HM Loyal Opposition goes AWOL


This is such an extraordinary picture that I am inclined to think it’s a spoof. The Prime Minister is making a statement to the House of Commons — about the strategic defence review, no less. In other words, about the future of the country’s armed forces. But the Labour Parliamentary party — and the Shadow Cabinet — have gone AWOL, leaving their Leader sitting alone on the Opposition front bench. I don’t care what these cretins think about Corbyn: this is a Parliamentary democracy and it only works if there’s a functional opposition. That’s what Labour MPs were elected to provide. Instead of which they are sulking in their tents because their party elected a guy they can’t stand.

LATER It’s not a spoof. Channel 4 News has a video showing them slinking away.

Let’s turn the TalkTalk hacking scandal into a crisis

Yesterday’s Observer column:

The political theorist David Runciman draws a useful distinction between scandals and crises. Scandals happen all the time in society; they create a good deal of noise and heat, but in the end nothing much happens. Things go back to normal. Crises, on the other hand, do eventually lead to structural change, and in that sense play an important role in democracies.

So a good question to ask whenever something bad happens is whether it heralds a scandal or a crisis. When the phone-hacking story eventually broke, for example, many people (me included) thought that it represented a crisis. Now, several years – and a judicial enquiry – later, nothing much seems to have changed. Sure, there was a lot of sound and fury, but it signified little. The tabloids are still doing their disgraceful thing, and Rebekah Brooks is back in the saddle. So it was just a scandal, after all.

When the TalkTalk hacking story broke and I heard the company’s chief executive say in a live radio interview that she couldn’t say whether the customer data that had allegedly been stolen had been stored in encrypted form, the Runciman question sprang immediately to mind. That the boss of a communications firm should be so ignorant about something so central to her business certainly sounded like a scandal…

Read on

LATER Interesting blog post by Bruce Schneier. He opens with an account of how the CIA’s Director and the software developer Grant Blakeman had their email accounts hacked. Then,

Neither of them should have been put through this. None of us should have to worry about this.

The problem is a system that makes this possible, and companies that don’t care because they don’t suffer the losses. It’s a classic market failure, and government intervention is how we have to fix the problem.

It’s only when the costs of insecurity exceed the costs of doing it right that companies will invest properly in our security. Companies need to be responsible for the personal information they store about us. They need to secure it better, and they need to suffer penalties if they improperly release it. This means regulatory security standards.

The government should not mandate how a company secures our data; that will move the responsibility to the government and stifle innovation. Instead, government should establish minimum standards for results, and let the market figure out how to do it most effectively. It should allow individuals whose information has been exposed sue for damages. This is a model that has worked in all other aspects of public safety, and it needs to be applied here as well.

He’s right. Only when the costs of insecurity exceed the costs of doing it right will companies invest properly in it. And governments can fix that, quickly, by changing the law. For once, this is something that’s not difficult to do, even in a democracy.

The end of private reading is nigh

This morning’s Observer column about the Investigatory Powers bill:

The draft bill proposes that henceforth everyone’s clickstream – the URLs of every website one visits – is to be collected and stored for 12 months and may be inspected by agents of the state under certain arrangements. But collecting the stream will be done without any warrant. To civil libertarians who are upset by this new power, the government’s response boils down to this: “Don’t worry, because we’re just collecting the part of the URL that specifies the web server and that’s just ‘communications data’ (aka metadata); we’re not reading the content of the pages you visit, except under due authorisation.”

This is the purest cant, for two reasons…

Read on

To MI5 with love

The Economist‘s succinct summary of the draft investigatory Powers bill:

The government has been caught between the civil-liberties lobby and the intelligence agencies, with much dancing back and forth in the press over the past few weeks, but has come down on the side of the spies. It is in agreement with the public: a recent YouGov poll found Britons think spies should be given more powers (perhaps reasoning that Tesco knows more about them than MI5 ever will). Though civil-liberties groups, empowered by the information leaked by Edward Snowden, are louder than ever, the government has decided to speak for its intelligence agencies, who cannot speak for themselves.

I agree with everything here, except the last clause. Clearly the Economist hasn’t been reading the right-wing press, or listening to the spooks’ charm offensive on the media in the months leading up to publication of the draft bill.

US foreign policy in a nutshell

From Bill Moyers:

“ISIS is seen in Washington as a grave terrorist threat with the potential to knock over the unpopular and unstable regimes of the Middle East (i.e., our client states) like bowling pins. Yet the Washington Consensus sees as the key to defeating ISIS the undermining of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, ISIS’s principal military enemy. If a US general in 1942 declared the only way to defeat the Wehrmacht would be for us to fight Nazi Germany and the USSR simultaneously, he would have been committed to a lunatic asylum.”

The fallout from the Safe Harbor judgment — contd.

From today’s New York Times:

Companies are scrambling. American and European lawmakers are upset. And no one really knows how to respond.

The cause of the anxiety? The decision two weeks ago by Europe’s highest court to strike down a 15-year-old international agreement, known as safe harbor, that had allowed companies to move digital information like people’s web search histories between the European Union and the United States.

The ruling has left businesses like Facebook and Google, which rely on the easy transfer of online information to make money from digital advertising, on uneasy legal footing.

A new safe harbor agreement between Europe and the United States could help ease some of that uncertainty, but negotiators have been unable to reach a new deal for two years.

And in a sign of increased tension, European privacy regulators say they will start to enforce tougher oversight of data transfers, including issuing fines and banning overseas data transfers, by the end of January if a new agreement is not reached.

Brexit: nobody knows anything any more

Very thoughtful column by Jonathan Freedland:

Hollywood has long known the truth that “nobody knows anything”, but politics is only just getting its head around the idea. Just as no studio boss can ever know which film will hit and which will miss, so the sages of the political trade are beginning to speak with, if not quite humility, then at least caution.

This new-found hesitation has three causes: Scotland, the general election and Jeremy Corbyn. The experts did not see the yes surge coming in last year’s referendum; the pollsters swore 7 May would produce a hung parliament; and not one commentator predicted Corbynmania.

Perhaps it’s a paradox too far to try to predict the next big surprise, but given recent experience few would want to call the coming referendum that will determine whether Britain will remain in the European Union. The only safe bet, one that expects the unexpected, might be to reckon that the current tide of anti-establishment populism – washing away certainties on both sides of the Atlantic, from Syriza to Donald Trump, from Podemos to Bernie Sanders – will come in hard when Britons vote on their European future…

Yep. On the other hand, the hedge fund guys are gung-ho for Brexit, so that should give the insurgents pause. For in that case their enemy’s enemy is certainly not their friend.