Tag Archives: mobile

How will minister be punished for replacing phone before it could be searched?

Lord Bethell: he previously claimed he never used his private accounts for official business so we know he’s a liar. Shouldn’t he be sacked by the Tory government?

The answer is that Lord Bethell probably won’t be punished at all.

But if he were involved in a criminal investigation (and he might as well be – as the awarding of many deals for supply of Personal Protective Equipment to Tory chums and/or donors who were incapable of providing it seems extremely crooked) and he ditched the evidence, he would be charged with a crime.

Here are the facts:

Labour has called for an inquiry into the use of WhatsApp within the government, after it emerged a health minister replaced his mobile phone before it could be searched for information relevant to £85m of deals that are subject to a legal challenge.

James Bethell, who oversaw the award of Covid contracts, is one of those under scrutiny over the way deals for personal protective equipment (PPE) and tests were allocated at the height of the pandemic.

As part of legal proceedings issued by the Good Law Project, the government is expected to disclose Lord Bethell’s correspondence including by email, WhatsApp and SMS relating to the award of £85m of contracts for antibody tests to Abingdon Health.

The secretary of state has a responsibility to preserve and search documents for information relevant to the case from the point at which judicial review proceedings were issued in late 2020, under the government’s “duty of candour”.

However, a witness statement from a government lawyer revealed Bethell replaced his phone in early 2021 and it may no longer be possible to retrieve the information about his dealings with Abingdon, although efforts are being made to recover them from his mobile phone provider.

The statement said Bethell had used his official email account as well as his private email account to send and receive emails relevant to the contracts, and that he had also used his mobile phone for SMS and WhatsApp messages. But it said Bethell had confirmed that about six months ago his phone was broken and replaced and that his new phone did not contain the phone data.

Government lawyers revealed Bethell had not been issued with a “preservation notice” requiring him to save documents because ministers’ official correspondence was routinely saved as a matter of course. However, this did not cover government business conducted by private means.

What does he have to hide?

When they’re under an investigation with legal consequences, people with nothing to fear don’t destroy the evidence.

And Bethell must know that the information will be available by other means – although logically there shouldn’t be anything to stop him from reactivating his WhatsApp, SMS and private email accounts. Why hasn’t he done so?

The fact that government preservation notices don’t cover business conducted by private means, while government ministers are allowed to carry out government business in that way and are trusted to duplicate it into the public system, is a huge opening for corruption.

And it seems clear that this particular minister has exploited it.

Maybe I’m wrong – and I’ll be happy to apologise of Lord Bethell can provide clear proof that he was not responsible for any wrongdoing.

But I won’t hold my breath waiting for it.

Source: Covid contracts: minister replaced phone before it could be searched | Health policy | The Guardian

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Gavin Williamson wants school discipline clampdown. Based on what evidence?

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em: Gavin Williamson was unkindly compared to Frank Spencer from the 70s sitcom. Sadly, if he were more like the character Michael Crawford immortalised, he’d probably care more about children’s well-being and less about subjecting them to “discipline” – which, in the mouth of a Tory, seems very creepy indeed.

Gavin Williamson, the dunderheaded education secretary who illegally scrapped dozens of legal rights for children, is attacking them again.

This time he’s telling us that long periods in lockdown have “inevitably” turned our children feral, and they need to have hefty amounts of discipline whacked into them now that schools are open again.

(When I say “whacked”, I should stress that he’s not actually promoting a return to physical punishments – although I wouldn’t put it past him and our government of weirdo fascists.)

I see no evidence in support of Williamson’s claim. Indeed, information he has provided himself suggests that kids in lockdown have settled down to the different routine of remote schooling via the internet.

“Technology has been invaluable keeping children learning during lockdowns and we support its use,” he said.

Unfortunately, in the very same breath, he demanded that technology is a disruptive influence and that mobile phones should be banned from schools.

He’s actually trying to do something clever here – supporting a lie with a truth. But we can all see through it – can’t we?

