Saturday, September 30, 2006

Shadow Chancellor: thanks, Tony!

George Osbourne“Look at the attacks that Tony Blair made on us at the party conference speech. I thought they were so telling. For the last ten years it has all been you’re extreme, you’re to the right. And what was the attack? It was all you’re too left-wing now. It’s, ooh, you are not tough enough on terrorists, you are not building nuclear power stations. Every single attack he made was from the Right. And if that is the case, if they are helping us define ourselves on the centre ground of British politics then thank you very much Tony Blair.” —Shadow Chancellor George Osbourne

Liquids back on planes

The US is now allowing small quantities of liquids on aeroplanes. What do you think?

"The ban was a necessary precaution. We have to be willing to make these kinds of sacrifices if we're going to prevent scientifically impossible terrorist attacks." —Alex Hunter, Surveyor

Torture haiku

God Bless America!Boing Boing passes along an apposite haiku:

The Constitution
Was cast aside by Congress.
Hideous corpus!

Stiffing the music consumer

"The record industry is fond of referring to its 'intellectual property', but I'm not sure there are too many intellectuals at work in the business… To extend the copyright period is to allow the major record companies to carry on stiffing the consumer… To extend the copyright in sound recordings past the current 50-year period would be to grant major record companies a licence to carry on doing nothing, at the same time putting smaller labels out of business and reducing the amount of choice available to music lovers." —Louis Barfe

Lord Chancellor supports human rights

Lord FalconerYes, sadly, it is news that in the UK the government supports human rights.

Lord Falconer has launched a campaign to support and explain the Human Rights Act that is one of the top achievements of his government:

"Human rights express our values - our values of democracy, of tolerance, individual freedom, and of the rule of law. Human rights are the means for us all to live our lives, freely: free from prejudice, free from fear and free from terror. When human rights are attacked, then we are all attacked. Those who attack human rights, whether they are our opponents in politics, or our opponents in the media, attack our values, and attack us all. Now is the time to attack the attacks. Now is the time to stand up for our values. Now is the time to stand up for human rights."

Actually, the time would have been when the tabloids and their poodles Blair and Reid were baying for the human rights of minorities a few months ago. But it obviously wasn't politically convenient at that point.

Will Falconer now block other government plans to squash human rights, like imposing a centralised national ID card and database and diluting privacy law?

Friday, September 29, 2006

British Council on Creative Commons

Unbounded Freedom
The British Council this afternoon launched their new publication, "Unbounded Freedom — a guide to Creative Commons thinking for cultural organisations." I went along to their debate at the London Book Fair, ably chaired by Bill Thompson and featuring Christian Ahlert of OpenBusiness and agent Caroline Michel.

What became clear is that Creative Commons and open access publishing is still badly misunderstood by many in the publishing community. The Publishers' Association's Copyright Counsel told us he would never allow his book on publishing law to be published under a CC licence, because "chunks of it might end up on Wikipedia." As the chair pointed out, he could quite easily prevent this using the "no derivatives" option of the licence. Michel told us that open access scientific journals will prevent readers from judging the authenticity and credibility of papers. This is to ignore the scientific publishing model of peer review and citation that has evolved over several hundred years and which works just as well in open access journals as traditional publications.

Is it too much to ask those denouncing Creative Commons as a tool of Satan to actually read through the licence first?

Senate wins fight to lower allowable amperage levels on detainees' testicles

Who would Jesus waterboard?
Sickening news from the US, now the world's leading torture state. With Uzbekistan, Iraq and Algeria, they are torturing their way to freedom. The Onion comments:

Led by a bipartisan group of senators critical of White House policy on suspected terrorists, the Senate passed a bill Thursday that prohibits interrogators from exceeding 100 amps per testicle when questioning detainees. "Even in times of war, it counterproductive and wrong to employ certain inhumane interrogation techniques, and using three-digit amperage levels on the testicles of captives constitutes torture," said Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who has also supported reducing the size of attack dogs and the height of nude pyramids.

Accenture replaced in NHS IT programme

Richard GraingerComputer Sciences Corporation is to take over £2bn of work from Accenture in development of the NHS Connecting for Health programme. The changeover will happen by 8 January next year.

