The recent ILGA-Europe conference was bound to stir up a certain type of Tory, given the intersection of possible anti-EU and anti-LGBT rants. True to form, The Telegraph ran an article, accusing delegates of “continuing to party” and claiming (Without stating sources, of course) that £124,000 of EU money was spent hosting it. Well, I don’t trust anything they print on this topic, given their wonderful definition of Transsexual in the glossary:

Transsexual: When an individual identifies with a gender that is different from their biological sex. Many transsexuals believe that to be a true transsexual one needs to have a desire for gender change surgery.

There’s just so much wrong with that, I don’t even know where to begin. Oh, and if you were not already rolling your eyes, they put “intersex” in quotes. Seriously. Which makes me suspicious about the £124,000 figure they mention, so I had a quick look at the ILGA Europe accounts. Apparently, they spent €174,000 on Annual conference, which equates to around £151,000 at the moment. Only 47% of the IGLA-Europe budget is paid for by EU funding, so we get £71,000, almost half what the Telegraph claim.

They go on:

Delegates at the event in the Netherlands enjoyed lavish food and hospitality as David Cameron moved to guarantee that the EU budget would not increase by more than 2.9 per cent and insisted that its largesse on dubious projects around the world must end. But on the opening night of the gay and lesbian conference, delegates from 37 countries were treated to a welcoming dinner in The Hague’s medieval Hall of Knights, one of the city’s main tourist attractions.

There’s an invite on the ILGA-Europe website to attendees from the Dutch Government which actually seems to own the Hall, so it’s likely that the EU budget did not actually pay for the “lavish food and hospitality”.

Of course, no proper article like this is complete without appropriate quotes from outraged groups. Having stated that the spending was “condemned as ‘politically correct drivel’ by MPs”, they go on to quote just one MP, Philip Davies. Looks like the Telegraph is having trouble with the difference between plural and singular. So, is Philip Davies, MP for Shipley in Yorkshire, likely to be representative of MPs or even Conservative MPs? Well, he’s the kind of person to make quotes that get him “rebuked” by Harriet Harman, told Muslims to F**k off following an incident that wasn’t even caused by Muslims, (The Sun apologised, Philip Davies never has) and has been referred to as a “troglodyte” even by members of his own party.

Who better to go to if you want a quick anti-EU, anti-equalities comment to put in your paper? It’s not like he’s going to lose his seat over it: Shipley has only returned a Labour MP twice since the end of World War II, both times following the Labour landslides in 1997 and 2001. Even then, the Labour majority was less than 3,000 both times, versus the 10,000 Davies currently enjoys.

The Yes to Fairer votes campaign is over here, if you want…

In more not-news, the Stonewall demonstration has been cancelled, following their partial U-turn over marriage equality and complete U-turn over the Journalist of the year award nominations.

There are still outstanding issues. Stonewall are explicitly against opposite-sex civil partnerships and want to preserve that as something “special” for LG(b) folk. There is an argument that opposite-sex civil partnerships are not an LGB issue, but that fails on two counts: Firstly, Stonewall should not be against them, as they are, on that score but should leave them alone. Secondly, and more importantly, Bisexual folk might want to get a Civil Partnership rather than a Marriage despite being in an opposite-sex relationship. (For those who want to continue to work towards Equal Marriage, the Equal Love campaign is worth a look.)

There is also the “FIT” video Stonewall produced. If you haven’t seen it, the relevant clip is available on YouTube. Whilst bad (It uses the word “Tranny”) it’s not screaming-and-throwing-things-at-the-computer bad, more just bang-head-on-desk-in-frustration bad. The director, Rikki Beadle-Blair, has publicly apologised for this and the apologies are very genuine. I believe any problems with this video are probably down to Stonewall not being a Trans organisation and thus being unable to get any real input on what is or isn’t acceptable in such a video rather than any failings on the part of Rikki. Stonewall should have realised this and steered clear of the topic.

