January 10, 2007

Government to kill websites

Link: Government to kill websites

Filed under: Internet, Webmaster, Web Development, Political by Brian Turner

Computers & Internet

The UK government is to cull over 550 of it’s existing websites.

The aim of the move is to concentrate more information into existing sites, to develop them into “supersites” - ie, websites that will be more frequently used and visited.

The government has been previously criticised over the number of websites it runs. In 2003, the UK government had over 3000 websites, something it accepted then was too many.

Additionally, there have been complaints of poor accessibility with the majority of government websites, with poor W3C validation that make them inaccessible to people with disabilities and those using browsers other than Internet Explorer.

At present, the UK government has over 900 websites, but has stated an interest in keeping only 26 for definite, with 550 scheduled for removal already, and the hundreds of others up for review.

December 4, 2006

UN warns on internet privacy

Link: UN warns on internet privacy

Filed under: Internet, Security, Legal, Political by Brian Turner

Computers & Internet

The UN has issued a warning about internet privacy.

The warning focuses on two key issues:

1. The trend for internet companies to gather as much user data as possible
2. The trend for internet users to re-use the same login information

Combined, it means that a security breach in one ISP could have bigger repurcussions, with user login data potentially exploitable across different companies, products, and services.

Overall, it’s a not a surprise that this is a concern - the UK claims £1.7 billion lost due to identity theft the last year.

The surprise is that the UN has issued a statement warning on privacy issues.

However, it’s a warning likely to fall on deaf ears.

User data has become a commodity in its own right, and ISPs are much more likely to consider additional security protections, rather than reduce often extensive collection of user data.

April 13, 2006

British hacker faces Guantanamo

Link: British hacker faces Guantanamo

Filed under: Security, Legal, Political by Brian Turner


Convinced that the US government was hiding secret information on UFOs, London man Gary McKinnon hacked his way through US military computer systems over 2001-2002.

Now he faces extradition to the US, and possible internment at the infamous Guantanamo Bay concentration camp.

Although US diplomats claim they have offered assurances in a letter that this will not happen, the lawyer representing Gary McKinnon points out that the letter is unsigned and anonymous.

The big point of contention is whether he would be tried in a Federal court, and therefore offered normal democratic legal protection - or whether he would be tried in a military court under Military Order Number One, which means indefinite detention as and how the military sees fit.

While no one is condoning Gary McKinnon’s hacking activities, it remains a point of sore concern that the UK government is seen to be doing very little to protect UK citizens from institutional kidnapping, which is what Guantanamo Bay essentially represents.

March 28, 2006

Pensions protests halt Britain

Link: Pensions protests halt Britain

Filed under: Economy, Employment, Political, Pensions by Brian Turner


Over 1 million Council Workers have gone on strike in the UK, bringing large parts of local government to a halt.

The strike is over protests to back-date new pension rules, which will prevent any council worker from retiring on a full-pension at age 60.

It comes at a time when pension funds are in crisis - the government claims it cannot make up for shortfalls in public funds.

However, critics point out that the government has no problems finding £5 billion to fund the War in Iraq, or disposing of the extra £10 billion in tax revenues Gordon Brown collected in January.

The Labour Government has also managed to increase non-direct taxes since first coming to power, and has been able to borrow extensively to fund public projects, rather than address current economic holes.

A recent Public Relations exercise last week saw the government attempted to bombard ordinary people with “facts” and “figures”, in order to justify government unwillingness to deal with the issue properly.

It remains a national disgrace that the UK seeks to work people harder, for longer, for less reward - only to treat them after as second class citizens.

March 22, 2006

Gordon Brown delivers…speech

Link: Gordon Brown delivers…speech

Filed under: Economy, Political, Pensions by Brian Turner


Gordon Brown today delivered his budget speech, which for all intents and purposes was more talk than action.

Having failed their own targets for reducing child poverty, Gordon Brown went into damage limitation by announcing a round of increased funding for schools - something that’s hard not to read as the creation of a new tier of management to bean-count the service.

It’s also worth pointing out that throwing money at the education system doesn’t make it inherently better - it’s a point of fact that exams at the 16 and 18 year levels (GCSE’s and A-Levels) have been getting easier and easier.

The overall problem is that there is no attempt to hold qualifications to meaningful standards of achievement. The UK exam boards instead obsess about creating easier exams so that more schools - who need higher pass rates for government bean-counting tables - will therefore invest their pupils with them.

Gordon Brown also tried to save face by claiming to have kept well within his “Golden Rule” of not spending more than revenues within an economic cycle, obviously omitting the fact that he’s twice had to twice reinvent the length of the current economic cycle in order to be seen to be doing the job right.

Which pretty much underlines the current government’s approach of trying to emphasise meaningless figures.

On the business front - well, not much change. As usual, a slight increase in Personal Tax Allowance. No change on other business taxes though.

A glimmer of hope is that he announced a review into “better alignment of the national insurance (NI) and income tax systems”. To some, this sounds like an opportunity to simplify National Insurance in future. However, he emphasised that this would be for “low-paid workers”, so such hopes may yet be dashed.

