The toyshop's mock-up of Boris astride one of their designs. Image: TellTails
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A Hackney toyshop wants to dress the Boris bikes in animal print

“Boris beasts”, anyone?

With their grey/blue palette and bulky frames, London’s hire bikes are not known for their style.

Luckily for the discerning Londoner, toyshop TellTails has come up with a plan. Based in Hackney (where else?), it’s making a redesign the cornerstone of its unlikely campaign to be the bike hire system’s next sponsor.

According to their page on crowd-funding platform Indiegogo, TellTails would attach their own tailor-made tails to the bikes and give them an animal print paint job in order to turn London into a (no, really) “style Serengeti”. The manifesto continues:

We believe in a London bike sponsored by the people, for the people. A bike that represents the natural irreverence, exuberance and rebellious nature of the British people. A wild, wondrous bicycle that one might mount to feel like a Saxon king rather then a banal banker.”

TellTails claims that the redesign would simultaneously serve as a political statement, an “act of style” and a tourist attraction. Oh, and the tails would act as “superior mud guards”, too. But it’s sadly silent on whether all bikes will be cheetah-themed as in the campaign’s photo, or whether monkey, tiger and dinosaur tails would also be available.

Barclays announced last December that it would not renew its sponsorship deal with TfL once it expired in 2015. But we suspect TellTails’ bark is worse than their bite: at time of writing, they’re on £792 out of a £37.5m goal.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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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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