Archive for category Better Government

A New Innovation Center for Progress; Nuclear Debate

I’ve been following the nuclear debate online. I have not blogged anything about Japan’s nuclear plant crisis because there is not enough information coming out (as far as the plant’s condition is concern). Some people on both sides of the nuclear debate have wasted no time in using the crisis to express their nuclear sentiments. By “some” I mean a few people, not all of the pro or anti nuclear people. Some pro side were quick to say “nah it’s safe”. I think that is a little premature for an ongoing development. Some anti people were quick to say “see that’s why there should be no nuclear ever”.

For me, transparency should be mandatory in nuclear industry. So when Japan was covering up their minor nuclear mishaps not too long ago, I was really worried. Because that’s how things get out of hands. They should acknowledge the problem and take care of it head on, leaving no stone unturned. Covering up will just increase the problem exponentially. I am not saying the current crisis have anything to do with their previous non-transparency. Current unconfirmed report indicates tsunami might have swept their backup generator away.

When Harper fired Linda Keen of CNSC, I was equally concern and worried. Sure you can say there is 1 in a million chance that there will be a nuclear accident. But our nuclear industry are operated with very little tolerance for risk. And it should stay that way. Political distractions should play no role in nuclear safety. So Rick Mercer hits the bulls eye with his criticism of Gary Lunn and Harper’s handling of Chalk River’s NRU reactor.

Another troubling action by Harper is keeping the privatization of AECL in limbo for so long. So AECL is essentially prohibited from signing new contracts and making new commitments until they sell AECL off. And that have been going on for so long. There are countries who are interested in signing contract with AECL. But they won’t be able to, due to the freeze arising out of the prolonged government’s inaction. An enterprise that can’t conduct business for few days would lose a lot of money. AECL not being able to conduct business for months, possibly half a year to a year, will surely see its losses mounts. Next time Harper wants to proclaim that there are no incoming revenue at AECL, he should look down his feet and step off AECL’s fingers and let them move again. No wonder some industry insider is claiming that Harper is letting AECL or the nuclear industry “die by thousand cuts”. Harper’s officials claimed that AECL is a sink hole. That will just be a self fulfilling prophesy of increasing magnitude the longer he prevents AECL from conducting its business.

We need to establish an independent Scientific Research Agency. This agency will be independent and free from political interference. Part of AECL’s problem is the constant re-organization and selling off part by part to private organizations. New election, new party, new political appointee at the top, new re-organization. Medical isotope distribution sold off to private company Nordion under Mulroney. In my personal opinion, that took away a potentially lucrative income source for AECL. So it was instead relegated to just producing the isotopes with Nordion distributing them and profiting from them. AECL should at least have a decent share of the profit.

A new scientific institution should be independent and not have the restriction of a Crown Corporation. Which means they will not be restricted from seeking external funding. So private individual can donate for research towards cancer cure. Different funding streams could be setup so that people can target where they want their donations to go to. Such institutions could also coordinate various ongoing research and allows more efficient sharing and exchange of results from their studies. And provide better coordination and gathering of resources to jointly work toward similar research goal (whether it is looking for cures, clean energy sources or future technologies). Everything, especially funding and expenses, would be transparent as all government agencies should be. Independent researchers from different universities and institution under the umbrella of this agency will be preferable over the creation of a new big bureaucracy. A research laboratory with reactors, facilities and equipments will be maintained and available for scientist to use.

If we want to live in a progressive society, status quo or paralysis is not an option. Those two will only lead to stagnation and regression. We must foster continuous innovations for the betterment of our society.

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Context Context Context

There are so much misinformation going around nowadays. Sometimes perpetuated by the supposed reputable media organizations. So there is a need for people to be critical of any news that they hear. We must do as much fact check as possible. But a quick question to ask, following a shocking news or a news that causes outraged against one individual or group, is – what was the full context of this? For example. if there is a quote being played on video that purportedly shows a politician saying something. Try to watch the full video and know the circumstances that lead to those words being said. Then see if that would change the interpretation of what was actually said.

