09 July 2011

The God that Failed (again)

I've been reading what is claimed to be a resignation letter by exiting true believers in the UK Socialist Workers Party, a document that is redolent of Stalinist denunciations and laments within religious sects. Think Hillsong, the Jehovahs Witnesses and the Branch Davidians! Think academic members of Australia's Socialist Workers Alliance smugly correcting comrades who are insufficiently diligent in the crusade against Neoliberalism, Israel and other big bad scary monsters. The baddies change but the rhetoric stays pretty much the same.
After many years of operating as loyal party members, it is with sadness that we have decided to resign from the SWP; this is because our experiences have led us to conclude that the party is no longer 'fit for purpose'.
One friend pointed to Brecht's 1953 Bread Riots comment that
some hack announced that the people had lost the government's confidence and could only regain it with redoubled effort. If that is the case, would it not be be simpler, If the government simply dissolved the people And elected another?
The authors of the letter state that -
We faced a dilemma whether or not to leave because we know the worst recession in living memory is about to hit the working class, which is being made a scapegoat for a crisis the bankers created. We feel it is, however, necessary to resign in order to operate more effectively as socialists.
They are resigning to join Counterfire - can't, of course, have too many self-involved splinters or groupuscules - which is "a considerably smaller organisation".

The comrades - or soon to be ex-comrades - state that
Over the last year, many of us have had misgivings about the party and the perspective and this was reflected in the number of comrades from Doncaster who broadly sympathised with Left Platform at Party Conference. We think you were mistaken when you argued that we could not have a united front against the recession, although we believe you belatedly attempted to remedy this by launching Right to Work. Nevertheless, as a result, we lost valuable ground when we could have been initiating protests against the banks when the crisis first broke. If we had related to the anger and the first effects of the crisis more imaginatively, instead of introspection, we would now be better placed to resist the coming avalanche and look to a Greek-style response rather than an Irish type defeat.

Another area of concern for us is your attitude to Stop the War. At times the Party has downplayed its importance, not mobilised properly for demonstrations and appeared sectarian because it has appeared our only involvement in it is to recruit around flashpoints and not sustain a durable movement. Yet, as the death toll increases, our continued involvement in Stop the War is vital as workers can now more easily see the link between the imperialist quagmire that is Afghanistan and public sector cuts. It is the job of socialists to make the links between the job losses, pay cuts and pension hikes at home and the waste and carnage abroad. To do this consistently, we have to consistently intervene.

Perhaps the catalyst for our estrangement from the Party has been the Party’s attitude to work in the unions. This is a particularly significant issue for us in Doncaster because over the last two years there have been heated disagreements about how we have operated. Bearing in mind the circumstances, the question of our intervention has become acute. We are dubbed the 'worst council in Britain', have had a government appointed administration foisted on us which has usurped local democracy and determined where £4.5 million of cuts will hit. We have a bigoted English Democrat mayor who has called for all our schools to become academies and shamefully the council has overseen a scandal of national importance with the deaths of seven children as a result of under funding in Children's Services. Moreover, because of the forthcoming Con-Dem public sector cuts, Doncaster will be particularly hard hit. ...

At the heart of the problem, we believe, is the Party's position on comrades taking full-time positions. Of course, sometimes it is necessary to take positions to increase the self-activity of the rank and file or to take a position to stop union organisation disintegrating. But we believe that in this present period, where there is an absence of rank and file organisation, full facility time should only be contemplated in exceptional circumstances and only on the proviso that the party closely monitors the comrade’s work, which must involve the CC [ie Central Committee], the local SWP branch and the respective union fraction.

In relation to comrades occupying full time positions, we believe these Party organs fail to function effectively. The lack of a clear lead bedevilled our intervention in UNISON and exacerbated the friction between the Unison full time Branch Secretary, and the rest of the SWP branch. We feel that the last SWP meeting we attended, in which a CC member tried to mediate between two Unison comrades and the rest of the branch, clearly illustrates the extent to which the Party has erred not just around the tactical issue of when SWP members should hold trade union positions but also on the question of how to make comrades in union positions accountable.
Cue the people's court -
Let us be clear: this is not a personal attack on the comrade. However, we believe he has become a victim of an industrial perspective that is flawed because it allows comrades to operate in full time posts without sufficient support.

It is not an aim of this letter to catalogue his errors in detail. In a general sense, he has not developed the combativity and self-activity of the working class. Furthermore, he does not relate to the most advanced workers. He neither distributes party leaflets nor sells Socialist Worker. This is not to castigate, but to recognise that he been floundering for some time. We find it reprehensible that when we contacted the centre to warn about his behaviour, our concerns were not taken seriously. Not recognising his increasing bureaucratisation automatically brought the party into disrepute. We can recall the criticisms of those workers in different disputes that wanted to fight but felt resentment at the lack of urgency and resolve to prosecute campaigns. Of much greater importance, of course, is the effect on the working class.
Oh dear - off to the SWP Gulag for that wrecker, guilty of the heinous crime of not selling the magnificent Socialist Worker ... or Watchtower or other expression of the cult. I can't help recalling the gibe that Trotsky wasn't a real alternative to Stalin, instead just another bloodstained totalitarian but with a better prose style.

The letter continues -
We feel that as a full timer, he received continuous and strong support from the Doncaster SWP branch. However, he consistently ignored this support and sought advice from other comrades in Unison (outside the branch). Whilst we recognise that comrades should be encouraged to talk to other fraction comrades, relevant discussions should be brought back to the branch for analysis. This was not done: instead, he often acted unilaterally against branch decisions. To activists outside the party, this made us appear divided and indecisive with no clear strategy. We feel this results from the lack of political support that the CC gave Doncaster SWP branch and Unison comrades.

As a branch, we are neither a grouping of intellectuals nor do we profess to be the best comrades in the party. But, as a collective of activists that has its roots in the mining and manufacturing ... we think we are equipped to know when a comrade is selling the working class short. And we remain adamant he should have resigned for the sake of his political integrity, the Party and the class. We are bemused as to why you consistently declined to ask the necessary questions that would expose the roots of our political differences. And here, it is necessary to state our differences are political, not organisational. Suffice to say, if the CC had intervened correctly, we would be much better placed to challenge the cost-cutting policies of the 'worst council in Britain' and the English Democrat mayor who runs it.

We believe the fulltimer's conduct is a symptom of a wider malaise. In short, the party has lost direction. It is now possible to see how you could allow a situation to develop whereby party member, Jane Loftus a CWU NEC member, could break party discipline and sell out CWU members. We were also stunned by your decision to substitute the party for Unite members and interrupt the talks between BA and Unite. This act of unwitting sectarianism led to a close contact and steward at Superdrug to be derided at work thus alienating him from the Party.
Objectively, in the past, we feel that you failed to come to terms with the disjuncture between the heightened political atmosphere that existed around Stop the War and the low level of industrial struggle. As a result we fear the party has comrades who are stranded in bureaucratic positions and, without the disciplining influence of a militant rank and file, they are increasingly pulled towards conservatism. We believe this conservatism is now affecting how the party operates.

The Party used to be dynamic, imaginative and related brilliantly to the best fighters. Now we fear you have become tired and formulaic. One example is instructive; after the election of the English Democrat mayor, we had a branch meeting of well over fifty people who recognised the threat that the mayor posed. The CC failed to recognise this threat, which further emphasises that they are out of step with the rank and file. While our local newspaper, The Doncaster Free Press, was receiving letters from all around the country commenting on the ED mayor's election the leadership of Socialist Worker, despite our concerns, did little to give us direction.

We also feel disquiet with your approach to the EDL. The tactics adopted during the protest against the EDL in Bolton were partly responsible for dividing the very large demo into three smaller groups. This left us looking smaller than we actually were and allowed the police a free rein to make mass arrests. At times you seemed to lead us into unnecessary aggravation, which gave the media the opportunity to portray the UAF as the aggressors. All revolutionary parties make mistakes, what worries us is your reluctance to rectify these errors.

After our recent discussions, it is evident you will not change tack. In light of this, to remain as party members would compromise our integrity and leave leading socialists in Doncaster in a state of paralysis. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to make a reluctant but essential break, which will allow us to operate as revolutionaries without being hindered by sections of the party that have been allowed to make unnecessary compromises with the trade union bureaucracy, and therefore blunt our effectiveness. Although we now belong to a considerably smaller organisation, Counterfire, we think we are better placed to resist the cuts and fight war and imperialism and, therefore, bring new layers of workers towards revolutionary politics.

Of course, we recognise that there are many committed comrades in the party and we wish them luck in the coming struggles. Let us maintain our integrity, respect our differences and, in a non-sectarian way, develop the struggle for a better world. In the words of Trotsky: let us 'march separately but strike together'.
Brecht's original is Die Lösung -
Nach dem Aufstand des 17. Juni
Ließ der Sekretär des Schriftstellerverbands
In der Stalinallee Flugblätter verteilen
Auf denen zu lesen war, daß das Volk
Das Vertrauen der Regierung verscherzt habe
Und es nur durch verdoppelte Arbeit
Zurückerobern könne. Wäre es da
Nicht doch einfacher, die Regierung
Löste das Volk auf und
Wählte ein anderes?
I like the translation at 440 in John Willett & Ralph Manheim [tr], Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956 (London: Methuen 1976).

