Boris 2012 claims police numbers are up. But are they?

According to Labour campaigners, the Mayor's re-election website has inflated the number of Met offi

Boris Johnson has made a point of opposing police cuts, publicly urging David Cameron to scrap the cuts in the aftermath of the riots last summer.

Indeed, policing is set to be an area on which he will fight this year's mayoral election. A press release from his team just this week says that Johnson has "overseen a massive increase in police on London's streets since becoming Mayor".

But is it actually the case that Johnson has presided over a big boost to the Met? Labour Matters thinks otherwise. According to their analysis, Johnson's re-election website, is over-claiming the number of police currently operating in London. Johnson's website says that there are 722 more officers than official Metropolitan Police figures show.

According to Labour Matters, BackBoris2012 over-claims for 28 of the 32 London boroughs. The biggest discrepancies are in Westminster (the site claims there are 110 more police officers than there actually are), Southwark (inflated by 80) and Lambeth (51).

In nine boroughs -- including Brent, Camden, Croydon and Tower Hamlets -- where official figures show that the number of police officers fell between 2008 and 2011, the relection website claims that numbers rose.

For long-time critics of the Mayor, this is unsurprising. London blogger Adam Bienkov tells me:

Boris was elected on a ticket of cutting knife crime and getting to grips with the Metropolitan Police. His record on both has been pretty shaky so it's not surprising if his campaign are now trying to bend the figures in his favour.

I spoke to BackBoris2012 this afternoon. A spokesman for the re-election campaign questioned the source of Labour Matters' figures, and said:

The figures [on the re-election website], showing a rise in police officers under Mayor Boris Johnson helping lead to a fall in crime across London, are official Metropolitan Police figures for the latest available full financial year.

In line with standard practice, this year to year comparison provides the most reliable figures for an organisation the size of the Met Police whose staffing levels fluctuate on a daily basis.

But whatever the comparison -- be it a logical year to year comparison or a randomly, cherry-picked comparison -- there is no disputing the fact that police numbers across London have increased under Mayor Boris Johnson and that crime is down by 10 per cent.

As standard practice we will be updating these figures at the end of this financial year, which is March 2012.

There is that assertion again: police numbers have increased under Johnson. But this fact has been disputed. Indeed, it has been disputed using these very terms -- of daily fluctuating numbers. Following the Mayor's intervention on police cuts in August, Channel 4's FactCheck blog concluded:

The Mayor has always been very careful to couch his claims over police numbers in a very specific way, saying that by the time his term of office finishes next year officer numbers would be up on the total he inherited.

. . .

It's clear that Mr Johnson has presided over budgets that have cut Met Police office numbers, and his legacy after 2012 will be one of further cuts.

It appears that claims that Johnson has hugely boosted police numbers may be disingenous.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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7 problems with the Snooper’s Charter, according to the experts

In short: it was written by people who "do not know how the internet works".

A group of representatives from the UK Internet Service Provider’s Association (ISPA) headed to the Home Office on Tuesday to point out a long list of problems they had with the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (that’s Snooper’s Charter to you and me). Below are simplified summaries of their main points, taken from the written evidence submitted by Adrian Kennard, of Andrews and Arnold, a small ISP, to the department after the meeting. 

The crucial thing to note is that these people know what they're talking about - the run the providers which would need to completely change their practices to comply with the bill if it passed into law. And their objections aren't based on cost or fiddliness - they're about how unworkable many of the bill's stipulations actually are. 

1. The types of records the government wants collected aren’t that useful

The IP Bill places a lot of emphasis on “Internet Connection Records”; i.e. a list of domains you’ve visited, but not the specific pages visited or messages sent.

But in an age of apps and social media, where we view vast amounts of information through single domains like Twitter or Facebook, this information might not even help investigators much, as connections can last for days, or even months. Kennard gives the example of a missing girl, used as a hypothetical case by the security services to argue for greater powers:

 "If the mobile provider was even able to tell that she had used twitter at all (which is not as easy as it sounds), it would show that the phone had been connected to twitter 24 hours a day, and probably Facebook as well… this emotive example is seriously flawed”

And these connection records are only going to get less relevant over time - an increasing number of websites including Facebook and Google encrypt their website under "https", which would make finding the name of the website visited far more difficult.

2. …but they’re still a massive invasion of privacy

Even though these records may be useless when someone needs to be found or monitored, the retention of Internet Connection Records (IRCs) is still very invasive – and can actually yield more information than call records, which Theresa May has repeatedly claimed are the non-digital equivalent of ICRs. 

Kennard notes: “[These records] can be used to profile them and identify preferences, political views, sexual orientation, spending habits and much more. It is useful to criminals as it would easily confirm the bank used, and the time people leave the house, and so on”. 

This information might not help find a missing girl, but could build a profile of her which could be used by criminals, or for over-invasive state surveillance. 

3. "Internet Connection Records" aren’t actually a thing

The concept of a list of domain names visited by a user referred to in the bill is actually a new term, derived from “Call Data Record”. Compiling them is possible, but won't be an easy or automatic process.

Again, this strongly implies that those writing the bill are using their knowledge of telecommunications surveillance, not internet era-appropriate information. Kennard calls for the term to be removed, or at least its “vague and nondescript nature” made clear in the bill.

4. The surveillance won’t be consistent and could be easy to dodge

In its meeting with the ISPA, the Home Office implied that smaller Internet service providers won't be forced to collect these ICR records, as it would use up a lot of their resources. But this means those seeking to avoid surveillance could simply move over to a smaller provider.

5. Conservative spin is dictating the way we view the bill 

May and the Home Office are keen for us to see the surveillance in the bill as passive: internet service providers must simply log the domains we visit, which will be looked at in the event that we are the subject of an investigation. But as Kennard notes, “I am quite sure the same argument would not work if, for example, the law required a camera in every room in your house”. This is a vast new power the government is asking for – we shouldn’t allow it to play it down.

6. The bill would allow our devices to be bugged

Or, in the jargon, used in the draft bill, subjected to “equipment interference”. This could include surveillance of everything on a phone or laptop, or even turning on its camera or webcam to watch someone. The bill actually calls for “bulk equipment interference” – when surely, as Kennard notes, “this power…should only be targeted at the most serious of criminal suspects" at most.

7. The ability to bug devices would make them less secure

Devices can only be subject to “equipment interference” if they have existing vulnerabilities, which could also be exploited by criminals and hackers. If security services know about these vulnerabilities, they should tell the manufacturer about them. As Kennard writes, allowing equipment interference "encourages the intelligence services to keep vulnerabilities secret” so they don't lose surveillance methods. Meanwhile, though, they're laying the population open to hacks from cyber criminals. 


So there you have it  – a compelling soup of misused and made up terms, and ethically concerning new powers. Great stuff. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.