This Writer’s personal opinion is that mobile phones shouldn’t be allowed in classrooms. If kids insist on bringing them in, teachers should keep a list of those who have them, and should collect them in the morning and give them back at the end of the school day.

It would be too easy to use internet-enabled mobiles to cheat – and that would undermine the point of going to school.

The points about cyberbullying and inappropriate use of social media are, on balance, also fair:

Mr Williamson has made banning mobile phones in schools a key part of his plan, saying they not only distract from “exercise and good old-fashioned play” but also foment cyber bullying and the inappropriate use of social media.

But he has produced no evidence to suggest that possession of a mobile phone, use of it as an education tool during lockdown, or indeed being forced to stay at home at all have eroded discipline in children.

Indeed, if our kids have buckled down and studied at home, without a teacher standing over them, that tends to indicate that they have employed self-discipline. Doesn’t it?

Also, he hasn’t provided any information about the kind of discipline he intends to impose. Is he advocating the conversion of our schools into training grounds for some kind of imposed fascism – the “Johnson Youth”?

The backlash has started:

Last word: It has been alleged that Williamson’s discipline drive is a retaliation against kids who criticised him for policies like his stupid algorithm-based plan to replace exam marks, that automatically assumed that state school pupils would not achieve results as high as those who were privately-educated…

Can anybody provide evidence to support this? I haven’t seen any.

But you have to admit, based on his behaviour, it rings true.

Source: Gavin Williamson backs mobile phone ban in schools and claims children have lacked ‘discipline’ during lockdown | Evening Standard

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Humiliation for Hancock as Apple denies talking with Tories over contact tracing app

Matt Hancock: he has a lot of bare-faced cheek.

How did Matt Hancock think he would get away with this one?

It seems he has tried to hide the failure of the Tory government’s attempt to create a Covid-19 contact tracing app for mobile phones by saying the government was merging its app with one already created by Apple and Google.

Apple has said it is unaware of any such agreement and the government has not held any discussions with the firm.

In other words: Hancock was lying.

That’s the only logical conclusion. Right?

Apple says it did not know the UK was working on a “hybrid” version of the NHS coronavirus contact-tracing app using tech it developed with Google.

The firm took the unusual step of saying it was also unaware of an issue regarding distance-measuring, which was flagged by Health Secretary Matt Hancock in Thursday’s daily briefing.

“We’ve agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together,” Mr Hancock said.

However, Apple said: “We don’t know what they mean by this hybrid model. They haven’t spoken to us about it.”

Apple said it was “difficult to understand” the claims.

Downing Street said the government had “worked closely with Apple and Google”.

In tests carried out in the UK, there were occasions when software tools developed by Apple and Google could not differentiate between a phone in a user’s pocket 1m (3.3ft) away and a phone in a user’s hand 3m (9.8ft) away.

During the briefing, Mr Hancock said: “Measuring distance is clearly mission critical to any contact-tracing app.”

However, speaking to the Times, Apple said: “It is difficult to understand what these claims are as they haven’t spoken to us.”

It gets worse. The government doubled down on its claim, with disastrous consequences:

On Friday, the Department of Health said the NHS’s digital innovation unit had indeed discussed its ambitions with Apple.

A Downing Street spokesman said the government continued to work closely with both Apple and Google on the app, and had done so since development began.

“We’ve agreed with them to take forward our work on estimating distance through the app that we’ve developed and work to incorporate that into their app,” he said.

Apple and Google have not created an app.

It’s not irredeemable for the Tories.

Apple is a commercial firm and will undoubtedly be happy to enter a commercial agreement with the UK government to create the track-and-trace system the Tories want.

The big question is whether this new system will have the facility to download people’s private information and make it available to other commercial operators, in the way the Tories’ – failed – app did.

Source: Apple ‘not told’ about UK’s latest app plans – BBC News

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Conservative contact tracer app may be a front for covert surveillance

Is this yet another conspiracy theory? Maybe not – it seems to have the ring of truth about it.

