Cellular network shut down in parts of Iran, digital rights group claims

January 4th, 2018 no comment

People in some parts of Iran have reported being unable to access the internet, send text messages or even make and receive phone calls, according to digital rights campaign organisation Access Now.

The group has been collecting first-hand testimonies from people living inside the theocratic state, amid widespread street protests over the past few days.

Partial and even total outages of the cellular network have allegedly been experienced in some regions of the country.

Access Now’s advocacy director Melody Patry told E&T“They don’t necessarily shut down the entire network – although in some cities people have reported that the entire cellular network has been shut down.

“What they can do sometimes is just throttle connections and protocols, making it very slow for people to access a web site. At some point a protocol just fails and you can no longer access the internet or use an app. They’ve used different types of shutdowns.”

The Iranian regime’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace controls much of the country’s internet infrastructure and is adept at influencing the activities of private service providers that help link Iranians up with the World Wide Web.

The regime’s routine censorship of the internet has led tech-savvy Iranians to use virtual private networks and the encrypted Tor browser in a bid to circumvent controls, although even access to these services has been hampered in recent days.

Twitter and Facebook have long been officially banned in Iran and access to Instagram is currently blocked nationwide. However, the Iranian government has taken a comparatively laissez-faire approach to the messaging app Telegram, which has seen its popularity soar in the country, with around 40 million people regularly using it.

Pavel Durov, Telegram’s founder and chief executive, was recently sharply criticised by free speech activists for agreeing to suspend Amad News – an Iranian public news channel – apparently at the request of the regime. Durov said subscribers to the channel had started calling for people to take up arms against the police, thereby violating Telegram’s rules banning users from advocating violence.

Critics, including the whistleblower Edward Snowden, accuse Telegram of being insufficiently transparent about the precise nature of the case against Amad News. Some technology experts have also questioned whether Telegram’s encryption – used by Iranians to send supposedly secret messages – is robust enough to withstand state surveillance.

Information security expert Lee Munson, from consumer tech review company Comparitech, said: “There’s no such thing as uncrackable encryption. It’s a matter of time and computing power.”

Over the weekend, the Iranian authorities moved to temporarily block access to Telegram, warning that the ban could become permanent if the firm failed to suspend “terrorist channels”. Iran has developed an increasingly sophisticated ‘filternet’ and the country’s government has previously spoken about a project to forge its own, nationally specific “halal” version of the web.

Josh Mayfield, a cybersecurity professional who works for firewall vendor FireMon, told E&T it was relatively easy for the Iranian government to shut down messaging apps and social networks when protests swirled and to censor the web as a matter of course.

“It’s like if I want to get on a plane and fly to New York, I have to go through security clearance to get on that aircraft,” he said. The government is controlling my access. It’s the same principle here, just they [the Iranian government] are using data packets and deep packet inspection – and whitelisting and blacklisting – to accomplish it.

In a regime like Iran, it’s not out of the norm for them to lock it down. They lock down a lot of other things, too.

“What some users will do in response is to set up their own proxy [server]. That way, the proxy will communicate outward into another system. But what if the government controls all the proxies, too? When the state runs the entire infrastructure, there is no alternative for you to circumvent their protected measures.

From a technical point, it’s relatively simple when you own an infrastructure to then turn on and off certain controls that prevent things.

Irans president Hassan Rouhani has said people are free to protest and express criticisms of the government in Iran, but he has also accused foreign governments of trying to stir up trouble in the country. 

Addressing his cabinet four days ago, Rouhani said: “If the way chosen to express criticism causes doubt and concern in people for their lives, business, travel and investment, and makes our enemies happy, then it is certainly a wrong way.”

‘Bird backpacks’ to help track flight patterns around wind farms

December 22nd, 2017 no comment

Clever designs for miniature ‘bird backpacks’ have been shortlisted by a government-backed innovation body set up to boost UK wind, wave and tidal energy.‘’

The scheme follows concerns raised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) that wild seabird colonies and threatened species like puffins and razorbills could be decimated amid the UK’s rush for green power.