And the last point is Stonewall’s apparent consultation with the government on the Gender Recognition Act. Fortunately, I suspect we’ve been banging on the door of the government hard enough for the last few months that they’re not likely to take too much notice of Stonewall without checking with us first.

Despite all that, I think calling off the demonstration is the right thing to do. We have a set of smaller points which doesn’t work so well at a demo when you only have seconds to get the message across to attendees. We’ve proven that the LGBT communities can rally a large amount of grass-roots support if necessary and thus have secured major concessions from Stonewall under the threat of a demonstration. If it went ahead now, there would be no reason for anyone else we threaten to protest to back down.

On the topic of the not-Interception Modernisation Programme, which I shall geekily call the Pling-Imp from now on, Dr. Julian Huppert MP asked a question in Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday on this topic:

Can the Prime Minister reassure the House that the Government have no plans to revive Labour’s intercept modernisation programme, whether in name or in function, and that he remains fully committed to the pledge in the coalition agreement to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and to roll back state intrusion?

The response from the Prime Minister was somewhat more equivocal than I would have liked and didn’t really address the point:

I would argue that we have made good progress on rolling back state intrusion in terms of getting rid of ID cards and in terms of the right to enter a person’s home. We are not considering a central Government database to store all communications information, and we shall be working with the Information Commissioner’s Office on anything we do in that area.

Even Labour only briefly considered the centralised database and it had been dropped by May 2009, so this isn’t really news. I understand that Dr.Huppert has submitted followup written questions, which he referred to on Twitter and also in yesterday’s debate on the Internet and Privacy. Unfortunately it seems that questions are not published until the answers are submitted so we do not yet know what has been asked.

Edited to add: Since I put up this post, I’ve been contacted by the Open Rights Group in relation to the below paragraphs saying that they didn’t intend to suggest we were spreading misinformation, but that we were being supplied with misinformation.

So, does it sound like the Pling-IMP is back? The Open Rights Group are “convinced” that this is the case. Following republication of parts of my blog posts on Lib Dem Voice, they went on to quite publicly suggest we were spreading misinformation. This annoys me for two reasons. Firstly, the ORG are guilty of spinning the facts to the point of misinformation themselves. Their original petition, which they are still advertising widely, mentions a two billion bound price tag which we now know is inaccurate. The wording of the petition also suggests government interception, when of course we all know that was ruled out back in 2009 in favour of mandating ISPs to perform the interception.

Secondly, and more importantly, although I expect random and unsubstantiated attacks from the more tribal members of the opposition I would regard the Open Rights Group as being on the same side. I can understand their suspicion of anything that comes of Government given we did have over a decade of increasingly illiberal measures, but there’s no indication that the current crop of ministers have gone native.

For anyone from the Open Rights Group that’s reading this: Right now, you are annoying members of the party in power most likely to be sympathetic to your cause and you’re annoying the technical staff at ISPs. We are on your side and we would like your help. Please quit with the hyperbole aimed at us, because if we give up and go home you’ll be dealing with the Conservatives and Business leaders instead.

Yesterday’s debate in Parliament gives you a clue to the Conservative view on this. Although not as keen on state control in general as the last government, they are inclined to care more about Google Streetview because no business relationship exists between the public being photographed and Google. As soon as you have a business relationship – customer and ISP – they really don’t seem quite so interested. After all, shouldn’t competition within the market should deal with any issues?

Back to the Pling-IMP. I am a fan of evidence-based policy but if there is any evidence that it’s back, it is not being shared it with us. All we have to go on so far is that there is some sort of wide-ranging consultation afoot, with no price tag either high or low attached. It’s being conducted by the same Home Office communications group that undertook the original IMP study, but that’s hardly surprising as I would not have expected the Milk Marketing Board to have been given this task.

The Prime Minister’s answer definitely concerns me. I would have preferred a statement that they are not currently planning on asking ISPs to capture any more information or store what they have for any longer. But it’s not worrying enough that I’m going to get all righteous before the consultation is even out.

