Readers with plenty to hide poo-poo global database

Plus: nukes, typos and terrible punning

Letters The European Commission finally grew a pair and announced the fine it is imposing on Microsoft for failing to comply with its 2004 anti-trust ruling. Here's a suggestion for Steve and Co to consider:

Hi, Couldn't resist this. Microsoft should first bend over, smile sweetly, pay the fine. Then, refuse to sell any software to the Commission in the future. Watching all that bureaucracy scrambling to replace Windows on all those tens of thousands of desktops would be a spectator sport for years.



Earlier this week, the government looked set to give its backing to a new generation of nuclear plants. Then, it did just that:

"dirty and dangerous nuclear power"

It doesn't have to be dirty or dangerous, it can actually be neither. The Chinese are experimenting with a form of nuclear reactor that involves what could basically be described as uranium pebbles in a stream, which works very well and is totally secure (no more water means no more reaction - security by default). Western nations should examine this design carefully, I'm certain that we would all be better off with it. Until solar panels manage a 95% conversion factor, that is.


The sad thing about all this is that we, the country that started off the civil nuclear power era, probably ought to buy French reactors.

Once upon a time the old UKAEA and others did piles of research in to reactor technology. However very little has been done for decades now due to government indifference, neglect, lack of vision (and political cowardice?). Thus there is no modern design on our shelf (unless you count Sizewell B).

The French have the most modern reactor design that is ready, and it would likely be more costly to develop our own. I regard even the French option to be disappointing. A quick bit of Wikipediaing reveals that the Indians are looking at thorium reactors, that the Japanese are looking at pebble bed reactors, etc.

These technologies have features that would reduce many people's concerns over nuclear power. However, instead of persuing and perfecting this kind of technology for ourselves (something we were once eminently capable of doing), we had the dash for gas.

I have no connection to the UK power industry or UKAEA, etc. etc.

Yours looking forward to the lights staying on,


Why do you express such an obviously anti-nuclear power view in your article, quoting only critics of the government's policy, while not quoting from the many organisations which have highlighted the looming 'energy gap'. Your article implies that if we just got down to it, we could solve this problem using renewables, but I don't think that's obvious at all. Since its lunchtime, let me outline why.

Currently we have peak electricity demand of around 50 GW and demand varies through the day by between 10 GW and 20 GW. We have only a few GWh of energy storage capability, and there is little prospect for increasing this, thus energy must be generated when it is required.

WIND: The maximum practical fraction of wind power is around 20%. This is because the natural variability of the wind resource makes it difficult to integrate with conventional power generation. We must still retain almost the same generating capacity as coal/gas fired stations for the one day every three years when there is simply no wind.

SOLAR POWER: Is so expensive that it is not clear whether the energy costs of building the cells are >ever< recovered. Its a bad choice for the UK at >50 degrees latitude.

BIOMASS: To replace 1 nuclear/conventional power plant (about 1 GW) would require the ENTIRE area of Kent to grow fuel (willow). However, moving the fuel by lorry more than 12 miles uses up more energy than will gained from the fuel.

I could go on. The answer is actually dead simple. We need to increase the price of electricity so that people will use less. This is the first step. >THEN< we need to generate the remainder in a rational manner which will include all of the above to some extent, and probably include nuclear power which has safely generated electricity for the last 40 years.

Many people point to the 'clean up' cost of nuclear power (£66billion the last I read) and say this is too expensive. The problem is that the 'clean up' costs of fossil fuels are >much much< greater because global warming is a much much more serious problem than spent fuel.


I think some of the basic facts of nuclear power are not appreciated by journalists. Here are three for you to consider.

  • The real costs of global warming (caused by fossil fuels) dwarf the £66Bn to decommision our current nuclear power stations. We can see the full economic costs of nuclear power but what will be the cost of restoring the atmosphere to its pre-industrial state? The full costs of burning fuels are currently hidden.
  • Radioactive emissions from coal-powered stations exceed radioactive emissions from nuclear stations. This is because of the massive amounts of materials processed in coal-fired power stations and the trace uranium and thorium in the coal.
  • Nuclear power has safely and cleanly provided 20% of our nation's electricity for the last 40 years or so. What's wrong with that?

