Friday, 21 December 2012

Instagram U-Turn? Fool me once...

Is it really that simple? Instagram have caved to community pressure, backed down, U-Turned, and given up on their nefarious plans to rob people of the riches that are to be found at the bottom of a sepia photograph of a half eaten donut?


Let's take a look at what people were offended about:

Instagram selling their photographs without notice, without attribution and without payment ala a "stock photo library" business
Using their photos in adverts
Not displaying that their photos used in adverts were, indeed, adverts

So, by all accounts Instagram must have stopped all of this from happening, especially the first...right? I mean.. they "backed down"?

Let's see their revised terms as of this latest development...

  1. Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service's Privacy Policy, available here, including but not limited to sections 3 ("Sharing of Your Information"), 4 ("How We Store Your Information"), and 5 ("Your Choices About Your Information"). You can choose who can view your Content and activities, including your photos, as described in the Privacy Policy.
  2. Some of the Service is supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions, and you hereby agree that Instagram may place such advertising and promotions on the Service or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you.
  3. You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

So... "1" states that Instagram can take your content, transfer it to another party, license it to others, sell it...without needing to tell you (you agree to the terms by using the service, that is your "notification"), and with no guarantee of attribution.

"2" Says that your content will be able to be used with advertising, in a way that Instagram desires

and "3" says that people may never know if the content from their friends and others is being used as part of an advert.

What a monumental climb down from Instagram!

The reality is that practically the same situation is happening as was previously suggested. A multi-company approach to using your content requires new rights to allow that content to be shared without legal fallout for those involved. They were never going to do this in a way that abused your privacy choices as set out in the privacy policy (and now they are being more explicit in showing you where you can find out more about that), they were always going to use your content in ads (they were able to in the previous terms that have been in force already), and they haven't changed their stance on displaying content in a "paid for" manner without identifying that, a carbon copy of similar terms that Facebook has on it's service and has done for ages.

So, if you got all worried about Instagram in the first place...well, sorry if you were misinformed, be more vigilant about what legal terms mean if you were doing the misinforming. If you've fell for this bit of PR as something of a U-Turn for Instagram as well then...well...why haven't you learned from your previous mistake?

Fool me once...

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Flickr: Terms of use

With respect to Content you elect to post for inclusion in publicly accessible areas of Yahoo! Groups or that consists of photos or other graphics you elect to post to any other publicly accessible area of the Services, you grant Yahoo! a world-wide, royalty free and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish such Content on the Services solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting the specific Yahoo! Group to which such Content was submitted, or, in the case of photos or graphics, solely for the purpose for which such photo or graphic was submitted to the Services. This licence exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Services and shall be terminated at the time you delete such Content from the Services.

With respect to all other Content you elect to post to other publicly accessible areas of the Services, you grant Yahoo! the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sub-licensable right and licence to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such Content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed.
Yahoo's terms and conditions, relating to it's owned service Flickr

Looks like people jumping a ship on fire haven't checked for smoke on the new one.

(This is in response to the various claims by people that they should join Flickr based on the changes to Instagram's Terms of Use.)

Instagram: unacceptable terms and conditions?

Instagram has changed it's terms and conditions, now that it has been acquired by Facebook, and it has caused quite a stir! Unfortunately, every time these "OMG, has decided to sell my content without paying me!" claims come by, I view it with a huge pinch of salt.

More often than not the changes to the terms and conditions are made in such a way to ensure that in an increasingly distributed online world, the owners of these companies don't get sued simply for allowing the service to run as it was described. I would like to make it clear, I'm no lawyer, but I wanted to try and look at this from a less reactionary point of view.

With Instagram's new Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy changes, there are a few changes that have specifically been flagged up, all around the issue of the rights of users and the company with regards to photographs/content posted to the site.

Declan McCullagh makes the claim that "Facebook claims the perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which would effectively transform the Web site into the world's largest stock photo agency."

He goes on to assert: "That means that a hotel in Hawaii, for instance, could write a check to Facebook to license photos taken at its resort and use them on its Web site, in TV ads, in glossy brochures, and so on -- without paying any money to the Instagram user who took the photo"

I, however, am not so convinced. Taking a look at the terms and conditions it appears that the changes are very limited.

For a start the changes to how the website can license your photos is no different from any other social network, those crying about Instagram on Twitter, and about how they'll now delete their Instagram account ought to do the same for their Twitter account...

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).
- Twitter's Terms of Service

The reality is that this is a coverall to ensure that the services don't have to ask for your permission every time that your image is used somewhere as part of the service that you enjoy. If they had to pay you and ask for your permission every time that some 3rd party developer used their API to make a new web application or phone application to use in a new way then the service would fail within weeks, days even.

Then there is the issue of selling your photos on. As Declan would put it...

'A second section allows Facebook to charge money. It says that "a business or other entity may pay us to display your... photos... in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you." That language does not exist in the current terms of use.'

It's handy that he's omitted some words, obviously lacking in importance. Well, let's see how important...

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

The key here is, in my opinion, that the whole policy here is about what is displayed on Instagram. The fact they talk about delivering means that it is Instagram that will be publishing such advertising content.

What could this be? Well how about the Facebook equivalent of sticking a sponsored story on your feed and telling you which of your friends have read/liked the content?

The fact is that Instagram collects all of your data, and has to retain ownership of it. But that's not enough. To bring other developers and businesses on board it also needs to know that it doesn't have to ask them to also ask you for permission for your content to be used.

Facebook is the obvious example of this, where it specifically uses avatars of your friends to indicate who has also liked a product or brand in a paid ad for that organisation. This, I feel, is what these rights are for.

There is no indication, whatsoever, that Instagram is asking for rights to allow them to sell your photos for worldwide use, as if it's some kind of photo stock library service. Indeed the terms retain the language that states that you can make it clear what content you're happy for them to use. Take a look at their privacy policy that spells out how they will use your data...

We may share User Content and your information (including but not limited to, information from cookies, log files, device identifiers, location data, and usage data) with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Instagram is part of, or that become part of that group ("Affiliates"). Affiliates may use this information to help provide, understand, and improve the Service (including by providing analytics) and Affiliates' own services (including by providing you with better and more relevant experiences). But these Affiliates will honor the choices you make about who can see your photos.

Notice that it is only this section that has any reference your your User Content (photos)? That sub-licensed, worldwide right to use your photography is purely to allow your photos to be shared between partners, and to be used on the kinds of widgets and apps that you no doubt think are part of the usefulness of the instagram service...

Next up is some scaremongering about your ability to bring charges against Instagram for making private photos public.

'The language stresses, twice in the same paragraph, that "we will not be liable for any use or disclosure of content" and "Instagram will not be liable for any use or disclosure of any content you provide."'

Except that also in that section it gives regard to it's own privacy policy, where it makes the assertion that private photos are not a part of such agreements. It no doubt has to have the right to disclose your content to partners, but it has also stated that those partners are under an obligation to honour your choices about who can see your photos.

Edit: Also, there is an criticism that Instagram will be able to keep using your content after you leave the service (if posted after the new terms come in to force). I am unsure about this, again it comes down to the Privacy Policy.

Following termination or deactivation of your account, Instagram, its Affiliates, or its Service Providers may retain information (including your profile information) and User Content for a commercially reasonable time for backup, archival, and/or audit purposes.

Yes, Instagram may keep some of your content. (elsewhere they state that content may be still be displayed in cache's or archives, or if saved by 3rd parties through their API). I imagine people will look at this and say "commercially reasonable, but that's as long as they make money from it!", I see it the other way. It's saying if you deactivate your account they will only keep your content for a period of time that doesn't cost them money to "keep in reserve" in case you reactivate the account.

Instagram's policy seems quite clear... we'll keep your content for YOUR benefit, in case you want to come back, but we're not going to keep hold of it for ever, costing us money to store but not do anything with. There is no denying, of course, that it's not explicitly saying that it won't continue to sub-license such content while it is still storing it.

"It's true, of course, that Facebook may not intend to monetize the photos taken by Instagram users, and that lawyers often draft overly broad language to permit future business opportunities that may never arise. But on the other hand, there's no obvious language that would prohibit Facebook from taking those steps, and the company's silence in the face of questions today hasn't helped."

