Monday, January 05, 2009

British police set to step up hacking of home PCs

No free speech even in your own home?
"The Home Office has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain routinely to hack into people's personal computers without a warrant. The move, which follows a decision by the European Union's council of ministers in Brussels, has angered civil liberties groups and opposition MPs. They described it as a sinister extension of the surveillance state which drives "a coach and horses" through privacy laws.

The hacking is known as "remote searching". It allows police or MI5 officers who may be hundreds of miles away to examine covertly the hard drive of someone's PC at his home, office or hotel room. Material gathered in this way includes the content of all e-mails, web-browsing habits and instant messaging.

Under the Brussels edict, police across the EU have been given the green light to expand the implementation of a rarely used power involving warrantless intrusive surveillance of private property. The strategy will allow French, German and other EU forces to ask British officers to hack into someone's UK computer and pass over any material gleaned.....

Police say that such methods are necessary to investigate suspects who use cyberspace to carry out crimes. These include paedophiles, internet fraudsters, identity thieves and terrorists. The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said such intrusive surveillance was closely regulated under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. A spokesman said police were already carrying out a small number of these operations which were among 194 clandestine searches last year of people's homes, offices and hotel bedrooms.


Outrage over British organs ‘sold to foreigners’

Note that the NHS was set up to abolish privileged health access for the rich. Reality is a little different

THE organs of 50 British National Health Service donors have been given to foreign patients who have paid about £75,000 each for private transplant operations in the past two years, freedom of information documents show. The liver transplants took place at NHS hospitals, despite severe shortages that mean many British patients die while waiting for an organ that could save their lives.

The documents disclose that 40 patients from Greece and Cyprus received liver transplants in the UK paid for by their governments. Donated livers were also given to people from non-European Union countries including Libya, the United Arab Emirates, China and Israel. The surgeons who carry out the transplants receive a share of the operation fee — believed to be about 20,000 pounds — as all the work is done privately in NHS hospitals.

It comes as a record 8,000 Britons are on NHS lists waiting for transplant organs. About 260 British patients are waiting for a liver. Last week leading transplant surgeons and patient groups called for an end to the practice. Professor Peter Friend, president of the British Transplantation Society, said it was unethical to give organs to people from abroad while British patients were dying. “While there is a surfeit of UK residents awaiting transplant it is correct that these patients should have priority,” he said. “Were the situation such that there were organs that were not required, it would be appropriate to make them available to other nationals. “We do not have a European organ donation system; it is a UK system and I therefore feel that . . . the system is there essentially for the benefit of residents in the UK.”

Jane Dodd, whose nine-year-old daughter Rebecca died while waiting for a liver transplant, said she was shocked and upset to hear that organs from British donors have been given to overseas patients. Dodd, a part-time bank clerk from Wirral, who also has a 19-year-old son, Matthew, whose life was saved by a liver transplant, said: “I do feel that organs donated in this country should go to people from this country unless there isn’t a suitable recipient. “If you are signing a donor card in this country you expect someone from this country to get the organ.”

The Healthcare Commission, a watchdog body, conducted brief inquiries last summer after being alerted to the practice at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London, but decided it was not breaking any rules. It referred the matter to the Department of Health. The documents show that another hospital, the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust in London, has also carried out four liver transplants on foreign patients in the past year, the most recent being in November. Despite the criticism, King’s College hospital said last week that it would be “business as usual” and surgeons would continue to give British organs to overseas patients in private operations. The hospital gave livers from British donors to 19 overseas patients last year.

A spokesman for King’s College hospital said: “We are continuing to treat citizens of the European Union as they have the same entitlement to treatment under the NHS as UK patients under European law." Under European law , patients from member states have a right to seek treatment in other European countries. Britain is not obliged to treat these patients, however, and the decision is left to individual hospital trusts.

If the trusts do decide to perform transplants on patients from elsewhere in Europe, they must give them equal access to British organs as those who live in the UK. When an organ becomes available, a recipient is selected according to the severity of his or her condition and the blood group. Some leading transplant hospitals refuse to carry out such operations. Dr Mervyn Davies, a consultant hepatologist at St James’s University hospital in Leeds, which does not carry out private transplants on overseas patients, said: “There is a shortage of donors and we cannot cater for the whole of the EU. “It is tragic for these patients but the system that we have cannot cope with the UK demand as it is. Extending that to the whole of the EU and beyond we consider is inappropriate.”