Vicky Coy, from the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult project, said: “Developing a tag that withstands a bird’s natural behaviour is key to developing a greater understanding of their movements. It’s more difficult than it sounds.

“But the solutions suggested are ingenious. One, for example, is a small backpack which contains a solar charger to keep the battery going, and another attaches discreetly to the tail feathers.

“With battery life a concern, one suggestion was to use ‘geo-fencing’ to ensure full details of the bird’s movements are only transmitted when it’s in the proximity of a pre-determined area, giving us more detail than ever.”

The tags will have to weigh no more than three per cent of a birds overall body weight in order not to interfere with its natural behaviour.

They will also need a battery capable of lasting for 12 months and strong enough to withstand attacks and offer a quick-release mechanism to prevent snagging.

Proposals include a device containing a solar-powered GPS system, and discreet tags that attach to tail feathers.

Four organisations have been shortlisted as part of a scheme to find a solution to the design challenge. They are Pathtrack, the British Trust for Ornithology, Ornitela and Debug Innovations.

The successful company or companies will see their device first used on greater black-backed gulls, although it will need to be adaptable for other birds.

Catarina Rei, technical lead on the project for EDP Renewables, which is developing Moray East, in Scotland, said: “Environmental monitoring is already a big part of any wind-farm planning and post-construction monitoring, onshore and offshore, and so we are always looking for new ways to improve monitoring, and take advantage of innovations in, for example, batteries and solar power.

“Developing new techniques and methods is an essential step in improving what we do.

“We’ll be able to gain a greater insight into bird and coastal species behaviour, which will better inform the planning, consenting and operational stage of an offshore wind farm development.”

Nigel Butcher, senior technical officer at the RSPB, said: “This is a really exciting project which will hopefully pave the way for further technological advances in tracking seabirds.

“RSPB has previously worked with several of the shortlisted companies and, given our experience with them, are confident that the criteria for the new tags will be met to an incredibly high standard.”

Record highs for low-carbon energy sources, producing over half of UK electricity

December 21st, 2017 no comment

Almost a third (30 per cent) of power was generated by renewables including wind, solar, hydro and biomass in the third quarter of the year, up from 25 per cent for the same period in 2016 and a record high for the three-month period.

As a result of increased renewables, overall low-carbon electricity – which also includes nuclear power – climbed to new highs of 54.4 per cent of generation, the data from the Business and Energy Department revealed.

At the same time, power from fossil fuels gas and coal dropped to a record low of 42 per cent of generation, with coal accounting for less than 3 per cent of British electricity generation between July and September.

Dr Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said the latest records were “yet another nail in the coffin” for claims that renewables could not be a sizeable part of the UK’s electricity mix.

“As the technology to integrate more wind and solar improves, these headline figures are set to become more and more frequent.

“At the same time, record low prices for new renewables will bring bills down for British homes and businesses, on top of maintaining the UK’s leading position in the global battle against climate change,” he said.

The UK has confirmed it will phase out polluting coal power by 2025 and the British grid has seen coal drop to historic lows – including, in April, the first full day without the fossil fuel since it was first used to generate power in the 19th century.

GCHQ lauds new UK cyber weapons created to hit back at hostile states

December 21st, 2017 no comment

Britain’s secret service now has cyber weapons capable of shutting down key parts of a hostile state’s national infrastructure in retaliation for an attack on the UK, the government’s intelligence and security watchdog has confirmed.

In an official submission to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), the watchdog chaired by former attorney general Dominic Grieve, spy agency GCHQ reported that it had “overachieved” and delivered almost double the number of offensive cyber capabilities it was aiming to have in its arsenal.  

Though the precise nature of the new techniques and capabilities was not divulged, unnamed figures from the intelligence agency who are leading on a hitherto little-known programme to build effective deterrents that could inflict real-world damage in return for any similar attack on the UK hailed a “spectrum of successes” over the past two years.

