Posts Tagged ‘Nick Hurd’

Surveillance Britain: Police Using Massively Inaccurate Facial Recognition Technology on Ordinary Brits

May 20, 2019

Here’s another piece of news that should further worry anyone concerned that Britain is slowly sliding down the tubes towards a surveillance state. The rozzers have launched a pilot scheme for a facial recognition system. They’re testing it out by photographing the fizzogs of ordinary British citizens walking down the streets. And it’s already resulted in one extremely dubious arrest. One man didn’t want to be photographed by the cops, and so he hid his face. The rozzers then pounced and fined him for ‘disorderly conduct’. This was filmed by the Beeb’s Politics Live. It’s completely disgraceful. The man had committed no crime, except to protect his own privacy against the state.

Mike in his article on this points out that there have been a couple of incidents where attempts to compile information on ordinary members of the public have resulted in disastrous mistakes, or deeply worrying infringements of personal freedom. For example, there were the innocent people, who suddenly found themselves with criminal records when their prospective employers started making background checks. Many of them were wrongly left without jobs because of this. And then there’s the DNA genetic database scandal, in which genetic material obtained from the public has been kept by the police, some of which was then illegally passed on for use in genetic research.

Mike also shows how this technology is also massively inaccurate. It had a failure rate of 96 per cent in eight trials in London between 2016 and 2018 according to the Independent. The software gave false positives, wrongly identifying innocent people as crims. It was also deployed twice in a shopping centre outside Stratford last year, where it had a failure rate of 100 per cent. This resulted in people being wrongly identified, including a 14 year old Black schoolboy, who was fingerprinted. The cops also stopped people for covering their faces and wearing hoods, and one man was fined for doing so in  Romford. The Independent found that shoppers were unaware their photos were being taken, despite the rozzers’ claim that the tests were overt, and campaigners have said that it’s being rolled out by stealth.

But despite its dangers and massive inaccuracy, the scheme is being defended by the Tories. Police Minister Nick Hurd has said that the technology offers ‘real opportunities’, said we are not a surveillance state, and that they have no intention of becoming one, and so the new technology must be used in a way that is sensitive to their impact on privacy, and proportionate.

To which Mike comments

Fail. It’s not sensitive to privacy and its use isn’t proportionate. But the Tories – and the police – won’t withdraw it, so we can only conclude that we do – indeed – live in a police surveillance state.

Police state Britain: Failed facial recognition pilot leads to fine for disorderly conduct. WTF?

This is precisely the type of information gathering that Privacy International and other campaigners were warning about in the ’90s. When DNA evidence first began to be collected, there were fears that it would be used to set up a national DNA database. In one incident, all the men in a small town where a rape had been committed were asked to supply samples of their DNA. There were concerns about what would happen to it afterwards, and that the material would be retained, even though the men were innocent. There were also fears that the collection of such samples would go from being simple requests to demands, and that anyone who refused, would automatically come under suspicion, even though they may be innocent.

It also reminds of the way the police also started compiling records in the 1980s of people they considered suspicious, as revealed in the Beeb documentary, Secret State. Perfectly innocent people suddenly had police files opened on them and their movements recorded for reasons that reflected the prejudices of the cops, rather than anything they’d done. Like being punks. One teenage girl was marked down as a potential suspect simply because she was pregnant and there was no father.

I am also not surprised by the massive failure rate of the technology at the moment. It seems par for the course that any and all information technology adopted by the state should be seriously flawed. Like all the computer systems supplied to local authorities in the 1990s by outsourcing companies like Crapita.

Black people are particularly at risk from these systems. The I newspaper a few weeks ago reported on the concerns about the massive under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in the computer industry. Only four per cent of employees in one of the big American tech giants came from ethnic minorities. As a result, the pattern recognition system they developed misidentified Black people as gorillas. Which makes you wonder who programmed this wretched system. The Klan?

As for not becoming a surveillance society, privacy campaigners have warned repeatedly about the dangers of ‘function creep’. Once one innovation or strategy is adopted, other agencies will want to use it, and so it will expand. Also, other forms have surveillance have become normalised. There were serious concerns about the use of CCTV cameras when they first appeared. Alan Moore deliberately wrote them into his depiction of a Fascist Britain in the V for Vendetta comic. He thought at the time that this would really shock people. Niall Ferguson shared his fears. He was also alarmed at how ubiquitous CCTV cameras had become here after he returned from a visit to China. But he was also astonished at how his concerns were not shared by anyone else.

And with the campaign by the IT and automobile industries, I wonder how long it will be before we get the repressive police state and its robots described by the great SF writer Ray Bradbury in his short story, ‘The Pedestrian’. In this tale, a man is stopped by a robotic police car simply for taking a walk in the middle of the night.

It’s SF as the ‘literature of warning’. It’s not meant to be prophetic. But somehow that seems to be the future these technologies are leading to.

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From 2012: Private Eye on Private Fund Management for Cameron’s Big Society

April 12, 2014

This is also from Private Eye for the 20th April – 3rd May 2012, and covers David Cameron’s attempts to set up an investment fund for his Big Society projects.

