PunterNet, PR, and Bad Driving

Harriet Harman is not having a good time. She is accused of failing to stop at road traffic accident, she was embroiled in the  expenses claims fiasco, and she is the deputy leader of a party that just got dropped by the biggest selling paper in the UK. But, this is not why she is on this site.

She is mentioned here because of her statements about the website Punter Net. As the name of the site implies PunterNet is a website, for “punters”, or more precisely clients of prostitutes. It could be described as being similar to a Which? forum for users of prostitutes (not that Which? would like that analogy). PunterNet provides a surprisingly large amount of information about the prostitutes that are reviewed, for everything from costs and location, right down to wheel chair access.

Harriet Harman called for the website to be banned. And, as the site is hosted in California, she address the comment directly to the Californian governor, Arnold Swartzenager

Ms Harman’s exact statement was:

Surely it can’t be too difficult for the Terminator to terminate PunterNet…..If he doesn’t I’ve got a message for Arnie – I’ll be back!

British politicians don’t really pull off the James Bond style quips very well; Ms even Harman less so. Particularly, because it doesn’t make any sense.

Assuming that the Governor chooses to push forward a law to ban this site, and then California legislates against the site, both of which are a huge assumptions, then the site will simply be moved elsewhere. It could move to a neighboring state, or a different country, there will be no difference whatsoever.

What is frightening is that Harriet Harman doesn’t seem to know this. Presumably she is not aware that there are many sites in the world that contain material that the UK government doesn’t like, but can still be viewed from the UK. Everything from Al Qaeda promotional websites to child abuse images and extreme pornography. If she is not aware of this she is remarkably ill informed.

Even more strange is the fact that UK government effectively  operate a firewall that allows them to block almost anything and everything they want to. This has happened for quite some time, but hit the mainstream press recently when a page from Wikipedia was blocked.

How can the deputy prime minster not know this?

More accurately, either she, her advisors and script writers didn’t know any of this, or they did know this and still decided to push the idea of closing down a website, operating legally in a different country, as it fits in with their personal agenda.

The net effect?

The statements by Harriet Harman were in fact so ridiculous that the owners of PunterNet, stated that the recent press had produced lots of new traffic for the site:

I would like to thank you for the huge influx of traffic to my website which your actions have caused….I am sure that the ladies who are a part of the PunterNet community thank you as well, as they will no doubt benefit financially from the many new clients who might otherwise never have found them.

The Law

Historically, the UK has allowed prostitution. Rather choosing to legislate against those who exploit women, banning (in theory) brothels and pimps, put allowing individual women, working for themselves, to make their own choices; the morals for this are not commented on here. Therefore its strange that the UK Government wants to ban  a site, in a different country, which advertises something which can be legal both in the country it resides and the UK. Has she not seen all the adverts in UK magazines, and phone boxes, advertising “escorts”?

Police experience in the UK has learnt that providing safe environments for women to sell sex is the lesser of the two evils, when compared to the problems of “street walkers”. As a result, in many areas the police have decriminalized prostitution, by allowing the practice to continue unhindered.

The government states that they are concerned that about a spike in the sex industry during the Olympics and want to take action to stop this: This is laudable and may be accurate, with previous major sporting events showing a huge increase in the use of prostitutes. This demand for sex for cash leads to the demand for more prostitutes which, in turn, can lead to sex trafficking; and all of the human horrors that brings with it.

If it’s the governments intent is to stop the eastern European gangs kidnapping and moving young women around Europe, then perhaps the best place to start is not shutting down a website that operates in California, and has been since  1999 (according to the WHOIS database)


Girls (Scream) Aloud: A Test Case?

Is the Girls (Scream) Aloud case really a test case? Does it affect any laws?

The horror/porn/rape story of involving Girls Aloud has generated thousands of articles, and huge media interest as it was to be biggest test of the obscene publications act since the Lady Chatterley case.