In his committee’s partially redacted annual report, Grieve stressed that offensive cyber capabilities normally take the form of “highly tailored and system specific” hacking tools, as opposed to a “one size fits all” weapon in the manner of a conventional military tool like a bomb or missile.

He later singled out Russia, China and Iran as “state actors” capable of carrying out advanced cyber attacks.

Grieve said that “their use of these methods has historically been restricted by the diplomatic and geopolitical consequences if the activity was uncovered”, but added pointedly: “Recent Russian cyber activity appears to indicate that this may no longer be the case.”

Russia is believed to have been behind attacks on the Ukrainian power grid and a French TV station.

The Stuxnet computer virus attack on Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges, which is believed to have been launched by Israel as part of the country’s defence strategy and which reprogrammed Iranian control systems in a nuclear facility, was the first widely reported instance of a cyber weapon being used to cause significant real world damage.

The phrase ‘offensive cyber’ covers a swathe of capabilities, ranging from the ability to shut down the source of an ongoing attack to the means used to enact retaliation after an enemy onslaught has wrought its damage. The ISC said such tools could potentially be used in conjunction with conventional weaponry to try and neutralise a threat.

Areas the secret service has been working on include the development of bespoke malware, testing of new interception tools to detect emerging threats and investigation of different delivery methods used for gaining access to an adversary’s networks.

Instances of alleged state-sponsored hacking have prompted Nato to agree that a cyber attack could trigger the military alliance’s mutual defence clause, but the norms and protocols associated with cyber warfare are much less advanced than those linked to conventional battles.

International law applies to state acts in cyber space, but there is currently a lack of binding international mechanisms designed to enforce it, and accurately attributing a cyber attack to a particular source can be notoriously problematic.

In written evidence to the committee, one GCHQ insider remarked: “It’s not like arms control, were you can point to something and say they’ve breached the rules and we can attribute this activity to this person.”

Speaking earlier this year at a cyber-security event held in Cambridge for would-be GCHQ hackers, technologist Dr Jessica Barker called retaliatory cyber operations a “terrible idea”.

She said: “If we can’t attribute who’s hacking, how can we hack back?

“Also, we can’t defend ourselves 100 per cent. What makes us think we can attack and that that’s a good idea?”

Today’s ISC report also suggests households’ cyber security could be beefed up if a government-backed accreditation process for approving new Internet of Things devices – like smart fridges and Amazon Echo-type gizmos –  was developed.

The report warned that “until consumers or regulators demand better security, many manufacturers are likely to sideline cyber security considerations, given their potential impact on time to market and, therefore, profits”.

Innocent people grilled by police about paedophila and murder due to Internet data bungle

December 21st, 2017 no comment

Blameless individuals have been arrested, seen their homes and electronic devices searched and had their children taken into care as a result of serious errors.

The incidents were revealed as a watchdog flagged up the “appalling” consequences of erroneous use of communications data.

Particular concerns were raised over mistakes made when authorities link internet protocol addresses – numerical labels assigned to devices on the web – to physical locations.

In his annual report for 2016, Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Stanley Burnton said errors in attempts to “resolve” IP addresses are “far more common than is acceptable”.

He warned the impact on some victims of these mistakes has been “appalling” and “enormous”, noting: “People have been arrested for crimes relating to child sexual exploitation. “Their children have been taken into care, and they have had to tell their employers.”

Communications data covers information such as who sent a message or made a phone call, when and where this happened – but not the content. More than 750,000 items of communications data were acquired by public authorities during 2016.

Last year 1,101 communications data errors were reported to the Commissioner’s office, with 29 cases classified as serious.

Twenty of these were human error, seven were “system/workflow” errors and in two instances communications data was obtained without the lawful authority.

Innocent people were arrested and/or had their homes searched on seven occasions.

The report reveals how in one instance the incorrect day and month was typed into an IP resolution request during an investigation into the use of blackmail to incite sexual acts by children over social media.

As a result, police searched an address unconnected with their investigation, carried out forensic examination of a large number of devices owned by innocent people and conducted voluntary interviews of four people.

