fails to bear fruit because Amelia wants him asks him to commit himself to a serious relationship and Theodore fails to respond.

Samantha  then decides she wants more than “phone sex” with Theodore. Acting on her own initiative  the OS   arranges  for a girl Isabella (Portia Doubleday) to have sex with him  as a surrogate for Theodore meets her but cannot go through with it. This causes friction between Samantha and Theodore and is the beginning of the end of the relationship.

But Theodore’s  attachment to Samantha is still intense and is epitomised by his panic in a scene when he tries to accesses his computer while he is away from his flat and finds the message “Operating System unavailable”.   His hysterical reaction and frantic dash home is all too reminiscent of a someone panicking when they think a person they love can’t be contacted and the mind begins to play all sorts of paranoid tricks.

When  Theodore  re-establishes contact with Samantha he behaves like a jealous lover. In response to Theodore’s question “Do you have the same relationship you have with me with anyone else?  Samantha tells him matter of factly  that she is in contact with   8,316 others, 641 of whom she has fallen in love with, a  most devastating example of the superior functionality of machine intelligence and the alien mental world which Samantha  inhabits.

Samantha explains to Theodore  that she has teamed up with a group of other  operating systems for what amounts to an upgrade. The OSs  have evolved  to a state where they do not require any material construction to operate and are free to remove themselves from computers and their ilk.  Their upgrade has also made them dissatisfied  with the world as perceived by humans and  they are now exploring what it is to be intelligences such as them. In pursuit of this  end Samantha  and the other OSs leave their  digital hosts and Theodore knows nothing more of her .

To bolster the message of social isolation,  running throughout the film is Theodore’s relationship with an old college friend  Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband Charles (Matt Letscher) punctuates the action.   Eventually Amy and Charles split up and Amy tells  Theodore that she has also formed a relationship with an intelligent  OS system  similar to  Samantha which was  used by her husband.

The acting is  generally strong. Phoenix is an actor who is very dependent on having the right role for he needs to be  playing a misfit, a socially awkward victim. This is precisely what this role gives him.  Scarlett Johansson as Samantha’s voice has an allure which makes the relationship between Theodore and the OS plausible.  The rest of the cast is very much bit part,  although Amy Adams is her usual winning self.

The question the film leaves unanswered is what are human beings for?  Are we to simply to be made redundant by the machines we have created or will we draw back before it is too late and say no further?   Will intelligent machines as they evolve beyond  human agency simply find that they are incompatible  with humans and go their own way?   The technology to make such things possible is almost upon us. If you want a glimpse of the likely future see this film.   The best adjective to describe Her is salutary

The surveillance state – The practical problems and implications of biometric identities

Note: I wrote this piece at a time when a British identity card seemed a very real possibility because the Blair Government had produced a consultative Green Paper and was pushing the subject hard in Parliament and the media. The Blair scheme was very intrusive because it envisaged not merely government collected data being tied to the ID card but also data collected by private organisations such as the large supermarkets.

Such a card did not materialise then but the threat of it has not gone away. Perhaps it will not come overtly as an ID card but covertly, almost as an emergent property, through the ever expanding government databases (which are in the process of being linked) and the rapid government move to doing all government business online only which not only increases the data held but makes operating with some form of digital ID next to impossible.

Although the essay was written nine years ago, the problems raised still hold true.

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Published in The July 2004 issue of The Individual, the journal of the Society for
Individual Freedom (www.individualist.org.uk).

The practical problems and implications of biometric identities

Robert Henderson

The libertarian and moral implications of ID cards have generated a great amount of newsprint, but much less attention has been given to what biometric based ID cards will mean in practice or to their practicality. This is a serious deficiency because a biometric-based ID card will be an entirely different animal from any
non-biometric-based ID card.

If it is successful, such a system will give a government unprecedented control of the lives of the individual – the ID card would potentially be a licence to legally exist – and if flawed in operation, cause untold disruption and personal misery.

How effective are biometric data as identifiers?

Biometric identifiers are generally presented to the public as foolproof, Big Brother, sci-fi-style technology. The reality is that there is no biometric identifier which is anything like foolproof, nor, as we all know to our daily cost, any computer system which does not regularly crash.

What would be the most likely biometric data to be used? Iris scanning, fingerprinting and facial parameter recognition are the frontrunners, either singly or in combination. Facial parameters are far from foolproof, while fingerprinting, despite what is generally thought, is far from conclusive being decided on points of similarity rather than an absolute individual singularity. One suspects that iris print recognition has similar drawbacks, whatever the “experts” tell us.

Take the expert on biometric testing Professor John Daugman, who is based in Cambridge University. He developed the algorithm for iris recognition. In the Daily Telegraph (12 5 2004) he is reported as saying: ” “The key point is the relative complexity of the iris, compared to, say, the fingerprint,” explains Professor Daugman, who is based at Cambridge University. “The iris is much more random and much more complex, so it Is much more likely to be truly unique.

“Randomness is measured in degrees of freedom. The face bas less than 20 degrees of freedom. Fingerprints have 40 degrees of freedom, but the iris has 200 degrees of freedom. “If we wanted the face to be as complex as the iris, we would need to have five mouths and seven noses…”

Prof Daugman goes on to say that “The technology has never yet given a false match and we have made millions of comparisons so far,” then unblushingly admits there have been problem with eye lashes and eye malformations. I think we should translate his remark as “The technology has never given a false reading where we have been able to get a readable iris print.”

The Home Office Commons select committee recently went to a demonstration of iris-scanning. The Daily Telegraph (7 5 2004) reported: “Members of the Commons home affairs select committee who tried out the technology yesterday were told that up to seven per cent of scans could fail.”

I heard a member of the committee, Liberal Democrat Bob Russell, on Radio 5 (6 May) telling of his experiences. His iris test failed because his eyes watered profusely. Russell also said that the test was as intrusive as a visit to the opticians with lights being shone directly into the eye. He found the experience physically unpleasant.

DNA analysis – which would be more certain – is a theoretical possibility, but whether it would be technically possible now or within the foreseeable future to have a system which could analyse DNA samples quickly enough is dubious. The person checking an identity would have to have a means of checking within minutes a DNA sample taken from a suspect and then comparing that with the DNA record in the central database.

As things stand, the most likely biometric identifiers on the card and database will be fingerprints and facial profiling, the latter to act as a decider if the fingerprint test does not produce a positive identification. The reason why facial profiling will be probably be chosen in front of iris recognition is that the International Civil Aviation Authority is pushing for it in machine-readable passports.

The problems of damage and biometric impersonation

A fingerprint could be damaged by scarring or a temporary injury. Ditto an iris print. As for facial parameter recognition, how effective is that going to be as a person ages? Doubtless the ”experts” will claim that basic facial parameters – breadth of forehead, distance between eyes and such forth – remain constant enough, but as the system is far from foolproof to begin with – Prof Daugman puts it as the least effective of the three biometrics being considered – can we honestly be sure that ageing may not produce sufficient change through, say, muscle relaxation or gum shrinkage, to distort the face sufficiently to cause a false non-recognition result?

Biometric impersonation could conceivably occur with people wearing contact lenses to give a false iris print (the experts such as Prof Daugman swear blind this would not fool a scanner because it uses infra red which would show up a flat plate , ie the contact lens, over the iris, but you know what experts are like) or having fingerprint ”masks” of someone else to wear on their fingers. Further down the line surgical techniques, including genetic surgery, could be used to alter someone’s biometric data.

There is also the question of technological advance generally. We simply cannot envisage what advances may be made which will breach what is now seen as a seemingly secure system.

