Big ole business just itching to get more money from people's grief.. until they're called out in front of enough people online.
This is how humanity's story ends, with proudly irresponsible capitalists with god complexes harnessing and packaging technologies they don't even care to understand or consider the consequences of, believing society will pay to repair any "externality" they cause.
Greedy, impulsive monkeys with nukes.
I had no idea this was going on.
'The Bill only targets the less well-off. There is no equivalent surveillance of legislators who accept payments to advance the interests of their corporate paymasters.'
Prem Sikka is an Emeritus Professor of Accounting at the University of Essex and the University of Sheffield, a Labour member of the House of Lords, and Contributing Editor at Left Foot Forward.
George Orwell’s iconic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, warns of a dystopian world where The Party or the government undermines people’s rights, independence and autonomy through fear and propaganda. Constant surveillance is a key weapon for disciplining people and shaping their minds.
That world has arrived in the UK, the self-proclaimed mother of parliaments. The new tyranny isn’t ushered in by some communist, socialist or military regime but by a right-wing elected government.
The latest weapon is the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill which puts the bank accounts of 22.4m people under constant surveillance. In true Orwellian doublespeak, the government claims that the Bill allows “the country to realise new post-Brexit freedoms” and links surveillance to people’s fears about frauds.
The Bill uses developments in electronic transactions and artificial intelligence to place the poor, disabled, sick, old and pregnant women under surveillance. It gives Ministers and government agencies powers to direct businesses, particularly banks, and financial institutions, to mass monitor individuals receiving welfare payments, even when there is no suspicion or any sign of fraudulent activity. No court order is needed and affected individuals will not be informed. The Bill enables Ministers to make any further regulations without a vote in parliament.
Currently, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can request details of bank accounts and transactions on a case-by-case basis on suspicion of fraudulent activity.
The government says the Bill “would allow regular checks to be carried out on the bank accounts held by benefit claimants to spot increases in their savings which push them over the benefit eligibility threshold, or when people send more time overseas than the benefit rules allow for. This will help identify fraud [and] take action more quickly.”
A pernicious aspect of the Bill (clause 8) is that makes it very difficult for people to find out the information held about them by government agencies. Requests can more easily be dismissed as vexatious or excessive.
On 29 November 2023, the Bill was passed by the House of Commons by 269 to 31 votes. A Labour Party spokesperson said “We support the Bill” and the party abstained on the vote. It will now come to the Lords.
The new surveillance powers are to be applied to around 22.4m people claiming a variety of benefits. The UK has some 12.6 million recipients of the state pension, and many retirees claim means-tested benefits because the state pension is too low to live on. So retirees too are included in the 22.4m people subject to surveillance.
How prevalent is benefit fraud? The government estimates that for the year 2023 the benefit fraud was £6.4bn (2.7% of total). The government claims that mass surveillance would reduce fraud by £600 million over the next five years though this somehow became £500m during the debate in the Commons, i.e. £100m-£120m a year. During 2023-24, the government is expected to spend some £1,189bn. So, how significant is a potential saving of £100m-£120m in that context? Or is the Bill just distracting attention away from other objectives by demonising the less well-off?
The focus on bank accounts suggests that the government is looking for unusual patterns. So, if you give a lump sum to a loved one for Christmas, birthday, holiday or home repairs, and it passes through a bank, the government could seize upon that as evidence of excess resources and reduce or stop benefits. Suppose a poor person pawns some household items for a few pounds and that temporarily boosts bank balance. Would that person be penalised?
Any government serious and even-handed about tackling fraud would arguably extend surveillance to arenas other than just benefits, but it does not. Billions of pounds have been lost due to government related frauds in pandemic management, Covid loans and contracts for cronies, but none of the individuals involved are under financial surveillance.
The Bill only targets the less well-off. There is no equivalent surveillance of legislators who accept payments to advance the interests of their corporate paymasters. Earlier this year, in a sting operation former chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, and former health secretary, Matt Hancock, agreed to work for £10,000 a day to further the interests of a company, but there is no surveillance of the bank accounts for former ministers.