Taking things out of context are increasingly being used as a political tactic here and in the United States. Being aware of this would ensure that your rights to truthful information is not violated.

Here is a funny example:

You can read the full context in the description of the video.

 

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Three Pillars For A Better & More Democratic Government

Government’s Business is People’s Business

The three pillars for a better and more democratic government are:

I. Open Government of the People

Government are NOT the boss. The people/voters are the boss and thus have the right to supervise and monitor government officials activities. Make open government an integral part of a modern democracy. Allow people to easily access government information with just a click of a button without having to ask and wait.

II. Leadership of Equals

A principle of round table leadership council of equals. One person is in charge. But the leader does not dictates. There is no dominating leader. A good leader harness the equally talented ideas from the people whose views are promulgated by their representatives. The representatives are the voices of the people in his riding/district, and NOT the voices of special interest group, campaign contributors, or their party whip. A rule by consensus through working cooperatively, instead of adopting a confrontational approach.

III. Well-Informed and Learned Voters

A well-informed voters can easily be achieved with an open government system where information are not needlessly concealed. A learned voters can be achieved through voters education. Educate voters to ensure they do not easily fall for tricks and dirty politics. Provide them with the ability to reject divisive and hate promoting tactics.

Voters should be educated (e.g. as part of the curriculum for senior secondary level) to promote independent thinkers able to independently verify facts. Able to think critically without being cynical. Avoid being enamored with a leader. This often lead to blindly taking a hardline stand and adjusting of their truth to defend their esteemed leader. A voter should be able to do away with bandwagon mentality.

The third pillar is crucial for a genuine democracy to succeed. There are enough lessons from history to learn from to prevent deceptive and manipulative tactics.


I have added a separate page / tab on top called “Better Government”. It contains compilation of previous blogs dealing with the topic of a better government for the information age. It provides some specific examples for promoting a better system.

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Social Engineering Threat – Your Personal & Financial Information; Voters Manipulation

Social Engineering relates to the practice of deceiving people or manipulating public opinion through misrepresentation. The perpetrators usually pretend to be someone they are not. In terms of stealing your personal information, Social Engineers use all kinds of low tech tricks to get information out of you. Politically, Social Engineers use various ways to manipulate public opinion. With the wide use of social media nowadays, social engineering for political purposes has adopted new means to take advantage of this new medium. The new methods that can be used are illustrated below.

STEALING YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION

A wide misconception of how to protect your privacy and personal information is that you need to protect your computer and saved data. However, Social Engineers do not need to hack into your account. Techniques used by Social Engineers are nothing new. Famous social engineers and former computer criminal Kevin Mitnick claim that it is easier to trick someone into giving a password than it is to spend the effort to hack a system.

Survey or Research Fraud– One technique used to make people reveal their personal information is by phone call saying they are conducting survey on behalf of your financial institution or as part of a research. Sometimes they will promise you a gift. Once the question starts rolling in, they could ask question like your birthday, address, income and employer. That information can then be used to apply for a credit card or apply for credit using your name.  Other low tech method would be a smooth talking con chatting with you on a bar to get some personal information out of you.

Social Networks – One instance of social engineering involves a simple google search of a victim’s e-mail address. It then gave the perpetrator lots of personal information such as phone numbers and address. Most user also have their personal information readily available on Facebook. A lot of uninformed Facebook users unsuspectingly shared their personal information with third-party app developer.

Phishing scam – this technique uses e-mail or instant messaging to fool people into providing personal information by making themselves appear legitimate. It is with this method that foreign hackers were able to hack into Government of Canada’s Finance Department and Treasury Board’s computer network.

Those are just a few of the examples. A good general rule of thumb is never give out your password or personal information that you normally use to authenticate your financial account.

