Friday, July 28, 2006

New happiness map.

8 x 8 x 8

The BBC is reporting on the work of Adrian White from the University of Leicester who has created a world map of happiness.

I think the obvious assertion about the correlation between wealth and happiness is covered in the article, but crucially I think it misses out on one key area.

The countries with the most freedoms tend to be happier. Take a look and see if I'm right.

and the map itself is at:

512 for computer experts :)


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Favourite Quotations

ABC is to XYZ as DEF is to ___

There are several quotations I find particularly inspirational and relevant, and many were said thousands of years ago.

Perhaps the most poignant and well know quotation of all time is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" from the Bible. This to me appears to be wisdom, regardless of any personal beliefs you may hold about Christianity.

How about these from Churchill: "All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope." I certainly agree with that. How about "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last." This quotation is very interesting and still relevant today. I interpret it as a warning against apathy. How about: "When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber." This too is a warning which can be interpreted in many ways. The last quotation from Churchill I will use here is "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." Fine sentiments for us all.

Ghandi made several fantastic contributions for us to ponder such as "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." I like this a lot because it is a view I subscribe to personally. He also reminds us "You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty." When I discovered this, I was in awe. It is such a positive message that truly reflects his fantastic attitude towards life.

Continuing the theme of forgiveness Oscar Wilde stated: "Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much." I think he may have missed the point slightly there but its amusing nonetheless. Additionally he boldly proclaimed: "
Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months." I couldn't have put it better... "Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live." Ah, this one speaks so much and works at so many levels too.

What about Plato: "The greatest penalty of evildoing - namely, to grow into the likeness of bad men" or even "The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."

I will end with a quotation from Socrates: "I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person."

Now where can you find quotations of your own? A quick search for "famous quotes" will bring up plenty of results.

Answer: ABC of course.

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Charity: short term answer?

Rearrange the letter segements to make a word:
un nfo co ded

I must admit that I can often be a little tight when giving to charity. Its not that I don't want to help, but instead that I don't feel the money will go to the right places. The worst type of charities are those which have people on the street carrying a clipboard instead of a money box. The clipboard is used for recording the account details of passers-by in the street and from that point forward every month an amount of money will be deducted from your account. Often the tactics of the street sellers are aggressive and they don't care whether they are wasting your time or not. So essentially any donation is going towards paying their wages.

Naturally when a charity volunteer stands in an non-obstructing place without shaking the box or calling out then I'm slightly more inclined to give. In fact, if you scroll to the bottom of this page you'll find a link to "The Hunger Site" where simply by viewing a few unobtrusive adverts you can give a specific amount of food for free. The only downside is that you can only donate in this form once a day. However that still doesn't address the issue of the money going to the wrong places such as in the wages of staff, corruption, theft, bureaucracy and so on.

So instead of "Charity" lets promote the concept of "Fair Trade" and empowerment of people. "Fair Trade" simply means giving third world countries an equal playing field with already strong countries, allowing them to achieve stability and a sustainable source of revenue. The second part (the empowerment of people) is all about giving everybody the opportunity to be great, rewarding merit and hard work. This can be achieved through providing education and supporting local community initiatives, granting free (or at least affordable) access to health care for everybody and ultimately allowing anybody who wishes to, to be self-sufficient and successful.

That is what I think we should be aiming for with "charity". Short term bribes to relieve our guilt simply do not work as they do not address the economic imbalance or the inequality in opportunity.

Answer: confounded

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Saturday, July 01, 2006


Here is a selection amusing items from across the internet. Enjoy!

General fun sites:

Comedy Zone
A site that tries to make you smile with jokes, pictures, quotes, trivia and more.

Ebaums World
A site which contains flash clips, videos, soundboards, pictures and so on.

The world's largest flash portal. Check it out.

A growing site with lots of good content. Be sure to check out their flash movies.

A huge list of comics available on the web.

A new Dilbert comic daily and various other fun things such as the "Mission statement generator".

Song parodies:
Cyber Parodies
Features a small selection of amusing song parodies to listen to.

Am I right
Contains hundreds of alternate song lyrics, along with music quotes, jokes and trivia quizzes.

Games sites:
Addicting Games
Has grown in popularity because of its simplicity. A huge list of links to (mostly) good games.

Miniclip really has something for everyone. The games are very user friendly, good looking and fun.

Free Online Games
A good site for games and a lot of other things too.


The Fight Against Identity Cards: One letter later.

Below is the letter I sent about Identity Cards.

Dear sir/madam,
thank you for taking the time to read this email.

I am contacting you regarding the proposed UK identity cards. It is of utmost importance that the merits of such schemes are carefully weighted against the massive threats to civil liberties and our rights as UK citizens. According to the following timetable for action is being implemented:

Nov 2003: Draft Bill published
Apr 2004: Pilot schemes begin
Autumn 2004: White Paper in Parliament
2005: Facial biometrics used on passports (scanned from passport photograph)
2007: New passports and driving licenses to require biometrics, separate ID cards optional
2013: Parliament to vote on making it compulsory for all to have some form of biometric ID

This document will cover the implementation of each scheme, the viability of such schemes and assess the associated privacy risks.

2005: Facial biometrics used on passports

According to the American civil liberties union if deployed in airports: "The evidence suggests that these systems would miss a high proportion of suspects included in the photo database, and flag huge numbers of innocent people - lessening vigilance, wasting precious manpower resources, and creating a false sense of security." They also state the technology is flawed, as shown by studies conducted by the US department of defense. Full details are available here:

Facial recognition technology is a long way from being relied upon in mission critical scenarios, such as central government as too many variables can change.It is also highly expensive and, as the Electronic Privacy Information Center ( points out vital questions such as "how they should be regulated to protect the privacy of the public" have not been addressed in America."Recent concerns with the possible uses and misuses of biometrics have led to a discussion whether biometrics is privacy-enhancing or privacy threatening" according to
Privacy concerns with biometrics include:"
· Unauthorized access to biometric data
· Unauthorized disclosure of biometric data to third parties
· Use of biometric data for other than intended purpose
· Collection of biometric data without the knowledge of the individual"

What will prevent this scheme growing into a logging exercise of every citizen's movements in the UK and across the western world, from train stations to airports to shopping malls? It is vital we resist the implementation of this technology if the democratic foundations upon which Britain is based are to be maintained. If this were an anti-terrorism operation, why would government need to scan the photographs of every British citizen holding a passport.The simple answer is: they wouldn't. People in democratic societies have the right to travel abroad without being labeled a terrorist. defines democracy as:

1. Government by the people, exercised either directly or through
elected representatives.
2. A political or social unit that has such a government.
3. The common people, considered as the primary source of political
4. Majority rule.
5. The principles of social equality and respect for the individual
within a community.

Does facial recognition technology provide "respect for the individual". defines communism as:

1. A theoretical economic system characterized by the collective
ownership of property and by the organization of labor for the
common advantage of all members.
2. *Communism*
1. A system of government in which the state plans and controls
the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds
power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social
order in which all goods are equally shared by the people.
2. The Marxist-Leninist version of Communist doctrine that
advocates the overthrow of capitalism by the revolution of
the proletariat.

Does facial recognition technology set the precedent for government featuring an : "authoritarian party hold(ing) power".

2007: New Passports and Driving Licenses to require biometrics, separate ID cards optional.
2013: Parliament to vote on making it compulsory for all to have some form of biometric ID.

Privacy issue 1: Passports and Driving Licenses to require biometrics.

