Prison population reaches an all-time high… Again.

The prison population in England and Wales has hit another all-time high of 88,179 according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice.

This is the fifth week in a row that prison population figures have hit a new record. The riots over the summer, sparked by the death of Mark Duggan, has contributed to the rise in figures.

According to a Ministry of Justice spokesman, the figures mean that the number of inmates is just 1,203 short of the usable operational capacity.



The rise of the international Military-Intelligence complex: International corporations selling surveillance technology to repressive regimes

Today Wikileaks is set to release around 1,100 documents, brochures and manuals for products and technology sold by companies relating to systems for surveillance and interception of telecommunications. What is being revealed is an industry centred on surveillance, spying and intelligence interception that is worth around $5 billion a year.

Julian Assange, of Wikileaks, stated in a video interview by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: “Over the last 10 years, an international industry has grown up providing state intelligence agencies with mass surveillance equipment. Those industries are now exporting that equipment around the world in an uncontrolled manner.”

Assange continued: “This is something new. Previously we had all thought ‘well, why would the government be interested in me… I am not a criminal’. Now we have a situation where these companies sell to state intelligence organisations the ability to spy on the entire population at once, that is called strategic interception; take all telecommunications traffic out of a country and permanently record it.”

Annie Machon, former MI5 intelligence officer, has written an analysis for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in which she describes a “military-industrial complex [that] is evolving into the military-intelligence complex. It is a world, I fear, that is propelling us into a dystopian surveillance nightmare.”

Machon stated:

“Since the attacks of 9/11, I have watched with increasing dismay as more powers, money and resources have been pumped into the international intelligence community to combat the nebulous ‘war on terror’. As a result, civil liberties have been eroded in our own countries, and countless innocent people have been killed, maimed and displaced across the Middle East.

“The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was designed to allow our spy agencies to lawfully intercept our communications to counter terrorism and organised crime, has been routinely used and abused by almost 800 public bodies. MI5 admitted to making 1,061 mistakes or ‘administrative errors’ this year alone in its application of RIPA, according to the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy.”

Coming from an MI5 intelligence officer, that is worrying stuff.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in collaboration with Wikileaks and Privacy International, gained access document trove of 160 companies that sell surveillance technology to governments around the world.

Eric King, Policy Director at Privacy International, said: “The surveillance industry sells anything from mass interception equipment through to location tracking equipment. They provide technology that allows controller to read every single email, see every single webpage you visit, every text message you send, and these are companies that are selling equipment to some of the most repressive regimes in the world.”

What is also worrying is the lack of accountability and regulation with these companies that sell state-of-the-art surveillance equipment. Jerry Lucas, the president of the company behind ISS World, the international expo that brings surveillance and interception professionals together, did not deny that such companies sell this technology to repressive regimes. Rather, Lucas believes that a free market in surveillance technology is perfectly acceptable:

“The surveillance systems that we discuss in our seminars are available all around the world. Do some countries use them to suppress certain political statements? Yes, probably. But it’s not my job to sort out who are the good and bad countries. That’s not our business, we’re not politicians.

“Our business is to connect those who want to buy these technologies with those who sell them. You can sell cars to the Libyan rebels, and those cars could be used as weapons. Should General Motors and Nissan ask how their vehicles will be used? Why don’t you go asking questions to the car companies? It’s the free market. You can’t stem the flow of surveillance equipment.”

However, commenting on such technology, Lucas stated:  “This technology is absolutely vital for civilization. You can’t have a situation where bad guys can communicate and you bar interception.” – Yet Lucas seems adamant that it is not his ‘job’ to sort out who the bad guys are.

The rise in electronic communications, from social networking to Skype, from text messages to emails, and an increase in the accessibility of such technology means that it is increasingly easier for governments and corporations to intercept and store communications data. This year’s ISS conference, hosted in Dubai, saw around 1,300 attendees from all corners of the world. However, Lucas said that it was Middle Eastern governments that were the most avid buyers of such software and equipment.

“When you’re selling to a government, you lose control of what the government is going to do with it,” Lucas said. “It’s like selling guns to people. Some are going to defend themselves. Some are going to commit crimes.”

Such technology is being sold to repressive regimes such as Syria and Libya. Two links detailing Libya’s surveillance can be found here:

Eric King, of Privacy International, said that it is imperative that we do not allow “British companies to profit from selling equipment that is used to oppress in foreign regimes.”

However, it is not just repressive regimes that are a concern; domestic surveillance by corporations and governments is a real concern, as well. As Annie Machon warned. Continued her analysis for the BIJ, saying:

“The last decade has also been a boom time for companies providing high-tech surveillance capabilities. One aspect of this in the UK – the endemic CCTV coverage – is notorious. Local councils have invested in mobile CCTV smart spy cars, while cameras that bark orders to you on the street have been trialled in Middlesbrough.

“Drones are increasingly used for aerial surveillance – and the potential for militarisation of these tools is clear.

