Friday, August 01, 2014

Future motorists face diesel bans, hybrids & driverless cars

Drivers in the UK face a very different experience if new government plans come into being. This week London's mayor Boris Johnson put forward proposals that could see all diesel cars banned from city centres or be forced to pay extra charges.

Meanwhile plans have been unveiled that will make driverless cars legal on British roads, something that might leave many drivers cold.

Restrictions on diesel vehicles

In January 2012 thousands of motorists were forced off the road after the so-called Low Emission Zone was extended to include transit vans, mini buses and a range of other vehicles powered by diesel [tvnewswatch: Low emission zone forces thousands off the road].

The move was widely criticised since many people affected by the change could least afford to replace their vehicle or convert it to conform to the new emissions standards. Whilst some bought brand new vehicles, others had little choice than to buy second hand vehicles that complied with the new restrictions.

However, many of these individuals and businesses may once again find themselves with a financial dilemma if Boris Johnson's proposals take effect.

Ultra Low Emission Zone

The London Mayor wants the new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to be introduced by 2020 with diesel vehicles that don't comply being charged £10 a day on top of the current £11.50 congestion charge. In addition he says he will lobby the government to increase vehicle excise duty on diesel cars to encourage motorists to move to cleaner vehicles.

While some environmental groups have called on a total ban on diesel vehicles, the mayor has dismissed such suggestions as unfair.

"It would not be reasonable to say, 'I'm sorry, you have just bought that car but it's now banned,' Boris Johnson said. "People bought them in good faith and it's not fair to clobber them. We think a five-year notice gives enough warning. People who drive in once a month might not buy a newer car whereas somebody who drives in every day probably would do."

It is unclear which diesel vehicles would be affected, though current suggestions point to diesel vehicles that meet the Euro 6 emissions standard would be exempt while petrol cars registered before 2006 would also have to pay and increased levy [BBC / Daily Mail / Telegraph].

Betrayed by previous governments

While there has been a gradual targeting of owners of diesel powered vehicles, at the same time motorists have in the past been encouraged to buy them.

Legislation over the past 15 years, intended to lower carbon emissions, has pushed people towards diesel cars. Government tax incentives, not to mention huge improvements in the driveability of diesel cars, has also led to an explosion of sales [Guardian / Telegraph].

The latest proposal could come into force as early as 2020 and some other cities across the country are already discussing similar measures.

Rather than let older cars die a natural death and ban the manufacturing of new diesel vehicles, the increased charges and taxes are seen as merely a money making scheme rather than a way of curbing pollution.

Whilst motorists might well struggle with financing a deal on another vehicle, the proposed schemes could also be seen as an attempt to boost car manufacturing and vehicle sales.

But with much of the environmental cost wrapped up in the manufacturing of a vehicle, people's ditching of a perfectly good - albeit slightly polluting - vehicle, could be worse for the environment.

Greening

The writing is certainly on the wall for anyone using a method of transport that burns fuel. The mayor has even talked of making all newly registered taxis 'emission free' by 2018 [Telegraph].

Hybrid vehicles may well be the way of the future. Purely electric vehicles may also have a place. But infrastructure needs to be rolled out enabling motorists to travel more than a few hundred kilometres before running out of power.

Using an electric car in London might be convenient, and even save money. But try shoving a family of four, plus a tonne of camping gear, into a Renault Twizy and embarking on a European tour. Even a jaunt to Cornwall and back might prove just a little tricky.

Such vehicles are still not cheap. A brand new Twizy costs around £7,000 and that excludes the battery which is leased. And while it may be relatively cheap to run it can carry only two people and has about as much boot space as a small briefcase.

Of course not all electric vehicles are as impractical or dinky as the Twizy. Renault's Zoe and Volvo's V60 are bold attempts to bring a 'zero emission' family car to the road.

Across the EU 50,000 plug-in vehicles were sold in 2013, up from 22,000 in 2012, but electric models are still a tiny fraction of all new cars sold [Guardian].

