I’ve written before about the proposed Australian health and welfare smart-card. For a while it t looked as though privacy concerns had at least being acknowledged and would potentially be addressed. And then came this from the Australian:

PHOTOGRAPH, signature and personal number will be retained as key elements of the Howard Government’s new Access Card, despite backbench protests that this will make it a de facto identity card.

Human Services Minister Chris Ellison, who shelved legislation delivering the card last month pending further consultation, told The Australian yesterday that the concerns raised by his colleagues did not reflect community views.

His comments came despite a report by the Senate’s finance and public administration committee in which Coalition senators joined the Opposition to call for a delay and reconsideration of the plan.

Have you ever noticed that politicians tend to say things like “Option-A-which-I support/Option-B-which-I-oppose does/doesn’t reflect community views” without providing evidence of polling to support their assertion. I’d hate to think that such bold statements were being made on the basis of anecdotal evidence. Surely not.

But Senator Ellison said he would not budge. “The photo and the signature and the number are issues that go to the very strength of the card’s robust nature as a means of establishing identity,” he said.

Excuse me? Why on earth does the card need to establish identity?
We currently have several (presumably robust) forms of identification, making it necessary and sufficient for the card to provide information for cross referencing the existing document (say a driver’s licence).

“If you don’t have a photo on the card, KPMG have said they would have to revise their assessment of how much fraud would be saved.

On the other hand, this would create a single point of failure, greatly increasing the severity of any fraud if the card is cracked.

The Government has pledged that the Access Card, which from next year will replace 17 government health and welfare cards, will not be allowed to be used as an identity card.

Oh, in that case it’s okay then. I’m sure we can trust you.

No. Really.

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Here is an article supporting the “clean slate” approach to “fixing” the Internet.

Some interesting points:

One challenge in any reconstruction, though, will be balancing the interests of various constituencies. The first time around, researchers were able to toil away in their labs quietly. Industry is playing a bigger role this time, and law enforcement is bound to make its needs for wiretapping known.

I consider this to be a real concern. Are people actually suggesting that we need to redesign the Internet for security while simultaneously designing in gaping holes and traceability for law enforcement? I think that there might be something of a gap between what law enforcement “need” and what they should actually get. For instance, law enforcement tend to support what Bruce Schneier refers to as “wholesale surveillance” – getting as much information as possible about everyone, just in case – but this incurs an enormous cost in personal privacy. I’m all for catching bad guys, but security and privacy are not mutually exclusive and if you’re trading them off, then you’re looking in the wrong place.

And does anyone really think that allowing industry to play a bigger role in design is going to be all good for the consumer? Tiered Internet anyone? The current network might be half broken – but it’s broken to exactly the same degree for everyone, not just those who can’t afford to pay.

The Internet will continue to face new challenges as applications require guaranteed transmissions – not the “best effort” approach that works better for e-mail and other tasks with less time sensitivity.

“Guaranteed transmissions”?

Think of a doctor using teleconferencing to perform a surgery remotely, or a customer of an Internet-based phone service needing to make an emergency call. In such cases, even small delays in relaying data can be deadly.

Isn’t that back to front? What do you expect when you use something for a purpose it wasn’t designed for? Internet data transfer protocols were deigned on the basis of best effort – so why would you use such technology for critical systems? Stupidity? Or sheer bloody mindedness? A bit like basing a home security system on a blender, and then having to redesign the blender.

Rather than create workarounds each time, clean-slate researchers want to redesign the system to easily accommodate any future technologies, said Larry Peterson, chairman of computer science at Princeton and head of the planning group for the NSF’s GENI.

Now this is just market-droid talk. Is he inferring that the original designers of the Internet made a conscious decision not to accommodate any future technologies? How do you design systems to “easily” take into account unknowns? Computer psychics?

Even if the original designers had the benefit of hindsight, they might not have been able to incorporate these features from the get-go. Computers, for instance, were much slower then, possibly too weak for the computations needed for robust authentication.