This included two children who were then subject to formal safeguarding processes, including being separated from their parents for a weekend.

Other serious cases reported include:

  • An innocent person was arrested and interviewed in a blackmail investigation after police applied for subscriber information based on a phone number that had been incorrectly recorded within a witness statement.
  • Two innocent individuals were arrested, interviewed and had their electronic devices forensically examined by police investigating child sexual exploitation after an error copying an IP address from one system to another.
  • Police investigating a murder contacted an individual unconnected to the probe after a telephone number was incorrectly recorded in a database.
  • An innocent person was arrested and interviewed as part of an investigation into a paedophile ring after communications data was misinterpreted.

Sir Stanley said that in general the standard of compliance is high, adding: “Errors and more general problems form a very small percentage of the total activity I inspect.”

Our first digital-only issue: paperless in more ways than one

December 20th, 2017 no comment

Those of us who are old enough to remember the paperless promise have by now put it in the same mental filing cabinet along with those worries about what we were going to do with all of our extra leisure time that computers would give us, or how automation would one day take all our jobs so we’d have nothing left but leisure time. Well, OK, that one never really went away but the others have been filed in the ‘whatever happened to’ category.

Ironically, the computer age first led to a lot more paper in offices as workers felt the need to print everything out and it became so easy – if very noisy with those early dot matrix printers that required their own dedicated sound-proofed box to muffle the sound. As we can see from our historical graph in that article, paper use is at last declining, which may be long overdue but is unsurprising given email, spreadsheets, word processing, the web and all the other digital tools that can now all be stored in one tiny computer in your pocket.

The paperless office has turned out to be more evolution than revolution. Welcome then to our first digital only edition available in the E&T app and online. It’s an extra bonus issue of E&T and it’s our first ‘paper free’ issue in content as well as format.

Paper has proved more resilient than expected in so many contexts (and not just magazines). Josh Loeb looks at the controversies where government has tried to introduce a cashless economy, doing away with notes and coins. Vitali Vitaliev visits a venue trying to do away with paper tickets, which has also been controversial enough for some people to write strongly-worded letters to the newspapers about how they refuse to be forced into buying mobile phones. Is paper just a bad habit and could breaking it transform business? Nick Smith talks to management guru Freek Vermeulen, about his new book Breaking Bad Habits, and to Steve Carter of Apter Development about how going paperless can change the way we work.

Some things just don’t seem right without paper. See if you agree with our top ten of the last things likely to go paperless. How about wallpaper? Remember the lickable wallpaper in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Rebecca Northfield finds out how far it is from reality along with all the other incredible inventions from the R&D labs of Willy Wonka.

Digital technology has improved our lives in countless ways, making everything faster, more efficient and more exciting. Usually. But not always. The Victorians invented the Christmas card and despite emails, instant messaging and e-cards, we’re still sending millions of them every year – with one interesting difference. Today, you have to post your card around four days before Christmas day for it to arrive in time. Back in the Victorian age, before post codes, automatic letter sorting or motorised transport, the last posting date was, believe it or not, Christmas Eve. That’s just one of the facts in our Christmas then and now feature by Jade Fell.

It’s all in our special Christmas bonus paperless issue available online now. There’s also a little more in the version on our app available on the iTunes and Google Play stores and it too is free to members. 

E&T will be taking a break from Christmas Eve but back again in the New Year.

Happy Christmas to our readers.

FCC votes to roll back Obama-era net neutrality regulations in US

December 15th, 2017 no comment

Net neutrality is the principle that all content on the internet is treated equally. Regulations introduced under President Barack Obama enshrined net neutrality into law, forbidding ISPs from speeding up content, or slowing down or blocking specific content that may be associated with a competitor.

This is significant in the US, where many telecommunications giants own major content providers: this is known as “vertical integration”. Verizon, for instance, has acquired Yahoo! and AOL.