Falsified Medicines and Fake Marks

The Council of the European Union has formally adopted Directive 2011/62 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2011 amending Directive 2001/83 on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use, as regards the prevention of the entry into the legal supply chain of falsified medicinal products (aka the Falsified Medicines Directive) [PDF]. The Directive will be applicable on 2 January 2013.

A falsified medicinal product is -
any medicinal product with a false representation of:
a) its identity, including its packaging and labelling, its name or its composition as regards any of the ingredients including excipients and the strength of those ingredients;

b) its source, including its manufacture, its country of manufacturing, its country of origin or its marketing authorisation holder; or

c) its history, including the records and documents relating to the distribution channels used
The Directive thus affects the implementation of European trade mark law. It was approved by the European Parliament in February this year, with the expectation that it will "help safeguard the medicines supply chain and protect patients".

The EU member states are required to give effect to the Directive through their national legislation within 18 months, with implementation of some measures (such as product safety features) being phased in over five years.

The Directive covers all prescription pharmaceuticals unless specifically exempted. It does not cover non-prescription pharmaceuticals unless those products are considered to be at high risk of falsification. The Directive does not deal with unintentional quality defects. It does not explicitly refer to an objective of protecting industrial property (ie registered trade marks and patent rights); the focus is instead on "the major health threat that can arise from falsified medicines". However, protection of intellectual property throughout the chain from laboratory to consumer is a mechanism for addressing the "health threat" that has been evident in for example discoveries of fake painkillers that included plaster or anti-freeze and antibiotics that featured more rat droppings than active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

Those discoveries have been highlighted in works such as Peter Aldous, 'Counterfeit pharmaceuticals: Murder by medicine' 434 Nature (10 March 2005) 132-136; Robert Cockburn, Paul Newton, E. Kyeremateng Agyarko, Dora Akunyili & Nicholas White, 'The Global Threat of Counterfeit Drugs: Why Industry and Governments Must Communicate the Dangers' 2(4) PLoS Medicine (2005); Theodore Kelesidis, Iosef Kelesidis, Petros Rafailidis & Falagas, 'Counterfeit or substandard antimicrobial drugs: a review of the scientific evidence' in 60(2) Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (2007) 214–236; Amy Bunker, 'Deadly Dose: Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals, Intellectual Property and Human Health' 89 Journal of the Patent & Trademark Office Society (2007) 493-515; and Albert Wertheimer & Jeremiah Norris, 'Safeguarding against substandard/counterfeit drugs: Mitigating a macroeconomic pandemic' 5(1) Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy (2009) 4-16.

The Directive includes several measures of interest to intellectual property law students and practitioners.

Mandated safety measures include -
• introduction of safety features on packaging, for example tamper-evident seals and item-level serial identification
• stronger rules on importing APIs
• verification by national licensees that manufacture of APIs is consistent with Good Manufacturing Practice and
• verification by national licensees that distribution is consistent with Good Distribution Practice.
Repackaging by parallel importers is permitted but those traders are required to replace point-of-origin safety features with equivalent ones when repackaging the products.

The Directive addresses concerns regarding internet sales of medicines, claimed to be the most important channel through which falsified medicines enter the EU market. National rules for online pharmacies within the EU are not harmonised by the Directive and currently remain at the discretion of each state. However the Directive features introduction of an EU safe pharmacy logo - serving as a 'trust mark' - that is to be included on the sites of approved online pharmaceutical vendors, with a link to official national registers of all approved pharmacies. The aim is to allow consumers to identify legitimate sites within the EU (sites outside the EU would be unmarked and therefore suspect) and thus buy online with confidence.

Customs agencies, in co-operation with other authorities, are obliged to prevent medicinal products that are suspected of being falsified from entering circulation. EU member states must impose severe sanctions against entities that manufacture, distribute, import or export falsified medicines.

Rights owners and traders have been broadly supportive during public consultation about the Directive. The European Commission estimated that costs from 2013 to 2020 would include -
• between 6.8bn EUR and 11bn EUR, for manufacturers and importers of medicinal products, depending on the safety technique chosen;
• 157m EUR, for pharmacies, depending on the chosen approach;
• approx. 280m EUR, for wholesale distributors of medicinal products;
• approx. 403m EUR, for wholesale distributors who engage only in export activity;
• approx. 5m EUR, for other traders situated in the distribution chain;
• approx. 320m EUR, for manufacturers of API, with the bulk of these costs falling
on 3rd country manufacturers.
In summarising its impact assessment report [PDF] the Commission commented that -
The report assesses the socio-economic consequences if manipulations of safety-features affixed on the medicinal product were in principle prohibited and shows that these impacts would mainly relate to parallel trade of medicinal products. This is due to the fact that parallel traders, as part of their business model, have to re-package medicinal products in view of, in particular, language requirements in the destination state.

The impact assessment shows that, in a first-round effect, the reduction of parallel trade leads to losses of turnover for these businesses (approx. 3.2 to 4.5bn EUR) and reduces employment (approx. 9 000 jobs in the EU). Moreover, the reduction of parallel trade removes price competition (between the originator and the parallel distributor) which may arguably reduce savings for public health budgets and/or social security schemes in high-price countries (DK, UK, SV, NL, DE). The exact amount of these savings is highly controversial. Studies conclude a range between 100m to 600m EUR per year in the EU.

The impact assessment also looks at second round effects of this policy option. It shows that the revenue and employment generated so far by parallel traders may be re-distributed to wholesale distributors and to the research-based industry. With regard to the latter, these revenues may be re-invested in R&D thus contributing to the competitiveness of this sector.

As regards potential savings for public health budget and social security schemes, the impact assessment sets out various arguments as to the extent of the savings and whether they could also be obtained through national regulation of pricing and re-imbursement in the high-price countries.


The Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA) has released a 48 page report on The internet service market and Australians in the online environment [PDF].

Salient comments regarding consumer use of 'multiple internet access technologies' are -
At December 2010, there were nearly 10.4 million active internet subscribers in Australia using fixed and mobile wireless (dongle, datacard, USB mode) services and 8.2 million internet subscribers using mobile phone handsets - across the household, business and government sectors.

Availability of internet services over mobile networks continues to grow. Mobile wireless subscriber numbers increased by 49% in the 12 months to December 2010, while mobile phone handset subscribers increased at a comparable but slightly lower rate (21% over the six months to December 2010). Growth in these services has not occurred at the expense of fixed-line access technologies, with ADSL subscriber numbers also increasing by 7% over the 12 month period. Fixed-line internet services continue to play a central role in driving the digital economy accounting for 91% of data downloads in Australia1. During the December quarter of 2010, nearly 175,000 terabytes of data were downloaded via fixed-line services in Australia, compared to less than nine per cent of data downloads occurring via mobile wireless services and just two per cent via mobile phone handset services.
ACMA echoes past comments that "more Australians are going online and becoming more intensive users", stating that -
Nearly 15.1 million (83%) persons aged 14 years and over went online during the December quarter of 2010, up from 14.2 million during the same period in 2009. At December 2010, 71% of internet users went online at least once a day, compared to 67% at December 2009 and 63% at December 2008. On average, 18.8 gigabytes of data was downloaded per internet subscriber in Australia during the December quarter of 2010, roughly equivalent to 120 hours of streaming video content on YouTube. This compared to 14.6 gigabytes downloaded during the December quarter of 2009. This is in part a reflection of increasing activity relating to downloading or streaming video content. During December 2010, 5.5 million persons accessed video streaming sites such as YouTube and Google Video from home, compared to 5.1 million during March 2010.
That is reflected in a shift to higher speed internet services, with 46% of internet subscribers in the households sector subscribing to internet services with an advertised maximum download speed of 8Mbps or more, up from 30% cent at December 2009.

ACMA again notes that "mobile phone handset internet is developing as a complementary service" -
While most Australians who accessed the internet did so via a computer (96% during December 2010), increasing numbers of consumers are doing so via their mobile phone handsets. Approximately 3.1 million Australians aged 14 years and over accessed the internet via their mobile phone handset during December 2010, compared to 1.9 million during December 2009. However, mobile handset internet is developing as a complement to the traditional computer, with 98% of these internet users also using the internet via a computer. This is also reflected in the lower levels of handset internet users undertaking activities like e-commerce online via their mobile phones, compared to online activities undertaken via their computers. Consumers appear to be utilising each access device according to a specific need and lifestyle requirement.
ACMA concludes - surprise - that "the internet is challenging traditional business models" -
Australians continue to value the internet as an important communication channel but the manner in which internet users communicate online is changing, with increased use of alternative online communications channels such as internet telephony (VoIP) and social networking. The use of these services appears to be affecting traditional online communications via email.

