“Obtaining sex by deception” news update

The Scottish “Obtaining sex by deception” case with Samantha Brooks that I reported on last year is back in the news again, as the defendant was in court on Friday. Although it’s been reported in the usual gay press, their reports are third-hand with the primary sources appearing to be The Daily Record and The Scotsman as their stories were published first and give more detail not mentioned by other outlets.

To summarise, there is no mention of any transgender angle to the case in the reporting and I’m sure given there appear to be at least two independent sources, one of them would have mentioned it had there been. That does not mean however it could not have worrying implications for trans people should Brooks be found guilty. The charge is still unclear, with mentions in articles of “obtaining sexual contact by fraud” but as before, a search of relevant case law and legislation turned up nothing.

There was discussion in 2006 about updating Scottish law to include a better definition of consent, which would have included an identity-related offence that would have excluded this sort of thing but this did not go through. If “consent” really is undefined in Scotland, it appears case law may be about to create something very unfortunate for many Trans people.

Friday’s hearing was just to ender a plea and there is another hearing on the 9th February, but it is not clear what that hearing is in relation to. I believe it may be possible to obtain a copy of publicly available court papers in such cases and time permitting I shall attempt this.

I’m used to being told I shouldn’t exist, but not as a LibDem

As a Trans person, I get quite used to the view from extremist quarters that I shouldn’t exist. Apparently, I somehow offend the natural order of the universe or some such nonsense. Fortunately, such idiotic comments are rare.

I find some perverse amusement that this time, I’m being told I (Or rather we) should somehow no longer exist as Liberal Democrats rather than as a Trans person. This is according to Tom Watson over at Labour Uncut:

The opulence of Carlton Gardens might calm his lieutenants tomorrow, but Clegg’s crisis will not go away. His party no longer has a reason to exist.

Tom wonders what Clegg’s approach would be “as the Lib Dem grassroots react to the result”. My reaction is this: Our vote held solid and was over 20 points above the national polls and, if I have my maths right, about 7 points above the by-election polls. Between us, the two coalition parties gained more votes than Labour.

I’d have preferred a win, but in the middle of cuts that all parties would know would hurt the party in power, this doesn’t strike me as the kind of disaster for the Liberal Democrats that Labour would have liked. Coverage on BBC Radio (1, 2 and 4) this morning was generally positive towards the Liberal Democrats and somewhat more negative towards the Conservatives.

More transphobic reporting and court failure

There is quite a lot wrong with this story. (Daily Express link, also reported by The Sun and the local paper)

I’m not sure what would typically be an appropriate sentence for such an offence. The way it’s been reported, she’s “got off lightly” but both papers have their own agendas. Transphobic reporting like this isn’t itself news.

But the quotes from the Judge, if accurate, worry me:

I am in no doubt that you have led something of a nightmare existence as a transsexual for the entirety of your life. The result is you have walked something of a sexual tightrope, leading to an extremely sad and depressing existence. The reality is this is your final chance to change difficult areas of your sexuality. You have received Government funding and if I send you to prison I would be sentencing you to a continuation of your sexual nightmare, possibly forever.

Gender and sexuality are completely different, so it sounds as if the Judge knows little of the issues. I would guess this is because they don’t have any information easily available to them when working on cases – I do wonder if the outcome might have been different had the defence solicitor been different or it had been in front of a different judge, which is of course not desirable.

And of course the underlying issue is that the prisons are not set up to handle transgender prisons. If the judge can be convinced it would be a “nightmare” to send someone transgendered to prison, why is anyone transgender in prison?

An overlooked negative consequence of AV?

I should open by saying I’m in the Yes camp when it comes to AV because I don’t think FPTP has delivered particularly well over the last few decades. It certainly hasn’t helped with marginalised groups in parliament.

However, one “bonus” of AV is that a potential MP needs to maintain at least some level of support amongst 50% of their constituents. It occurs to me that if a candidate is a member of a minority group (I myself am Trans and a bi-curious lesbian for example, I would imagine the situation could be as bad or worse in certain areas for anyone who looks a bit foreign) then they instantly lose some proportion of support.

I suspect this does not matter so much with FPTP because first choice votes are less likely to be affected. Someone whose first preference vote is the BNP who would otherwise vote Tory might not list a second choice just because the Conservatives put up a candidate who is only second/third generation British.

I would imagine the situation improves dramatically with STV however – with bigger constituencies, there will be more members of a given group and thus it’s easier for a candidate supported by a marginalised group to get the necessary votes to gain a seat.

I doubt we’ll see this mentioned by the No camp because they mostly seem to be old-school and unlikely to be “in” with equality, but I’d appreciate knowing what others think about this. Is consideration of second and third choice votes likely to affect how panels choose candidates in 2015, 2020 and beyond?

Now it’s BT censoring your internet

It seems BT, inventors of the Cleanfeed system that went spectacularly wrong in 2008 when they tried to filter Wikipedia, causing issues accessing the site for many, now want to go further. Claire “Won’t someone think of the children!” Perry MP has apparently just had a meeting with Mike Galvin, Head of Innovation at BT about the MP’s plans for a porn block and has tweeted to say it was a good meeting.

For those not familiar with Mike Galvin, he was involved in BT’s trials with Phorm, so he has a record with this sort of thing.

Perhaps BT would like to comment?