As for the long-standing struggle over Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) - the ability for private individuals to invest better in property (also known as FUDGE to stop the housing market bubble from bursting or deflating), the Chancellor stated that property firms will be charged 2% of the gross market value of their investment properties if they want to convert into a REIT, and should open up in January 2007.

Overall, we were never going to see any real surprises in this budget - and for once, Gordon Brown didn’t disappoint.

Choice Quotes:

UK firms have watched while other countries have reduced business taxes to help their companies compete in this era of globalisation. Yet the UK continues to do the opposite.

- CBI Director, Sir Digby Jones

The best thing about this Budget was that it did not add significantly to the already substantial business tax burden. However, this was very much a ‘pick and mix’ Budget, strong on rhetoric but light on detail with plenty of window dressing.

- Martin Temple, EFF

Billions raised, billions spent. No idea where the money has gone. With a record like that the chancellor should be running for treasurer of the Labour Party.

- David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party

He could have tackled the unfair tax system. He could have made the environment a priority. He could have faced up to the pensions crisis. He could have addressed the problem of personal debt. He’s declined to do any of these. This is a legacy from which it will be difficult for him to escape.

Sir Menzies Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrats

French bite Apple; Apple bitter-sweet

Link: French bite Apple; Apple bitter-sweet

Filed under: Apple, Legal, Political by Brian Turner


Yesterday, the French lower Parliament voted to force all music downloads in the country to be cross-compatible between different services and devices.

Today Apple responded angrily, calling the proposed law “state-sponsored piracy”.

However, they also bullishly suggested that sales of iPods - Apple’s key music playing hardware - would increase, as other people would likely make the device the choice of preference - even for illegal file playing.

The whole issue of contention in the French law is focused on Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems. These prevent different file formats from being played on unauthorised devices and copied.

For example, the Apple iTunes music download service is tailored to Apple music players such as the iPod. However, these music downloads cannot currently be played on other devices.

While the French move is certainly a bold one, it can only mean a fairer playing field between different download services.

Apple may also be right that they could see sales of iPods increase. After all, just as Apple’s DRM technology prevents their music being copied, it also prevents non-Apple users from being able to access their services.

March 13, 2006

CIA secrets found online

Link: CIA secrets found online

Filed under: Internet, Legal, Political by Brian Turner

Computers & Internet

Just searching the internet, the Chicago Tribune claims to have uncovered a list of 2,653 CIA employees, and details of 24 secret CIA facilities.

While the information behind the claims has not been published, it highlights the freely available nature of information on the internet and the dangers it can bring to confidentiality.

It also highlights the difficulties large organisation have in adapting to the modern age of the internet.

It’s hard to appreciate sometimes how freely accessible some of information online is. And for organisations with a large internet presence such as the CIA - which has a series of news sites to promote US interests in various regions and languages - one can only guess they were especially stupid with their WHOIS registration information.

March 8, 2006

MPs for tougher sentencing on hackers

Link: MPs for tougher sentencing on hackers

Filed under: Internet, Security, Legal, Political by Brian Turner


Cross-party support for a bill amendment in the House of Commons could see substantial increases of maximum sentences handed out to hackers.

The move could also see other attempts to damage or disable websites as carrying a stronger criminal penalty.

The amendment is being made to the Police and Justice Bill, after campaigning by Tom Harris, MP, and could see hacking a PC carry 10 years in jail.

While the bill has yet to be passed, it underlines that internet crime is being taken more seriously, not least because of the prospects of cyber crime for terrorism.

It’s also worth pointing out that major internet security companies deny that they ever employ illegal hackers, citing them as a liability to work with.

February 11, 2006

Yahoo! helps China jail dissidents - claim

Link: Yahoo! helps China jail dissidents - claim

Filed under: Yahoo!, Political by Brian Turner


Yahoo! has been accused of helping Chinese authorities jail a second dissident.

Li Zhi was jailed for 8 years in 2003 for posting messages criticising corruption in the Chinese government. It is claimed that data provided by Yahoo! was instrumental in his convinction.

The claim comes after the company came under fire last year for collecting data on journalist Shi Tao, which led to his imprisonment.

According to Reporters Without Borders, there are 81 dissidents in Chinese prisons as a result of internet activity, and is demanding to know how many are due to actions of Yahoo!

While ISP’s are obligated to provide data upon request to governments, the position of companies such as Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google in China is becoming increasingly contentious.

US companies are eager to tap into the Chinese consumer market, but there are concerns that their data collection and censorship of information is proving too helpful for the promotion of human rights abuse.

February 9, 2006

Danish websites hacked in protest

Link: Danish websites hacked in protest

Filed under: Internet, Security, Webmaster, Political by Brian Turner


The BBC reports that around 2,500 websites - 1000 of them Danish - have been hacked and defaced by Muslims, in protest of cartoons published showing Mohammed.

The new protest has been swift in targeting Danish-owned websites, and security experts expressed surprise at the speed at which the current campaign has been carried out.