Now I don't want to be misunderstood, I feel the terms are vague in places (as Declan states), and that as with all social media terms and conditions there are always risks that the terms could be extended beyond their original intention. It's not appropriate to look solely at the terms of service or terms and conditions, but ignore the context of a company's privacy policy. Misrepresenting what is actually written down, given how hard it is to get people to read actual terms and conditions in the first place, is an extremely unethical thing to be doing.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

America, Gun Control, Liberties and Children's lives

The tragic events of today are still unfolding, it is believed a young man has taken legally owned firearms of his own mother's possession, killed her, and then murdered other adults and small children before killing himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut. It is another scenario that takes America to over 60 mass murders using guns since the tragic events at Columbine.

This subject is always going to be tough, the sheer senselessness of taking the lives of such young people, the lack of any way we can empathise with the decisions made by these shooters decisions...but perhaps unlike other situations similar to this, in high schools, colleges, and adult on adult altercations...the loss of what is currently being reported of 18 primary age children is surely going to provoke the age old debate about "gun control" in the US to reach new heights.

America, however, is complicated when it comes to it's relationship between liberty and gun ownership. It has been said today that one of the reasons this particular event is so shocking is that this isn't an area of the US that is even particular chest-beating when it comes to gun ownership, yet so pervasive is the "right to bear arms" that even in these more "sleepy America" towns and suburbs such horrific results can come about from what seems to stem frequently from mental illness or social segregation.

Some politicians, careful of how the gun lobby will react, will wheel out the same old lines. "This is not the time to act on our gun laws" they will say. They will also be right, no law changes that come so immediately out of grief are perfect. They aren't usually even good. People can claim loudly that this event, like the rest of the 60+ mass shootings since Columbine, is the straw that will break the politicians back to finally deliver gun ownership reform.

Now is the time to mourn, and not to demand that changes are made so soon, even if those demands are ultimately based in common sense.

You see, despite it not being the right time to get into the gritty details of gun ownership, that doesn't mean that we can't recongnise that without such accessible gun ownership laws, the likelihood of this tragedy happening on such a scale would have been near impossible. If it's not a crime that has been methodically planned, to the extent of trying to get hold of an illegal firearm, then you should be able to very clearly see the difference in the loss of life if the ability to just pick up a set of your mother's guns isn't an option.

If this was a knife attack it is likely we wouldn't need to even try to count the numbers of lives lost today on our fingers, let alone run out of fingers and toes to count with.

America, however, is complicated.

With it being interpreted by many that the founding constitution of the United States is that people have the right to own whatever weapons they wish, to defend their home (rather than other more, in my opinion, logical explanations about freedom to defend the land in a different time), the country and the world need to face up to the realities that actually changing the constitution through a separate amendment to clarify or repeal the second amendment is unlikely.

If Obama had the guts, now that he cannot be re-elected, to start the debate, it is clear the debate would get bogged down in the minutiae for years, perhaps decades. The pro-gun lobby is strong, and the country will always defend the idea of individual liberty. It's not unusual to see more conservative commentators claiming upon these sorts of incidents that it is not the ownership of guns that is the problem, it's that not enough others had guns on them to defend themselves with(!)

Personally, I think Chris Rock said it best...

"We don't need gun control, we need bullet control"
"If a bullet cost $5,000 there'd be no more innocent bystanders!"
"Man, I'd blow your fucking head off...if I could AFFORD IT"

What America needs is to accept that it's constitution is popular on the issue of gun control, those against the easy and legal ownership of firearms need to understand the political and social implications of changing the law in a land where gun ownership has been allowed to spiral out of control for the last century.

But it doesn't need to accept that the ownership, running and use of guns is so easy. Better regulation and checks of those that choose to own guns is a start, but isn't enough. I always despair when governments think checks and balances are enough to keep people safe. CRB checks here in the UK to keep children safe only find out if someone has PREVIOUSLY been a threat, and similarly in the US checks and balances will do very little to stop those people that function very normally until the moment they snap.

The only thing the government can control is ammo.

If the government was to work to put an extremely regressive tax rate on to ammo, it would do a large amount towards stopping senseless mass shootings. The idea of firing off a semi-automatic rifle into a crowd would be a fantasy (possibly quite literally) if the whole magazine would cost as much as to buy a house outright.

But in doing so they'd have to be sensitive to the needs (desires) of citizens for legitimate activities. Those who have guns should know how to use them, and so it makes sense that if people want to go to shooting ranges to practice, or even vent their frustrations, then buying ammo at these locations would make sense to be done at a "tax free" rate. Ammo could be signed out as it is purchased, and it would be a requirement to "buy back" the ammo that isn't used.

As for hunters, specially licensed outlets could sell rifle ammo for hunting purposes, in specific small quantities to registered firearms owners, and be hooked up to a state database of those registered owners at near real-time. The purchasing of "large" quantities of hunting ammo would red flag registered owners and prompt further investigation; indeed if the system is hooked up properly it can be a legal requirement for the store to refuse to sell ammo to someone who is flagged as having purchased excessive amounts.

If America can dissuade ammo ownership, and can utilise technology to have *real* checks and balances on what people seem to be planning on getting up to, it will go a long way to solving it's gun problem while not infringing on it's own constitutional rights.

It could even easily be worked around that someone who is defending their own home is provided, for free, replacement ammo by the government to encourage people to keep only small amounts of ammo with their registered firearms purely for the purposes of self-defense. Those who require larger quantities of ammo for their profession, as well as other selected groups, could easily be exempt from paying such taxes at the point of sale or through rebate.

At the end of the day I hope that the opportunity is seized in the next few months to move this discussion forward, and move it in to a realm of conversation that recognises that yes, we cannot predict and stop when someone loses their self-control...but we can make it extremely unlikely that such a "snap" in their usual judgement doesn't leave so much blood flowing as a result. The answers are within our reach, within their reach, and it'd be a scandalous insult to the memory of these young children if the best that happens in the next year is more checks and paperwork for gun ownership.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Equal Marriage, a distinction between rights and services

I for one am extremely happy with the suggested law changes to do with marriage in this country. By all accounts it would appear the route is to make same sex marriage completely legal in this country, recognised alongside "normal" marriage equally, and able to be performed in religious ceremonies if those religious bodies wish to allow it.

This isn't an affront to religion since there have been a number of religious groups, Jewish, Quakers, to name only a couple, that have been asking specifically to allow this in law. All we are looking here is giving religious people the freedom to act freely as their religion would wish in a positive manner.

However we unfortunately have to recognise that some religions, the Church of England as a focal point right now, don't want to progress.

Now, here is where we're all getting a little bit muddled up as to what human rights should mean. Firstly, no gay couple should be unable to achieve the same status as a straight couple simply because they are homosexual or similar. To disallow this is an affront to their rights, which is why we can all be so happy about this change in the law.

It is also their right to associate with those who wish to associate with them. If a gay couple wants to say their religious beliefs are Church of England beliefs, that is their choice they're free to make. Others may choose to not recognise this, or label them in some way, but that is the prerogative of the organisation that they are all associating with.

The Church of England performing gay marriages for not a human right. Marriage, currently only heterosexual marriage, is a service offered by the church just as is Baptism, funerals, etc. As any other organisation would have the right, they can offer the services they wish.

"But wait", I hear someone at the back cry... "What about B&B's, they can't choose to not serve Gay people!"

True, but their service is one of accommodation, and it would indeed by illegal to offer a straight-only accommodation service. The church is a little different, by it's own terms of association it is not offering "marriage" which can be accessed by all, and it's own version of marriage is...while almost identical to other religions...actually a unique act that is specific to that religion.

Imagine for a second that you went to Starbucks, possibly because you're a libertarian sticking it to the hippies. You go there because you like the taste, the specific *mix of ingredients* that Starbucks uses to make their coffee. Every day though you go in and want them to do it slightly differently, you want them to add some apricot juice to your coffee (you crazy bastard). They always say "No, we're not adding apricot juice to your coffee, we don't do that".

Now this is an awkward situation. Your right to buy coffee isn't diminished, you can go to Costa, or Nero, or one of many independent chains that would value your custom much more...but you know that the ingredient mix at those places just won't be as soothing for the Monday morning soul.

Unfortunately for you, this is a problem between you and the provider, and one that is a personal issue that needs to be reconciled internally or as part of the wider group. In short, you can either suck it up and stay loyal to Starbucks because you like their recipe too much, or you can club together and get Starbucks to put a damn apricot juice coffee on the menu.

No-one would legally interject on Starbuck's right to offer the service or products in the way that they wish to offer it. If you don't want to move brands despite them not catering for you, who's the one that really has the problem that needs to be solved?