And while there is no local pollution from such vehicles it must be remembered these are not exactly 'zero emission'. Since they are powered from the national grid there will still be fuel used to generate the electricity, unless of course it is wind, solar or nuclear.

A future without driving

The future may also see us not only possessing an electric vehicle but one that drives itself. the autonomous vehicle once existed only in the imagination of science fiction writers. But today the driverless vehicle is already a reality and may become the norm in less than twenty years. And now the UK government has announced that driverless cars will be allowed on public roads from January 2015.

It has also invited cities to compete to host one of three trials of the technology. In addition, ministers have ordered a review of the UK's road regulations to provide appropriate guidelines.

The Internet company Google has invested heavily in the technology and run extensive trials in California. In fact Google's driverless cars have clocked up more than 500,000 km on the open road without incident. Meanwhile other states including Nevada and Florida have approved tests of the vehicles [BBCTelegraph].

There are concerns about the new technology with some worried about the risks should the onboard computers fail. Earlier this month, the FBI warned that driverless cars could be used as lethal weapons, predicting that the vehicles "will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car" [BBC].

Even if the tech proves itself to be safe, motorists may be less than happy. According to a new study from Churchill Car Insurance around 56% of UK adults say they would not purchase a driverless car and one in four believed that autonomous vehicles would not be safe.

Malfunction is the biggest fear, with 60% of people fearing that the computer may be unreliable in an autonomous vehicle. Insurance companies have also expressed fears with some talking of an "existential threat" [FT].  

Around a third also had concerns that the technology could be open to cyber attacks [FleetNews] .

Freedom of choice may eventually disappear however. The pleasure of driving may be a thing of the past. Indeed, should politicians have their way we will all be automatically conveyed from one location to another in an electric driverless car at speeds and on routes regulated and controlled by government departments.

This week Boris Johnson tried to distance himself from suggestions of making London a testing ground for driverless buses, trains and subway trains. A document released by the Mayor's office had hinted that dramatic changes might be on the horizon. The papers said that driverless technology of the type being developed by Google would provide "large cost savings for buses while delivering a faster more efficient service," and added that it would become possible to provide what it called "taxi like" services "at reduced costs" [Guardian].

Such proposals would not be out of place in London where the fully automated Docklands Light Railway has been running for more than 20 years. 
 
In the future, the choice concerning the type of vehicle, the route and other motoring decisions may well be dictated by central government. Such a vision may be a few decades away, but the road is already being paved.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Max Mosley to sue Google, risks Streisand effect

Max Mosley is suing Google for continuing to display in search results images of him with prostitutes at a sex party. He is citing alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act and a misuse of private information.

However Mosley's repeated legal moves in his crusade over privacy merely increases the likelihood that people will seek out the very images he is complaining about.

Whether you picked up a newspaper or read the headlines on the Internet, Max Mosley's name was splattered everywhere on Thursday [31st July]. The reason was that the former Formula 1 racing boss had decided to sue the Internet Giant Google for failing to remove links to pictures of him at a sex party.

The pictures came to light in March 2008 when the News of the World published a series of sensationalist stories surrounding Max Mosley's involvement with several prostitutes.

Mosley later sued the News of the World and won the case on the grounds that it had breached his privacy.

However, the story was already out there. For a variety of reasons media organisations and bloggers have continued to republish the offending photographs.

Mosley launched legal action against Google, in an attempt to stop searches from returning web pages which used the photographs from the video used for the News of the World story. On 6th November 2013 in Mosley v SARL Google a French court sided with Mosley and ordered Google to prevent its search engine from providing links to images of Max Mosley engaging in sexual activities from the video.

Mosley launched a similar legal action against Google in Germany and in January 2014 the German court also ruled against the American company. In giving its verdict, the court stated, "that the banned pictures of the plaintiff severely violate his private sphere."

But while Google was removing links, new links emerged. The very act of taking Google to court was in fact bringing attention to a story that most of the public had forgotten long ago.

Mosley was in fact risk what has become known as the Streisand Effect. The phenomena is so named after the singer Barbra Streisand attempted to suppress publication of photographs of her Malibu home, but resulted in even greater publicity.

