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2011: April-June

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28th June   

Updated: Taken with a Pinch of Salt...

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Bad reviews for Taiwan justice
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A court in Taiwan this week ruled against a female food-blogger who said a local restaurant's beef noodles were too salty, and that she'd seen cockroaches scurrying around in the restaurant.

She gets 30 days in detention, two years of probation, and must pay 200,000 Taiwanese dollars (about $7K US dollars) in compensation to the restaurant. The court didn't argue she was lying about the bugs, but ruled that Ms. Liu should not have criticized all the restaurant's food as too salty because she only had one dish on her single visit.

The Taipei Times carried advice from a lawyer. Huang Cheng-lee said that bloggers who post food reviews should remember to be truthful in their commentary and supplement their comments with photographs to protect themselves.

Update: Jail for a poor review

28th June 2011. See  article from  indexoncensorship.org

The Taiwanese blogger was sentenced to 30 days in detention and ordered to pay NT$200,000 (about £ 11,000) for allegedly writing a defamatory review about a local restaurant. She blogged that the dish she had ordered was too salty and that there were cockroaches on the restaurant premises. The restaurant refuted these claims, sued, and won their claim. In Taiwan, defamation is a criminal act.


28th June   

We Know What You're up to!...

Advertising company claims to be able to track almost 100% of Brits
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A British advertising company claims to have built the world's largest database of individuals' internet behaviour, which it says will track almost 100% of the UK population.

The announcement plunges WPP straight into the middle of the privacy debate surrounding online marketing. The company said it was pooling data from many of the world's major websites, networks of online advertisers and even sources following what people are buying in high street stores.

FTSE 100-listed WPP is one of the most powerful well-connected advertising companies in the world, and its clients include some of the most famous global brands. Many, though not yet named, are providing WPP with data about visitors to their websites as part of the company's new database venture, called Xaxis.

The internet is an advertising-supported medium, and much of the web is free because advertisers want to put messages in front of people, said Brian Lesser, chief executive of Xaxis. We are supporting the broader internet economy by improving the targeting of ads, while also playing by the strictest privacy rules.

It has built individual profiles of 500 million internet users across the world, covering, it says, almost 100 per cent of the people online in the countries in which it operates, including the UK, US, Australia and eight others.

Privacy campaigners warned against the concentration of so much data about individuals.

Knowing the pattern of websites you go to makes it very easy to identify you, said John Buckman, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The greatest problem with data gathering is not from the people gathering it, but where it goes afterwards. When the cat is out the bag, you can't put it back in. The safest protection for data is to never have it in the first place. The principle should be for the minimum amount of data to be captured wherever possible.

The company is promising advertisers an unprecedented level of precision and zero waste , so that only people likely to be interested in their products will see adverts. But Mr Lesser added that WPP could be trusted not to try to unscramble the data and match it to individuals. Who the person is is not really important to us, he said. We will never get to the point that we know so much that we know who the person is.


25th June   

So you think you have escaped the UK taxman?...

Here's a snappy new tool to find out
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HM Revenue & Customs is considering the possibility of providing an interactive online tool to enable individuals to self assess their residence status when the new statutory definition is introduced. A prototype of this tool is available below and interested parties are invited to make use of this to assess how a statutory test could operate in practice.

Try the Statutory Residence Test [xls]


19th June   

Crossing the Creepy Line...

Avoid small talk with supermarket cashiers, they are being trained to spy on people's shopping baskets
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Supermarket staff are being trained by UK health officials to spy on customer shopping baskets, it has emerged.

The government-backed scheme to be rolled out at Sainsbury's stores nationwide supposedly aims to identify hidden carers , people who look after elderly, sick or disabled relatives who do not realise they could be entitled to support.

Under the scheme, cashiers will be asked to watch out for unusual shopping habits and taught to discretely ask customers about their personal circumstances while serving them. Tell-tale signs include shoppers who have two baskets of groceries and pay for each separately.

Pharmacists will also be trained to quiz people who are picking up prescriptions for other people.

A pilot scheme in Torbay, Devon, led to more than 140 people seeking help in just two months. Sainsbury's cashiers will be asked to discretely ask customers about their personal circumstances while serving them

Daniel Hamilton, of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: It strikes me as something that will make a lot of people uncomfortable. They are trying to do the right thing but they have to be careful about how they do it.