It is fascinating to see that genuinely commercial hard-nosed management of a large government IT project leads to major suppliers storming off in a huff and losing such vast quantities of money. If only some of the other large public sector IT disasters had been managed so effectively.

Even if the overall concept has major flaws, Richard Grainger deserves his £¼m salary for his management of the CfH suppliers alone.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ken Clarke on tour

Hush PuppiesSpent this lunchtime at a UCL seminar by Ken Clarke MP on the Conservative democracy taskforce he is chairing. He made a number of interesting points:

  • David Cameron is genuinely interested in reforming the political process to tackle public disdain and encourage participation at and between elections.

  • Clarke agrees with many of the recommendations of the Power Commission, but is interested in reforming Parliament, government and the Civil Service more than the long-term bottom-up measures suggested by the Commission.

  • He thinks that Scottish and Welsh MPs should be excluded from voting on issues that do not affect their own constituents. He does not though believe the UK should move towards a genuine federal structure, not least because of the imbalance in size of the four nations.

  • There is a limit to the autonomy that can be given to local councils, because their income will always largely depend on central transfers of wealth between the UK regions.
In a month's time we get Jack Straw. I can barely wait ;)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Threats overblown

John Mueller"Threats that proved to be inflated during the Cold War period included the widespread, but happily unfulfilled, fears about strategic nuclear war, some of them, like the pronouncements of many today about terrorism, apocalyptic in nature. There were also unwise preoccupations about, and overreactions to, essentially minor acts of terrorism (mostly hostage-taking) against Americans in distant lands and to the antics of a shifting set of devils du jour—third-rate egomaniacal dictators in third world counties (Nasser, Sukarno, Castro, Khomeini, etc.)—who soon deservedly faded into history's dustbin." —Prof John Mueller

My South Park character

If you haven't seen the latest episodes, have a look around YouTube. The Mr Jefferson and Tom Cruise episodes are side-splitting.

WIPO member states: drop the Diplomatic Conference!

WIPOWIPO member states are rebelling against the drive to convene a Diplomatic Conference to negotiate a Broadcasting Treaty (via A2K). The United States commented:

We are concerned that a diplomatic conference to consider this document at this time would not be successful because there is so much to be resolved. In fact, many countries left the last SCCR feeling uncomfortable about the convening of a conference.

The General Assembly has adjourned for informal discussions this afternoon. Will the member states finally force WIPO to take account of their views?

Spooks slam Bush's "war on terror"

"The Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success [in Iraq] would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere. The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world. If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide." —US National Intelligence Estimate

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Getting to the bottom of the Value Recognition Right

ZDNet reports that the British Library wants copyright law to be updated to curb DRM excesses. This is one of the principles from their new "IP Manifesto" that was launched yesterday at a Labour party conference fringe event, where I was one of the speakers.

The BL principles are entirely sensible, but I don't think they realise how radical suggestions such as "maintain copyright limitations and exceptions in the digital environment" and "stop DRM from blocking legitimate uses of copyright works" are to the right holder lobby.

You cannot fault the industry lobbyists for their persistence. They turned out in force to chant mantras like "stronger IP rights are the engine of innovation and send a signal to the world about the value the UK places on creativity". The music industry in particular continued its campaign for their current pet schemes to extract further revenues from consumers with no economic justification, like a sound copyright term extension, or to impose a "Value Recognition Right" without any concomitant benefit to Internet users :-@

I have been trying to work out whether this new "Right" is any more than rent-seeking behaviour by the music industry. Why exactly should Internet use be taxed to provide revenues to specific groups of copyright holders? Taxes of course increase the price and hence reduce the demand for goods; how does this square with the government's commitment to increase broadband penetration and reduce the "digital divide" in the UK? Should all Internet users pay for the activities of those downloading music without permission from right holders? Why can't right holders negotiate a licence with ISPs to allow their users to pay for the use of music obtained from any source?

We are having an interesting discussion on the Open Rights Group list on this subject. Why not join us there?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Endless queues for New Labour ID card

I had the joyous opportunity this morning to talk at a Labour party conference event on copyright (more later). But first I got an inkling of what getting a compulsory ID card would be like if Labour win the next election.

Labour's head office seemed to have f&*ked up the process of issuing conference passes by post to an awful lot of people, who all seemed to be queueing ahead of me at the conference services office. I heard several comment that their colleagues had spent over three hours waiting for passes.