MANIPULATING VOTERS

After the media’s excitement about Egypt’s “Facebook revolution”, I’ve warned against overhyping social media. It is just another tool that those who seek to manipulate information would adopt and use to its advantage before long.

Unauthorized Access

A malicious government don’t need to put much effort into social engineering. They can just access your census, passport information or personal information. They can then tailored their appeal to you based on your ethnicity and religion. Measures needs to be in place such that user id of any officials accessing personal private information is logged.

Canada’s government was mired in controversy when they mailed out Jewish Rosh Hashanah greeting cards in 2007 and 2008. On both occasions, some of the recipients expressed serious concerns.

“I was a little alarmed at the idea that the government might have some list of Canadian Jews, whether or not they’re using that for benevolent or malevolent or cynical reasons,” Mr. Terkel said. “It doesn’t seem my religion should be the business of any federal government.” – Jonathan Terkel (Reported by Canada.com)

The government claim they got their names from local community. But several recipients disputed that, expressing similar claim as Jonathan Terkel.

He says he subscribes to no Jewish publications and doesn’t give to any specifically Jewish causes, so he isn’t sure how the PMO got his name.

It is not clear where the government got the people’s religious information from and it might very well not be as I described above. However, a government that single out a specific group based on religion or ethnicity is just a bit unnerving.

Political Army of Internet Posters

A political party could try to influence public opinion by creating an illusion of popular opinion. This can be done by staffing their war room or campaign strategy central with armies of posters who populate internet forum and news sites comments section with their talking points. This employ the “Big Lie” technique where

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.

Plus people are vulnerable to the bandwagon effect. Where they are more likely to adopt what they perceive as popular opinion. A desire to belong to what is popular and what is hip.

Social Media

Just as I was preparing to write about social engineering and how it could be a threat to democracy, when voters are manipulated through orchestrated misinformation, a developing story came out about the internet activist group called “Anonymous” and their war with security firm HBGary Inc.

HBGary Inc is a digital security firm with close ties to U.S. government officials from Air Force, CIA, FBI, etc. Anonymous reportedly used SQL injection vulnerability in HBGary’s system to attack them along with the use of social engineering technique. Anonymous gained access to the site and troves of HBGary’s e-mails which have since been posted at Torrent’s site.

Some e-mail revelation includes HBGary working with the Bank of America’s Law Firm and the U.S. government to undermine Wikileaks, and helping U.S. Chamber of Commerce to campaign against Progressive Bloggers. They are also said to be working on a new rootkit for windows that will be undetectable. But the real revelation for me pertaining to social engineering is the fact that HBGary plan to develop a software for the U.S. government that would allow them to have control over a large numbers of virtual social media profile (i.e. fake personas). Such large amount of virtual profiles could be used to propagate fake opinion and false news.

Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.(TechDirt)

During the Egyptian’s revolution, Twitter played an important role in providing up to the second update from the grassroot level. Foiling attempts by Egyptian government to block out news and instigate violence to create excuse for crackdown. I thought at that time that future authoritarian regime could use Twitter to spread false information and put fake posters claiming to support the dictator. But then I thought with a popular uprising the scale of Egypt, the army of government posters would easily be outnumbered.

But that has changed with HBGary revelation. Their plan is to allow the capability for one person to control 10 personas. That way they don’t need to outnumber the real dissenters. They need 10 times less than the amount of real people. It is not inconceivable that the numbers could easily be increased to more than 10 per one controlling person. When such tool is used in a democratic election, it would lead to propagation of false information and undermine fair election.


Added February 27, 2011 2:00 pm EST

An illustrative example of how repetitive lies and corrupted media can influence voters sentiments.

As an example of how repetitive lies can influence public opinion. There are times when people would express opinion based on what they perceive as true because it was heard repeatedly. Say person A would tell his friend that Mr. Smith is a racist or Billy is a “leftie”. But if challenged to prove it and forced to pause and think, all he could think of was lots of people posting comments at a news site said so. Upon thinking further, he realized he does not know any facts and was just relying on hearsay. A lot of people would just go with perceived popular opinion. If so many people think so then it must be true.