The Church of England (legally protected in order to ensure that they can't be forced to marry same sex couples despite not wishing to, when the law changes to make same sex marriage otherwise legal), for reasons that should be acceptable by anyone campaigning for same sex marriage, should not be forced to change their beliefs to accommodate a minority of their members (as it would appear to be the case currently).

We should respect the bigots' rights to believe what they wish, it's really not in anyone's interest to force the church to do something that they do not want to do, it'll foster resentment or worse. As long as this doesn't filter through, as it has for far too long, to stop the legal status of married gay couples being equal to that of straight couples in law, then what is the big deal?

Unless you're religious of which case...why haven't you considered that you might be going to the wrong coffee shop yet?

Friday, 30 November 2012

The (very) liberal case for Leveson's proposals

Unfortunately the aftermath of yesterday's Leveson Report is not pretty for liberals, regardless of which way you see the debate. On one side you have those that seem to align with libertarianism, who see Cameron's instant (and solitary) statement that "statutory regulation" is not an option as the right call for our liberties, in turn putting the rights of a select few individuals ahead of the rest of the public for little reason other than a vague principle of "freedom of the press" that Leveson's proposals must surely break.

Then you have the side that perhaps are more socially liberal who feel that the rights of those people that have their lives or reputations destroyed because of the lack of ethics in the press need to have some balance versus the obviously vital need for an independent press to hold our government to account, and side more with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband in their calls for swift implementation of the core proposals with regards to regulation of the press.

But what is the regulation that is being suggested? If you want a perhaps shorter version of what I'm about to write, check out this fine post, otherwise read on.

Leveson is trying to create robust suggestions for a self-regulatory system that must, to be effective, include all the main players in the press industry.

Right off the bat it's important to see here that Leveson is not suggesting that there is compulsion upon the industry to join a regulator. This is completely different from, say, the energy market where being a provider of energy means that you are under the scope of OFGEM, for example.

Leveson used a turn of phrase at the end of his press conference, that this is about "guarding the guardians", probably from themselves as much as anything else right now...and the comparison is apt. While OFGEM or OFCOM watch their respective industries, the system Leveson wants here will be one that comes from within.

So Leveson wants a body with an "independent board" that will oversee the industry. It needs to be mostly independent, the reason for this illustrated quite clearly by the failings of the PCC where, as the Leveson report highlights, editors weren't keen on punishing each other and a culture brewed of simply not investigating issues brought before them.

Without a mainly independent component, all we will have is a PCC that keeps getting beaten down and forces true state regulation to be required, with a clear battle-line drawn between a state body and a body that retains all of the vested interests and corrupt practices the PCC has shown.

Leveson says these independent people need to be appointed in a transparent and independent way. No press people, no press parachuting their buddies in, and certainly no appointing these people in a dark back room somewhere. This is primarily about trust, so that the public know that those looking after the industry are doing so without the inherent bias and vested interests we have come to know and loathe.

He also believes that initially the chair is selected by an independent body, a body that is free from influence by the press, by political parties.

This is where the libertarian leaning side of the debate find their "light" statutory regulation. Their concern is that as soon as you define the process for finding independent members of a board that the process can be abused. This is why, however, the light regulation is needed. Barring current editors and current politicians from the board ensures that the panel is, at it's start, free from direct influence on either side.

While careful scrutiny will have to be had at the legislation that dictates the need for this independent process, it is hard to argue that if a truly open and transparent process is put in to legislation that the press will simply roll over and not scrutinise the process as it is used!

Leveson even wants to make sure that "we can't afford it" isn't an argument for the press, and suggests that public money can go towards the formation of this body. It is, after all, for the public good.

It's here where "regulatory control" finishes. The body may be required to have a standards code, but the independently selected with a broad mix of independent participants and those experienced in the industry...will have control on defining that, within some specific guidelines. These guidelines are regarding privacy, accuracy, public interest, freedom of speech and individual rights. It's important to recognise Leveson isn't stating that certain codes of conduct and standards must be accepted by being enshrined in law, only that the document must consider those elements.

The purpose of this is purely to ensure that there is public confidence in the body, in the press, and to have a clear definition...self-defined by the body...of what those various things mean to the industry.

Leveson welcomes that an advisory body, as suggested by the current PCC chair, is something that may be needed to ensure that those in control of the newspapers have proper input as to the standards they should adhere to. Of course all of this is also about public trust, so it is sensible to say that it's appropriate for this standards code to be open to consultation.

Leveson then moves on to what should be expected of the members of the regulatory body, the newspapers that will be self-regulated. For a start the organisations should have a clear governance framework that details how they will adhere to the standards code, and be required to be forthcoming about breaches in the code it discovers and how it is dealing with it.

This obviously reflects the issues with phone hacking, and how the culture at the papers, ignored by the PCC, was to simply wash over it with a "everyone does it" implicit acceptance. The intention is to make it harder for organisations to get away with gross breaches of their industrys own code of ethics.

Importantly Leveson sees the board as a "last stop" for complaints. While the PCC may have been the only (scant) resource for some to get serious complaints addressed from outside of a legal challenge, Leveson wants individual organisations to make a (speedy) complaints procedure transparent to people. He clearly feels that the importance is on newspapers individually being able to rectify their own mistakes and to treat issues at the appropriate level.

Then we move on to complaints to the regulatory body. Away from the current situation where a limited scope of people can apply to complain to the PCC, the idea is that the board can decide who they take complaints from and should consider all complaints. They can throw them out if they don't meet certain criteria, but they should be responsive to anyone with a legitimate complaint, and without cost to the complainant.

The suggestion here is that the board may not be adequately equipped to make a fully informed decision on such complaints, and Leveson (as he regularly does) says the body can set up it's structures as it wishes, but does say that any such structure must not have the conflict of interest currently built in to the PCC model, which is primarily that editors of papers have no place deciding on the credibility of complaints.

On top of this, where an investigation is needed, the regulator needs to be protected to conduct those investigations as they see fit, without such processes that allow editors to bog down complaints with appeal after appeal. This is, after all, a regulator proposal, and it'd be ridiculous to have a regulator who lacked the authority to conduct itself!

When dealing with the outcome of these complaints it's important to move away from the current situation also, one of people fighting an uphill battle to have their complaint recognised properly even if it is upheld. One of the main criticisms of papers making errors in their own standards is that no-one ever sees that they've done wrong.

Leveson starts out to rectify this by saying there should be a requirement for a register of sorts, to have a publicly accessible list of complaints and their outcomes maintained by the regulator. He stops short of going further, in deciding there should be legislation that dictates how apologies should be dealt out. While he wants to ensure scope is extended so that there doesn't have to be an identifiable person wronged for an apology to be required by the body, he leaves it to the body and the industry to work out what an appropriate standard of apology would be.

Obviously, we would all prefer that misleading errors in fact on migration figures, on the front page, were corrected with apology on the front page too. While I doubt we'd ever see a regulatory body getting that on the books, at least with an independent body there is more chance of such apologies being harder to miss than they are currently under a PCC that cares more for the paper than the wronged individual when it comes to printing apologies.

Also in legislation Leveson recommends capping the amount that a regulatory body can fine those who breach the standards code. 1% of turnover, or £1mil, whichever is lowest. This may mean more scope for putting fines on to papers that misbehave, but it also puts some form of protection in for the industry against unreasonable financial penalties that an independent body may, for whatever reason, try to impose.

Now...let's pay careful attention to this, as it's important to the "freedom of the press" issue. Leveson is stating that one of the key things that the regulatory body must NOT be able to do, is prevent publication. They may, as the PCC currently does, request on the behalf of individuals that the press not approach them, but they cannot say what they can or can't put to print.

In fact, through this body the stricter requirements on all involved to be open, transparent and have well defined standards means that, in Leveson's opinion, editors could actually go to the regulatory body to get advice on things they have published within the context of it's own standards. Leveson sees this as potentially very useful to courts in, amongst other things, protecting the freedom of the press by providing context that judges may find useful in, to name a specific example, cases of injunctions.

As with any other similar structure Leveson also wants it to follow standard practice...annual reports for transparency to the public are a must.

An area that Leveson talks about that I believe everyone agrees about, regardless of opinion on the issue of statutory regulation, is the suggestions of an arbitration body. Intended to cut out the need for the press to always go to court to defend itself, and to provide a quick, cheap and effective route for complainants to use.