After all, it’s still just as impractical to achieve now as it was last year.

I have no doubt that whatever consultation is released, there will be those that seize upon any little word in it that suggests interception of any sort might perhaps be changed in some way other than completely getting rid of it. I do hope that does not happen too much because it detracts from making changes for the better and what is going on now is bad and needs to be changed. We should not be locking up teenagers for possibly forgetting passwords. Nor should the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act give City and Borough Councils the same powers as police and the security services to access information held by service providers.

The problems in this area stem in part from misunderstanding about what is possible. “Making better use of data we already have” is one item I’m told is definitely within scope of the upcoming consultation, but it’s hard to be constructive when one is rabidly denouncing any attempt to discuss the matter before we even know the questions.

We have a new government in power and should be encouraging debate on existing laws, not stifling it.

The Pink Paper are reporting that Stonewall have “joined the fight for gay marriage equality”! Excellent news! Lets see what Stonewall have to say about it:

We seek to secure marriage for gay people as a civil vehicle on the same basis as heterosexual marriage, available in a registry office but without a mandate on religious organisations to celebrate it. We seek to retain civil partnerships for lesbian and gay people recognising their special and unique status.

Hang on, something isn’t right here. Who mentioned vehicles? A civil what? And yes, much of the LGBT population of the UK would probably describe Stonewall as “unique” in many respects…

Oh, wait, I understand: They’ve been watching Yes, Minister. “Always get rid of the tricky part in the title. It does less damage there than in the text.” So if we announce it as marriage equality, hopefully people won’t actually read what we said and might think we’re doing something, right?

While it’s possible they’ve just worded this really, really badly I’m sure you’ll forgive me for a touch of cynicism, given that Stonewall hardly have a positive track record when it comes to this sort of thing. If we take what they’ve written at face value, it seems that the only item Stonewall “seek to secure” is the ability to get hitched in a registry office and call it a marriage, with a slightly confused note tacked on at the end about the law allowing Civil Partnerships to be celebrated in churches.

Allowing churches – through their own choice – to conduct gay marriages in churches? No, doesn’t look like they’re in favour of that.

Supporting straight civil partnerships? Whoa! That would just be too radical.

P.S. As I was typing this, Stonewall posted a press release on their web site on the topic.

Following my last post on the topic, I dropped a note to the Home Office contacts I had, such that they are, asking if what has been announced as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review was in fact the Interception Modernisation Programme. For those who haven’t been following, that’s the innocent sounding name for the last governments plan to build a database with details of every EMail, Facebook message, Instant Message, Internet phone call and anything else they can manage.

Today I had the reply: In short, no. It’s not the IMP.

This is the sort of responsible fact checking that you’d think the Telegraph might do before running a story on the topic. Or the Independent. Even the Guardian. Twice. No, sorry, that’s three stories.

Of course, there will be more to it than that but the main message I took away from the 10 minute phone call was that what has been announced is not intended to be picking up from where they left off. Instead, it’s a new initiative with it’s own consultation.

This new initiative will last months and the fact that they apparently “understand a lot more than they did five years ago” hopefully means the questions they ask will be more informed in the first place. Cynically, I could not help but think while on the call that it also means they understand the current government isn’t going to be quite such a walkover on Civil Liberties as the last lot.

What else in scope for this consultation? Right now, it’s hard to tell. We certainly haven’t seen the last of IMP-like suggestions as I’m sure the Security Services are still going to want something but I was repeatedly assured that what is on the cards is wider in scope than before. Alongside the usual government consultation objectives such as “value for money”, we have “What is technically possible?” and “How can we make better use of existing data and powers?”

I would hope there is a chance to influence current policy to create a more liberal approach, given that the current kick-in-the-door-first, ask-questions-later policy just results in locking up teenagers who allegedly can’t remember a password after a few months. On the flip side, past dealings with the security services mean I’m far from complacent.