Today as Mosley seeks to get Google to forget his past, his attempts to eradicate his past are failing. A recent flick through Twitter shows some users are posting the very pictures that he is keen to remove.

"Anyone trying to get something banned is always going to be of more interest than something that people don't seem bothered by," says Jenny Afia, head of talent at the law firm Schillings. "It's a spark for curiosity."

Certainly interest has dropped over the years from a peak in 2008. Google trends shows that searches on the story have diminished, but there are still occasional spikes [Register]. 

Mosley may get Google to remove links, even proactively. But he will still have an on going battle to remove the pictures from the Internet altogether. Mosley seems to have focused his attentions to Google whilst forgetting about Bing and Yahoo. In addition there are foreign search engines such as Russia's Yandex and China's Baidu which also return pictures of the F1 bosses sordid past. There are also search engines tied into other services. Twipho for example allows users search for pictures posted to Twitter.

If Max Mosley was interested in his past being forgotten he would simply lie low. Shouting about something from the rooftops is not the way to avoid attention.

[Wikipedia / BBC / Guardian / Forbes / SearchEngineWatch]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Foursquare risks alienating users with Swarm

This last week Foursquare forced all users to download Swarm, a new app where it has shifted its check-in feature [Foursquare blog]. But this, along with a few other changes, risks alienating its user base and killing the service altogether.

Launched in 2009 Foursquare was a way of connecting with people through a location-based social networking service for mobile devices.

After signing-up users would check-in to restaurants, bars and other locations. The listings could then be seen by connected friends. The service was augmented and made fun as users could 'earn' badges and become the 'mayor' of places visited several times in a short period.

While just a bit of fun the check-ins and mayorships could also prove beneficial. 'Mayors' might be offered discounts on goods or products. Even a simple check-in could even result in money saving offers.

Discounts and offers

In 2012 American Express tied up with Foursquare and offered significant savings for users who checked-in to a selection of outlets [tvnewswatch: Cash back for Foursquare users with AmEx deal / tvnewswatch: Amex/Foursquare tie-up is good deal for customers].

Earlier this year Amex relaunched new offers with the social network, but the revamping of Foursquare in conjunction with Swarm may complicate things [Headforpoints]. 

Two apps instead of one

Swarm was released earlier this year, but few Foursquare users opted to download the new application despite constant prompts [TechTimes]. However, users were forced to download the app recently if they wanted to continue checking-in to venues.

This angered many users who thought it ridiculous that one should need two apps to perform a simple function that one app previously did.

There was also some consternation that 'badges' were being dispensed with. Users checking in to several shopping centres would no longer become a Mall Rat. Users instead would get 'stickers'.

As for Mayors, such prestigious achievements would be frozen! [Foursquare blog]

Disjointed

All these changes prompts the question as to whether users would still benefit from discount offers. The disjointed marrying of the two apps might lead to confusion not only for users but also businesses which have made offers available based on repeated check-ins and mayorships.

Indeed, Foursquare may well be killing off what was a much loved service by its users.

There were of course some who merely checked-in by way of keeping a tally of all the places they'd visited. For such individuals badges, mayorships and discounts were an added bonus.

Businesses of course capitalised on the large user base in order to draw in new custom. But should that user base decline any advantages of using Foursquare and Swarm goes with it.

Angry bees

The jury is still out on whether offloading check-ins, the feature the original app was built around, to a separate, stand-alone app will prove ill-fated. However if recent reviews are to anything to go by, users aren't exactly happy. 

On the Google Play app store one user wrote, "Please revert your decision on moving the check-in option to swarm. People doesnt need two seperate app to do the same thing. Please enable foursquare check-in or more people will just leave this community" [sic].

"Why have 2 apps when 1 app is all you really need? Don't fix something that's not broken and working just fine in the first place," another wrote.

Meanwhile several suggested they were throwing in the towel altogether and deleting both Foursquare and Swarm. Over the last few days the decision by Foursquare to change their logo, app and service has resulted in dozens of critical reviews and single star ratings.