During December 2010, 2.3 million Australians aged 14 years and over went online to make a VoIP call via their computer, 2.3 million used instant messaging and 5. million undertook activities relating to blogging and online communities. The number of persons who used such media as a substitute to traditional email usage almost doubled in the twelve months to December 2010 (1.4 million persons, compared to 736,000 persons during December 2009).

Australians are also increasingly using the internet to transact online and use the internet to source and compare services across businesses. For example, approximately 7.4 million Australians accessed retail and auction web sites from home during December 2010, compared to 6.8 million during March 2010 and 2.2 million persons purchased a good or service directly via the internet during December 2010, compared to nearly 2 million during December 2009. The increasing importance of e-commerce is further reflected in latest ABS figures which show that just under $143 billion worth of internet orders were received by Australian businesses in the 12 months to June 2010, an increase of 15 per cent since June 2009.

Convergence is also enabling the exploitation of a wider range of consumer electronic devices to access the internet in addition to the mobile phone handset, with more recent developments centred on the entry of internet-enabled TV sets into the Australian market place. These developments are generating significant consumer interest in accessing a wider range of interactive services via the TV. For example, at December 2010, 3.4 million and 2.5 million persons respectively were estimated to be interested in accessing the internet and making a video call via their TV.

08 July 2011

Early exits from the Darwin Hotel

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health & Ageing has tabled Before it's too late, its report on early intervention programs aimed at preventing youth suicide.

The report indicates that -
Suicide is one of the most common causes of death for young people in Australia, accounting in 2005 for approximately 20% of all deaths othose aged between 15 and 24 years of age. This figure is considerably lower than the peak youth suicide rate in 1997, where suicide accounted for 21% of deaths in the ages 15 to 19 and 34% of deaths in the ages 20 to 24. Suicide is the second most common cause of death in young people, after transport accidents, which in some years account for up to 44% of youth deaths.

The rate of suicide for young males is even higher than the general youth rate, and much higher than the rate of suicide in older males – accounting for almost one quarter of all deaths in males between the ages of 15 and 24. Similarly, suicide is much more common in young females than in older females.
The report follows the independent 2010 the Senate Community Affairs References Committee report titled The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia, with 42 recommendations calling for -
• an assessment of the social and economic costs of suicide;
• continued and expanded support for the activities of the National Committee for Standardisation of Reporting on Suicides, the standardisation of suicide reporting and improved data collection and reporting;
• enhanced suicide awareness and prevention training for front-line workers (e.g. people working in primary care, law enforcement and emergency workers);
• affordable access to crisis and counselling services, including telephone and on-line services;
• mechanisms to improve the ‘connectedness of services’ and continuity of care;
• long-term awareness campaigns using a range of media, including campaigns targeted at high risk groups;
• more programs and increased program funding for at risk groups; and
• additional Early Psychosis Prevention & Intervention Centres.
The current document
presents an overview of suicide statistics, with a focus on suicide statistics for the 14-25 years age-group. It reviews what is known about risk and protective factors youth suicide and identifies groups of young people who are at increased risk. [It] examines the various theoretical approaches used to reduce suicide rates among young people, with a focus on prevention and early intervention. [It] provides a review of Australian Government youth suicide prevention strategies and the role of research and evaluation in developing a robust evidence-base to inform future best-practice strategies for youth suicide prevention. [It] expands on guiding principles that were outlined in the Committee’s discussion paper, examining them in the context of developing a coordinated, collaborative and inclusive approach to preventing youth suicide.
Unsurprisingly, its recommendations have a 'me too' flavour.

They are -
R1 - that the National Committee for the Standardised Reporting of Suicide consider options for, and the feasibility of, extending the scope of social and demographic suicide data routinely collected and reported on, to include information on -
• ethnicity;
• culture;
• geography;
• educational attainment;
• employment status; and
• socio-economic status.
R2 - that the National Committee for the Standardised Reporting of Suicide consider options for providing increased access to disaggregated suicide data.

R3 - that the Australian Suicide Prevention Advisory Council liaise with the National Health & Medical Research Council, the Australian Research Council, government departments (including state and territory government departments) and other agencies with a role in this domain, to develop a priority research agenda for youth suicide, with a view to jointly supporting a coordinated and targeted program of research.

R4 - that the Department of Health & Ageing, in conjunction with state and territory governments, facilitate the sharing of evaluations of existing programs and youth-suicide research across the entire suicide-prevention sector, through the establishment and maintenance of an online program-evaluation clearinghouse.

R5 - that the Australian Government, in consultation with state and territory governments and other key stakeholders, undertake appropriate consultation and engagement with young people to -
• further develop approaches to youth suicide prevention as part of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy;
• development new youth suicide prevention initiatives and programs;
• to evaluate existing youth suicide prevention measures; and
• share information.
R6 - that the Australian Government establish well defined linkages with existing programs addressing issues of cultural, educational, employment, social and economic disadvantage, so that initiatives under the National Suicide Prevention Strategy are recognised as an integral part of a holistic approach to youth suicide prevention.

R7 - that the Australian Government, in consultation with state and territory governments and non-government stakeholders, establish partnerships between departments of education and community-based service providers to ensure continuity of care for school leavers by facilitating referral of students to external counselling services where appropriate.

R8 - that the Australian Curriculum, Assessment & Reporting Authority include social development education and mental health as a core component of the national curriculum for primary and secondary schools.

R9 - that social development and mental health education for older secondary school students include specific components to assist them to be better prepared for moving from school into the workforce or higher education, and aware of the full range of services available to assist them as they transition from child to adult services.

R10 - that teachers receive mandatory training on mental health awareness, including specific training to develop their capacity to recognise and assess suicidal risk.

Show me the money

The new 12 page NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research (BOCSAR) report [PDF] by Jacqueline Fitzgerald & Suzanne Poynton on The changing nature of objects stolen in household burglaries indicates that the market for stolen goods has shifted over the past decade toward cash and easily disposed-of items. The overall incidence of household burglary (on the basis of incidents reported to the NSW police) has fallen by 50% since 2001.

In 2008/09, one in 33 NSW households experienced a break-in. In 61% of those incidents something was stolen. The authors comment that -
Crime victimisation surveys tell us that, unlike many offences, household burglary has a high reporting rate with three in four victims reporting the incident to police (ABS, 2010). This indicates that incidents reported to police are a large sample of all incidents and therefore probably a reasonable indication of the offence as a whole. It is also probable, however, that the three quarters of incidents which are reported to police are slanted towards the more serious and are more likely to include incidents where something was stolen.
During the decade the theft of cash increased from 23% of all home burglaries to 31%. Jewellery was stolen in around 1 in 5 burglaries.

The relative frequency with which a laptop computer, a wallet/handbag/purse or keys were stolen in burglaries also increased. There have been falls in the proportion of burglaries involving theft of powered garden equipment, video and DVD players, stereos, video cameras, electrical appliances and power tools. Theft of mobile phones is up (to 14.5%); theft of identification documents/cards increased from 11.3% to 11.6%.

Lawn mowers and other powered garden equipment were the 13th most stolen object type in 2001 with a lawn mower, brush cutter, edge trimmer or similar object being stolen in 8% of burglaries. In 2010 these objects had fallen to the 31st most stolen object type and were stolen in only 3% of burglaries.

The authors note that -
Home burglary is not uniformly distributed across the State. Not only does NSW have areas with high and low rates of burglary, the objects stolen differ across regions. ...

The highest rates of household burglary are recorded in the Far West and North Western regions of NSW followed by the Northern part of the State, the Central West, the Mid-North Coast and Murray Statistical Divisions. The lowest rates are in the Northern Beaches in Sydney, Central Northern Sydney and St George/Sutherland followed by Lower Northern Sydney and the South Eastern part of NSW.

With the exception of Murray Statistical Division, cash was the most commonly stolen item in all the major regions in NSW. Even so, however, it ranged in frequency from being stolen in 42% of burglaries in the Far West to 24% in Murrumbidgee Statistical Division. Interestingly, within the 14 Statistical Subdivisions of Sydney there were seven where something other than cash was the most commonly stolen object. The alternative objects were laptop computers (the most commonly stolen objects in Inner Sydney, Eastern Suburbs, Outer South Western Sydney and Blacktown) and jewellery (the most commonly stolen objects in Fairfield-Liverpool, Central Western Sydney and Central Northern Sydney). In Inner Sydney and the Eastern Suburbs a laptop was stolen in nearly half of all household burglaries. A few areas reported the frequent theft of items less commonly stolen elsewhere. These included power tools in South Eastern NSW (the fifth most commonly stolen object there but only the 19th most stolen item in NSW).
The authors conclude that -
Burglars appear now to be more interested in objects which have intrinsic value or which can be very readily disposed of. The rising popularity of cash (stolen in 31% of incidents in 2010 compared with 23% in 2001) could be due to convenience as it does not have to be on-sold. Similarly, jewellery has remained popular (stolen in 22% of incidents in 2001 and 23% of incidents in 2010) perhaps because of the intrinsic value of gold and gems, which is quite separate to the aesthetic taste of consumers. Indeed, capitalising on the current record high price for gold, in recent years there has been a large increase in outlets offering ‘cash for gold’ at shopping centres and on television. Note, however that due to the fall in the number of break-ins, there were substantially fewer thefts of jewellery in 2010 than in 2001 (in 2001 jewellery was stolen in 10,308 break-ins compared with 5,649 in 2010). ...

