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Comment Re:Yep (Score 5, Insightful) 181

The NSA surveillance is directed at terrorism and national security issues, not at ordinary criminal activity.

Even if that were true -- and there have been way too many dubious cases now to believe that without qualification -- it would only apply today. A lot of the danger in these systems is not how they are used right now, it is how they might be used by someone we haven't even identified yet who's running the show in 5 or 10 or 50 years.

If you think that it could never happen, may I remind you that just months ago, shortly after the Boston bombing, several prominent US politicians including a man who ran for President stated publicly and unambiguously that the surviving suspect should be treated as an enemy combatant and thus excluded from the normal rules of due process. Given that he was suspected of murder, a crime that can still carry the death penalty in the US but normally does not in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, that's a particularly disturbing footnote to an already tragic event.

Comment Re:Let me get this right (Score 1) 330

For example, I doubt we'd get stronger data protection laws without the EU.

Maybe. Then again, we've actually had pretty good data protection for at least 15 years now and while relatively impotent in enforcement terms the Information Commissioner system does at least seem to provide vocal advocates for why these things matter who are independent enough to criticise government policy when it's justified. We have plenty of civil liberties problems in the UK today, but at least in spirit, this is one area where I think we're not doing too badly (until everyone and his brother's national government flagrantly ignores the law, at any rate).

Isn't the working time directive a good thing, and our opt-out a bad thing?

I'm in two minds on that one. In general, I think it's valuable for government to distinguish between employment-type relationships and more flexible ones, which doesn't always happen very well at the moment, and to enforce some common basic standards for the protection of employees, such as preventing abusive working conditions and expectations of long hours without fair compensation.

On the other hand, I'm wary of allowing this to stray too far into areas where people genuinely want to be working more than 48 hours per week. For example, I started a business on the side while doing other roughly full-time work. I was always careful not to over-exert and compromise the work I did on either side, but sometimes I worked way more than 48 hours in a week. No-one lost out, and in the end I'm the beneficiary of that extra work because the new business is mine. Who are the government to tell me I may not do this, if it's my own choice and everybody wins?

The one that always gets me is junior doctors, who routinely seem to work extreme hours, raising concerns about both their own health and potentially putting patients' care at risk. This seems absurd to me, yet almost everyone I know who actually works as a doctor, regardless of their current level of seniority, seems to think it's necessary so the juniors can develop the required skills before becoming more senior/responsible, and that the practice of doctors of different levels of seniority working together mitigates the risk. I'm not sure that, not being a medical expert myself, I have any right to go telling a whole industry of doctors how they should do their jobs.

This is the fault of the British media -- in other EU countries the press report on what MEPs are doing.

It's not so much the MEPs I'm worried about, but all the other unelected positions that control a huge amount of the real power even post-Lisbon. I don't for an instant think that our appointed Commissioners are actually accountable to the people back home just because they were chosen by a Prime Minister who in turn was only indirectly elected as a result of leading the largest party in a government that is itself elected by a system with heavy built-in biases that is trying to serve several very different purposes at the same time. You can see the real picture here by looking at how many of those Commissioners have historically been people who basically lost all political credibility at home and lost their elected position as a result and who were then given a cushy EU job by their pal the President/Prime Minister to make them feel better.

Comment Re:Let me get this right (Score 2) 330

The EU's the only thing with a chance of preventing further erosion of British citizens' working rights, civil liberties, environment, etc.

Obligatory civics note: The EU is not the authority behind the European Convention on Human Rights, which in turn motivated the UK's Human Rights Act. Leaving the EU and leaving the ECHR are different actions.

I think you're being overly optimistic about the EU's role in protecting various things within Britain as well. Between the opt-outs and special cases, a lot of the intended protections under EU rules get watered down here anyway.

In some respects, the most compelling argument for leaving might be that it simplifies our political system and thus makes it harder for our national government to avoid taking responsibility for unpopular actions. At present, it's far too easy for our administration to be saying something popular at home, while simultaneously negotiating for an opposing position at European level, and then when the European version goes through because there's little real accountability at that level, the folks back home can mumble something about the EU making us do it.

Comment Re:Weekly/Monthly Salary (Score 1) 1103

I really could care less about the negligible interest I would gain myself, still it should be pointed out that paying monthly, as opposed to twice a month or more only helps the companies, it does absolutely nothing for workers.

This is an attitude I struggle to understand. If an employer has reduced overheads, that is good for their business, and makes it more likely that they'll be around to pay the staff next month as well.

Maybe for big businesses with vast war chests you could make an argument that the staff don't see the benefit. However, in the economic climate we've had for the last few years, with even well-established small (and sometimes not so small) companies with reasonable business models going to the wall all over the place for little more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, dumping a load of extra administrative overhead (running payroll, filing tax returns) and additional costs (bank charges for making the additional payments) on those employers doesn't seem to help anyone.