Foursquare might have thought that their new Swarm app would have pulled more people together. In fact it has had the opposite effect. The bees are angry. They are indeed swarming, but away to pastures new [Mashable].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, July 21, 2014

Solidarity needed if sanctions against Russia are to work

Following the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 there has been much talk of increasing pressure on Russia's president Vladimir Putin, applying sanctions in order to force him to exert influence on pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

Responsibility & blame

Putin has dismissed the rebels were responsible for downing the airliner, and Russia's media has countered such suggestions with its own theories that the Ukrainian government was itself to blame.

Flying over a war zone, even at more than 10,000 metres, is not to be encouraged. And while there were advisories suggesting commercial jets avoid the area, there was no blanket ban.

South Korea's two main airlines, Korean Air and Asiana, as well as Australia's Qantas and Taiwan's China Airlines said they had all re-routed flights from as early as the beginning of March when Russian troops moved into Crimea. But others had decided the risk was minimal.

Prior to the shooting down of the Malaysian Boeing 777-200, the route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. In addition the International Air Transportation Association had stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions.

Indeed. until Thursday 17th July, Virgin Atlantic, Air India, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air China, China Eastern Airways, Jet Airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Austrian Airlines had continued to fly across the region [BBC / Telegraph / Daily Mail].

Calls for action

While the aircraft may have been mistakenly shot down by rebels believing it to be a Ukrainian military plane the act is nonetheless seen by many as a terrorist or criminal act that should not go unpunished. And Putin's support of the pro-Russian separatists has drawn particular focus.

Anger amongst the families who lost loved ones has grown. The pain and anger was greatest in Holland. The Netherlands lost 193 people including 22 children and there were calls for stiffer sanctions against Russia who are believed to have supplied the BUK surface-to-Air missile launcher used in the attack.

Over the weekend there were reports of looting and desecration of the scene with pro-Russian militia picking through the personal effects of those on board the stricken flight. One picture showed some members of the militia smiling as they held up children's toys scattered across the fields of eastern Ukraine. The rebels were also accused of hiding, removing and destroying evidence [Telegraph].

Late Sunday, one rebel commander announced they had possession of the so-called black boxes and would hand them over to the appropriate authorities [Daily Mail]. This appeared to dispel earlier reports that the devices had been spirited away to Moscow. However, inspectors from the OSCE, sent to investigate site, say they have been threatened and prevented from having proper access.

Political response

Indeed it appeared that the media had better access to the crime scene than air crash investigators. In Holland some relatives called for NATO to get involved in order to allow investigators do their job. Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond ruled out any military intervention or protection force and said it was not within NATO's remit. Speaking on Dermot Murnaghan's Sunday magazine show on Sky News, the foreign secretary criticised the "interference with what is potentially an important crime scene" and said it was "not acceptable".

Murnaghan confronted him, suggesting that Britain and others were "pussyfooting around". "Why don't we just send those people [investigators] in with military protection if required, I'm sure the Ukrainian authorities would back that, and say shoot us if you dare, we are doing the right thing."

Hammond evaded the question, merely saying that Ukrainian authorities do not control the site and there was "a war going on".

Rather than storm in and demand access, the international community was relying on diplomacy, threats of further Russian sanctions and increased pressure on Putin to exact influence on the rebels.

By Monday there were signs that Putin was attempting to appease the West in its continued request to access the crash site. "Today there are already working representatives of Donbass, Donetsk, representatives of Ministry of Ukraine, experts Malaysia," Putin said on national television, "But this is not enough." [Pravda]

Even if access is given, there are some who still believe Russia should be punished for its perceived role in supplying and supporting the militia in eastern Ukraine.

Commentary

Zbigniew Brzezinski speaking to Fareed Zakaria on CNN's Global Public Square over the weekend said western leaders should wake up to Russia's belligerence and exploitation of Europe.

"I think President Hollande has to face the fact that he cannot now, at this moment, be sending advanced arms to help Russia. Prime Minister Cameron should face the fact that the city of London has become a Las Vegas for Russian financial transactions that are self-serving."