The UK Home office works for the people and one of its most important emerging duties is to protect UK citizens' "freedom to travel" safely. According to the home office website at its mission is "To facilitate travel by UK citizens", "to develop the potential of every individual" and to allow for "the development of civil society". The UK Home Office aims "*To support strong and active communities in which people of all races and backgrounds are valued and participate on equal terms* by developing social policy to build a fair, prosperous and cohesive society in which everyone has a stake."

An introduction of biometrics on passports and driving licenses would compromise these aims. Dr Gus Hosein from Privacy International told the BBC "With the biometric passport, every country may have its own surveillance system, accumulating fingerprints and face-scans and keeping them for as long as they wish with no regard to privacy or civil liberties." "Governments may claim that they are under an international obligation to create national databases of fingerprints and face scans but we will soon see nations with appalling human rights records generating massive databases, and then requiring our own fingerprints and face-scans as we travel" from

Worse are the widespread rumours that Tony Blair is merely a puppet run by America on this issue. During the Prime Ministers Question Time of 15th December 2004, a transcript of which can be found here: he said:

"First, as we know in the House, this issue has been debated over many years, and compulsory ID cards will not come in for several years in any event. So there is a long period in which we can get this right—it is obviously important that we do. The point that I would make is that what has changed my mind on identity cards is that we now have the technology and, indeed, will effectively be obliged to use it for passports, which represents the bulk of the cost—£70 out of the £85 is for the passport, which we will have to introduce in any event. indeed, will effectively be obliged to use it for passports and when it really can make a difference on some of these issues—this is a common consensus certainly among the police and enforcement services—that we make it clear that ID cards will be introduced. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right, however, to raise a series of practical difficulties and objections. It is exactly those that we need to iron out over the next few years."

Significantly he states: "indeed, (the UK) will effectively be obliged to use it for passports", in which he refers to the American introduction of biometric passports. He goes on to state "what has changed my mind on identity cards is that we now have the technology". I would point out we have successfully developed the hydrogen bomb, however do not use it because it is inhumane and because we are not at war. Furthermore the elderly ministers who have promoted the use of biometric technology will not be alive to see the full implications of this scheme.

Biometrics will however be collected from children, who will no longer be able to share parent passports.That means they could be on a government database with biometric data from the age of one or lower. They will be tracked entirely and yet not be able to condemn the system for another seventeen years. Our legacy to them will be one of mistrust and corruption. defines human rights as:

The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled,
often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of
thought and expression, and equality before the law.

Will biometric technology infringe on "the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled".

Privacy issue 2: separate ID cards optional defines optional as:

Left to choice; not compulsory or automatic. talks about the optional elements of an ID card system: 'You will not be required to use a card unless you wish to work, use the banking or health system, travel or receive benefits. As Mr Blunkett advised Parliament : “The issuing of a card does not force anyone to use it, although in terms of drivers or passport users, or if services - whether public or private - required some proof of identity before expenditure was laid out, without proof of identity and therefore entitlement to do it I doubt whether non-use of it would last very long.”' Mr Blunkett evidently does not consider the ID cards optional, and neither do I.

"I would not have countenanced ID cards before 9/11 but after 9/11 I accept we have to consider them because it is incumbent on all of us to examine carefully any measures which might enhance the nation's security" was the comment from David Davis, shadow home secretary. His argument fails to recognize that "all *the September 11th terrorists entered the US on valid documents* - ID Cards would have made no difference to their actions." found on Trevor Mendham's site at

The animation at informs viewers that "US state department figures show that international terrorism is at its lowest levels for 25 years" and indeed that David Blunkett believes ID cards will have limited effectiveness against terrorism. He is right on this issue. Professional terrorists will simply find ways around the identification system as they have done in the past, and leave those innocent to be persecuted.

According to the home office,

The aims of the scheme are:

* To tackle illegal working and immigration abuse;
* To disrupt the use of false and multiple identities by organized
criminals and those involved in terrorist activity;
* To help protect people from identity fraud and theft
* To improve public confidence and strengthen our security
* To ensure free public services are only used by those entitled to
* To enable easier and more convenient access to public services

1) To tackle illegal working and immigration abuse.
Illegal immigrants will continue to avoid boarder guards and continue to take cash-in-hand jobs. This aim will not be fulfilled even if all the governments proposals are passed.

2) To disrupt the use of false and multiple identities by organized criminals and those involved in terrorist activity.
The home office propose one card that once faked will give the carriers access to all public services.

3) To help protect people from identity fraud and theft
- refusal to obey an order to register = £2500
- failure to submit to fingerprinting and biometric scanning = £2500
- failure to provide information demanded by the government = £2500
- failure to attend an interview at a specified place and time = £2500
- failure to notify authorities about a lost, stolen, damaged or defective card = up to 51 weeks in prison and/or a fine
- failure to renew a card = £1000
- failure to attend subsequent fingerprinting and biometric scanning when demanded = £1000
- failure to provide subsequent information when demanded = £1000
- failure to attend subsequent interview at specified place and time when demanded = £1000
- failure to notify authorities of any change in personal circumstances (including change of address) = £1000
- providing false information = up to 2 years and/or a fine

Identity fraud will continue with or without an ID card. With such a powerful card, there will be increased incentive to break the system. Trevor Mendham points out "*Most benefit fraud is /not/ identity fraud*. Instead it comes from people claiming benefit whilst actually working or otherwise lying about their circumstances. Identity Cards will do nothing to prevent this."

4) To improve public confidence and strengthen our security
Public confidence in biometric technology is already low. To proclaim ID cards will change this is ludicrous. Our security could be better strengthened with some extra police.

5) To ensure free public services are only used by those entitled to them
Actually the real issue is whether the home office can defend our boarders.Evidence suggest they cannot. Penalizing British citizens is not going to assist here. When fake ID cards begin to circulate it will be easier than ever for immigrants to use the public services.

6) To enable easier and more convenient access to public services
That could only be achieved by raising the speed limits, improving public transport or placing services nearer the people, like post offices or hospitals or police stations or fire stations to name a few.

The peoples of Great Britain do not want ID cards. Please listen to them.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you again for reading this email. I await your reply."

So at the end of this you can see how strongly I feel on the subject. Nobody afterall has made any convincing arguement why I should have one, and I'm not prepared to accept the "everyone else has one" arguement.

While I left the politicans to consider their responses, I began to think what else we could use 5.5 billion pounds or 10,303,774,270.48 US dollars on. Police? Boarder guards? Some new hospitals? Or all three.

A short time later the replies arrived.

Three replies I recieved were supporting ID cards, notably from the labour MP who first promoted the scheme Nick Palmer, the labour party itself and finally the Home Office. Nick was unwilling to discuss the matter with non-constituents so I was left with two replies (See below):

The Labour party:
"Thank you for your email.

I would like to assure you that any comments made or concerns raised are always read carefully and passed on to the appropriate department. The time and trouble people take in writing to us is greatly appreciated.

We are taking action now to prepare the UK for the challenges of the 21st century – on crime, security, illegal immigration and ensuring free public services are available to those entitled to them. We need to balance the benefits of increasing freedom to live, work and travel with making sure that freedom is not exploited.

Biometric passports will start to be issued from 2005 onwards. A pilot has almost been completed with 10,000 volunteers across the country having their face, iris and fingerprint biometrics recorded; another pilot at Heathrow is registering iris details from frequent travellers to test how the technology might operate at the border.

·Polls show that 80 per cent of adults are in favour of a national ID card scheme, and 81 per cent of Labour members were in favour.

