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Fax Your GP: quick opt-out from insane NHS plan to sell your medical records


The UK National Health Service has initiated a plan to take the nation's private health records and sell them off to private companies in a process overseen by notorious multinational bumblewads ATOS. If you live in the UK England, your records -- mental health records, prescriptions, records of surgeries including abortions, and other sensitive personal information -- will be handed over to a wide-ranging group of companies all over the world.

Unless you opt out. And opting out isn't easy. There's no central place to opt out. Instead, you have to send a letter to your GP's surgery, which means you have to look up your GP's surgery's address, compose a legally sufficient letter, print it out, find an envelope and a stamp -- etc.

However! There's a better way. A group of volunteers whom I trust implicitly, including the astounding Stef Magdalinski (who made the Faxyourmp service that is the ancestor of Theyworkforyou) have created Fax Your GP, a dead-simple form that will look up your GP's fax number for you, create a form opt-out letter you can fill in in just a few easy steps, and then they'll fax that letter directly to your GP's surgery. I just opted out.

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The UK Gold: riveting documentary on the deep, ingrained corruption of the UK's banking centre, the City of London

Jeff writes, "Featuring a brand new soundtrack from Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Massive Attack and Elbow, and narrated by Dominic West (The Wire), journalist Marke Donne has put together a riveting documentary exposing the tax avoidance 'industry' operated by the highly secretive, centuries old institution, The City of London.

With a permanent office in Parliament, a budget of $1.2 billion and the media-avoiding tactics of the super-rich, the City relies on lobbying and silence to carry out it's offshore tax avoidance, robbing the state of tens of billions in revenue every year."

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Victorian mansion for sale with spaceship attic


There are lots of £3,250,000 mansions around London's Crystal Palace, but there aren't many whose attics have been converted to spaceship control rooms. The estate-agent-ese in the posting is enough to melt your eyeballs, but I gather that this place is has 8 bedrooms, is about 7,000sqft, and is both Gothic Grade II and Victorian Grade II listed (or possibly these are interchangeable).

11 bedroom detached house for sale (via Geekologie)

Cryptofloricon: send bouquet-encoded messages

London's Cryptofloricon encode one of several useful messages into floral code and send the resulting bouquet to your sweetheart. (Thanks, Ed!) Cory 6

How UK spies committed illegal DoS attacks against Anonymous

A new Snowden leak, reported by NBC, documents the UK spy agency GCHQ's attacks on Anonymous, which included Denial-of-Service attacks, which are strictly forbidden under UK law. As the Slashdot story notes, "Regular citizens would face 10 years in prison and enormous fines for committing a DoS / DDoS attack. The same applies if they encouraged or assisted in one. But if you work in the government, it seems like you're an exception to the rule."

NBC has published a minimally redacted version [PDF] of the GCHQ slide-deck detailing the agency's illegal hacking attacks on alleged Anonymous participants.

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UK set to sell sensitive NHS records to commercial companies with no meaningful privacy protections - UPDATED

The UK government's Health and Social Care Information Centre quietly announced plans to share all patient records held by the National Health Service with private companies, from insurers to pharmaceutical companies. The information sharing is on an opt-out basis, so if you don't want your "clinical records, mental health consultations, drug addiction rehabilitation details, dsexual health clinic attendance and abortion procedures" shared, along with your "GP records, HS numbers, post-codes, gender, date of birth," you need to contact your doctor and opt out of the process.

This is a complex issue. Large data-sets are the lifeblood of epidemiology and evidence-based care and policy, and the desire to extract useful health information from this data is a legitimate one.

However, it's clear that no one involved in the process gives a damn about privacy. These data-sets -- which will be sold on the open market to commercial operators -- are "anonymized" and "pseudonymized" through processes that don't work, have never worked, and are well-documented to be without any basis in reality.

And that's the thing that brings the whole enterprise out of the realm of legitimate scientific project and into the realm of corporatist hucksterism. Once the architects of this project announced that its privacy protections would be based on junk science, they lost any claim they had to operating in good faith.

