Saturday, November 18, 2006

Techno Spat

Fridays I reserve for worrying about terrorism. Technology and terrorism are becoming inextricably linked, therefore Bill Gates is almost certainly to blame. I sometimes think Bill Gates invented world poverty just so he can get the credit for solving it. In fact, by the simple act of hoovering up a sizable chunk of global income he probably has almost single-handedly created at least a category of poverty. Just as well he isn’t British because he would have already got about fourteen thousand knighthoods by now. Creating problems needing innovative solutions which, hey presto you just happen to have a company that can do that at enormous expense, is one thing the Government likes very much and is bound to reward. Special admiration is reserved for reprobates who fleece people on low incomes and piss off to Argentina with all their money just before Christmas.

Technology is a form of terrorism, certainly the way it operates in my life anyway. I think of it as the enemy within an innocuous looking thin black box. Blogging has tested my patience to its outer limits. Having recently switched to the Beta version after being assured by well-meaning friends (who incidentally have been dropped from this year’s Christmas card list), I still can’t carry out basic operations like put in a list of links which I really want to do as a couple of people have put up a link to this blog. Thank you Temperama and Baroque in Hackney. I will return the favour just as soon as I acquire a level of technical ability comparable to that of a three year old. Or I could adopt a three year old. That may be quicker.

The google box’s insidiousness lies in the fact that it can be benign, and even has the capacity for charity as it sometimes delivers you pleasant news. But equally, it is also capable of tearing up that same good news and setting fire to it before your very eyes. To see the airline tickets that you carefully selected disappear because you didn’t make it through the arduous purchasing process can be dispiriting. You pause very briefly to berate yourself for the stupidity of putting down your first budgie’s name as your security question. No one ever remembers their first budgie’s name.

Meanwhile, ‘the system’, which is an electronic control freak jobsworth, has reserved those tickets for you but abandoned the whole transaction so you can’t get to them. You have to wait five hours before the tickets are released back into the available pool, by which time some anorak whose first budgie’s name was probably Tweetie has logged on and snuffled up your 99p fare to Faro. The modern world is a stressful place.

The Government believes it can defeat terrorism with a dashing combination of technology and bombing the crap out of countries it has previously rendered lawless. We in Britain are extremely proud of our record at creating both diplomatic and technological solutions to problems which make things at least ten times worse than they were. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth totally fucking up. It is therefore heartening to see these two areas in which we excel at incompetence coming together to create a scenario of truly gobsmackingly catastrophic potential.

I’ve been blathering on about the new biometric passports for months now. The Government has already issued three million of these new documents which contain digital information about the holder’s physical features as well as other identifying detail on a microchip. Officials have been crowing about how the Home Office has adopted a data encryption level three times that of the standard for military intelligence. So, how come a Guardian journalist and his techy friend, armed with only a microchip reader which they easily obtained for £250 and a little homemade software, were able to crack this code and download all the information contained on that secure chip?

These two scallywags had previously embarrassed the Home Office by taking a boarding pass they found on the Heathrow Express and using it to obtain a complete identity profile of the man who had wantonly discarded it, including the name of his first budgie (Percy), and buy themselves some more airline tickets using his frequent flyer account. Hopefully that man has learned his lesson about littering.

It seems now that these passports may even be less secure than the little maroon books that we presently wait hours in a line to show someone who is studiously looking the other way, except in Cuba where they take an almost forensic interest. They seem a very thorough people. The Guardian team also discovered that it is possible to fashion a little scanning device out of some old egg cartons, wire coat hangers and sticky back plastic which will read the data on passports from anything up to a foot away.

With the old passports you knew if yours had been stolen - the bump on the head and/or ransacked hotel room were generally an indication. With this new system, your passport could be lifted in a deft virtual pick pocket exercise carried out by the person pressed against you on a crowded Piccadilly Line train, and you would never know. You may then have some explaining to do after the police have informed your family that you are a dead suicide bomber. Now that could be very tricky…

Cartoon from


Groucho said...

I was born at a very early age, so adopt me already.

Harpo said...

Teet. Teet.