Sunday, 15 November 2015


In one sense, those who carried out the terrible atrocities in Paris this weekend have won: I’m afraid.  Not of them; I grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. I was nearly blown up more than once during my childhood, so ISIS don’t frighten me (in that way, at least).  No, I’m afraid of my government, and those of other European countries and what they’re going to do now in response.  I’m afraid that there will be an inevitable knee-jerk reaction and tightening of security; further reduction of our freedoms; more profiling of those who are ‘different’.  It’s a cliché to say that this is exactly what the terrorists want but it’s a cliché for a reason, and in their hurry to answer the calls of Something Must Be Done, our leaders enact bad legislation that divides communities, provokes fear, and yet does nothing to make us safer.

I’ve been a member of Liberty for some years now and I’ve never been more convinced of the necessity of this organisation and those like it.  In the inevitable melee to come, we need calm heads who will think beyond the next headline in a way that politicians today seem unable to do.  People who will be a voice reminding our leaders what values they’re supposedly protecting and speak truth to power in a way that will be very unpopular in certain sections of the media.  Shami Chakrabarti and her colleagues at Liberty are brave people, braver than me, and I hope that they, and others like them, will be able to stand up to the calls to give up freedom in favour of security.  If they can’t, I fear that we will, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, end up with neither.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Electronic snooping by HR departments

This post on Bruce Schneier’s blog led me to this rather disturbing article.  I don’t know about anyone else but I find it rather creepy that what you said years ago, or an embarrassing picture, possibly put up by someone else, could be used to determine whether or not you get (or keep!) a job.  The use of fear to sell it is also insidious, suggesting that if companies don’t do it, they may be held liable.

Although I’m not on Facebook, Twitter or any of the other popular social networking sites, I do keep a public blog and I appreciate that I have to be careful what I write on it.  I avoid talking about my employer, except in the most general terms and these days I don’t write anything that I wouldn’t be able to defend.  But I’ve had this blog for a long time, and I can’t guarantee that I was always so circumspect.  And I’m certainly not adverse to putting political opinions here either.  If something like this became widespread, and I was in the job market, I’d give serious consideration to going through and removing possibly damaging posts (i.e. anything vaguely contentious) or even taking the blog down entirely and moving it behind a friend-wall.  In this way, the public sphere is weakened, and (self-)censorship gains another victory.

Another example: when IoWiki was first established, there was a debate about how we handle entries for members, something that led to a policy stating that inclusion is opt-in, and the whole wiki blocked to spiders to make it harder for companies like the one mentioned in the article to collect this sort of information.  I originally thought that some of the precautions we took were somewhat OTT, but with technology and companies like this emerging, I’m glad that some people back then had the foresight to insist that we did take those precautions.

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