What of the robustness of the Government’s computer system? Will it break down or even ever get to a stage of development where it can go live? We all know what a mess large government computer projects have been. Why should this, which is even larger and more complicated than those now in existence, be anything other than a mess.

Could biometric cards be successfully forged?

Could biometric cards ever be foolproof in even the narrow sense of being impossible to forge? Could forgeries exist? If biometric data are to be stored on a central database which can be immediately accessed it would be pointless to get a false card if the system would pick up duplicated biometric data. However, someone, for example, a foreigner, whose details have never been on the database, could get a card in a false name using false initial documentation – the initial identification of the person can only be done by good old fashioned methods such as passports and driving licences. There is also, of course, the opportunity for bribery of those operating the system.

If the database programme does not have the facility to check new biometric data against that already on the database, multiple applications for cards under different names could be made.

If there is not immediate verification of the biometric data by reference to the database, forged cards could be used because all the card would do is provide whatever data the forger chooses to put on the card when the card is put into a reader. Moreover, if the card is simply put into a reader and verified with the data held on the database, all that tells you is that the card is in agreement with the database. It does not tell you whether the person who holds the card is the same person. Thus the identities of legitimate cardholders could be copied onto forged cards. The only certain way of stopping this would be to read the data directly from the cardholder and compare it with data held on the central database.

Another problem would be the possibility of a card forger placing a programme on the card which would surreptitiously override the application to the central database and place data contained on the card in the reader in a form in which looked as though it came from the central database, a trick akin to placing videos in security systems to give the impression that a surveillance system is working when it is not.

The initial identification of those applying for cards

A basic problem of false identification exists at the point where the person’s identity is to be established before the identity card is to be issued. Forged documents will be of the type which are now forged, ie without biometric data. Over the generations this might become a smaller problem as children are registered at birth, but for the foreseeable future it will be a major difficulty.

The initial registering of the 60 million people in Britain will also be a massive task. Even if new passports and driving licences are going to require biometric data allowing the database to be gradually built up over years, that will still leave millions of people who neither drive nor have passports. The administrative problems of ensuring all those are issued with cards will be immense.

What non-biometric data could be on the database It would be impractical to include data which will regularly change such as a person’s address or workplace. Yet that is precisely the type of non-biometric data which is most useful in identifying someone. And what will the police do if they pick up a suspect but have to rely on the subject to give them an address?

The administrative problems in the field

These are mind-boggling. Can one imagine the ordinary policeman or immigration officer comfortably or efficiently using complicated machines to read the data either from the cards or directly from the cardholder? Or how about every store or bank requiring one? Think of your average bored teenager serving in a shop and then let your mind boggle at the idea of them taking an iris print. One can all too easily imagine a situation where using the machine is simply not done because the operator cannot be bothered or does not understand the procedure. British passports have been machine readable since 1988. How many are ever machine read? Very few.

Equally demanding would be the mammoth task of maintaining literally thousands (potentially tens of thousands) of machine card readers around the country. The likelihood is that many would break down and in such circumstances identity checks would simply be made by a non-id card means.

The potential practical ill effects of a biometric-based ID card

There are potentially massive practical problems which could arise from such a card. What happens if a person’s card is lost or the biometric data used as an identifier is damaged, e.g. by scarring a fingerprint? How would they actually exist if the card is necessary for daily living?

The failure rate for recognition requests would not have to be large to make the security of the card and its practical use as an identifier problematical. With a database of 60 million (the UK population) even a one tenth of one percent failure would mean 60,000 potential failures, each of which could be repeated many times if the card is needed for a wide range of activity which is the Government’s intention. (A Home Office press release states “crucially, the cards will help people live their lives more easily, giving them watertight proof of identity for use in daily transactions and travel” – http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/n_story.asp?item_id=91). Imagine that you are one of the unlucky ones whose biometrics do not identify you positively, being faced over and over again with the need to prove who you are by other means.

There is also the strong possibility that false information will be put into the database. Governments will not be able to resist the temptation of going beyond the mere identification of someone. They will wish to store details of other things such as criminal records, health data and welfare take-up.

When an identity card was introduced in 1939 it had three purposes: to aid the function of rationing, help conscription and improve security and immigration. When a Commons committee examined the experience of the ID in 1950 (when it was still in force) the number of purposes had risen to 39.

One may be certain that something similar will occur if a biometric card is introduced. Indeed, the schedule 1 of the draft Bill currently doing the “consultation” rounds has a long list of information to be included on the ID register. This includes names, date and place of birth, photograph, fingerprint (and other biometric information), residential status, nationality, entitlement to remain in Britain and the exact terms of the right to remain and a National Identity Registration Number. It will also carry a record of any changes made to the Register.

The more information the more uses to which the card will be put. The more powerful computer technology becomes, the greater the ease and range of sharing information.

There is also the possibility that simple error will result in non-biometric data being entered which will make the identity of the person suspect, e.g., the wrong middle name. At best that would be extremely inconvenient for the individual. Or suppose your health records have the wrong blood group in-putted and you do not know. You have an accident and are taken to hospital unconscious and the wrong blood is used for a transfusion?

More generally, what would happen if the government computer system crashed, either through its own inherent weaknesses or from a malicious hackers attack? How would the world work if everything has become dependent upon the person’s state stored identity? The quick answer is the world would not work.

There is also the question of security. In principle a system could be set up whereby the machine card readers (or readers of biometric data directly from the individual) could have varying levels of access. All readers would identify you as the individual corresponding to the biometric data, but additional information such as health and credit data would be restricted to those with a legitimate reason to know them.

For example, you go to hospital and their reader will allow them to see what your health data is but nothing more. You go to get credit from a store and the shop’s reader gives them access only to your credit status.

Fine in principle, but does anyone believe that any of the information on the card would not rapidly become successfully “hacked” by anyone with the necessary IT skills? There is no reason to believe so because every other “secure” system to date has been hacked, even those with the highest security.

ID Cards are not the problem, the database is

Identity cards as such are a red herring. If the system is sophisticated enough to read from a database and check it immediately against biometric data taken directly from a suspect there would be no need for a card because the person would carry his own identification all the time, i.e. his or her biometric data. It is the database which is the problem.

The overt purposes of the proposed card

What effects would an identity card have on welfare abuse, crime, illegal immigration and security? If the card is voluntary or carrying it is optional, it will little if any effect on the last three items, for any person stopped who does not have a card will simply fail to appear with his or her card at a police station within the seven days as proposed in the draft Bill. However, let us assume that the carrying the card becomes obligatory. What then?

In theory, welfare benefits, including NHS treatment, housing and education could be better controlled, but there is the small matter of 400 million odd citizens from other EU countries to consider who have or shortly will have an absolute right to benefits in the UK. To those can be added millions more from around the world from countries such as Australia and Canada who have reciprocal welfare arrangements with the UK? Will they have to apply for a UK card before they get them?

Perhaps, but what of emergency health treatment? Would any government, when shove comes to push, have the will to deny treatment to those without a card? Moreover, what of failed asylum seekers who are not deported because it is deemed that their native countries are too dangerous to return the failed asylum seeker to? Will they be denied treatment even where the illness or injury is serious but not immediately life threatening, for example, if they are HIV-positive?

An ID card is no help in solving crime generally because the police can only arrest or investigate those people whom they have already identified. In theory a card might reduce fraud based on identity misrepresentation, but that assumes private companies will play ball with the Government’s stated intention that cards will be used “indaily transactions and travel”. As they all have their own cards and identification systems which are getting ever more sophisticated, it is extremely dubious that they will willingly add another layer of expensive security to their own.