The Tories are using the Isle of Wight to test a new contact tracing app – ostensibly to help the treatment of coronavirus, but possibly as a means of quietly watching everything users do.

Conservative governments have form with regard to covert surveillance. David Cameron’s Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 granted the government huge powers to watch your communications – albeit with safeguards demanded by MPs who were concerned about the erosion of civil liberties.

Now, concerns have been raised that the Tory app will infringe people’s civil liberties by gathering data on their movements and uploading their contact lists.

It seems Tories like Matt Hancock want everybody in the UK to download and use the app, providing the government with an enormous amount of data on their personal lives.

The demand is meeting resistance:

In the Commons, Marcus Fysh warned “widespread surveillance” was “not acceptable” in Britain, and it was essential the system was voluntary.

“We’re not a people who take well to surveillance and it’s a little ironic that the country that has probably been surveilling its population more than any other appears to have been the source of this virus,” he said, referring to China.

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said… “We’re extremely concerned that the Government may be planning to route private data through a central database, opening the door to pervasive state surveillance and privacy infringement, with potentially discriminatory effects,” she said.

Tory officials insist the app is designed with privacy and security “front of mind” with the data stored on an individual’s phone until the point they contact the NHS to report symptoms and request a test.

But Tory officials also supported Hancock when he lied to us all that he had reached his target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day. He should have been forced to resign over that but he hasn’t even apologised.

On Twitter, matters seem straightforward:

Source: Trial of coronavirus contact-tracing app begins on Isle of Wight – ITV News

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Are we heading for the UK’s own ‘Watergate’-scale scandal over Brexit and prorogation?

Liar, liar: Did Boris Johnson look like this, in this now-infamous photo, because his pants were on fire?

Boris Johnson tells us that he did not lie to the Queen about his reasons for wanting Parliament prorogued. Do you believe this habitual liar?

I don’t.

I’m far more likely to believe Joanna Cherry MP, one of the 75 Parliamentarians who took the Tory government to court in Scotland over the decision to prorogue.

She thinks BoJob lied to our monarch, and she thinks that the government’s refusal to release communications on the subject by Downing Street aides – who were using their personal equipment to do so, is intended to hide the evidence. She says we could be heading for a scandal of Watergate-sized proportions.

And let’s be honest – the fact that the government is refusing to hand over the messages is extremely suspicious. If there was nothing incriminating on those devices, what’s the problem?

There is also a double-standard going on here.

Parliament has been prorogued because the Queen ordered it – on the advice of Mr Johnson, relayed by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

But it is also the Queen who ordered the release of information on these aides’ mobile devices – on the urging of a “humble address” to her by Parliament.

Boris Johnson’s government does not have the option to choose which of Her Majesty’s orders it chooses to obey. She wants the information out in the open so out is where it should be.

Looking at the government’s reasons for refusing the order – representatives like Michael Gove have said it is unreasonable to demand aides’ personal devices in order to see the messages on them.

But according to the law, aides are not permitted use their personal devices to discuss government business and the order was made because of concerns that this is exactly what they have been doing – in order to hide the facts from the public.

So the situation is clear: if these aides didn’t want us to see the contents of their mobile phones (or whatever devices they used), they should not have broken the law and used them. The evidence – the refusal to provide these devices – suggests that they did. They only way to vindicate themselves is to hand over the gear.

Otherwise we’re going to go forward – into a general election, as we understand it – in the belief that the leader of a party of government misled Queen and country for his own selfish reasons. That’s not a good platform on which to campaign.

I mean, nobody’s going to believe the word of a proven liar, are they?

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Theresa May and the 55p-per-minute miscalculation


The biggest cock-up committed by Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday has to have been over Universal Credit – and the cost of phoning in a claim.

First, let’s have a quick summary of the problem, courtesy of the Labour Party:

Mrs May doesn’t see it that way, of course – and defended the benefit when Jeremy Corbyn challenged her about it.

So Mr Corbyn made the following point:

See, to Mrs May and her fellow Tories, 55p per minute is hardly worth considering. But £5.50 for a 10-minute call is a fortune if you’re unemployed and need to claim a benefit.

