Exploiting a tragedy for all the wrong reasons

Not too long after the fire in Grenfell Tower in London, some sensationalist news articles appeared according to this TorrentFreak story. According to that story, The Sun declared some Kodi boxes to be a fire hazard, implying that a huge number of them failed electrical standards testing. Or, so they would have you believe…

From the article:

On Thursday, however, The Sun took a short break to put out yet another sensationalized story about Kodi. Given the week’s events, it was bound to raise eyebrows.

“HOT GOODS: Kodi boxes are a fire hazard because thousands of IPTV devices nabbed by customs ‘failed UK electrical standards’,” the headline reads.

The story goes on to mention that FACT (the UK’s Federation Against Copyright Theft–note the use of a clearly loaded word in the name of the organization) had somehow found two parcels of 2,000 boxes–a total of 4,000 units–which they would find “failed electrical safety standards.” FACT is not a government organization and does not have the power to seize property the way that, say, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (again, note the loaded words) would be able to.

It should be transparent what FACT is trying to do here. They want people to give into the copyright cartels using any means they have available. That may be getting in the middle of sales of Kodi boxes or similar devices, or trying to convince their users that using questionable means of watching TV shows could cause a fire. Right after a major fire makes the news, of course.

Sure, that’s just a bizarre coincidence, isn’t it? I would think if the Grenfell Tower fire didn’t happen, we’d have never heard about this. All of a sudden, with a major fire making the news, FACT is trying to convince people that a bunch of electronics are a fire hazard. I think if this was a legitimate story, we’d have an actual UK government agency making the report and highlighting the consumer safety angle. This is what we in the computing industry call FUD–Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt–and it’s absolutely shameful for the copyright cartel to exploit a tragedy the way FACT has. To say the least, it really burns me up (forgive me for the unfortunate pun).

As TorrentFreak points out:

However, it’s difficult to offer congratulations on the PSA when the story as it appears in The Sun does nothing – absolutely nothing – to help people stay safe.

I couldn’t agree more. Conveniently, not too long after publication, The Sun edited their article according to TorrentFreak. Still, the fact staff at The Sun were all too willing to be FACT’s unpaid PR team speaks volumes, as does FACT’s attempt to “pull one over” on the public. The irony of an organization called FACT stretching the truth is not lost on me.

When cops and robbers are one and the same

I have taken the stance, on many occasions, that those in charge of enforcing the law, should not be above the law. When law enforcement reduces itself to the level of the thugs it’s supposed to be ridding us of, we all lose. And such is the case here.

The BBC reports on the takedown of a credit card fraud suspect where the suspect was actually mugged by the police, with the target of the mugging being a mobile phone that they feared would be inaccessible if they arrested him normally.

This is despicable. The ends do not justify the means. I believe law enforcement is supposed to set an example, and truly be “the finest” of the jurisdiction they serve. What they did in this case clearly isn’t. Imagine the civil suits that would result if they get the wrong target.

In fact, this tactic was so despicable I’m not even sure it would be appropriate to solve a murder case. I would be more apt to blame laziness on the part of the cops assigned to this case, as I’m sure they had other ways to get evidence than to violently steal it, and basically break the very laws they were assigned to enforce (at least the spirit of them, if not in letter). Even if they didn’t, I would think it better to abandon the case and not risk the terrible PR.

I don’t condone crime, but the only thing worse than crime by those dressed in black and wearing masks, is crime by those dressed in blue and carrying badges.

Pencil sharpeners are dangerous? Really?

The UK’s Daily Mail reports on one of the most bizarre examples of weapons control run amok. Charlotte Howard went to go buy pencils like any other 11-year-old schoolgirl who had exhausted her existing supply of writing utensils (or art utensils, as it appears from one of the pictures these may be colored art pencils).

But Charlotte was stopped cold by the cashier, who refused to complete the sale because the pack contained a pencil sharpener, which is classed as a “dangerous object.” It gets even better, though. Her mother, Allison Howard, was also refused the sale because she might give the pencils and sharpener to her daughter!

Thankfully, another store in the area completed the sale. However, to me, this is the truly shocking part (quoting the article):

…The 99p Store chain’s commercial director Hussein Lalani said he was ‘proud that our processes restricting the sale of certain items to under-18s have been proved to work’.

But he added: ‘We will look into the way this particular product is classified.’ Last year, the company made headlines after a 15-year- old boy was stopped from buying wine gums in case they contained alcohol.

Sure, the process works. There’s a saying from the early days of computer programming that applies here: Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO). It would appear Mr. Lalani or one of the workers under his command (or maybe even elsewhere in the company) apparently programmed the cash register/point of sale systems with the garbage classifying a pencil sharpener as dangerous, and not surprisingly, that garbage came back out again.

