Lord Toby Harris Logo

Archive for June, 2011

Wednesday
Jun 22,2011

Sophos’s NakedSecurity site tells the cautionary tale of the company chief executive and the slighted IT administrator who took his revenge:

“Imagine you’re giving a presentation to the board of directors at your company. You have your PowerPoint slides all ready, you’re projecting onto a 64 inch screen… what could possibly go wrong?

Well, what would you do if your carefully composed presentation was replaced on the big screen by images of a naked woman? My guess is that you wouldn’t know where to put your laser pointer..

52-year-old Walter Powell used to be an IT manager at Baltimore Substance Abuse System Inc, until he was fired in 2009. Clearly someone who believed that revenge should be served red hot, Powell used his computer knowledge to hack into his former employer’s systems from his home and install keylogging software to steal passwords.

On one occasion, Powell took remote control of his former CEO’s PowerPoint presentation to the board of directors, and projected pornographic images on the 64 inch TV.

Press release about Walter Powell's sentencing

According to media reports, Judge M. Brooke Murdock gave Powell a two year suspended sentence, and ordered him to 100 hours of community service and three years’ probation.”

Interestingly, I read this on my way home from hearing a presentation from the CEO of a very large corporation who had described in passing the processes (that even he described as draconian) his company follows in monitoring the activites of employees who hand in their notice,  which includes checking what company files they access and download, reviewing their outgoing email traffic and monitoring memory stick usage. Once caught, twice shy?

Wednesday
Jun 22,2011

Along with two colleagues, Baroness Ruth Henig and Baroness Harris of Richmond (no relation), I have a letter in The Times this morning:

“‘Police accountability cannot be distilled down to a single individual elected on a party ticket.’

Sir

We are heartened that ‘Ministers are preparing a “substantial package” of concessions over their plan to create elected police chiefs’ in response to peers’ concerns.

However, your report ascribing responsibility to Labour and Lib Dem peers for halting this risky revolution does a disservice to the diversity of Cross Bench peers who voted 3 to 1against the bill. They, and a majority of all Peers present, argued in favour of a Commissioner within a more collegiate model of governance.

We urge the government to listen to this public preference and to preserve the best of a diverse, broadly-based governance system for the police.

The right recipe for police accountability that has thus far helped deliver falling crime and rising public confidence cannot be distilled to a single individual elected on a party ticket.

Yours

Baroness Angela Harris
Baroness Ruth Henig
Lord Toby Harris”

Monday
Jun 20,2011

Last Thursday, the sweetly formidable Government Chief Whip in the Lords, Baroness Anelay of St Johns announced last Thursday that the House of Lords would be returning to work on 3rd October rather than 10th October this year after the Summer recess (ignoring the two week September sitting that will interrupt the recess).  This will mean that Conservative Peers will have to make the choice between attending Parliament or the Tory Party Conference.  She blamed this on the slow scrutiny of legislation by the House and, in particular, the particularly thorough process (led by many Labour Peers) of consideration given to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill or as she put it:

“This is a self-regulating House, with the implication that scrutiny of legislation cannot be curtailed except by the House itself. That is only right; it is one of the aspects of our work of which we have every reason to be proud. The corollary is that when the House chooses to dwell on a particular Bill, as it did on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill-on which we spent 17 days in Committee, which is more than double the usual maximum for the largest Bills-more time must then be found elsewhere if the scrutiny of the other Bills in a Government’s legislative programme is not to suffer as a consequence.”

But it is not just the extra days.  The House is sitting longer – often way beyond the normal 10pm cut off on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Indeed, she also announced that the House would sit four hours earlier than normal on one of the days this week to accommodate the number of Peers who wish to speak on the Government’s draft Bill on House of Lords abolition (106 at last count).  And as it turned out the House sat from 11am until 10pm (three hours later than normal on a Thursday) on the day she made her announcement, so as to complete its sixth day of Committee Stage consideration of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

Labour’s Chief Whip, Lord Steve Bassam, pointed out that, in fact, there was a “chaotic logjam” of Government Bills:

“The truth is-in saying this I apportion no blame to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay-that the Government are trying to force through a programme that is overlong, overprogrammed and overblown. In short, it is too long and they know it, and the House and the process of scrutiny are the sufferers. This is a crisis of timetabling, caused not by your Lordships’ rightful desire to scrutinise Bills but by political mismanagement, emanating from No. 10. This House has already had the farce of badly drafted Bills, such as the Public Bodies Bill, and still to come are the Armed Forces Bill, the Scotland Bill and the Office for Budget Responsibility Bill. We have been waiting for a health Bill that was promised to the House in May but will not be here until October or November at the earliest. We also have such complex Bills as the Welfare Reform Bill and the Protection of Freedoms Bill to come.

