UK News

Data Loss

Up until Monday, we hadn't had any of our data lost by the government (as far as we knew). We shouldn't have been one of the 25 million lost due to being child benefit claimants, or one of the many other breaches. Some of the breaches are potentially very serious should it fall into the wrong hands, for example, the list of military applicants, of prison officers, or (and think of the children!) families with young kids.

However, Monica may have been among the three million lost on Mondays.

It does annoy slightly that they always call it 'lost', this can imply that the issue is that government no longer has the information. This isn't the problem - it's 'duplicated, then lost'. The issue is that people who shouldn't have the information ultimately acquire it.

Having the entire population on one big database is not a way to improve security. It's a big target for identity theft, and recent history shows that it cannot be kept totally secure.

Having said that, the 'losses' that have happened have been rather silly. Lots of data transported without strong encryption, often when there was no need to transport it. It shows a general carelessness that is not befitting anyone claiming to be worthy of trust with this data.

You can take this survey to find out how likely it is that the government has treated your information shoddily.

For more on the proposed ID card database, see the No2ID website, including this rundown of the issues.

The ORG data loss questionnaireYou hand over your personal details to councils, hospitals, employers and businesses all the time. But these institutions don’t always keep that data safe. In fact, since HMRC lost its entire database of child benefit claimants last year, high profile data losses have hit the headlines with worrying regularity. But how does this affect you and your family? Click here to find out how likely it is that a government department or corporate entity has been losing your data recently.

Industry and Government want to aggregate and share more and more of your personal data. Schemes like the National Identity Register, ContactPoint and the Intercept Modernisation Programme are just the tip of the iceberg. But data insecurity is inevitable if large datasets are stored centrally and accessed by hundreds of different people. Data loss can lead to identity fraud and harassment for anyone affected. It is also likely to further complicate or even threaten the lives of those who are fleeing abusive relationships or on witness protection schemes. And that’s without even getting into the debate about how data sharing and aggregation can change the relationship between citizen and state [.pdf].

Once you’ve taken the test, please share the link - - with friends. And if you learn of other incidents that should be added to the questionnaire, then please add them to our list of UK privacy debacles, which feeds into the questionnaire.

Thanks to Sam, Glyn, Casey and Rowan, the Open Rights Group volunteers who conceived and realised this project. Finally, please note that the application does not record users’ responses or IP address. In fact we don’t store any user data, which means there is no danger of us losing or leaking anyone’s personal information.

Marmite Banned!

In Welsh schools, Marmite is banned in Breakfast clubs in Wales. This is due to it's high salt content. What this decision does not take into account is that Marmite isn't used in vast quantities - it's spread thinly.

"Ridiculous", said Paddington.

(For those outside the UK, Marmite is a by-product of the brewing industry. Made from yeast it is a dark black gooey substance which is spread on toast. It is salty, and high in Vitamin B. Recognising that it's a product you can't be ambivalent about, this is used in the adverts - 'you either love it or hate it'. They show people consuming marmite and half of them have a bad reaction.... lately, Paddington Bear is advertising Marmite.)

Worrall Thompson Cockup

The Chef, Anthony Worral Thompson, of Snickers Pie fame, has made a rather large cockup, and been forced to apologise.

In a magazine interview about watercress and other wild foods, Mr Worrall Thompson said the weed henbane was "great in salads".

Healthy & Organic Living magazine's website has now issued an urgent warning that "henbane is a very toxic plant and should never be eaten".

The chef had meant to recommend fat hen, which is a wild herb.


As an aside, why am I reminded of Andy Hamilton when I see a photo of Thompson? You never see them in the same place, that's all I'm saying....

Exploding Knife Tip Alert!

More Daily Mail Knife Crime Hysteria! (via Bruce Schneier)

The Met have 'circulated the information', and all of a sudden this changes to 'Britain on alert'!

Nice to have balanced reporting.

A Mr. Atkinson of Sheffield commented on the Daily Mail article: 'What better advert for this knife could there be? I had never heard of it until today, and now, every self-respecting nutter will be after one'

Quite so - there is no reason for this article in the Mail except to promote fear in it's readers... what paper was this again? Ah, right. (I know that I could be accused of the same by mentioning it here, but who has the higher readership, me or a National newspaper?)

I've made two previous posts on the 'knife crime epidemic' which we keep hearing about in the UK, the original and the update.

Knife Crime Update

Following my previous post on the topic of knife crime, I see that the BBC has an article entitled 'Is knife crime as common as we think?'

Unfortunately, most of it seems to be opinion based, from people at the 'sharp end' (if you pardon the pun) who therefore see much more than average.

The first objective part in the report says:

According to the British Crime Survey (BCS), overall violent crime has decreased by 41% since a peak in 1995.