A possible reason why the objects targeted in burglary incidents have changed is due to changes in the market for stolen goods. Research conducted by BOCSAR in 1998 found that, at that time, burglars could receive a relatively good price for electrical goods and tools. At that time burglars reported that they could swap a $400 VCR player for $130 worth of drugs (Stevenson & Forsythe, 1998).

It is possible that burglars can no longer achieve such a good return on stolen consumer goods for the following reasons:
• the retail price of electronic goods, tools and other items have fallen so they can now be purchased new very cheaply from legitimate retailers;
• security in many devices such as mobile phones mean that they cannot just be plugged in and used;
• increased economic prosperity and community attitudes may mean that second hand goods are less desirable or attractive to the public;
• legislation tightening the sale of stolen goods through pawn brokers and second hand goods shops;
• the stolen goods market now must compete with a large online legitimate second hand goods market through eBay and the Trading Post, which perhaps does not offer
the quick turn around or anonymity desirable to most burglars.
A collapse in the stolen goods market is also consistent with the increased desirability to steal cash in break-ins, as it is the only object for which burglars can recoup the full value and do not need to on-sell.

Unlike other electrical goods and tools, laptops remain a frequent target for burglars. One obvious reason for the observed rise in laptop thefts over the last decade is that there are simply more available to steal from residential dwellings. Laptops are now a popular purchase for home use (increasingly replacing PCs) and are often supplied to employees to facilitate working from home. Furthermore, since late 2009 every senior NSW public school student has been given a laptop to use at school and home as part of the Federal Government’s Digital Education Revolution program. This program alone is estimated to have resulted in an additional 130,000 laptops in circulation in NSW.

It is also possible that the second hand market for laptops is stronger than the market for other stolen electrical items. This is because (1) the retail price of laptops (at least for the latest models) has not decreased to the same extent as other electrical devices over the last 10 years and (2) laptops often contain personal and financial information which can be used in the course of other criminal activity such as identity theft and fraud.

06 July 2011

Magic touch

I'm underwhelmed, to say the least, by Quantum mechanics and mysticism: An investigation of transformative experiences in Matrix Energetics seminars - a 178 page PhD dissertation [PDF] by Jos Marlowe. The doctorate was awarded last year by the Institute of TransPersonal Psychology in California, a truly delightful US institution that espouses quantum mysticism and unabashedly offers a course on telepathy! Stanford it's not.

Marlowe's dissertation concerns Matrix Energetics, a business built around magic touch (ie healing sundry ills through "intent" and application of a hand or two). The "intent" means that the practitioner intends to heal the recipient rather than punch the recipent's lights out or otherwise behave in a non-therapeutic way. (Readers of this blog may recall my bewilderment that magic touch and other contemporary parapsychology supposedly works only for good, curing rather than harming.)

Some sense of Matrix Energetics - or of the expected readership for the dissertation - is provided by Marlowe's comment that -
Richard Bartlett, the primary founder of Matrix Energetics, was supporting himself as a rock musician when disco replaced rock as a cultural phenomenon. To support himself, Bartlett found other jobs that did not offend his antiauthoritarian sensibilities: delivering newspapers and working as a hospital custodian. At the hospital Bartlett wore a uniform that unambiguously identified him as a maintenance worker as he cleaned and waxed the floor using a heavy floorpolishing machine. Nonetheless, he found that people kept stopping him and asking him medical questions. He took this as a sign from the universe that he should become a doctor.
So nice to see that the universe (Marlowe refers to the "quantum vacuum" as "the Holy Spirit", ironically or otherwise) has moved on from delivering messages via burning bushes to indications that if a cleaner is asked a medical question that means the person should become a practitioner!
Bartlett disliked the way mathematics was taught in the curriculum found in conventional medical schools, so instead he applied to chiropractic school, specifically the Parker Chiropractic College in Dallas, Texas. While Bartlett was attending Parker, his second child was born with a form of acute asthma that repeatedly progressed to pneumonia. In his search for a cure, Bartlett exhausted first conventional medicine, then chiropractic treatment, and finally a series of modalities that were not taught in any established medical school. One of these was Total Body Modification (TBM), a treatment invented by chiropractor Victor Frank (n.d.). Bartlett’s infant son was cured by TBM, and Bartlett realized the value of nonconventional medicine. Bartlett eventually earned two medical degrees: a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) from Parker Chiropractic College in 1987 and a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) from Bastyr University of Naturopathic Medicine in 2000.

Bartlett opened his practice in Seattle and found that he could cure many patients with a combination of a light touch and intent.
Marlowe's abstract for the work, following the usual genuflection to Ervin Laszlo, states that -
This study examines transformative change in consciousness in selected individuals not engaged in other transformative spiritual practices, who have a profound experience while attending a Matrix Energetics (ME) seminar (exercising transformational and healing consciousness techniques based on quantum physics). When and if it occurs, the resulting shift in consciousness (which individuals describe as "becoming unzipped" or having a massive change in awareness) appears to support the idea of consciousness as a system near the edge of chaos. Responses of 11 participants to 2 custom questionnaires and 2 assessments - the Self-Expansiveness Level Form (SELF) and the Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire (BQ) - were analyzed using a blended method of grounded theory plus quantitative analysis. Grounded theory was used to derive an analytic grasp of participants' worldviews as expressed in custom questionnaires. Emergent themes were then correlated with numerical data from assessments that complemented and enriched the qualitative data and expanded the scope of the approach. Results indicate that a significant change does occur, and its characteristics are:
1) ME involves a transformative state change rather than a technique.
2) This state change is effortless.
3) Detachment is a requirement to experience the state change.
4) The state change has no limits.
5) What one focuses on expands.
6) The experience involves shared subconscious processes.
Changes occurred typically over a 3 to 5 day seminar, supporting the notion that consciousness of these individuals was an autopoietic system near the edge of chaos. Descriptions of the new state of consciousness comply with descriptions of unity consciousness. Finally, quantum mechanics describes a world of possibilities previously unimaginable. Matrix Energetics practitioners take that description at face value and live in that world. This philosophic change dissolves the paradoxes of Cartesian dualism and creates a new awareness of the zero-point field as the force of the universe.
Uh huh.

I do wonder whether some of the devotees of the parapsychological belief system are more appropriately characterised as 'unhinged' rather than "unzipped". That's cruel, of course. Marlowe's work is based on 11 interviewees - self-identified as a teacher, "demonstrator of life", "transformational coach", "energy healer", physician, medical worker, accountant,CEO, student, "consciousness coach" and software developer - supplemented by contact with a "visionary writer", "healer", "coach, researcher, student" and "healer". Their comments to Marlowe include treats such as -
I’ve done "energy work" — other types of energy work and modalities — [and] I’ve always felt drained afterwards because I was using my own energy but with matrix I don’t feel drained, I feel energized and I’m not using my own energy with matrix, I’m accessing the field of all possibilities and manipulating the quantum particles — I’m manipulating and making changes in the field so when I work on a person I’m just making changes in their field — I’m not taking my energy to do that.
I’m more careful of my thoughts now because I’m more aware of the power of my thoughts in creating my reality. Through the mushroom experience, I saw that energy follows thought. If I focus on what I don’t want — nasty looking mushrooms — that is what I will call forth. Energy follows thought.
one of the aspects of the Conscious Energy Field is that "there is a conspiracy of improbabilities working in our favor". My task is to notice them and utilize the trend they deliver. "Everyday" meaningful coincidences become more and more important and as they are acknowledged the proper path in life becomes more distinct. Yes stuff is always happening and we are making it happen whether we are conscious of our contribution or not.
As a result, Marlowe explains that -
this doctoral study assumes ... that the quantum vacuum is the energy of God, for example the Christian Holy Spirit. At the same time, this research points out some significant differences between mysticism and ME. There is a narrative for almost all forms of spirituality — a set of expectations and beliefs. Spiritual people don’t usually say, "We’re making it up" for example.

ME is a counterexample to traditional expectations of spirituality in the following ways:
1. There is almost no dogma, with the exception of a focus on quantum mechanics, which is an inconsistent collection of theories.

2. There is no authority hierarchy or priesthood. This is a direct result of Bartlett’s dislike of authoritarian structure.

3. Many ME participants learn to do what this investigation calls "state changes". These affect the material world.

4. Expertise is "borrowed", virtually. ME participants consult with anyone, living or dead, who might have useful knowledge. This consultation takes place when dropped down and the expertise is channeled from the quantum vacuum. This supports Laszlo's (2004) theory that the quantum vacuum is analogous to the Akashic Records: a holographic collection of the information of everything that has happened or will happen in the universe.
So, if you telepathically communicate with the living and/or the dead (Laszlo modestly denies the notion of death, indicating that the 'dead' are still with us: "entities that are no longer living in the familiar form in this world but are alive nonetheless" and can thus be contacted using a valve radio) and believe you can undergo a "state change" that allows you to affect the material world by for example healing the sick. Oh dear.