Comment Re:Weekly/Monthly Salary (Score 4, Informative) 1103

The benefits to monthly payroll are purely for the employer- they don't have to spend as much processing payroll since it happens half as often, and they can earn more interest on the money before giving it to you.

By this argument, everyone ought to get paid daily, assuming banks calculate interest daily where you are. At some point, it just becomes absurdly inefficient.

Paying monthly in arrears is the standard for salaried work here in the UK, and since most household bills are also monthly and the related government tax calculations tend to be monthly, everything lines up just fine.

And it's not your money they're holding on to, if your contract says you'll be paid monthly in arrears. It's theirs until payday, in black and white. If you don't like that, negotiate yourself a tiny payrise or something to compensate for your lost interest.

By the way, you're pretty much wrong about the whole interest-earning thing for businesses as well. Here in the UK, businesses earn about 0.1% annual interest rates on money in most bank accounts. The amount they save by deferring salary payments to monthly instead of some more frequent interval is negligible. The saving is in halving the admin overhead (relative to fortnightly payments) and making fewer financial transfers (for which banks will charge a fee).

Comment Re:You want your data deleted? forget about it.... (Score 1) 116

Can investigative journalists be sued for surreptitiously recording you doing something and then making a report about it without your pemission?

That depends on the circumstances. This isn't a black and white question, and there may be good arguments either way that need to be reconciled to reach a balanced view.

Can Church of Scientology sue you for discussing their teachings without their permission?

Anyone can sue anyone in most legal systems, but in general organisations aren't people and I don't personally believe they merit the same level of privacy protection as people.

Can you be banned from taking of photo of, say, Times Square because you don't have the premission of all the people who happened to be walking by in the background?

Again, I don't think this is a black and white question. In the era of databases and search engines and biometric recognition and asymmetric observer-subject relationships where you can be watched remotely but can't watch back, actions that used to be considered reasonable and harmless might not be any more. On the other side, with the kind of technologies we now have available, actions that help to restore the balance between privacy and free expression might be more reasonably expected where previously they were prohibitively expensive. For example, consider the way Google now blank out things like people's faces and plates on cars in Street View in response to privacy concerns.

Comment Re:Why does the cynic in me. . . (Score 1) 116

Information wants to be free.

Information doesn't want anything at all, any more than your car wants to be doing 50mph past the local school when the kids are coming out, or the smoke from your office neighbours' cigarette break wants to be floating up through your window and making your asthmatic colleague uncomfortable. You want to lecture people about society? How about you stop hiding behind cheap sound-bites as an excuse for being inconsiderate towards other people.

Comment Re:You want your data deleted? forget about it.... (Score 2) 116

it isn't your data. it is just about you.

That attitude is why we had to invent data protection laws in the first place.

And defamation laws.

And model releases for photographers.

And press complaints regulations.

And a whole bunch of other stuff, because it turns out that being able to collect arbitrary data about an individual and use it for arbitrary purposes can be very damaging to that individual in particular and ultimately to civil society as a general trend, and it turns out that there are enough people in the world who would abuse that kind of data to the harm of others that we need to punish those who do as a deterrent.

Comment Re:Why does the cynic in me. . . (Score 3, Insightful) 116

The internet isn't a magical place where different rules apply.

Well... Yes. Yes, it is.

When someone mentions me in real life conversation, it's a private discussion, taking place between a small group of people, in a given place, at a given time, in isolation, and probably for their own personal reasons.

When someone mentions me on the Internet, it's a public discussion, taking place in front of the entire world, accessible from anywhere in the world, archived for all eternity in a searchable format also accessible to the entire world, potentially correlated with any other data about me that is out there, for any purpose.

Do you really not see that there are different implications and potential consequences to those two scenarios, and that maybe understanding and protection of privacy needs to evolve along with understanding and development of technology?

Comment Re:And so (Score 1) 157

The purpose of the British submarine nuclear deterrence is a mystery to me.

The British military has an undisputed capability to launch a nuclear strike and has very good special forces. Strictly in terms of national defence, those seem to be the two most valuable capabilities in today's world. One deters attacks by nation states or other similar "large" opponents, and the other takes care of terrorists, kidnappers, and other similar "small" opponents.

This is in no way intended to diminish the other valuable roles that British forces can play in the world, for which obviously just a nuclear strike capability and special forces are insufficient: peacekeeping missions, fighting piracy at sea, rendering humanitarian aid, and many more. But it seems you'd have to be crazy to attempt a direct military attack on Britain at this point.

I'm not sure what any of this has to do with intelligence agencies and privacy issues, but I think it's a fair answer to your implied question.

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