·New biometric technology brings a new level of reliable identification, both in passports and in ID cards. The cards will have 3 biometrics - face recognition, fingerprint, and iris – making them far more reliable than those used in other countries

·Correct identification has become critically important. Right across the world there is a drive to increase the security of passports. Soon, the US will require a biometric passport for entry – or a special visa costing $100 per visit.

·About 80% of the cost of the ID card scheme is required to make passports more secure. The remaining 20% is what it takes to build on these improvements and introduce a national scheme. Universal coverage and secure, online verification brings the real benefits against organised crime, terrorism, and illegal working, and protecting free public services from exploitation.

·Multiple or false identities are used in more than a third of terrorist related activity and in organised crime and money laundering. The police and intelligence services are in no doubt that ID cards would help them undermine and deter terrorists in their activities.

·ID cards cannot protect us single-handedly from terrorist attacks, or organised crime, or illegal immigration; they are a part of a package of measures to make us more secure, not a magic wand.

·We have listened to people's concerns in consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny and have improved the proposals to ensure that there is no trade-off between the benefits of an identity scheme and people's civil liberties.

·The information stored by the scheme will be fixed by parliament and restricted to information required to establish identity; there will be strengthened oversight by a single commissioner; and people's rights under existing data protection will be respected.

·There will be no requirement to carry a card, nor any new powers for the police or anyone else to stop people and demand to see their card.

·So what difference will the scheme make? Only that on the kinds of occasions when people are already asked to say who they are – when they come into the country, or apply for a job, or register with a GP – or on the rare occasions when someone is stopped by the police for a suspected offence – there will be a single, reliable way for them to show who they are.

I would encourage you to contact the Home Office for further details of the scheme.

Thank you again for contacting us."

I was very impressed by how civil and polite the Labour Party and the Home Office were.

The Home Office

Dear Sir or Madam,

Thank you for your email of 5 January 2005.

Proposals for a national compulsory identity cards scheme, to strengthen national security and protect people's identity, were set out on 29 November 2004 when the Government published the Identity Cards Bill.

Our decision to introduce identity cards has been taken following a wide ranging debate, starting with the announcement in February 2002 of the original consultation and continuing more recently with the consultation on the draft legislation. We are pleased that so many people and organisations have contributed to this public debate.

The Government's decision to proceed with the introduction of a national identity cards scheme is based partly on the fact that we will have to introduce more secure personal identifiers (biometrics) into our passports and other existing documents in line with international requirements. Right across the world there is a drive to increase document security with biometrics, on which we can't be left behind. It is worth remembering that 21 of the 25 EU Member States (all apart from the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Latvia) have identity cards.

Under current plans, for example, from next autumn, British tourists who need a new passport will have to get a biometric one to visit the US or get a biometric visa. We will - rightly - have to bear the costs of introducing the new technology to enhance our passports anyway.

The decision to introduce biometrics into existing identity documents has therefore already been made. Without an identity cards scheme, the majority of the population would be enrolled via existing identity documents like passports anyway. The costs involved in this would be nearly the same as implementing a comprehensive identity cards scheme available to the whole resident population, but without the added benefits.

So what we gain with the ID card, over and above just adding biometrics to existing documents, are the benefits flowing from secure identification and a register to hold the information, such as in tackling illegal working and fraudulent access to public services. Added to this, offering an ID card at a reduced cost for those on low incomes and the elderly will give the least well off the same means of proving their identity as those who can afford to travel abroad.

The latest polls show that 80% of the public support the introduction of ID cards and a majority of the public agree that ID cards will help:

· Fight terrorism
· Prevent benefit fraud
· Control illegal immigration
· Fight crime

Identity cards will be linked to existing documents such as passports and will incorporate biometric information such as fingerprints or an iris image. The introduction of identity cards on a phased basis will on current plans start from 2008.

There will be no requirement to carry a card all the time; this is specifically prohibited in the Bill and there will be no new powers for the police to stop someone and demand to see their card.

However, no date has yet been set for a decision on a move to compulsion. There are a number of factors which the Government will need to consider before recommending a move to compulsion to Parliament. These are explained in Identity Cards: the next steps (CM 6020).

Many people may, of course, choose to carry their cards voluntarily and the police already have powers to take steps to identify a person who has been arrested for a recordable offence, including checking biometric information. There are also classes of criminal offences which are non-arrestable and are enforced by sending a summons. In these situations, the police have to be certain of a person's name and address. If a person refuses to identify themselves in these circumstances or the police are not satisfied with the information given, they also have a power of arrest after which biometric checks can be made.

The National Identity Register will link each individual's record to a biometric that is unique to that person. This means that even without a card being produced, it will be possible to check someone's biometric information directly with the National Identity Register to establish his or her identity. This could be done with the person's consent or without consent in certain limited circumstances such as establishing the identity of arrested persons in line with the powers set out above.

Information from the Register can only be provided if specifically authorised by or under the powers in the Bill. The Bill has been drafted to allow the holding of basic identity information, such as name, address, date and place of birth. The Bill also allows the holding of information such as validation history and records of when to whom details of an entry have been provided. However, clause 14 is drafted to ensure that organisations verifying identity cannot be provided with this kind of information even with the consent of the individual. Powers to provide information without consent in clauses 19 to 23 are also strictly limited. Information may be disclosed without consent to Security and Intelligence Agencies to ensure that the scheme helps in the fight against terrorism. The Police, Customs and Inland Revenue may also be provided with the "registrable facts" held, minus the audit trail of card use for law enforcement and related purposes. Provision of information regarding e.g. card usage to those bodies would only apply in cases of serious crimes. The Bill ensures that provision of information without consent will be properly regulated and subject to independent oversight. Unauthorised disclosure of information from the Register is a criminal offence under clause 29 of the Bill.

Complementing the legislative protection, the accreditation process provides specific safeguards. The identity cards agency will be accrediting user organisations based on the type of information they are requesting provision of, as well as a justification of why they are requesting it. We will also reserve the right to audit any user organisation processes to ensure they remain compliant with the ultimate sanction for those who are misusing information being the removal of accreditation.

The Government's proposals are designed to safeguard, not erode, civil liberties by protecting people's true identity against fraud and by enabling them to prove their identity more easily when accessing public or private services. The Bill sets limitations on the information that may be held by the scheme and its use. This is a key safeguard against function creep. Only Parliament would be able to change the statutory purposes of the Register or the type of information, which could be held.

An identity card will strengthen peoples' privacy because it will provide highly verified evidence of identity rather than being asked by private sector organisations for a range of less secure documents which may contain a broad range of additional information not relevant to checking an individual's identity. The existence of a register is not a threat to privacy; 44 million people in this country are already comfortable with their data being held by DVLA or Passport Service. Privacy is only threatened if there are not sufficient safeguards to disclosure. The Government has set out these safeguards in the Bill for Parliament to establish.

Currently, there is a situation where we do actually have a function creep in our existing identity documents due to the lack of any other reliable proof of identity. So, for example the National Insurance Number is often accepted as proof of eligibility to work, which it is not. A driving licence is used as de facto proof of identity, without the strict identity checking process being carried out when it is issued.

The identity card will be for all United Kingdom residents but British nationals living abroad will not need cards. However, any British citizen coming back to live in the UK can apply for an identity card on their return if they do not already hold one.

Every foreign national (including European Union nationals), resident in the UK for more than 3 months will need to obtain a card. Those coming for short visits will use their passport (or European identity card) to prove identity whilst they are resident in the UK.