The Institute explains that
Transpersonal Psychology is a full spectrum psychology that encompasses all of this and then goes beyond it by adding a serious scholarly interest in the immanent and transcendent dimensions of human experience: exceptional human functioning, experiences, performances and achievements, true genius, the nature and meaning of deep religious and mystical experiences, non-ordinary states of consciousness, and how we might foster the fulfillment of our highest potentials as human beings.
A skim of its faculty biographies is fascinating. Of 36 core and adjunct staff some 15 have doctorates from the Institute itself or from the Institute of Integral Studies; 8 have Masters degrees from those bodies. Those qualifications presumably come in handy in the course on parapsychology, described as -
This course explores what one has learned, through careful scientific research, about the paranormal processes of telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis, as well as evidence bearing on the possibility of survival of physical death. Theories, implications, and possible applications of these findings are discussed — with emphasis on their relevance to human interconnectedness, healing, consciousness, and other transpersonal concerns.

The student should emerge from completing this course with an enhanced understanding of the nature of parapsychological inquiry - what are its methods, what does it study, what does not come within its purview? In addition, students will grasp the major forms and manifestations of paranormal experiences and events; namely, telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, and evidence suggestive of survival of bodily death.
On a bad day I'd say that it sounds like the famous TM University dissed by Martin Gardner, which blithely offered courses on transcendental-meditation-powered levitation while its guru - the one with the industrial-strength collection of diamond-encrusted watches and numerous Rolls Royces - flew more conventionally in first class.

Regrettably, Dr Bartlett - unlike Laszlo - doesn't seem to have founded his own university. His site promotes Matrix Energetics as "an entirely new paradigm" that
utilizes the principles and science of Subtle Energy, and Quantum physics, coupled with the incredible power of active imagination and focused intent to produce physical verifiable effects that often defy rational explanation. Miracles happen every day, Matrix Energetics provides a technology and scientific framework to allow for their every day occurrence.
It is claimed to be
a complete system of healing, self-care and transformation. It is a transferable and teachable phenomenon, powered by intent, which has a physical and observable effect every time. Complete beginners as well as seasoned health care practitioners are able to perform and utilize this work to affect change - with no waiting and no running of energy. Anyone can learn this skill and practice Matrix Energetics.

Matrix Energetics starts with a gentle light touch and the power of focused intent and builds into a new and joy-filled state that can affect life changes. This exciting new tool can be used to heal, to transform and to create new possibilities. It's very much about transforming your beliefs concerning healing, disease and the structure of reality.

Matrix Energetics sometimes appears magical in its expression but is based on the laws and expression of subtle energy physics and the concepts and laws of quantum physics, superstring theory and Sheldrake's Morphic Resonance. Often you will see and feel a wave like motion when Matrix Energetics is applied, as the person being worked on experiences a smooth wave of transformation and the body seems to drop in a completely relaxed wave instantly. This can happen standing up, sitting down or laying on a table. The participants are taught specific methods of using a powerful, focused intent, This is combined with application of a light touch method for identifying the parts of the body where the Matrix Energetics "wave" will yield optimum results. What seems to be happening is that the unconsciousness and the biological physical fields are interacting.

Matrix Energetics is not a "thing" to be defined - it is, instead, a pathway to transformation. This transformation takes place by communicating at the quantum level with the wave fronts (energy and information) that create all of reality. The tools taught in the seminar are simply a language used to access this pathway and map the transformation that occurs. The application of this method of transformation is only limited by your imagination. What are you doing when you "do" Matrix Energetics? You are creating and transforming reality at the quantum level and observing the macro effects of that change.

This new paradigm gives you instant access to new states of awareness which make it possible to interact with the material world and transform it - to affect change connected to past traumas, injuries and emotional patterns. Matrix Energetics shows us how we can consciously choose to observe in a different way. As a natural extension of changing your way of perceiving, your old reality collapses and new possibilities materialize instantly. Physical and emotional conditions can be resolved with the speed of thought. People affect verifiable, observable changes instantly. Often you will see and feel a wave like motion when Matrix Energetics is applied, as the person being worked on experiences a smooth wave of transformation. What seems to be happening is that the unconsciousness and the biological physical field matrix is rearranging itself.

Utilizing Matrix Energetics enables one to engage a state, or way of being, that creates miraculous changes that can be actualized every time by novices and experts alike

05 July 2011

Waitangi Tribunal report on Indigenous IP

The Waitangi Tribunal has released Ko Aotearoa Tēnei, its landmark report regarding New Zealand law and policy affecting Māori culture and identity.

The document is the Tribunal's first whole-of-government report, addressing some 20 NZ government departments, autonomous agencies and Crown entities. Importantly, it is also the first Tribunal report to consider what the Waitangi Treaty relationship might become after settlement of historic grievances and how that relationship might be shaped by demographic changes in coming years.

The report concerns the Wai 262 claim, commonly known as the 'indigenous flora & fauna and cultural & intellectual property claim'. The report comments that the claim -
is really a claim about mātauranga Māori – that is, the unique Māori way of viewing the world, encompassing both traditional knowledge and culture. The claimants, in other words, are seeking to preserve their culture and identity, and the relationships that culture and identity derive from.
The report comprises two components: a 268pp summary [PDF] subtitled Te Taumata Tuatahi, for a general readership and a detailed two volume component subtitled Te Taumata Tuarua [440pp vol 1 PDF and 402pp vol 2 PDF].

Chapter 1 of Te Taumata Tuarua considers the Māori interest in works created by writers, artists, weavers, musicians, carvers, and others in the context of New Zealand intellectual property law. It has a particular focus on trade marks and copyright. The second chapter examines the -
genetic and biological resources of the flora and fauna with which Māori have developed intimate and long-standing relationships, and which are now of intense interest to scientists and researchers involved in bioprospecting, genetic modification, and intellectual property law, particularly patents and plant variety rights.
That is followed by discussion of broader Māori interests in the environment, including control under the Resource Management Act and the conservation estate managed by the Department of Conservation. Chapter 5 deals with state protection of te reo Māori (ie the Māori language and its dialects). Chapter 6 considers those agencies where the state owns, funds, or oversees mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge and ways of knowing) and "is thus effectively in the seat of kaitiaki (cultural guardian)", including museums, libraries, archives, arts funding, broadcasting, education and science. The seventh chapter examines state support for rongoā Māori (traditional Māori healing). The final chapter discusses policies on including Māori in the development of New Zealand's position concerning international instruments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. An appendix provides a brief procedural history of the inquiry, outlining the origins and development of the claim, the claimants, the scope of the claim issues and the two rounds of hearings.

In relation to Rongoā the Tribunal comments that -
Māori are facing a health crisis. Rongoā has significant potential to help address that crisis, because of its spiritual and biomedical qualities, and because of its potential to bring sick people into contact with the health system.

The Crown has suppressed rongoā in the past and currently fails to support it with the energy or urgency required by both the Treaty and the Māori health crisis.

Rongoā is traditional Māori healing. It encompasses a way of understanding health that is based not only on the body but also on taha wairua (the spiritual dimension). It operates within a wider philosophical context in which people, places and events are seen as either tapu or noa. Breaches of tapu invite mental and physical consequences, such as disease. Tapu and noa provided the basis for a sophisticated system of public health in pre-Treaty times.

In rongoā, then, tohunga or healers address both the physical symptoms and the metaphysical causes of any diminution of health or well-being. Rongoā thus encompasses karakia and ritenga (rituals and incantations), as well as physical forms of treatment such as mirimiri (massage) and traditional medicines based on plants such as mānuka (which has antibacterial properties), koromiko (used to treat diarrhoea and dysentery), and harakeke (which has antiseptic properties and soothes skin ailments).

The practice of rongoā and the knowledge and concepts that underpin it are vital aspects of Māori culture itself.
A sceptic might have some concerns regarding the "sophisticated system of public health in pre-Treaty times" and the appropriateness of reviving or endorsing a therapy of rituals and incantations.

The report recommends that the state makes "urgent changes", including -
• recognising that rongoā has significant potential as a weapon in the fight to improve Māori health;

• identifying and implementing ways to encourage the health system to expand rongoā services (for example by requiring primary healthcare organisations servicing a significant Māori population to offer rongoā clinics);

• adequately supporting the national rongoā organisation Te Paepae Matua to play a quality-control role in relation to rongoā;

• gathering data about the extent of current Māori use of rongoā services and likely ongoing demand.

• the Ministry of Health and the Department of Conservation coordinate rongoā policy, to ensure that rongoā plants survive and that tohunga can access them.
In discussing patents and plant variety rights the report comments that -
New Zealand’s laws and policies affecting bioprospecting raise important issues that are still to be confronted. The regime is inconsistent. There are some areas, particularly within DOC’s jurisdiction, where room potentially is, or could at least be made, for the Māori interest in bioprospecting. elsewhere, law and policy is silent on the issue. Sitting above all this are developments in international forums. New Zealand will need to confront the challenges of those developments sooner rather than later. ....

