Proportional Governance

Another week, another tired old cliché.


This one is from Jonathan Haynes, the Guardian’s web news editor. Jonathan apparently saw some cyclists ride through a red light where children were crossing as you can see. This is wrong, clearly. The road laws are in place for good reason, to keep people safe. The law about stopping on red is for everyone and in this case it certainly sounds like the cyclists in question were idiots and should be brought to task. Of course, riding bike doesn’t suddenly make someone a saint and unfortunately you do find idiots using all modes of transports. As one Twitter commenter stated, ‘Idiocy transcends transport mode’. In one perverse respect, I quite like people like Jonathan who gleefully highlight cyclist transgressions as it’s clear at some level in his mind, cyclists do have the moral high ground. I’m also quite amused that Jonathan has felt it necessary to spend his morning blocking pretty much anyone who highlights the flaws in his arguments including me. Ho hum, I suspect I’ve not lost visibility to any particularly mind-stretching perspectives there, fill your boots.

As I say, his first tweet shown highlights dangerous behaviour *at first* which I’m sure all sensible, thoughtful people would find fairly abhorrent. Jumping rights is illegal (at the moment) and doing it when there are children at risk is particularly irresponsible. Interestingly Jonathan then goes on to entirely miss the point of all the complaints from cyclists he received by posting this.


I say ‘interestingly’ but it’s not really, it’s tiresome that he’s completely ignored the fact that no one complained about suggesting cyclists should follow the law but that they “should be banned from cycling, should have to have licenses and number plates and if they break the law should face court, be fined and have bikes destroyed”. I’ve put it in quotes just to confirm that he actually did say all that, you can see it right there.

Talk about full on.

Remember, Jonathan isn’t talking about people running about firing automatic weapons about the place or about people driving many tons of machinery into crowds of people, (because don’t forget, those people very rarely face any punishment) . No, his beef is with people who’s average speed is 15km/h and whose weight with bike is almost certainly a lot less than Harry Clarke’s (the driver of the Glasgow bin lorry referenced in the previous link), in short, a very benign group of road users. Jonathan, like many ill-informed people, thinks cyclists should face the same governance and regulations that drivers do. And this is my beef.

Appropriate governance is what makes us civilised. We don’t use armed police to stop someone stealing food from a shop, we don’t mobilise teams of pursuit cars to bring down parking ticket offenders and we don’t license cyclists. It’s a hugely disproportionate response to suggest otherwise.

Does Jonathan truly believe that if cyclists were harmful enough to warrant insurance, the insurance companies wouldn’t have long since pushed for legislation to make it mandatory? Instead of giving it away free like they do now? It’s a very naive perspective to consider insurance companies not wanting to make money out of a large group of people.

Does Jonathan honestly believe that number plates are the answer to the issues he perceives? Lets be clear, this is a mind-crushingly boring subject brought up time and time again by councils in an attempt to solve some strange problem that they’re never fully open about. It repeatedly fails again and again, usually because the scheme loses huge amounts of money and doesn’t provide any benefit whatsoever.

Does Jonathan believe that crushing bikes is actually proportionate. Note that the police can only seize and ultimately crush cars in the UK under two circumstances. No insurance and repeated anti-social driving. Both crimes are responsible for many deaths (approx 160 a year from uninsured drivers) and a huge amount of serious injury and this measure has only been in place a few years. Cars can only be crushed if the perpetrators do not pay the fines imposed upon them.

Of course it’s completely over the top to suggest these measures for cyclists because cyclists are largely harmless. Yes there are instances (anecdotal chatter about mindless cyclists charging down a pavement don’t count) where there is a perception of dangerous behaviour but the statistics simply don’t bear this out. I’ve dug out this handy set of stats that coincidentally, the Guardian online has put together. It’s (well this is a bit embarrassing, Jonathan), not very well formatted but it looks like pedestrians killed by cyclists across 2009-2010 is 3. Obviously every death is a tragedy but the results are very clearly in favour of forgetting wasting time with talking about placing governance on cyclists and focussing a bit more on the groups that are ALREADY GOVERNED to the degree that Jonathan demands because in actually fact, they’re the groups that are going round slaughtering pedestrians in their thousands.


Yes, yes, ‘slaughtering’ is quite an emotional word but it really does get on my wick a bit when nonsense (another emotive word) like this is brought up. Appropriate governance is important because a lorry weighing 20 tons can create a massive amount of heartbreak and tragedy in a couple of seconds even when driven very slowly when vulnerable people around. A car weighing considerably less can (and does daily), create moderately less harm but it still only takes the time it takes to look at that text to irrecoverably ruin many peoples lives instantly.

