British spying services violate human rights, court rules

This 13 September 2018 video says about itself:

UK mass surveillance regime violates human rights, declares landmark court ruling

The UK government’s mass surveillance regime violates human rights, Europe’s highest court ruled today. In a landmark 5-2 vote, the European Court of Human Rights declared there is “insufficient oversight” and “inadequate safeguards” over the government’s ‘bulk interception’ of its own citizens’ phone records.

It also found 6-1 that the UK’s regime for obtaining communications data from service providers “was not in accordance with the law”. And judges ruled there were “insufficient safeguards” for journalistic material in the UK government’s policy.

Today’s challenge, led by the campaign group Big Brother Watch, came in the wake of revelations about surveillance tactics by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Judges found aspects of the UK policy breached two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights – Article 8 (the right to private life) and Article 10 (free expression).

Not every aspect of the challenge was successful. Judges said the operation of a bulk interception regime would not in itself breach the Convention. And there was no breach in the UK’s regime for sharing intelligence with foreign governments, judges said.

The European Court of Human Rights is separate to the EU and has more member states. The Convention was written into British law two decades ago by the last Labour government in the Human Rights act.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

British intelligence service work violated human rights

The powers of the British intelligence services went too far and were in conflict with human rights. That is what the European Court of Human Rights judges. The verdict is a victory for the civil rights movements and journalist organizations that had filed the case.

The case was filed as a result of documents that were published via the American whistleblower Edward Snowden. This contained a lot of information about the activities of the British intelligence services.

The court ruled that intelligence services are allowed to collect private information on a large scale, but that there was too little oversight.


In addition, too little attention was paid to protecting confidential information of journalists. There were not enough guarantees to ensure that this information was kept safe.

On another point, the complainants did not get what they wanted. According to the court there was nothing wrong with the information exchange with other countries.

British spooks breached citizens’ right to privacy: here.

Torture victims unlawfully excluded by Home Office‘s new definition, High Court hears, by Sam Tobin in London.

Ants, spiders and starlings on Twitter

This 2012 video from Britain says about itself:

Murmuration of Starlings in Cornwall in HD – WOW Starling Birds Flocking Together

The most spectacular starling murmuration I have ever seen.

From the British Ecological Society:

Scientists take to Twitter to study flying ants, starling murmurations and house spiders

September 5, 2018

Searching tweets for text or hashtags allowed researchers to gather information on popular ecological phenomena observed in the UK such as the emergence of flying ants and starling murmurations. Their findings are published today in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

To test how reliable and accurate Twitter is as a data source for scientific research, ecologists from the University of Gloucestershire compared their results directly to three previously published studies on winged ant emergence, autumnal house spider sightings, and starling murmurations. These studies were based on primary data collected by citizen scientists during the same period.

They found that the “Twitter-mined” data was able to replicate most temporal findings, such as date and time of ant mating flights or house spider sightings. The researchers could also reproduce the sex ratio of house spiders by analysing the photos tweeters uploaded and, in some cases, received an indication of where in the house the spider was seen.

Professor Adam Hart from the University of Gloucestershire, who led the study, said: “The retrospective analysis of social media has been used widely to detect earthquakes or political sentiment, but not so much in ecological research. Our study shows that passive citizen science, where we gain information and access to photos indirectly through Twitter or other social media channels such as Facebook and Flickr, can indeed generate robust and interesting data.”

All tweets have an automatic date and time stamp and people generally post on the same day of the actual sighting.

“It is perhaps the immediacy of Twitter, the “urgency” of the phenomena and the desire to connect with other users that have produced so many usable tweets. The emergence of winged ants is also popular in the media and hashtags like #flyingantday often trend on Twitter”, Hart added.

Determining the exact location of a sighting proved more difficult as people rarely indicate it in their posts and it is not necessarily the same as the home location listed in their Twitter bio. Twitter has recently launched the option of having latitude and longitude automatically added to tweets via “share precise location”, which could fill some of these gaps in the future.

As for the observed starling murmurations, 9 of 10 tweets mentioned the geographical location, identifying places such as Blackpool, Aberystwyth, Brighton, the Somerset Levels and East Anglia. These aerial displays often become a hotspot for people wanting to watch them, and thus location is relevant to both tweeter and followers.

Hart concludes: “Twitter can provide a valuable tool for phenological studies of charismatic events and species. Dog owners noting ticks on their animals, or the timing of frog spawning or foxes mating are just some of the questions that could be explored.”

To encourage members of the public to participate in ecological studies, the researchers suggest promoting specific hashtags that make the search through Twitter archives easier. There could also be a system that allows people to automatically record data by tweeting about it.

They stress that Twitter-derived data needs to be interpreted with care though as it can be difficult to validate. Thus, it should be compared directly with data gathered through other more robust methods.

One of the great puzzles of evolutional biology is what induced certain living creatures to abandon solitary existence in favor of living in collaborative societies, as seen in the case of ants and other social, colony-forming insects. A major characteristic of so-called eusocial species is the division of labor between queens that lay eggs and workers that take care of the brood and perform other tasks. But what is it that determines that a queen should lay eggs and that workers shouldn’t reproduce? And how did this distinction come about during the course of evolution? Evolutionary biologists have now found a completely unexpected answer: one single gene called insulin-like peptide 2 (ILP2), which is probably activated by better nutrition, stimulates the ovaries and triggers reproduction: here.

New Tolkien book, The Fall of Gondolin

This November 2017 video is called Lore of Middle-earth: Gondolin, Part 1; The Rise.

This November 2017 video is called Lore of Middle-earth: Gondolin, Part 2; The Fall.

The Fall of Gondolin, ‘new’ JRR Tolkien book, to be published in 2018. Edited by his son Christopher, Tolkien’s tale of a reluctant hero defending a city was written while the author was in hospital after the Battle of the Somme: here.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

One last time back to Middle-earth

Tolkien fans can enjoy the fantasy world of the English writer one last time. This week The Fall of Gondolin is published, based on surviving fragments edited by Tolkien’s son Christopher.

The story is set thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The protagonist visits the elven town of Gondolin, which is attacked by the dark ruler Morgoth, predecessor of Sauron.

Tolkien himself once called the story “the first real story” about Middle-earth. He wrote it in 1917, when he recovered from health complaints that he had incurred at the Battle of the Somme.

Tolkien eventually did not publish the work. He continued to write stories about the same fantasy world, which led to The Hobbit in 1937, followed by the Ring trilogy in 1954 and 1955.

Certain fragments from the new book will surely be familiar to fans. Thus the city is besieged by a group of balrogs. Such a monster fights to the death in the Ring cycle with the wizard Gandalf. The sentence ‘You shall not pass’ from that fight became a classic film quote because of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation.

Christopher Tolkien assumes that the oeuvre of his father, who died in 1973, is complete now. He himself, now 93, no longer plans to edit new books, he writes in the preface of the book.