The issues the claimants raised in respect of their rights in the genetic and biological resources of taonga species are wide ranging. At one end of the spectrum, they said they should have some rights to control all mātauranga Māori relating to those resources, even if that mātauranga is effectively in the public domain. At the other end of the spectrum, there was acceptance that, in some instances at least, consultation and involvement in decision-making might achieve protection of their interests. As with bioprospecting and GM, the common element in these arguments was the desire to maintain the relationship of kaitiaki with the mātauranga Māori and the relevant species or biological resource.

Both the Crown and the interested parties who gave evidence before us emphasised that any recognition of Māori rights should not have a chilling effect on research and consequently on IP rights. Although the Crown research institutes, in particular, seem to have good working relationships with Māori and have demonstrated best practices for including Māori as advisers in the research process, this on its own does not meet claimant concerns.

The New Zealand Institute of Patent Attorneys argued that any additional legal protections of mātauranga Māori should not undermine the basic tenets of existing IP law. The Crown, too, stressed that New Zealand must comply with its international obligations, particularly the TRIPS Agreement.

But the heart of the problem is this. The primary purpose of the patent and PVR systems is to enable exploitation; it was never intended to accommodate mātauranga Māori or indeed to respond to the interests of kaitiaki. For example, within the examination process, patents and PVRs are granted to the party who first expresses knowledge in Western scientific terms. IP examiners are often trained in Western science but not in tikanga Māori.

If they consult scientific databases to research publicly available information that might be relevant to an applicant’s claims of novelty, they are unlikely to find any reference to mātauranga Māori, because it is barely documented in such databases. Further, the legal framework is inadequate in many ways for protecting the kaitiaki interest. For example, after the expiry of a patent, the patented invention becomes available for others to use – a concept that may run counter to the responsibilities of kaitiakitanga.

In sum, everyone appears to accept that many aspects of the IP system as it affects the genetic and biological resources of taonga species fail to meet the needs of the claimants, because it was never designed to do so.
In response, the report suggests tweaking the regime.

04 July 2011


The Customs Amendment (Serious Drugs Detection) Bill 2011 (Cth) has been passed by Parliament. The amendment of the Customs Act 1901 (Cth) will enable the use of 'internal body scanning technology' at airports, with Customs & Border Protection officers being authorised to conduct "an initial internal non-medical scan of a person suspected to be internally concealing a suspicious substance".

In announcing passage of the Bill, the Minister for Home Affairs indicated that the technology will boost the detection of drugs imported inside the bodies of drug couriers. Suspects will be given the option of an internal body scan at an international airport, as part of a year-long trial that commences later this year. For a scan a reasonable suspicion must be formed that a person is carrying drugs internally. The suspect must consent to being scanned. A person who refuses will be required to undergo a hospital examination, ie the current practice. (The Customs Regulations 1926 specify a hospital or the surgery or other practising rooms of a medical practitioner for this purpose.) Where a scanning supports a suspicion of an internal concealment, the existing regime governing internal searches by a medical practitioner will apply.

Subdivision C of Division 1B of Part XII of the Customs Act 1901 (Cth) currently authorises detention of a person by an authorised Customs officer or police officer where the officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the person is internally concealing a 'suspicious substance' (ie a narcotic substance that relates to an offence, under Division 307 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, punishable by imprisonment for 7 years or more). Once detained, an application can be made to a Judge for an order for an internal search of the detainee by a medical practitioner. Internal searches can be carried out by various means, including digital examination, probes and scanning of a person's body.

The Minister indicated that -
In 2009-10, 48 drug couriers [out of 205 suspects who experienced a hospital examination] were identified attempting to import more than 27 kilograms of illicit drugs within their bodies, including heroin and cocaine.

Bringing illicit drugs into Australia is illegal. We want to do all we can to stop drug importation and protect Australian families from the immeasurable harm caused by drug use.

Internally secreted drugs pose a dire health risk to a courier. It is not unusual for packages to split and for drug couriers to face serious illness or death as a result.

Body scanning technology will help to more promptly identify if a suspect is carrying drugs internally and allow medical help to be rendered quickly
Use of the scanners is "also expected to present significant time and money savings to Customs, the Australian Federal Police and our hospitals", with the Minister commenting that "last year AFP officers spent almost 8300 hours guarding suspects, including more than 4600 hours in hospital waiting rooms, rather than policing our airports and other public areas".

Body scanning has attracted substantial criticism in the US, where there have been expressions of concern regarding perceived health hazards and substantive concerns regarding poor practice on the part of the TSA. Those concerns include observation by people in queues for security screening of 'naked images' (the War on Terror may well involve a 'virtual striptease' as a condition of entry to planes and trains but coerced unrobing does not need by shared) and uncertainty about whether the TSA - or prurient security personnel - store and communicate particular images.

The media release accompanying passage states that -
As Minister for Privacy, I’m acutely aware of community concerns about the use of such technology. I’d like to assure the public that this technology will be subject to strict controls.

Most importantly, body scanning technology will not be used on all travellers or used randomly – it will only be used where there is a reasonable suspicion that a person is carrying drugs internally. In addition a suspect must consent to the use of body scanning technology.
There are questions about the meaningfulness of consent if the trial is extended to cover all airports and all passengers, particularly if ground staff - as highlighted in the recent ANAO report - do not undergo the same scanning.

The Minister commented that measures to ensure respect for privacy and individual rights include -
• law enforcement agencies form a reasonable suspicion that a person may be carrying illicit drugs internally before the technology can be used

• a suspect must give written consent to being subject to body scanning technology. If they don’t, a hospital examination will be conducted, as is the current practice

• the operation of the body scanning technology will be conducted by a specially trained Customs officer

• the images taken are subject to storage, access and destruction controls

• the specific configuration of the body scanner device has been legislated to ensure that it is restricted to detecting internal drug concealments

• children, pregnant women and the mentally impaired will not be offered a body scan.
A savvy criminal will presumably insert the illicit substances into the requisite orifices of children, pregnant women, the "mentally impaired" and physically disabled.

"For operational reasons the locations of the trial will not be publicly disclosed" but will presumably become evident fairly quickly.

The Minister's concise Second Reading Speech indicates that -
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has provided input to the privacy impact assessment and all comments have been incorporated. The Office of International Law in the Attorney-General’s Department has advised that the amendments would not breach the right to privacy as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I also want to add that the X-rays not required for any potential criminal proceedings will be destroyed in a timely manner.

The Privacy and FOI Policy Branch of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner will be consulted prior to the prescription of body scan technology.


The BBC reports that the UK Bribery Act 2010 has come into force, updating laws from 1889 and creating offences that now "carry prison terms of up to 10 years and unlimited fines".

The Act makes it illegal for British and foreign companies with operations in the UK (and individuals) to offer or receive bribes and to fail to prevent bribery. The reform follows OECD and other criticism of the abortive Serious Fraud Office investigation into alleged bribery as part of the £43bn al-Yamamah arms deal between Saudi Arabia and the UK, with failure being attributed to Britain's "antiquated bribery laws".

The 2010 Act reflects the 1997 OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions [here] which came into force in Australia in late 1999 and is consistent with the Criminal Code Amendment (Bribery of Foreign Public Officials) Act 1999 (Cth).

It creates offences of -
• offering bribes

• receiving bribes

• failing to prevent bribery
A viable defence for a company facing prosecution is to show it has implemented "adequate procedures" (eg policies, training) to stop bribes. Corporate hospitality that is "reasonable and proportionate" will not be regarded as a bribe. In implementing the Act organisations are expected to embrace six principles -
Proportionate procedures - a commercial organisation’s procedures to prevent bribery by persons associated with it are proportionate to the bribery risks it faces and to the nature, scale and complexity of the commercial organisation’s activities. They are also clear, practical, accessible, effectively implemented and enforced.

Top-level commitment - the top-level management of a commercial organisation (be it a board of directors, the owners or any other equivalent body or person) are committed to preventing bribery by persons associated with it. They foster a culture within the organisation in which bribery is never acceptable.

Risk Assessment - the commercial organisation assesses the nature and extent of its exposure to potential external and internal risks of bribery on its behalf by persons associated with it. The assessment is periodic, informed and documented.

Due diligence - the commercial organisation applies due diligence procedures, taking a proportionate and risk based approach, in respect of persons who perform or will perform services for or on behalf of the organisation, in order to mitigate identified bribery risks.

Communication (including training) - the commercial organisation seeks to ensure that its bribery prevention policies and procedures are embedded and understood throughout the organisation through internal and external communication, including training, that is proportionate to the risks it faces.

Monitoring and review - the commercial organisation monitors and reviews procedures designed to prevent bribery by persons associated with it and makes improvements where necessary.
The Ministry of Justice's 45 page Guide to the Bribery Act states that -
Bribery blights lives. Its immediate victims include firms that lose out unfairly. The wider victims are government and society, undermined by a weakened rule of law and damaged social and economic development. At stake is the principle of free and fair competition, which stands diminished by each bribe offered or accepted.