"My sense is that the European public opinion is aroused. This humanitarian issue is so tragic, so painful, so cruel and so unnecessary that the Europeans are beginning to be moved. But each of the major European leaders has a role to play. Chancellor Merkel has to face the fact that her predecessor, also a chancellor, was one of the creators of Europe's dependence on Russian energy supplies," the former US national security advisor said.

"We are, in fact, facing the first use of force over territorial issues in Europe since the outbreak of World War II," Brzezinski observed, and said that Russia was essentially precipitating another Cold War.

"We're not starting the Cold War. He [Putin] has started it. But he has gotten himself into horrendous jam. I strongly suspect that a lot of people in Russia, even not far away from him who are worried that Russia's status in the world is dramatically being undermined, that Russia's economically beginning to fail, that Russia's threatened by the prospect of becoming a satellite to China, that Russia's becoming self-isolated and discredited."

Brzezinski was not the only one to suggest Russia was risking becoming isolated. On Sky News the British foreign secretary had earlier said, "Russia risks becoming a pariah state if it does not behave properly."

The British press had already made their assessment however. Many of Sunday's papers had made the decision that Russia was a pariah state [Guardian]. Many editorials called for strong action and an imposing of strong sanctions.

Call for sanctions

Europe has been reticent to impose sanctions on Russia, especially due to reliance on natural gas. However Russia could suffer far more if Europe acted together [BBC / Telegraph].

Worst hit by the tragedy of MH17 is the Netherlands which buys the largest amount of Russian exports. In 2013 the Netherlands bought Russian exports worth $70,126,107,000, accounting for 13.3% of total Russian exports [Worlds Top Exports]. Europe as a whole could diminish Russian exports by more than 40%. Even Russia's strong ally, China, takes only $35,630,503,000 or 6.8% of Russian exports.

Given the Russian population of 142.5 million people, the total $526.4 billion in 2013 Russian exports translates to roughly $3,695 for every person in the country. A 50% cut in revenue could not only affect the economy but also Putin's popularity.

Stephen Cohen, Professor in Russian Studies at NYU and Princeton, was sceptical that any pressure on Putin would work. "The argument now is the strategic argument is that Putin can end this. This is preposterous," Cohen told CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Ukraine he added was a "classic example of a divided country" and the situation was "profoundly complicated".

Political & economic divisions

Last week the BRIC's nations signed deal to create their own financial bank. Putin, Modi, Rousseff, Xi and Zuma, all gathered in Fortaleza, Brazil and on Tuesday last week they sent a shot across the bow of the rest of the world by announcing a $50 billion bank meant to rival the World Bank and $100 billion crisis fund to replace the IMF.

Known as a development bank it comes as the main members, Brazil, Russia, India and China as well as South Africa, see themselves as being excluded from the IMF and World Bank.

Together the BRIC's nations contain 40% of the global population. Additionally it creates around 20% of the world's GDP and 17% of global trade. And with China's economy growing exponentially, Europe and the US may soon be overshadowed by the BRICs.

Sanctions on Russia may affect it in the short term, but as she and her allies join to form their own financial and trading club, such sanctions may become irrelevant.

Indeed this weeks events in the Ukraine may create further divisions as sanctions begin to bite at Russia's heels. With China often unwilling to play ball with WTO regulations and often siding with its Russian neighbour, the geopolitical and economic future may change dramatically in the coming years.

Nonetheless, Europe and other nations affected by the tragedy of MH17 should not be deterred in punishing Russia for its complicity in what is essentially becoming a dangerous proxy war [Politico].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, July 19, 2014

West impotent to act after downing of MH17

Western nations have been struggling with how to respond after Malaysian flight MH17 was shot down Thursday [17th July].

No-one has claimed responsibility, but Russian separatists are widely believed to be responsible. Given the height the commercial passenger plane was travelling it is also suggested that the aircraft was shot down with the aid of Russian technology.

Harsh words but little action

But while all the evidence seems to point to Russia and pro-Russian separatists, the West is unable to respond with anything more than harsh rhetoric.