Effectively, the managers of this programme have said, "We can't figure out how to protect the most private, potentially damaging facts of your life, so we're not going to try." It is pure cynicism, and it makes me furious. It brings the whole field of evidence-based medicine into disrepute. It is a scandal. And as it goes ahead, it will spectacularly destroy the lives of random people in the UK through the involuntary, totally foreseeable disclosure of health information, in ways that make the general public leery of any participation in this kind of inquiry.

If you set about to discredit the open data movement, you could do no better than this.


Update: As if that wasn't bad enough, Noemi adds, "The contract for handling and managing the care data has been given to ATOS. This is the same company whose disability benefit assessment has been found to be flawed and unacceptable in 40% of cases by the Audit Commission." Here's more.

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Podcast: What does David Cameron's Great Firewall look like?

Here's a reading of a recent Guardian column, What does David Cameron's Great Firewall look like? which debunks the UK government's stupid arguments for its national anti-porn firewall:

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UK Parliament considers allowing secret courts to issue orders to seize reporters' notebooks

The Deregulation Bill is coming before the UK House of Commons on Monday, and among its many "red-tape-cutting" provisions is one that would allow the courts to grant the police secret hearings in which they could secure orders to seize reporters' notebooks, hard-drives and other confidential material. No one representing the reporters would be allowed to see the evidence in these "closed material procedures."

How the hell did this happen? Sadly, it was absolutely predictable.

When Parliament passed a law permitting secret trials where people who were adverse to the government in court proceedings would not be allowed to see the government's evidence, nor have their lawyers review it, those of us who sounded the alarm were accused of hysterics. The Libdem leadership whipped their MPs on the issue, ordering them to vote for it. Many of us in the Libdem party left over the issue, and the party grandees patronised us on the way out, saying that we didn't understand that the Libdems had put in place "crucial changes," and that somehow, there were changes that could paper over the naked fact of a law permitting secret trials in Britain.

The Libdems' cowardice over secret trials removed any claim they had to being "the party of liberty." Anyone in the party leadership today who expresses surprise at the expansion of the doctrine of secret courts is either an idiot or a bad liar. When future journalists who report on government wrongdoing have their notebooks seized based on secret evidence, the trigger will be pulled by the government of the day -- but the gun was loaded by the Libdems in 2013.

The other parties were crucial to the creation of secret courts, but neither Labour nor the Tories have ever claimed to be "the party of liberty." No one mistook Labour -- creators of RIPA and architects of the world's most advanced surveillance state -- for a party that believed in freedom. Indeed, the Libdems' victories in the last national elections are in large part thanks to widespread disgust with Labour's authoritarianism. And as for Tories, everyone knew that the Nasty Party would happily gut civil liberties faster than you could say "G4S."

The Libdems promised to be a party that would, at last, stand up for freedom. Instead, they sold out out, and we're going to be paying the price for many years to come. There is a world of difference between objecting to the creation of secret courts and the expansion of secret courts. Now that secret courts are a fact of life in the UK, their expansion will always be on the horizon. As soon as "the party of liberty" endorsed the idea that justice could be served when the government could keep secrets from the people who were seeking redress of its wrongs, they set the stage for a mushrooming, toxic doctrine of state secrecy that overrules foundational democratic principles that have been in place since the overthrow of the Star Chamber in 1641.

It is an everlasting shame to the party, and makes me embarrassed to have endorsed them and raised funds for them. Better that they never won a single seat than to have brought us to this pass in British politics in the name of "liberty."

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Cockney ATM


Long have I heard tell of the Cockney Rhyming Slang ATM of Hackney Road, but na'er had I chanced upon it...until today! As soon as I stuck my debit card in the machine in front of the Co-Op Grocers in Hackney Road and was asked to make a language-selection between "English" and "Cockney," I knew I'd found it at last.

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Video of the ritual destruction of a Guardian laptop with the Snowden leaks, as ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron


Remember when UK Prime Minister David Cameron ordered government officials to go to the offices of the Guardian in London and demand the symbolic destruction of a laptop with the Edward Snowden leaks on it? It was a bizarre kind of high-tech exorcism, a bizarre ritual in which one of many, many copies of the Snowden documents were ritually destroyed, because, in the Prime Minister's words, "We've had enough debate about them."