There is no surveillance of the bank accounts of bankers engaging in illicit financial flows. The defence industry has a long history of engaging in bribery and corruption to secure contracts, but its bank accounts are not subject to surveillance. Energy companies also do the same, but neither theirs nor their directors’ bank accounts are subject to surveillance.
Since 2010, HMRC has failed to collect between £450bn and £1,500bn of taxes due to evasion, avoidance and errors. Most avoidance schemes are designed and marketed by bankers, accountants and lawyers, but the Bill does not put their bank accounts under surveillance. Major accounting firms are central to concocting abusive avoidance schemes, but despite strong court judgments, no major accounting firm has been investigate, fined or prosecuted. Research shows that people are 23 times more likely to be prosecuted for benefit offences that tax offences.
This Bill is part of a long line of laws that frames the working class as the problem because they withdraw labour to improve their pay and working conditions. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for workers to take strike action. So, what are workers to do about worsening pay? People might protest, but the The Public Order Act 2023 has criminalised protests that can cause “serious disruption” to two or more people or to an organisation in a public place.
The government blames the working class for social ills without addressing any of the underlying social problems. Former Prime Minister Liz Truss described UK workers as the “worst idlers in the world” even though they work some of the longest hours in Europe. However, work does not pay enough even though corporate profits are booming. Some 38% of the 6.2m people on Universal Credit are in employment. 58% are women as gender pay gap persists, and the government does little about the underlying issues. Those receiving low wages turn to social security support and become subject to surveillance.
The scapegoating of the working class is carefully wrapped in claims about Brexit opportunities and fraud prevention. In this way, the government (or The Party, as Orwell called it) erodes people’s ability to think rationally and makes them believe its propaganda. People are constantly told that they must sacrifice their liberties and freedoms for the greater good of the society, which is equated with greater good of capital and wealthy elites. The government thinks this commitment will somehow make people forget about the harsh realities of 7.8m waiting list for NHS hospitals, hungry children, crumbling schools, cost of living, poverty and economic failures. People need to produce counter narratives to check the continuous erosion of hard-won rights.
People spend one-third of their lives asleep. What if employees could work during that time … in their dreams?
Prophetic, a venture-backed startup founded earlier this year, wants to help workers do just that. Using a headpiece the company calls the “Halo,” Prophetic says consumers can induce a lucid dream state, which occurs when the person having a dream is aware they are sleeping. The goal is to give people control over their dreams, so they can use that time productively. A CEO could practice for an upcoming board meeting, an athlete could run through plays, a web designer could create new templates—“the limiting factor is your imagination,” founder and CEO Eric Wollberg told Fortune.
Edit: someone else beat me to it, I cede to you my bruh
cross-posted from: https://email@example.com/t/673723
Researchers in the UK claim to have translated the sound of laptop keystrokes into their corresponding letters with 95 percent accuracy in some cases.
That 95 percent figure was achieved with nothing but a nearby iPhone. Remote methods are just as dangerous: over Zoom, the accuracy of recorded keystrokes only dropped to 93 percent, while Skype calls were still 91.7 percent accurate.
In other words, this is a side channel attack with considerable accuracy, minimal technical requirements, and a ubiquitous data exfiltration point: Microphones, which are everywhere from our laptops, to our wrists, to the very rooms we work in.
Sorry for cringe music
Impact assessment forecasts that prosecutions will rocket, but claims staff will take ‘account of circumstances and vulnerabilities’ of benefit recipients and ‘no automatic decisions will be made on data alone’
New laws allowing the Department for Work and Pensions to monitor the bank accounts of benefit claimants are predicted to lead to 7,400 extra prosecutions for fraud each year – resulting in 250 custodial sentences.
The forecasts are made as part of the department’s newly published impact assessment for proposed legislation that would require financial institutions to provide government with data on account holders that receive benefits. The aim of the new law would be to alert the DWP to benefits being paid in error or obtained fraudulently when a recipient has understated their savings or income. Currently, the DWP can only undertake checks of account data for a named individual who is already under suspicion of fraud.
