Fighting Fear after the Paris attacks.

Seeing the news unfold from Paris that there had been yet another terrorist attack, I have to be honest: I didn’t feel too much at first.

Yes, it was awful, but the scenes played out on the screen like the plot of an action film: dramatic, but ultimately ones that we’ve seen time and time again. The world would get back to their feet, and life would continue as before.

Or at least, that’s how it should have went.

Eleven days on, when the frivolous debates over whether or not people should change their Facebook profile to a blue, white, and red tricoleur have subsided, and other humanitarian tragedies that were ignored by the Western media have been highlighted, the chaos and uncertainty remains.

That wasn’t meant to happen.

I don’t want to admit it, but I’m going to be honest: I am scared. The sort of fear that builds and grows based on over-exposure to one particular threat. I recognise that the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack is statistically lower than dying in a car crash, or even from being hit on the head by a coconut, but there is a deep, all-permeating fear that remains. This is something that isn’t helped by the fact I have to confront the issue daily at work: reviewing material such as the horrifying images of those lying dead in the Bataclan Theatre.

All of this is, of course, as many commentators pay lip service to: ‘what the terrorists want’. They want to ‘destroy our way of life’, and bring about greater divides between us and ‘the other’. It’s all very obvious and predictable.

The problem is though, that it is working.

This time, the symbolism of terrorism has captured both the imagination of the sensationalist media, and attracted the authoritarian arm of the so-called sovereign states.

The exaggerated press coverage, along with the equally disproportionate reaction of our governments from the UK to Russia gives the impression that we are trapped inside of an all consuming state of war, with danger omnipresent; gun-men just waiting for us to drop our guard to take their chance and blow us up. The BBC’s panorama report on the Paris attacks finished with an ominous statement about how the next attack could take place at any time, anywhere, and the US have issued a worldwide travel alert to its citizens to ‘be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places’… Brussels has been ‘locked down’, with armed police filling the streets. There is literally no escape from the perceived threat, and that isn’t because of ISIS – it’s because of how our own countries are reacting – suffocating us with the same issue 24/7.

I can’t help but think back to when I was younger; growing up with the consistent threat of the IRA targetting mainland Britain. We shrugged off the idea that we should avoid ‘crowded places’, because that could be literally anywhere, and the attacks had gone on for so many years it was impossible to do so. We used to laugh when Americans couldn’t understand why there was no bins in train stations: it was just part of life. Yes, the threat was real (and far more common in this part of the world than ISIS), but the level of panic and fear was completely different.

How quickly that all gets forgotten. It’s far easier to paint the brown skinned, Muslim folk as the enemy than the pale ginger Irish ones. Easier to demand new, unprecedented surveillance and security measures on the back of an enemy that can be hiding around any corner, clutching an AK47 and a Quran.

After Paris, it is easy to feel like ISIS are everywhere; all powerful… but they are not. To conquer that feeling, we first need to recognise it, and then fight back against it. Travel to Paris. Travel to Brussels. Welcome the refugees. Don’t accept the derogatory things that others say about them. Fight for greater civil liberties, not the restriction of them. Stand up against those who would have it otherwise. Refuse to give in to the fear that not only the terrorists, but your government wants you to feel.

This is me refusing to accept it.

Private Internet Access VPN on the Draft Surveillance Bill

With the upcoming draconian Digital Surveillance Bill in the UK, that has been described as ‘worse than scary’ by the UN’s Privacy Chief, I’ve again resorted to sending all of my web traffic over VPN.

The VPN I use is Private Internet Access (PIA), for their stance on user privacy. I was curious to see what they had to say about the new Bill, so dropped them an e-mail. I got two separate responses, one from their tech support, and one from their legal team. They’re worth reproducing publicly.

Here they are. First off, the more general position from their tech team:


Thank you for contacting us. It is our current interpretation that the EU Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EG is not applicable to private VPN services such as ours and instead applies to larger public communications networks. The law requires that telephone and internet providers temporarily store data about a user such as assigned Internet Protocol (“IP”) addresses, timestamps, and more to assist law enforcement and investigations. Private VPN providers do not fall within the purview of the European definition of a public communications network, so it is our position that the EU Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EG does not apply to our business organization.

PIA absolutely does not keep any logs, of any kind, period. While this does make things harder in some cases, specifically dealing with outbound mail, advanced techniques to handle abuse issues, and things of that nature, this provides a high level of security and privacy to all of our users. Logs are never written to the hard-drives of any of our machines and are specifically written to the null device, which simply acts if the data never existed.

The Mandatory Data Retention logs in the EU and many areas applies to Telecommunications and Internet Service Providers as they are a “Public Communications Network”. This is not applicable to our VPN service as we are a private network.