US President Obama, the British Prime Minister David Cameron and others were quick to talk of finding "those responsible" and to "bring them to account". However, even if it is proved that pro-Russian separatists were responsible and supplied with Russian missile technology, there may be little they can do, lest they provoke the angry Russian bear.

There has been talk of increased sanctions. However this could hurt the West, and Europe in particular, far more than Russia. Much of eastern Europe cannot survive without Russian gas supplies and there is the distinct possibility Russia  could turn off the taps. Whilst Russia would lose out economically, it would still have markets such as China.

London is awash with Russian billions, much of it ill-gotten and laundered in the City but ultimately bringing wealth to the UK. Sanction could also damage companies like BP who own massive stakes in Russian firms.

Dangers of military response

There have been many flippant remarks on social media suggesting the West 'nuke Russia'. But military action is something few leaders in the West would contemplate [The Mirror]. 

A ground offensive would be costly, both financially and in terms of lives. Even targeted strikes, with drones, missiles or military jets, could result in an escalation of hostilities which could drag the West into a war with Russia. Whilst even Russia might baulk at the use of nuclear weapons, military intervention with the likes of Putin could prove very dangerous, especially if he has no absolute control over his military.

The shooting down of flight MH17 was likely an error. Separatists on the ground may well have believed the plane was a Ukrainian military transporter. But without the command structure and an ability to properly verify the fact with technology normally available to nation states, the decision was made merely on supposition rather than absolute facts.

Evidence points to separatists

Posts on Russian social networks seem to indicate that pro-Russian separatists genuinely believed they had identified, targeted and shot down a Ukrainian transport plane.

At 13:50 GMT on Thursday a message was posted on the Russian social network VKontakte. The message, on an account believed to be linked to a pro-Russian separatist leader in Ukraine, Igor Girkin (Strelkov), claimed that militants had shot down at least one Ukrainian military plane near the Donetsk Region town of Torez, possibly two. The post was soon deleted, but not before screengrabs were widely disseminated around the globe [BBC / Censor].

There was also evidence seeming to show that a BUK surface-to-air missile launcher was quickly moved following the shooting down of MH17. In a day of claim and counterclaim, Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov said a BUK mobile launch vehicle had been moved since the destruction of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200 on Thursday, and that it was missing at least one rocket, suggesting it had fired at the jet killing all 298 aboard.

The minister claimed the launcher had been tracked by Ukrainian intelligence agents as it passed by the town of Krasnodon in Luhansk region on its way to the Russian border. A 13-second video showed a tarpaulin-covered vehicle being driven through a semi-rural location with green and white missiles still visible, but it was not possible to confirm the veracity of the claim.

Nonetheless, the later deleted claim of downing a military plane, video of what may be a BUK M2 SAM system and suggestions that at least one of the plane's black boxes had been recovered by separatists and was being taken to Russia, all seemed to point to one conclusion [Daily Mail / Telegraph].

Media response

Many papers in the West were clear in their assessment. Friday's Sun newspaper pointed the finger at the Russian President with the headline "Putin's Missile". The Daily Mail said all the evidence, including footage and intercepted radio transmissions, "proved" the pro-Russian separatists - helped by Russia - were responsible.

None too happy about the reportage in the West, Russia's state media and others have been attempting to counter the accusations. Russia Today was putting out what was widely regarded as propaganda, enticing one journalist to quit [Channel Four News]. Meanwhile the Russian government was accused of attempting to alter Wikipedia entries in an effort to remove criticism [Telegraph].

There was some criticism of Malaysian Airlines too. Despite flying at more than 10,000 metres [33,000 feet], supposedly out of range of missile systems, there have been many criticising the decision to continue flying over a known warzone.

Flight regulations

However there has been only advice issued from various bodies concerning the use of Ukrainian airspace, and whilst some airlines halted flights over the region some months ago, others have continued to fly across the country. Since Thursday's shooting down of MH17 most airlines have now decided to avoid East Ukraine altogether and EuroControl issued a statement saying that all flights filing a flight plan through the region would be rejected.

This weeks events may bring little or no retaliation concerning the separatists and possible Russian involvement in supplying weapons. But there will certainly be repercussions in the rules and restrictions applied to civilian aircraft flying over or near conflict zones.