In the US, there have been numerous cases in which ISPs have attempted to deprioritise or block content produced by rivals in the past, such as in 2012 when AT&T announced that it would disable the FaceTime app – a competitor to its own products – on its customers’ iPhones unless they upgraded to a more expensive plan. Supporters of net neutrality protections are concerned that the repeal of the Obama-era protections will leave no barriers to prevent such attempts succeeding in the future.

Following the repeal, the regulator will require ISPs to disclose how they are treating web content, although there will be no legal requirement to treat all content equally.

The repeal was spearheaded by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, who was appointed to the position by Donald Trump in January 2017. The repeal of net neutrality protections, he argues, will lead to a more “free” internet and encourage innovation by ISPs.

“Following today’s vote, Americans will still be able to access the websites they want to visit,” said Pai. “The main complaint consumers have about the internet is not and has never been that they are service providers blocking access to content; it’s that they don’t have access at all or not enough competition.”

The FCC’s repeal was firmly backed by the White House. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary stated that: “The Trump administration supports the FCC’s effort to roll back burdensome regulations.”

Pai’s rollback of the legislation has been riddled with controversies, in part due to his former role as a lawyer for Verizon – one of the largest ISPs in the US – but also due to mounting evidence of fraud during the public consultation on the repeal, which attracted a record 22 million comments.

A study by the Pew Research Centre found that 57 per cent of comments were submitted using temporary or duplicate email addresses and 94 per cent of comments were submitted multiple times. There is extensive evidence of comments being submitted by bots and using the identities of people who are deceased. The fraudulent comments are overwhelmingly in favour of the FCC’s repeal.

“[There is] clear evidence of organised campaigns to flood the comments with repeated messages,” the Pew Research Centre study concluded.

Senators, Congressmen, Attorneys General and other representatives have called on Pai to delay the vote in order for a proper investigation into the public consultation to take place. In a letter to Pai, 18 Attorneys General state that evidence of fraud in the consultation “should raise alarm bells for every American about the integrity of the democratic process”.

However, Pai rejected these repeated calls, stating that the vote would go ahead as planned and that net neutrality supporters were becoming “more desperate by the day”.

During yesterday’s vote, protestors congregated outside the FCC headquarters and called on net neutrality supporters in Congress to block the repeal. Republican FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai, Brendan Carr and Michael O’Rielly voted for the repeal, while Democrat FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voted to save the regulations.

Politicians and lawyers have already promised to challenge the repeal; Democratic New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – who has been investigating the identity theft of his constituents during the public consultation on the repeal – has denounced the FCC’s vote as “illegal”. He is joined by Attorneys General of Washington and Pennsylvania in declaring intent to file cases against the FCC.

“Allowing [ISPs] to discriminate based on content undermines a free and open internet. Today’s action will seriously harm consumers, innovation and small businesses,” said Bob Ferguson, Washington Attorney General, in a statement.

The Internet Association – which represents Alphabet, Facebook and other internet giants – and the American Civil Liberties Union have stated that they are considering legal action against the FCC.

Meanwhile, state legislators in Washington and California have announced their intentions to retain net neutrality regulations at a state level.

In Europe, net neutrality is protected by EU regulations on open internet access. However, critics have argued that these protections still leave loopholes open for ISPs to exploit, such as through the option of providing faster access to “specialist services” or allowing the practice of “zero rating”, whereby certain websites or apps can be used without contributing to data limits.

Before the introduction of EU regulation, the UK had a voluntary system for open internet access. Whether the UK will choose to retain these net neutrality regulations, or implement similar protections, or return to softer-touch regulation when it withdraws from the EU is not yet known.

According to Professor Tommaso Valletti, Chief Competition Economist of the European Commission, a Europe without net neutrality regulations could look very different to a US without similar protections.

“The key [issue] here, which is ignored in the debate to a large extent, is the extent to which the ISPs compete; this is a huge problem in the US [where] there is vertical integration between ISPs and content providers, such as Comcast and Time Warner, so they have an extra incentive to exclude some rivals, which is made easier abandoning net neutrality,” Professor Valletti told E&T.