I have no problem with journalists being skeptical: its your job. But this cynicism about all things nuclear is just depressing. One last thought: if nuclear power stations delivered as much radioactive dose to the general populace as the airline industry does through moving people nearer the source of cosmic showers, they would be shut down.   All the best   Michael de Podesta

PlusNet had a bit of an oops this week when it deleted a whole bunch (technical term, that) of its customers' emails and left many without email access at all. Ooops, indeed:

Interesing story on the PlusNet fiasco. It wasn't so long ago that they "lost" all the data on the CGI server too. God bless them. Perhaps El Reg could put together and send them two bits of sticky tape. Mark them with something like "test system" or "live - do not f*** up".

> In line with the ISP industry we will not be offering compensation due to a break in service

Just *possibly* ISPs might be a bit less reckless if they lost money dueto customer downtime.

> Just as BT has never offered compensation for loss of broadband service.

True, although I'm pretty sure that BT offered me a few bob off my telephone bill when they were late installing it. Go figure.


The bit of the PlusNet story that I found interesting was their statement:   "In line with the ISP industry we will not be offering compensation due to a break in service. Just as BT has never offered compensation for loss of broadband service."

Good to see that they've still got a top-notch, self-justifying copywriter in there somewhere.

Pity that they don't seem to appreciate that, from the user's point of view, a loss of broadband service for a while may be rather different to the wholescale deletion of chunks of your e-mail!  Or is it just me that sees a rather significant difference here - loss of a service, as opposed to having data nuked right under your nose.

As the years have gone by, I have often felt glad that PlusNet and I had our falling out all those years ago.

Judging by the way that they still appear to run their operation, I wouldn't touch them with a very long bargepole... Adrian.

In Tuesday's letters bag, we shamelessly ran an email from a reader we knew you'd have to respond to. And you did, in your droves. The reader in question, chap called Mark, wondered aloud if he was the only person who wanted everyone in the universe bagged, tagged and chucked on a big database. The answer, Mark, is possibly not, but you are pretty much unique among Register readers, as far as we can tell.

First, a purely practical objection:

On Mark's letter about worldwide surveillance: who's the utterly disinterested and impartial authority that's going to run this thing, then?


And now let's dive into the rest. This is only a selection, but we send out thank yous to all who contributed:

Your letters page contributor "Mark" who has trotted out the old "If you have nothing to hide, why should you worry?" cliche has presumably never heard of the fundamental priciple of justice called "Presumed Innocent Until Proven Guilty".

After all, if he has nothing to hide, why should he need to be *presumed* innocent? If anyone accuses him of anything he will, naturally, be able to clearly and categorically *prove* his innocence. There won't be any miscarriages of justice resulting from this, simply because someone has pressed the wrong button or because his details accidentally match someone else's, will there?

Oh and as for his "every human on this planet, should be DNA-scanned, Iris-scanned, Fingerprint-scanned, and electronically-tagged", he is describing a society that would have organisations like the Stasi, the KGB and every other secret police operation of every repressive regime creaming their pants over the power that would give them.

Perhaps he'd like some suggeted reading and viewing, eg "The Trial" by Kafka, Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" and, of course, 1984 by George Orwell and then actually *think* about what he's saying...?


Oh dear, there are so many things wrong with this I barely know where to start. 1. The initial premise of scanning everyone is impossible. How exactly does Mark plan to scan everyone in, oh let's say, Africa where there are vast tracts of land untainted by technology. It would be utterly impractical even in a technology saturated city like London.

2. How will the accuracy of this information be verified? By humans? Humans are dreadful observers, I seem to recall a story on El Reg recently where 22% of entries in the Police National Computer were wrong *even after checking by a supervisor*.

3. There would be a start-up period where not everyone is in this database. Those who are not in it can commit crime and/or make it seem like someone else committed crime if this database is taken as a gold standard. You will never get everybody anyway so this situation will persist. Anyone who believes you can get everybody in the dragnet is a fool.

