Letters: Snooping in web’s dark corners

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 11 June, 2013

Independent Voices
Monday 10 June 2013 19:21

You quote William Hague as saying law-abiding citizens had “nothing to fear” from intelligence agencies’ activities. Except of course the illegal activities of governments.

On the other hand, as your article on the Tor project demonstrates (10 June), do we really want dark secret corners on the internet beyond the reach of all investigation? Worse still, do we want governments using the dark secret corners for their own illegal and unaccountable activities?

The answer must be to eliminate secrecy on the internet but establish independent, hardware-based logging of all access to the private data of individuals, so that governments, and others, can be held to account when they abuse it.

Jon Hawksley, London EC1

William Hague says law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from GCHQ. The only problem with that statement is that it is not for GCHQ to decide whether or not I’m law-abiding. In a democracy it’s a decision to be made by the courts, based upon legally obtained evidence – not uncorroborated hearsay provided by a foreign government.

Gavin Lewis, Manchester

Revelations about US spying on private communications have elicited from William Hague the response that if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear. So why isn’t the same principle applied to lobbying, with all meetings between big business and ministers and MPs minuted and open to public scrutiny?

Michael McCarthy, London W13

In regard to the current GCHQ scandal, is the media frightened to mention what activities could be possibly going on inside the walls of the joint GCHQ/NSA station at RAF Menwith Hill?

George D Lewis, Brackley, Northamptonshire

Cuts threaten museums and libraries

You rightly draw attention to the challenges facing the Science Museum group and the possible impact on the National Railway Museum (York and Shildon), the Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester) and the National Media Museum (Bradford) (report, 4 June). It is wrong to suggest, however, that this is a form of discrimination against the North. Instead, heritage-based organisations are facing further cuts to their funding.

Our 5,000 members in these organisations will be surprised at the suggestion in your editorial (5 June) that “Britain’s free-of-charge museums could not expect to escape attention”. These organisations have suffered millions of pounds of cuts in the past three years. Substantial activities have been cut in most organisations, including reductions in service in curatorial departments, collection care, learning and education, visitor services and photography. Given the people-based nature of these organisations the reduction in these activities has inevitably fallen on staff – 89 staff within the Science Museum Group nationwide have been made redundant since May 2010.

Consequently, these further cuts are now causing the museums to consider even more drastic measures, such as the introduction of charges or closures.

Prospect agrees that introducing charges is not acceptable but neither is the closure of galleries. The museums and galleries add so much to society, including advancing an understanding of science, technology and the arts. Furthermore, every £1 invested in the arts generates £4 in the economy. We should be looking to increase investment in these valuable organisations, not reducing it.

Alan Leighton, National secretary, Prospect, Union for Professionals, London SE1

The Prime Minister has announced that up to a quarter of a billion pounds in grants and loans will be made available for villages, local estates or community groups to buy assets and run them as new social enterprises – including public libraries – “especially if they are under threat of closure from local government funding cuts” (report, 6 June).

Evidently, the statutory library service is to be bundled in with the discretionary services, like swimming pools. This is in spite of the UK economy losing approximately £81bn per year from the nation’s illiteracy, as well as concerns that lack of access to a comprehensive network of libraries is contributing to a widening digital divide.

Let us not be bamboozled into believing that Mr Cameron is offering largesse to our communities here. His government is giving with one hand, while taking away with the other.

Shirley Burnham, Swindon, Wiltshire

A model housing development

Michael W Cook’s suggestion (Letters, 30 May) that local authorities should buy housing land and sell it on for self-build development reminds me of another possible way forward.

The small town where I live saw rapid expansion in the later 19th century, but our first “developer” in the modern sense built no houses at all; instead he bought a large parcel of land, laid out four parallel roads on it, and then sold individual plots, or small batches of plots, to individual builders, who developed them under covenant. The covenant was important as it specified what type of house should be built in each road, and whether for example it should have a big front garden, a small one, or none at all.

There were no planning laws or building regulations, but this tight control meant that though there was a pleasant variety in the appearance of individual dwellings, or terraces, they cohered well stylistically and in terms of building materials, which were local.

It helped that the developer was also general manager of the local building society – and it was local, catering for a population in local towns and villages of about 50,000. Mortgages could be offered on the basis often of personal knowledge of applicants and their standing. Few properties ever needed to be repossessed.

These roads have never “gone down” or “gone up” in the world. Their structures remain as sound as when they were built. Their adaptable internal spaces have been updated where necessary, and they have aged gracefully. Whatever their size, they are still regarded as premium properties locally.

Perhaps this is a model of development that could be revived today.

Arthur Percival, Faversham, Kent

Code’s verdict on lane-hoggers

I question Jonathan Brown’s assertion (6 June) that “motorway driving does not yet feature as part of the driving test”.

Is not knowledge of the Highway Code an integral feature of the driving test?

Even my 1978 version has a whole section devoted to motorway driving and specifically: “Lane discipline – On a three-lane carriageway the normal ‘keep to the left’ rule still applies. You may, however, stay in the middle lane when there are slower vehicles in the left-hand lane, but you should return to the left-hand lane when you have passed them. The right-hand lane is for overtaking only. If you use it, move back to the middle lane and then into the left-hand lane as soon as you can, but without cutting in.”

Graham Feakins, London SE24

Rule 160 of the Highway Code states:

“Keep to the left unless road signs and markings indicate otherwise. The exceptions are when you want to overtake, turn right or pass parked vehicles or pedestrians in the road.” What could be clearer?

Hogging the middle lane is simply bad driving as it can contribute to congestion, it forces good drivers who are obeying the Highway Code to cross two carriageways to overtake and it encourages dangerous undertaking manoeuvres.

Ian Quayle, Fownhope, Herefordshire

There are no such things as the slow lane, the fast lane, the middle lane or the lorry lane on the motorway (Letters, 7 June).

There are the inside lane and the overtaking lanes. The Highway Code guidance is that you travel in the inside lane and overtake in the overtaking lanes. Simple.

Chris Harding, Parkstone, Dorset

No windfarm in our back yard

Ed Davey (letter, 7 June) makes an admirable defence of government energy policy and highlights the need for certainty to attract investment. It’s just a shame his enthusiasm is not shared by his colleagues in the Cabinet.

The latest planning guidance, which gives a much greater role to local communities, in effect creates a veto that means future wind-farm development in England will come to a standstill. It’s difficult to see how that helps the UK meet its renewables targets. Will this new enthusiasm for empowering local communities extend to other planning decisions of similar national importance, such as HS2?

David Wallism Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Treasury cat’s bid for freedom

Poor Freya (“Meet Freya, the roving tabby of the Treasury” 8 June). Female cats do not normally roam, but stay within a small territory. Perhaps Freya is looking for a home more suited to her tastes. If so, she must be spitting and swearing every time well-meaning people return her to Downing Street.

And cats are politically extremely independent, nor are they impressed by wealth. If I were a cat, I wouldn’t want to share a home with George Osborne.

Lesley Docksey, Buckland Newton, Dorset

Back to polys, and back to work

Giving polytechnics the green light to turn into universities damaged our education system (“Think-tank demands the return of polytechnics”, 10 June). We have created a society in which everyone wants a university education and many have an unrealistic perception that a degree is the only route into a career.

The return of the polytechnic will raise awareness of how high-quality vocational programmes offer valuable alternatives, giving people more choice.

Suzie Webb, Director of Education, Association of Accounting Technicians, London EC1

Capital notion

I can’t see Birmingham airport expanding (report, 10 June), with our country being so London-centric. Why not promise to call the expanded airport London Birmingham, this could fool the investors to back it.

Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands

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