Simon Davies, of Privacy International, said posters and leaflets would be less intrusive. He added: They may have the best of intentions but I would have thought that this not the way to do it. It is crossing the creepy line.


17th June   

Offsite: Saving Face...

So how dangerous is Facebook's facial recognition technology?
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There's been a lot of buzz in the media about Facebook's facial-recognition technology--admittedly, in part thanks to us. But now we've decided to look at the technology itself: Is it as dangerous as we think it is? In the end, Facebook's new face-recognizing feature doesn't yet work well enough to pose a significant threat to your privacy.

So How Well Does It Work?

...Read the full article


11th June   

Miserable Puritans...

Scottish government considers banning the sale of alcohol to young adults
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Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Health Minister and the country's Deputy First Minister has announced she is considering imposing US-style puritanical alcohol laws.

According to reports in the Scottish Herald, local authorities are to be given the power to restrict sales of alcohol to those over the age of 21 in areas where underage drinking has supposedly proved to be a problem.

The proposed ban on under 21s buying booze follows a previous attempt by former Minister Cathy Jamieson who attempted to introduce a ban on off-licences sales to young adults.

While Jamieson's plans were widely ridiculed, Sturgeon's plan may not prove to easy to stop - largely as a result of the outright majority her party has in the Scottish Parliament.


31st May   

Dangerous Barnsley...

Shoppers warned to avoid Barnsley town centre lest they get fined for strong language by police abusing the Public Order Act
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Swearing in public could land Barnsley town centre vistors with an £ 80 on-the-spot fine. Police are targeting bad language in the centre of Barnsley supposedly to encourage shoppers to return.

And members of the public are being urged to report offensive and intimidating language, including swearing, in a bid to clean up the town's bad image.

South Yorkshire Police will abuse existing powers under the 1986 Public Order Act to hand out fines. The 'initiative' comes into force today. 

Inspector Julie Mitchell of South Yorkshire Police said: It is important to note that some people feel upset and intimidated from hearing swearing. Therefore, it has been agreed that those found to be swearing in the town centre will be dealt with appropriately, by either advice or enforcement.

It is not clear how they will decide whether a particular use of language is offensive - both in terms of the words used and the effects on the person being spoken to. Perhaps they will take inspiration from Judge Dredd

Campaigner Phil Davies, from Barnsley Voice, which represents businesses in the town centre, said: There is nothing wrong with swearing, I do it every day, but it is when it is targeted at somebody. 


31st May   

Offensive Law...

Australian state to issue on the spot fines for strong language
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The Victorian Government plans to introduce laws this week that will give police permanent power to issue on-the-spot fines to people who swear.

Under the proposed legislation, people could be fined close to $240 for language that is considered indecent or offensive.

Attorney-General Robert Clark says the changes mean police will not have to use the courts to deal with people who use bad language: We're going to be confirming the power of police to issue on-the-spot infringement notices for these sorts of offences . It will also enable them to more effectively act against the sort of loud-mouthed, obnoxious behaviour that can make going out to public places unpleasant for other members of the public.


27th May   

Ashamed in Thailand...

Hype for Hangover Part II
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Hangover star Justin Bartha claims that he feels so ashamed about some of the disgusting things he saw in Thailand he refuses to talk about them.

The actor plays Doug in The Hangover Part II , the sequel to the hugely successful 2009 comedy movie.

Justin said he and Ed Helms went to great lengths to research their scenes. They expected part of the plot to see the men spending time in sex clubs, so decided they had better check some out ahead of shooting.

I saw some dirty (stuff) in Thailand that got burned into my eyes. I honestly can't say what because it is so disgusting I feel ashamed for going, Justin told Bullett Magazine: I shouldn't have gone.


17th May   

Growing Concerns...

Melon farmers hit by mysterious explosions
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Melon Farmers in eastern China have been left perplexed after their watermelons began to explode one by one.

An investigation by state media found farms in Jiangsu province were losing acres of fruit because of the problem.

The overuse of a chemical that helps fruit grow faster was blamed in one report by China Central Television. But agriculture experts were unable to explain why chemical-free melons were exploding. They cited the weather and abnormal size of the melon as factors.