Nowadays, lots of news outlets and networks get their news from one source (e.g. Canadian Press, Associated Press, etc). You can read the same sentence paragraph or whole news article with exactly the same content repeated and presented under different newspaper, TV network and news website. So if the news is corrupted at the source, then the false news will just propagate down different news outlets giving it an air of legitimacy. The whole news agency does not have to be corrupted, it just take one journalist working for that agency injecting a misleading news at the critical moment of election or history making event.

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What is a Pirate?

The above video is an unofficial video created in support of the Pirate Party of Canada. A new Federal Political Party registered with Election Canada. Quite a unique name for a political party with a unique perspective on improving democracy for the information age, through the use of Open Source philosophy to bring about an Open and Transparent Government.

We live at a time where government are increasingly intransigent and a CRTC who is trying to force UBB and false news law, with total disregards for strong objection voiced during public consultation. Pirate Party seeks to transform the way government businesses are conducted by putting accountability and transparency front and center. Thereby ensuring an enhanced democratic process.

Fight for a better government for the information age, for Net Neutrality, improve private citizen’s privacy, and a better copyright and patent law.

Check out Pirate Party of Canada website at www.pirateparty.ca

Video available in HD and also in mobile version (i.e. IPod and most Smartphones). Just add request to comment if interested.

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Preventing External Manipulation of Government

While it is OK and is part of the democratic process for people to organize themselves to promote a common cause, it is NOT OK for special interest group to try to influence government through behind closed door actions. It is especially unacceptable if a specific group uses their financial resources to entice politicians whether directly or indirectly. Such an attempt to gain unfair advantage or to undermine other groups or the average citizen’s interest should be prohibited. Special interest group could include lobbyist or foreign government. This blog look at how those actions could be prevented by providing specifics measures for ensuring an open and transparent government to prevent external interference in the management of government affairs. This would also preserve the citizen’s right to be informed on all matters pertaining to the running of government’s businesses.

Records of All Dealings

All meetings between government officials (elected or non-elected) and people or groups outside of the government that discusses matters pertaining to government businesses, or could affect government businesses, should have presence of a record clerk – recording details of the meeting. This include out of office hours meetings or dinners. So officials are prohibited from discussing government business if there are no record clerk present. The details or minutes are then posted and made available online in an easily accessible, searchable and readable format. All meetings with private groups, businesses, or individuals are recorded and are a matter of public records.

Use of Confidentiality Label

If the business is confidential in nature – e.g. national security, or ongoing contract negotiation, then a temporary assignment of confidentiality will be given. It should be set to expire and should not be withheld from public for longer than necessary.

These are not to be used loosely. E,g, Politician can not arbitrarily use the label of national security to withhold information and avoid public scrutiny.

Where the confidentiality of a matter is disputed, an independent arbitrator – e.g. court of justice, shall evaluate and decide on the legitimacy of the official’s claim of confidentiality.

Severe Consequences

Any meeting where government business were discussed with private group or individual without a record clerk presence would result in penalty, suspension or dismissal (whether officials are elected or not). Strict adherence is a must. A record clerk who knowingly omit details of a meeting shall face hefty penalty also.

These measures are meant to remove the gray area and the “technically it is not illegal” excuse. This would keep a tight lid on Government officials being courted by special interest group and getting lavish treatment.

Government officials activities, parties with corporations or groups will be a matter of public records to clearly shows any possible conflict of interest. This would include any trip or activities paid for by individual, groups or private businesses. (Need more discussion and spelling out details of what should fall under here versus giving officials some privacy on personal business like family parties).

Government income and gains in cash or in kind shall also be documented and made available soon after such windfall occurred. Failure for timely disclosure will result in substantial penalty.