“All this despite the fact that the head of the Metropolitan Police department that is responsible for processing all this surveillance information stated publicly that CCTV evidence is useless in helping to solve all but 3% of street robberies in London. In fact, since CCTV has been rolled out nationally, violent crime on the streets of Britain has increased.”

Machon, calling upon her experience at MI5 and using recent examples, issued a warning:

“That would never happen in Britain – would it? We retain an optimistic faith in the long-term benign intentions of our government, while tut-tutting over Syrian police snatch squads pre-emptively arresting suspected dissidents. Yet this has already happened in the UK: before the royal wedding in April, protesters were pre-emptively arrested to ensure that they would not cause embarrassment. The intent is the same in Syria and Britain. Only the scale and brutality differs – at the moment.”

There is much more to be said about this matter, and the Wikileaks surveillance leak will provide much more information, hopefully sparking debate and discourse in the mainstream media. With the latest revelations of phone hacking and surveillance by tabloid newspapers, the British public may find such emerging information regarding the unaccountable, lawless surveillance industry distasteful.

 Despite her warnings, Machon ends her analysis on an optimistic note:
“The balance of power, bolstered by new technologies, is shifting overwhelmingly in favour of the Big Brother state – well, almost. The WikiLeaks model is helping level the playing field, and whatever happens to this trailblazing organisation, the principles and technology are out there and will be replicated. This genie cannot be put back in the bottle. This – combined with the work of informed MPs, investigative journalists and potentially the occasional whistleblower – gives me hope that we can halt this slide into a Stasi state.”

Why I am striking: One man’s reasoning and his anger at government policies – Worth a watch

[Warning- Contains strong language]

One man’s anger at the government, and his reasoning for striking on November 30th. Contains strong language and many good points. Share and debate, and leave your comments below.

Anonymous threatens ‘Robin Hood’ operation to steal from banks to give to the poor

Two hacker groups, Anonymous and Team Poison, have released a joint statement on Youtube saying that they have joined forces to steal money from the banks and give to charities.

Operation Robin Hood is going to return the money to those who have been cheated by our system and most importantly to those hurt by our banks. Operation Robin Hood will take credit cards and donate to the 99 per cent, as well as various charities around the globe,” the duo said in a YouTube video statement.

The collaboration between the two groups, which they have dubbed Poisanon, seems to rely on the idea of stealing personal data of credit card holders and using it to distribute it to the poor rather than using it for their own ends. The group believes that the banks will be forced to reimburse the damages, meaning that they will be the ones losing out.

“We are going to make the banks deliver your money back to you with a smile on their faces and hate in their heart,” the group stated.

Anonymous has been in the news recently for targeting Lt. John Pike, the officer behind the notorious pepper-spray attack on students at UC Davis. The ‘hacktivist’ group released targeted Pike, releasing his personal details online including his phone number and address.

Supposed Anonymous members targeted another police officer a couple of months ago, posting personal information of NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna. An alleged Anonymous member wrote online:

“As we watched your officers kettle innocent women, we observed you barberically [sic] pepper spray wildly into the group of kettled women.”

“We were shocked and disgusted by your behavior. You know who the innocent women were, now they will have the chance to know who you are. Before you commit atrocities against innocent people, think twice. WE ARE WATCHING!!! Expect Us!”

Team Poison have said that it carried out the hacking of a UN server and stealing logins and passwords of the international organisation’s employees.

Both hacker groups have taken credit for several high-profile attacks on computer networks in the past.


Newspapers are “too big” to take on, Leveson Inquiry told

Too big to fail, too big to investigate… It goes without saying that the larger, the more successful and the more wealthy a company or individual is, the more they can get away with. First, it was the banks deemed “too big to fail” – leading governments to hand over billions to the banking sector in bailouts. Now, we are told that newspapers were deemed too big to “take on”, as an official was told during his attempted investigation into the press.

Yesterday, the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press was told that a former official in charge of investigating potential breaches of privacy by newspapers was ordered to back off because the newspaper groups were “too big” to take on.

Alex Owens, who had spent 3 decades in the police force, had uncovered a cache of documents showing that thousands of ex-directory telephone numbers were being obtained on behalf of journalists. The numbers included those of the parents of Milly Dowler, and well as those of Charlotte Church and Sara Payne. Owens said every newspaper apart from the “Dandy and the Beano” was named in the documents uncovered as part of the Operation Motorman investigation in the early part of the last decade.

Giving evidence, Owens questioned why nobody had sought to pursue this startling evidence, incriminating reporters, journalists and newspapers. “We were in a position to prosecute everyone in the chain from the ‘blagger’ right up the journalists and possibly even the newspaper groups,” Owens said.

Owens told the Leveson Inquiry that he went to the head of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) Richard Thomas and his deputy Francis Aldhouse to report his findings. “It was at this point Francis Aldhouse [former deputy head of the ICO], with a shocked look on his face, said ‘we can’t take the press on, they are too big for us’,” he said.