It is envisaged an identity card will help UK residents establish their identity and entitlement to services in a simple, easy, convenient way and to regulate access to public services to reduce fraudulent use of services by those not entitled and in time to deliver more efficient access to services.

However, I must emphasise that we have never said that the identity cards scheme is intended to be the sole solution to identity fraud, illegal immigration and working, or terrorism. The scheme is therefore not being designed to be the primary method of combating these problems. Nevertheless, the Security services and Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, have stated that they believe an identity card scheme will help in the fight against these problems.

They tell us in cases of serious crime or threats to national security, the scheme will provide, subject to appropriate authorisation procedures, the capability for law enforcement and intelligence and security agencies to be provided with information on when a person's record on the Register has been checked or amended. Police identification of terrorist suspects make the terrorists' life harder: they have to find round-about ways to stay in hotels, rent accommodation, hire cars, and buy mobile phones.

The Spanish police have also stated that their identity cards scheme makes life harder for terrorists and easier for the police. The culture of identity cards in Spain has marginalised terrorists who are driven to reside outside Spain. Identity cards have also meant that the police have a better idea of who they are looking for when tracking down a terrorist as they will have information available such as a photograph, age, fingerprint and addresses and can focus their investigations faster.

The police organisations are convinced that ID cards will be useful in the fight against crime. They have pointed to the benefits associated with the speedy means of identifying individuals on the street where an individual volunteers his ID card which avoids wasted police time. This will free up time to spend on front-line patrols. ID cards will also assist in the prevention of fraud, money laundering, illegal working and illegal immigration and providing a reliable proof of age.

The Government published proposals for reforming the law on fraud in 'Fraud Law Reform: Consultation on Proposals for Legislation' on 17 May 2004. The consultation is part of a much wider package of initiatives which will help in tackling fraud. The main proposal in the consultation is for a general offence of fraud which can be committed in three different ways: by false representation, by wrongfully failing to disclose information, or by abuse of office. In each case the behaviour must be dishonest and must aim at securing a gain for the defendant or a loss for another. The consultation also includes proposals for new offences of 'obtaining services dishonestly' and 'possessing equipment to commit frauds'. Some of these proposals may cover situations in which an identity card is used fraudulently e.g. fraud by false representation might be made out when a person used a false identity card. In such a case it would be for the prosecution to decide which offence would be most appropriate in the circumstances of the case. The law of forgery might also be relevant.

We do not believe it would be satisfactory to rely on offences proposed in the consultation on fraud reform alone. For example, under the proposed offence of fraud by false representation, it would be necessary to prove that a person with a false identity card made a representation which he knew to be false or misleading or was aware that it might be false or misleading and in doing so, intended to secure a gain for himself or a loss for another person. Under the proposed offence in the Identity Cards Bill, it would be sufficient to show that a defendant had in his possession, a false identity card, or one which has been improperly obtained, or belonged to another, without reasonable excuse. Where intent could be shown, an alternative offence could be charged. Penalties for proposed offences in the consultation on reform of fraud law suggest penalties of between 3 and 10 years. This is consistent with proposals in the Identity Cards Bill of penalties of between 2 and 10 years.

The new offence of possession of false documents has been drafted to provide that it should not just apply to ID cards issued under the Identity Cards legislation but will also apply to other identity documents. These include UK passports, immigration documents and driving licences. It also covers driving licences, passports or identity cards issued by other countries. It is intended that these provisions should be brought into force as soon as practicable in order to provide an immediate and stronger deterrent to the possession of any false or improperly obtained identity documents together with an identity document belonging to someone else without reasonable excuse.

Identity cards will help to combat identity fraud and theft because the National Identity Register will be starting from the electronic equivalent of a blank sheet of paper, not an existing database. Any incorrect data in an existing database would not be imported into the Register; the only way for an individual to have a record added would be by going through the full identity card enrolment process with all the checks that would entail. The National Register would be a single highly reliable record of a person's identity, with checks having been made, for example against passport, driving licence and immigration records as appropriate. The Register will link each individual's record to a "biometric" measure such as an iris or finger record. Recording biometrics from all applicants, together with more traditional security checks, should ensure that it is virtually impossible to obtain an ID card in multiple identities, provide a means for individuals to protect their personal details and for organisations to make more rigorous checks on the identities of their customers.

The Government recognises that a scheme covering the whole of the UK adult population will be an attractive target to criminals. However, we need to set this out in the context of a world where people's identities are increasingly insecure by relying on systems designed for other purposes e.g. driving licences.

It is important that the integrity of information about an individual and the link to that individual using biometrics must be secure, therefore every effort is being made to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of the Register to minimise the risk of identity theft.

Our priority is protecting the privacy of individuals whose information is held by the scheme. That is why we take security so seriously.

Experience from previous projects has shown that early detailed design work on feasibility and testing reduces the risks and increases success. Security is at the heart of this design process.

As a number of the checks will be made on the card not the Register, we also need to ensure the security of the card and the chip. Personal information must be protected from being seen by unauthorised persons, copied, misused or altered. However, security is not just about ensuring the technology around the database and card is sufficient, but also about ensuring the security of the personnel running the scheme, the enrolment process and verification methods. This is all being considered as part of the design and accreditation processes.

Biometrics are being used to more strongly tie a verified identity to an individual. In this way, biometrics can be used along with an ID card to verify that identity against the record held for that card. Other forms of authentication, such as PIN numbers and passwords can be stolen along with a card so are much weaker at linking a person to an identity.

Biometrics do not provide perfect identification of an individual. Rather, they greatly enhance the security and reliability of more traditional techniques such as photographs and signatures. Even though the performance of the best biometrics is extremely good, there remains the possibility that an individual will not be accurately identified though his or her biometric. Even so, biometrics provide much better verification of identity than most other techniques. Identification errors are more likely to arise from clerical errors than from use of biometrics.

Use of biometrics will also make it much more difficult for a fraudster to obtain a second identity card as the biometrics can be checked against those already on the NIR to see if they are already registered. It will also provide an additional means of associating an individual to a particular identity card, which greatly increases the security and robustness by supplementing more traditional methods such as photographs and signatures.

Lastly addressing your email of 23 January 2005, we endeavour to respond to enquiries within 20 working days.

The Identity Cards Bill is available on the Parliament website:

or if you would like to obtain a hard copy of The Bill this would cost £6, however you will have to write to:

Her Majesty's Stationery Office
St Clements House
2-16 Colegate

More information about identity cards is also available on

We are grateful for the time you have taken to comment on this issue.

I sent a follow-up email informing everyone that the information was available online and that the Home Office had yet to reply (which they then did).

The impact of my letter cannot be understated. Excerpts from it went onto the Liberal Democrat website, A member of NO2ID posted on my previous blog and various other people who I'd emailed posted as "anonymous" with words of encouragement.

A quote on the page: "instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands of extra police officers on the beat in our local communities." - Tony Blair
went on to be used by Charles Kennedy in Prime Minister's Question Time.

Much of the information provided in the replies is, however, false.

Time constraints prevent me from analysing every line as I would like, but here are a few key aspects of the above letters I have picked out as questionable:

"We are taking action now to prepare the UK for the challenges of the 21st century – on crime, security, illegal immigration and ensuring free public services are available to those entitled to them. We need to balance the benefits of increasing freedom to live, work and travel with making sure that freedom is not exploited."