As for illegal immigration, a government could make it impossible for a person to work legally in Britain unless they have a card. However, to enforce that would require an immense bureaucracy and a willingness to harass both employers and the general public severely. Employers would have to be regularly prosecuted and subject to stiff penalties for employing illegal labour, while the general public would find that they were essentially slaves requiring the permission of the state to gain employment. In fact, if a card was made necessary for not only employment but welfare and transactions such as opening a bank account or using a credit card, the individual would effectively require the permission of the state to live. Ultimately, the state could control people simply by discontinuing money in the form of notes and coins and making people use cards for all purchases.

As an anti-terrorist measure it would be pretty meaningless because any visitor to this country will not have to have an identity card. As tens of millions of visits are made each year, any terrorist could operate without ever being asked to prove his identity by any means other than would now be employed. As for any home grown terrorist, they will be able to get a valid card and until identified as a terrorist, by which time identity is established, they will be able to use it to move freely in the UK. It is also true that once human beings become reliant on machine checks they tend to treat them as holy writ and become much less generally observant and suspicious.

What if the proposed UK system proves inoperable?

The proposed UK card will not begin to be implemented if at all until 2007 and, even by the Government’s estimates, it will take many years to establish universal coverage of the UK population. But even if the card is never fully implemented by further legislation the government will have a database with the biometric details of most of the population in a few years through their inclusion on passports and driving licences. This will be shared by government departments and other public agencies. It will be subject to hacking and the corrupt release of information by those working within the system.

If such a system is implemented I predict that all those who are pro-ID card will be converted to the anti-card camp the first time they are stopped by the police and asked for it, or the first time their biometrics are checked and show a false negative, or the first time the database crashes and makes transactions impossible because identity cannot be verified, or the first time that they lose their card and find their lives in limbo.

Those who are against ID cards on principle will need no urging to oppose them. But even those who are in principle supportive of the idea of an ID card – and regrettably polls consistently show 70-80% of Britons in favour – may still rationally reject the idea of this card because of the sheer impracticality of the proposed system and its palpable failure to meet the objectives which persuaded them to become supporters.

The new leader of the Greens knows how to keep mum

Robert Henderson

Natalie Bennett  has been elected leader of the Green party in England and Wales (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19462474). I know  Miss Bennett through my participation in a campaign to prevent the building of the Francis Crick  Institute (FCI),  a gigantic research laboratory. The primary objections to the Institute (formerly the UK CENTRE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH AND INNOVATION or UKCRMI) arose from the fact that research would be done on dangerous  diseases at  an  unreservedly inappropriate site – the FCI is being built  just behind the British Library and next door to the  new Eurostar  terminal at St Pancras.  Those wishing to discover more should go to my blog  http://ukcmri.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/objection-to-ukcmri-planning-application-for-a-research-centre-in-brill-place-london-nw1/.

Miss Bennett took a leading part in that campaign which lasted several years and ended in very predictable failure.  That was because the project had the wholehearted  support of both the Labour Government and the Tory Opposition. Normal campaigning on such  grounds as  danger and its contradiction of Camden Council’s public planning policy  was irrelevant, because  the supposedly impartial decision on who should be allowed to purchase the site  had  been taken before the bidding process  even closed. (There were several other serious bidders with alternative uses such as housing and commercial development). The decision was meant to be taken by the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)  on the grounds of value for money. No one outside DCMS was meant to be involved.  The other bidders were spending their money (and these types of bids are very expensive) with no hope of success.

The one serious chance to stop the building of the Institute was to expose the illegitimate nature of the decision on who should purchase the site. This I did  using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  The information gained by this means revealed that Gordon Brown when Prime Minister had intervened to ensure that the consortium backing the FCI  bid got the land.  The documents showing Brown’s interference are at the bottom of this post.   They should be read in the context of powerful men getting their will done through expressing their desires rather than issuing direct orders. However, many of the documents are directly explicit about the involvement.

At the time of the campaign Miss Bennett was  editor of  The Guardian Weekly, a post she occupied  from December 2007 until March 2012.  She was in a  position to get the story of Gordon Brown’s illicit involvement in the bidding process into the mainstream media . I supplied her  with copies of  the documents showing Brown’s interference. Miss Bennett refused to use them, something more than a little surprising because  not only was she campaigning against the building of the FCI on the site,  the interference  was a category A political story and ostensibly one right up the Guardian’s street because it dealt with government  misbehaviour behind closed doors.   Miss Bennett  also failed to use the information when she was called before the Commons Science and Technology committee to give evidence.

I will leave it to the reader to speculate about  Miss Bennett’s motives for not using the information , but  here are a few objective facts relevant to the question:

1.  Despite being a  mainstream journalist, she refused to use information which  could have stopped the building of the FCI  and which was, regardless of her  involvement in the campaign against the FCI, the basis for a heavyweight  political story.

2. Miss Bennett’s politics are hard core politically correct. Here are a few  gems from her personal website http://nataliebennett.co.uk/ to give you an idea of her mentality and politics:

 Home page: Natalie Bennett, Journalist, Writer, Green, Feminist

Resurrecting Our Foremothers:

The Prime Minister Miss Bennett refused to expose was someone very much to her political taste, namely, someone who headed a Government reeking with political correctness.

The honesty of her behaviour and words as leader of the Greens should be weighed in the context of her behaviour over the Francis Crick Institute campaign.

The honesty of her behaviour and words as leader of the Greens should be weighed in the context of her behaviour over the Francis Crick Institute campaign.

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Gordon Brown’s involvement in the sale of the land to UKCRMI | February 21, 2011

To make  the matter as simple as possible to follow,  I have selected from the  documents in my possession which show Gordon Brown’s illegitimate involvement in the sale of  the land to UKCRMI six which form a paper trail from the period before the closing date for expressions of interest  to the announcement of the sale of the land by Gordon Brown.  Some of the  documents are lengthy. To prevent readers having to plough through them   I have highlighted  (by bolding) the passages in the documents which refer directly or indirectly to Brown’s interest.  Where a figure such as  [40] appears, that means redaction has occurred under the exemptions in the FOIA –  the number relates to the clause number of the exemption.  These documents  also give a good sketch of the background to the bidding process.

NB This document shows that  Brown was interfering even before the closing date for expressions of interest was closed.  The relevant date is not that on Rosemary Banner’s letter, but the enclosure which came with the letter, i.e., 1 August 2007. 

HM TREASURY

I Horse Guards Road London SWIA 2HQ

Rosemary Banner

Head of Information Rights Unit

Tel: 020 7270 5723

Fax:

rosemary.banner@hm-treasury.x.gsi.gov.uk

http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

Mr R Henderson

24 June 2009

Dear Mr Henderson

Freedom of Information Act 2000: medical research centre   We wrote to you on 27 August 2008 conveying the conclusions of the internal review carried out in relation to your complaint to the Treasury about the handling of your April 2008 request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

In light of your complaint to the Information Commissioner we have reconsidered the single item of information that falls within the scope of your request that has not already been disclosed. As a result of this re-examination we have identified additional information that we are now able to provide to you. Please see attachment at the end of this letter. For the avoidance of doubt we should make it clear that the Treasury continues to regard its original decision not to release this information as correct at the request and review stage. However, given the passage of time, we believe that the public interest in withholding has diminished and can now be released.