“Richard Thomas did not respond. He merely looked straight ahead appearing to be somewhat bemused by the course of action I was recommending. For my own part I remember thinking ‘It’s our job to take them on or indeed anyone else on, that’s what we are paid to do. If we do not do it then who does?”

 Owens blamed “fear” at the ICO for the refusal to help investigate claims, and decided to go public, possibly facing prosecution.

Jeremy Clarkson sparks outrage after saying he believes all strikers should be executed

Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson has sparked outrage after saying he believes that all strikers should be executed in front of their families.

Appearing on The One Show, Clarkson denounced the strike yesterday saying:

“I would have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families, I mean how dare they go on strike when they have got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed and the rest of us have to work for a living.”

Presenters Alex Jones and Matt Baker looked uneasy as Clarkson made his comments. The audience laughed loudly at Clarkson’s initial “I would have them all shot” quote, yet the laughter subsided somewhat as he carried on. Whilst clearly in jest, Clarkson is known for his inflammatory comments that he passes off as jokes, yet others take offence to.

The comments led to an apology by the BBC, which stated:  “The One Show apologised at the end of the show to viewers who may have been offended by Jeremy Clarkson’s comments.”

EDIT: 01/12/11 Union seeking legal advice over Clarkson comments

It has been announced that Unison, a leading union, is seeking legal advice over comments made by Clarkson on The One Show.

Unison, which represents over a million public sector workers, called on the corporation to sack the Top Gear presenter, and said it was considering whether the comments should be passed on to the police.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “Clarkson’s comments on the One Show were totally outrageous, and they cannot be tolerated. We are seeking urgent legal advice about what further action we can take against him and the BBC, and whether or not his comments should be referred to the police.

“Public sector workers and their families are utterly shocked by Jeremy Clarkson’s revolting comments. We know that many other licence fee-payers share our concerns about his outrageous views.

“The One Show is broadcast at a time when children are watching – they could have been scared and upset by his aggressive statements. An apology is not enough – we are calling on the BBC to sack Jeremy Clarkson immediately. Such disgusting statements have no place on our TV screens.

“Jeremy Clarkson clearly needs a reminder of just who he is talking about when he calls for public sector workers to be shot in front of their families. Whilst he is driving round in fast cars for a living, public sector workers are busy holding our society together – they save others’ lives on a daily basis, they care for the sick, the vulnerable, the elderly.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said Clarkson’s comments were “a silly thing to say… I’m sure he didn’t mean it”.

Clarkson’s comments were always going to spark controversy, but again we have to be careful about the issue of free speech. Granted, his comments were a bit aggressive for day-time television, and perhaps he should have kept such comments to himself rather than stating them on national television. However, we do have to struggle to maintain the right to freedom of speech these days, it seems.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Poverty set to rise in UK, as IFS warns families will be worse off in 2016 than they were 14 years ago

A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has predicted that poverty is set to rise in the UK under this government, with incomes falling, meaning families in 2015 will still not be earning more than they did in 2002  on average.

The IFS report predicted that “absolute poverty is forecast to rise by about 600,000 children and 800,000 working-age adults,” while “median income is expected to fall by around 7% in real terms, which would be the largest three-year fall for 35 years.”

The director of the IFS, Paul Johnson, said: “In the period 2009-10 to 2012-13, real median household incomes will drop by a whopping 7.4% – a record matched only by the falls seen between 1974 and 1977.”

Critics of this government have described how the coalition’s policies are affecting the lowest-income earners and the vulnerable hardest, shifting the burden onto lower-income earners to lower the deficit. Alison Garnham, chief executive of the charity Child Poverty Action Group, said: “The IFS analysis confirms that the chancellor’s new tax and benefit measures are a takeaway from low-income families with children to those at the middle and top. It is particularly perverse to reduce incomes of the lowest-paid working families by reducing tax credits when this is the group the government claims it wants to help through improved work incentives.”

(I have not heard David Cameron say: “We are all in this together” for a very long time, now.)

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that the poorest 30% of households would lose more than three times as much as the richest 30%.

 The IFS report stated that, in the longer term, the government’s planned  introduction of Universal Credit will act to reduce both absolute and relative poverty; The long term effect of Universal Credit is to reduce relative poverty by about 450,000 children and 600,000 working-age adults in 2020–21.
However, the IFS report continued, stating that “the net direct effect of the coalition government’s tax and benefit changes is to increase both absolute and relative poverty. This is because other changes, such as the switch from RPI- to CPI- indexation of means-tested benefits, more than offset the impact on poverty of Universal Credit.”
“Absolute and relative child poverty are are forecast to be 23% and 24% in 2020–21 respectively.”

The report continued: “These compare to the targets of 5% and 10%, set out in the Child Poverty Act (2010) and passed with cross-party support. This would be the highest rate of absolute child poverty since 2001–02 and the highest rate of relative child poverty since 1999–2000.”