The real tragedy is that 298 people have lost their lives in order to bring about a rethink in the way such rules and regulations are implemented.

[BBC / Guardian / Wikipedia]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Do UK govt surveillance laws go far enough?

Last week the UK government announced it was to bring in emergency legislation in order to force Internet and telecommunications companies to keep records related to its customers' use of the Internet and phone.

There were  many sensationalist headlines accusing the government of extending laws on snooping, eroding further people's perceived right to privacy and increasing surveillance powers such that Britain would become a police state.

But with terror threats growing and fanatical Islamist groups taking hold in Iraq, Syria and parts of Africa, the government's measures may not only be necessary, they may not even go far enough.

Terror threat

Even before 9/11 Britain and other countries faced a growing threat of terrorism. And that threat has grown, not least because of the growth in technology. Internet communications and mobile phones have made many people's lives better. But the same technology allows terrorists to disseminate their message in a way they were never able to before. Information about bomb construction can be sent around the world in seconds to would-be terrorists. Messages may be encrypted to avoid detection. VPNs may be used to further evade surveillance, whilst individual extremists may also create temporary email accounts and use mobile phones on an untraceable Pay As You Go 'contract'.

Collecting data

Recent judicial reviews by the EU concerning the data collected by ISPs and telecommunications created a dilemma for UK companies with many unsure as to whether they were still obliged to retain customer data.

The emergency legislation the British Prime Minister announced was, he said, to clarify the law and to prevent any loss of information that could prove useful in fighting the war on terror.

Speaking before a room packed with journalists, PM David Cameron said that the emergency legislation would be brought in to force phone & ISPs to retain and continue to log records of customer calls, texts and Internet use.

He pointed particularly to the growing fears over radicalised Brits returning from Syria and other regions around the world as well as the increasing threat from ISIS in Iraq which threatens to destabilise and radicalise the whole region.

Keeping Britain safe

"Unless we act now ... we will not be able to keep our country safe," the Prime Minister insisted, pointing out that data, currently stored by companies could be deleted before security and intelligence services had managed to analyse it.

However, Cameron said that the surveillance would not be all encompassing. Concerning Internet usage the web addresses would be logged, essentially creating a list of IP addresses visited. As regards phone records only the numbers called or texted would be logged, the content would not.

Further to this a warrant will be required to access that information, Cameron insisted, adding that an annual transparency report would be published related to Britain's surveillance and access to data.

In addition there would be an "oversight board" established to keep privacy in check, the Deputy PM Nick Clegg added, attempting to put aside fears of a growing surveillance state.

Piecemeal approach

But while there were certainly many questions related to an erosion of privacy and a so-called snoopers charter, there were a few journalists who questioned whether the measures went far enough. No one raised the question concerning how the use of VPNs to evade data logging by ISPs might be countered.

A journalist from the Sun newspaper asked the Prime Minister if the powers should go further. Without monitoring content of emails, texts and phone calls was the government at the risk of having "blood on their hands" as they miss a vital opportunity to prevent an attack.

Cameron said further powers were "a matter for future debate". This response was perhaps unsurprising in the wake of the Snowden revelations [BBC / BBC / TelegraphGuardian / Daily Mail / ITV News / Reuters / Reuters / FT]

Government snooping vs protection

Many people in Europe and the US have become suspicious of their government's snooping and surveillance activities.

However, legal or not, much of what the intelligence agencies, be it the NSA or Britain's GCHQ, have been doing is necessary to maintain the status quo, protect government, its people and business interests.

The US and Europe have been tackling Islamic extremists for more than 15 years. And whilst some attacks have slipped past the radar, authorities have managed to break up terror cells and foil terrorist attacks.

Constant Internet surveillance has helped in finding and preventing hacking attacks, perpetrated by individuals, terror groups and nation states. Indeed, while the threat from terrorist groups is substantial, economic threats from other countries can be just as destabilising [Forbes].

The China syndrome

Whilst not the only country engaged in industrial espionage, China poses a serious threat to both western governments and manufacturing companies.

