Sunday, 6 July 2014

The connection between potholes and surveillance legislation

The Government recently announced a £168million fund for repair of potholes as part of "the biggest investment in the road network since the 1970s".

BFTF notes, and is rather encouraged by the fact that the fund will reward those councils who are using best practice :
"In total 148 authorities applied for funding and all will receive a share. A greater share is being provided to a number of model authorities who were able to demonstrate best practice in highways maintenance. These councils have invested in new technology and initiatives. They have brought in specialist machinery or set up dedicated crews, to help fix potholes or prevent them from appearing in the first place."
BFTF wonders if cycle lanes will also get an investment that is the biggest "since the 1970s", but that is another story.

It's perhaps worth looking at what various bodies believe are the causes of potholes:

West Sussex Highways : "Any combination of hot weather, heavy rain or cold snap causes potholes."

Dr Mujib Rahman, Sen. lecurer in civil engineeering at NTU : "Increasing traffic volumes and heavier loads, allied with repeated adverse weather is causing significant deterioration in ageing road materials..."

Institute of Civil Engineers : "Snow and ice are the worst weather conditions for exacerbating existing road defects, due to the repetition of the freeze-thaw process,"

Dudley Council : "Potholes occur when the road's surface breaks and collapses. This often occurs as a result of cold weather."

Robert Goodwill (Parliamentary under-secretary of state for transport) discussed the issue of potholes in a recent interview on LBC, which was then reported in the Telegraph. According to the article, Goodwill commented that:

“We have also seen more traffic on the roads we have seen a four per cent increase in traffic in the first quarter of this year in comparison to a year ago, that is because more good are travelling around as the economy improves, more people are travelling to work as they get jobs so this means the roads are getting more wear and tear and this money helps councils get on top of that job.”
Really? Weather and years of underinvestment not a big factor?

4% increase in traffic and our roads start to fall to pieces?

Don't think so.

But what's that "we have also" bit at the beginning of the quote. Is there a bit before where he talks about the weather being a big factor? BFTF doesn't know, and can't find the interview on LBC anymore

So, either The Telegraph (and other papers) are being grossly misleading, or Robert Goodwill is.

Predictably, Goodwill's words were widely ridiculed in the comments sectios of the articles.

Anyway, a few days later, Home Secretary Theresa May is reported as asking for increased surveillance powers.

But, since I was clearly being mislead over the causes of potholes (either by the Telegraph or by a member of the Government), why should I think, even for a moment, that I'm not being mislead in this case, which also invovles a member of Government being reported in the Telegraph?

Fortunately, I can read a full transcipt of the speech here (something the Telegraph chose not to link to). It is very interesting.

One issue mentioned (both in the Telegraph and the full transcript) is that:

"Over a six-month period the National Crime Agency alone estimates that it has had to drop at least twenty cases as a result of missing communications data. Thirteen of these were threat-to-life cases in which a child was assessed to be at risk of imminent harm."

The transcript also describes how social media has changed the data landscape:

"First, we are living more of our lives online, using an array of new technology – IP telephony such as Skype and Facetime, social networking such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, chat rooms, anonymising services, and a myriad of mobile apps. This is hugely liberating and a great opportunity for economic growth, but this technology has become essential not just to the likes of you and me but to organised criminals and terrorists.

Second, the new technology is generally owned and operated not by states but by communications companies. They are global and they exercise considerable power. They collect data from their services about our online activity and they often use it for commercial purposes. It is often bought and sold. These companies affect – I might even say intrude upon – our lives and our privacy every single day. They can drive a car up your road and put an image of your home online for the world to observe. Of course, they do not need a warrant to do so.

Third – and I cannot emphasise this point enough – far from having some fictitious mastery over all this technology we, in democratic states, face the significant risk of being caught out by it. Governments have always reserved the power to monitor communications and to collect data about communications when it is necessary and proportionate to do so.

It is much harder now – there is more data, we do not own it and we can no longer always obtain it. I know some people will say “hurrah for that” – but the result is that we are in danger of making the internet an ungoverned, ungovernable space, a safe haven for terrorism and criminality. "
But, again, why should BFTF trust the Home Secretary not to mislead?

What BFTF came into this post thinking
The narrative that was in BFTFs head at the beginning of writing this post was:
1) Robert Goodwill, a member of government, is misleading me.
2) If one Government member can mislead, why should the others be trusted?
3) Lack of Trust is a serious issue when dealing with crime and security issues.

But it has all turned into a complicated can of worms, and lost BFTF a lot of sleep...

So, what to do?
Will send a Tweet to Robert Goodwill MP asking whether the report of his interview accurately represented his views on the main causes of potholes.

Will send an email to my Local MP saying that:
i) When one politician says something that is patently untrue, and at odds with the facts, then it puts the statements of ALL politicians in more doubt - Can the public trust you or can't they?

ii) It was good that the original transcript of the Home Secretary available online

iii) Is it possible to breakdown the 20 cases that the National Crime Agency has had to drop, to make it clearer what the types of crime involved are?

iv) Does the Labour Party now think that ID cards are a bad idea and a huge waste of money, or will that idea still be in their next manifesto? [see here for some info]

Update 6th Jul
Goodwill not on Twitter, can't email as not a constituent, Gov.uk says his role doesn't exist. Gave up.

Goodwills website says he is the PUS-DOT

Government website says no such role exists

UK Government Coat of Arms

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