The problem was, I arrived at 12.15pm in what I thought was plenty of time to get to the 1pm event inside the secured zone. By which point, the queue was snaking around three sides of the building.

I had the chance to catch up with an old university friend who just happened to arrive at the same time as me. But otherwise I was starting to curse that I would have to turn around and take the train straight back to London.

Fortunately one of the event organisers was right at the front of the queue, and after a few frantic phone calls and a scribbled letter of authorisation from me, was able to collect my card. Can't see the same trick working at an Identity Service interrogation centre though. Despite both types of card costing several hundred pounds.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The future's Brown, the future's bleak

Lord Falconer"My views on Lord Falconer are barely publishable. Suffice to say that this is a man who, while spouting in Australia about values and basic rights such as privacy, was preparing legislation in Britain to water down the privacy laws so that the electoral roll may be used to police the ID card database and levy fines of £2,500 from people who fail to register." —Henry Porter

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Copyright is damaging humanities research

John KayA British Academy working group chaired by economist Prof. John Kay has found that, unsurprisingly, copyright is getting in the way of arts and humanities researchers. Conversely, not one Fellow of the Academy complained that their work had been used unfairly under the research-related copyright exceptions.

The report's conclusions were that:

  • Copyright law generally provides exemptions for fair dealing for private study and non-commercial research, and for purposes of criticism and review. These exemptions should normally be sufficient for academic and scholarly use.

  • The problems lie in narrow interpretation, both by rights holders and by publishers of new works which refer to existing copyright material. These problems are acute in some subjects, particularly music, and history and film studies.

  • Copyright holders have become more sensitive in defence of their rights, as a result of the development of new media, and are more aggressive in seeking to maximise revenue from the rights, even if the legal basis of their claims is weak.

  • Risk averse publishers, who are often themselves rights holders, demand that unnecessary permissions be obtained, and such permissions are often refused or granted on unreasonable terms.

  • There is an absence of case law, because the financial stakes involved in each individual case are small relative to the costs of litigation.

  • Publishers and authors are very uncertain as to the true position and misapprehensions are widespread.

  • There are well-founded concerns that new database rights and the development of digital rights management systems (DRMs) may enable rights holders to circumvent the effects of the copyright exemptions designed to facilitate research and scholarship.

Make jaw-jaw, not e-war

"Blair's quest for service delivery through 'e-government' is as elusive as his quest for democracy abroad through e-war. Labour's most treasured creation, the NHS, is forced to find upwards of £12bn to pay for a computer system it does not need and must cut swaths through hospital services to do so." —Simon Jenkins

Canadian PM denounces ID systems

Stephen Harper"Identification seems to offer an easy technological quick-fix for ailments like illegal immigration and terrorism. But what most of these schemes would do is further regiment and control law-abiding people while merely inconveniencing criminals, terrorists, and any other threat with a modicum of sophistication and motivation." —Jim Harper, Cato Institute

Friday, September 22, 2006

Why regulate the Internet like television?

OFCOMOFCOM has just published a report from RAND Europe on the proposed extension of EU broadcasting regulation to Internet-based audiovisual services. OFCOM does not think the proposals are a good idea (and previously stated that the draft directive should be scrapped). Their recommendations from the RAND report:

  • Make further efforts to clarify the scope of the services caught by the Directive.

  • In addition to the general need for greater certainty, we think the RAND Europe study makes a compelling case for the complete exclusion from the proposals of the online games industry.

  • Ensure that there is clear guidance to the Commission and national authorities to ensure that the implementation of the Directive is conducted in a proportionate, transparent, evidence-based and light touch way. Critical to this is to encourage that IPTV and mobile multimedia industries, amongst others, play a full part through self and co-regulation in shaping the rules that will apply to individual industry sectors.

  • Emphasise that, when conducting a review of the Directive, and in accordance with Better Regulation principles, the Commission should examine whether or not there is a continued need for regulatory measures. Over-regulation risks otherwise driving key strategic activities outside of the EU.

Democracy is harder than western flip-flops make out

Tanks in Bangkok"To draw clear conclusions from the chaotic recent history of Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea and Pakistan is not easy. Each country's politics are specific. But one guideline should surely be clear: removing the army from its role as the arbiter of politics and transforming it into a normal civic institution that serves rather than runs the state is a crucial principle for any new or old democracy." —Jonathan Steele

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Who is responsible for climate change?