And this kind of sums up the overall problem with this approach – in another 40 years as technology and social paradigms progress, they’ll be looking back and saying exactly the same things. “Computers were slower then. We didn’t take into account technology X or security Y. Wah Wah. Wah.”

Just because the Internet is largely ubiquitous, doesn’t mean that we have to use it for every new technology or system we come up with. If the Internet is not appropriate for new requirements, maybe designers need to consider a completely new model rather that trying to fit a round network into a thousand different polygonal holes?

It was with great sadness this morning that I learned of the passing of the brilliant writer and humanist Kurt Vonnegut. His writing had a huge effect on the way I look at a world, showing me that people don’t need religion to be capable of the most profound nobility. In Timequake he wrote that “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is”. And so he did.

In his own words:

I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, “Isaac is up in heaven now.” It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, “Kurt is up in heaven now.” That’s my favorite joke.

Tip of the hat to the Bad Astronomer for the news.

Today I stuck another blow against the inertial laziness attempting to annexe my life and started riding to work again. It’s about an 18km trip each way, mostly on bike paths.

In all it was a bit sad really.

As a bit of background, six months ago I had trained for the Around The Bay in a Day ride (ATB), an annual cycling event here in Victoria that my work kindly sposored some of us to enter. There are several options ranging from a 42km ride around Melbourne for the casual cyclist, up to a 250km legends ride for the more dedicated element. Being at least partially connected to reality, I opted in for the 100km half loop, from Sorrento back to Melbourne on my trusty mountain bike. I actually did fairly well, finishing in three and a half hours, with a short lunch break. I felt strong and fast and I was probably the fittest I have ever been. Then for some reason I stopped riding (and pretty much any other form of exercise) and took up eating instead.

So my last memory of riding was feeling like some kind of well oiled commuting machine. This morning I was that-guy-who-everyone-passes-because-he’s-so-pathetically-slow-and-looks-like-he’s-going-to-faint.

Anyhoo, dragging the tattered scraps of my pride behind me I left the dedicated bike path for St Kilda Road and the last few kilometers to work. I laboured my way down the street in the helpfully green painted bike lane (with only one incident of a 4WD trying to turn left through me, which oddly enough is what I’d count a pretty good day) when some pedestrian lights ahead turned red. Now, I will save for another day my detailed views on cyclist’s rights to use the roads, but to be brief I think that when we are on the road we should (where practical and not actively dangerous) obey the road laws as they apply to us. That means wearing a helmet, and that means stopping at red lights.

So I stopped. And was promptly almost mowed down by the two cyclists behind me who shot the light.

Now it was completely safe for them to do so – there were no pedestrians and it was not an intersection, but quite frankly that’s not the point. Anecdotal evidence suggests (’cause I’m too lazy to go digging for a reference) that many drivers think that most cyclists ignore road rules and are generally rude discourteous evil smelly vegan eco-spazzies. When cyclists don’t obey road rules, they are confirming the rantings of the cyclists-don’t-pay-rego-and-never-obey-road-rules-and-slow-me-down-blah-blah-blah idiots and pointlessly increasing hostility amongst the driving public against cyclists in general.

You really can’t generalise on either side of cyclist/driver issues, but some people only seem to care about themselves. Stupid people.

A slight change of plans

April 11, 2007

Hey hey.

When I started this blog, I had been hoping to manage a post every one or two days, but changes in my personal and work lives (and a roof invading possum with a perverse taste for telecommunications cabling) have conspired against me and I can’t seem to keep up. (Yeah…it’s almost as though they didn’t want me to post. No, not them, the other ones. Coincidence? I think not.)

I don’t want to give up altogether, but I’m going to have to cut back to every-once-in-a-while-when-I-get-five-contiguous-minutes-to-myself-when-not-unconscious.

Five minutes? Hey, it’s not easy being this witty and insightful. Sheesh.