25 April 2012
05 April 2012
The Guardian newspaper has just broken a story which confirms that Anne Darwin, the wife of the "missing canoeist", had her emailed hacked by Sky News, and some of the emails discovered had incriminating materials in them which were passed to the police and used in her trial for assisting in her husband's fraud.
Sky News is claiming that it acted in the public interest and therefore should not face any consequences for the hacking, which is, of course, an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
The report in the Guardian quotes me as follows:
Danvers Baillieu, a specialist internet lawyer with Pinsent Masons, said that while there was no public interest defence "it doesn't mean that a jury would convict a person, or a judge would punish them, because there is usually a discretion in such cases". However, he added that "the difficulty for news organisations is the question of where do you draw the line: would it be legitimate to break into somebody's house who is suspected of committing a crime? The issue with computer offences is that people can do it from their offices, and believe it is a lesser offence than any other type of intrusion."Sky News likened the case to the occassions where reporters have had to break the law (in one case buying an Uzi and in another, breaching security at Heathrow) "in the public interest" for the purposes of their investigation.
Before I gave my comments to Dan Sabbagh at the Guardian, I read the statement from Sky News. It struck me that the cases cited and the hacking of Anne Darwin's email are very different cases. Given that the reporters at Sky News became aware that she had a Yahoo email account, they could have passed that information onto the police, who could have lawfully accessed her emails (i.e. with a warrant) and discovered the incriminating materials themselves.
That's why I made the analogy of breaking into someone's house - just because a reporter suspects a person might have incriminating evidence locked in their safe, does not mean it would be "in the public interest" for that reporter to burgle that person's house to retreive it.
Why is it any different online?
UPDATE: Following this post, I did some TV interviews, first with Al Jazeera (of course) and then later with the BBC (here - 10 o'clock News - picture below). I did a live interview with both (4pm news for Al Jazeera and then 5pm on the BBC News Channel) and some pre-recorded bits as well (see further below). Turned out to be a rather exciting afternoon.
04 April 2012
29 January 2012
I've been fairly quiet on the media front lately, but the nice people at Al Jazeera English TV decided to get me back last week to discuss the news that Twitter has announced it now has the capability to delete tweets on a country by country basis.
The debate centred around whether this development was a blow for freedom of speech. I expressed my view that it was just part of Twitter "growing up" and most other major content providers have similar tools. Tom Royal pointed out that all countries see a filtered internet and explained how these were easily circumvented using VPN tunnels and IP Proxy services.
Wael Abbas, understandably, took a more purist view and expressed his unhappiness at the development. His concern was that activists would have their ability to communicate through Twitter, in the way that he did during the Arab Spring, curtailed.
We shall see how Twitter use this tool. My prediction is that it will be difficult to get them to remove anything - as it is now - and since removal will be on a country by country basis, there will be less censorship, than would have been the case with the previous system of removing the post altogether.
The experience of recording the programme was interesting as well. I was sitting by myself in the Al Jazeera studios in Knightbridge. Tom Royal was in Westminster and Wael Abbas in Cairo. The host, James Bays, was in Doha. As it was not being filmed live, there was no facility to see the other participants and so I was facing a dark camera and had a bright light shining at me. Previously when on TV, I have been told not to look at the camera - this time I was asked to look down the lens as much as possible, even when not talking. You can see from the video, that I did not always succeed - it is probably harder to stare at a camera than it is to ignore it. I also blinked too much. Anyway, watch and tell me what you think
PS As I was writing this post, up popped this tweet:
- Wael Abbas on video and social media in Egypt prior to the revolution (ethanzuckerman.com)
22 May 2011
02 February 2011
Yesterday I joined Pinsent Masons LLP, an international law firm based in the UK, as a senior associate in their Technology Group. I had been at Winston & Strawn since June 2003 and I had an amazing 7 and a half years there, making many friends and travelling to exotic parts of the world - but all good things come to an end and it was time to move on.
If you'd like to get in touch with me in the office, my new contact details are:
danvers.baillieu [at] pinsentmasons.com
tel: +44 (0) 20 7490 9379
07 June 2010
I am a bit fearful that due to her status as a successful editor and journalist, my sister's new blog is going to have far more traffic than my humble offering. Luckily I have still a head start of several years and some 145 posts, so I am happy to give her a bit of free publicity.
Also, I love the name:
The story last night of the 9 month old twins being attacked by a fox while they were sleeping in their cot in their home in Hackney sent shivers down my spine.
Once my spine had stopped shivering, my next reaction was to think about the impact such a story will have on the image of foxes, particularly the urban variety.
Some of us, me in particular, regard the urban fox as one of life's annoyances. Some of them live in the communal gardens near our house. I've seen them running down the road, bold as brass, playing with each other and I have scooped up the contents of our shredded bin bags outside our front door - as well as enjoyed the smell of their urine on the door step. For me, foxes belong in the countryside where they can be trapped, shot or even accidentally hunted by dogs. But this is not a post about hunting.