//Entitlement is very different to identification. This site has more information on the importance of making that distinction: //

"Biometric passports will start to be issued from 2005 onwards. A pilot has almost been completed with 10,000 volunteers across the country having their face, iris and fingerprint biometrics recorded;

// In this pilot, no data was stored. The database integrity was not tested. //

another pilot at Heathrow is registering iris details from frequent travellers to test how the technology might operate at the border."

// Note that these are volunteers and are not in the majority. //

"·Polls show that 80 per cent of adults are in favour of a national ID card scheme, and 81 per cent of Labour members were in favour."

// A powerful statistic, but not a valid one: “the MORI polling organisation also has a commercial interest in ID Cards, as they are running the selection process for the 10,000 "volunteers" who are to participate in the Passport Office's Biometrics evaluation trial” “even Detica have to admit that: "Although 94% of people are aware of the scheme’s existence, two thirds (67%) have little or no knowledge of the Government’s national ID card proposals." “This invalidates any claims that 80% of the public support the actual Biometric ID card scheme which is being proposed by the Government - how can they if they do not know the details ?” found at What is more important to note is that: the bbc reports a different poll conducted by yougov that states: “Up to 5 million people (28%) would demonstrate against ID cards”. //

"·New biometric technology brings a new level of reliable identification, both in passports and in ID cards. The cards will have 3 biometrics - face recognition, fingerprint, and iris – making them far more reliable than those used in other countries"

// More incentive to fake the cards and more dependency on the government database. The MORI poll also revealed "41% lack confidence in the Government's ability to store personal information securely". //

"·Correct identification has become critically important. Right across the world there is a drive to increase the security of passports. Soon, the US will require a biometric passport for entry – or a special visa costing $100 per visit."

// The US reasoning for biometrics is to fight against terrorism, and yet, as mentioned previously, all the September 11 th terrorists entered on legal documents.//

"·About 80% of the cost of the ID card scheme is required to make passports more secure. The remaining 20% is what it takes to build on these improvements and introduce a national scheme. Universal coverage and secure, online verification brings the real benefits against organised crime, terrorism, and illegal working, and protecting free public services from exploitation."

// Only so long as the integrity of the system is not compromised. Once that occurs we will be less secure than before the cards were introduced. //

"·Multiple or false identities are used in more than a third of terrorist related activity and in organised crime and money laundering. The police and intelligence services are in no doubt that ID cards would help them undermine and deter terrorists in their activities."

// Those that do establish successful ways of undermining the system will be harder to catch than ever before. //

"·The information stored by the scheme will be fixed by parliament and restricted to information required to establish identity; there will be strengthened oversight by a single commissioner; and people's rights under existing data protection will be respected."

// Currently the United Kingdom is one of the few democratic nations worldwide without a constitution protecting the rights of its citizens. No regulation currently exists to prevent governments (not necessarily labour) from abusing this newfound technology. //

"·There will be no requirement to carry a card, nor any new powers for the police or anyone else to stop people and demand to see their card."

// Guy Herbert, General Secretary of NO2ID stated in response to this "There will be "no new powers" to demand cards because those powers can be constructed on the basis of existing law.

Police have powers dating back to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 [totemic, or what?] to arrest a person whom they stop and question when they are not satisfied as to that person's identity. With biometric ID as a "gold standard" of identification, it seems unlikely the police will be satisfied with less for long. Even if one is not arrested, then one is likely to be frogmarched to get one's card in order to avoid arrest. So compulsory carry and production for police can in effect be created without further legislation.

But, you may object, that only applies to people whom police may legitimately stop, doesn't it? Indeed. But that category in being extended all the time. To quote only the most arrant example: Pursuant to terrorism legislation, police forces can designate specified areas as ones in which officers may stop and search without reasonable cause. This was explained to parliament as necessary to catch fugitives in the aftermath of a terrorist incident, or where it was necessary to forestall a specific attack discovered by intelligence. Notwithstanding, the entire Metropolitan Police area has been so designated, indefinitely.

So a Met officer may stop you at random and demand to know who you are under the existing state of affairs, and arrest you for further enquiries if you can't satisfy him as to your identity. What are your chances of satisfying him and avoiding arrest going to be if you _could_ have an ID card on you, but _don't_? Most officers will assume you dan't have your card because you have something to hide.

Immigration officers, BTW, already have the same power to randomly demand ID nationally."

"·So what difference will the scheme make? Only that on the kinds of occasions when people are already asked to say who they are – when they come into the country, or apply for a job, or register with a GP – or on the rare occasions when someone is stopped by the police for a suspected offence – there will be a single, reliable way for them to show who they are."

// Applying for a job or benefits is something everybody has to do. Registering with a GP is something everybody has to do. Introducing ID cards will encourage the police to be racist in their hunt for illegal immigrants. //

"Our decision to introduce identity cards has been taken following a wide ranging debate, starting with the announcement in February 2002 of the original consultation and continuing more recently with the consultation on the draft legislation. We are pleased that so many people and organisations have contributed to this public debate."

// Yet based on the governments own figures, only 27% of the population actually know even the most basic knowledge of the implications of Identity cards.//

"offering an ID card at a reduced cost for those on low incomes and the elderly will give the least well off the same means of proving their identity as those who can afford to travel abroad."

// Another indication that the card is not optional//

“The National Identity Register will link each individual's record to a biometric that is unique to that person. This means that even without a card being produced, it will be possible to check someone's biometric information directly with the National Identity Register to establish his or her identity. This could be done with the person's consent or without consent in certain limited circumstances such as establishing the identity of arrested persons in line with the powers set out above.”

//For it to be successful these statements (and others) must remain true:
1) We will be friends with America forever.
2) An extremist party (like the BNP) will never be elected.
3) Biometrics are completely infallible.
4) An employee will never be bribed.
5) The database will never go down.
6) A group of hackers will never bypass the security.//

Finally I will conclude by saying that the defences of Great Britain's privacy and rights are no longer guaranteed safe. Labour has shown that Britain is just as vulnerable to apathy as Germany was when Hitler got into power.

Click here to go back to the Fight Against ID cards main page.

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The Fight Against Identity Cards

I would never normally class myself as a human rights campaigner but in recent times the world has grown increasingly apathetic and the people who should be doing something (Liberty, Privacy International, EPIC and so on) have not been successful in getting their message across. That is why I took up this fight. As I researched I discovered there were many people who felt the same way as me and saw that Identity Cards were a massive threat to our liberties and effectively a realisation of "1984".

*Read the letter I sent to the Home Office, Labour Party, various MPs, Journalists and Human Rights groups along with the reply from the Labour Party and the Home Office. (Some of the information is now dated.)

*View the bill

*Read the arguments FOR the bill:
Once there check out the links on the right in the sidebar.

*Read the arguments AGAINST the bill:


Trevor Mendham's anti ID card site

Privacy International

Defy ID

Yahoo anti ID cards group




Liberal Democrats

*Renew your passport

*Make your voice heard. Write a letter, distribute leaflets or just tell others about the scheme.

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The Browser Wars

We all use web browsers frequently, so below I offer advice to help you decide which one is for you.

The Acid Test (2)

Find an anagram of Microsoft's Internet Explorer

I believe strongly in web standards. IE and Netscape initially lacked standards and websites commonly had to use a massive IF statement for each browser. Then for a time IE became the standard. Now however with several other good browsers around (Firefox, Opera, Safari, Konqueror and so on) standards have really made a comeback.