China Central Television said farmers were overspraying their crops with the growth promoter, hoping they could get their fruit to market ahead of the peak season and increase their profits.

Farmer Liu Mingsuo told Xinhua that more than two-thirds of his crop had blown up. He said he had used chemicals to boost their growth on 6 May, and the following day more than 180 melons exploded. But Liu was reported to be the only farmer from the 10 households who used chemicals.


14th May   

Bollox Policing...

Complaints about nudist neighbour who lives 150 meters away
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A 62-year-old Gloucestershire back garden naturist was arrested for indecent exposure and now faces three charges of outraging public decency.

Donald Sprigg was hauled before Cheltenham Magistrates Court accused of causing his Cirencester neighbours harassment, alarm or distress , the Daily Mail reports.

Sprigg denied the charges, while his solicitor Mohammed Iqbal insisted that the neighbours who'd protested actually lived 150 metres away and had captured the allegedly indecent horticultural action from their balcony using a long-distance lens .

Sprigg was bailed to stand trial on 20 June. ?


12th May   

Ping Pong Show...

Hangover II cut by the British film censor for a 15 rating
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The Hangover: Part II is a 2011 US comedy by Todd Philips. See IMDb

This time the stag party fun takes place in Thailand.

The film was passed 15 after BBFC suggested cuts for category for:

  • UK 2011 cinema release

The BBFC commented: Ping Pong Show

This film was originally shown to the BBFC in an unfinished version. The BBFC advised the company that the film was likely to receive an 18 classification but that the requested 15 certificate could be achieved by making two cuts to still images seen during the end credits.

  • These cuts were to remove sight of a woman apparently penetrating her vagina with a string of material and
  • sight of a naked woman, with her legs apart, ejecting a ping pong ball from her vagina.

When the finished version of the film was submitted, these still images had been tightly reframed to avoid any explicit or graphic detail and the film was classified 15 .


11th May   

Family Unfriendly...

Britain plans to scrap the right to appeal against a refused family visit visa
Link Here

Britain is considering scrapping of the right of appeal for relatives of British families, who are refused visas to visit them each year, a media report said.

Quoting a leaked Home Office policy paper, a local daily newspaper reported that officials have been warned that the move is highly controversial, particularly within the Asian communities and legally risky.

Home Office ministers have been told they need to warm up colleagues in government for these potentially controversial changes , starting with Conservative party co-chairman Baroness Warsi, the only British Pakistani in the coalition government.

Immigration minister Damian Green has been warned to expect protests from some Commonwealth countries , implying the move could trigger a renewed row with India and Pakistan in the wake of the recent controversy over the cap on immigration.

More than 420,000 visa applications were made for temporary visits by close relatives of British families in 2010, at a cost of more than 70 pounds each. Of the decisions made last year, 350,000 family visit visas were granted, 88,000 were turned down. More than 63,000 of those who were refused, appealed against the decision and around 36% were allowed to come to Britain on appeal.

The paper - written for Green by the UK Border Agency's (UKBA) director of appeals and removals, Phil Douglas - says the move is a crucial part of plans to reduce the number of appeals and resultant cost to the taxpayer .

He says family visit visas are the only visit visa decisions taken by entry clearance officers abroad that still attract a full right of appeal.

Immigration welfare groups have condemned the move as discriminatory and mean and said such visits often involved weddings, funerals and visits to dying relatives.


6th May   

Updated: Where Does Apple Stand on Privacy?...

Google and Apple generate an unencrypted location file on mobile devices even when geo-location services are turned off
Link Here

Security researchers have revealed that Apple's iOS 4 mobile operating system, which runs on the highly popular iPhone and iPad devices, constantly tracks and stores users' approximate location information without their knowledge or consent.

It has now been learned that law enforcement agencies have known about the secret iOS tracking for at least the last year, and have used the data to aid criminal investigations, according to CNet.

The information recorded by Apple is not a users' exact location; instead, the company tracks which cell tower each iOS device uses to connect to a wireless network.

Apple has never publicized any information about the tracking function. And the closest it's ever come to acknowledging the geolocation monitoring function was during questioning from Congress last July about its privacy policy and location-based services. In a letter responding to Congress queries, Apple said that it intermittently collected cell tower and Wi-Fi access point information, which is transmitted to Apple every 12 hours.

