Britain celebrates (Japanese) state investment

It seems like everyone is investing in British infrastructure except for the British government

Duncan Wheldon at the TUC points out something:

David Cameron has arranged for a state-backed lender to step into the breach and help finance infrastructure projects, including wind farms, in the UK to the tune of ‘billions of pounds’.

The state-backed lender is the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation.

Given that the UK’s own Green Investment Bank is currently limited to £3bn it is perfectly possible that the UK’s green industries will recieve more funding form the Japanese state than the British one. This strikes me as an odd development.

None of this is new, of course. Foreign investment banks have been buying up British industry for years. As I wrote at Left Foot Forward, the China Investment Corporation now owns 9 per cent of Thames Water, and Abu Dhabi owns another 10 per cent:

With Thames Water now almost a fifth owned by foreign governments, and vast amounts of foreign state ownership in other public infrastructure companies from trains (Arriva) to postal services (DHL) and energy (EDF), the government will have an increasingly hard line justifying its long-held belief that private companies are inherently more efficient than state-owned ones.

Indeed, with the opening of the London-Frankfurt line in 2015, Deutsche Bahn will be operating on British soil under its own name for the first time.

Britain is finally getting a start on investing in our own infrastructure, rather than waiting for others to do it for us. As Joe Manning wrote yesterday, London boroughs aren't waiting for central government to get started, pooling their resources to get a better return for their money and improve the city with one move. It makes sense:

Pension funds have long time horizons. This means that they are well placed to invest in the infrastructure that is crucial to economic growth but will not realise immediate returns, such as new transport connections. In fact, there is a near perfect match between pension funds' appetite for long term assets and the need for long term financing of infrastructure.

Or we could do nothing. That seems like a popular plan.

A French wind turbine. Ours are Japanese. Credit: AFP

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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