We shall have to wait and see.

I’m a little tardy in this but I haven’t seen it handled elsewhere yet so it’s still worth writing about. Last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published their Codes of Practice for the Equality Act 2010 – one on Employment, one on Services and a final one on Equal Pay. (I’ll use paragraph numbers from the Services document here as much of the content is replicated across all three documents)

Although laid before parliament, the Codes of Practice are not law themselves but interpretations of the law. Having said that, employment lawyers have suggested that they are still influential documents in determining how judges interpret law and more critically, what happens on the ground. To my mind, that’s more important to those that are discriminated against than the outcome of an appeal on a point of law years after the event.

The Codes of Practice are somewhat of a mixed bag. There are some good bits, some bad bits and one particularly ugly bit that I suspect many people really won’t like – although I can see why it is in there from the point of view of the Commission.

We’ll start, logically, with the good. For those having problems with employers or anyone providing a service, the Codes of Practice provide one convenient document appropriate to the situation that can be printed off, rolled up (If you can figure out how to roll up documents that are nearly 300 pages long) and used to beat them over the head with. Granted, it might be more useful to actually hand them the document or point them at an online link but at least you have that option to relieve stress.

Perhaps more practically, the definition of “gender reassignment” is now interpreted as much broader than previously. (2.20-2.21) You don’t need to be seeing a doctor – perhaps of more use to trans men than women, and that is indeed the example given. However it also mentions that this may be of help to trans children, as schools can’t discriminate against trans children who might have difficulty accessing medical services.

You also don’t need to actually be transitioning to get protection, considering it or having considered it is enough. (2.22-2.24) This is interesting because the example given says that you can, for example, tell someone who wants to come crossdressed to a party “for a laugh” that they can’t because that wouldn’t be discrimination. But, as soon as you’re dealing with someone who is at all transgender identified, it gets a bit more complex. I’ve known quite a few people who were “just” crossdressers who went on to transition, so it would seem that you could make a case out here for protection of anyone with a history of transgender identification.

Remember the example of the children. you don’t need to say out loud “I’m thinking of transitioning” to get protection, as children do not have the necessary wherewithal to be able to express themselves in such a way. (I don’t believe this would extend as far as toilets or changing facilities however, due to the “someone might be offended” clauses in the act.)

Another good point is that it is explicitly stated that you should not ask for a Gender Recognition Certificate (2.27) as that’s a breach of privacy. Instead, if you are uncertain of a persons legal gender, you can ask for a birth certificate. (Although this could be problematic for anyone not born in the UK as they may not have an accurate birth certificate and only a GRC) This is slightly confusing in context, as the act does make having a GRC/updated birth certificate largely pointless except for the ability to marry, from what I can tell.

The bad is that the codes of practice do not go any way to clearing up the whole mess around rape counselling and similar services. They give a positive example of a health spa where it would be unlawful to discriminate because other users felt uncomfortable around one person but do not elaborate as much as I would have liked.

It seems this is partially because the commission itself are not quite sure what the effect of the law may be. This is particularly so on the topic of Gender Recognition Certificates apparently no longer fully protecting someone against employment discrimination.

One positive point – and it is not, sadly, in the code of practice – but I’m aware that the commission consider it would be illegal to operate a blanket ban on trans people for any service and it has to be considered for each individual case. This would mean you could not have a “women-born-women” only policy for anything, even rape counselling.

Which brings us on to the ugly (13.58) and part of the reason it seems they believe it needs to be considered case-by-case. I’m going to quote verbatim from the Code of Practice for this one:

Service providers should be aware that where a transsexual person is visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from a non-transseuxal person of that gender, they should normally be treated according to their acquired gender, unless there are strong reasons to the contrary.