What assurances can the House have that, even with this extra week, we will complete our work without further incursions into Recess dates, longer nights and earlier starts? I also ask the noble Baroness to reconfirm all existing Recess dates, including those in February, and to do so with certainty. Will she also tell the House when it is intended that we shall have another Queen’s Speech, and when this Session-the longest any of us can remember-will end? How many more Bills do the Government expect to force through this House before the Session concludes? At my last count, we still had 16 in progress and another 12 or 13 to come, and had done only 16 so far. Just how many more Bills do the Government expect to bring?

May I perhaps give the Government a little advice before they embark on their next political programme? Will they ensure that, next time around, they have coherent, well worked-out Bills, and do not have more Bills in their programme than both Houses of Parliament can realistically manage and effectively scrutinise?

This a programme of legislation that has been poorly thought through, badly managed from the centre and forced on an increasingly reluctant Parliament in a timeframe that is wholly unrealistic. I urge the Government to think again about their programme, and to consult the House properly about their timetable and what they put in for the rest of the Session.”

Today, it emerged that the Government’s own coalition partners, the LibDems, are also keen on thorough scrutiny of legislation with the first day of the Committee Stage of the Localism Bill: the first six groups of amendments have all been put down by LibDem peers – the first of which being debated for an hour and a half trying to pin down what the Government’s definition of “localism” actually amounts to.

The reality is that the House of Lords is doing its job.  The Government is trying to push through too much legislation and what is worse the Bills that are being put forward or are emerging from the House of Commons are badly-drafted, full of unintended consequences and frequently fail to do what it says on the tin.

Tuesday
Jun 14,2011

An interesting piece by Darryl Chamberlain in the Scoop at Snipe argues that the time may be coming when there should be greater indepence for London from the rest of the country.  With the devolution settlement being reviewed in Wales and Scotland, why not London as well?  The piece points out:

“A question: why can’t London have a bit of what they’re having? Isn’t it time for us to break away too?

London is a wildly different place to the rest of England, never mind the rest of the UK. We’re more socially liberal than the rest of the country, we live in communities that are far more mixed. We’re less likely to drive, and more likely to spend huge amounts of time stuck on public transport. We’ve more in common with New York or Paris than Newcastle or Portsmouth.  …

In London, we’re different.  …

Look at the two men we’ve elected to run the place. A newt-loving man with a raspy voice who loves winding up American diplomats on one hand, a floppy-haired fop on a bike with a bizarre line in Latin anecdotes on the other.

Both, in their own ways, engaging ambassadors for the capital. And seen as dangerous threats by their own party leaders. Because that is how many in the rest of England see London—as a threat. Read below the line on any comment piece on the possibility of an English parliament, and within the ?rst few comments someone will sound off about how London leeches off the rest of England, takes all the jobs and investment and produces nothing in return.

Yet if London kept the tax revenue earned within its borders—or at least had more control over raising its own budget – we’d be able to make a much better job of running our transport network, for example.

The Tube’s current woes can be traced back to the last government trying to sell off its maintenance — bitterly resisted by Ken Livingstone before he rejoined the Labour Party. He was right, Gordon Brown was wrong – but London had to pick up the bill.

In the old days, Ken used to taunt the Tories with unemployment figures on the roof of the old County Hall. But Labour wouldn?t even give him the power to empty London?s bins, so we still have 33 different recycling policies. And the Conservatives won?t even give Boris Johnson the Royal Parks, so keen is the UK government to hang onto the prestige of chasing dogs out of flower gardens.

So if they don’t trust us, why don’t we just go it alone?”

I have long pointed out the extent to which London subsidises the rest of the UK.  Irrespective of the present incumbent of the Mayor’s office, there is a strong case for London having more autonomy and being able to invest its revenues in its own infrastructure and its people.  And because London is the engine of the UK economy, this would be good for the rest of the country too.

Monday
Jun 13,2011

It is estimated that in twenty-five years time two-thirds of the world’s population will live in areas of significant water stress and shortage.  This will be one of the factors – along with climate change, rising sea level and the loss of arable land – that will drive major population migration and feed into global insecurity.

A year ago there were reports that East African nations were struggling to contain an escalating crisis over control of the waters of the river Nile.  According to the Guardian:

“The nine countries through which the world’s longest river flows have long been at loggerheads over access to the vital waters, which the British colonial powers effectively handed wholesale to Egypt in a 1929 agreement.

Egypt has always insisted on jealously guarding its historic rights to the 55.5bn cubic metres of water that it takes from the river each year and has vetoed neighbouring countries’ rights to build dams or irrigation projects upstream which might affect the river’s flow.”