More recently some clever people at have created a test of new standards which all browsers should be able to handle. You can try it out at

You may be surprised to learn that Firefox does not pass (I certainly was!). Normally the Mozilla foundation is very keen on supporting web standards, but they have not yet released any version which works (Support should be arriving in Firefox 3). documents the progress of each of the main browsers in meeting the requirements and gives more information about the test overall.

If you want to see it working, I recommend using Opera 9. Without the adverts in the interface (which occurred in version 7 and earlier) and with all the advanced features it posses it really is starting to compete with Firefox and its cross-platform too. Give it a try.

In any event compared to IE7, both browsers are brilliant and I strongly discourage IE usage until Microsoft decides to start investing some real energy into making a secure, functional and compatible browser.

That was a hard one: Complexities front ten errors. See for more anagrams.
Posted on 3rd August 2006

Browser comparison: IE7 vs FF vs Opera

Unscramble the word: llan mi eous sce

As a follow up to my previous post I have decided to do a comprehensive comparison of the main browsers today. Before the arrival of IE7 this was hardly worth doing as the answer was relatively obvious. The three browsers I have chosen are IE7, Firefox (with reference to FF2) and Opera 9.

Comparison table:
Internet Explorer 7Firefox 9
Website support (not really a fair test, but an important consideration nonetheless)(3) Full, with IE's high market share webmasters cannot afford to ignore this browser(2) Good. Most sites will function perfectly, although occasionally certain websites will not work e.g. or In joint second with Firefox.
Standards support (This category is a far more accurate reflection of the browsers performance)(1) Still poor. As with IE6 Microsoft has cut corners and this in many regards is limiting the development of the internet.(3) Although it does not fully pass the Acid 2 Test, Mozilla is a great advocate for standards and makes great contributions towards them.(3) Despite being closed-source, Opera also advocates standards and is the first of these browsers to pass the Acid 2 Test fully.
Add-ons(1) Very limited. Although Microsoft claims to have achieved this it hasn't! The addon site is very weak and mostly lists plugins and full programs.(3) First place for Firefox. Its open source and has a full system developed for extending the browser. Extensions are created by the community and provide truly useful extras such as Adblocking and Feed reading.(2) Opera has Widgets which are somewhere in between. They can't do everything Extensions can, but they are certainly better than Microsoft's offering.
Ablocking(1) Nonexistent(2) Automatic pop-up blocking. However the extension "Adblock" allows all adverts to be blocked. Because this functionality is not built Firefox only gets second place.(2) Opera also has popup blocking and a built in facility to remove content, however this is not always effective at removing all adverts and is not as good as Adblock or Remove It Permanently for Firefox.
User interface (Unfortunately I have given all the browsers second place here. Read why.)(2) IE7 looks quite good out of the box but that is really it. IE7 has little else to give. I also feel they may have sacrificed functionality in their quest to maximise the webpage viewing area.(2) Firefox comes looking grey and boring and somewhat outdated, although it is more practicle. Luckily its possible to customise most aspects of the interface and download additional themes. When I tried this at the main firefox add-on site however most themes would not install and I'm using, the current stable release. Perhaps there is a hack to get the themes working, but an average user would not know about that.(2) Opera has a (reasonably) customisable interface and several themes. Yet when you first install Opera the interface is incredibly cluttered and it took me about ten minutes to get it looking how I wanted it.
Privacy and Security(1) Microsoft's big failing. IE always gets targetted by hackers and this will probably occur again. Their new phising site detection is quite a weak offering. Will the list be maintained? Based on IE6 levels of unpatched security holes I'd be a little cautious about trusting microsoft entirely. At least they are providing an open beta this time however.(3) Firefox's security is excellent and the available extensions make it even better. The best part is the options are useful and easy to adjust such as the options to handle cookies: Accept? Original site only? Unless previously removed? How long do I keep them? Very good. Only 3 unpatched vulnerabilities and these aren't critical(3) Opera also is fantastic at keeping its users secure. 0 unpatched security problems. Like Firefox, Opera does a good job at keeping you secure and deservedly gets joint first place.

There are several other criteria I could have used to compare the browsers and the ones you assign greatest weight to will depend on your needs. My final tally is:

-Last Place: Internet Explorer: 9
-Second Place: Opera: 14
-First Place: Firefox: 15

As you can see the scores are rather close and I think if Opera keeps on innovating it may soon overtake Firefox. Deciding which one is my favourite may take a long time...

Answer: Miscellaneous
Posted on 5th August 2006


UK Transport Policy

This page discusses my efforts to change the UK transport policy.

It began with:

UK motorists getting bad deal

What is the total stopping distance of a car travelling at 40mph according to the highway code?

I often find myself pondering why motorists are given such a hard time. They have to pay very high, rising petrol prices (most of which goes towards tax for Labour to waste), high road tax (more money for Labour to waste), MOT, parking (most of which goes to local councils), parking fines and speeding fines (again giving money to the government) and various other costs associated with driving.

Yet the attack doesn't stop there. Mr Livingstone has a lovely CONgestion charge running in central London (which gives more money to the government) and in legal terms drivers usually get the blame when they collide with anything or anyone.

Perhaps a more fundamental attack is on the actual road layout itself. Across the UK road narrowing campaigns are taking place and "traffic calming measures" are going everywhere. Speed cameras, number plate monitoring cameras and general surviellance cameras line the motorways. Traffic lights are being designed to slow traffic down.
Bus lanes are increasing rush hour congestion and parking has become either impossible with all the yellow, red and white lines or when you can find somewhere, very expensive.

On all sides the motorist is getting squeezed. Yet I believe that this is not helping the population because everybody needs to travel and increasing motoring costs means increasing inflation and don't get me started on what Labour is doing to our economy!

Anyway the arguments against cars are as follows:
1) Pollution!
Eveybody is complaining about global warming and the solution politicans are offering is to increase driving costs. They have also attempted to improve public transport but with a single bus journey now costing £1.50, have not really given any incentives to use (other than making driving harder). My solution would be either cars powered by biofuels and other renewal energy sources (make it compulsory for garages to sell green fuels and for new cars to have engines that support them) or a scheme to offset pollution by planting trees along roads or to lower the cost of public transport so that it is at least equal in cost to using a car for an eqivalent journey. I also believe better provisions for parking bicycles would help.

Notice that most of my suggestions do not penalise the driver in any way. We've had enough of that already.

2) Congestion!
Ken Livingstone is making congestion worse! Its a deliberate policy to slow traffic down and make driving unpleasant. Therefore any suggestions he has I mostly ignore. My first action would be designing roads to get traffic moving. Identify and remove bottlenecks and up the speed limit on motorways to 80mph in normal conditions, but give harder penalties to people who, for example, drive at that speed during foggy conditions - e.g. dangerous driving.

Public transport needs to play a role and become cheaper and, where possible, faster. Also as mentioned before better provisions for bicycles would be helpful.

3) Road safety!
Here is where everybody has different views. Campaigners seem to think the answer is too ban cars, lower speed limits and drivers seem to think "get out of my way stupid pedestrian". Essentially my policy here would be to separate cars and pedestrians as much as possible and remove unnecessary road street funiture. I think bridges over roads, pelican and zebra crossings are the best way of dealing with this. However education needs to be given to pedestrians and children in particular to look before they walk in the road.

I think part of the problem is that drivers do not respect speed limits because in most cases they are inappropriate. Therefore I would increase speed limits in most places, but lower them in danger areas, such as crash hotspots, dangerous corners, near public buildings (e.g. schools and hospitals) and anywhere pedestrians are likely to be.