Other people take a different view and see a handsome animal charmingly bringing a hint of the countryside to their city. They leave food out in their gardens and delight in how close they dare come to humans. They are almost like pets.
I accept that such people would make the perfectly valid assertion that an attack by a fox on humans - even very small ones - is so rare it is virtually unheard of. More people are attacked - and children killed or maimed - by domestic dogs - or for that matter their own parents, step parents, foster carers and other assorted random nutters in a single year than the total record for fox attacks (I assume).
The reaction I was not expecting was one of complete denial. However, if you visit the home page of the Save-me campaign (sponsored by Brian May, the guitarist off Queen), this is what you will find. Brian's first post to the campaign's facebook page read
"Fox attacks babies ? Sure ! And monkeys will fly ...... out of my butt. Ha ha. And I suppose there is proof ? !!! What a piece of work is Man. love Bri".As of now, 238 people "liked" this note and 241 commented. Once Brian had established that there was in fact proof he wrote a more "serious" note which started:
"Well, I don't have enough information to know whether this is an attempt by somebody to turn people against foxes, or not."This note opened the floodgates to a further 213 comments ("likes" down to 126) many of which were sceptical about the truth of the original story on the basis that foxes simply DO NOT attack humans.
Of course, this reaction of denial would be no less irrational than calls for a massacre of urban foxes on the grounds that they are a danger to small babies.
But by nature we are irrational when faced with freakish events. Some find solace in conspiracy theories which allow them to pretend that the event in question has a different cause with which they can cope more easily. Others call for drastic action to ensure that the incredibly rare event can never happen again. These calls are often irresistably populist and end up in bad legislation - or in the case of 9/11 - war.
With this in mind, I had some sympathy for the senior policeman defending the actions of his unarmed officers who were in contact with Derrick Bird while he was rampaging around Cumbria, but were unable to stop him. Like he said, these were "exceptional circumstances" and sometimes it is impossible to draw any lessons.
So, it would be irrational to view foxes as any less cuddly following this incident. Brian May, on the other hand....
19 May 2010
At the weekend, David Cameron is reported to have said that second home ownership was not "splendid" for the economy. Of course, in many areas there are concerns that second home owners are pricing out the locals who have to move far away - fishermen can no longer afford Fisherman's Cottage, and the local vicars can barely afford the new Rectory, let alone the Old Rectory which was sold off years ago.
But without going into the rights or wrongs of second home ownership, the idea that somehow these people will "suffer" if their GAIN on the sale of the property is taxed at the same rate of income is quite bizarre. Property ownership in the UK has been, over the long term, a good one-way bet for many years. There is no risk taking with this sort of "investment", which is, to coin a phrase, as safe as houses. Although frankly, the idea that a second home (as opposed to a buy-to-let investment) is in fact an "investment" is pretty odd.
On the other hand, it was the last Labour government (hiss, boo) which created the anomaly of taxing captial gains at a lower rate to income (whether earned or not) and did away with many of the distinctions between business and non-business assets - and dismantled the reliefs (taper and indexation) which rewarded those who held investments for the long term. Instead the new 18% rate was available for any asset, no matter how long it had been held. This encouraged some people to arrange their affairs so that income became a capital gain (and taxed accordingly) or to invest for capital growth rather than a steady income return - which surely pushed up property prices.
So when George Osborne looks at the detail of the CGT realignment with Income Tax, it would be extremely sensible if taper relief and indexation allowances are restored, and that the exemptions, such as Entrepreneurs Relief and schemes such as the Enterprise Investment Scheme are maintained to encourage investment in real businesses. As CGT rates rise, these schemes will make investment in real businesses all the more attractive, which should be widely welcomed.
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11 May 2010
So last night I made a gloomy return to blogging after a long absence, but in the last 24 hours the political landscape has improved for those of us who have longed to see the rise of the Democratic Conservative Alliance Party (DCAP) - a new type of government which
In many ways, DCAP is the perfect party of government in the UK. Far from there being an "progressive majority" in this country, the more considered view is that there has always been a moderate conservative majority, the inheritors of the Whig party whose supporters have been found for the last 100 years in the socially liberal wing of the Tory party and the capitalist wing of various other parties, from the old Liberals, through the SDP, and to an extent, New Labour (RIP).
DCAP is the inheritor of One Nation Conservatism and conservative Trade Unionism - a party which believes in society's responsibility for the those in need but also understands that a strong society is not always, if ever, a function of government. DCAP provides support for all those of every political persuasion who understand that social activism can be an end in itself. Although socially liberal, DCAP respects traditional values and seeks political reform through wider consensus rather than by diktat.