Knives are used in about 8% of violent incidents, according to the BCS, a level that has largely remained the same during the past decade.

Unfortunately, it then moves onto the usual subjective viewpoints.

The report then says:

Richard Garside, the director of the Centre of Crime and Justice Studies at Kings College London, said: "If you look at the figures for the last 10 years the number of knife victims has remained relatively stable - although there have been spikes - at 200 to 220 a year.

"But there is some evidence the demographic has changed. The average age of homicide victims overall has been going down, with younger and younger victims."

Other objective pieces of data look at changing demographics and geographical differences - unless I've missed something, the above seem to be the only objective data points regarding changes with time.

Knife Crime

Each day it seems that we are being told about an epidemic of knife crime. We're told that stabbings are reaching unheard of proportions. Without wanting to minimise the personal consequences for anyone involved in an incident, I do wonder what the true situation is - the objective view, without the national media hunting out every story which fits the zeitgeist.

Is knife crime really more prevalent than it used to be?

It wasn't long ago that we were lead to believe that there was a paedophile on every corner, that children were at a massive risk of abuse from anyone. This lead to vigilantism - and a massive problems. The truth of the matter is that statistically children are more at risk from people who know them than from strangers, and that children were much more at risk in the sixties, seventies and eighties than today. I well remember going out in the morning, exploring with my bicycle miles from home and coming back in the evening having told nobody where I've been. Even the best parents I know would have kittens at this thought today!

Is knife crime the same? Has it been blown up out of proportion? I would like to see the stats.

Meanwhile, with each new story that appears, politicians compete to be 'tougher' than each other; to be more draconian. "Let's lock 'em all up!", they say. Whilst I agree that carrying something that can only be classed as a weapon needs to be dealt with, it's not as clear cut. One of the things boys do is do carry a penknife from time to time - I used to be a cubscout, and on my pre-mentioned bike rides I would find a quiet spot and take sticks and whittle them (badly). If I had been stopped by the police, would this result in an 'expectation of prison'? No, it seems severe. (Oddly, I hesitated over this paragraph... did my parents know I had a penknife? Yes, I seem to remember my Dad getting me an odd penknife-shaped object with sticky out bits and a corkscrew - still got it somewhere - it wasn't the most useful of things, the sticky out bits meant it wasn't very portable).

Most of the time, my penknife would stay at home, stored in a drawer. I have one in my bedside table now, and there is one in my toolbox - they're very useful.

The very popular and recently published 'Dangerous Book for Boys' lists a Swiss Army Knife as essential gear. I know there is a world of difference between the world of conkers and whittling, and with the streets of Hackney - but any new laws will need to be carefully drafted so as not to criminalise kids who cycle to the nearby woods and whittle. I can't think of a good way to do this - the phrase "without good reason" is cited, but this is open to interpretation.

If there truly is an epidemic, then I'll need to rethink, but the whole topic does feel like a media storm with politicians jumping on the bandwagon to me.... what are the hard statistics? Is knife crime really more prevalent, or is it a just more reported? If there is a change, is it statistically significant?

(I refer the reader back to one of the opening paragraphs: "Without wanting to minimise the personal consequences for anyone involved in an incident, I do wonder what the true situation is - the objective view, without the national media hunting out every story which fits the zeitgeist." )

Swiss Army Knife

Still the best small penknife. It can be carried in luggage on planes, though not in hand luggage. It is worth saving up for a high-end model, with as many blades and attachments as you can get. That said, there are good ones to be had for around $30. They are useful for jobs requiring a screwdriver, removing splinters and opening bottles of beer and wine, although this may not be a prime consideration at this time.

Leather holders can also be purchased and the best ones come with a few extras, like a compass, matches, pencil, paper, and Band-Aid.

Quoted from the US Edition of The Dangerous Book for Boys

Update: See this post.

Oyster Cards

OysterThe company that manufactures the Oyster cards for London has lost its contract due to its connection with the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. The Spectator (obvious Boris link alert) says: "This is welcome news, companies that work with the Mugabe regime should pay a heavy price for their actions."

The Evening Standard (linked above) reports:

Human rights campaigners War On Want urged the millions of Londoners who regularly use Oyster cards to boycott them until the contract comes to an end next month.

Charity spokesman Paul Collins said: "For those who can afford it it shows empathy with the people suffering in Zimbabwe...

This might have been worthwhile whilst the contract was up for renewal, but right now, it seems rather self-defeating.

In other Boris News, there were reports a couple of weeks ago that there are plans to raise London's lost rivers, as well as creating cycle superhighways. To me, the first sounds pricey (but very cool) - lots of buildings in the way! The second sounds much more achievable - that's a matter of some signage and bollards).