Tories avoid thinking about these things because they show up the flaws in Conservative thinking.

The rest of us don’t avoid thinking about these things, and Mrs May’s stuttered response (always a sign that they’re lying or don’t have anything good to say) provided plenty of opportunity for criticism:

The situation was worsened – if that’s possible – by Tory minister for Cheese, Liz Truss, who was sent to the BBC’s Daily Politics and The World at One programmes to justify her boss’s gaffe:

https://twitter.com/Barkercartoons/status/918143047174586368

Yes it was. You can see the moment she realised she was in trouble – her face drops around 40 seconds into the clip.

But she went on to make matters worse:

There was only one conclusion to reach, and here it is:

And here’s the clincher – it was left to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg (possibly after a phone call from her friends in the Tory government) to point out that people can ask the DWP to call them back:

Knowing the DWP, though, is there any guarantee that the call would be returned?


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DWP limbo: We ask Job Centres ‘How low will you go’?

It is as if staff at the Department for Work and Pensions were trying to commit vocational suicide, in pale emulation of the lengths to which they drive their ‘customers’.

Following on from yesterday’s article on the DWP’s sickening response to the latest Freedom of Information request on incapacity claimant deaths come two accounts of the heartlessness of the Department’s staff.

The first is from our old friend Pride’s Purge, and concerns a letter from the DWP to a woman who suffers with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.

It states, in very poor English: “On whether you have contributed to your medical condition. We have now decided that you did contribute to your medical condition.”

This is physically impossible and DWP staff, who are not medically qualified, had no right to suggest otherwise. The lady’s boyfriend was so enraged by the incident that he posted the letter on Facebook and you can see it below.

ewings-sarcoma

The second is from the Blue Annoyed blog, and runs as follows:

“A sick and disabled man attend[ed] Newcastle JCP to use the phones to make an enquiry when he was attacked by [a] G4S guard for using his mobile when they refused his request… The JCPs are now removing telephones.

“It is now policy that you are intimidated BY G4S security to turn off your mobiles after many used them to film maladministration of JCP staff.

“At the time of writing this blog a complaint has gone in to the manager of this JCP and the police have been informed.”

There’s more, but you should go to Blue Annoyed to read it.

It seems the gentleman involved had previously been made homeless, and his story had appeared in the New Statesman.

He made a video of the attack, using his mobile, which you can see here.

If anyone tells you that benefit claimants get what they deserve, show them this article.

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Tax credit debt collection is a double-edged attack on the poor

140126facts

There’s more than a little of the piscine about the fact that our Conservative-led has set debt collection agencies onto poor families who have been overpaid tax credit due to errors made by HM Revenue and Customs.

Firstly, the move undermines the principle behind the tax credit system – that it is there to ensure that poorly-paid families may still enjoy a reasonable living standard. Tax credits are paid on an estimate of a person’s – or family’s – income over a tax year and the last Labour government, knowing that small variances could cause problems for Britain’s poorest, set a wide buffer of £25,000 before households had to pay anything back.

By cutting this buffer back to £5,000, the Conservatives have turned this safety net into a trap. Suddenly the tiniest overpayment can push households into a debt spiral, because their low incomes mean it is impossible to pay back what the government has arbitrarily decided they now owe.

And the sharks are circling. Instead of collecting the debt on its own behalf, HMRC has sold it on to around a dozen debt collection agencies who are harassing the families involved with constant telephone calls, mobile phone messages and letters to their homes.

In total, HMRC made 215,144 referrals to debt collectors in 2013-14. Of the working families involved, 118,000 earned less than £5,000 per year.

This takes us to our second area of concern. Remember how the Department for Work and Pensions has been encouraging people – particularly the disabled – to declare themselves as self-employed in order to avoid the hassle and harassment that now go hand in hand with any benefit claim? You know – the refusal of benefits based on arbitrary ‘descriptors’ that were originally devised by a criminal insurance company as a means to minimise payouts, and the constant threat of sanctions that would cut off access to benefits for up to three years unless claimants manage to clear increasingly difficult obstacles.