This just makes me cringe. It’s passing privilege enshrined within official guidance, saying “If you’re lucky enough to pass or can afford facial surgery, well done! You’re protected”. However, if you’re unlucky enough not to pass and do actually need the protection? The message is “Sorry, you’re out of luck.”

Given that the gender reassignment protections work even if you are not transsexual and just look a bit like you might be, it could be said that the Equality Act specifically allows discrimination against “ugly” people.

Still, I notice the nice get-out for those of us that do pass – “strong reasons to the contrary”. Ugh.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice“Will transsexuals destroy women’s sport?” is the second largest headline on the front of today’s Spectator Magazine – the largest, predictably, being in relation to the Comprehensive Spending Review. It’s not exactly a positive headline, for a start using “Transsexual” as a noun. For those unfamiliar with the territory don’t do it as it implies it is very othering – man, woman or transsexual? It also contributes to the erasure of trans-male identities in this case as the implication in the headline is that only Trans women exist.

Still, “Sure, if all the women athletes transition to become male, that could damage women’s sport” springs to mind as a humorous response to the front-page headline.

There is a copy of the copy of the Article online, but I fear you will need a paper version or subscription iPad/iPhone version to see the article in the context the editors unfortunately intended. It does improve a little on the contents as the article is billed as “Transsexuals on the track – A new divide in women’s sport”… well, it’s not new, really. Any slightly more positive spin on that page is undone by the photo of a female shot-putter with the caption “Gender games” under it. A shot-putter? Please.

Once we get free from the clutches of the magazine’s editors though, the article by Luke Coppen isn’t that bad. It’s jumping off point is the recent news about Lana Lawless, a Trans woman golfer, who has had to sue a US Golf Association over their Women-born-Women policy. It’s not too bad an article, starting off by listing the concerns of others – “enjoying the physical advantages of men” and then going on to deconstruct them.  It doesn a pretty good job of covering most of the well known (Within Trans circles) problems that the International Olympic Committee have had in trying to figure out who they should allow to compete… and the problem that as in this case, if a Trans woman does succeed, it’s clearly because she was “born male”, not actually because she’s a good athlete.

It’s shame this generally positive attitude is spoilt by one particular phrase in the last paragraph: “As long as there is a male-female division in sports, there will be people stealing across the border.” I’m not “stealing” across anyone’s border, thank you very much. And if anyone did try, I think they would be in for a rude awaking given that the penalty for transitioning when one shouldn’t is similar to not doing so when you need to – depression and suicidal thoughts.

There’s a reason for this post, other than just generally getting annoyed at the headline on the front page. Coppen’s article points out recent research shows that any advantage Trans Women have over cis-gendered wimen is lost after around a year on HRT. This is broady in line with current International Olympic Committee guideline that stipulates a 2 year gap between transition and competing in your aquired gender.

So, we return to our old friend, the Equality Act. Sadly, the sort of nonsense that’s happened in the US with this case could happen here too and it’s entirely possible someone in Lana’s position would lose the case because the act just makes vague references to “fairness” and “safety”. (If it’s not safe for someone to compete, regardless of gender, then you’re doing it wrong)

But if a random author of a magazine article can figure out that there’s no advantage to Trans Women (Where are the Trans Men?), why couldn’t the authors of the act figure out how to express it in terms that didn’t give anyone an excuse to discriminate indefinitely and justify it.

It is in the news yesterday – courtesy of The Telegraph – that the innocent sounding “Interception Modernisation Programme” is apparently to be revived. I for one am skeptical that the revival of the programme is really happening as the source does not specifically say it is the Interception Modernisation Programme that’s back – it just nebulously mentions a “programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications“.

Certainly I hope it really is not the Orwellian IMP. This was envisaged under the last government and I sat through a Home Office presentation on the issue back in May 2009 in which we did go some way, I believe, to ensuring the IMP was shelved.