Now, India has been accused of “water terrorism” against Pakistan:

“India is rapidly moving towards its target of making Pakistan totally barren by building dams on three major rivers including Chenab, Jhelum and Indus flowing into Pakistan from the Indian side of the border. These dams are being built in blatant violation of international laws and Indus Water Treaty singed between the two countries to ensure equitable distribution of water resources. Pakistan has, long been challenging these moves of the Indian authorities and the issue had been referred to international arbitration on various occasions. Both Islamabad and New Delhi have held several rounds of talks to resolve the matter but no tangible results could be achieved. Realising the nefarious designs of the Indian leadership, political parties in Pakistan term New Delhi actions as ‘water terrorism’. Recent talks on Baglihar Dam between the two sides remained unfruitful and Pakistan is understood to have decided to seek international arbitration once again to secure its share of the water.
Yesterday, a report published in all national newspapers has raised alarm bell when an Indian engineer, Jee Parbharkar, speaking at a seminar organised by The Federation of Association of South and Central Asian Countries (FIESCA) in Nepal, said if all on-going dam projects on rivers originating from Kashmir were completed in time, India would be in a position to stop water flow to Pakistan completely by 2020. He further claimed that by 2020, India would be producing such a quantity of hydel power that it would be able to export it to neighbouring countries including Pakistan. Pakistani delegate to the seminar, Sultan Mahmood said that India has already started producing electricity from four big and 16 small dams while the work on third dam is in full swing near Kargal Valley. In this dam, 45 per cent of Indus water would be diverted to its reservoir through a tunnel.
Such a situation is not acceptable under any circumstances and it is about time that our leadership takes the matter seriously and move all international forums available to raise this sensitive issue. Indifference of concerned authorities had already damaged Pakistan’s cause and if nothing is done fast, Pakistan soon would be a barren state.”

Sunday
Jun 12,2011

Behind the Sunday Times paywall or on page 26 of the newspaper itself is what may be the scariest story in today’s newspapers. According to the article:
“An Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities last year was averted after Binyamin Netanyhu, the prime minister, met robust opposition from the army and Mossad, the intelligence service, which warned that it could lead to an all-out Middle East war.”
The article then gives lots of convincing details before warning that
“There are indications that an attack may be under consideration again.”
It then cites a programme of air raid drills in Israel, long-haul flight exercises by the Israeli air force and various briefings.
There is no doubt Iranian nuclear intentions are a serious threat to Israel and the stability of the region, but a free-lance response by Israel is equally disturbing.

Saturday
Jun 11,2011

Gogol’s “The Government Inspector” in a new translation by David Harrower is a must-see at the Young Vic.  The production is great fun with tremendous pace with an excellent cast.

Government Inspector

I have to admit that I did spend some time spotting the parallels between Julian Barratt’s corrupt and venal Mayor, who is desperately concerned about his image and whose approach to the public services for which he is responsible is more about how they look than what they do, and another Mayor closer to home.  However, there were also elements of Kyle Soller’s “Inspector” that fitted with the real-life Mayor’s persona: the Walter Mittyesque fantasies to say nothing to his approach to the women in the cast …..

Even if you don’t want to make dubious comparisons with today’s politics, you should still see “The Government Inspector”.  But hurry, it is only on till 9th July.

Wednesday
Jun 8,2011

Yesterday was the Second Reading in the House of Lords of the Government’s large and sprawling Localism Bill.  My colleague, Lord Jeremy Beecham, made a characteristically witty speech during which he made the following comment about the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

“The Government’s approach seems in many respects to be driven by a belief in an apparently inexhaustible appetite on the part of citizens to vote-for elected mayors or police commissioners, or in referendums called by a fraction of the electorate, a neighbourhood forum, or a handful of councillors. This assumed insatiable thirst for Athenian-style democracy-and Mr Pickles is, after all, only two letters short of Pericles-is matched in ministerial minds by a demand on the part of the public directly to manage local services.”

A few minutes after his speech a Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, bounded up to me in the Peers’ Lobby and said that Jeremy Beecham had just made a rather fine joke about me in the Chamber.  When I looked baffled, he repeated it, saying my “name was only two letters short of Pericles”.  Leaving me puzzled, he wandered off. 

Slowly the awful truth dawned……

Two lessons: Eric Pickles is so boring that Liberal Democrat peers can’t remember whether he has facial hair or not … and perhaps I might usefully lose a few pounds in weight.

Tuesday
Jun 7,2011

Conservative (now ex-Conservative) peer, Lord Hanningfield, demonstrated what can only be described as world-class super-armadillo-style thick skin this afternoon by returning to the House of Lords days after his conviction for expenses fraud. Indeed he sat – behind a pair of dark glasses – for several hours on the House of Lords Terrace by the river quaffing white wine …..

Tuesday
Jun 7,2011

A few days ago I reported on the call for a “general obligation for data security”.

Now comes this report on CBS (thanks to FutureCrimes):

I wonder how many companies and government agencies are equally careless in this country?

It makes leaving a paper on a photocopier seem old hat …..