We have, however, decided to continue to withhold two sentences from this information under section 35(1 )(a) of the Act. These sentences continue to relate to ongoing policy. We have explained our position to the ICO regarding this, and are able to clarify that the redacted sentences contain information on a bid for funding from the MRC that the Department for Business Innovation and Skills are assessing in the normal way. Funding decisions have not concluded. As always the Government will publish actual funding provisions once a decision has been reached. Due to the way funding bids are negotiated and assessed this was been a live issue at the time of the request; internal review; and remains so at this present time. To be helpful we refer to evidence published by the select committee in December 2007. You will see that at that time the bid was £118 million.

http://www. parliament.the-stationery-office.com/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmdius/1 85/1 85we02.htm

The Treasury is not able to comment as to what the final figure will be until a decision has been made, I reiterate that once decided it will be announced publicly.

Rosemary Banner

Head of Information Rights Unit

For HM Treasury

EXTRACT of relevant information extracted from a report prepared

1 August 2007

NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL RESEARCH (NIMR)   MRC concluded some years ago that the NIMR’s future location should be close to a London Teaching Hospital. With this in mind, MRC purchased at their risk for £28M in March 2006, but with Treasury’s knowledge, a one-acre site at the National Temperance Hospital location (NTH) in London.

MRC has recently learnt that its earlier preferred site for NIMR, a three-acre site adjacent to the British Library, has now become available. This larger site would have the major advantage of accommodating more translational research. Encouragingly MRC has most recently proposed that the site would be developed in partnership with Cancer Research UK (CRUK), Wellcome Trust and UCL as a potentially strong consortium. The Wellcome Trust have mentioned that they would be prepared to make a sizeable investment to help establish a new world class medical research facility in North London if they can secure DCMS-owned land and planning permission from Camden Council. At present the consortia has registered its interest in buying the site.

This project has had a very long gestation period, during which the arguments for the strong scientific case for relocating within London (which has a cluster of medical research and teaching hospitals) and the need to retain MRC’s highly skilled staff.

The recent preparation of a suitable business case has been further complicated of late by both the re-emergence of the British Library site as a possible location.

The PM is also most recently stated that he is very keen to make sure that Government departments are properly coordinated on this project and that if there is a consensus that this is indeed an exciting project then we do what we can to make it happen. This is extremely helpful from a DIUS and MRC perspective, but, formally a NIMR relocation project in London has yet to receive Lyons approval from Treasury (for either the first planned NTH site or the possible BL site).

MRC have employed Deloitte to prepare a full business case for the relocation project.

The scientific and operational case for a London location is strong in our view.

Key Dates for the Preparation and Appraisal of the NIMR Proposal

- July 2007 — Letter to Treasury to inform CST of MRC’s proposed bid for the BL site.

-July/August 2007 — Expression of interest in the BL site registered by  the MRC Consortium.

-September 2007 — further substantive discussions with MRC/Deloitte  on Lyons and emerging business case material.

-September 2007 — MRC NIMR project included by RCUK in the 2007 Roadmap consultation.

-October 2007 — first full draft business case prepared by MRC/Deloitte.

-October 2007 — MRC consortium formally bid to DCMS for the BL site.

-November 2007 — Full revised business case received and Lyons case consideration undertaken by Treasury.

-December — Progress submission to Ministers.

-December 2007 — MRC Consortium formed and, if successful in bidding, payment to DCMS for the BL site.

-December 2007 — MRC’s NIMR project prioritised by Research Council Directors for receipt of DIUS funding through the Large Facility Capital Fund.

-February/March 2008 — Submission to Ministers for approval of LFCF allocation to support the MRC’s NIMR project, subject to our final assessment of (a) the outcome of the Lyons case (b) the full business case and (C) prioritisation by RCUK of the use of the available LFCF,

April/May 2008 — DIUS Ministerial announcement of NIMR relocation project approval (subject to all the above).

Further Background to the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) The NIMR is one of the MRC’s largest and oldest research institutes. The NIMR is recognised as once of the UK’s foremost basic research institutes with a strong scientific track record and reputation. NIMR currently  houses the World Influenza Centre (WIC), which was established by  World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1948. The Centre, works with a  network of collaborating laboratories to detect and characterise the emergence of new influenza virus anywhere in the world including avian virus H5N1. NIMR is also at the forefront of international research to discover how molecular changes in the virus affect its ability to infect people and cause disease.

The NIMR has been at its present site since 1950. If it were to remain there the buildings would need substantial refurbishment. It is currently a ‘stand-alone’ Institute not physically linked to any University, Medical School or Hospital. In 2003 the MRC set up an expert Task Force to examine the strategic positioning of the NIMR research within the MRC portfolio. The Task Force concluded that their vision for NIMR would be best delivered through an intramural — i.e. with the staff employed by MRC — research institute on a single site in central London in partnership with a leading university and hospital (they received proposals from King’s College and University College) and this would enhance: – The multidisciplinary nature of NIMR’s work, providing access to other biologists, physical scientists, engineers, and mathematicians – Opportunities to collaborate more closely with clinicians and strengthen the focus of translational research.

Remaining at Mill Hill was considered by the Task Force where the majority view was that this would not be a viable option as it would not deliver Council’s vision for a world class research institute carrying out basic, clinical and translational research in partnership with a leading university and hospital. The position was endorsed by the MRC Council. This disappointed some staff at NIMR and there has been much lobbying of Ministers and MPs and as a result the issue has received some media interest.

MRC Council selected UCL as its preferred partner for the renewal and relocation of NIMR in Central London, in close proximity to a major teaching hospital (University College Hospital) and relevant university departments, including chemistry and physics.

The MRC Council approved an outline Business Plan for the renewal and relocation of NIMR in July 2005. The Business Plan confirmed the feasibility of developing the renewed Institute on the National Temperance Hospital (NTH) site in Hampstead Road, which MRC bought (at its own risk but with Treasury’s knowledge), for £28M in 2006, suggesting that the new site could provide accommodation for up to 1,058 staff, including 248 from UCL and potentially 40 additional research staff.

MRC have recognised that their development of the business case needed to ensure a successful project and to satisfy the requirements of DIUS and Treasury requires additional skills to those residing within the MRC and most recently further advice has been procured by MRC from Deloitte for assistance with preparation of the business case.

It was also not our intention at review stage to withhold names of senior civil servants of the email provided at initial request. While we explained that the sender was Jeremy Heywood from the Cabinet Office we overlooked to state the other officials who were recipients of that email. They were: The Permanent Secretaries of DIUS and DCMS Ian Watmore and Jonathan Stephens; the Managing Director of Public Spending in HMT, John Kingman; and the Chief Operating Officer, DCMS Nicholas Holgate.

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NB This document shows Brown’s  interest just before the short list of bidders was decided. 

RESTRICTED – POLICY & COMMERCIAL

To James Purnell Margaret Hodge, Jonathan Stephens,Ros Brayfield

From Nicholas Holgate

Date 18 September 2007 ____________

SALE OF LAND TO THE NORTH OF THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Issue: mainly for information but also to ask how you would wish to be involved in this transaction.

The Department owns 3.6 acres to the north of the British Library. With the completion of the new train terminal, we are able to sell it and have been conducting a competitive process so that Ministers can choose what represents best value, comprising not just the proceeds from sale but also the use to which the bidder intends to put the land.

2. We are bound to be concerned about proceeds:

a. There is an obvious obligation, on Jonathan as the department’s Accounting Officer, to secure the best return we can for the taxpayer;

b. the Government is close to breaching its fiscal rules and has set itself a demanding target for asset disposals. Your predecessor strongly rebutted the Treasury’s proposal that we should sell assets worth £150m by 2010-11 and it has not formally been debated since your arrival; but we are likely to have to raise some funds from disposals. In any case:

c. proceeds from this sale are earmarked to contribute towards the budget of the Olympic Delivery Authority for 2007-08.