There is also some recommendation that courts should take in to account the lack of a publisher's membership to a regulatory body when awarding costs to someone that goes to court to make their complaint, even if unsuccessful. Vice versa, if a paper has to pay to defend itself in court when the individual hasn't tried arbitration the court should have the freedom to take that in to account when awarding costs.

To give the whole structure legitimacy there must be some legal "rubber stamping". Where a regulator comes forward, who meets the criteria set out above to do this duty, then someone has to be responsible for reviewing that criteria and approving it. In this case the job is recommended to OFCOM.

While "bloated" as Cameron may like to say, OFCOM provides the best level of experience for assessing these bodies, with an internationally recognised level of independence in it's job. There is the worry that the chair of OFCOM is Government appointed, but this isn't a real issue. Leveson doesn't rule out the fact that if people don't agree with the OFCOM decision to appoint a regulatory body or not, there is always the court.

Indeed it appears the only reason to appoint the role of recognition body to OFCOM is to ensure that the courts don't get bogged down with administrative issues, in a format they're not equipped to deal with. The courts will always be ultimately responsible, but OFCOM can make the process smoother.

Then, here's the best bit.. if the papers think they're getting an unfair rub, that the "independent" regulator is no longer independent...they can go and organise to join a new regulatory body and get it recognised by OFCOM. There is no requirement for only one regulator (though this is obviously preferable) and it ensures that all involved have to work together for the system to work. If the press don't feel comfortable, then they can change how they are regulated. The government will have zero control over this.

Tinfoil hatters can argue that OFCOM would keep blocking new regulators from being formed, keeping the press locked in, but the press would be able to take the issue to court. The courts would look at the very transparent and clear criteria upon which a regulator can form, and the courts would rule against OFCOM (and therefore the government).

And just in case that wasn't enough, any legislation that passes on this, Leveson suggests should include a very explicit term that the government must uphold the freedom of the press. You can't say fairer than that, as without writing that piece of law out of the books, any part of the industry will be able to use the courts readily should there be even the slightest hint of governmental interference in what they can or cannot publish.

Now, where in all this is there a clear desire to have political influence over the papers, or legislation that cannot be clearly and properly written to shut out such influence? Where in this whole system to papers get locked in to a system that means they are not free to publish what they like, and operate on their own terms (as long as they pay respect to providing standards of conduct in explicit areas of concern)?

I argue that the stance by those seeing any legislation to underpin regulation as too a threat to freedom of speech and freedom of the press are, in this case, paranoid and unfortunately not dealing with the content of the proposals so much as less relevant abstract ideas and beliefs.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Cameron wrong on PCC elections, this wasn't normal

Cameron has suggested that a <15% turnout nationally for the PCC elections is expected for a new position, saying that elections for a first time postion were "always going to be low" in turnout. Let's just look at how history relates to that remark...

In 1979 the first EU Parliament elections took place, with a turn out of 32% held soon after a general election with 76% turnout. This first time national election, for a body that wouldn't actually do anything internally to the UK, managed to attract almost a third of voters, and just under half of the normal voters in a general election.

In 2000 the London Mayor was elected, for the first time, and got a turnout of 34% while only a year later the general election turn out would be less than twice that at 59%.

And then we have another "first time position", the Bristol Mayor, who was elected at the same time as the PCCs were and yet got a 29% turnout, this two years after a general election with a turnout of 65%. Indeed PCC turnout appears to have been higher in Bristol than nationally solely because of the turnout for this other new position!

For the PCC elections to be at such a low turnout is far below being the norm for first time elections for new positions, to be around half the usual popularity for voting for such a new role (with a much greater amount of spoilt ballots) shows that this is not just a "slow start" or similar for a new role, it is a protest by the electorate, and a REJECTION by the people of the UK for a role that has no place in this country.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Avon and Somerset PCCs - Variety and choice!

I'm so glad that we have PCC elections coming up. The vast choice of different strategies and policies to choose from, against the array of wide demographics and local constituencies of candidates, will truly shake up the police service for the better.

Take for instance Sue Mounstevens, a woman...if you would believe such a thing, with only 20% of CANDIDATES for PCC roles being women, versus the 30% of women currently actually doing the job of helping to provide strategic direction to police forces!

She's an independent candidate, a magistrate from the Bristol area, and doesn't want politics to interfere with policing. She'll be making sure victims get more support, that offenders are cracked down on, that money is spent efficiently and that there are more police visible in your area! Ultimately she cares about anti-social behaviour, violent crime and burglary (especially against women).

Our next candidate couldn't be more different!

Ken Maddock is the conservative candidate from just outside Bristol. He wants to...and I think the other candidates have missed a trick by not being explicit in this... REDUCE CRIME. I know, right? Revolutionary thinking! He'll do this by having more police visible in your area. He also wants to make sure victims get more support, and that money is spent efficiently.

So we have two candidates there, already a real diversity of choice... one a man, one a woman. Who else? Can we be so lucky as to have even more choice?!

Actually, yes we are that lucky, reader. Meet Pete Levy, the Lib Dem candiate who is from...Bristol! Unlike the other candidates he is younger and has no hair. Also, in line with Lib Dem strategy he used to be a policeman!

Pete wants to reduce crime too, providing victims with more of a voice and more support, focusing on stopping re-offending, and ensuring that policing is visible in rural AND urban locations! He particularly singles out anti-social behaviour, violence against women..and in the "gold star for understandable jargon" award, wants to develop a "multi agency approach to effective integrated offender management"

Take that, Crime.

But wait, before you think our choices can't get any more diverse, there is another candidate! Dr (he's smart!) John Christopher Savage! He sounds like a super-villain, but he's not, he wants to fight crime too.

He's the Labour candidate, coming from the all together different location of Bristol, fighting for more efficient and fair use of funding, while listening to the victims of crime more. The aim from all of this is to reduce crime! Like the Tory candidate he doesn't feel that he needs to explain what his crime fighting priorities will be, probably because it will be ALL THE CRIME.

So there you have it, four candidates, each bringing a completely fresh and new angle to the PCC role. One is a woman, another is bald, one lives just outside of Bristol, and the other really stuck it out at university. Truly it should be easy to align ourselves with one of these people purely on their unique offering and how it aligns with our own priorities, and not to simply vote along party lines as we would in any other election!

Exciting times, I can't wait to see which of the huge variety of directions Avon and Somerset police will be taking.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Windows 8: Day two

OK, so I have slept on it... did Windows 8 really have all those niggles or was I just being apprehensive because of how I'm used to using things? In fact, was it as happy a move in strategy as I said it was yesterday?

Today's interaction with Windows 8 was basically getting it moulded to how I'm going to like to use it, as I did with Windows 7 only less than a month ago. I thought that I had been sensible in my planning. Oh not quite...

Files were installed on to a seperate partition thinking that if the two systems are so compatible, I should be able to run files installed under windows 7 on the windows 8 environment. For the most part, I was correct. Open Office, Filezilla, Winamp, Steam... all they needed was to have a profile set up on the Windows 8 drive.

Adobe on the other hand... ugh. Some programs (Muse, oh my) work fine, but others need a fresh install. The frustrating thing here is that it results in two versions of the same program duplicated on my system. But this is a minor niggle, and only something those with dual booting and a particular desire to save space will come across.

Meanwhile I've been playing more with the start screen. Having set up my messenger app to allow me to connect to facebook (an all around much more immerser and readily available way of keeping in touch with people through the day), I have now snapped it to the side of my second monitor. This has had a very welcome benefit.

(The right hand side is cut off, Photoshop is full screen in my primary right hand monitor)

While a fifth/sixth of the second monitor has this space reserved for messenger now, the rest doesn't revert to the most recent Modern UI app that I had open every time I click on a desktop app. Indeed, this means I can now have the desktop show in the larger portion of the second monitor!

This is almost perfect. If I want to get involved with any start screen apps it's a simple swipe/drag across the screen to make the small panel in to a large one, then by hovering in the top left of my screen I can cycle through all open apps by clicking.

Now. This isn't ideal; It'd be great if I could go back to the start screen but only within the portion of the screen reserved for the Modern UI, and there MUST be a better way to choose what app I want to switch to. For a start I don't see why hovering in the top left shouldn't make the small rectangle previews spread out along the left or top of the screen. Currently you can get the same effect, but it's a fiddly action of going to the top left and dragging your mouse downwards. Why make it two movements, Microsoft? Why the needless complexity?