Rather than celebrate that with a “hey, the computer is stupid and did what it was told” it would be more appropriate for Mr. Lalani to eat a double helping of humble pie, apologize profusely to the Howard family, and make sure this doesn’t happen again. This is a disgrace to civilized, intelligent society and deserves nothing short of absolute condemnation.

Photojournalism mistaken for terrorism, yet again

I rarely blog from a press release like this one but the subject matter is too important to quietly let go and it’s no stranger to regular readers of my blog.

A Bindmans press release details the plight of Ms. Jess Hurd, a photojournalist in the UK; it does not say what city she calls home, though this incident occurred in London.

According to the press release, Jess was covering a wedding in the London Docklands area when officers questioned her as to what she was doing. Even after offering her press card to confirm she was a legitimate journalist, Jess saw no immediate relief from the harassment.

As part of their interrogation, the officers viewed all of Jess’s footage and she was in fear that the officers might even decide to erase (“wipe” in British English) all of it. And I might add, quite rightfully so; even though even in the UK the officers do not have the authority to do this, this has happened elsewhere, particularly in parts of the US, and the UK’s “counterterrorism” laws are draconian by comparison.

In fact, Jess was told she would not be able to use some of her footage (perhaps even all of it) due to a copyright claim by either the officer individually or by the Metropolitan Police press office. This has to be one of the most ludicrous things I have ever run across, even by UK standards. (For the new people, I’m no huge fan of the UK government, and the archives on past rants of UK government misdeeds demonstrate that quite well.)

As for the resolution, I quote part of the press release, dealing with the remedies sought, and a quote from the National Union of Journalists legal officer who has some choice words about the officers involved:

What Ms Hurd seeks

Ms Hurd is seeking a full apology, confirmation that the officers involved have received training in relation to the appropriate use of S44 of the Terrorism Act and the responsibilities set out in the Association of Chief Police Officers (‘ACPO’) Police Media Guidelines (‘the Guidelines’), which are in force nationally, as well as any other measures considered appropriate given the many breaches of the Standards of Professional Behaviour, The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008 arising from the treatment she has received.

Ms Hurd’s lawyer, instructed by the NUJ, Ms Chez Cotton, Head of the Police Misconduct Department at leading London law firm Bindmans LLP said:

“The police appear to have been interested in Ms Hurd only because she was filming and used S44 of the Terrorism Act where suspicion is not necessary to stop and search her, in full knowledge that she was a photojournalist. Ms Hurd had voluntarily explained her presence and provided identification that only accredited members of the press carry, which it is agreed that police forces nationally will recognise. Despite this, her footage was viewed for the most spurious of reasons and counter to basic principles of a free press. A Joint Committee for Human Rights report of July 2009 stated, ‘…we deplore the obvious overuse of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in recent years’. The treatment of Ms Hurd is a stark example of such misuse of S44 and made all the more serious because officers were fully aware of the status of Ms Hurd as an accredited photojournalist professionally engaged at the time of the use of the controversial provision.”

NUJ Legal Officer, Roy Mincoff said:

“It appears that for no good reason Jess Hurd was treated, and continued to be treated, as if she were a suspected terrorist. The NUJ considers The Police’s apparent failure to recognise the PressCard, and ignorance of ACPO Guidelines and lack of knowledge of the law to be unacceptable. We welcome more recent ACPO advice as to the role of the media and how legislation should be applied, and Ministerial assurances that anti-terrorism legislation must only be used for that purpose, given after considerable and continuous efforts by the NUJ to achieve that progress.

Now these issues must be addressed in practice by the Police.

We will be keeping very close sight of this and take such action as necessary should further breaches occur.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is a flagrant mockery of justice and fairness. I have said this before, but I’ll say it again: a terrorist will not use the same types of video or photo gear that a professional journalist would use. A point-and-shoot similar to my Nikon Coolpix L18 (which is maybe a tad bigger than my wallet) would definitely get “surveillance quality” pictures and draw less attention than even an entry-level DSLR. Heck, the Coolpix L18 and most similar compact cameras technically do video as well (that’s not their primarily designed purpose of course, but the feature is present).

“Turn off the caps lock or you’re fired”

Found this article from one of the people I follow on Twitter. The Telegraph ran a story about an office worker fired for using all caps in e-mail.

Vicki Walker, a New Zealand native, was let go from a job at a health care company after complaints from co-workers about “shouty” and confrontational e-mails, including not only the use of all capitals but colors such as red.

She was awarded a judgment of £7,000 (approximately US$10,500 or NZ$17,000) after a court found her dismissal was in fact unfair, due to the fact her firm did not have an e-mail style guide.

I think it’s kind of silly to fire someone over something like this. From the looks of the story, Vicki was not even warned prior to her dismissal. It’s possible, of course, that she was and the story doesn’t mention it.

Even so, in the absence of an e-mail style guide, the company had no business firing her. And her coworkers need to learn how not to be “too easily annoyed” (as said in FidoNet Policy 4).