Author Archives: Anthony Durham

Zoom muppets

There is an interesting article on The Register, a news and opinion website popular with computer nerds.  Zoom’s end-to-end encryption isn’t actually end-to-end at all. Good thing the PM isn’t using it for Cabinet calls. Oh ….

Apparently that “first-ever digital Cabinet” used the same remote conferencing system that we lesser mortals use for local party committee meetings during the pandemic – Zoom.

In theory, information travelling via that platform should be secured by high-tech encryption, but anyone who follows the news of bugs in operating systems, computer chips, and so on knows that is not true.  All the world’s big-budget secret squirrels (NSA, FSB, GCHQ, etc) can read almost anything travelling across the Internet, if they think it is important enough.  Edward Snowden’s book describes his former colleagues cheerfully snooping on the whole world.

Maybe Johnson’s cabinet showed that picture of them tele-conferencing with Zoom as a piece of public relations, with the real business done with a truly secure, secret government system.  However, ministers’ track record of technical stupidity does not inspire confidence.  For example, their proposals to ban encryption would break the banking system.  At the very least, cabinet ministers have broadcast metadata about their home connections, and have painted a target on their backs for run-of-the-mill hackers stuck at home to aim at.

Posted in Op-eds | 4 Comments

How will Boris fix the Irish border problem?

Boris ‘Kipper’ Johnson appears to believe that technological solutions can quickly be found for the Irish border problem. Everyone in the computer industry knows that is fantasy, which would lead to an orgy of criminality.

Right now, clever people are thinking about juicy ways to make money from a new land frontier, or just to cause trouble. My own taste runs more to throwing grit in bureaucracy than throwing mud at surveillance cameras, but readers can probably think of far worse things to do.

We should be thinking about another side to this issue. The day is not far off when all road vehicles will be permanently tracked, much as mobile phones and airliners already are. This will be part of the self-driving revolution, promised to reduce vehicle usage, air pollution, and road accidents. In principle, having a tracker in your car should be voluntary, but of course government and insurance companies will make it compulsory.

If Mr Kipper gets his way, every border-crosser in Ireland will be tracked. Not just vehicles and the commercial goods they carry, but also all passengers, human, animal, and explosive. There will be penalties for evasion, massive databases to be hacked by cyber-criminals, and huge scope for corruption. Mission creep will lead to facial recognition software, cross-correlation with phone data, etc.

But BoJo’s folly may have a silver lining. Back in 1964 the Smeed Report on Road Pricing spelled out how road users ought to pay the costs they impose upon others. It contained so much good sense that successive governments buried it, but Smeed’s ideas must prevail eventually. A future in which every vehicle is tracked (and charged) for every yard it moves is scary, but it would solve many problems near me in south-east London.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 9 Comments

Latest Tory folly


As a scientist and computer entrepreneur, I am constantly appalled by the blindness to evidence and logic displayed by right-wing politicians.  So I heartily endorse New Scientist’s editorial lamenting absurdities in the proposed Snooper’s Charter following hard on the heels of the Psychoactive Substances Bill:

This pattern of ill-conceived pledges followed by impractical legislation looks ominously as though it will be repeated in energy and education.  That suggests the government is either scientifically illiterate or can get its way by assuming its citizens are.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 2 Comments

Opinion: Teresa May’s pipedream


The draft Psychoactive Substances Bill worries me.

Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.  Recent discussions of drug misuse generally do not look back far enough.  Every Voice reader already knows that prohibition does not work, mostly because of market forces, but it is sobering to read just how often over the centuries and in how many places that lesson has been learned the hard way.  Again and again the same sequence has recurred: moral panic, decisive action, free publicity for forbidden fruit, final result worse than before.  My favourite source of historical information is a 620-page report published in 1972 by the American Consumers Union entitled “Licit and Illicit Drugs” (large pdf).

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 12 Comments

Opinion: prove you’re in the library or face a bill, students told

Officialdom seems to have opened a new front in its battle against those who commit the terrible sin of studying while black.

One of my students has been sent a summons to appear in court for not paying full Council Tax. The problem arises because non-EU students come in on a visa that specifies they must be recorded as being actively taught in college for at least 15 hours per week in college premises.

However, to be exempt from Council Tax a “full-time” student must study for 21 hours per week. Hands up anyone who got a degree …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 18 Comments

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