The rules of the game where simple:

Darryn Walker was arrested for writing and publishing a story that, by any “normal” moral standard is awful, he would be tried in court in relation to definition of obscenity. The outcome of the game was one of two options:

1) If Mr. Walker was found guilty then this would be a landmark decision on what cannot be published on the internet, this would be a “triumph for moral decency”.

2) If Mr. Walker was found not guilty, then it would a “triumph for freedom of speech”. This would effectively mean that the Obscene publications act was dead.

People on both sides of the divide were vocal in the fact that they were, without doubt, right.

In a country where Nuts and Zoo make soft porn common place, the idea that Lady Chatterley’s lover was banned, for so long, seems astounding. But even in these times where, according to a BBC survey, the most popular career choice for young female British teens is “Glamour Model”, the Girls (Scream) Aloud story is truly offensive, by most standards.

But does that mean it should be banned?

If it had just been written in a book the case, and the ramifications, would have been more clearly defined.But it was published on the internet the case was far more complex. To make matters more interesting, the servers the story was originally published in where outside of the UK.

Was the UK going to legislate about data outside of the UK? Parliament can do that, but would they?

The Obscene Publications Act is currently aimed at UK material, would the courts want to effectively change legislation? Because of these questions the case had massive consequences. The UK Government could have used their ability to censor material on the internet with technology, rather than making a case out of it. The government use technology to filter the internet regulary and with controversial subjects. Or they could have made a deal for the data to be removed.

Despite other options being available, the decision was made to press charges.

The result of this huge trial? Not Guilty.

So a triumph for freedom of speech? Well not quite.

On the day of the judgment, 29th June 2009, Mr Walker was found not guilty, but this was because the Crown Prosecution Service, effectively walked away from the case when they offered no evidence.

This was largely because the prosecution had stated that the material could be found with the simple searches, and possibly by those who are genuinely looking for information on Girls Aloud. However the defense provided evidence that showed the story could only be found with specific searches. With this the CPS withdrew, and the judge submitted a formal verdict of not guilty.

But as no judgment was given about the case, the facts were not discussed or debated. As a result this is not really a test case, though it’s probably a show of the CPS resolve, or lack of it, to prosecute in these circumstances.

Girls (Scream) Aloud Update: Not Guilty

In the landmark case, know as the “Girls (Scream) Aloud” case, in which Darryn Walker was tried for writing a horror/horrific story about the famous group, he has been found not guilty.

The case was hailed as a major test for internet censorship in the same was as Lady Chatterley’s  lover was. The case, which started in 2008 was, initially, due to be heard earlier in the year, but was pushed back until today.

Tim Owen QC, defending,stated that “It was never his [Mr Walker’s] intention to frighten or intimidate the members of Girls Aloud….He had written what he had described as an adult celebrity parody and was only meant to be for an audience of like-minded people.

“As soon as he was aware of the upset and fuss that had been created, he took steps himself to take the article off the website….This type of writing is widely available on the Internet in an unregulated and uncensored form.”

Mr Owen also stated that “In terms of its alleged obscenity, it is frankly no better or worse than other articles.”

Judge Esmond Faulks formally returned a not guilty verdict to the charge of publishing an obscene article.

Leaking Information

Leaking information can be an important, safe, legal, criminal, dangerous, right, or the wrong thing to do.  It can be so many things, to so many people, and it can be multiple things at the same time, and change depending on the government of the day.

The recent case of Damien Green leaking information, arrested, investigated, and then being cleared, demonstrates this. He provided information to the country, which he thought was important, and not damaging to the state, there were allegatiosn he broke a vareity of laws and threatened national secureity. The police then investigated, and he has since been cleared.

It is right that allegations of breaching the offical secrets act are investigated, and the argument of “I would never do this“, is not a reason not to investigate.  What is wrong is that the allegations against Damien Green appear to have been grossly exagerated and the police used as political pawns in this process. But, once the allegations had been made, they had to investigate, what would be their other option? To ignore allegations of corruption and breaches of the Offical Secrets Act? Not a good situation to be in.