But all this aside, suddenly the issue yesterday of having an almost redundant second deskop screen is solved! With there almost certainly being an app that people will happily have residing in the small column space, most "power users" must have very little to complain about now. At least that is my opinion as someone that has been using windows environments since Windows 3.1.

Sure, the start menu isn't there, but I still contest that such a change is very much pointless. If I hit the start button on my keyboard the startscreen pops up, I immediately start typing to find the application I want and... voila. If this is too much (tapping, and typing) then why not do what you would have done on Windows 7/Vista/XP anyway and put the application you want on your task bar, or as a shorcut on your desktop. You can do this here too, obviously, and so nothing is ever more than 3 clicks away, if you don't want it to be.

Of course, this is my view as a dual screen user. It's clearly a better experience with two monitors...but I'm not sure the "burden" of switching between contexts really exists when you get used to the concept even on one screen.

So if anything my opinion has improved over the last 24 hours...but it doesn't forgive the niggles that still exist. Being in the windows store and not having an easy and obvious option to go back to the home page of the store is frustrating. Even more frustrating is being able to search for apps by starting to type if you're on this home page, but not if you're in a search results page. Why the change in functionality, Microsoft?

As ever, it's going to be the small and needless poor choices that Microsoft have made that stop Windows 8 being even remotely accepted as a "Mac beater", if it ever had that chance in the first place. Here's hoping that some revisions and updates will be made soon!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Windows 8: First impressions

So... I didn't type my postcode in correctly? Huh? Oh... I have to put a space in the middle of it. Great.

This is, unfortunately, a sign of things to come with my first few hours foray in to the new Windows 8 system. Not of ground breaking issues that are going to cripple my ability to operate the computer, but idiotic niggles that aren't telegraphed properly...the sign of lots of thinking but not enough user testing with those unfamiliar with the system.

Starting with a tool to work out how compatible my new Windows 7 machine is, it's clear that the trend of making things super easy to carry out continues unabated; in it's overly-simplistic path cutting out the ease of doing things in the way that lets you maintain your system as you wish.

Not wishing to just upgrade my machine, but to keep the system "dual booted" so I can go back to windows 7 if I need to, the process was something I had to search out. The easy option of installing straight from a download would have ruined my plan to have the operating systems co-existing.

But once I got there the install process was a breeze, and it wasn't long before I was eased in to the new system. But then came the first sign of worries to come, during the install the repeated message of "move your mouse to the corners" was played, to signify that something would happen if you did.

Is this what Microsoft is relying on to deal with informing people of what is actually quite a fundamental shift in their user experience? It turns out, unfortunately, that it is. Those that most need this advice screen are, surely, the sort of people that will get people like me to install Windows 8 on their machine...or will buy it pre-installed from a generic PC selling store. Yet if they start their machine up for the first time with the OS installed, they don't get that prompt again. They are dumped in to a "start screen" and left unceremoniously with no advice on where to go.

Now...this isn't new. Windows XP, Vista, 7... they all left people with a screen and no instruction. However they did have a big (very big in Vista) start button. It invited you to click, and when you did there was a host of information for you to quickly learn. It was a step by step process to ease you in to the basic functions of the OS.

With Windows 8 and it's "Modern UI", previously called Metro UI, you get no such instruction. It's got pre-installed "apps" on the screen ready to click around, but even then that journey only leads you deeper in to the thorny shrubs of poor user experience.

If it sounds like I'm getting overly down on Windows 8, perhaps now I should say that this is all transitional. The fact is that with a bit of a web search, some help from a IT savvy friend or family member, or just some good old fashioned thrashing around with the mouse, you will find out how to work this system. Once you'll be fine.

If you want to go to the start screen (Hey...just call it the start menu, it is almost exactly the same in terms of what it is providing you with), then you hover your mouse for a fraction of a second in the bottom left of your screen. Alternatively you can just hit the windows key.

Can't find what you're looking for? Well, be proactive, more than ever you can really customise your "start" experience to help your own productivity. And simply starting to type will search through your apps and programs quickly...pretty much as it did with the windows 7 start menu.

"But where's the shut down option! This is a terrible system, no-one will ever use it now!" seems to be a cry from those that don't understand how user interfaces develop and evolve. Sure, it's nonsense to all of us that have had the "shut down" button right there in front of us...but this is an artefact of the time you got told never to directly shut the PC off. Now? Hitting the power button usually goes through the process of shutting the system down, or...if your preference is put it in to sleep/hibernate. On dozens of phones and tablets the idea of shutting the system down with an on screen command is laughable.

Is it really ridiculous for Microsoft to move in this direction?

Well, no...but it comes back to that original point of how it's a complete mismanagement of people's expectations. It's not unfair, I think, to say the system has been developed with new users in mind, not experienced ones. Maybe we should take that as a compliment, dumped in the deep end with all of our previous experience weighing us least Microsoft seem to think we're intelligent enough to adapt? Maybe not.

In reality there being a whole series of usability niggles throughout this new experience, and that can't be put down to simply catering for a market of new users, since it is they who will be equally as confused by such poor choices, mainly within the new aspects of the operating system.

Not being able to close or back out of an app to the start menu easily just doesn't make sense. In previous windows people will have minimised things, or hit a task bar icon to switch programs. Putting this out of sight puts an extra movement in their process to move between applications. But, of course, on a phone you'd just hit the back button. Silly me.

Sure, you can go to the start screen, but that process involves the same "go to the corner" that minimise used to do...but now you have to wait for it to show, and that's if you've put your mouse in the right position to show it.

This will only take time to master, but the question is whether this little thing is something people should be asked to learn. If the question is "how can we improve people's interaction with their computer" then this cannot be the answer...reverse engineering the only question that could have been asked to get such an interaction is "what's the shortest route we can make to tie touch screen functionality in with a mouse and keyboard experience, without compromising our key aim of 'immersive experiences'"

In short, it feels like decisions have been made with the wrong question in mind, but that they've made the best of that restriction.

There are other niggles too. I use a dual monitor set up, and this greatly enhances the Windows 8 experience...but I have no way of locking the start screen "on" if I want to, something that might really aid productivity. Instead if I use anything on the "desktop", which will be most of my applications for my job of web development, both screens automatically drop to desktop.

Looking at it like it's just an oversizes start menu, the choice here makes sense...but with such rich functionality it seems a shame to not have that be my choice. Especially since that choice doesn't even seem to work! Open an app on the Modern UI and then go back to the start screen. Now click on your desktop on the second screen...oh, we've now gone back to that application.

Again, this could be useful at times...but in other circumstances I may want the flexibility that comes from using the start screen to quickly navigate back and forth from a large number of applications both on desktop and in the Modern UI.

Another specific example of poor choices is their own Windows Store. It works pretty well, don't get me wrong, it feels to me like it may well end up being the best App store of any of the big three operating system providers. But stupid choices get made that take me out of feeling like this is a slick and well developed system.

If I click on the star rating for an application it doesn't do anything when the application isn't installed. My expected reaction? To go to the reviews that provide that rating. Instead, nothing. Now go to an application that you can't install through the store, the same action now provides a rating for the app!

Except now I can't take that rating away. Shit. Better rate it "3" just in case I never get around to using it and influence it's standing. I feel bad now, and completely out of control because I can't take back this mistake, Windows is forcing me to now choose between lying about how I rate the app in order to not negatively influence this person's work, or to just be "fair" and give an average rating to something I'm not sure of.

Add on to this technical choices that just frustrate, such as the inability to grab POP3 mail through the default mail application, and we have layer after layer of small issues that will take a while to get used to.

I have no doubt though that we will get used to it. Those who are "power users" will, I feel, end up putting many of their programs on the task bar in desktop mode, or as shortcuts on their desktop. It takes a matter of minutes to get yourself back in to the way you used windows 7, just without the start menu...and let's be honest with ourselves...which true "power users" actually used the start menu anyway?

Meanwhile the "Energy saving users" will have a quite immersive, albeit imperfect for now, experience that makes it easy to check (non-POP3) mail and catch up on the news, share some of it on Facebook or Twitter and see how the weather is doing. As the type of people that will rarely have more than one window open the switch from desktop to start screen will barely even be registered.