EU rules say patients from outside the bloc should be offered an organ only if it is not considered of a high enough standard or suitable for a patient in the UK. Transplant surgeons argue, however, that if livers can save the lives of patients from Israel, Libya and the United Arab Emirates, they must be of a sufficiently high standard to treat a British patient. The Department of Health has admitted there are concerns about the issue and is understood to be in talks with the European commission seeking clarification.


NHS wasting 2.1 billion pounds a year in procurement inefficiencies

The NHS is wasting 2.1 billion a year through poor procurement procedures, a report says. The study uncovered huge inefficiencies, with procedures for buying goods and services little changed since the 1950s. It found no common item codes or descriptions used by the NHS or its suppliers, while in some trusts orders are placed without any tendering process, often without an agreed contract price. The method of buying goods and services varied hugely from trust to trust and different departments within the same trust used numerous systems. Vast quantities of paper-based invoices were being generated, requiring huge numbers of permanent employees in accounts departments to match invoices to orders.

The report, published today by the think tank Policy Exchange, also found that dozens of health service projects and innovations are abandoned before they have any impact on care. Of the 2.7 billion spent on the creation of ideas within the NHS, only a small proportion, 153 million, is actually spent on spreading the innovations down to patient level. By spending nearly 16 times more on invention rather than diffusion, millions of pounds is being wasted in generating ideas that are never implemented.

The report, All Change Please, which interviewed 80 senior healthcare professionals, also highlights the slow uptake of new technologies, devices and drugs in the NHS which contribute to standards of care in UK hospitals falling behind that of comparable countries. Premature deaths from causes that are preventable with prompt and effective healthcare are higher in the UK than in Germany, Canada, Australia and France. It condemned the UK's poor access to CT and MRI scanners and below average uptake of new drugs for treatment of cancers including breast, colorectal and lung cancers.

An "alphabet soup" of organisations created by the Government to assist hospital trusts lacked a clear strategy for spreading ideas, it said. Henry Featherstone, head of health and social care at Policy Exchange said: "Procurement practices in some parts of the NHS haven't moved on substantially in the last 60 years. By adopting best practices, as used by other healthcare organisations, the NHS could save up to 2.1 billion each year. "There are also many innovative technologies that are not being taken up uniformly across the NHS. Focusing more funds towards the spread of proven innovations would both improve patient care and reduce costs."

The report recommended the setting up of a central procurement body would have the task of developing common standards for all trusts and performance related bonuses in clinicians' contracts. Managerial incentives should be linked to improving outcomes as well as financial performance.


Greenie housing restrictions to take a hit in Britain

GORDON BROWN is preparing to sweep aside planning controls in villages and market towns to allow the biggest rural housebuilding programme for a generation. Local authorities are to be controversially ordered to adopt a relaxed approach to the building of new homes in areas where planning permission has traditionally been refused. The government has concluded that protecting the environment should no longer be the overriding consideration when decisions are made about whether to allow development in areas where locals are struggling to afford homes.

Under reforms expected to be unveiled this month, councils will be told to:

* earmark new building sites in every village and hamlet where affordable housing is needed

* use sweeping powers to overrule normal planning curbs in protected areas

* provide incentives for farmers to sell land to developers

* create a generation of new communities on the outskirts of market towns, similar to Poundbury, the Prince of Wales's "model village".

The changes are aimed at helping the government to achieve its target of building 3m new homes by 2020. All the main political parties agree that the extra housing is needed, although the building programme is likely to be delayed by the recession. About 16,000 small towns, villages and hamlets across England, and dozens of market towns, could be affected by what is being described by ministers as a "fundamental shake-up" of rural planning policy.

The changes follow a government-commissioned investigation into housing shortages in the English countryside by Matthew Taylor, a Liberal Democrat MP. His report, published last year, was fiercely critical of "restrictive" planning policies in the countryside, which he believes are turning many villages in the most sought after areas of the countryside into exclusive enclaves of the rich and retired, as locals are priced out. In areas such as Teignbridge, Devon, characterised by "chocolate box villages", average house prices are 13.5 times the average income. .....