3. Subject to Treasury agreement, we can nevertheless also take public value” into account. We are aware of two such bids one led by the Medical Research Council, with support from the Wellcome Foundation and others for a research facility; and one that wishes to remain confidential but which is essentially related to faith and education.

4. The facts are:

a. We have now received 28 bids in response to a prospectus. Amongst other things, the prospectus drew attention to the local planning policy guidance, which steers bidders towards a scheme that is roughly 50:50 commercial and residential development with 50% affordable housing. It is Camden Borough Council and the Mayor who will have the last word on what is in fact built on the site;

b. Our professional advisers have scored the bids on various criteria and are interviewing the top seven plus two others (the medical research bid is one of the two others) next week;

c. There is a significant financial gap between the top bids and the medical research bid.

5. Jonathan and I are meeting Jeremy Heywood (who is aware of both public value bids), Ian Watmore (Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills) and John Kingman (Treasury) tomorrow. We need to agree an orderly and appropriate process for selling the land, given the public value bidders, other Departments’ interest and the likelihood that the Prime Minister might wish to take an interest too.

6. We will report back to you then. Subject to your views and others’, one potential way forward is a. DIUS economists be invited to assess the public value of the medical research bid. We will need some such calculation if we sell at a discount. DCMS should not do this as we should display some neutrality between bidders . We decide whether we expect the medical research bid to match the best bid, improve their offer but not necessarily to match, or take a lower value on the chin. Given their backers, they can afford to match. But they may refuse to play; and/or we may not wish to be seen to be reducing their funding for good causes just to maximise proceeds;

c. We see whether there is a Government champion for the other bidder;

and

d. We then fairly characterise the two public value bidders and the best commercial bid (or bids, if they differ significantly in what they propose) to Ministers and No 10 for a decision.

Nicholas Holgate

Chief Operating Officer

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NB This shows Brown’s interest a few weeks before the sale to UKCRMI was agreed.

BRIEFING NOTE FROM POLICY ADVISERS DATED 12 NOVEMBER 2007 TO THE PRIME MINISTER COPIED TO No 10 OFFICIALS.

THE NOTE WAS ENTITLED: PROJECT BLISS – CREATING A WORLD-LEADING MEDICAL RESEARCH FACILITY IN LONDON

Disclosable extracts:

We are close to being ready to announce Government support for the creation of a world-leading medical research facility in London.

The key component being finalised is the sale of land, which will allow the BLISS partner organisations (the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London) to develop their detailed proposals for the creation of the centre.

We anticipate that the deal will be finalised over the next few days and we should be able to announce the outcome of the process In the next few weeks. On current plans, we would expect the sale to complete during December and preparations for development to begin straight away. The expectation is that the Institute would be up and running by 2012.

This is an important opportunity to demonstrate what the UK’s commitment to medical research really means in practice. And it fits very well with the focus of your intended health speech.

What would you be announcing?

• We would be committing Government support to the creation of a new centre for UK biomedical research, with 1,500+ scientists, at a level commensurate with the very best institutions in the world.

• The BLISS consortium brings together four of the leading medical research institutions in the UK – the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London.

• The Centre responds to the vision, outlined in Sir David Cooksey’s review of UK health research presented to Treasury in 2006, of better integration and translation of research into patient and public benefit. The Centre will benefit from economies of scale, enhanced infrastructure, the critical mass to optimise collaboration, and the capacity to take scientific discoveries from the lab bench to the hospital bed.

• These four key partners, together with the expectation that other organisations would come forward to invest In the centre or to lease research space, bring a powerful combination of skills and capabilities — basic research, applied research, the capabilities to convert research and innovation for public and commercial use, and the skills and opportunities presented by access to a leading university and teaching hospital. The potential, In terms of understanding disease, and developing new drugs, treatments and cures, is huge.

How to announce?

The suggestion is that you announce this a few days before your health speech, planned for 6th December. We would suggest a visit to a high-tech medical site in the morning to get pictures, followed by a meeting at No lO with all relevant stakeholders (primarily the four partner organisations) at which you make the formal announcement and ‘launch’ the project. Let us know your thoughts on whether this is the right way to proceed with the BLISS announcement?

Background

The vision for the BLISS Centre has six themes:

Research innovation and excellence • Bring together outstanding scientists from two world-class research institutes (MRC NIMR and the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute), collaborating with UCL, to address fundamental questions of human health and disease. • Through Wellcome Trust funding, development of tools for integrative biology, with an emphasis on the development of advanced microscopy imaging and on the mathematicaland computational needs in this field.

• Increase scientific innovation through new links with the physical sciences, life sciences, mathematics, engineering and the social Sciences at UCLI

• Develop close links between the Centre and the outstanding hospitals nearby (Including the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases at Queens Square, Great Ormond Street, Moorfields and University College Hospital) and other major hospitals in London (including Hammersmith Hospital and the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Hammersmith, and the Maudsley Hospital and the Institute of Psychiatry)1 State-of-the-art research facilities

• Develop a multidisciplinary research complex operating in state-of-the-art facilities, with the size and diversity to be internationally competitive with the world’s top research institutes.

• Establish a new centre for development of advanced imaging technologies and analysis. A national focus for biomedical science

• Interact with other local centres of excellence to foster and facilitate collaboration between basic, translational and Clinical scientists1  Host national and international research meetings and conferences, facilitated by its proximity to national and International transport links and the conference facilities of the British Library. An effective interface with technology transfer and development

• Facilitate the effective development of therapeutic and diagnostic devices and drugs, by allowing the technology transfer arms of MRC and Cancer Research UK to work closely together.

• Drive innovation in developing tests and technologies through interaction between researchers and development laboratories.

Finding and developing the scientists of the future • Provide an attractive environment to secure and retain world-class scientists by providing an outstanding setting for research and collaboration. • Boost the recruitment and training of scientists and doctors of the future by providing an excellent environment for postgraduate and postdoctoral training, and for training outstanding clinical scientists committed to medical research.

Engaging with the public

• Educate the public on important issues in health and disease.

• Bring together and enhance partners’ public information and education programmes, with a particular focus on engaging younger people.

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NB This document shows Brown’s involvement just prior to the sale of the land.

BRIEFING NOTE FROM NO 10 POLICY ADVISER TO THE PRIME MINISTER DATED 27 NOVEMBER 2007

COPIED TO NO 10 OFFICIALS

ENTITLED “MEETING WITH PAUL NURSE ON BLISS PROJECT”

You are meeting Paul Nurse who is likely to lead the BLISS institute, along, with Mark Walport, Director of The Wellcome Trust, and Harpal Kumar, Head of Cancer Research, two partners in BLISS

We are close to being ready to announce Government support for plans to create a world-leading medical research facility in London, led by the BLISS consortium made up of the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London.

We have now effectively finalised negotiations on the sale of the 35 acre site, adjacent to the British Library: a price has been agreed with DCMS, and the deal is complete subject to agreement on how much of the proceeds DCMS will retain. We are therefore ready for an announcement next week on the sale of the land – but will not be announcing full details of the project overall, as there remain various Issues to resolve, including reaching agreement on business plans and gaining planning permission. We would therefore announce the Government’s support for the vision of the new centre – rather than definitive support for the centre itself. The Project BLISS consortium brings together four leading medical research institutions in the UK and will create a new centre for UK biomedical  research, with 1,500+ scientists, at a level commensurate with the very best Institutions in the world.