Road safety is an important issue, however is not an excuse for tax and excessive road restraints as Labour uses it for. All parties must realise the roads are a dangerous place and respect them. If a driver drives at 60mph outside a school at 3.10pm on a thursday afternoon, send him to jail for stupidity. Likewise if a school child runs into a road to get a ball without looking blame the kid and the parents and the school for failing to educate him properly.

What was the point of this post? Basically to get people to think differently about driving and the problems with cars. Current political policies are highly ineffective as is shown by the high number of people caught speeding every year, the ridiculously slow speeds of traffic in our urban areas, the high number of road fatalities and generally the poor design of our roads compared to the rest of Europe and the world.

For more information check out:

Answer= 36 metres or 120 feet (12 metres thinking distance and 24 metres stopping distance)
Posted on 5th August 2006

The next post is:

"GATE BRITAIN" warning from The Mirror

What is the concentration of Co2 in the atmosphere?

Two days ago I described some of the issues facing motorists and the public about cars.

Today "The Mirror" is running an article called "Pay-as-you-go roads vision"

The article basically states that if the transport secretary gets his way Toll Gates will start emerging at various locations across the UK, drivers of higher polluting vehicles will face a significant tax hike, speed limits along motorways will be lowered in an effort to "cut pollution" (maybe I should be getting more vitamins or something because that doesn't make sense to me), more congestion charging zones will be added and satellite road charging will be introduced along with various other measures.

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! None of those measures are positive. Sure it may stop people from travelling and increase inflation, erode more of our privacy and make driving more difficult, but in the long term, those measures will just turn into a not so stealthy tax on freedom.

If you haven't already, check out my previous post on the subject where I offer suggestions for dealing with pollution and congestion. Douglas Alexander is rapidly becoming a target for a new letter!!

"As of 2006, the earth's atmosphere is about 0.038% by volume (381 µL/L or ppmv) or 0.057% by weight CO2." From wikipedia
Posted on August 7th 2006

That was followed with:

"Gate Britain" part 2: The letter

I am pleased to announce that I have sent a letter to Douglas Alexander about the issues raised in the previous posts here and here.

Below is a transcript. I will of course update the blog with any feedback I recieve and I hope it has a positive impact.

"To Douglas Alexander,

I am writing in response to an article by "The Mirror" which discusses requests by MPs for you to take action to address the issues of congestion, pollution and global warming. I am concerned that the policies being proposed are both inherently negative and also dangerous to the long-term economic prosperity of Britain.

Firstly according to "The Mirror"
you proposed to add level of toll roads and congestion charging zones to large parts of the UK. However unlike in London there are many locations where there is no viable public transport alternative for business commuters. This means that the charge instantly becomes a transport tax. Only the wealthiest will be able to afford to travel and the rate of inflation will soar. The United Kingdom economy is almost entirely focused on tertiary and qua-tertiary sectors and if the costs rise too high, footloose businesses will relocate even more, forcing unemployment up.

Instead your policy should focus on speeding up journey times, improving public transport services and pricing them competitively against the car to promote usage.

People need to travel and your job is to facilitate and assist people in achieving this.

The article then discusses plans to increase taxation on vehicles that release more CO2. I accept that this is not entirely a bad idea but once again your policy is incomplete. Where is your policy on getting cleaner biofuels into UK petrol stations? Why has the Labour government increased the rate of tax on biofuels to the same as levels on regular petrol? Why have you not demanded that car manufacturers offer cars powered by renewal energy? The article states you have pledged 10 million into the technology for toll boths and that by the next election the Labour party will have passed laws on this. Instead of pursuing this quick fix tax policy why not create a legacy of your own by addressing some of the above questions.

At this point in the article I was baffled by a statement "They also want 70mph speed limits on motorways and trunk roads cut or rigorously enforced to cut pollution." Cutting speed limits, road narrowing, and generally slowing traffic down does not cut pollution, it increases it. Using more eco-friendly engines or cutting down the number of motorists may help, but considering we are talking about the motorways where people make mostly essential, long distance journeys, all lowering the speed limit would achieve is decreasing the capacity of the road network and increase journey times; another negative policy.

Raise the speed limit along motorways and other areas where there are few pedestrians and decrease them to very low levels when cars are in close proximity to pedestrians such as along high streets and near schools and accident blackspots, especially at certain times of the day to reflect road conditions. Use common sense. Just slowing traffic down is not a sustainable long term policy, and in reality highlights failures at all levels of government in managing traffic. People do not respect the current speed limits because the transport department does not respect people.

Bob Roberts continues by addressing your policy on road charging which it is claimed will help reduce congestion by reducing the number of journeys people make. However is your department being manipulated? I believe the long-term aim of the Labour party is to use road charging to track people by satellite by making it compulsory for everyone to have a black box in their car, giving the state the ability to monitor exactly who is where. Also in your reply you cannot state: "There will be protection against abuse" because as we have seen with virtually all previous intrusive legislation, the Labour party extends it and removes safeguards. And what happens if a party such as the BNP come to power?! If you value privacy and the ability to travel without being recorded oppose this legislation.

The final aspect of the article I will address is the airline fuel tax. Alternative engines and Biofuels appear to be the ideal answer. Do you have the courage to implement a positive transport policy for the remainder of your time in office?

Thank you for reading and I eagerly await your reply,

Posted on 7th August 2006

And then came:

UK Transport policy update - Department of Transport response.

I am pleased to announce that the Department of Transport has responded to the letter I sent to them. The reply is well written and courteous, and I do get the underlying sense that the woman partially agrees with me (maybe it is just a hope...).

Here it is (names excluded):

"Dear Sir,

Thank you very much for your letter of 7 August to the Secretary of State on the subject of road pricing. I have been asked to reply. In your letter you raise a number of concerns in response to a newspaper article.

// Thank you for taking the time to respond, especially considering the pressures on the department of transport recently. //

As you will appreciate tackling congestion is a key long term priority in transport because it affects us all. It causes frustration to people stuck in traffic jams. It is bad for business because it disrupts the delivery of goods and services. And it affects people's quality of life.

// ....and it is bad for the environment because it causes pollution... //

It is a growing problem, especially around our major cities, where businesses and jobs are concentrated. As the economy grows, people want to travel more and travel further than they did before. If we do nothing, the problem will get worse in the next 20 to 30 years.

// miss out the possibilities of Teleworking and the impact of the population size, but I agree it is an important issue and that is partly why I wrote to you. I don't believe any government should bury its head in the sand and hope a problem will go away... //

The Government is exploring the scope for developing a national system of road pricing - in line with its manifesto commitment.

// Its a quick fix solution to a problem that requires a long-term, sustainable, integrated policy. It might reduce congestion, but that will only be because people cannot afford to travel. I thought the idea of socialism was to help the people, not just tax them (or is this the new labour I've been hearing so much about)? //

This could mean charging on the basis of distance travelled with the charge varied according to how congested a road is. A Feasibility Study, published in July 2004, said that a national road pricing scheme had the potential to reduce urban congestion by nearly half, with about 4% less traffic using the roads at peak times. So a relatively small number of people changing the time that they travel, or travelling in a different way, could lead to a significant improvement in congestion.

// *sigh* According to data released by the Unlimited Jargon friends club, if you wear a hat, you are 40% more likely to experience a windy day. How many other alternatives have been considered? //

However, implementing a national road pricing system would be a massive and complex task. This is why to start with the Government has decided to focus on local pilot and pathfinder schemes, and support local authorities as they develop schemes which will test systems in different areas and establish what works.

