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The terrorism ques­tion

I don’t doubt that PC Pro will have re­ceived many let­ters re­lat­ing to Barry Collins’ piece in View­points ( see is­sue 273, p25) re­gard­ing the “ex­ces­sive­ness” of state sur­veil­lance with re­spect to the “real” ter­ror­ist threat in the UK, as op­posed to the “per­ceived” threat, but I’m won­der­ing how he would ex­pound that phi­los­o­phy to the be­reaved fam­i­lies of the Manch­ester bomb­ing.

Barry’s sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis of the math­e­mat­i­cal prob­a­bil­ity of be­ing a terrorism vic­tim lacks the in­sight to un­der­stand the hu­man con­se­quences of terrorism such that the “real” ef­fect of terrorism, on “real” peo­ple, is not about cold, hard maths but years, if not decades, of grief, pain and loss. Whilst not rea­son enough for blan­ket sur­veil­lance of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion, se­lec­tive sur­veil­lance, fa­cil­i­tated by ac­cess to cryp­to­graphic mech­a­nisms, is very nec­es­sary to pre­vent more fam­i­lies suf­fer­ing this level of pain in the fu­ture.

Barry’s anal­y­sis is shal­low, short-sighted and in­com­plete as he doesn’t have ac­cess to the sort of in­tel­li­gence pic­ture that our po­lice and se­cu­rity ser­vices have in mak­ing their case to par­lia­ment for sur­veil­lance ca­pa­bil­i­ties; th­ese ca­pa­bil­i­ties be­ing op­er­ated un­der tight, le­gal con­trols, with par­lia­men­tary over­sight, and sub­ject to his­tor­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion at any time.

I look for­ward to hear­ing his re­sponse. Joe Soap

PC Pro columnist Barry Collins re­sponds: A col­umn such as that is al­ways a hostage for­tune, and I don’t wish to sound glib or bel­liger­ent in the af­ter­math of such an ap­palling at­tack, but my opinion hasn’t changed. Terrorism is still ex­tremely rare.

Would I let my daugh­ter go to a pop con­cert to­mor­row? Yes, I would. I’d drive her there my­self, which is com­par­a­tively reck­less given the chances of dy­ing on the roads is many thou­sands of times greater than dy­ing in a ter­ror at­tack.

Would I want the gov­ern­ment to in­tro­duce a fresh batch of sweep­ing sur­veil­lance laws in the name of “pro­tect­ing our chil­dren”? No, but I sus­pect they will and it will glide through par­lia­ment, be­cause few politi­cians will want to be con­fronted by a griev­ing par­ent in a tele­vi­sion stu­dio and be told they’re not do­ing enough.

Would I rel­ish “ex­pound­ing that phi­los­o­phy to the be­reaved fam­i­lies of the Manch­ester bomb­ing”? No, I wouldn’t, but as dif­fi­cult as it would be, I still stand by the ar­gu­ment.

Why the VAT pric­ing?

I don’t by any means read all the Bri­tish com­puter mag­a­zines, but I get through six or seven a month, and I’ve been won­der­ing for some time why you are the only one I read that gives two prices for re­view items: with and with­out VAT. Do you think that, if we only see the price we pay, we will some­how be worse off? Or per­haps you think that most of your read­ers are overseas tourists who don’t pay VAT? Since it’s a mildly ir­ri­tat­ing prac­tice, could you please ex­plain why you do it, and why other mag­a­zines suf­fer be­cause they don’t? And could you broaden your ex­pla­na­tion to in­clude your A-List, the items in which only ever show one price, which I as­sume in­cludes VAT? Why the dif­fer­ence? James Gour­ley

PC Pro ed­i­tor-in-chief Tim Dan­ton

replies: We in­clude exc and inc VAT prices be­cause about half our read­er­ship uses PC Pro to make busi­ness buy­ing de­ci­sions, and as I’m sure you know the exc VAT price is the im­por­tant one for them. For the A-List, with so lit­tle space, we make a de­ci­sion as to which is the most rel­e­vant price – inc VAT or exc VAT. So, you’ll find all the back-end net­work de­vices have exc VAT prices, whereas prod­ucts such as phones, where the ma­jor­ity will be bought for per­sonal use, have an inc VAT price.

A two-year re­minder

I was just read­ing the Novem­ber 2015 is­sue ( 253) – yes, I have a few to catch up on! In his editorial, Tim eu­lo­gises over smart­watches and even uses the re­place­ment of land­line anal­ogy, end­ing up with him ask­ing his watch to re­mind him in two years.

With your sort-of three-month lead of pub­lished edi­tion to the ac­tual month, the re­minder must be com­ing up soon! I and per­haps the other read­ers might be in­ter­ested in ask­ing the fol­low­ing ques­tions to Tim: did a re­minder pop up, is Stu­art wear­ing a smart­watch and what make?

As a longish term reader, and even longer in the world of com­put­ing (my first lan­guage at school was CE­CIL – I’ll let you Google that), watch­ing trends is al­ways of in­ter­est. “With the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, were you right?” is an in­ter­est­ing and often amus­ing ques­tion. I’d like to know Tim’s view two years later. An­drew Chap­man

Ed­i­tor-in-chief Tim Dan­ton replies:

Thanks for the re­minder An­drew, al­beit a tiny bit early! The ex­act ques­tion I asked of my watch was, “Re­mind me, in two years’

time, to check which model of watch Stu­art’s us­ing”. The an­swer: he isn’t wear­ing a smart­watch at all. This both shows how ter­ri­ble I am at pre­dict­ing the fu­ture and how smart­watches have failed to cap­ture the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion. To be hon­est, un­like An­drew in this month’s Star let­ter, I don’t see this chang­ing. Those who want a smart­watch have bought one; ev­ery­one else is get­ting on with their life.

Rip-off? Re­ally?

I com­pletely fail to un­der­stand Chris Mox­ham’s ar­gu­ment in last month’s Read­ers’ com­ments. Yes, the Google Pixel ap­pears over­priced, but here’s the thing: if you think it’s too ex­pen­sive, don’t buy it. It would be a very dif­fer­ent mat­ter if a premium smart­phone was an essen­tial (it isn’t)

So, if you want the lat­est, great­est, or trendi­est gad­get, then be pre­pared to pay through the nose

or com­pul­sory (it isn’t) or there were no al­ter­na­tives (there are). So, if you want the lat­est, great­est, or trendi­est gad­get then be pre­pared to pay through the nose. But no­body is forc­ing you – if you don’t want to spend that much buy a Len­ovo P2 for £200 in­stead. It will work pretty much the same, it just won’t have the ku­dos of the Pixel. Mark Pat­ti­son

Ob­so­les­cence, here I come

I can con­trol my heat­ing, light­ing and home se­cu­rity sys­tem from my phone, check on my pet when I’m out and even open my garage door. But what hap­pens when Ap­ple or Google makes a fun­da­men­tal change to one of its mo­bile oper­at­ing sys­tems? I’ll end up roast­ing or freez­ing, blinded or thrown into dark­ness, with the garage door per­ma­nently stuck ei­ther open or closed.

I’m not a lud­dite, but ev­ery time an­other one-time stand­alone de­vice gets “smart” and “con­nected” and I have to con­trol it us­ing my phone, I worry that its life­span has been dras­ti­cally cut short. Ed­ward Spire

ABOVE The at­tack in Manch­ester has reignited the de­bate re­gard­ing sur­veil­lance

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