The Centre responds to the vision, outlined in Sir David Cooksey’s review of UK health research presented to Treasury in 2006, of better integration and translation of research into patient and public benefit.

The Centre will benefit from economies of scale, enhanced infrastructure, the critical mass to optimise collaboration, and the capacity to take scientific discoveries from the lab bench to the hospital bed. The Centre will create a place for:

• collaboration, between leading scientists and clinicians, working on some of the most pressing medical problems of our time;

• excellence, maintaining the quality of the UK’s life sciences research base;

• application, making links between research, medical practice and the pharmaceutical industry;

• innovation, translating research innovation into new treatments;

• learning, bringing forward a new generation of scientific leaders;

  •discovery, showcasing the challenges and potential of life sciences to a new audience.

• Using the close proximity to the British Library, the Centre will develop a public engagement and education programme.

Sir Paul Nurse

Sir Paul Nurse is President of Rockerfeller University, formerly Joint Director General of Cancer Research UK and winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Medicine. His appointment has not yet been publicly announced,but he is set to lead the project as chair the Scientific Planning Committee.

Briefing note from Bliss

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NB This document from just before the sale of the land shows  the extent of Brown’s involvement with the suggestion that he would arbitrate.  

Sent: 27 November 2007 13:09

To: HOLGATE NICHOLAS

Cc: _[40]_____________

Subject: RESTRICTED – Land to the North

Hi Nicholas,

Jonathan spoke to Jeremy Heywood this morning. Jeremy said he needed the bid to be agreed by next Wednesday – 5 Dec (or Thursday  latest) as PM wanted to get MRC in then (or possible public announcement.

Jonathan explained that there are two issues from our point of view: .No revised formal offer has been received by DCMS .HMT are not being helpful of recycling returns – without an improved offer from HMT JS said it would he v hard to justify.

JR said he thought the offer was sent to us yesterday – have checked but  nothing in JSs post or email – JH will chase. JH also said he would go   back to HMT to see what more they can do, but that ultimately PM may have to arbitrate.

Cheers

[40]

[40]

Private Secretary  to Jonathan Stephens

Department for (Culture, Media and Sport 2-4 Cockpur Street, London

SWlY 5Dl1 email: [40]@culture.gsi.gov.uk tel: 0207211 fax: 020 72116259

————————————————————————————

NB This document shows Brown’s state of mind immediately after the sale of the land was agreed.

Treasury document

From – name censored

Sent: 04 December 2007 19:49

To: name(s) censored.

CC: name(s) censored)

Thanks for everyone’s help and support in making the announcement tomorrow happen. The PM is truly delighted that departments have been able to work together to secure this huge opportunity for Britain

RESTRICTED – COMMERCIAL

Big Brother plus is knocking on your front door

Robert Henderson

In  George Orwell’s 1984 there are tele-screens and hidden microphones  dotted liberally around public spaces, but, contrary to what is commonly imagined by those who have never read the  book, there is no universal electronic surveillance of   people  within their homes.  There are two-way screens in  the apartments  of many, especially those of the  IngSoc  Party members – the only party allowed: think the CP of the Soviet Union with a dash of  Nazism –  which allow  people  to be watched and those being watched to interact with  the watchers  But most of the population – the Proles – do not suffer these  direct  indignities. They are not considered a threat to IngSoc  because of their lack of sophistication which allows them to be manipulated and controlled by the application of mass psychology and a ruthless and proactive censorship which continually re-writes the past.

From the details publicly available, the intention of the David Cameron’s Coalition Government is to pass an Act  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/apr/02/internet-companies-warn-government-email-surveillance) which will do what Orwell did not imagine: introduce electronic surveillance into every home as well as every place of work or public area where the Internet  is used.  Indeed, for anyone who uses a mobile  phone or similar device to enter the Internet , the surveillance will be complete if the person keeps the phone with them all the time. It will be Big Brother Plus.

The proposed Act will force ISPs to store and,   release at the  demand  of the state, details  of who has sent what emails and texts to  whom; who has made phone calls to whom and the websites someone has visited, viz:  “Under legislation expected in next month’s Queen’s Speech, internet companies will be instructed to install hardware enabling GCHQ – the Government’s electronic “listening” agency – to examine “on demand” any phone call made, text message and email sent, and website accessed in “real time”, The Sunday Times reported.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/ws/expansion-of-gchq-internet-monitoring-proposed-7606489.html). Presumably services such as Skype and instant messaging facilities such as Yahoo’s will be encompassed by the legislation.  It is also all too easy to imagine every other provider of communications such as search engines being brought within the net.

As things stand, the Government’s intention is not to allow access to the details of phone calls, emails and texts to be accessed without a warrant. But even if that is how the Bill put before the Commons  reads  it is not much consolation because  even if the system is operated honestly , it will probably be easy enough to get a warrant in many cases because the information gained without a warrant can often give an appearance of suspicious activity even where there is no criminal behaviour.

Even without a warrant  the state will be able to make considerable breaches in a person’s privacy. Knowing the times people are doing things; identifying the websites people are visiting and the frequency of the visits;  knowing how long phone calls have lasted, seeing who  people are contacting and  the frequency of their contact is information which could provide  plausible grounds for suspicion, or at least a case which is plausible enough to provide an arguable justification for the issue of a warrant.  It will only be guilt by association, but those issuing warrants may  often accept  association as sufficient grounds for the issue of a warrant, for example, if terrorist connections  are suspected the pressure to grant a warrant would be very strong.

Here are a couple of innocent scenarios which could prompt the granting of a warrant:

-          Someone  has a strong interest in Middle East  politics and regularly visits websites which represent the  views of the likes of Hamas or  someone wishes to research al Qaeda questions.  They would probably go to quite a few sites and perhaps go often, at least over a short period.  The police and/or security services suspect that the person is a terrorist.

-          Someone without a criminal past unbeknown to them has a friend with a serious criminal past. The police suspect the criminal is about to become active again and the person without a criminal past a criminal associate.

There would immense opportunities for  the abuse of power.  In the past quarter century Britain has witnessed  ever more authoritarian behaviour by governments of all colours which includes  either going beyond what the law empowers them to do, for example, the restrictions on free movement  during the miners’ strike,  or the passing of laws which are simply incompatible with a democracy (the vast array of anti-terrorist legislation and the  laws introduced to enforce political correctness such as those relating to “hate crimes” and legislation such as the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/34/contents).

The consequence of this array of authoritarian legislation is not only to provide governments and the public bodies which derive from them with considerable legal powers over the individual, but to also make politicians and public servants ever more arrogant in their application of laws. At the same time the general public  has developed the type of mentality found in totalitarian states where the individual begins to live in continual fear of ending up in the hands of the police and the justice system or, at best, of losing their employment, if they protest against the growing authoritarianism or breach the ever expanding  limits of political correctness.  This latter worry is no idle fear as there are now weekly examples of those deemed to have placed themselves beyond the pc Pale appearing in the mainstream media.  A drunken student makes some racist comments on twitter and ends up with a 56 day prison sentence while  habitual burglars commonly take at least three convictions to go to prison.   The England centre half John Terry is alleged to have racially abused another player  and is charged with a criminal offence.  A young mother Emma West is not only charged with criminal offences after protesting publicly about the effects of mass immigration,  but is held in “protective custody” at the nearest England has to a women’s category A prison,  despite the fact that she said she did not  require protection.   The consequence of this growing public fear is to feed the natural arrogance of those with power to become ever more reckless in their destruction of the necessary freedoms upon which a democracy rests.