"Environmentalism has always been characterised as a middle-class concern; while this has often been unfair, there is now an undeniable nexus of class politics and morally superior consumerism. People allow themselves to believe that their impact on the planet is lower than that of the great unwashed because they shop at Waitrose rather than Asda, buy Tomme de Savoie instead of processed cheese slices and take eco-safaris in the Serengeti instead of package holidays in Torremolinos. In reality, carbon emissions are closely related to income: the richer you are, the more likely you are to be wrecking the planet, however much stripped wood and hand-thrown crockery there is in your kitchen." —George Monbiot

British Army expert casts doubt on 'liquid explosives' threat

The government is relaxing the restrictions on hand luggage imposed as part of the War on Gels, which so far have cost the UK economy £300m. Unfortunately liquids and gels, including toothpaste, deodorant and hair gel will still be banned. And all this when the best expert commentary I have read says that the threat is a "fiction":

"The idea that these people could sit in the plane toilet and simply mix together these normal household fluids to create a high explosive capable of blowing up the entire aircraft is untenable." —Lt. Col. Nigel Wylde, former head of the Belfast Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit

Courts set to allow wiretap evidence

Lord GoldsmithThe Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith has called for the lifting of the ban on the use of wiretap evidence in court. He seems to have overcome objections from GCHQ and MI6 that their surveillance techniques could be compromised (even though the FBI does not seem to have this problem in the US, and will certainly use similar technology).

This policy was one of the key recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, who said it would obviate the need for extended pre-charge detention. The chances of the government implementing that side of the equation are of course miniscule.

Helena Kennedy, Richard Thomas speak at launch of Identity Cards Act guide

Helena Kennedy, Richard ThomasWent along this evening to the OUP launch of their guide to the Identity Cards Act 2006, written by John Wadham, Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Nicole Chrolavicius. Baroness Kennedy QC and the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, both spoke for 10 minutes.

Baroness Kennedy is an inspirational woman who has fought for freedom and democracy throughout her party's lamentable time in government. She was one of the few Labour peers willing to speak truth to power when the ID cards legislation was being debated in the Lords.

Richard Thomas frequently observes that he can do more good making deals within government than campaigning as an advocate for privacy from without. Unfortunately, he is the only official we have to push back against the powerful voices of the police, spooks and spinners. If he is too busy making deals to preserve the small amount of privacy that New Labour is willing to allow the plebs, we might as well all move somewhere without identity cards right now.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

There is no war on terror

Robert DreyfussRobert Dreyfuss has used extensive interviews with counter-terrorism officials in the US to work out why Bush's dismal "war on terror" is so meaningless. His subheads are below: the whole article is well worth reading.

  1. The threat of terrorism is wildly exaggerated.

  2. Al-Qaida barely exists at all as a threat.

  3. There is no Terrorist International.

  4. Iraq will not, and could not, fall to al-Qaida.

  5. The Taliban is not al-Qaida.

  6. Neither Iran nor Syria sponsor anti-U.S. terrorism.

  7. It is not a “war.”

  8. There were never any al-Qaida sleeper cells in the United States.

  9. Vulnerabilities are not threats.

  10. No one is in charge.

Blogzilla gets an InfoCard

InfoCard selectorI've been experimenting with two implementations of Microsoft's InfoCards technology. This promises to be a great leap forward in online user authentication, and a real opportunity for Privacy Enhancing Technologies to go mainstream.

Kim Cameron, Microsoft's Identity Architect, has done sterling work in ensuring that this technology has been designed from the ground-up to be privacy-friendly. Microsoft has also been unusually open in the technology development process, going as far as to promise not to enforce patents against those implementing InfoCards.

From a privacy perspective, the most important feature of the technology is that users can have a range of InfoCards that contain different personal information, and choose which of these cards they reveal to third parties. Advanced cryptographic techniques like Stefan Brand's blind credentials can be used to give further privacy guarantees.

The Windows and Firefox implementations proved to be relatively simple to install and set up. I was annoyed though to see that both sites I tested the resulting InfoCard with demanded first and last names and e-mail addresses. You can of course lie about the former, but Kim Cameron's site sent a message to the address given containing information necessary to enable the card. I appreciate he is trying to avoid killer spam robots, but surely there must be a more privacy-friendly mechanism?