As the British government announced new measures to combat terrorism, it also pledged a £1.1 billion increase in military spending focused particularly on the ongoing cyber threat [Sky News / Telegraph]. Most media reports talked of the threat of cyberterrorism, but it is clear that nation states are also in the frame.

Days before the UK government's spending pledge, the US talked of a concerted hacking attack by the Chinese who broke into a US government network in an attempt to gain personal information on thousands of employees [BBC / ABC].

This came a few months after the FBI indicted five Chinese army officers with hacking into private-sector American companies in a bid for competitive advantage. Both countries have long accused each other of cyberespionage. However, whilst the US acknowledges that it conducts espionage it says it does not pass on what it finds to its own companies.

China is accused of deliberately stealing industrial secrets in order to gain competitive advantage. In fact there are even some clear example where such activity has even brought down companies.

Many people will likely not have heard of Nortel, a Canadian firm that was once a market leader in the telecommunications industry [WSJ / The Register / CBC /

Nortel went bust by 2009 after years of hacking which was traced to China. And since then GCHQ officials have revealed that they know who is doing the hacking, but have refused to reveal the details publicly [CNET / Sophos / Financial Post / Washington Post / CBC].

Cyberthreats

In a series of programmes broadcast by the BBC in 2013 Gordon Corera investigated the ongoing and perhaps the greatest threats to national security. The programmes showed that hostile nation states were conducting a war over the Internet, while Western companies face the wholesale plundering of their economic life-blood [Under Attack : The Threat From Cyberspace].

While North Korea and Iran are both thought to have launched attacks, the US too has also been accused of releasing the Stuxnet virus into the wild in an attempt to bring down Iran's nuclear facilities.

But the biggest player is strongly believed to be China. "Britain is under attack," Britain's then Foreign Secretary William Hague said. "Most countries are under attack and certainly many industries and businesses are under attack." Of course he and others in Britain's intelligence community refuse to point the finger, tough many quietly say they 'know' who is responsible.

The US are more vocal and this year's Annual Report to Congress concerning the Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China did not pull any punches regards the threat from China.

David Cameron's talk of a need to tackle organised crime, child abuse and terrorism is laudable. But the threat from nation states could be much greater. The measures announced by the government are necessary, but to tackle such threats Britain arguably needs to go much further. The price is that our 'right to privacy' - if ever there was truly such a right - is dispensed along with it.

The Deputy PM Nick Clegg said the government valued people's concerns about freedom. "Liberty and security must go hand in hand," he said. But he said there was "an urgent challenge" to deal with an ever growing threat. That assessment, at least is not wrong.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, July 04, 2014

Mining safety expert Dave Feickert dies aged 67

Mine safety specialist Dave Feickert has died after a long battle with liver cancer at the age 67.

Born in 1947 in the Whanganui region of New Zealand, Feickert was best known for helping to improve coal mining safety standards in China.

In 2009, Feickert won the China Friendship Prize for Foreign Experts, for helping to lower the accident rate in Chinese coal mines. His efforts are said to have resulted in a 70% decrease in the number of accidents in Chinese coal mines over a five year period.

Feickert had worked in mine safety in the United Kingdom and New Zealand and had authored newspaper commentaries critical of government mining and safety policies in both countries.

In 2011 he helped publicise pioneering treatment for miners who had contracted 'black lung' also known as pneumoconiosis. He organised a fact finding operation to Hebei province where several hospitals treat sufferers with 'lung washing' or 'lung lavage'.

He was the Whanganui branch president of the New Zealand China Friendship Society and an advocate of traditional Chinese medicine, which he had taken to treat his liver cancer after doctors in New Zealand told him his condition was terminal.

Feickert passed away in the Hospice Wanganui on Wednesday 2nd July at 03:30 local time, leaving behind his second wife Jiang Bingjing. He also leaves behind his first wife and mother of his daughter Sonia Lewycka, the British author Marina Lewycka, as well as two grand children.

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Goodbye to a dear friend and colleague.


tvnewswatch, London, UK