Due to this, we’re unable to provide information on our customers usage of our service under any circumstance, including subpoenas and court orders, which are extremely closely reviewed before we make any response by our experienced legal team. is a business that strives to protect privacy and the privacy rights of our clients. Although we will comply with all valid subpoena requests, our legal team scrutinizes each and every legal request that we receive for compliance with both the “spirit” and letter of the law. For invalid or overly broad subpoenas, we will often question or attempt to narrow the scope of any subject matter sought.

Moreover, when it is possible and a valid option we will provide the user an opportunity to object to any requested disclosures. We cannot provide information that we do not have. will not participate with any request that is unconstitutional.

and secondly, the more direct answer from the legal team:

Thanks for the email. We are aware of this proposed law pending in the UK. First, the law has to actually go into effect first before we will consider making any changes. We are paying close attention to this proposed law and we will make any adjustments as necessary to maintain the privacy of our users. Second, PIA will not maintain logs because we do not believe that we will be classified as an ISP under the new law. The log keeping requirements are specific to ISPs and we do not fall under that definition. We hope that helps answer your questions.

Help fight back against the Bill with the Open Rights Group:

Dear Police Scotland: Get Tae Fuck. Love, a Club Photographer


First off, I’m not going to talk about the historical relationship between the police and British nightlife. I’m not going to talk about the legality or morality of drugs. I’m not going to talk about the political controversy over a single Scottish police force. I’m not going to talk about the suggestion that clubs are being purposefully targetted for their prime city centre real estate, or the very persuasive allegations that the former Chief Constable of the tendentious single police force – Stephen House – is a wanker. I’m sure you already have opinions on all of that, particularly the latter. I know I do.

What I am going to do is offer my view as a seasoned photographer (and patron) of nightclubs for around a decade. I’ve worked in all of the usual Glaswegian haunts from the Cathouse, to Bamboo, Garage, Sub Club, and the ill-fated Arches, and I am going to argue that we need to look closely at our city’s nightlife community to see a dangerous trend unfolding that represents a more authoritarian stance from the police.

Much has been said in recent years about how the ‘Glasgow style’ of police enforcement has been allegedly spreading to other parts of the country, with examples including the crackdown on the saunas of Edinburgh, and the presence of armed police on regular callouts in Inverness. What people fail to realise (or give appropriate attention to) is that this is not a Wegie-centric style of policing, but an entirely new approach in general. This is most evident (as far as I can tell) recently in the position of the police towards licensed premises.

In the past year or so, I have witnessed a palpably different attitude from the police towards clubs in Glasgow from what existed before. Not long ago, there was a good relationship, with many clubs praised for their low levels of ejections and lack of requirement for calling upon police resources to control their patrons. The basic idea being, that if your security staff can head off trouble before it happens, and/or deal with it effectively when it does arise, then you are doing a good job. Less calls to the police signal a better managed environment – and less burden on the taxpayer.

Based on this principle, there was hardly ever any reason for the police to step foot inside the private establishments where we go to drink and dance in the wee hours of the morning, unless there was a serious incident. People got on with drinking, and having fun – perfectly legally – and  so long as there wasn’t any real manifestation of violence that couldn’t be controlled or dealt with by the trained (and licensed staff), the high-vis wearing arm of the law kept their distance; and rightfully so. Effective community policing – particularly in a city like Glasgow – is about working respectfully alongside people.

Now, however, things are different. The police routinely make drop-in visits to clubs throughout the city, in which they take some sort of guided tour throughout the various dancefloors… to eh, well, who knows what? Far from being a friendly visit to check that everything is going smoothly like they may have been in the past, these serve a distinctly different purpose.

There are two possibilities: either the police genuinely think they are going to stumble upon somebody engaged in some sort of nefarious activity whilst traipsing about in their dayglo jackets and arrest them, or else they are really there to demonstrate a misguided show of force. If the former is correct, then it remains to be seen how it makes any of us any safer. I’d be far happier if they were waiting outside at kicking-out time for the inevitable clashes with drunk passers by, or clamped down on the boy-racer neds who routinely speed out from Mitchell Street onto Argyle Street on weekends to cause trouble, or maybe even dedicated more resources to seriously tackle the 5% increase in reported rapes from 2014 to 2015 (and no, this is not simply down to ‘increased confidence of victims’).

I personally completely reject the idea that emanations of the State should be able to turn up at private establishments, and walk around with their assorted weaponry in a display of force, giving their approval for the behaviour of people who are socialising and not causing trouble. The only time police should enter nightclubs in this manner is where a crime has been reported – not on some routine ‘inspection’ to swing their self-inflated dicks around. Irrespective of the legal powers the police may or may not have, the question is about what kind of relationship we want to have with them.