Tackling this scourge is a priority for anyone who cares about the future of business, the developing world or international trade. That is why the entry into force of the Bribery Act on 1 July 2011 is an important step forward for both the UK and UK plc. ...

Readers of this document will be aware that the Act creates offences of offering or receiving bribes, bribery of foreign public officials and of failure to prevent a bribe being paid on an organisation’s behalf. These are certainly tough rules. But readers should understand too that they are directed at making life difficult for the mavericks responsible for corruption, not unduly burdening the vast majority of decent, law-abiding firms.
The emphasis on market distortion was evident in the Second Reading Speech for the Criminal Code (Bribery of Foreign Public Officials) Bill 1999 (Cth), where Australian Attorney-General Daryl Williams stated -
It is important that Australia should support the OECD's initiative to combat the bribery of foreign public officials and take a principled stand against corruption. ... There is good business sense, as much as morality, in introducing this legislation. Bribery distorts attempts at international competitive bidding, bribes themselves are non-productive and are therefore paid from profits and bribes distort trade in that contracts are not based on merit and can lead to production of poor quality goods and services. In the aid context, bribery can lead to a very poor selection of projects, and this can in turn lead to diversion of resources away from areas of greatest need
The UK Guide indicates that -
Very generally, [bribery] is defined as giving someone a financial or other advantage to encourage that person to perform their functions or activities improperly or to reward that person for having already done so.
In Australia the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) provides that -
70.2 Bribing a foreign public official

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if:
(a) the person:
(i) provides a benefit to another person; or
(ii) causes a benefit to be provided to another person; or
(iii) offers to provide, or promises to provide, a benefit to another person; or
(iv) causes an offer of the provision of a benefit, or a promise of the provision of a benefit, to be made to another person; and
(b) the benefit is not legitimately due to the other person; and

c) the first-mentioned person does so with the intention of influencing a foreign public official (who may be the other person) in the exercise of the official's duties as a foreign public official in order to:
(i) obtain or retain business; or
(ii) obtain or retain a business advantage that is not legitimately due to the recipient, or intended recipient, of the business advantage (who may be the first-mentioned person).
For defences see sections 70.3 and 70.4.
In a prosecution it is not necessary to prove that business, or a business advantage, was actually obtained or retained.

70.4 of the Cth Code provides for Facilitation Payments as a Defence. A person is not guilty of an offence against section 70.2 if:
(a) the value of the benefit was of a minor nature; and

(b) the person's conduct was engaged in for the sole or dominant purpose of expediting or securing the performance of a routine government action of a minor nature; and

(c) as soon as practicable after the conduct occurred, the person made a record of the conduct that complies with subsection (3); and

(d) any of the following subparagraphs applies:
(i) the person has retained that record at all relevant times;

(ii) that record has been lost or destroyed because of the actions of another person over whom the first-mentioned person had no control, or because of a non-human act or event over which the first-mentioned person had no control, and the first-mentioned person could not reasonably be expected to have guarded against the bringing about of that loss or that destruction;

(iii) a prosecution for the offence is instituted more than 7 years after the conduct occurred.
For the purposes of that section, a routine government action is an action of a foreign public official that:
(a) is ordinarily and commonly performed by the official; and

(b) is covered by any of the following subparagraphs:
(i) granting a permit, licence or other official document that qualifies a person to do business in a foreign country or in a part of a foreign country;

(ii) processing government papers such as a visa or work permit;

(iii) providing police protection or mail collection or delivery;

(iv) scheduling inspections associated with contract performance or related to the transit of goods;

(v) providing telecommunications services, power or water;

(vi) loading and unloading cargo;

(vii) protecting perishable products, or commodities, from deterioration;

(viii) any other action of a similar nature; and
(c) does not involve a decision about:
(i) whether to award new business; or

(ii) whether to continue existing business with a particular person; or

(iii) the terms of new business or existing business; and
(d) does not involve encouraging a decision about:
(i) whether to award new business; or

(ii) whether to continue existing business with a particular person; or

(iii) the terms of new business or existing business.

2010 Crime Statistics

The Australian Institute of Criminology has released Australian crime: facts & figures 2010 [PDF], a 152 page compendium of Australian crime statistics.

The document follows the 2009 AIC compendium noted here. It is weighted towards graphs rather than detailed statistics. It is described as -
an up-to-date snapshot of crime patterns and trends in Australia. It contains information on specific crimes, victims, offenders, the location of criminal acts and the operation of criminal justice systems - focusing on the work of police, courts and prisons.

This publication utilises data from both administrative and survey-based collections. In this 2010 edition, a section on cybercrime trialled in previous editions has been reintroduced to provide information relating to computer security. Further, this edition includes new and updated information derived from Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data on federal defendants and crime victimisation. The reporting of monthly trend data from 1995 to the present for some specific crimes has ceased as a result of changes to the quality assurance process of the ABS.
Salient points from the document are -
• Violent crimes occurred most commonly in residential dwellings; while retail and residential locations were almost equally the most common settings for property crime.

• Juvenile offenders (those aged 10 to 17 years) continue to offend at a higher rate than adults (over 18 years). Juvenile offending was most prevalent in two sub-categories of property crime — 'other' theft (offences such as pick pocketing, bag snatching, shoplifting and bicycle theft) and unlawful entry with intent (UEWI) — although juveniles also committed a high proportion of assaults in 2008–09.

• Fraud and communications offences were the most commonly heard federal offences in Magistrates’, children’s and higher courts. Specifically, 24,705 fraud cases and 2,874 federal communications cases were adjudicated in Australian courts in 2009.

• Individuals aged over 45 years and children aged less than 10 years were the least likely age groups to be victims of crime. Most victims were aged between 15 and 25 years; the same age group with the highest offending rates.

• A total of $11.6b was spent on the criminal justice system in Australia in 2009, which included $1.5b spent on the criminal justice courts (including the Magistrates’ and children’s courts and the higher courts) and $8.1b spent on state, territory and federal police services.

• eight major categories of offences (homicide; assault; sexual assault; robbery; kidnapping; UEWI; motor vehicle theft; and other theft) account for approximately 60% of all crimes recorded by police.


From RW Johnson's letter in the LRB regarding Ernest Gellner -
The feelings he had about the 'Narodniks of North Oxford' he had in only slightly milder form about many social scientists too. That is, you could watch them go to work, do their sociology or economics or anthropology or comparative history and then come back home; and that, of course, was where the things that mattered were: wife, children, mortgage, car, social status and lifestyle. It is very easy for any academic after a while to feel that his subject is a set of intellectual games, gambits and petty politics that he plays before getting back to the real world. Gellner suspected this was how the comfortable gentlemen of Oxford philosophy lived, but he had the same suspicion about many others. He generated, to a degree unequalled by any other social scientist I have met, a feeling of "look, what we are doing is trying to figure out how the modern world works and this is a deadly serious task, in fact it is the most serious thing there is." He was never really off duty.

03 July 2011

P2P, surveillance and breaches

'Privacy as Invisibility: Pervasive Surveillance and the Privatization of Peer-to-Peer Systems' [PDF] by Francesca Musiani in 9(2) tripleC (2011) 126-140 considers surveillance in relation to P2P.

Musiani's article -
addresses the ongoing, increasing privatization of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing systems – the emergence of systems that users may only join by personal, friend-to-friend invitation. It argues that, within P2P systems, privacy is increasingly coinciding with “mere” invisibility vis-à-vis the rest of the Internet ecosystem because of a trend that has shaped the recent history of P2P technology: The alternation between forms of pervasive surveillance of such systems, and reactions by developers and users to such restrictive measures. Yet, it also suggests that the richness of today's landscape of P2P technology development and use, mainly in the field of Internet-based services, opens up new dimensions to the conceptualization of privacy, and may give room to a more articulate definition of the concept as related to P2P technology; one that includes not only the need of protection from external attacks, and the temporary outcomes of the competition between surveillance and counter-surveillance measures, but also issues such as user empowerment through better control over personal information, reconfiguration of data management practices, and removal of intermediaries in sharing and communication activities.
In commenting on "the alternation between manifestations of 'pervasive surveillance' of P2P (ubiquitous and generalised search of poten-tial infringers carried out by copyright owners) and reactions by users Musiani suggests that -
the richness of today’s landscape of P2P technology development and use, mainly in the field of Internet-based services, opens up new dimensions to the conceptualization of privacy, and may give room to a more articulate definition of it; one that includes not only the need of protection from external attacks, and the temporary outcomes of the competition between surveillance and counter-surveillance measures, but also issues such as user empowerment through a better control over personal information, reconfiguration of data management practices, and removal of intermediaries in sharing and com- munication activities.
The article initially introduces "conceptualizations of privacy and surveillance that are relevant" -
After touching upon David Lyon’s depiction of the “World Wide Web of surveillance” (Lyon, 1997), it outlines Sonia Katyal’s concept of “piracy surveillance” (2005) as pervasive detection of consumer infringement, and Frances Grodzinsky and Herman Tavani’s argument (2005) that placing the burden of infringers’ identification on copyright owners has opened up a new culture of surveillance, one that entitles copyright owners to pervasively search the Internet for potential infringers.