Firstly, to correct some of the reporting I’ve seen: No reliable source I have seen has suggested that the content of every mail is to be stored and certainly it did not feature in the Home Office presentation. It is only the envelope – the to, the from and the subject line – that they’re interested in. OK, so technically this doesn’t sound too hard to do and in fact I, with my ISP hat on, do this today. If a customer rings up and has a problem with sending or receiving mail, I can look at the logs and see what they have tried to send and receive for the last few days. Scaling that to a year’s worth of data just becomes a matter of adding more disk space, but these days your average home PC could store the data for a year for a good sized ISP without too much trouble.

The reality of what the Home Office intended with the IMP is far worse however. What it set out to do is record the detail of every email, every internet phone call, every Facebook message, every Twitter direct message, every Instant Message and so on so that if Law Enforcement want information on a user they can build up a pretty good picture of who someone has been talking to. Because these services are not run from the UK, the Home Office can’t make them do anything so they’re asking the Service Providers sitting in the middle to do the work instead. Only this isn’t possible in the way they think it is.

I rather suspect the Home Office have been spending too much time watching reruns of “Spooks” rather than researching the issue properly.

Before I go on, I should explain the type of people that the Home Office were presenting to back in May 2009. Typically, when government goes to talk to service providers it seems to talk to “Compliance Managers” and directors at large corporations, who are likely not interested front-line technical reality of running a Service Provider. This was not such an audience. There were probably fifty to a hundred people in that room. Without even leaving our seats, the number of people there who did not possess the very real knowledge and capability to cripple large portions of the internet in less than sixty seconds was quite possibly two. Specifically, the two people from the Home Office who stood up on the stage.

The explanation of how this would work presented by the Home Office largely boils down to handwave-handwave big magic box handwave-handwave. They didn’t really have a solution to the problem that all the data and everything else is in a proprietary format that some programmer thought was a good idea while hyped up on Mountain Dew at 3am. As long as it works for whatever application they’re developing, it’s not supposed to be easy to snoop on and they’re likely to change it at any moment. That’s before we get into the problems of all the little Facebook applications and one-off custom bulletin boards.

The Home Office think that Service Providers can do this. The question I asked them was this: Why do you think we can do this. Because, basically, we can’t. The technical Home Office presenter seemed to believe he’d seen this capability. We had a show of hands: How many people in the room – and these are the people that run the Internet, not the managers – can do this. Nobody raised their hands.

The debate elaborated on the detail of this, but boiled down to one thing: the Home Office thought that we already had the ability to get this data for “Network Planning purposes” and had seen the likes of Phorm and Cleanfeed which look vaguely similar, if you ignore all the inconvenient technical data. On the “Network Planning” front, I do need to know how much data people are using so that I can make sure the pipes are big enough. However, I don’t care if that 5 Gigabytes of data you just downloaded are the detailed technical schematics of a nuclear reactor from one Mr.B.Laden or a video of your grandkids in the back garden last summer. 5 Gigabytes is just 5 Gigabytes.

Sure, to some extent I care where it goes. UK traffic is easier (By which, of course, I mean cheaper) to handle than US traffic for example. So we’ll get really into the detail of the data and sample one packet in a thousand. Or one in ten thousand. Or one in a million – we just don’t need the ability to look at every packet to get a pretty good feed for what’s going on. As one attendee put it, if you want to know if an email was sent, you have about the same odds of catching the right packet as you do from buying a lottery ticket. And even then we just know you talked to a server that happened to be owned by Google, or by Facebook, or by Skype. It might host some dodgy terrorist bulletin board but on the same server are quite possibly knitting patterns for woollen jumpers and photos of the 19:47 Express from Dundee.

We don’t know and, frankly, with a technical hat on we Just Don’t Care.