One needs only look to Aberdeen to see the abhorrent practice of police turning up to clubs just before they open, and demanding that anybody who wants to enter has to submit to drug testing. This sort of action is completely unnecessary, and an illegitimate intrusion of the police into people’s private lives – skirting around the requirements of Section 23(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act for reasonable suspicion.

If we are not careful, this sort of authoritarianism from the police is only going to increase, and not just in the places where we gather to drink and listen to loud music. It’s worth bearing in mind at this point that Scotland is already subject to some of the strictest alcohol related alcohol laws in the UK, never mind the rest of Europe. How long before drug testing is mandatory to enter any sort of pub? How long before the police expand their jurisdiction to further elements of social society? This aggressive approach is not only a waste of resources, but an affront to everything that we supposedly believe in with regards to the freedom to live without undue interference from the State.

I don’t know what the strategic agenda is in these ‘drop-in’ visits. I don’t know the political manoeuvrings that are going on in the background. I don’t know if this is really a misguided attempt to curb violence, or to cut down on excessive drinking, or if it’s the hangover of a Stephen House power trip. I don’t know if it’s really an attack on ‘youth culture’, or if it’s somehow a result of David Cameron and that pig. What I do know is that the more time goes on, the more the principle of ‘policing by consent’ is being made a mockery of. Yes, clubs should be safe places – but they largely already are. The presence of the police does nothing but to cause friction where none exists. Our freedoms to congregate are rapidly being eroded for seemingly arbitrary reasons, and nobody really seems to care.

Dear Police Scotland – get tae fuck.



Yes, I do use ad-blockers, and No, I don’t feel bad about it

Ad-blockers are small, self-explanatory bits of software that have been around for ages – preventing countless numbers of adverts from being displayed on the websites of those who make use of them every day.

In the past few weeks, a debate has been ignited over this practice, with the wildly successful ‘Peace’ app being pulled from download by its creator just days after its release – supposedly having undergone a change of heart.

Advertisers and publishers are understandably unhappy at the number of people who choose to block their adverts, even going as far as to call the act itself ‘immoral’ – equating the consumption of content for free with theft.

I was challenged by a colleague in a discussion about the issue when I said that I had been using ad-blocking software for years. It was something I’d never really stopped to consider in any sort of depth, and once I’d typed up my response I was encouraged to post it up here.

Before we go on, I should say that this isn’t really about the legitimacy or otherwise of ads themselves, but the use of ad-blockers specifically. You’ll probably note that there ads on this site, for example. As far as I’m concerned, ads have their place, and you can completely consistently choose to monetise content with them whilst also simultaneously respecting the decision of others to block them. With that disclaimer out of the way, here we go.

Why I use ad-blockers

  1. Adverts are intrusive – Online adverts dilute the experience of the website you are trying to visit, and often interfere with being able to view the content itself. When I want to read an article, I don’t want a giant flashing banner to distract me from what I’m doing – not to mention provide a massive headache.
  2. A dark history – Is it any wonder that people can’t stand adverts, and seek to block them where possible, when we’ve been subjected to pop-ups, pop-unders, scrolling flash adverts, and sneaky malware for the past decade plus? Adverts had their chance, and they screwed it up. The day that browsers implemented popup blocking was a wonderful day. Blocking ads completely is just the next natural step.
  3. Blocking online behavioural tracking – This is related to the above, but in a different way. Not only have ads interfered with the operation of our devices, but now we find out that they have been tracking our moves across the web, building up profiles that they can then sell on to third parties. Uhm, nope.