Now it’s lawyers not understanding the Internet

The us Department of Justice subpoena (PDF link) in the Twitter Wikileaks case asks for the following information:

1. Subscriber names, user names, screen names or other identities
2. mailing addresses, residential addresses, business addresses, e-mail addresses, and other contact information
3. connection records, or records of session times and durations
4. length of service (including start dates) and types of service utilised
5. telephone or instrument number or other subscriber information or identity including any temporarily assigned network address
6. means and source of payment for such service (including any credit card or bank account number) and billing records

I’m not sure they realise that the majority of this this information is publicly available in a profile – they even asked for the information by supplying the user name in the first place. It’s also a free service, so billing information…? Mailing Address? Looks suspiciously to me like they have a template request for information to ISPs they’ve just sent Twitter without thinking about it. They do go on, with the following in part B that looks like a template request to an email or facebook-style service provider:

1. records of user activity for any connections made to or from the Account, including the date, time, length and method of connections, data transfer volume, user name and source and destination Internet Protocol address(es)
2. non-content information associated with the contents of any communication or file stored by or for the account(s), such as the source and destination email addresses and IP addresses
3. correspondence and notes of records related to the account(s)

Other than IP address (Which seems to be requested twice – are 1 and 2 not the same?) I’m not even sure what useful data Twitter could possibly give them that’s not already public. Given that at least two of the people mentioned are known to not be in the US (Julian Assange is one, another is an Icelandic MP) I don’t see how IP addresses will help them.

I wonder if Twitters entire response will just be a printout of the users public timeline and profile information, just with the (Non-US) IP addresses added. How this will help the US DoJ I don’t know.

MP thinks privacy is a “waste of public money”

According to This is Derbyshire, Conservative MP Heather Wheeler wants police to be able to access raw Streetview footage without needing a court order because proper checks on what the police are up to are “a waste of public money”. This is despite the fact that the UK already tops the Google snoopers chart when measured as a number of requests per person in the country.

South Derbyshire MP Heather Wheeler said: “I am disappointed that Google’s initial reaction is to refuse. It would be sensible for them to enter into a protocol with British police forces to receive and acquiesce to police requests. Of course, the police can get a court order but what a waste of public money in order to do that.”

The police do not have the right to just randomly go digging around and there are checks in place to stop this. Requiring a court order is one of those checks and if they can convince a court that they genuinely need the unblurred image – which should be easy based on the facts given – then everything is working exactly as it should. (It’s entirely possible that the image was not actually taken around the time of the theft, in which case the correct response of the court should be to refuse the request)

I would actually hope on general principle that Google do not routinely keep original unblurred images. Personally, when I received a police or similar request, my response is always the same: “Get a court order, (Or RIPA notice) then we’ll look to see what we have”.

BT Content Connect and Net Neutrality

Since yesterday’s post, I’ve dug up a bit more detail on the new BT service. It’s been attacked in the media as being a “two-tier” system, reminiscent of the Net Neutrality debates.

But far from being able to force content providers to have to pay to provide a decent service to end users, the economics mean that BT will possibly need to give this service away to content providers for little more than a nominal fee to make it work.

The concept is simple – local bandwidth is cheap, internet bandwidth is relatively cheap, (Well under £10 per Mb/s per month in bulk) UK-wide backhaul is expensive. (£40 per Mb/s per month and upwards) A significant portion of the cost of your home broadband (Around half, depending on the package you are on) is not the connection to the exchange but the bandwidth from the exchange to the rest of the world. (Hence fair use caps and lower bandwidth limits on cheaper service providers.)

The solution is to keep popular content as close to the end user as possible. If, for example, I know as a provider that an episode of Eastenders or Coronation Street is going to be watched using an on-demand service by tens of thousands of people there will come a point where it makes sense to just send it out in advance and off-peak (When there is spare capacity) to servers around the country. This does not apply to a YouTube video of a skateboarding dog, unless it’s fantastically popular over a particular timeframe (And you need to know in advance what’s going to be popular), because there is a cost of storing all that data throughout the country to consider.

I do not know the details of Virgin or Sky’s architecture for on-demand services but it’s likely they’ve done the same sums and have worked out if this makes sense for them to implement with their own on-demand broadband/cable services. At least with BT Content Connect, all Content Providers have the ability to submit content but it’s the getting content where BT may struggle.

It’s clearly in the interests of service providers who bear the majority of bandwidth costs to implement this, particularly if they are also a content provider (e.g. Sky/Virgin) but there is less benefit to other content providers like the BBC. Even if the service is free for them, there will still be significant engineering investment to talk to BT’s new Content Connect servers.

So BT will need to sell the idea to the content providers, which they can do by promoting the idea that somehow the content will be better/faster/smoother/gold plated compared to the alternative. But this assumes that there is a congestion problem within the ISP in the first place, which does not currently seem to be the case with BT. Unless BT somehow engineer congestion, which would be a net-neutrality issue, (And no doubt result in complaints of lag from Skype users, online gamers and the like if all services were affected) objecting to content connect on neutrality grounds and claiming a two-tier internet is being created is not quite as easy as some press reports are suggesting: It’s popular on-demand content that’s affected, rather than the internet as a whole and it’s likely similar is already being done in more closed shops (Virgin/Sky) anyway.

In practice, I do not think we will see a wide uptake of this service beyond BT Retail. The technical limitations mean that the majority of ISPs will not be able to use it, although BT Wholesale are (rightly) required to offer any service they provide to BT Retail to everyone at the same price in the interests of competition.

It’s not just MPs that don’t understand the Internet

From today’s Telegraph:

BT is starting to sell a new broadband service that allows video content to be viewed in a better quality than other material, it has been reported.

Wait, what? So video could be viewed in better quality than some text? That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Five seconds with Google gives this flash-driven marketing abomination from BT about the relevant product, “Content Connect”. From what I can see, it’s just a Content Distribution Network that allows content providers to distribute their content so that it’s as close to end-users as possible without the hassle of running a global network. This isn’t new (Akamai have been doing it for years and they’re not the only one) and as far as I can tell, there is no connection to Net Neutrality at all.

I’m not sure if the Telegraph are trying to spin a story out of nothing or if they have misunderstood a story so badly that they’ve destroyed all rational content in the process.