DCAP may be decried as as a return to Butskellism but against the backdrop of the supply side reforms of the 1980s it will be about regrouping our resources for growth and not managing decline. For sure, there are tensions, perhaps irreconcilable on European policy, but these too could be healthy since it is unlikely that anyone in Britain (or Northern Europe for that matter) will be rushing headlong in closer economic or political union until much of Europe has undergone the same far reaching economic reform we worked through 30 years ago.
Although David Cameron is its perfect leader, DCAP is a construction of my imagination and two parties will continue to co-exist, cohabiting Whitehall. If the Liberal Democrats have any sense whatsoever (and after the last 5 days that is very much an unresolved question), they will position themselves as the "voice of reason" on the shoulders of the Tory party and when they next face the electorate take credit for being the moderating influence on a successful government and manage to increase their share of the vote and number of seats.
If the Tories are lucky, the Lib Dems will terminate the relationship over an issue which plays badly for them with the electorate and the Tories will return to government alone.
Meanwhile the Labour Party is retreating to lick its wounds, select its third new leader in as many years, and hoping that DCAP will be a disaster riven with division. However, it clings to the miscalculation that every Lib Dem vote was an anti-Tory vote. In many Lib Dem / Labour marginals, it may well have been an anti-Labour vote and Lib Dem incumbents will increase their majorities (as they have done against Tories, despite the national swing) as they paint themselves as progressives who can influence the Tories positively.
Many of us in the Tory party thought a "short spell" in opposition would be good for "healthy renewal" - and a fat lot of good that was. But history shows that Conservative governments are generally long lasting - the only 4 year stretch was in 1974, which was on the heels of a shock victory for Heath - and I sincerely hope and believe that this one will be too.
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10 May 2010
Election night 2010 (May) was an excruciating kind of tourture for those of us who had been waiting all our adult lives to vote for a Tory government. What started off so well in Sunderland and Kingswood quickly turned into concern in Torbay, disappointment in Tooting, despair in Westminster North finally disaster in Wells and Eastbourne. Not that there weren't any bright spots in the evening as some friends and colleagues from long ago entered Parliament for the first time but as the sun came up on Friday morning all hopes of an historic car journey from Notting Hill to Buckingham Palace were dashed.
Having been a party activist in my time, I resolved to do more at the next election, which could be very soon (this year perhaps) and wondered what difference I could have made had I done more this time around. Or whether I was better off staying well out.
Looking at my record, it must admitted, it is bleak and it may be that I do more harm than good.
I was born in 1976, so could not have had an impact on any election prior to that. The first three elections of my life were in 1979, 1983 and 1987. These were all great elections for the Tories but I was far too young to have been involved. By 1992, aged 16, I was interested in politics and was keen to see John Major re-elected. However, any chance of campaigning was scuppered by a school trip to Australia. I missed the excitement of election night and only picked up the results and tit bits such as the loss of Chris Patten from Australian National Radio.
By 1997 I was old enough to vote and had become firmly involved with the Conservatives. I was chairman of the student branch at Bristol University and spent most of my Easter holidays (and the first few weeks of the summer term) campaigning, if not for a Tory win, at least to save Bristol West and its sitting MP, cabinet minister William Waldegrave. I could not have done more but we fell short by around 1500 votes and the seat went red in the massive landslide which swept Blair to power.
2001 was another bleak year for the Tories. I had started work in the City but had been hired to build websites for seven Tory candidates. Six of those candidates lost, including one in Ludlow which had been held in 1997, and was regained again in 2005. My only winner was in Taunton, which was promptly lost again in 2005....
My involvement was scaled back in 2005 and although Labour returned to power, it was with a reduced majority.
Which brings us to 2010 - the best Tory result in years but not quite good enough. I went to at least one fundraiser, gave money to various candidates and evangelised to friends and my wider network and enthusiastically tweeted in support.
I'm now wondering if I jinxed it.
Labels: General Election
16 October 2009
01 October 2009
03 September 2009
24 August 2009
I try to read a range of opinions and my feedreader contains a decent cross section of political bloggers, although sometimes I cannot remember why a particular one ends up in there. Nevertheless, I do follow the slightly pretentiously named "Letters from A Tory" and this morning a post (or "letter") did catch my eye as the title pretty much betrayed the author's opinion on its own: "Tories will bring back fox hunting by the back door" - of course there was a chance that "A Tory" would be enthusiastically arguing for hunting to be restored through the front door, but my interest was piqued by a seemingly rightwing blogger going against fox hunting.
Labels: political theory
18 June 2009
All credit to the Guardian which today launched a web application which had been built in the space of about a week, allowing its audience to collaborate with its journalists in analysing the newly released MP expenses documents. Charles Arthur explains how they did it here.
