On civil liberties, video violence and hanging offences

Reg readers address the burning questions of the day

Letters A survey of around 1,000 Brits revealed firstly that as a nation, we are apparently quite at home with the idea of our civil liberties being eroded in exchange for a warm fuzzy feeling of security that comes with reactionary legislation.

You thought it also showed that if you ask people very specific questions about big issues, they might not give the answers they think they'd give. Read on to untangle that one:

On civil liberties - the real challenge, to which you allude, is that apparently we're prepared to give up all our civil liberties until we're asked which ones specifically. (The LSE study on ID Cards shows similar findings both here and in Australia).

To me the problem appears to be related to asking people to answer questions about abstract ideas. Their inability to relate the abstractions to aspects of their lives gives rise to answers that have no meaning.

For example, you might ask the question of someone "If you alone in your car and out after midnight were stopped by two Policemen with performance targets to meet and after questioning you aggressively, would you be happy being arrested for no other reason than because you failed to show them the civility they were not showing you?"

You might get the response that this is not a real world question - but then ask any man (not necessarily black or young) with a less than new car or any motorcyclist not riding a BMW.

Similarly the idea of excluding the yoof from town centres at night might seem acceptable but then you might ask a nice fifteen year old law abiding middle class boy in Richmond if they feel OK about being excluded from the town centre after 9pm in the name of law and order.


A couple of points spring to mind. Firstly, people like myself who are concerned for civil liberties are often also concerned for their privacy. So they will register their telephone number with the telephone preference service and will give short shrift to any cold callers. In consequence, they will always be significantly under represented in telephone surveys such as this one.

Secondly, this survey exposes the fallacy of conducting polls about complex moral and legal issues. Apparently, "52 per cent of those polled said judges should not be able to rule against government measures". If we ask someone a bald question, they may well answer in such a fashion. If, however, you describe examples of a government seeking to abuse its powers but being constrained by judicial oversight I suspect they would answer differently.

On the face of it, the poll suggests that 52% of people want a government that is not bound by the rule of law. But is that really what they want? Seriously? Did the respondents actually think through their answers? No, of course not. It's just a silly poll.



I think ICM will find that it is *other people's* civil liberties that the Great British Public are prepared to hand over. Still, if you ask a loaded question ("in exchange for better security") then you can't be too surprised if the answer shoots you in the foot.


What has the erosion of civil liberties got to do with speeding? In fact, what has speeding got to do with road fatalities? Answer: sod all.

Without getting into a monologue about the government distorting its own research figures to 'prove' that speeding kills in order to justify the proliferation of revenue... sorry, speed ...oops, 'safety' cameras (I'll leave that to the eminently capable SafeSpeed and other enlightened individuals like the Chief Constable of County Durham), an article about civil liberties, torture and enactment of terrorism laws is not the place to put across unrelated personal opinions.

Quite frankly, I expect much better of The Reg.


We were trying to make a point about the different ways people perceive risk.

The risk of being blown up in a terrorist attack is really very, very small. The risk of being mown down by a reckless (speeding, drunk, texting, apple eating or otherwise) driver, while also not large, is significantly greater.

The public response to the two threats is very different.

How many people are killed in Britain every year from smoking? 10 per hour 230 a day 1600 a week (see this source)

So what is really going on? It cannot be about saving lives or keeping us safe can it? So the terrorists will get one or two of us now and again. Statistically it never happens compared to smoking deaths.

Don't sell out your hard fought liberties.


Next, and on a totally unrelated subject, we have your thoughts about a (since corrected) glitch in the password security at Dabs.com. The problem was exposed when a customer signed up with the wrong email address:


"Idiot enters wrong email address and blames someone else for problems that ensue"



How is it Dabs fault that they have customers with such levels of brilliance? I know you should never underestimate the ingenuity of an idiot, but this really takes the biscuit. Some level of personal responsibility on the customers side has to exist.


A huge number of online systems work in this way, with the e-mail address as key. One could pretty much call it the de facto standard. Online banking is going to ask for more but not most ordering systems.

If one is stupid enough to put in an incorrect e-mail address - many systems ask one to type it twice for this reason - one should expect to pay the "stupid tax", I would suggest :)

Further, if you'd ordered something and not received your confirmation mail, wouldn't you be straight on the blower or firing off a query on e-mail?



Next, the debate about video violence and violence in the real world seems virtually inexhaustible. This latest contribution was prompted by a study of studies of video nasties. Naval-gazing research anyone?

One can't help but wonder if they've done any sort of comparative study with other activities such as playing sport. Is it the violent nature of the game or the competitive nature of the activity that causes a boost in aggression?.. Were the kids in the study more or less aggressive after losing a similarly engaging but otherwise non-violent computer game?

Emphasis on *similarly* engaging there - I've always felt that these kind of studies are flawed because most of the time the difference between violent and non-violent games is huge - a ten-year old will not enjoy Solitaire or Minesweeper as much as Doom or GTA and the pace of play is incomparable, so the choice of games tested is critical... (although as they get older they will come to realise that solitaire and minesweeper are easier to get away with playing at work)

And assuming the study was properly carried out, was the increase in aggression just for a few minutes while the adrenaline was still rushing, or was it a permanent attitude adjustment? - I doubt it was permanent, and frankly a bunch of kids having a go at their computer screens doesn't bother me too much... at least they're not out getting aggressive on the streets 'cos their football team took a thrashing...