Imagine if  John Profumo had never been investigated, because of his position or the fact he stated he had done nothing wrong.

For every leak of data there will always be people who question the value of it, call it a threat to the government or the nation, and state that it should never happen. But, if it was not for leaks we would never have know that there were no WMD in Iraq, or and perhaps more importantly, that the governments didn’t really have any information about WMD before the invasion.

If it was not for leaks then torture program in the US would never have been found out, and then Obama adminstration would not have been in the position to disclose this informaiton to the public.

But, if leaks about the Manhattan project or D-Day landings had been made then World War II could have been lost.

Leaks can be both valuable and dangerous, but there must be a mechanism to allow them to occur, else the wrongs of the governments can never be corrected.

Without doubt the best, and most secure way to leak information is the WikiLeaks website.  WikiLeaks provides a record of documents leaked to the website and protects those who submit the data through a vareity of technical and legal mechansism.

If you have data that needs to be made public their site is the place to go. Below is a video demonstrating how to upload data to WikiLeaks.


Why you should not let the Government have your data…just ask the CIA

There are many reasons not to let the government collect every email, tape every phone call, and monitor every website you visit, from the simple invasion of privacy, to the fact the that government lose data more often then the English football team miss penalties.

One of the reasons that you should not want the government to have a complete break down of your activities, is that goverments change.  You may trust your current government, you may have voted for them, belived in their policies, and even donated to them, so the notion that they record your activities would not be a problem because they are only looking out for your best interests.  

But what about when the government changes? What about if a government is elected that does not like you, your interests, your views, or your activities? When one adminstration leaves, and is replaced by another one, the previous one does not wipe all their files, delete their databases, or erase the recordings, but they hand them over to the incoming power.

  • 15 years ago who would have though that getting a copy of the anarchist cook book would have made you a terrorist?
  • 10 years ago, who would have though that being a train spotter, could get you arrested?
  • 5 years ago, who would have thought that your internet activity would be recorded and profiled by third party companies for profit
  • 3 years ago, who would have thought that the government would openly propose to centralise all communications data about eveyr person in the UK?

Laws change with governments, and what is or is not acceptable can change radically with a new administration. The most recent “victim” of this is the CIA. Under the Bush government the CIA happily set up black sites and torture sites. The CIA kidnapped people off the streets in the Europe, Asia, and the US, flew them to distant lands and tortured them, some of them were even guilty. The Bush government not only allowed this but encouraged it.

But, after 8 years of Bush in steps Obama, and everything changes, and these actions are not only banned, but dispised. This week memos and documentation relating to the CIA blacksite and torture programme have been released. This exposes the CIA agents to legal action, both within the US and the rest of the world. The CIA are outraged at this lack of privacy, that their details have been misused. One could argue the Nurembourg defence didn’t work 60 years ago, and will not work now.

No doubt the Jews in the 1920’s did not think that registering as a Jew in Germany, Austria, or Poland could ever have any negative effect.  Then came the yellow stars; its a long way from recording information to labelling people, but its even a bigger jump from labelling people to death camps, but, still it happened.

This example, though extreme, demonstrates very vivdly, what happens when governements change. Both your livelihood and life can be put at risk, if they have enough data against you, no matter how innocent you are.

Fortunately there has only ever been one incident of a government collecting social and demographic information on people, and using it torture and slaughter them on a huge level, and that was in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.  This would never happen again…..except for in the following countries

Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Iraq, East Timor, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Rawanda, Sudan, Sierra Leon….In fact finding a continent or decade when this has not happened is almost impossible.

Where is your data? Redacted and Locked away

The Government who pioneered “open government” and the Freedom of Information Act, are certainly not living up to spirit of the law they created. In 1996 Tony Blair stated, in a speech about open government, that “The only way to begin to restore people’s trust [in Government] is therefore to be completely open“.

However despite this laudable goal, and numerous other assertions of “open government, a request to access the cabinet record minutes in relation to the Iraq war has been refused by the Labour Government.