If ISPs truly compete, this could bring some benefits to customers as websites paying for faster speeds could result in reductions in subscription fees, Professor Valletti suggested, although this is “a big if”.

“In Europe, I would say personally that (1) ISPs are typically more competitive than [in the] US, (2) there is no vertical integration,” he continued. “Hence, abandoning net neutrality, while still controlling for market power, is an order of magnitude less worrying than in the US.”

Military prioritising defence of undersea telecoms cables amid Russian threat

December 15th, 2017 no comment

The UK’s military must become more creative and risk-taking to counter Russian cyber-interference and other types of unconventional attacks, Britain’s chief of defence staff has said.

In a wide-ranging speech last night at the Royal United Services Institute, Sir Stuart Peach also said undersea fibre-optic-carrying cables linking Europe and North America were vulnerable to being cut or disrupted.

Many of these economically crucial lines of communication, which lie deep under the sea and stretch over thousands of miles, with many making landfall in Cornwall, could be vulnerable, he suggested.

Publicly available submarine cable maps reveal the extent to which the UK is geographically pivotal as part of international subsea communications corridors. Numerous cross-channel cables serve continental Europe, while others span the so-called GIUK gap – a naval ‘choke point’ that was a hot spot during the Cold War.

When Russia annexed Crimea, one of its first moves was to sever the main cable connection to the outside world.

It is unclear whether Peach perceives the threat to be from the potential for Russian submarines to bomb the cables or from other, land-based interference, and how effectively he believes naval forces could realistically patrol thousands of miles of the ocean floor.

However, the threat is hardly new; Britain famously cut Germany’s undersea cables in 1914 in what was one of its first acts in the First World War.

“In response to the threat posed by the modernisation of the Russian navy, both nuclear and conventional submarines and ships, we – along with our Atlantic allies – have prioritised missions and tasks to protect the sea lines of communication,” Peach told his audience of military experts at last night’s event in London.

He added: “This sounds like a re-run of old missions. Actually as I’m about to say, it is very, very important that we understand how important that mission is for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

“Because Russia, in addition to new ships and submarines, continues to perfect both unconventional capabilities and information warfare.

“And there is a new risk to our way of life, which is the vulnerability of the cables that criss-cross the seabeds.

“Can you imagine a scneario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living if they were disrupted? 

“Therefore we must continue to develop our maritime forces with our allies, with whom we are working very closely, to match and understand Russian fleet modernisation.

Peach also raised the prospect of bringing back the Army’s now-defunct railway squadron amid the threat to Western military technology posed by “anti-area access denial” – a phrase used to describe multi-layered defences designed to lock out opponents’ air, land and sea access.

He said: Some people have talked about a military Schengen, I dont like that term, but we certainly need to know how to deploy our equipment through the (Channel) Tunnel and across Europe, or also have a real serious discussion with our European allies about pre-positioning equipment.

We dont need to go everywhere by air or ship and I would be delighted if it happens to re-welcome what we used to have in Germany 25 years ago – the railway squadron of the Royal Logistics Corps.

In addition, Peach said he wanted to see the military taking more “big bets” on what might work, stating: “If we dont change with the threats we face, we risk becoming overmatched… I think we need to take more risks and be more creative, with both reserves and contractors, to develop a true total force for cyber. This could be and should be exciting work.”

Mini nuclear power plant concept gets £56m funding boost from UK government

December 8th, 2017 no comment

The money will be available over the next three years to assess the potential of designs of advanced and small modular reactors (SMRs).

It will also support early access to regulators in order to build the capability and capacity needed to assess and licence SMRs and will establish an expert finance group to advise how small reactor projects could raise private investment in the UK.

The first round of funding comprises up to £4m for feasibility studies and up to £7m to further develop their capability.

Should these efforts prove successful, up to £40m will be made available for R&D projects to bring the technology into the mainstream.

The government said it wanted the UK to become a world leader in developing the next generation of nuclear technologies.