// Perhaps you should replace "what works" with "what makes money". //

In your letter you raise the issue of public transport outside of London. Under the Transport Act 2000, for at least the first ten years, local authorities have to use the revenues raised by any road pricing scheme to help deliver their Local Transport Plan (providing the scheme comes into effect by 2011). After this time the local authorities’ share of net revenues can be spent as specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State. No decision has been made on what might be included in any such regulations. However, we are working with local authorities to enable the development of road pricing pilots that offer a fair deal for road users and work to the overall benefit of the places where they are implemented.

// Instead of working with on small scale community projects to improve an area, you are proposing creating an extremely complicated, bureaucratic system that will infringe on the public's privacy and make travelling more costly, which in turn will probably increase the English North-South economic divide. //

The Government is committed to improving public transport; it remains a key priority for us. Since 1997, spending on transport infrastructure has more than doubled.

// And yet clearly it hasn't solved the problem.... //

We have funded, and continue to fund, many local public transport schemes. The Crawley Fastway (a guided bus scheme) and Durham Park and Ride are recent examples of new schemes funded by the Department. We have also funded some very large rail projects, including updating the West Coast Mainline, which enables tilting trains to travel at 125mph - delivering much faster journey times. We are also investing in the Channel Tunnel rail link and upgrading the ticket hall at London Kings Cross.

// Whilst I support several of the policies mentioned, it is important to place Britain in context with the rest of the world. Japan has fast trains. Most of Europe has fast trains. The UK is still a long way behind and ticket prices are very costly during peak times (inhibiting travelling further). //

Furthermore, when local authorities bid for money from the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) to implement road pricing schemes, they will be required to tell us what complementary transport measures they are proposing. It is for the local authority to determine what these measures will be, but it could include measures such as real-time information systems at bus stops, improvements to bus services or redesigning the road space to encourage more walking and cycling.

// I hate to be a spoil sport, but I think the fares from bus journeys should pay for upgrades to the stops, not car drivers. //

You also raise concern about the effects of a road pricing scheme on people travelling to work. The Government recognises how important it is for people to be able to get around, and that is especially true for those on low incomes who need to travel to work. We are certainly not trying to price these people off the road – indeed under some possible schemes they might pay less than now in motoring costs. What road pricing should do is to encourage some people to change their travel arrangements, perhaps by travelling a little earlier or later, by car-sharing, or by using public transport where that is an option. Not many people need to change their journeys for us to have an impact on congestion. All of the pilot schemes for pricing will assess carefully the impact on all groups, including those on low incomes, to help design the best arrangements.

// A good point. Low income families will be penalised more under the new scheme, especially those who live outside expensive urban areas and commute every day. According to you "not many people need to change", which is a little contrary to what you said earlier...I thought congestion was a major issue. If only a few people need to change then there is less of an argument for road charging than before. //

The Government is also actively promoting fuel efficiency. The Graduated Vehicle Excise Duty and the Company Car Tax are now both linked to vehicles’ carbon emissions. Motorists can save up to £210 in VED, and thousands of pounds on their Company Car Tax bill if they choose clean, low-carbon vehicles. Colour-coded energy efficiency labels for new cars, modelled on those for household white goods, were launched in February 2005 and are now in most UK car showrooms. These enable consumers to make informed and environmentally friendly choices when they buy a new car. The 2002 Powering Future Vehicles Strategy sets out the Government's policies to encourage the development and uptake of clean, fuel efficient vehicles.

// This is hardly solving the problem. What you've done here is increased tax on the wealthy (who will probably just ignore the increased costs) and on families. The labels are a good idea, but clearly not widely publicised (especially compared to the "think" campaign.) //

You suggest in your letter that speed limits should be adjusted according to the number of pedestrians in the area. The Department keeps all national speed limits under constant review to ensure they remain appropriate. In 2001 we considered raising the motorway speed limit but concluded that the increased risk of accidents and severity of those accidents far outweighed potential benefits. Particularly as police enforcement thresholds are 10% plus 2mph of the speed limit. This effectively means that enforcement may not begin until vehicle speeds exceed 79mph.

// Yet in Germany (where many motorways have no speed limits, but instead strict dangerous driving regulations) road accidents have been falling dramatically over the past decade ( Once people in Great Britain accept that travelling by car is still an essential part of today transport policies, then maybe we'll be able to move forward. //

Local authorities are responsible for setting local speed limits, including speed limits by time of day. It is for them to decide when and where local speed limits may be changed. The Department published new guidance to local authorities on setting local speed limits on 8 August this year which will further assist in their decision making process.

// That still doesn't address my point of separating pedestrians and motorists. It doesn't even come close. //

The Department’s aim is to achieve safe, appropriate vehicle speeds that will reduce accidents and the risk of accidents and increase use by pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians.

// Increase use of roads by pedestrians? What kind of speed limits are you thinking of? //

Finally you raise the issue of black boxes and their affect on the privacy of individuals. We are conscious of these concerns and safeguards will need to be considered as we design any scheme. There are several ways to design a road pricing system - there are different types of technology and different ways of billing and paying. We need to work through the privacy implications of each of the options and it is too soon to say exactly how reassurance will be applied in any specific scheme. What is clear is that, as a minimum, the normal legal protections concerning the use of personal data would apply to all road pricing schemes, be they local or national."

// The data protection act is already under attack from central government. As previously stated no reassurances can be given. //

Yours sincerely,

BUT WAIT A MINUTE, what about the points I raised in my letter?

-There was a complete omission of any discussions of biofuels. I believe they have great potential (in a medium term time period) to solve many of our problems. If only 5% of drivers were to use biofuels, it would be the equivalent of taking 1 million people off the road. Brazil has done it. Actually (as the department of transport has used it above) according to the Labour Party manifesto The "government will continue to support technological innovation to reduce carbon emissions such as hydrogen fuel-cell buses in London."

-Public transport outside London (and especially in rural areas) is completely inadequate (lets face it, one or two buses a day is not going to be enough).

-Many people in rural areas are already on low incomes and this tax could drive them onto state benefits. However the government's "clever" solution is to adjust the price of travelling down certain roads so rural areas will be cheaper apparently (but what about second home owners or city commuters?). They also want to make cities expensive (What about low income migrants stuck in council accommodation?). Perhaps the answer is to tax based on earnings, but then there is no point in having road charging. Whatever way you spin it, it doesn't make sense.

-Public transport is overpriced in virtually every part of the United Kingdom. For regular travellers driving is significantly faster and cheaper and more comfortable than waiting for a bus. You can also carry lots of luggage in vehicles. The letter avoids discussing the price of public transport.

-In my letter I mentioned businesses may move away from Britain as a result of the inevitable increased costs. Those that do believe they can still make a profit will pass on costs directly to consumers (reducing the disposable income of everyone further). There is no mention of this in the letter either!

-On the issue of road charging all signs suggest the decision has already been made, even though the department of transport acknowledges how complex and unwieldy it is.

-As expected, the letter fails to outline what safeguards will exist.

In summary, the arguments for road charging (reduction of pollution and congestion) could be achieved far more effectively with the requirement of fuel efficient engines in all vehicles, the use of biofuels and other renewable energy (how about a solar panel on every car to power the air conditioning?), small scale local schemes by people who know their area, competitively priced public transport and better designed, more efficient roads to get people completing their journey's faster. There is also an argument for decentralisation of goods and services and generally reducing the need to travel.

Thank you for reading and I hope *you* will now reassess your approach to transport.

Posted on 19th September 2006

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