Monthly Archives: February 2007

Public Photography Petition

There are a number of moves promoting the requirement of ‘ID’ cards to allow photographers to operate in a public place. It is a fundamental right of a UK citizen to use a camera in a public place, indeed there is no right to privacy when in a public place. These moves have developed from paranoia and only promote suspicion towards genuine people following their hobby or profession.

A petition against these moves has been raised on the new 10 Downing Street petition website. Click here to sign.

I’ve been looking at the other petitions on the site. They’re all raised by members of the public, and I’m pretty horrified by the poor grammar and spelling in many of them – it doesn’t inspire confidence. Also, the big flaw with these simplified petitions and voting mechanisms is the lack of flexibility. I agree with the above petition, therefore I can sign it without compunction. But another petition makes me rather cross, and makes me wish I could respond to the petitioner in the negative.

The petitioner makes the case (rather petulantly, if you ask me) that only chartered engineers should be able to use the job title ‘engineer’. He says this is because of the dilution of the word by common usage to mean anything from a car mechanic to a photocopier repair technician. He also says that he is going to take his ball home because he doesn’t get respect from the media. I agree to a certain extent that many occupations incorrectly get called engineering. These jobs are skilled, valuable, well paid for the most part, but not engineering. I heard of once case where a photocopier broke down. An ‘Engineer’ arrived to fix it, realized he couldn’t, and announced that he would, “have to call the Technician.”

I am an engineer. I have a degree in Computer Engineering, I work for an international engineering firm, my job title and my current project position has the word ‘engineer’ in it, I write and review engineering specification documents, I attend engineering fora. I have not, as yet, made any moves towards getting further qualifications. This is due to many things, including indolence, life distractions and lack of confidence. I respect those people who do, or at least, I respect the hard work that they have done.

But if only people who have done all the work to get to be called a Chartered Engineer can call themselves an Engineer, what do I call myself? A Chartered-Engineer-In-Waiting? What if I have no intention of gaining further qualifications? It wouldn’t stop me doing my job, or moving up the career ladder, although I would quickly reach a ceiling, and fair enough.

Chartered Engineers get to be called Chartered Engineers. They also earn more, and have gained the respect of their peers and of the industry as a whole. Isn’t that enough?

And here we have the problem with a simple petition like this. There is no mechanism to allow me to respond to the petition. All I can do is watch the signatures add up (>3000 at the time of writing [and 35,349 at the close of the petition]) and get a nasty feeling that I am unwanted and unvalued in my industry. This is clearly not the case (I hope), but I would like to put it to the petitioner and the signatories, and ask what they think.

Voting systems like this are dependent on the questions asked being well written and thoughtul of shades of response. Multiple choice votes break everything down to rigid answers. Yes/No votes make it even more black and white, even if the real answer is grey. Petitions remove the No vote completely. They have their uses, but when you feel strongly against the motion, you feel powerless.

Anyway. Happy 2nd Birthday Shuggie!

Specifying Democracy

The Open Rights Group (ORG) is a organisation dedicated to raising awareness of the issues surrounding privacy and civil liberties in the digital age. I’m one of the Founding 1000 supporters (hence the badge at top right) and on Tuesday I attended a screening of the HBO film Hacking Democracy, at the nicely-named Gustav Tuck lecture theatre at University College London, followed by a panel discussion and of course the obligatory ‘drinks in the pub’ (a bonus level if you collect all the tokens) at the Jeremy Bentham. This was all because the UK government is strongly considering the use of e-voting, with apparently little caution regarding the risks. The ORG has a special campaign underway to keep an eye on this.

The film was very interesting, albeit in a rather sensationalist way, with ominous music during the bits where they reveal some corruption. But, I suppose that is necessary when you’re dealing with such an important subject, and with television audiences – keep ’em riveted. The film had a lot in it that I was aware of, and also some welcome details of the stories behind the bOINGbOING posts. It had a rather sad ending, with hundreds of brand-new voting machines being delivered from Diebold (pron. DEE-bold, as it turns out). Diebold are the biggest provider of U.S. electronic voting “solutions”. “Solutions” – like elections are a problem. They came out of the film looking pretty bad, but with no change in Federal policy. One amusing part was a part of the Diebold system called The Central Tabulator – a reference to Frank Zappa?

After the film, some luminaries took the stage for a discussion, and after some initial statements took questions from the audience. The panel consisted of (left to right) Jon Pugh MP (Lid-Dem, Southport), Russell Michaels, co-director of the film, Jason Kitcat, the host and a researcher in e-voting, and Dr Rebecca Mercuri PhD, a computer science expert, who makes this statement regarding e-voting.

During a lively debate, I asked the question, “Is there a written standard or specification for what constitutes a free, fair, and secure election system, be it paper or electronic, and do these new e-voting systems comply?”. The short answer to that is No, and No.

The longer answer is of course more complex. The way we vote now in the UK, with paper and pencil and ballot box and human counting, is not perfect, but it has come about through hundreds of years of evolution, and it is pretty robust. The level of security and reliability is something to aim for. So when e-voting systems aren’t secure (as was shown in the film), or reliable, and when the hasty introduction of them breaks all of the processes and activities built around paper ballots, there is something very wrong.

Perhaps what is needed is an open statement of requirements for e-voting, peer-reviewed by all who care to take a look. If, and only if, a system can be proven to comply with every one of the agreed requirements, then maybe we can go ahead. This statement would include requirements governing reliability, security, the human processes surrounding the ballot, the transparency of the systems used, the independence of any and all private companies involved, etc. Perhaps ORG can help write this up? It certainly shouldn’t happen behind closed, locked, legally guarded doors.

Music List Updated – Well Done Me

I finally got around to updating my Music Links List, which is a long list of bands, artists, labels and so on which either love, like, or have heard of.

Each one has a direct link to a relevant website, and also a series of links to other sites with more information (e.g. Discogs.com), or a chance to listen to some music (e.g. Last.fm, Pandora). These links are auto-generated, so in some cases, there may not be an entry.

There are also a few dead links, but I’m in the process of weeding them out, and adding some new entries too. I’m going to try exporting an artist list from iTunes, so there may be a few more entries. Enjoy!