SMRs use existing or new nuclear technology scaled down to a fraction of the size of larger plants, producing around a tenth of the electricity created by large-scale projects, such as EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset.

Last year, uranium enrichment firm URENCO developed a miniature nuclear power plant so small and cheap that it could power a single town or a factory. 

Ministers also announced funding of up to £8m for studies including advanced fuels, saying it wanted to demonstrate its commitment to nuclear “innovations of the future.”

“New industry figures show that the UK’s civil nuclear sector contributed £6.4bn to the UK economy last year,” Business Secretary Greg Clark said.

“Today’s announcements recognise the importance of industry driving innovation, supported by government, so the sector continues to compete at the very highest level, not just in the UK but globally.

“Helping to put the UK at the forefront of future technologies which have the potential to create value and jobs across the whole UK are core objectives of our industrial strategy.”

Energy minister Richard Harrington said consultations would be held in the new year on the UK’s long-term nuclear waste management strategy to enable the development of a multi-billion pound infrastructure project, creating thousands of jobs.

The Government also listed eight sites as potentially suitable for the deployment of new nuclear power stations in England and Wales – Hinkley Point C, Wylfa, Sellafield (more commonly known as Moorside), Sizewell, Bradwell, Oldbury, Hartlepool and Heysham.

Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, commented: “The government’s energy policy is a mess.

“Ministers are ploughing huge sums of money into supporting overpriced nuclear, while retaining a de facto ban on onshore wind and failing to give solar the support the sector needs.

“They’re sending mixed messages to investors when we desperately need clarity to show that the government is serious about creating a renewables-based low-carbon Britain.”

In July it emerged that Hinkley Point C nuclear power station will cost nearly 10 per cent more than anticipated and will take longer to construct. 

US Senators call for delay to net neutrality repeal vote

December 5th, 2017 no comment

Net neutrality is the principle that all information on the web is treated equally; under this principle, internet service providers do not prioritise or slow down traffic from specific websites.

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, is in the process of repealing legislation laid down under former President Barack Obama to enshrine net neutrality into law. A vote to scrap the legislation is due to be held on December 14.

Pai’s repeal of net neutrality legislation has proved highly controversial, and provoked a major internet-based “day of action” in July.

A group of 28 Democratic Senators, led by Maggie Hassan and including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer, have written to Pai to demand that this vote is delayed due to evidence of widespread fraud during the public consultation on this issue.

 “A free and open internet is vital to ensuring a level playing field online, and we believe that your proposed action may be based on an incomplete understanding of the public record in this proceeding. In fact, there is good reason to believe that the record may be replete with fake or fraudulent comments, suggesting that your proposal is fundamentally flawed,” the letter said.

“Without additional information about the alleged anomalies surrounding the public record, the FCC cannot conduct a thorough and fair evaluation of the public’s views on this topic, and should not move forward with a vote on December 14, 2017.”

The letter pointed to evidence that many of the record 22 million public comments submitted on the issue appear to have been faked, with evidence of many anti-net neutrality comments being posted by bots or under the identity of deceased people.

A study by the Pew Research Centre found that 57 per cent of these comments used temporary or duplicate email addresses, 94 per cent of the comments were submitted multiple times, and nearly half a million comments were submitted using Russian email addresses.

“[There is] clear evidence of organised campaigns to flood the comments with repeated messages,” the study concluded.

Meanwhile, a report by Jeff Kao, a data scientist, found that at least 1.3 million fake comments were submitted from a single central source.

The FCC has rejected the Senator’s demands for a delay, stating that the vote will go ahead as planned. In a statement, it said that net neutrality supporters are becoming “more desperate by the day” to prevent its repeal of legislation protecting net neutrality.

In another high-profile, letter to the FCC, led by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, has fiercely rebuked the organisation for failing to investigate evidence of false comments. According to an investigation by Schneidermann, “tens of thousands” of New York residents may have been impersonated by fraudulent commenters. He has set up a web portal which allows New York residents to check whether their identities have been used in the public comments without their consent, and report these cases.