More than 6m people in Britain live in rural communities with populations of less than 3,000 where local authorities rarely allow new properties to be built. The government is expected to announce incentives for landowners to release sites for the new homes. In market towns, local authorities will be encouraged to consider sacrificing green fields to give newly built properties bigger gardens, instead of what Taylor describes as "useless grass strips" where there is no space for children to play or trees to be planted. The government is expected to argue that such fields are not normally accessible to the public and represent only a tiny fraction of agricultural land in England.

More here

Britain in grip of longest cold snap for 10 years

Britain is in the grip of the longest cold snap for more than 10 years as forecasters predict another week of freezing temperatures.

Cold, mainly dry and frosty conditions, which set in on Boxing Day, are likely to continue for at least seven days as the weather is dominated by a huge region of high pressure coming from the Continent. For this time of year, forecasters say it is likely to be the longest prolonged spell of cold weather - where temperatures barely rise above zero centigrade (32F) - since 1996. Usually long spells of cold weather occur around February when the effect of warming from the Atlantic sea is reduced. "We have another five to seven days of colder weather still to come which will make it the longest spell since 1996 at this early stage of winter," said Philip Eden, the Daily Telegraph weather correspondent.

"Usually prolonged cold spells happen in late January and February because the weather in early winter comes from the warm Atlantic sea rather than the cold Continent. "Over the last 20 years winters temperatures have risen quite substantially so we have perhaps forgotten what it is like to have this sort of spell of weather. "They have become less common." Not only has the weather been cold but for huge swathes of the country, it has been extremely dry. "Over a huge part of the UK it hasn't actually rained since the 13th of December," said Mr Eden. "Three weeks without rain at the this time is very unusual and again has not happened since around 1996."

More here

British government is failing to count the 170,000 extra migrant workers in the UK

Ministers have dramatically under-counted foreign workers in Britain, it emerged last night. Whitehall officials have not bothered to include in official totals temporary workers who flock to this country for jobs such as fruit picking or labouring. The independent House of Commons Library, which carries out research for MPs, said including these workers would add 170,000 to Government estimates. The true figure could be even higher, as migrants living in ' communal establishments', such as boarding houses and hostels, are also excluded, despite this being the favoured accommodation among some short-term workers. Statisticians said they were unable to estimate how many foreign workers could fall into this category. As a minimum, the number of overseas-born workers in the UK is 3,852,000 - or 13 per cent of the total workforce, according to research carried out by the library for Tory MP James Clappison.

Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'The Government should get a grip on these figures. Immigration can be of real benefit to the country but only if it is properly controlled, which is blatantly not the case at the moment. Ministers should stop arguing over policy and answer our calls for an annual limit on non-EU immigration as well as transitional controls for future EU immigration.'

It is the latest in a string of corrections to data on the number of foreign workers. Ministers have been accused of deliberately seeking to downplay the true figure. Temporary foreign workers were excluded from the Government's labour force survey (LFS) because they are difficult to keep track of.

The Commons library report said: 'There are two additional (but potentially overlapping) groups of workers not included in LFS estimates; those living in communal establishments, for which there is no estimate, and temporary foreign workers amounting to 170,000. 'In January to March 2008, the LFS estimated that there were 3,682,000 overseas- born individuals in employment - 12.5 per cent of all in employment. If we add an extra 170,000 to the foreign worker total from the LFS, the proportion of all foreign workers increases to 13 per cent.'

Ministers claim they will finally bring migration under control with a points-based system that was introduced last year. But last week the Daily Mail revealed how, according to the Commons library, the policy will reduce an estimated population growth of ten million by as little as 250,000 over the next two decades. It would leave a population of around 70,750,000 by 2031, compared to the current Whitehall prediction of 71million. It is the equivalent of reducing population growth by as little as 2.5 per cent.

Ministers have also been criticised for increasing the number of lowskilled workers from Romania and Bulgaria by 5,000 from January 1, despite the economic downturn. This is likely to lead to a further increase in the number of foreign workers living here under the Seasonal Agricultural Working Scheme.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: 'Over 90 per cent of people working in the UK are UK citizens, not migrants. Temporary migrants come here to fill short-term, often seasonal vacancies. 'The Government's new powerful and flexible points system controls the numbers coming here, taking into account the needs of the labour market and the country as a whole. 'If the tighter rules had been in place last year, close to 10 per cent fewer skilled and temporary migrants from outside the European Economic Area would have been allowed into Britain to work in equivalent categories - around 20,000. 'In addition, low-skilled workers from outside the EU are still barred.'


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