The furore over Prince Charles' intervention in the Chelsea Barracks development has been building for a number of weeks and I have been following the coverage of it in Building Design (which has a story about the new competition here) and elsewhere. Things came to a head earlier this week when Lord Rogers well and truly threw his toys out of his pram, calling Charles' actions "undemocratic".
I was going to wite a lengthy post arguing that a decision of a private landowner to withdraw a planning application has nothing to do with democracy. Rogers is effectively suggesting that because something has gone through planning it must be built - surely that cannot be right?
And in relation to Rogers' criticism that Charles was abusing his (unelected) influence, I was simply going to question what influence Rogers asserted to get the project in the first place and then to get it through planning - and ask how they are really any different?
It is probably just as well I haven't written such a post, as no doubt it would irritate those members of my family who are members (associate or otherwise) of the RIBA, and in any event, Alice Thomson in the Times has written a much better articles which is better argued than anything I would have written.
PS - what is also quite fun, knowing where Rogers lives (very nearby the Barracks as it happens), using Google Streetmap, it is possible to get this shot of his sitting room, complete with sight of his Mao Tse Tung by Andy Warhol.
This is a better image, via Zemanta:
05 June 2009
I would still like to make a contribution as a campaigner, helping you to lead Labour into the next general election, which I know we both believe Labour can and must win. We both came into politics for the same reasons; a passionate belief in decency, justice and fairness for ordinary people and an equally certain conviction that only Labour has the courage and the competence to make it happen.
That is why I will remain alongside you as we fight and win the next election under your leadership. Though not, with some wistful regret, as a member of your government.
My suspicion is that in order to serve Gordon Brown more effectively, Watson has had to ditch his ministerial role. As a minister, Watson had civil servants who had be shielded from his political activity, he had ministerial responsibilities to undertake (the ministerial trip to New York written about below which was curtailed by the political mini-crisis in September 2008) and so on. He's free from those responsibilities and restrictions from now on and can dedicate himself fully to Brown, who is of course, a bit short-staffed since the departure of McBride.
It's a shame really - as I told him via Twitter today - the greater good might have been better served by keeping the ministerial role and ditching the "save Brown" one.
Labels: Tom Watson
01 June 2009
Much of the discussion around MPs pay and expenses has made reference to the "average wage" in the UK. This got me thinking and I started to do some research, but immediately ran into a fog of adjusted numbers, put out in the main by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The IFS's statistics, which were picked up by the BBC News website and were the basis for a number of graphs that have been repeated elsewhere, including by Guido Fawkes, such as this one:
Even on the IFS's own figures, the "typical weekly income" quoted here is the median figure of £393 per week, when perhaps the more relevant MEAN average figure of £487 should have been quoted (see: IFS report on poverty and inequality for these figures) - no doubt the BBC journalists were looking for the biggest spread. Furthermore, these numbers are adjusted for tax (including council tax) and number of dependent children, which makes them hard to link back to annual salaries.
Personally, I am better able to deal with annual gross amounts when talking about salary, because that's the basis of what I earn and what it says in my employment contract. Luckily, help is at hand from the Office of National Statistics, which gives these number in all sorts of formats.
For the record, the mean average annual gross salary in Great Britain in 2008 was £26,020.
However, if this is the basis of a meaningful comparison with MPs salaries, it is notable that the mean average annual gross salary for men in full time employment in 2008 was £35,122.
Of course, many men are at the start of their careers when they are earning less money, bringing down the average, so I looked up the breakdown by age and the highest earning group are men between 40 and 49 (which is probably the typical age of an MP and therefore perhaps a fairer comparison), and the average wage for this group was £40,786.
If we put him on the BBC graph, it looks like this:
So, against the figure of £40,786, an MP's salary of £65,000 or so no longer looks quite so excessive - it is certainly not a multiple of that figure.
But what sparked all this off, was considering that fiendishly complicated New Labour innovation: working family tax credits. These are means tested credits which taper off, but are still of value to a family whose combined income is less than £58,000 per year.
I thought that was an interesting figure to bear in mind, on the basis that the government makes the judgement on behalf of "ordinary people" with a family that if their combined earnings are less than £58,000 - only marginally less than an MP's earnings, they are entitled to state benefit.
I am not suggesting for one moment that this is an excuse for Scamalot or even an argument to pay MPs more, but I do think these figures could help inform that debate.
28 May 2009
Blog Service Announcement:
I really love the service provided by Disqus and have had its commenting system on this blog for some time now. I recently became aware that there were a number of new features available, but assumed that there would be some cumbersome process required to activate them on here.
Not so: in around five minutes flat, I have updated the features, which means you can now sign in to comment using Facebook Connect or Twitter OAuth, and this included the time it took me to set up my own Facebook App, which is required for the Facebook Connect function to work specifically for this blog.
It may be form over substance, but I hope it encourages you to "join in the conversation", as they say, and make this a more vibrant blog.
/Blog Service Announcement