4. Security would need to be absurdly tight. Yank-the-cable-out-of-the-wall tight or better. Electronic information can be electronically altered and people will find out how to do it. Unless this monitoring system can log absolutely everything you do including making network connections through arbitrarily complicated obfuscation methods, encryption, etc and all of the data that is passed through that connection then you still won't know where electronic systems were attacked or altered from.

5. Authenticity of every single data acquisition must be perfect but can't be. Programming errors will inevitably arise and someone will figure out how to forge data very convincingly.

6. Governments can't do IT. Not even small projects.

7. There would be vastly more information than could ever be stored or analysed to make it useful.

I could ramble on further about just the technical impossibility with no regard for the moral objections to it but a scheme like this will at best catch the low hanging fruit and those too stupid/apathetic to evade it. I find it incredible that anyone seriously believes that human nature and error can be ignored in the grand systems they plan.


Having "nothing to hide" is not the point. The point is that information such as this can (and most likely will) be misused.

Governments should only collect information if there is a good reason to do so. Speculation that "somebody might do something" does not qualify as a good reason.


"if you've got nothing to hide, what's the problem?" Where to start...

1) Criminals with the right technology could use the database to fake incriminating evidence at the scene of a crime.

2) Over reliance on electronic tagging would make anyone who had the device surgically removed effectively untraceable.

3) People have more to hide than just criminal activity. An abused child in hiding could be found through its DNA even if its name were changed. Developing techniques in DNA analysis could allow employers/insurance companies/governments to discriminate based on the genetic probability that you might develop a debilitating illness (or who knows what else as more is learned about our genetic make up).

4) I don't want everyone to be able to access my DNA/Iris/Fingerprint data and I definitely don't want everyone to know where I am at any given moment. This doesn't make me a criminal and I shouldn't be treated as one for wanting a bit of privacy.


In the 1930s the Jews had nothing to hide, so they shouldn't have worried about all being registered with the German Government should they? What about all those countries where sections of the population are routinely discriminated against or persecuted - wouldn't it be so much easier to do that if you had access to a comprehensive DNA database.

I tell you what Mark, you put your details in a globally accessible database - but I'll exercise my right to privacy and refuse to do it.


Ok, let's start the debate in earnest... We live in possibly one of the most judgmental societies in the world, hypocritically holding public figures up to standards that most of us could never hope to achieve. I mean, who doesn't have the occasional game of naked croquet, and are there any of us who haven't frolicked naked on Clapham Common with a rent-boy? Not many in my opinion.

So, if all of this goes through, what happens to my lifestyle? My wife wouldn't be too pleased if she learnt that I earn some ten thousand pounds more than I've told her. If she were to find out that I gamble most of it away on the football, not to mention spending the rest on an excellent collection of beautiful young women and / or online pornography, does anybody think that she'd be happy? Far from it, if I know my wife.

So, for the sake of my wife (and my two mistresses, neither of whom knows about the other) I would urge you to drop those plans right now!

Name withheld, surprisingly.

On an entirely different subject, here's a little gem you'll probably enjoy. We did.

in midst of the summary of your recent authentication survey results ("Who are you? Can you prove it?", 11-07-2006), I found the following wonderful snippet:

"...taking advantage of Wi-Fi hotpots..."

This gets my vote for most wonderful typo of the week, if not the year. Where can I buy this wireless enabled Lancashire delicacy? Will there be a review sometime soon? Surf while you scoff - sounds great!

All the best and thanks for providing the best techie news site, bar none.


And, as they say, finally, again prompted by the letters round up earlier in the week, we have another reader who is concerned about the hygiene risks of using iPod earbuds. Clearly this is a hot button issue for you guys and gals. Surprising no one has raised the matter sooner:

> Since iPods generally have in-the-ear transducers has anyone asked Nat >Semi about the sanitary implications? Do employees get to keep the >earphones? Has anyone sued because of a "disease contracted from an >unexpectedly dirty" earphone? (If I may paraphrase the late great Douglas >Adams). > Dave

Quite. Also I am worried that people have not learnt of the risks of sharing in-the-ear transducers without adequate protection and the consequent risk of infection of contracting hearing aids.

(sorry) Hugh

Groan. We're all off for a hot steaming plateful of wifi hotpot now, so we'll see you after the weekend. ®

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