The Guardian has posted a video of the exorcism, showing how the stern officials oversaw the piece-by-piece systematic destruction of the machine. It's not embeddable, but it's a remarkable piece of footage that you should really go and watch.

Revealed: the day Guardian destroyed Snowden hard drives under watchful eye of GCHQ – video

(via Techdirt)

David Cameron: TV crime dramas prove we need mass warrantless electronic surveillance

UK Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron says that ISPs and phone companies should be required to store records of every click you make, every conversation you have, and every place you physically move through. He says that communications companies should be required to make it impossible to keep your communications from being eavesdropped in, with mandatory back-doors.

He says we need this law because "TV crime dramas illustrated the value of monitoring mobile data."

Remember the Snooper's Charter, the 2012 UK Conservative plan to require ISPs and phone companies to retain the records of all your calls and movements, and make them available to police and government without a warrant? Home Secretary Theresa May proposed an unlimited budget to pay ISPs to help spy on you, and called people who opposed this "conspiracy theorists" and said the only people who need freedom from total, continuous surveillance were "criminals, terrorists and paedophiles."

The Snooper's Charter was killed by a rebellion from Libdem MPs, who rejected the plan. Now it's back, just as the public are starting to have a debate about electronic spying thanks to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed the extent to which our online habits are already illegally surveilled by government spies. Let's hope that the Snowden revelations -- and the US government's admission that mass spying never caught a terrorist or foiled a terrorism attempt -- strangles this Cameron brainchild in its cradle.

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Detailed timeline of the Bletchley Park mess

Gareth Halfacree, who has a long history with both the Bletchley Park trust and the National Museum of Computing Trust, has published a detailed timeline of the two institutions, showing how they got into the current (and disgraceful) situation. Halfacree's article includes some very sensible recommendations to both trusts. Cory 1

More Victorian portraits of "London types"


Spitalfields Life has posted more Victorian portraits of London characters and tradesmen a (here's the last batch). The new set has some absolute gems, including the Muffin Man (above). Also not to be missed (below): "itinerant," "lounge lizard," and "portcullis raiser at the bloody tower."

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Top lawyer finds GCHQ spying is illegal & UK spies who help US drone strike may be accessories to murder


UK Labour Member of Parliament Tom Watson writes, "I thought you might be interested to read the latest developments on the drones and data collection front. I've asked privacy expert Jemima Stratford QC for her legal opinion on aspects of the Snowden revelations. Contrary to reassurance from the Foreign Secretary and Chair of the ISC she finds [PDF]:


1. interception of 'internal' contents data of British citizens in the UK is unlawful under RIPA [ed: the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000; the UK's controversial spying bill]

2. the RIPA framework is outdated and not fit for purpose, leaving British citizens exposed to unlawful interference

3. transfer of data to NSA, which shares data with CIA, leaves GCHQ officials exposed to charges of aiding murder in the UK where the government knows that data is available for use to direct drone strikes against non-combatants

Further, she argues:

4. the government should agree and publish a new memorandum of understanding with the US specifying how data from UK can be stored and used by foreign agents.

Watson doesn't do the report justice, really -- Stratford's opinion includes that UK participation in US drone strikes opens up individual UK intelligence operatives to being charged as accessories to murder. Watson sent copies of the report to all the members of the all-party parliamentary drone group, which of which he is chair. He's also sending it to the parliamentary intelligence and security committee for their own hearings on surveillance.

The Guardian has a great summary of the memo here, but really, you should read it yourself [PDF] -- it's a very quick and easy read. Stratford is a leading public law barrister, and she argues beautifully.

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Arrested for "stealing" food that grocery chain threw away

In the UK, the Crown Prosecution Service is pressing criminal charges against three men who dumpster-dived discarded food from the skip behind an Iceland grocery store in London. They've charged under "an obscure section of the 1824 Vagrancy Act." The CPS is going ahead with the charges because "we feel there is significant public interest in prosecuting these three individuals". Pirate Cinema is not an instruction manual, gang. Cory 52