In Which Ben Goldacre Demolishes The ID Card System

A superb column from Ben Goldacre here. Go and read it all. He\’s got more details of how, for example, to make your own fingerprint (or rather, someone else\’s) here.

Quite apart from the whole civil liberties part of the database and so on, it\’s clear that it simply won\’t actually work.

In fact you might sense that the whole field of biometrics and ID is rather like medical quackery: as usual, on the one hand we have snake oil salesmen promising the earth, and on the other a bunch of humanities graduates who don’t understand technology, science or even human behaviour. Buying it. Bigging it up. Thinking it’s a magic wand.

Sam Leith and Privacy

Well, yes:

It used to be quite tricky and labour-intensive for reporters to run down photographs, workmates, friends, and school contemporaries of people in the public eye. Now you run the risk of being a front-page story simply by standing next to someone newsworthy in a Facebook photograph.

Me, I\’m going à la carte. I\’m adjusting my privacy settings, burning off my fingerprints, "tickling" Foxy Knoxy, and pulling my tinfoil stetson down low.

Anyone comes near me with a digital camera, it\’s on with the burqa.

This might have more effect if this gentleman desirous of a low profile were not a national newspaper columnist who has, in the couse of writing such things, told us that  he\’s a heterosexual, smoking, cat owning, computer game playing, scruffy, cardigan wearing (and that\’s just what I can remember off the top of my head) 33 year old.

Robert Pickton

I have to say that Robert Pickton\’s lawyers are using a novel defense here. Pickton\’s accused of luring prostitutes and drug addicts back to his pig farm, having sex with them, murdering them and then dismembering the bodies and feeding them to said pigs. Perhaps 60 people all told. This might not be the strongest defense claim ever:

While the defence has acknowledged the remains were found on his farm, it argued that other suspects have been ignored and that the evidence – including skulls, hands and feet – was no proof of his guilt.

It might even be true but that\’s not how I\’d bet on a jury deciding.

You Can Read This Two Ways

As the wheels continue to come off the story the Chancellor fed to the Commons about those CDs and the 25 million records there\’s two ways you can read this:

Sources close to Mr Darling told the BBC yesterday that he had been unaware that key emails had been copied to senior HMRC officials before he had made his Parliamentary statement.

1) He didn\’t know about t emails at all, in which case he was simply badly informed.

2) He did know about the emails and their contents but not that other people were going to find out about them. In which case he was well informed but thought that he would rather mislead the Commons than inform them.

2) Would, in previous times, have been a resigning matter.


Ragging on Richie

Here is Richard Murphy\’s comment on that Johann Hari book review concerning the Laffer Curve:

The New Statesman includes a brilliant article by Johann Hari called Cooking the Books. What it amounts to is a complete destruction of the Laffer curve principle, so beloved by the Right and invented by, as Hari says :

a group of men who were untrained in economics – and, as it happens, borderline-insane.

As he notes, the universally discredited Dick Cheney was one of those involved. He saw it:

presented in a simple, easily digestible form the messianic power of tax cuts.

There was just one problem. It was, of course, a complete work of fiction. Read the article. It’s well worth it.

As far as I recall it, Murphy claims t have a degree in economics. He must have missed that bit where they point out that the Laffer Curve is both obvious and trivial (for a given value of the word trivial).

A more balanced appreciation of Hari\’s piece is here, written by some godawful horrible classical liberal. One who seems to have stayed awake for that 5 minutes of an economics degre.

Scrap the Benefit System!

Well, quite:

Nor has the scheme made work pay. Nearly 1.7 million Britons — double the number in 1997 — now have a marginal tax rate of 70 per cent: for every extra pound they make, Mr Brown takes 70 pence. As they make more money, they lose more benefits, so it is barely worth their while to work — exactly the opposite of what the Prime Minister was trying to achieve.

The solution seems simple. Scrap many of these benefits and increase personal income tax allowance. This would take millions out of income tax altogether, easing the burden on those hard-pressed tax and benefits men. There will, of course, be winners and losers, and the genuinely poor will have to be protected, but it would save us all a vast amount of money in administration costs and help prevent further such disasters — whether one-off or systemic.

The idea that the poor should even be in the income tax system is absurd. Which is why sensible people, like the Adam Smith Institute, suggest that the allowances be raised to £14,000. There\’s even a sensible political party, UKIP, which has made a similar thought (similar, although not exactly the same amount) part of their proposals.

Yes, yes, I know, there are those who would deny that those two groups are "sensible", but this specific proposal clearly is.

More More Data!

Can someone technicaly literate explain this to me?

The child benefits records scandal could have been avoided if Customs officials had spent £5,000 on removing bank account details from the computer discs that later went missing, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Emails showed that HMRC officials were concerned about paying to remove unnecessary information such as account details from the discs before they were sent to London.

Cutting the files would have cost as little £5,000, experts said yesterday, compared to the £200m cost that could result from the scandal, even if no fraud is committed.

It\’s a long long time since I used a database application so I\’m a little in the dark here. When you download a database you tell it which parts you want to download, don\’t you? You can set the filters to download it all, or this bit, or that bit. So why would it cost £5,000 to download only part of it rather than all of it?

I ask because I can see a defence being prepared here. Instead of setting that £ 5k against the huge costs incurred, they\’re going to set the multiples of £5 k, the cost of filtering the data every time they\’re asked for it, against the damage done by the failure. And they\’d be right to do so, of couse.

But only if it does in fact cost that £ 5 k each time. So, can anyone tell me? I\’m assuming that the cost difference between downloading the whole database and a partial one is in fact zero. Am I correct in that assumption?


Glory, glory!

This fresh off the wires: the government\’s controversial Home Information Packs – lovingly known as HIPs – will be imposed on all properties from December 14, the Department of Communities and Local Government has announced. At the moment it\’s only 3 beds and above that are covered.

Just what we need imposed as the housing market is stuttering, eh? More sand in the gears.

Football and Non-Dom

Errm, how does this work then?

So why do overseas players now dominate? As the supposedly economically competent Gordon Brown would understand, it\’s because they enjoy a huge and unfair competitive advantage over British players. Tax rules allow foreign players to claim \’non-domicile\’ status and, with the help of clever lawyers, pay 40 per cent less tax than their British rivals on much of their income.

Non-doms only pay less tax than doms on that portion of their income which is earned abroad. Playing in the Premiership is prety clearly working in the UK. So in thei competition with English players playing in the Premiership the non-dom foreign players don\’t actually have a tax advantage, do they?

The Great Blogging Divide

Is it just me?

Or are there very few leftie blogs commenting upon the data screw up?

It could of course be my own bias, that I\’m not noting people who are commenting upon it. Or it could be that it\’s the anti-Statist glee of the right that makes them comment more noticably.

But scrolling through my RSS this morning, there doesn\’t seem to be all that much from the left commenting.

Update. Well, there\’s this by Unity.

Rather overtaken by events in that it wasn\’t some junior idiot breaching protocols. It was a junior following protocols and having his actions signed off by more senior management. That is, it was the protocols at fault.

Mr. Clewley Speaks Out!

Somebody needs to tell the complete and utter fucking lobotomised morons that somehow came to be running this country that sheer breathtakingly reckless incompetence is only funny if it\’s done in a charming black and white film, nobody actually gets hurt and, and it\’s by people who are only pretending to be that stupid. And I don\’t care if Brown and Darling\’s methadone scrips were in the same package as the lost CDs