The ability to monitor potential fraud in a more proactive way will result in “an additional 74,000 prosecution cases, 2,500 custodial sentences and 23,000 applications for legal aid” over the 10-year period considered by the assessment.
This would seemingly represent an enormous rise on the current levels of prosecution with only 487 cases referred to prosecutors by the DWP during the 2022-23 year, according to recent evidence submitted to the Public Accounts Committee. Over the past three years, an annual average of 385 people have been convicted based on these referrals.
The assessment document indicated that DWP caseworkers will bear in mind the potential vulnerability of claimants and automation will be used responsibly.
“[This] measure can potentially include vulnerable people, [and] these areas will be explored further in the equality impact assessment,” the document said. “We are clear, however, that no automatic decisions will be made based on data alone, and DWP staff will follow the usual business processes when looking into any cases, taking account of circumstances and wider vulnerabilities before deciding on a course of action.”
The DWP said that it has already had discussions with banks, building societies, and trade body UK Finance and has been “clear that any data received under this measure should not be seen as indicative of any financial crime” in and of itself.
“Many claimants will have a legitimate, authorised reason to hold savings in excess of capital benefit rules – disregards for injury compensation, for example – and in many cases, overpayments could have been caused by genuine claimant error,” the assessment said. “Given this, we have been clear that there should be no action to de-bank claimants.”
The department also said that it will make sure to “protect privacy… only looking at data that is signalling potential benefit fraud and error and only drawing in data on DWP customers, [and] will create a system for [banks] that is effective, simple, and secure and data will be transferred, received, and stored safely”.
The assessment concludes that the proposed “measure is proportionate and targeted and will help DWP tackle fraud and error more effectively”.
‘A clear message’
The department projects that implementing the data-sharing policy will cost £370m over the coming years, and then £30m a year in staffing and other operational costs from the 2031/32 year onwards.
The initiative will deliver overall benefits of £2.93bn – equating to a net return of £2.57bn, it forecasts.
Plans have been made to test the data-sharing with two – unspecified – banks or building societies in 2025, with a full-scale rollout across all institutions from 2030 onwards.
This will encompass all of the 15 banks and building societies that, collectively, receive 97% of all benefit payments. This includes: Bank of Scotland; Barclays; Halifax; HSBC; Lloyds; Metro Bank; Monzo; NatWest; Nationwide; Santander; Starling; The Co-Op; Royal Bank of Scotland; TSB; and Yorkshire Bank.
While extending data sharing to cover the smaller institutions that constitute the other 3% “would likely be ineffective” and overly burdensome, the DWP believes it is “important to not shut off this option in primary legislation as we do not want fraudsters to see this as a loophole and change their banking approach to deliberately circumvent our measure”.
Work and pensions secretary Mel Stride said: “These new powers send a very clear message to benefit fraudsters – we won’t stand for it. These people are taking the taxpayer for a ride and it is right that we do all we can to bring them to justice. These powers will be used proportionately, ensuring claimants’ data is safely protected while rooting out fraudsters at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The plans for giving the DWP access to bank data were announced as part of a range of what the government described as “common-sense changes to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill”.
Other proposed legal changes would see social media firms required to retain the data of users that have died by suicide. This information “could then be used in subsequent investigations or inquests”, according to the government.
UK counter-terror police would also be empowered under the updated law to retain indefinitely the biometric data of individuals with a conviction overseas.
Secretary of state for science, innovation and technology Michelle Donelan, said: “Britain has seized a key Brexit opportunity – boosting small businesses, protecting consumers and cracking down on criminal enterprises like nuisance calling and benefit fraud. These changes protect our privacy and data while also injecting common sense into the system – whether it is cracking down on cookies, scrapping pointless paperwork which stifles productivity, tackling benefit fraud or making it easier to protect our citizens from criminals. These changes help to establish the UK as a world-leading data economy; one that puts consumers and businesses at the centre and removes the ‘one-size-fits-all’ barriers that have held many British businesses back.”
The amendments are set to go through the report stage in the House of Commons tomorrow, before then making their way on to the House of Lords.
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