Ignorance to these restrictions is no excuse. This should be an ingrained code of conduct for all government officials. While it won’t stop corrupt officials from doing under the table deal, it will result in serious consequences once they are caught. A minimum punishment of fines commensurate with lost to the taxpayers / government funds or missed savings opportunities, as a result of their actions. The guilty party will not get off with just a slap on the wrist. Institutions, groups or individuals engaged in such activities will also face equal fines. Penalty for officials could include permanent or long term ban from holding public trust positions (e.g. public service job, publicly listed corporation jobs).

Government Heads and Officials Culpability

Government officials or heads of department or Prime Minister Office who are aware of such activity going on or a failure to report and did nothing will also be culpable of “Concealing Public’s Government Business” offense.

Government officials work for the people. It is the public money that they are spending. It is the public assets that they are disbursing. It is the public interest that they should be looking after. Therefore, government officials accepting their position accept the heightened sense of responsibility where transparency and keeping the public well informed are part of their natural duties. Public should not have to go through the hassle of requesting information. Information are naturally made available and text are not unnecessary and liberally blocked out without being strictly qualified as confidential.

Government are not the boss. The people are the boss and have the right to supervise their employees.

Government transparency should not be confused with violating privacy. Private citizens privacy need to be protected. But government’s conduct of business for the people should be open and transparent.

Study of An Actual Case

Wikileaks Spanish cable leak revealed U.S. Industry lobbyist having a direct hand on crafting the Spanish copyright law with the U.S. Trade representative. Not only that, they also advised the U.S. government to threaten Spain with sanctions. Which the U.S. government did. Following that, Spain gave in from their initial resistance and adopted the law and introduced the bill in their Congress. Thanks to Wikileaks, the behind the scene pressure and interference from a foreign government and industry lobbyist was revealed leading to public outrage. This has forced Spain’s Lawmakers to defeat the bill. But if some sort of the concealment prohibition law that I have mentioned earlier is in place in Spain, the U.S. government, Industry Lobbyist and Spanish Lawmakers will all be liable. It will be a clear violation of the law denying the Spanish electorate their right to be properly informed and to have the tools necessary to properly scrutinize their government’s actions.

Feel free to discuss any problem or issues you foresee from implementing such kind of law.

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How To Make Government Corrupt-Proof?

One method to deter corruption is the use of an Open Source model – everything’s open for scrutiny. You know how in school you are asked to show your work or justify and defend your work? The same thing should be applied to government officials, who are really working for the people. Any expenses and budget have a corresponding justification and explanation. Also all alternative options that were considered are listed with explanation of why those were not selected. Something like a pros and cons list would help also.

A systematic decision-making tools should be used. Providing a clear illustration of progression in decision-making starting from a wide variety of choices to narrowed down final decision. There are no shortage of tools out there and new one could be developed. The purpose is to make government decisions and budgeting an objective process rather than subjective (which is fraught with individual bias or “trust me” approach).

Possible conflict of interest should also be enumerated. Listing companies or group that would benefit from a decision, or possible connections of a government decision maker. For example, an official who is a former employee of Telecom company had written a law that would result in huge increase in internet rate. This would benefit the Telecom company he used to work for. While that should not automatically be concluded as corruption, it should raise a flag and results in a closer scrutiny to make sure the alternative options are not unfairly set aside.

By having everything out in the open, any corruption could be caught quickly and any trend of questionable decision from an official or government would lead to closer investigation. It will also encourage discussion and even suggestions from other experts and individual citizens.

Another safeguard will be the ability to recall a politician easily. Waiting four years to vote out a corrupt politician is too long. An informal online petition could be used to initiate a recall process against a corrupt politician. If there are lots of signatures (to a set % of voters mark) then a recall process could be started. For example, it could be in the form of a by-election. With ballot question of: to recall or not, if yes choose the 1st and 2nd choice for replacement.

 

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