And at the end of it we have the only OS that will offer a seamless experience between the desktop and the mobile, no longer making people feel like they are taking a "cut down" experience on their portable device. I think Microsoft deserve some applause for the bravery in taking such a step, but they also really need to sit down and solve some of these basic issues too, starting perhaps by doing some proper unprompted usability testing and at the very least understanding the need for better instructions for first time Windows 8 they new to PC, or as old as Windows 3.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Why you shouldn't vote for Police and Crime Comissioners

I recently wrote a longer post in response to Stephen Tall that went in to detail as to why I dislike Police and Crime Comissioners as a "democratic" model for police accountability and direction. was LOOONG. So let me try and give you a brief explanation of why you should not vote on November the 15th:

Imagine that our parliament, where MPs from all over the country come together to discuss and debate issues on our behalf, and make laws through a democratic system of voting is replaced. Instead, we still elect MPs, but they aren't involved in our law making process. Instead we elect a single president who will make all of the decisions, and have sole responsibility.

Do you support that change, from MPs around the country making laws, to a single person making laws?

If yes, go ahead and keep on voting for your Police and Crime Comissioner with a consistent purpose. If, like most I would imagine, the answer is no...then what are you doing even endorsing such an autocratic change? Don't vote on November 15th!

Police and Crime Commissioners: Democracy, how?

Stephen Tall has just posted an article about why he, as a Liberal Democrat, supports Police and Crime commissioners. Unfortunately he focuses on so many logical fallacies to make his point. Let's count:

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with elected police commissioners. I know they were a Tory manifesto idea and that the Lib Dems are opposed to them (while reluctantly agreeing to vote for them as part of the Coalition Agreement). But I’m just fine with them. My support for directly elected police commissioners is paralleled by my support for directly elected mayors:

First, I'd just like to least it's a principled stance. If you're happy for the sham of democracy that is directly elected mayors, then being happy for the sham of democracy that is PCC's makes sense. It's still crazy if you actually care about democracy though....

For too long, city council politics have been in the hands of amateur part-time leaders:

Boom, instant strawman. Amateur, really? Well then, why do we even have part time representatives at local level, the amateurs! Hell...a third of our parliament have never been an MP before...why do we hand these people such power?!

What I find really interesting about Stephen's argument here is the complete counter-intuitive nature of it. On the one hand Stephen will say here these people are amateurs, that they can't be trusted to de-facto be on the ball when it comes to providing the right direction. Yet on the other, as you will see, he claims that we the public need to be trusted to elect people to do the job.

So which is it Stephen? Are we to trust out local councillors as they have been handed power by people, or to mistrust them as amateurs that don't have a clue about what's going on?

some have been very good, some not so good. But all have been ham-strung by a political system that grants them responsibility without power, allows them to be in office but not in government.

What does this even mean, Stephen? Ham-strung? Responsibility without power?

Let's remember that the local police authorities must:

  • Set budgets
  • Charge money through council tax (if necessary)
  • Set the strategy for the police authority area
  • Get feedback from local people
  • Encourage and nurture diversity and equality
  • To deal with complaints

By comparison, a police and crime commissioner must:

  • Set budgets
  • Charge money through council tax (if necessary)
  • Set the strategy for the police authority area
  • Hold the chief constable to account (and appoint them)

So I guess the sum total of the things that "ham-strung" those local authorities was the need to consider equality and racial diversity, and to actually listen to the public as part of their legal obligations, rather than through political expediency.

For those that don't know, by the way, local police authorities were formed by members of local councils for the area, roughly in line with the political allegiances in the region. This ensured that views from people in Cornwall (for example) were considered alongside views from people in Devon, and that different political priorities were measured up against each other in accordance with the views of the local people. Other "lay" members were also appointed, including magistrates that had real experience of dealing with the outcomes of criminal investigations.

To use my Devon and Cornwall example, the independent members vary from members of boards for charities or schools, to private business people (piano teacher, PR). They are real people like you and I, offering real, direct input from a variety of locations around the region.

I understand and respect those who oppose the idea and the principle of commissioners, those who cleave to the collectivity of committees known as local police authorities. But it’s an argument that all too often spills over into that least attractive mindset: the elitist liberal fearful of too much democracy.

Strawman number two, and an appeal to emotion...maybe we should throw ad hominem in there too. Stephen clearly doesn't respect those who oppose the idea, otherwise he wouldn't play on the emotive description like "elitist" or the idea that they are "fearful of too much democracy".

You see now by arguing against Stephen's point, I am an "elitist" and "fearful of democracy"! Drat, sussed out! Or rather not so much, such "bullying" tactics tend to spur people on rather than shut them out...

Many liberals are openly fearful of a right-wing hang-em-and-flog-em nut-job winning power.

Strange, I thought liberals were fearful of the person that the general population didn't want to represent them getting the job? Hang on. I remember being told time and time again that it was liberals and their annoying propensity for STV (and the lesser AV) that would have the BNP swarming to power in 2015!

But sure, liberals probably don't want an illiberal in power...goes without saying. Does that mean that they are against this system simply because that could be the end result? That's right, people... STRAWMAN.

I get the concern. Come to that, I’m pretty appalled by the idea of Lord Prescott’s return to public life in Humberside.

Who wouldn't be...

But you know what? That’s democracy for you.

The end, simple as that, and they all lived happily ever after! It's such a "genetic" fallacy, this idea that different applications of democracy cannot be criticised, indeed the flaws of any democratic system simply have to be ignored because...hey...that's democracy for you!


Campaign in favour of what you want and against what you don’t want. Despair of the electorate’s judgement. But respect the voters’ right to make the wrong decision.

Unless the voter is voting for a local councillor, of course. They're just amateurs.

There are legitimate concerns that vesting a commissioner’s power in just one person might lead to corruption or limit debate.

Sure, if you want to paint opponents (strawman) of simply being paranoid about evil forces infiltrating our beloved democracy. Thankfully the views of those like me who stand very much against these plans have a little more depth.

Our concerns are rooted in the fact that the police and crime commissioners have LESS duties to maintain the police force in their area, not more; That the very nature of the "democracy" that is electing them threatens to leave entire communities unheard and left to rot in areas of demoralising, but not high-electoral-priority crime; That tying the power to control strategy to a single party, rather than a broadly representative group, lessens the ability to prevent poor planning in the future; That the electorate fundamentally do not understand enough about the nuance of organising the police forces in this country, and therefore being asked to decide between a set of people with broadly the same ideas (less crime, more police, more victim support!) isn't providing democracy to anyone; And with every election of this type...the danger of personality rather than ability becomes to reason that someone gets power. The list, I'm sure, goes on.

Our concerns are far more legitimate and far more important than the not too unreasonable limited views of the tin-foil hat brigade.

Such concerns will, I believe, be outweighed by the vast scrutiny and direct, personal accountability that will come with these powers. You can bet their every move will be watched with greater care than is currently focused on the authorities they’re replacing.

It is surely true that they may be watched more. The great tragedy of the police authorities is that it wasn't clear how they were important in shaping the role of the police. Victims, perhaps, of the turn of the century and new ways of communicating, their structure and process was stuck in the mid 1900's style of minuted board meetings and commissioning statistical research.

Oh how easy it would be, how cheap too, to start gaining public opinion in a more effective manner, and to be more transparent in what they do. But no. We shall not try these simple changes, we will throw the baby out with the bath water.

But scrutiny? Accountability? Boris Johnson was just re-elected to London Mayor. Why? Personality. Dislike of Ken. Was it because of what he did? He himself admitted that he had FAILED to deliver his promises. On the campaign trail it was shown that he was lying to the public about what he had achieved. "Crime down" according to boris, when actually it was up...the London Mayor IS the police and crime commissioner for the London Metropolitan area...and we're supposed to believe that scrutiny and accountability means anything?!

Certainly I hope the new system will put a stop to the tendency for committees to be captured by chief constables, for there to be a greater equality in the power dynamic at the top of the force between the professionals and the people’s representatives.

Well, when the system is now tailored so that political types can sack chief constables that stand in their way, and appoint a sock-puppet chief constable that'll do their bidding, it's not too high a hope is it?

But just a second... is the option here really black and white? We either have police authorities, regionally representative of the public, with direct public interaction and real experience in crime and punishment, but without any power over the chief constables....or a single unrepresentative individual elected with a huge £100k salary that can sack and appoint chief constables at will?

Of course not, it's an insult to our intelligence that we should sit here and accept this new system because it is a route to ensuring public control of the police, rather than police control of the police. It's one route, yes, but the best route?

There is one argument with which I have no truck: the mealy-mouthed complaint that elected police commissioners will ‘politicise’ the police. What is policing if not political? Was ‘kettling’ peaceful G20 protesters a non-political act? Was the Hillsborough cover-up something politicians should have ignored?