This is why lorry drivers must be constantly governed, tested and checked appropriately.

This is why car drivers must be constantly governed, tested and checked appropriately.

And that single digit figure, while appallingly desperate to look at, is why the focus does not need to be on cyclists.

Surveillance Bill – What a load of bollocks.

Today we see a proposal from our wonderful government that is called the Surveillance Bill. This will no doubt be more commonly known as the Snoopers charter but would be better described as the Bill written by people who have no fucking idea what they’re talking about.

The key point of issue is that service providers, or ISP’s, will be forced to retain 12 months logs of everyone’s browsing history. The government tell us this will protect us and allow them stronger powers to catch criminals and terrorists. They’re not interested in your shopping history, they say. Well of course they are, but that’s actually a moot point.

Lets say the bill goes through and my browsing history starts being logged. They’ll get to see the root level domains of the sites I’ve pulled data into my browser from. So they’ll see a lot of hits against They’ll not see which specific pages or images or pieces of code I’ve pulled down, just = 34532 hits.

One day I visit twitter and someone has embedded a link in a tweet that goes to I click on it and head off to the terrorist website. I quickly realise my error and close the page, but it’s too late, I’ve visited that site. Not just once because every hit my browser created on the first page of that site creates a hit against the website. The logs will now have a hundred hits against the terrorist website. And feature rich websites create a huge amount of hits just for one page load. Visit the front page of and you’re creating hundreds of hits against, not just one.

Still, mistakes happen. No-one is going to brand me a terrorist because of a few hits against a website, maybe…

Now I also visit my favourite online forum, (say). This website is as benign as it is possible to be. Lots of men who haven’t grown up discussing toy trains. One chap has found a funny image on the internet and has embedded it as his avatar. Every time his name ops up in my browser, I visit the site where he got the image from. i’m not aware I’m doing this and he’s not aware that it has created this problem, but it’s happening. trouble is, the image is hosted on the website even though it’s nothing malicious. He just searched for an image of a toy train.

With me so far? i’m now a terrorist and a paedo despite me doing absolutely nothing wrong and because the logging doesn’t capture the detail required to exonerate me, I’m under surveillance.

And there’s the evidence you need to tell you the authorities will not use this information as they say they will to support investigations, they will use the logs TO IDENTIFY WHO THEY WILL MONITOR. The logs are worthless in supporting a criminal investigation, they are only useful to identify potential suspects.

Lets go one step further. Lets say I actually am a terrorist and because the fact that everyone knows the government are logging my browsing history, I’d be completely fucking insane to actually go to because I know that’d put me on a watch list. So i’ll try and cover my steps.This isn’t particularly difficult by the way, there are many ways of achieving this that laypeople can quite easily get their heads round. People who understand these things can get round them with a lot more options. I absolutely guarantee that if I was a terrorist (I’m not) and was highly tech savy (I am) they would never be able to track me in a million years. I will further guarantee that they would not even be able to work out that I was trying to bypass their logging. And if I was a tech savy terrorist, I’d tell all my other terrorist mates how to do this as well. No government, you’ll not catch me that way.

So who else can I catch?

Well I’m going to see a lot of people visiting malicious websites. Not because they’re criminals, they’re victims of phishing attacks, their devices have been compromised or a hacker is using their machine to do shit with. (Remember those additional options I mentioned for tech savy people, subverting your machine to do my willing is one of those options. You know, if I was that way inclined.) So we’ll see a load of innocent people fingered for stuff they didn’t even know was going on.

And lets not forget, the logs captured by 60 million people browsing the internet is going to be absolutely astronomical. I capture web logs for only a few thousand people in work and that data is difficult to store, process and sanitise.

Edit: I’ve thought some more too. My company has about 8000 people behind our proxy. If a log is created that the authorities want to investigate from our IP address, they’ll need to come to me to find out which individual in my company it was. I might not be able to tell them. I might not *want* to tell them. What happens then?

See also shared broadband links.

So. We’re going to see the online activities of some dumb criminals, some dumb terrorists, plenty of victims, plenty of innocent people and a load of uninteresting nonsense and while I believe the politicians involved may not understand this, I sure as hell know their advisers do.

So why are they doing this?

Conjecture time.

  1. Number one reason is the politicians don’t understand, haven’t listened to the advice they have been given properly and think this is something that will actually provide some real value in protecting our (oops, *their*) interests.
  2. They want to create a minority report type world where they can pre-empt crimes by capturing interest at an early stage.
  3. They actually do want to peruse your shopping data, and online activity in general because knowing what the general population is looking at, is a great way to control the general population.

And you know what? Option 3 is looking a lot more realistic now isn’t it?