P2P technology’s history, as Niva Elkin-Koren remarks (2006), has been deeply informed by the frequent, almost overwhelming, association of such technology with one of its possible uses, (illegal) file-sharing.
The article next outlines -
the different generations1 of P2P file-sharing systems' genealogy, starting from the moment in which the public at large first accessed them (Napster, 1999). The genealogy of P2P file-sharing systems is, in fact, a story of tensions between surveillance and counter-surveillance technologies. It is argued that the ways in which P2P systems have taken shape and evolved in the last decade are closely linked to the dialectic between juridico-technical measures restricting P2P-enabled file sharing activities, and socio-technical responses that have shortly followed each of them: in other words, to the constant attempts of surveillance technologies and sharing technologies to outrun each other. In this sense, the genealogy of P2P file-sharing systems is also a history of resistance towards regulation of user behaviour by means of digital surveillance, a concept that is receiving increasing attention in surveillance studies (Hollander & Einwohner, 2004), not only as an umbrella term for protest or oppo- sition practices taking place between the surveyor and the surveilled, but as a "more complex, multi-directional and multi-actor (...) process" (Martin, van Brakel & Bernhard, 2009, p. 214).
The article then introduces third-generation, "private" P2P networks and explores how developers and users of these systems seek to take their main weapon away from copyright holders, by placing a special emphasis on a friend-to-friend paradigm that allows users to join the system only by personal invitation of another user (Rogers & Bhatti, 2007; Le Fessant, 2009; Wood, 2010), shaping privacy as de facto invisibility from pervasive surveillance.

Musiani suggests that -
The fourth and conclusive part opens up to a conception of P2P systems as possible tools for the materialisation of a social, political and economic "opportunity" for Internet-based services. It suggests that, while paramount for putting into perspective the evolutions and developments of P2P systems over the last decade, the "surveillance-and-counter-surveillance" paradigm may entail an exclusively "defensive" conception of privacy; a conception that, while an important one, is only a part of the story. Other parts – enacted daily in a number of projects and applications for P2P Web search, social networking, data storage that are being developed since 2006 – are user empowerment through a better and more nuanced control over personal information, reconfiguration of the balance between users' and service providers’ rights over personal data, and removal of intermediaries in sharing and communication activities – parts that if neglected, may lead to overlook the potential of P2P as an effective, scalable and stable way to distribute, exchange and communicate online, in a variety of ways.
The NSW Privacy Commissioner has released the report [PDF] of its Own Motion Investigation into the data breach at Sydney University noted earlier this year.

In essence, the University has received a warning rather than a penalty, on the basis that it admitted a web application hole had allowed access to personal information but had responded quickly once altered.

The Commissioner held that "The university had not taken reasonably available steps to avoid the risk that the leaks would eventuate" and the exposure was avoidable with "appropriate testing". He commented that -
including public sector agencies, because they enhance opportunities for our prosperity, social inclusion and
convenience. Additionally, these technologies allow significant savings to be made to administration costs because they promote a more efficient management of customer transactions and other communications.

Increasing the uptake of web-based facilities requires public sector agencies to maintain their clients’ confidence that personal information will be protected, whether it be from intentional or accidental hacking into their databases.

Small businesses and individuals, who have limited capacity at implementing effective information protection programs, may at times be unknowingly operating compromised online systems.

Large corporations and public sector agencies have available to them dedicated resources in the form of:
• intrusion detection systems
• sophisticated firewalls
• IT security staff
• chief information officers
• chief technology officers.
This entitles the community to expect from them higher rates of awareness of information security risks and vigilant
breach prevention programs.

Section 12 of the PPIP Act imposes a positive obligation on the University to take all reasonably available security measures to ensure a student’s personal information recorded on the University's web-accessible records through the many transactions students complete on-line does not become available to unauthorised persons and bodies.

Determining what is reasonable requires a balancing exercise that takes into account the following two factors:
• On the one hand, the facilities and specialist staff available to the University regarding the management of its web-based student transaction systems, and
• On the other hand, the awareness the University should have that it holds sensitive personal information about thousands of people, which, if it fell into the wrong hands, could lead to potential physical and financial threats to them, or cyber stalking
However -
In light of the steps the university took to fix the problem and as noted above, and further advice it has provided about the introduction of security reviews and testing of the penetration potential of various information systems, the acting Privacy Commissioner considers that the university responded to being informed of this breach of security with urgency and effectiveness.

Policy by media release?

The national Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, has released -
new research which shows nearly one in six Australians have been a victim or known somebody who has been a victim of identity theft or misuse in the past six months. ... Nine in ten people are concerned or very concerned about identity theft and misuse
Be afraid, it seems, be very afraid!

The research involved an "independent online study" conducted by Di Marzio Research, involving 1200 people across Australia. (It is unclear whether that 1200 person cohort is distinct from the group described here, of concern given an 'online-only' sample is biased towards particular demographics.)

An independent observer might ask whether conclusions based on the study are seriously eroded by survey bias (a problematical survey population, flawed questions), definitional fuzziness and contentious interpretation of data. The answer to those question would be 'sorry, don't know'. The Public Relations unit in the Attorney-General's Department responded by email on 4 July that "Unfortunately the research you are referring to is not publicly available".

That unavailability (which I'll be testing with an FOI application) is indeed unfortunate, given that the research, according to the Minister, will be "used to help develop a new National Identity Security Strategy", outlined here and featuring much criticised initiatives such as the Documentation Verification Service (DVS).

Overall, the Minister has provided a rather fatuous media release tied to research results that are out of kilter with independent Australian and overseas studies of the prevalence, seriousness and shape of identity offences. Poor research potentially leads to (or merely legitimates) poor policy development and ineffective policy implementation. Non-release of the actual research (as distinct from vague claims in a media release) seems at odds with the Government's recurrently stated commitment to transparency and ready community access to government information.

The Attorney-General comments that "It's clear from these results that there is real concern in the Australian community about identity theft and misuse". There is unfortunately no indication of whether that concern is misplaced. Is the Attorney-General feeding a low-grade moral panic? Should we be cautious in using terms such as "identity Theft", which may mean different things to different people?

He states that -
As technology evolves and people undertake more business and transactions online, the risk of identity theft increases.

This week, the Government introduced new legislation into Parliament to strengthen cyber security laws and enhance Australia's ability to combat international cyber crime.

In the last six months alone, Australia's Computer Emergency Response Team has alerted Australian businesses to more than a quarter of a million pieces of stolen information such as passwords and account details, allowing them to take steps to protect their systems and their customers.

The survey also revealed that the majority of identity theft or misuse occurred over the Internet (58%), or through the loss of a credit or debit card (30%). Stolen identity information was primarily used to purchase goods or services (55%) or to obtain finance, credit or a loan (26%).

In addition, identity crime as both a key enabler to other crime types and as a crime in its own right is identified as a priority organised crime risk in the Organised Crime Threat Assessment.
Justice Minister O'Connor got into the act, commenting that the survey also showed 60% of people believe there is a growing risk of information about their identity being stolen. 60% of people - depending on which survey you deploy - believe that Elvis is flipping burgers in Bondi. It is a shame that the Minister didn't go beyond an expression of what people believe (or are claimed to believe) to unpack what is actually taking place.

He comments that -
There are simple steps that people can take to protect their identity online including the use of strong passwords and access control, being aware of how much personal information you are posting on public sites and never clicking a link or opening an attachment from someone you don't know or a source you don't trust.

Other useful Australian Government resources to help people protect their identity including Protecting Yourself Online - What Everyone Needs to Know and Budd:e Cyber Security Education Package for Australian primary and secondary school students.
It's redolent of the fridge magnet response to 9/11 last decade ... media-worthy but arguably not very effective. O'Connor went on to explain that -
Identity security is a shared responsibility and these resources demonstrate how the public and private sectors can work together towards helping Australians keep their identities safe online and offline.

The Government has developed a number of resources to help people understand the implications of identity theft and misuse, including Protecting your Identity and Lost, Stolen or Found Identity Documents.

These products provide practical strategies on how individuals can protect themselves from becoming victims of identity theft and what to do if they become a victim of this crime.
He says -
There are simple steps that people can take to protect their identity online including the use of strong passwords and access control, being aware of how much personal information you are posting on public sites and never clicking a link or opening an attachment from someone you don't know or a source you don't trust
Given that you can never be too devoted to law & order, O'Connor states that -
Serious and organised crime is costing Australia up to $15 billion every year, and identity crime is used by organised criminal groups to further their illicit activity.

The Government has made combating identity crime a key plank in the Commonwealth Organised Crime Response Plan, recognising that this offence is a gateway to other serious offending.

Coordinated cross-agency action under the Response Plan is focussed on disrupting and defeating the criminal elements conducting the crime and the methodologies they are using, while also developing prevention measures to protect the community.
Let's not dwell on questions about the costing of "serious and organised crime" or whether many people in fact pass through the gateway to other serious offending.