Why I don’t feel bad about it

  1. Ethics – Without going into some elongated discussion about moral relativism, the suggestion that somehow blocking ads is ‘unethical’ or ‘immoral’ is one that I find massively distasteful, and frankly ridiculous. It seems to me that if anybody is going to throw the first stone in an ethics discussion, then the advertising industry should remember the glass mansion that they’ve built for themselves.
  2. Information should be free – I am aware of the many and varied caveats, exceptions, and qualifications to this, but in principle I subscribe to the ideology that information and knowledge should be free.
  3. I’m not going to buy your stuff, however ‘relevant’ it is – One argument is that ‘if only ads were relevant, then this wouldn’t be an issue!’. To me, that misses the point. The issue isn’t about how relevant or otherwise the ads are; it’s about the fact that the ads exist in the first place. In order to actually get really ‘good’ ads (if there is such a thing) that people will click on, it requires a massive amount of profiling.
  4. I didn’t agree to pay for your content – I reject the idea that by simply visiting a website to read content that has been made publicly available, that somehow I have agreed to finance its operation. Just because advertisers and publishers have chosen to hang their existence on one specific kind of economic model, does not mean that I am obliged – either legally or morally – to support it.
  5. Public space – Fundamentally, I resent the increasing ingression into public, communal spaces by capitalist entities. On the web, at least I can control my exposure to the constant barrage of advertisements, and limit their effects. I will choose whether or not to block unsolicited adverts that are transmitted to my device, and I think that is my right.
  6. I will choose who and how I support financially – In years gone by, before publications moved online, people would refuse to support certain ones (such as the Daily Mail) by simply not purchasing their paper. Now, it can be almost impossible to tell the source of a link without clicking on it first. URL un-shortening services exist, but they are cumbersome and impractical. One of the big reasons I use ad-blockers is because I refuse to inadvertently finance publications with reprehensible editorial positions.


The relationship we have with information, and the media/publishers has been completely transformed. It’s something I have seen first hand, with good friends losing their jobs as photographers due to the democratisation of that industry. It’s something I don’t actually have an issue with. Content doesn’t stop getting created just because the professionals of olden days are no longer getting the financials they were previously – we’ve seen that in the music industry. It just means that the kind of content, the source, and people’s ability to rely on it as a full time occupation changes. Ideologically this is something that I’m comfortable with.

To finish, here’s the question that sparked all of this thought-process off, and my tl;dr response:

Do you feel like you’re supporting the publishers whose content you’re consuming?

No, but I reject the premise that there’s any sort of obligation or moral requirement to. Infact, I purposefully choose not to support many publishers on purpose. If I want to support them financially, then I’ll do so in other ways.

From the Archives: “Why I am opposed to ‘assumed consent’ for organ donation”

I used to have one single solitary blog that I’d throw everything onto. Usually photos, but also sometimes a place where my political thoughts would spill over. For years these articles have lived on, but not really fitted in – so I’ve decided to slowly re-publish them here so they have a more suitable home. Note that these haven’t been edited since they were posted, and so may not necessarily reflect my current position.

Why I am opposed to ‘assumed consent’ for organ donation

First published: 25th October 2011

Today on the news there was a story around organ donation, highlighting that Scotland has the highest figure of people signed up in the UK at a reported 37% of the population.

As part of this, the question was again brought up as to whether or not we might move to an ‘opt-out’ system of registration rather than the current one, where people must actively state that they wish their organs to be used after their death where possible.

I posted on Twitter with my rather blunt opposition to such an idea (something along the lines of fuck that), and was surprised (in a way) to see that there were a number of responses that were in complete disagreement. Rather than reply in bursts of 140 characters, I thought I’d try articulate things a bit better on here.

What would the change mean?

The policy that is being advocated is one of ‘assumed consent’. Essentially what this means is that if you die and your organs are able to be used, then it will be presumed that you would agree to such a thing in the interests of saving another person’s life, and they will be taken unless you have specifically stated that you do not wish this to be the case prior to your death.

So what’s the problem?

Why should anybody object to such an approach? It seems fairly straightforward surely? What happens to your body upon passing away is of no consequence to you, and if such a move will help increase the number of organs available and in turn save lives, then we should make it happen. After all, if they do have problems with the idea, they can still opt-out.

However, it isn’t as simple as that, and there are subtle, but profound effects of such a decision. The utilitarian notion of the ‘greater good’ trumping the inconvenience of the few is as flawed here as it is in other ethical questions. To go into examples would be fruitless as it is debated at length elsewhere, and there are deeper questions involved that transcend any idea of accumulated communal wellbeing. In short, just because something may have a positive impact in one respect on a group of people as a whole, that does not mean that it is automatically the correct position to take; far from it.

Why are rates so low?

If the donor rates are so low, then why is this? Does that mean that people in society have some sort of moral deficiency? Does the act of not signing up not state exactly what opting out will do, but in a different way? If it is indeed true that people simply don’t have the knowledge, interest, or concern about the topic, then why should the State coerce them into a position that they have no desire to be involved in? By re-stating the question in a different way, do we not just twist the rules of morality to make them acceptable to our own standards, dominating the moral and political narratives that underpin our supposedly ‘free’ society, and ignoring any possible philisophical, ethical, theological or ideological differences?


There is a massive ideological problem involved in the approach being proposed. There are a whole host of issues that we will set to one side for now, such as those involving how foreign nationals would be dealt with; those with a lack of mental capacity; basic human rights claims; the question of whether consent is really ‘informed’ or not; tensions and relationships with relatives in the event of a dispute… all of which are important, but there is a deeper question about the reach of the State itself.