Black eye

Black eyeNo, this is not the result of my meeting with pro-DRM lawyers last week :) I had a small cyst removed on Friday in UCLH's new £225m hospital. While I had to wait around for over 3 hours, once the surgeon got going it was all relatively quick and painless.

Just had the stitches taken out this morning, so will look meaner than normal for the next few days!!

Exxon, Philip Morris and the astroturfers

Heat by Geroge Monbiot"While they have been most effective in the United States, the impacts of the climate-change deniers sponsored by Exxon and Philip Morris have been felt all over the world. I have seen their arguments endlessly repeated in Australia, Canada, India, Russia and the UK. By dominating the media debate on climate change during seven or eight critical years in which urgent international talks should have been taking place, by constantly seeding doubt about the science just as it should have been most persuasive, they have justified the money their sponsors have spent on them many times over. It is fair to say that the professional denial industry has delayed effective global action on climate change by years, just as it helped to delay action against the tobacco companies." —George Monbiot

Terrorism no excuse for privacy breaches, says EU regulator

Peter Hustinx"It is a misconception that protection of privacy and personal data holds back the fight against terrorism and organised crime… Good data protection actually goes hand in hand with legitimate crime fighting because it increases the quality of databases and at the same time makes sure that only the right people can access them." —European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx

The inhumane folly of our interventionist machismo

"Machismo in foreign policy always has the best tunes, but tunes are not enough. First, they show a bizarre selectivity related chiefly to television coverage. The reluctance of interveners (mostly Britons and Americans) to come to the aid of Tibetans, Chechens, Zimbabweans or Kashmiris may be realpolitik. But the neglect of Congolese, Sri Lankans, Burmese or Uzbekistanis - with political and humanitarian outrages aplenty - is odd. If Sierra Leone, why not Somalia? If East Timor, why not Aceh? Why so tolerant of that nuclear host to terror, dictatorial Pakistan, and so hysterical about semi-democratic Iran?" —Simon Jenkins

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NHS computer system breaks down 110 times in four months

Dozens of hospitals have been hit by more than 110 "major incidents" in the new £20bn NHS computing systems (via FIPR).

"Taxpayers could indeed be forgiven for thinking that Whitehall has a team of serial incompetents whose special interest is mismanaging the implementation of any new legislation that relies on costly, unproven technology." —Tony Collins

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pope unhelpful but not entirely wrong

Pope Benedict"It goes without saying that the Pope’s remarks were at best ill-timed and unhelpful. Whatever its origins, Islam remains a noble religion with a noble message. But those who claim to speak for Islam do their faith no favours by seeking to silence all criticism absolutely, as opposed to meeting it with reasoned, measured debate." —Phillip McGough

30 ways to stop DRM

Day against DRM
Michael Geist has concluded his great 30 days of DRM series with 30 things Canadians can do to call for balanced copyright policy. All easily adaptable to other countries.

Don't forget the Day Against DRM on 3 October.

Lib Dems: repeal illiberal laws now! Liberal Democrats have pledged a Great Repeal Act to roll back some of the 3,000 new criminal offenses created by Blair's government. New Home Affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: "We need a single act to roll back a generation of illiberal legislation and illiberal regulations; a single act to dismantle the apparatus of authoritarianism that has been forced on the nation."

You can suggest your own least favourite laws for repeal. I have already posted mine!

Young 'will lose half of their pay to taxes'

Hong Kong island skyline
Conservative think-tank Reform has published research showing that young people starting at university this month will pay around 48% of their income in taxes, pension charges and student debt until they are 35. This is not going to change until younger people start to vote in the numbers of the baby-boomers who are benefitting from the resulting state largesse, largely through unfunded pensions and geriatric care.

Margaret Thatcher's clarion call was "freedom." Yet Blair and Brown have taken the worst of her authoritarian instincts and combined them with a state that interferes with and micromanages day-to-day life to an unprecedented degree.

David Cameron and his team spent the summer visiting India and China. Why didn't they drop in to Hong Kong and learn some lessons from their 20.7% state expenditures as a percentage of GDP, less than half of that in the UK?

What's the matter with voting Republican if you're poor?