According to a company called Katana Forensics, however, the unencrypted data is also used by law enforcement for their own purposes. The information on the phone is useful in a forensics context, said Alex Levinson of Katana, who spoke with CNet. The company's iOS data extracting software, Lantern 2, is often used by small-town local police all the way up to state and federal police, different agencies in the government that have forensics units.

Apple's iOS isn't the only mobile OS that collects user location information. Devices running Google's market-leading Android OS also keep a record of the locations and unique IDs of the last 50 mobile masts that it has communicated with, and the last 200 Wi-Fi networks that it has 'seen,' according to the Guardian.

There may be a glimmer of hope for the little man in this, however. Representative Edward Markey has come to the rescue, asking Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a letter sent this week to explain his company's privacy-encroaching ways. I am concerned about this report and the consequences of this feature for individuals' privacy, Rep. Markey wrote in the letter, followed by a series of questions about the location data file and why, exactly, it exists.

Update: Geo-Unlocated

6th May 2011.  See  article from  bbc.co.uk

Apple has released a software update after complaints that iPhones and iPads were secretly recording locations.

The problem came to light when security researchers found a hidden file on the devices containing a record of everywhere they had been.

The update, which is available through the iTunes store, cuts the amount of stored data to just a week and no longer transfers it to the owner's computer when the phone is connected.

And if users disable the location services setting on their iPhone or iPad, it will stop collecting data completely.

Permission for the tracking was given by users, albeit hidden away in the terms and conditions for the iTunes store.


3rd April   

Raging Bitch...

Michigan drink censors ban beer label
Link Here

Flying Dog Brewery is suing Michigan's state Liquor Control Commission in federal court over its prohibition of the Raging Bitch beer label.

In its complaint the beer maker alleges the agency is censoring its free speech, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

The 20th Anniversary India Pale Ale label urges customers: Remember, enjoying a Raging Bitch, unleashed, untamed, unbridled -- and in heat -- is pure GONZO.

Ralph Steadman, an illustrator best-known for collaborations with author Hunter S. Thompson, penned the disputed phrase.

The drinks censor banned the label and affirmed its decision on appeal. The commission based its ban on its power to censor language on the bottle that is detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the general public .


3rd April   

Update: Watching Royston...

Britain's first town with every approach road having number plate recognition cameras
Link Here
Full story: Travel on CCTV...UK network of roadside traffic logging CCTVs

The town of Royston in Hertfordshire is to become Britain's first ring of steel town, with hidden Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras installed on every single road in and out of the town by next month.

Town bosses rolled out the usual platitudes to explain the introduction of this nefarious system:

...make Royston the safest town in Hertfordshire...They give the police hard evidence as they track known villains...It will make us the safest town in Hertfordshire and you won't be able to drive in or out of the town without being clocked...We will be the only town in Britain that will have ANPR on every approach to the town.

Chris Farrier, a spokesman for the civil liberties group No CCTV, expressed serious concerns about the dangers of systems like this:

It is a hugely worrying development. It has been developed with no public scrutiny and government legislation. This is the biggest surveillance network that the British public have never heard of. The people of Royston had better get informed because their one is being described as a 'ring of steel.

The public have not been consulted about this cruel abuse of privacy to monitor and store the movements of everyone who visits the town of Royston on a centralised database for 5 years.

The inevitable conclusion is a nationwide network of ANPR cameras, ensuring that all movement of citizens can be monitored.

Update: Mysterious

6th May 2011.  See  article from  jd-baker.com

Hertfordshire Constabulary attempted to shutdown an anti-ANPR website in Royston. This wasn't done via a court order, but through a bungling communications officer who contacted Andrew Fowley the site host. Andrew feeling threatened by the request, and considering it an order the host took down the site. Only later after advice from this solicitor put it back up, and ask for the police to issue an injunction against it.

Cambridge News reported on all of this, complete with quotes from Steve Jolly the anti-surveillance campaigning who helped defeat project Champion. Steve rightly said that people should be intimidated by the police. This news report from Cambridge News has now vanished from their website, which is odd as normally they keep their stories up for a number of years. 

The anti-ANPR site has been back up a couple of days, but has now switched to displaying a blank page. It's almost like it never happened....


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