Of course, if you base a study of video-game aggression on children, the results are going to be different to one based on adults. Surely the point of the ESRB and other rating systems is that everyone involved freely *admits* that kids are susceptible to videogame violence?

I was under the impression that the more important argument involved the people who have purchased and are playing these games *legally*. Leave parental inadequacies to the social workers and their ilk; it's nothing to do with the argument at hand.

Incidentally, considering the age of the medium in question, where do they find "20-years of research into the question"? Or was the research in question purely related to screen violence? In which case, aren't we left at worst with the conclusion that games should be treated in similar manner to movies, with an age dependant rating system... like, say... the ESRB?


Twenty years goes back to paddle tennis. Where's the violence in that ?


Won't somebody think of the poor ball?

A quieter plane design put forward by engineers at Cambridge might have a few flaws, according to one reader:

Flying wing designs have many attractions but there are two major problems concerning their application to passenger aircraft.

1) Evacuation: it is not possible to incorporate sufficient emergency exits to evacuate all the passengers in the requisite time.

2) Roll rates: people seated furthest from the longitudinal axis of the plane will be subject to unacceptable acceleration when the plane banks in a turn.

It would make a nice freighter if any aircraft company was brave enough to finance development of a pure cargo aircraft. That's not a daft idea, an ultra quiet freighter that could use airports overnight would be a very good thing. Sadly, I can't see it happening.


Worm wars. Geeks. 'Nuff said:

Re: Worm War II

Yay! Core Wars is back! I haven't played that since I were knee-high to a script kiddie!


Regarding your article "Worm War II", I wonder how long it's going to be before some grey hat hacker get's it into his head to release a worm whose sole purpose is, upon infection, to install one of the various freeware firewalls. Wouldn't it be ironic?


Someone came up with a much better idea than writing a crummy virus when they were looking for a naughty way to put their computing expertise to work. Hacking hotels' porn channels is the new black:

"According to SecureTest, a hacker might be able to access this menu and configure the system to display adult content on every TV channel. The port could also be used to broadcast content directly from a laptop over the TV. In theory, this could enable hackers to download and broadcast any material throughout the hotel complex."

I pity the poor hotel hosting the next WhiteHat conference....


hmm, a 'penetration testing' firm has worked out a way of pumping smut into every room. How appropriate.


And clearly the most important story of the week: the campaign for the introduction of a 99 pence coin. Just because an idea isn't new, doesn't mean it isn't funny...

I'm ashamed to admit, but I remember seeing the "99 cent coin" sketch on an episode of "Married.. with Children" many many many years ago!


Marcy: Steve, don't tell them about your insane quest to create the 99 cent coin. Steve: Al, I invented the 99 cent coin. Have you ever noticed how things cost $7.99? $14.99? $99.99? My coin will eliminate the messy change that only catches the attention of obnoxious beggars who hassle you on the way to your Mercedes. What do you think of it, Al? Al: What about tax? Steve: [after pause] You sound just like those fools in the treasury department. Marcy: Well, Dear, maybe if you hadn't have insisted on putting your picture on the coin. Steve: Whose should it have been? Yours? Look, Al, you gotta see your dream through, Buddy. All they can do is laugh at you. Marcy: And audit you for five straight years.


I expect the number of people throwing away small change will only increase should the Euro ever be introduced in the UK.

In fact, I would throw away all my Euro's. They can keep their stinking French money!


Dispensing with the fractional part of currency would also solve problems for those of us who live in backward countries that use the comma as a decimal marker. This would save lots of IT support time trying to work out why the formula your colleague mailed you from the Netherlands doesn't work...

Of course, excel does the conversions if you send excel sheets, but sometimes just typing the formula into an email is quicker...


I thought you might like to know that the introduction of a 99p coin was one of the policies of the Monster Raving Loony Party in the last general election. I would have voted for them due to this issue if they had had a candidate in my area since I thought this single policy would have made more of a positive impact on my life than any other party policy.


Hmmm. People will throw away pennies, and yet they will buy more overpriced plutonium-enriched children's snacks and drinks in the supermarket to get a "free" club card point...

How about this for a plan - each shop gets a Tesco Club Card reader, and instead of giving you a penny change, they just put a point on your card, so you can spend it next time you get the weekly shop.

Well, you have to admit it's slightly more plausible than upping the value of the penny piece to £1. That's obviously stupid. How could you give someone three pence change? You'd have to give them £1.02 instead. Think on, Mr Haines. And think of the implications of your plan for ice cream. The same retards that attack paediatricians would start demanding the execution of Mr Whippy for selling "99s".


There's a simpler solution, one that's in use in Oz and here in South Africa.

The Mint stops pressing 1c/1p and 2c/2p coins! All stores then have to round down the final till price to the nearest 5c/5p.

Although I do like your suggestion of the death penalty, I really do! :-)


Right, so sod the erosion of our civil liberties. Let's bring back hangin' to punish irresponsible pricing of goods. A new campaign is born. We feel a T-Shirt coming on... [That's enough - Ed] ®

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