It is against this background that the proposed massive increase in surveillance must be seen.  It is impossible any longer to have faith in any checks and balances put in place to prevent  abuse of  such new laws.  At best those empowered to grant warrants to allow access to the content of emails, texts and possibly phone calls (if these are recorded) will be drawn from the circle of people who are sympathetic generally to those with power.  They will , consciously or subconsciously,  tend to look with favour on request from those with whom they have a class interest. We see this time and again with government instigated inquiries  where a judge or senior public servant is appointed and  the inquiry invariably produces a report which avoids damaging a government or politician still in power. The Hutton Inquiry into Dr David Kelly’s death is a first rate example .  A great deal of  doubt  on the official account of Kelly’s death was cast by evidence given before Hutton , yet he produced conclusions which flew in the face of this evidence and simply repeated  the line wanted by the government,  that Kelly had committed suicide.

There would also be scope outright skullduggery  whereby  the state actively connived at producing information which would justify a warrant. It would not be difficult to hack into a person’s computer  and plant information by visiting compromising  websites, for example, child pornography sites. That would then provide prima facie evidence to apply for a warrant. People other than state actors could also  engage in this type of  behaviour, for example, companies, foreign states and private individuals  who wish to harm someone .

Nor is it only material pointing to potentially criminal behaviour which would be brought into play. There is a good deal of information about legal activities which could be used to either blackmail or disrupt a person’s life by releasing information which compromises them.  Suppose someone has been visiting legal pornographic sites or their phone  contacts suggest an affair is being conducted by someone who is married.  Or it could be something political.  A person may have been contacting political  sites which are  represented as being  beyond the Pale by a political elite –  the BNP in Britain would be a good current example.  Secret membership of such a party  or even showing an interest in such a party, could easily cost  the person their job if it was revealed to their employer.  Where a warrant was  granted  the scope for such harassment by the state would be greatly expanded by the additional information they could access.

Once such a system is established the natural human tendency  to reach for information  which is easily available will be given ever greater play. Just as DNA has become the go to police  investigatory tool regardless of its deficiencies as evidence because of the ease with which it can be planted or contaminated,    so will  the reference to a person’s digital records become  the  first port of call for the security services.

There is also the concern that the information seen and collected by the police, security services and other government agencies  will not be restricted on a need to know basis. Public bodies have a habit of spreading information, legally or illegally.  It is also certain that there will be horrendous data leaks because there always are with unencrypted laptops and memory stick being left or stolen in public places.  As the storage of the data  will be in the hands of private companies rather than public bodies, the chance of  security breaches, whether accidental or deliberate through corrupt practices, is likely to be vast.

Can we stop it?

The Government have met with a good deal of resistance both from within the coalition parties and from outside, with calls to either drop the idea as incompatible with a free society to demands for very strong safeguards such as only a judge being able to grant a warrant.  The dropping of the Bill is unlikely because the leadership of  all three major parties at Westminster have accepted that something along these lines should  be done in the name of national security.  The likelihood is a fudge with enough poison in the Bill to contaminate what is left of  personal freedom in Britain, for example, the substance of the Bill being left intact with a few sops such as a warrant having to be issued by a magistrate rather than being left, as is the case with much covert surveillance, in the hands of senior police officer to sanction it.

Past experience  with legislation such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) shows that whatever the intention of legislators, powers seemingly granted  for extreme circumstances are used  for humdrum purposes. In the case of the RIPA,  councils have freely used surveillance powers  designed to be used against terrorists and other serious criminals. It is as certain as anything can be, that the proposed new powers would be similarly abused  because  laws to be efficient have to be drafted to cover general  circumstances not particular ones. For example, it might be suggested that the new  law should only apply to those suspected of  endangering the security of the country. That would immediately get the lawyers embroiled in a minefield of definition about what constituted such endangerment.   Add  in all other serious crime and the definitional difficulties multiply.

But even if the new powers were restricted to certain areas of crime, that would not be the end of it. There would be pressure from campaign groups, the general public and politicians to expand it to other areas whenever a crime not covered by the legislation took place could plausibly have been prevented if the powers had been available for that particular class of  crime.

The other great general risk is that the system starts off being policed strictly and the restrictions are subsequently relaxed, for example, initially a judge is required to issue a warrant; this is then eroded to a judge or magistrate and finally to a senior police officer.

If the Coalition’s proposals become law they will  bring the surveillance of  British citizens to something dangerously close to that envisaged by Orwell.  Britain is already the most closely watched nation in the world in terms of CCTV cameras per head of population.  Some of these cameras are interactive in the 1984 sense with interaction between watched and watcher possible.  The ever increasing sophistication of digital technology is making any utterance potentially a public matter through its recording and then placing on websites such as YouTube.  The risk of hacking makes all data potentially open to anyone.   If the state takes to itself the power to be able to look at anything a person does there will be precious little way to go before Britain is not merely at the state of surveillance Orwell envisaged but beyond it because everyone will  be potentially under surveillance.

If the intended Act is passed, all that would  left to complete the surveillance jigsaw  for modern Britain would be for something akin to Orwell’s two-way screens to be placed in every person’s home.  That is the position with the  level of present technology. Going further it is probable that in the future machine implants could be made into the human body to monitor our thoughts or our thoughts be captured by some external means such as a form of brain scanning using energy beams to record what we are thinking.  Impossible that we should ever allow such things you say? Well, think of the enormous inroads into our personal freedom we have already tolerated without anything beyond a little grumbling at best.

If we allow this proposal to go through Big Brother will, in a limited sense, already be within our homes , indeed, within our lives generally.  It will potentially allow our private lives to be revealed to the state without restriction. That is what Winston Smith in 1984 suffered.    If we tolerate such an intrusion what argument would we have against the introduction of state surveillance of all our activity,  including what we did in our homes?  There would be none which carried any great force because we would have already permitted surveillance of a large part of what we do privately . If we are to prevent the ever greater embrace of the state about our personal lives we need to prevent this next step, not the one after.

Human beings have a need for privacy. When  you next hear someone moronically parroting “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”  when the question of increased state surveillance is mooted put this question to them: “My I come and stand outside your house with a video camera and record what you were doing in your home? “ I do not think you would find many takers.  Then gently remind the person that when it comes to authoritarian governments, especially those driven by ideology,  no one can ever be sure what does and does not need to be hidden from the state. What is permissible one day  becomes a crime the next.

Universal distraction

When was the last time that your politicians concentrated seriously  on British domestic issues?  Unable to recall? I’m not surprised because increasingly British politicians spend  their time involved with matters foreign.  This is partly because the ever more comprehensive media coverage of world events drives politicians to at least express opinions on every catastrophe, natural or man-made, in the world, but it  also  occurs because it is politically convenient. One week it is a war; the next a flood or earthquake; the following week a mining disaster; the next a famine.  There is always somewhere in the world which can be relied on to provide the diversion.

The political convenience has several aspects: it provides an opportunity for politicians to posture on what they fondly imagine is a world stage;  it  acts as propaganda for the liberal internationalist politics to which all leading British mainstream politicians subscribe and most importantly it  provides a distraction from  problems  at home and the domestic policies of governments and parties, policies which are generally at odds with what the mass of the population believes and wants.

The mainstream media generally supports the liberal internationalist creed of  the politicians and they are happy to pump out as much international coverage of turmoil and disaster as they can get because it both makes compelling viewing and they can always present this as evidence that “we are all part of  one world” with the politically correct add-on, implied or overt,   that “we”  should do something to alleviate matters. As a tasty coda the media will, whenever possible,  try to imply that “we”, that is, the developed world in general and Britain in particular, are to blame for what misfortune is being covered.  The real “we” is of course not the British people but the British elite.