It is believed that both organised groups and lone individuals are responsible for the new attacks.

The issue highlights the problems of website security, especially where software used to publish to the internet is not kept up to date.

Older software releases with publicised security flaws are routinely targeted by Muslim hackers, often in protest at US and Israeli foreign policy.

Webmasters and online businesses should always ensure that they are kept abreast of the latest releases and patches for software they use on their websites.

January 25, 2006

Google censors in China

Link: Google censors in China

Filed under: Google, Political by Brian Turner


Google has created a storm of criticism with the launch of its new Chinese Google search engine - because it automatically censors results for the Chinese authorities.

Censorship of information services is inevitable when doing business in China - Yahoo! and Microsoft have already launched search projects there that already do this.

However, Google’s motto of “Don’t do evil” has presented the image of a company with a sense of ethics.

That now presents something of a public relations problem, as not doing evil must be reconciled with tapping into lucrative business markets - even where ethical considerations are acute.

The number of internet search users in China is predicted to increase from about 100 million currently to 187 million in two years’ time - and therefore presents a consumer market that major US companies are keen to tap into directly.

December 23, 2005

CBI withdraws extended maternity leave support

Link: CBI withdraws extended maternity leave support

Filed under: Business, Political by Brian Turner


The CBI has withdrawn its support for government plans to extend maternity leave.

The government plans to extend maternity leave from 6 months to 9 months in April 2007, and originally suggested that HM Customs and Excise would pick up the tab on the increased administration costs.

However, recently Gordon Brown determined in his pre-budget report that businesses would have to pay for the increased administrative burden themselves, because the costs to the government would be “disproportionate” to the benefits.

August 24, 2005

EU faces discussions with China on textile imports

Link: EU faces discussions with China on textile imports

Filed under: Political by brian_turner


China and the European Union are scheduled to begin discussions on Chinese textiles, in Beijing on Tuesday. The talks aim to find a solution for Chinese textile products that have been detained at EU ports because EU quota limits have been filled.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said: “We now need a pragmatic solution that deals with the immediate overshoot, and with good will on all sides, we can do this”.

Several products have now reached their EU quota limits, including T-shirts, bras, sweaters and men’s trousers. This is causing concern among European retailers, that they will be unable to re-stock their shops if the Chinese supplied stock is not released from customs warehouses.

The EU quotas are also causing problems for China’s clothing manufacturers. Manufacturers have been switching production from clothing that has reached its quota limits to garments that have not. However, as more products have begun to reach quota limits, Chinese producers have started to lay off staff.

There has been a rapid increase in the amount of clothing China is selling to Europe. In the first half of 2005 it sold $8bn-worth, almost the same amount as in all of 2004.

Although this is damaging European manufacturers, EU negotiators may have to concede some restrictions, perhaps by bringing forward some of next year’s quota allowance, in order to address the concerns of European retailers and shoppers.

August 1, 2005

EU loses banana ruling at WTO

Link: EU loses banana ruling at WTO

Filed under: Political by brian_turner


The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has declared a new European Union tariff on imported bananas illegal.

The tariff, which was due to be launched in January 2006, was 230 euros (£158.50) a tonne. It aimed to safeguard exports from countries in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, which are mainly former colonies and have received preferential treatment for years.

Currently, Latin American exports to the EU are limited, with the duty per tonne at 75 euros for the first 2.7 million tonnes of exports, then increasing to 680 euros per tonne. Under the new rules, producers from the ACP group would have continued to export bananas duty-free.

Latin American countries said the proposals to replace quotas with higher duties would cost producers more and negative affect their economies and exports.

The Latin American producers - Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Brazil, Nicaragua and Venezuela – said the tariff did not uphold an agreement, brokered by the WTO in the 1990s, that a new rate should be introduced by 1 January 2006 which at least maintained their access to the EU market.

The WTO supported this view and questioned the way in which the EU arrived at its decision to impose the 230 euros charge.

The EU must now enter discussions with Latin American exporters within 10 days. If the two sides are unable to agree on a new charge they may return to the WTO to take part in another arbitration procedure.

July 9, 2005

G8 promises double aid to Africa

Link: G8 promises double aid to Africa

Filed under: Political by brian_turner


The leaders of the G8 nations ended their meeting in Scotland on Friday by issuing an report on the decisions made during the gathering.

Little progress was made on the issue of climate change.

All the leaders would say was that the framework of the United Nations was the “appropriate forum” for pursuing agreement on that issue.

The report also called for liberalizing trade and promised to end farm export aid.

Most notably, the G8 announced a pledge doubling aid to Africa to $50 billion per year. As a condition to receive the aid, nations must promise to commit to democracy, “good governance”, and to maintaining the rule of law.

Also promised were expanded access to AIDS treatment in Africa, work on a favorable trade deal, and debt cancellation for the 18 poorest nations in Africa.

Olusegun Obasanjo, the president of Nigeria, called the G8’s promises on Africa “a beginning” that will not change the world immediately.

The communiqué from the G8 leaders also announced granting of an aid package worth $3 billion over several years to go to the Palestinian Authority.