By creating such legislation, the Government would in effect be stating that it had an automatic right to ownership of your body (over and above even your closest family), unless you explicitly protest against it. This is an incredibly dangerous road to travel down, and is something that they do not, and should never have the authority to claim. That in of itself is enough to reject the proposal completely.

We need to read behind the lines in decisions like this, and not just take things on an issue-by-issue basis. The precedent that this assertion would create would conceivably allow future Governments to make further claims on its back, with the steady erosion of control over our own being.

Implied consent is not a common default with regards to other legal questions, and especially when it comes to matters regarding the body. Interestingly enough, the act (or contract!) of sexual intercourse requires active consent. The exact definition of what that entails is open to legal debate, but there is never assumed consent to engaging in sex. Whilst the comparison may be specious, it’s worth noting our attitude to issues relating to the person as distinct from other contractual matters, and on this hangs the crux: There is something important about the rights of a human being to their own constitution actually belonging to them without having to explicitly make this clear. No person, State or other entity should ever have the arrogance to over-ride this.

Disclaimer: In the interests of full disclosure, it’s worth noting that I am a registered donor and have been since I was young. This isn’t a question about the value of organ donation in itself, but political interference in the process.


Real Punishments Needed for DMCA Takedown Abuse

Note: The opinions expressed within are mine, and mine alone – not necessarily endorsed by Automattic or

Last week Automattic released an update to our transparency report, detailing the number of takedown and information requests that were received between January and the end of June this year – as well as the number that had been acted upon, or rejected. There has been some good coverage of what’s included in the report by TorrentFreak, ARSTechnica, and TechDirt.

One area that’s particularly interesting is that relating to the DMCA notification and takedown process, regarding instances of alleged copyright infringement. The full figures are available on the page itself, but here are the highlights: Transparency Report

If you’re like me, it can be difficult to pull out something meaningful from a table of figures, at least at first glance. The important thing to note here is that 43% of the total notices received were rejected – either for being incomplete, or abusive. This figure rises to 67% if you remove sites that were ultimately suspended for a terms of service violation from the ‘Percentage of notices where some or all content was removed’ column.

Incomplete notices can be anything from the complainant not including a signature; failing to specify the content that they are claiming copyright over; or not including the required statements ‘under penalty of perjury’. Abusive notices include those that target material which is not copyrightable (such as trademarks or allegedly defamatory content); where the complainant misrepresents their copyright; or attempts to prevent fair use of the material – protected by US copyright law.

Many complainants simply want to get content removed from the web, irrespective of which route they have to take to get it. As a result, a variety of different tactics are deployed, particularly when a third party agent is engaged to carry out the task. For example, the wording of takedown demands may be fudged in order to give them the appearance of a valid DMCA takedown notification, whilst failing to substantively fulfil the statutory requirements. In other cases, claims regarding alleged copyright infringement are mingled together with threats concerning trademark infringement or defamation – obfuscating the invalidity of the DMCA takedown itself in the process. Web Sheriff in particular have been known to adopt this practice, with ‘kitchen sink’ takedown demands listing what seems like every law passed in the last 20 years incase one of them might apply in any given scenario. The Pirate Bay have infamously mocked Web Sheriff in the past for some of their tactics:

Pirate Bay Web Sheriff Mockery

It can be a difficult process to manually review and untangle exactly what a complaint relates to, and whether or not it is a valid DMCA takedown. Clarification e-mails often go ignore, something that is particularly true in cases where the notifications are being generated by bots. Replying to point out that a notification is incomplete, or that the material is actually hosted elsewhere in many cases is met by nothing except a deaf ear, and a duplicate takedown demand the following day.

Whilst the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions are designed to provide protection for third party intermediaries as well as the rights of copyright holders, the phenomenon of automated takedown demands has resulted in a massively lopsided burden on those service providers who take their responsibilities seriously, and do not just acquiesce to every single takedown notification automatically.

Complainants are able to submit grossly inaccurate DMCA takedowns on a massive scale, routinely through the use of automated systems that indiscriminately target particular keywords across the web – all without any real fear of legal consequence. The sheer volume notices generated means that the vast majority of service providers simply remove content immediately and automatically, without scrutinising them for their formal completeness or legal validity. The few that do choose to go through them manually in order to protect their users (like, end up facing a huge burden.

Without stronger statutory consequences for those who abuse the DMCA’s notification and takedown system, the battle for freedom of expression online will be increasingly difficult. The majority of service providers will inevitably default to censorship in the first instance, as the number of notifications (and therefore the resources required to push back effectively) increases.