Proper appeals to emotion here. Fact: Police and Crime Comissioners will have no operational control over the police. Kettling? These changes make no difference there. Not, of course, unless the PCC decides to sack their chief constable and bring in a more liberal one... but then there you go, that's not the police controlling policing matters, and the public controlling direction and strategy...that's a single elected person controlling a professional to do as they wish. That is, ultimately, corruption.

Hillsborough is a particularly low blow by Stephen. It is clear from the reports so far that there is nothing that any police authority would have been able to do with police simply lying about what went on, asking/intimidating people to falsify reports. A PCC would similarly have no effect on this.

What's the point to bring these issues up? This "reform" won't alter them, but they're being presented as if they are the reason we need Police and Crime Comissioners.

Is it actually a liberal stance now to say "Hell yeah we should have someone who will run a police force like a mob family, and fully politicise operational decisions!"?

This is what people are complaining about when they talk about politicisation of the's not that politics are in place, since the way policing operates will always reflect society and that in itself is political. It's when policing STOPS reflecting society, and starts reflecting an individual, that it is no longer an impartial service.

Besides, if policing should truly be non-political, why do those who oppose the new system stick up for local police authorities which have a majority of elected councillors?

See above...

I have the suspicion that the worry of ‘politicisation’ is really code for ‘we’d prefer the public not to be too involved in how they’re policed’.

Ah, a new logical fallacy for the mix (if you're still counting, keep up!) tu quoque, to add to the ad hominem and strawman.

Our complaint about politicisation is that the public won't be involved when a single person, representing what will ultimately be a small area within a larger one, most likely focused on a very loyal voter-base that need to be nurtured. A single elected individual is extremely unlikely to take a broad range of views on board and treat them all with equal weight, especially when they are elected either through their own biases with a political party, or with the political pressures of the funding that has been given to them to achieve their new found power.

By comparison, police authorities had true scope, they took from all sections of the region, and even directly involved the public from around the region.

How the hell can you have the audacity to stand there and claim that it is we, questioning why a simple and small reform of local police authorities, authorities that already have much tighter democratic legitimacy, and a greater guarantee of minority voices being heard and represented, are the ones that are trying to take the voice of the public away from how the police do their policing?

I remain hopeful that elected police commissioners will, probably not to begin with but in time, lead to better policing.

Based on what, Stephen? What makes you hopeful? The misplaced notion that around a quarter of the country voting between two or more candidates promising pretty much the same thing will suddenly spur on dramatic changes to the way the police do their job?

Why do I believe that? Because I’m a democrat who believes that greater transparency and clearer accountability improves decision-making.

Except there are no guarantees of that. Even with AMS, we will have regions that may well fall in to the same cycle we have with FPTP, where only one party wins. That's not democratic accountability, it's just inherited autocracy. Transparency? Pah...I point once again to pretty much every vote I've ever seen and the sheer amount of lies and manipulations that are thrown around, completely tricking honest and trusting members of the public.

It's the reason that real liberals will support TRUE democracies, that being bodies of people to collectively represent. The closer you can get to one person one vote on an issue, the more people will be getting what they actually want. Deferring your vote to an individual so that it is one person, all the votes...that's not transparent...there's no debate, there's no discussion. You can't see why that decision has been made or what influenced it.

For too long, the liberal approach to crime — to have a tough but fair system which makes offenders face up to the consequences of their crimes, punishes them proportionately, and aims for their full rehabilitation into society — has been easily, cheaply derided by our opponents as ‘soft on crime’ when it is anything but. As The Economist found on a recent visit to Jersey, an island which already has elected police chiefs and isn’t usually regarded as a bastion of liberalism:

There is a great emphasis on keeping offenders, especially young offenders, out of the criminal justice system, and avoiding anything that looks like public humiliation. Young tearaways and petty offenders will be sent to perform community service, but there is no question of putting them in bright yellow waistcoats emblazoned with the word “offender”. All Parish Hall Enquiries are confidential. Islanders use the word “paternalist”, a lot, to describe their approach to justice. Those who offend repeatedly will face tough justice in the end, the home affairs minister, Senator Ian Le Marquand, told me: “but we like to take our time getting there.” So is justice tough or soft on Jersey? Locals call the distinction rather empty. What counts to them is trying to get justice right.

Anecdotal fallacy. Jersey is a community island of around 100 thousand people, it has a population smaller than some of our smallest cities, on an island with a handful of towns alone. Compare that to Devon and Cornwall where a single person would have to represent 1.65 MILLION people. Comparing how a large town, or a small city, would police itself, to how entire counties, in some cases more than one county, would be directed by a single individual, is an absurd concept.

But take all that aside, so Jersey has a system going that liberals would enjoy. What does that prove? That Jersey perhaps isn't quite as "hang-em" as Stephen seems to think we believe them to be? Great! Does that mean that the rest of the UK will be the same? Maybe, maybe not. Does that matter? No, because the successes and failures of individual areas based on our own perception of what "works" or not is independent of the frailties, risks and weaknesses of the system that still manages to produce any positive results.

Will that approach find echoes across the country after 15th November? I may be a liberal, but I’m not that much of an optimist.

And indeed polling would agree, people are vindictive and blood thirsty.

However, elected police commissioners who want to be re-elected will need to show that their approach works

No they won't, at least not to everyone, only to some people, and only on issues that affect them. Got the silver-fox vote sowed up? Well then, show them that hoodies hanging about on street corners and home burglaries are getting priority funding. Never mind the assaults that happen in that area where they don't vote for you, or the car thefts in the other area that doesn't vote at all.

that they can actually cut crime

Unless they do a Boris and just massage the figures, or outright lie. Again, they can ignore that crime is rising, as long as their core voters feel crime is falling where they care about it.

working with the police, working with the communities

More like getting the police to work for them...and there is no mandate for PCCs to care one jot about actually engaging with whole communities if they don't wish to.

I have enough confidence in a liberal, evidence-based, humane approach to justice to believe that even those elected police commissioners who preach lock-em-up-fire-and-brimstone will repent when they realise that prevention and rehabilitation are the best ways to crack crime.

We can but hope, because that kind of nation-wide revelation is probably the only thing that can save this flawed idea from cutting large swathes of the public out of how their police are run, and worse cause their relationship with crime to actually get worse as entire communities are ignored in order to help re-election chances.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

IE9, :focus and a strange bug

So earlier @laurakalbag posted about a problem she's having on her site...

When you first visit the site on IE9 it looks as such:

But if you put focus on to something (it's hard to see, but I've applied focus to the first of the thumbnails) it returns to look like this:

What's worse is if you click on a div, it ends up like this!

Seems like a very odd one, and worth keeping a note of.

First of all, you need to realise that IE9 (and probably IE8 and IE7 at least) all allow you to "focus" on most elements, not just on those that should be able to receive traditional focus such as links or inputs. This is different from how webkit and mozilla seem to operate.

Next, IE9 automatically puts focus on the body when the page is loaded. In the case of @laurakalbag her site had a css rule for ":focus", which is naturally applied to any element that the browser deems to have focus...including the body or divs.

This is where the weirdness properly starts though. The reason for the change in state is because when focus is applied somewhere, the body element obviously loses focus. This allows it's background colour (a purple) to return, no longer over-ridden by a semi-transparent black (looks light grey).

Now it's understandable that where a css property hasn't already been defined, it being defined in the focus attribute will make it change (such as the box-sizing attribute, that causes the div to contract in the third screenshot above). What is truly strange is how IE treats the order of importance of CSS attributes.

Put simply, using this case as an example, if you define the background-color of the body and of :focus eligible elements (which, in IE9, is most things), then you must put the background-color value in your .css file.

This makes no sense, as anything in style tags in your .html file, defined AFTER the .css file, should take precedence. But it doesn't here. In fact you can define you :focus values AFTER you've defined your body values within either the .css file, or in style tags in the .html file, and it'll respect the values of the physical element over the :focus values every time. It's an entirely inconsistent practice.

Check out these link to see the same type of action occurring (you need to use IE9 or IE8, obviously):

:focus and body background-color defined in .css file

:focus defined in style tags in .html file, body background-color defined in .css file

:focus defined in .css file, body background-color defined in style tags in .html file

:focus and body background-color defined in style tags in .html file

You'll see that the first two links are green, while the second two are red. The first two are as we would expect it to work as we designed it, but actually probably work counter-intuitively to how priority is given to CSS values. The last two links display contrary to how we would like, but probably follow the rules properly

So... what should you do in this situation?