Lets have a look at the obvious counter-arguments that suggest we can do this:

  • Cleanfeed – the system BT invented to try to filter out kiddy porn. For a start because you just need to visit an encrypted web site and it’s not filtered. It also functions by only diverting and examining traffic to addresses known to contain bad content and leaving the rest well alone so it doesn’t have to scale to every piece of data that flows across the network. And finally, it just looks at the URL you type into your browser and that’s predictable and easy to do – no digging around in the internals of the data to find out who Facebook messaged who.
  • Phorm – the user behaviour tracking and advertising system. Somewhat bigger in scale in that it attempts to intercept a bigger proportion of traffic. But you still don’t need every detail in a useful, loggable form to do this. Just the fact that the phrase “woolly jumper patterns” pops up reasonably often in the streams from a user that you did get around to sampling is enough to pop up advertisements for subscriptions to Knitting Weekly.
  • Your Employer – really, they probably can’t do most of what they claim to do as the fear of redundancy keeps most people in line. Some have the resources to do quite a bit, most notably those regulated by organisations such as the Financial Services Authority. But as well as quite a lot of money for a relatively small user base, it’s because they have one big advantage that they control your PC and can install extra software on there to allow monitoring of even encrypted web sites and they can also just block you from doing things they can’t monitor.
  • The Great Firewall of China – Huge numbers of staff involved, all sorts of legal implications if you break through it. And yet people still manage

It all starts looking a bit bleak for IMP and a few months after that meeting, it was abandoned.

If this really is the IMP resurrected, the Home Office have solved some pretty major technical hurdles and I look forward to their announcement of some magic hardware in the not too distant future. In the mean time, I suspect that the likes of Facebook will be checking out the costs of rolling out encryption hardware for anyone accessing their services from the UK.

Update: I have a couple of old addresses from the Home Office dating back to this consultation – I have dropped them an email to ask if this really is the IMP resurrected. It occurred to me as I did that the Strategic Defence and Security Review is Ministry-of-Defence driven whereas the original IMP was via the Home Office. I don’t know if there is anything in that.

An update for anyone who doesn’t follow me on Twitter (And if you’re a Twitter user, why not? I’m @zoeimogen) or didn’t see it earlier – Stonewall have removed Bill Leckie from their list of nominees for Journalist of the Year 2010. According to the Pink Paper, Stonewall said simply it has been “withdrawn” and they’re “sorry for any offence this has caused.”

I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by this turn of events. I’m hoping Stonewall will have an epiphany on other issues soon, such as Marriage Equality.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIt’s been touted in a few places today that two Liberal Democrat owned domain names, and have been “hacked”. Until a couple of hours ago, those sites redirected to this Tuition Fees-related video on YouTube.

A few people did a quick lookup on the “whois” database for UK domains and found it apparently registered to Liberal Democrat HQ. Cue stories of the site either being hacked or it being an “inside job” by disgruntled staff.

A little digging reveals a much longer and less nefarious story. Firstly, we can look at the Google Cache of the page, which shows a link to a YouTube video of Gordon Brown. That’s pretty odd for an official party site.

To get further back we can jump onto the rather useful “Wayback Machine” to see a history of sites at that address. There, we find random sites attacking Surrey Police, going on about legal proceedings and anti-Gordon Brown attacks.

Despite the anti-Labour sentiment, it is pretty clearly not an official Liberal Democrat site.

In fact, it looks like it dates back to squabbles in what most people would regard as the “early days” of the Internet. One keen New Statesman reader found a story on The Register from May of 2001 that mentions some domain squatting going on and one reader registering the domain names supposedly “hijacked” today in retaliation.

The whois information states the domain was registered in August 2002 so it appears the initial registrant allowed it to lapse and someone else picked it up since. As for the registration details on the domain name, supposedly fingering the party itself? You can put whoever you want as the owner of a domain name. The details given are exactly what you get if you search for “Liberal Democrats” on Companies House and I don’t believe that’s a coincidence.

There is a reason you don’t put someone else’s details on your domain name, for the same reason you don’t put someone else’s name on your car registration documents – they can do things with it. Which looks like it has happened in this case, as the YouTube video has been removed and the site now goes to a holding page.