Big Society

Capital Idea?

Funds might be hard to come by, but there was no shortage of self-congratulation at the launch of Big Society Capital, the big idea for getting private money into good causes.

Speaking at the Stock Exchange launch, David Cameron boasted that his predecessors had talked about social investment but “this government is actually delivering it, within two years – Big Society Capital with £600m of funds to invest”.

The idea is that the money, £400m from unclaimed bank accounts and £200m invested by the big banks, will attract further private investment too. This will be handed to fund managers (imposing a further layer of costs) who will then invest in “social enterprises” that do good works while making sufficient profit to reward their investors.

The “profits” of these enterprises, so the theory goes, will come from their results. Thus when a social enterprise finds work for disadvantaged youngsters, say, or keeps ex-prisoners on the straight and narrow, it will eventually get its reward from taxpayers. With worrying echoes of the private finance initiative, the costs to government are therefore kicked into the future and nthing shows up on the books today. If the enterprise providing what would otherwise be a public service gets into trouble, of course, it simply goes to the wall.

The big hope for Big Society Capital is pulling in private money alongside its £600m. But where will this come from if only relatively low returns are on offer?

Nick Hurd, so-called minister for the civil society, says “high net worth” individuals are already eyeing the new “market” and “that’s before you even look at the £95bn that charities and foundation trusts are sitting on, managing in very conservative ways through their very conservative, traditional financial instruments”. In other words, charities now struggling with huge cuts in income (said to be more than £1bn a year) should stop being fuddy-duddy and plough some of their funds int6o riskier social enterprises.

This is all the brainchild of Gordon Brown’s former confidant, non-dom private equity guru Sir Ronald Cohen, who chairs Big Society Capital and who, Cameron drooled, “help turn UK venture capital into a sustainable, successful and vibrant industry”.

The idea is to repeat the trick for the Big Society. Or as Sir Non Dom put it: “The power of entrepreneurship and capital markets … which we’ve unleashed for the benefit of economic profit needs now to be unleashed for dealing with social issues”.

The problem is that the private equity fund management model has unleashed vast profits for fund managers but done precious little for anybody else. And likening private equity to venture capital, which generally funds start-ups, has always been more of lobbying-ploy to sweeten the pill than anything real. Less than 5 percent of private equity investment goes into early stage businesses; most ends up in highly geared asset-stripping buy-outs – hardly a model for a new world of social activism.

Indeed, the chief executive of Big Society Capital is one Nick Donohoe, formerly of investment bank JP Morgan, where he sat on the management committee as it bought and sold dodgy securities. This entailed a massive bailout and landed the bank with a $153m fine for selling dodgy “collateralized debt obligations” to pension funds while a related hedge fund was “shorting “thm.

On Big Society Capital’s website Cohen explains where he’s coming from: “The gap between the very successful ahnd the unsuccessful has got bigger and bigger and we nee something other than government or charity to deal with that.” Is this the same man who ten years ago persuaded Gordon Brown to reduce capital gains tax to 1- percent, leaving private equity bosses paying lower tax rates than their cleaners? It certainly is!

I’ve blogged before about how much of the Nazi gleichschaltung (co-ordination) of industry took place through the Nazis incorporating large, state-run businesses, like the Heinrich Himmler steel works, named after and run by the head of the SS, as private companies. The Nazis also co-opted business leaders into the civil service and state industrial sector, in a similar way to the promotion and appointment of contemporary businessmen to official positions under the Tories. This is part of the same policies.

There is, in theory, absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging business to invest in socially responsible and improving causes. This, however, is certainly not the way it should be done. The Eye points out that the type of funds Big Society Capital aims to draw on and uses as a model are highly profitable for the fund manages, but offer poor returns for the investors. The Eye actually points out that these funds are used as part of ‘asset-stripping buy-outs’, in which previously successful companies are bought out and then effectively destroyed for the private of the purchaser, who then often moves on to prey on another company. As an instrument of the socially and economically destructive side of capitalism, it’s clearly completely unsuited for financing and rewarding socially constructive enterprises and schemes.

And as you’d expect from a public-private partnership scheme, it’s run by a crook, whose company was fined for exploiting its customers in America. As for Cohen under Gordon Brown leaving private equity managers paying proportionately lower taxes than their cleaners, that’s truly grossly immoral. It’s also something that’s become the norm under the low tax policies persuaded by successive administrations since Thatcher.

The investment capital fund idea on which Big Society Capital is based is completely inadequate to fund charitable or socially constructive enterprises and projects. These need government investment. This, however, is completely against Tory and Neoliberal dogma that state intervention and state expenditure is always bad. Hence such spending will not be made. It wasn’t after all made when setting up Big Society Capital – as the article says, £400m of this came from unclaimed bank accounts. The result will be that charities and social enterprises and projects will continue to be starved of funds through the simple inability of state and private capital partnerships to provide them. It may, however, help Cameron to make a spurious claim that his government has done something to address the problem, while in fact they have done very little.