This is particulary interesting as both the Information Tribunal and the ICO have stated that the minutes should be released.

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas has publicly stated that:

My Decision to order disclosure of the Cabinet minutes was made under the Freedom of Information Act on public interest grounds. It was upheld by the Information Tribunal. It was made clear by the Tribunal and by me that this was an exceptional case.

The government has chosen not to appeal the Tribunal’s decision to the High Court, but instead has exercised its right of veto under the FOI Act. However, it is vital that this is also an exceptional response. Anything other than exceptional use of the veto would threaten to undermine much of the progress made towards greater openness and transparency in government since the FOI Act came into force.

I shall be studying the text of the Secretary of State’s Certificate and Statement of Reasons which I received today. Using the power available to me under section 49(2) of the Freedom of Information Act, I will shortly lay a report before Parliament to record the circumstances leading to this outcome. This will be in line with previous commitments I have made and the interest shown by past Select Committees in the potential use of the veto.

This case of the government of refusing to release data, follows quickly on from the “torture case“, where the UK government has evidence of torture, which is redacted, but will not allow the redacted text to be seen, despite the trial judge stating its in the public interest.

Internet Censorship: Rating for Websites?

Data is being lost by the UK government faster than the bloggers can keep up. New laws are being created faster than ever before, and more and more surveillance and censorship systems are being put in place.

So, as the year  2008 closes, what sensible plan does the UK government put forward? Limitations on surveillance? Instructions to the police to delete all DNA samples of innocent people?

No, the government, in the guise of Andy Burnham MP talks about putting an age ranking/certification on websites.

If this was any other Western country, this would be thought of as joke, its more Kim Jong il, than freedom and democracy.

The plan has to be crackers, accept for one thing, they could be just stupid enough to try and enforce it.

Historically, this type of plan would have been thought impossible, too many websites being created every day, who would manage it, etc. But with the technology already in place in the UK, this is now,  sadly,  quit possible. There will always be loop holes, and ways around it, but they will only be for the minority, not the majority.

Andrew Burnham  stated “If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now

From this it can only be assumed that Mr Burnham is seriously considering changing the  architecture of the internet; to a place where the governments can always reach.

He goes on to say that: “I think there is definitely a case for clearer standards online. You can still view content on the internet which I would say is unacceptable. You can view a beheading.”

Its nice to know that people like Mr Burnham will become the voice of who decides what we can and can not view.

While beheadings may be awful, its important to know what is going on in Iraq. Some may say its distasteful to watch people being blown up, but the UK and US governments routinely release videos of exactly this. Some people even put these videos to patriotic music (Note: its only extremist to do this if your Muslim).

It is entirely possible that the UK government forces websites to have a “rating” or “content” marking system attached to them, and then the likes of CleanFeed can then be used to filter out content, depending on the viewer. This approach which would make it easier to see who is viewing what – by category, i.e take some of the brunt of the data mining work out of the government databases, and putting it back onto the website owners. The government could simply block sites that refused to use the certificates, or were found to be deliberately using the wrong one.

Alternatively CleanFeed could be adapted to be a more general filter. This technology exists and is used, quite legitimately, by companies like WebSense, to block inappropriate content within businesses.

Its quite common for a company to pay for a service to ensure that staff do not view certain sites, e.g sex related sites, or gambling related sites – some companies even block their staff looking for jobs.

It is entirey feasible that this type technology is deployed within every ISP in the UK, therefore stopping the UK citizens viewing whatever material the government at the time decides is inappropriate.

For the best demonstration of this technology look at China.

Will Andrew Burnham be going on a fact finding mission to Beijing, to see how they stop people getting access to the free press on day to day basis?

For those interested Mr Burnhams voting record is the same as everybody else who is keen on internet censorship:

He was strongly for the Iraq War, but against an enquiry into it. He is for ID cards, and anti-terror laws, but against a transparent parliament.

It’s a case of monitoring for good for you, but not for me.