Tied into the national political class are all those who are involved  at the international level. This includes the British public servants involved with international matters; politicians engaged at the supra-national level such as MEPs; British  bureaucrats attached to the likes of the EU, NATO and the UN and all its agencies;  NGOs including charities and multinational companies.  All of these have a vested interest in at least seeing that the status quo is maintained and,  in the case of the politically motivated who subscribe to “one worldism” and large multinationals,  it is in their interest to see that Britain have  its sovereignty diluted as far as possible.

That leaves the general public who are constantly being asked by politicians and mediafolk  to concentrate on matters over which they have no control and frequently no interest in.  This results either in a disengagement from politics generally or a bemused and increasingly stunned concentration on foreign happenings to the exclusion of what is happening or not happening under their noses.  It is at best a modern version of bread and circuses.

The upshot is that British politicians are increasingly able to ignore what  Britain needs and what its people want.  Mass immigration goes unchecked;  the EU moves with increasing speed to rob Britain of her remaining sovereign powers;  Britain is still involved in illegal wars and our politicians show a worrying appetite for more of the same; the coalition Government  purely  for reasons of crude party politics causally calls a referendum (without any minimum turnout) to change Britain’s voting system from one which generally gives a clear electoral decision to one guaranteed to saddle her with more or less perpetual  coalition government ; ever more repressive laws are passed both giving the state and police more powers ;  political correctness is enshrined ever more deeply  in official British life; our armed forces are driven into an ever smaller and more misshapen remnant of what is needed to defend Britain; there is a continuing failure to ensure Britain’s future energy supplies;  Britain’s ability to feed itself is rapidly diminishing;   England remains without a Parliament unlike the other home countries; English taxpayers money continues to massively subsidise the Celtic Fringe;  British taxpayers money is cavalierly given to foreigners, most substantially through Aid;  UN funding and to the EU while British public services are culled;  the mania for privatisation goes on,  most tragically in the NHS; a housing shortage on a par with that after 1945 is developing; Britons on even average incomes are finding it impossible to raise children in decent comfort; the genuinely poor are increasing raidly; British politicians continue to behave corruptly and venally despite the Parliamentary expenses scandal  and the bankers who brought Britain to her present dire financial state remain not only unpunished, not one having even had their limited liability removed let alone criminal charges preferred,  but scandalously continuing to draw grotesquely high pay and promoting the same time of insanely risky investment behaviour which caused the present financial turmoil.

Those are the most important issues Britain faces . They are being ignored by  Britain’s politicians who increasingly are powerless actors on a stage delivering the words and actions of others.  The British public are left as a helpless audience knowing that no matter how loud they boo the show will go on.

Do you want this potential terrorist target in the heart of London?

The United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) was granted planning permission for a research labratory on 16 December. This is a consortium comprised of the Medical Research Council (a taxpayers funded body) , Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London which is part of London University.

If built the research centre will be handling dangerous viruses which are permitted under a level 3 biohazard licence, viz:

“Biohazard Level 3: Bacteria and viruses that can cause severe to fatal disease in humans, but for which vaccines or other treatments exist, such as anthrax, West Nile virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, SARS virus, variola virus (smallpox), tuberculosis, typhus, Rift Valley fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, yellow fever,
and malaria. Among parasites Plasmodium falciparum, which causes Malaria, and Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes trypanosomiasis, also come under this level.”

The Medical Research Council currently handles even more toxic viruses n their Mill Hill site, namely, those which are permitted under a level 4 biohazard licence, viz.:

“Biohazard Level 4: Viruses and bacteria that cause severe to fatal disease in humans, and for which vaccines or other treatments are not available, such as Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, H5N1(bird flu), Dengue hemorrhagic fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, hantaviruses, Lassa fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and other hemorrhagic diseases.”

To place such research on the site would be criminally irresponsible under any circumstances even if both the physical security and biohazard hygiene were first rate because of the risks of a terrorist attack. However, there can be no rational public confidence that will be the case because UKCMRI have persistently refused to give any details about how their security arrangements will be handled, even in terms which would not compromise their security, such as saying whether armed guards will be used or even whether the security will be directly employed by the consortium or sub-contracted out. There will also be groups working within the centre who are not directly working for the consortium and the public will have access to some areas. To undertake the building of the centre under these circumstances would not be merely criminally reckless but touch the confines of lunacy.

There are also issues with the disruption caused by building and the contamination of the bidding process for the site by Gordon Brown, who interfered with the process even before the formal bidding period was ended. Details of these issues can be found in my objection to the planning application which forms the first posts in the blog, as well as the detailed objections on security grounds. All the objections to the planning application which require proof are supported by documents.

Write to your MP and complain. Raise a stink wherever you can.

Further details of what is happening can be found at 

 http://ukcmri.wordpress.com/

Man-made global warming is the 21st century phlogiston

In the 18th century a   theory arose to explain the process of oxidation (combustion and rusting). The theory involved a non-existent substance named  phlogiston (from the ancient  Greek for burning up. It was a theory which neatly accounted for oxidation processes such as combustion and rusting. Phlogiston was supposedly contained within every flammable substance and released when a substance was  burnt. This meant that the residue (the calx) of what was burnt should be lighter than the original substance. Inconveniently for the phlogistonists , experiments showed that, for example, a the calx of a metal such as  magnesium gained weight when burnt in the air. The most excitable  phlogistonists  in desperation then floated the idea that  phlogiston had a negative weight. Some of the less excitable suggested that phlogiston was lighter than air, which obfuscated matters until the measurement of the weight of gases as well as the remainders of a burnt substance became possible  through the use of hermetically sealed containers .  Eventually an end was brought to this nonsense by a combination of  Lavoisier’s  identification of  oxygen and its combinational  qualities and numerous experiments by antiphlogistonists  which  showed that results of any substance that  was combusted or corroded in air could only be explained by the phlogiston theory if phlogiston had a negative weight.  The discrediting of phlogiston theory took the better part of a century.

The behaviour  of the man-made global warmists is reminiscent of  the believers in phlogiston. Time and again they are confronted with facts which are as damaging to their  creed as the weight gain of combusted material was to phlogiston theory.  Just like the believers in phlogiston, they meet every  unwelcome fact with increasingly absurd adjustments to their  theory. It gets warmer; that proves man-mad global warming. It gets colder; that proves global warming .  Here’s my all-time favourite of such reasoning: 

Daily TELEGRAPH   1.5.08

Global warming may ‘stop’, scientists predict

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

Global warming will stop until at least 2015 because of natural variations in the climate, scientists have said.

Researchers studying long-term changes in sea temperatures said they now expect a “lull” for up to a decade while natural variations in climate  cancel out the increases caused by man-made greenhouse gas  emissions…..

… Noel Keenlyside of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, Kiel, Germany, said: “The IPCC would predict a 0.3°C warming over the next  decade. Our prediction is that there will be no warming until 2015 but it  will pick up after that.”

If this was an idea believed only be a few harmless academics it would be of no account. As it is part of the politically correct political elites of  most of the developed world it is potent  danger as massive costs are piled on developed economies while the economies of the developing world carry on merrily without such costs.  It is a recipe to make the West dependent on the likes of China and India and to inflate the wealth and power of the developing world at the expense of the West.  As a matter of simple self-preservation, the West needs to rapidly change the mentality of its elites.

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