And do you remember how the DWP reported earlier this year that more than 3,000 people who were subjected to the government’s benefit cap have now found work? This blog suggested at the time that many of them may have been encouraged to declare themselves self-employed in order to escape the hardship that the cap would cause them.

Both of these circumstances are likely to lead to a verdict of overpayment by HMRC, as the self-employment reported by these people is likely to be fictional, or to provide less than required by the rules – either in terms of hours worked or income earned.

Suddenly their debt is sold to a collection agency and they are suffering government-sponsored harassment, alarm and distress (which is in fact illegal) far beyond anything they received from the DWP; debt collection agencies are not part of the government and, as Dame Anne Begg pointed out in the Independent article on this subject, “The tactics they use to collect the debt are not tactics a government should use.”

Maybe not. So why employ such tactics?

Let’s move on to our third, and final, worry. By setting sharks on the hundreds of thousands of minnows caught in the government’s trawler-net (that was formerly a safety net – and I apologise for the mixed metaphor), the Tory-led administration is creating a handy distraction from the huge, bloated, offshore-banking whales who donate heavily into Conservative Party funds and who are therefore never likely to be pursued for the billions of pounds in unpaid taxes that they owe.

The government has promised to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance, but ministers would have to be out of their minds to attack the bankers and businesspeople who pay for their bread and butter.

George Osborne suffered huge – and entirely justified – derision last year when HMRC published a list of its top 10 tax dodgers, which revealed that public enemy number one was a hairdresser from Liverpool who had failed to pay a total of £17,000.

It seems likely that the Conservatives have decided that future announcements will involve the reclamation of far larger amounts, and from far more people…

Innocent people who were either cheated by Tory-instigated changes to the system or by Tory-instigated misleading benefit advice.

Meanwhile the guilty parties continue to go unhindered. Their only payouts will continue to be made to – who was it again?

Oh yes…

To the Conservative Party.

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Cameron, Brooks, and an embarrassment of emails

The correspondents: Can anything transmitted between Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron be as bad for them as a naked photograph was for a Conservative councillor?

How embarrassing are these emails that David Cameron withheld from the Leveson Inquiry?

I’m sure you know the story by now – Mr Cameron held back dozens of emails, including (it’s believed) messages to Andy Coulson while he was still an employee of Rupert Murdoch, after taking legal advice. It seems they’re not “relevant”.

The trouble is, things that aren’t “relevant” have a nasty habit of grabbing the public interest. I want to know the contents of every single one of those emails, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

… Most especially since the contents of these private emails have been described as “embarrassing“.

Here in Mid Wales – only last week – we have had experience of “embarrassing” material, sent between individuals electronically, resurfacing to the detriment of a political reputation.

It concerns a very young county councillor, who took a naked photograph of himself on a mobile phone and transmitted it to a girl he claims was his enamorata at the time. That photo subsequently went public, and recently a campaign was launched against the councillor, casting doubt on his character due to the fact that he had taken the photograph in the first place, and the age of the girl to whom he sent it (my understanding is that she was aged under 16).

Putting his side of the story to a local newspaper, the councillor reportedly said: “A private communication between myself and my girlfriend at the time was shown to others. It was a foolish thing to do and it caused much embarrassment. I apologised at the time to all concerned.”

That’s not actually good enough, as we have no information from the young lady who received the photograph. Was she really his girlfriend? This might actually be a case of a 17-year-old sending a naked picture of himself to a random girl several years younger – in which case it’s a completely different affair.

But let’s go back to Mr Cameron. It occurs to me that, whatever those emails to Rebekah Brooks may contain, they can’t be anything like as damaging as what this young councillor (who also happens to be a Conservative) did.

So, unless Mr Cameron emailed naked pictures of himself to Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson, there is less harm in producing the emails and letting the public make up its own mind than in not producing them – and watching the public decide anyway!