First of all, define your :focus with more specific scope. You probably don't care about focusing on your divs, so why not use "a:focus, input:focus"?

If this isn't an option, the only way to deal with this is to exploit the way IE9 interprets the priority of css values, and to use classes to define the background-colour that should be used, or to put specific inline styles on to your elements.

Class added to body (with body.class in .css file)

in-line style added to body


When dealing with :focus for Internet Explorer, be careful, and be specific! If you can't be specific, then the next best thing is to get all of your themes and styles in to a .css file, again being more specific with your selectors than using the class as a simple object variable, and to ensure that where your pages need different styles to use those classes, not to try and use styling through <style> tags!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Hypocritical Histories: Votes at 16

Labour and political opportunism, will it ever end? This time it's on the issue of Votes for 16 and 17 year olds. @WayneDavidMP today laments that Nick Clegg "declined" to give the vote to 16 and 17 year olds.

I think he's got a bloody cheek. Shall we just look at the history of Labour's 13 years in power and what they did to further the cause for votes at 16?

1999: Labour stand in the way of Votes at 16 amendment by the Lib Dems

2003: Tory peer, and Lords, agree to votes at 16. Labour declines to timetable commons portion of legislation, killing it off

2004: SNP call for vote to extend franchise to 16 year olds. Labour vote against as does Wayne David MP.

2005: Lib Dems make a vote for a lower voting age. Tories vote against it, Labour barely turns up, certainly Wayne David MP doesn't seem bothered to come and vote for it.

2006: Lib Dem lords table amendment for votes at 16, Labour peers vote against it.

2008: A Labour (shock!) private member's bill is talked out of the commons by Tories.

2010: While Lib Dems reiterate for the third election running they would support votes at 16, Labour merely offer a "free vote" on the issue, without even the conviction to whip such an issue to pass.

So.. let's not have any of this nonsense about Lib Dems denying 16 and 17 year olds the vote. History tells us that if it goes to a vote Labour and the Tories will simply vote against it, as Wayne David himself has already done. Perhaps if this MP wants progress on the issue of extending the franchise, he should take the first step of personally not standing in the way of progress.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Why we should be getting outraged about Matthew Woods

Matthew Woods is an unfortunate soul. Thinking himself the comedian he posted, from what I have been able to find out, a slew of jokes that would have found any mortal comedian on stage booed off.

Booed off stage that is, is the case in Matthew Woods' case... imprisoned for 3 months with a judge cursing the system that didn't allow him to be jailed for longer due to the fact that Matthew pled guilty to the "crime" of posting an offensive message on an "electronic communication network"...otherwise more nefariously known as Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

Matthew is unfortunately not the first, nor will he be the last; despite the seemingly PR motivated moves of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK trying to find a more reasonable way to react to people's outbursts of bad taste.

Perhaps the highest profile case, certainly due to it's eventual collapse with the conviction being overturned in the high court, was that of Paul Chambers and his "Twitter Joke Trial". We celebrated that day thinking that never again would the authorities be able to risk abusing what is ultimately a flawed law to secure flimsy convictions against people simply speaking out of turn.

But then came Azhar Ahmed, Neil Swinburne (Warning, Daily Mail), and on a different law Barry Thew.

Azhar Ahmed is, by all accounts, simply an angry young man. Are we doing the right thing by making him both angry and motivated to further hatred of the state? Barry Thew is, reportedly, someone suffering from mental health problems...who's son died in the custody of the very police force that he was protesting tastelessly against with his t-shirt. What part of his attitude towards the police is to be forced out of him by subjecting him to the full repression that the state can put on him?

Maybe some people need to reacquaint themselves with the notion behind "First they came...", because quite frankly it is not enough for us to sit here and claim that it is ok for people to get locked up for saying things that we don't like, or expressing views that we are not comfortable with. When that expression turns to action, or when it is actively used in the purpose of brainwashing and motivating other people to commit crimes, or where it is negligent to the direct effect it will have on people's safety, that is when expression in itself becomes a crime...but not before.

It may be cliched, but can you imagine if we were having the discussion about equal rights for homosexuals, women or black people during a time where twitter and facebook existed? How offensive to the populace would some of the comments and arguments presented by those fighting for their equality seem, and how much would their causes have been hampered by a state so readily able to lock them up for their non-conformist views?

I think it's a stretch trying to say that Matthew Woods has anything meaningful to say, of course, but it is the underlying principle that is important...are we happy to scare the general public in to not speaking out against the social norm? Are we happy to force conformity on people with the threat of jail time? When laws are based on what is "reasonable" and "offensive", measures that can only be sized against what the majority of the public feel at that time, how can we protect those who have something to say even if we don't want to hear it?

Maybe it's a lack of understanding in modern society about what we almost lost in World War 2, but I for one get a little terrified by the prospect of any nation "needing" a law like s127, or even of the section 4a of the Public Order Act 1986, for these incidents.

We need a distinction, and we need it sooner than later now that the world has been brought so close together with it's communication networks. Harassment, bullying, intimidation and attempts to create public disorder are not crimes that we should allow to go unpunished. Speaking your mind in a manner the majority wouldn't be comfortable with? Punishing such things is an unacceptable practice.

What's worse is that this is a liberal issue at it's core. Where someone is saying something that brings no detriment to another (and no, hurt feelings may be something unpleasant, but no-one should have a right to never hear anything that offends them), their right to say that thing needs to be protected. For a few years now this has been a very real issue. What have the Liberal party of the UK done about this, the Liberal Democrats?

The answer is nothing, unfortunately, which leaves me wondering why it is that they should be voted for. If the Lib Dems cannot stand up when laws are being abused to silence opponents of the norm, and while in power make those laws go away, to alter them to be much more specific to expression that is used to commit crimes, then they simply aren't fulfilling their role.

I expect Labour to keep these laws in place...state control is their mantra. And despite Tories being "small state", I also expect them to keep these laws in place, since they are ultimately terrified of anyone who isn't them. I also expected Lib Dems to make liberalism a priority, so am utterly confused why this isn't happening.

Right now we're letting people get locked up for their emotions having boiled over, and for extraordinary poor taste in comedy. That is the base level of using the powers the state have. What we do not need is conferences and discussions on how the police are to determine whether or not to charge against that law or not; we need the laws that allow such a process to be gone, so that the police do not have the option of charging people for unpopular sentiment.

I'd like to just end with this, from Wikipedia, on the Gestapo...

According to Canadian historian Robert Gellately's analysis of the local offices established, the Gestapo was—for the most part—made up of bureaucrats and clerical workers who depended upon denunciations by citizens for their information.[35] Gellately argued that it was because of the widespread willingness of Germans to inform on each other to the Gestapo that Germany between 1933 and 1945 was a prime example of panopticism.[36] Indeed, the Gestapo—at times—was overwhelmed with denunciations and most of its time was spent sorting out the credible from the less credible denunciations.[37] Many of the local offices were understaffed and overworked, struggling with the paper load caused by so many denunciations.[38] Gellately has also suggested that the Gestapo was "a reactive organization" "...which was constructed within German society and whose functioning was structurally dependent on the continuing co-operation of German citizens".[39]

It's all too easy for us to say "Oh, don't be absurd, the times we live in now are nothing like what the Nazi's did", but to say that is also wrong. We are now listening in on each other on Facebook and Twitter, with the same curtain twitching level of anonymity that allowed Germans to pass on information about their fellow nationals to the authorities and get them punished. Whether they did this out of genuine concern or because they aligned with the Nazi's views is barely relevant...what is important is that their society fell in to the worse kind of way because they let the differences between one another become more important than what bound them together, because they assumed that some people had less rights because they were different.

I look at our society and I don't see one that is any morally superior to that of the German people that allowed Nazism to take a grip and poison the world, and the fact it is allowed to continue while we have a party in power that is about as well poised to help stop that kind of society from developing, through it's inaction, is unforgivable upon that party.

Some people don't like the police, some people don't like the army and our foreign operations, and some people don't know when a joke isn't funny. They also go to work, enrich their friend's and family's lives, maybe they support charities and their local communities. Why are we so happy to steal away the latter part of what a person gives to the world because we aren't comfortable with how they express the former? To me, it's that brazen disregard of the complexities of individual opinions and views that is the most offensive thing of all.