Democrats"The strongest correlation between income and voting is not whom you vote for but if you vote at all. The more you earn, the more likely you are to turn out. According to the [US] census, 81.3% of those who earned $100,000 or more turned out in 2004; the figure for those who earned less than $20,000 was 48%. That's because the rich have something to vote for. They have two parties; the poor here have none." —Gary Younge

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The ongoing Thatcherite revolution

Mrs. Thatcher"The truth of the matter is that there were two Thatcher revolutions. There was the familiar one which she and her 'sons', Major, Blair and Brown carried forward and which became a beacon to the world. But there was another one, a revolution of power. It was this that was seized by Blair and Brown and used to give government more power and authority over the lives of citizens than ever before in peacetime. It withdrew pluralism from the political system, from parties, parliament and local councils. It introduced a thousand new offences to the statute book, imposed (on one count) 2,000 targets on public officials. and added half a million civil servants to the payroll. Yet at the 2005 election the British people, more than any in Europe, professed themselves dissatisfied with the management of their public services." —Simon Jenkins

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Spending too much the wrong way on the wrong things

Veronique de Rugy"U.S. airline security measures provide a good example of the federal government’s approach to balancing risk. The likelihood of an attack similar to those we suffered on 9/11 has been reduced to roughly zero with simple cockpit barricades, which the airline industry installed at relatively low cost. Yet since then we have spent $34 billion on a system for screening every bag belonging to every airline passenger. If you add to that cost the aggregate opportunity cost, likely in the billions, incurred by passengers for the extra hours at the airport, you end up with a huge bill for an agency which measures its success by having 'intercepted seven million prohibited items at airport checkpoints, including just over 600 firearms.' In other words, 99.992 percent of intercepted items are tweezers, breathe fresheners and lighters." —Veronique de Rugy

Bush digs in after terror law rebellion

Karl RoveWhich is more disgraceful: Bush demanding Senate approval of his global network of torture centres to prevent a Republican rout in this November's elections, or the UK blocking EU censure of the same?

"At this dangerous point in history, we must depend on the decisions of an astonishingly feckless chief executive: an empty vessel filled with equal parts Rove and Rousseau." —Jeffrey Hart

Friday, September 15, 2006

Forcing rules and duties on us won't bring society closer

"For the past 16 years Britain's minorities have had to endure the repeatedly cited Norman Tebbit cricket test. Now, surely, is the time to ditch it and move to a new tax-and-law pact: I'll promise to pay my taxes and to respect the law; you agree to shut up about my status." —Joseph Harker

More crackpot DRM ideas

Defective by DesignI spoke last night at an entertaining meeting of the British Literary and Artistic Copyright Association. Tanya Aplin (Kings College, London), Florian Koempel (British Music Rights), Brigitte Lindner (Registered European Lawyer, Searle Court), Ted Shapiro (Vice President, Motion Pictures Association) and I all spoke about Technological Protection Measures (aka DRMs). You can probably guess that I was not too complimentary about the technology.

What I found interesting was that (a) a room full of copyright lawyers had very little idea of the very many technical problems with TPMs and (b) those that did were busy thinking up new crackpot schemes to "protect" their clients' 20th-century business models.

The current favourite seems to be that ISPs should be forced to monitor all exchanges of data and charge customers when a copyright work is spotted. When I asked how the spread of encryption could possibly be compatible with this scheme, they airily replied that only paedophiles use that technology and we would all be better off if it was banned. They obviously don't know that the US government already tried extremely hard to do this over about 25 years, and failed.

Given the ever-increasing focus on securing critical national infrastructures, anyone who hopes that governments will go down that road again is living in fantasy land. To think that companies are being charged several hundred pounds an hour for this type of advice…

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Digital Rights Ireland challenges EU mass surveillance

TJ McIntyre and Simon McGarrDigital Rights Ireland has launched a legal challenge to the EU data retention directive, which forces phone companies and Internet Service Providers to store records of their customers' Internet use for years after they should be deleted under data protection law. If successful, the challenge would overturn the directive throughout the EU.

DRI chairman TJ McIntyre commented:

These mass surveillance laws are a direct, deliberate attack on our right to have a private life, without undue interference by the government. That right is underpinned in the laws of European countries and is also explicitly stated in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Article specifies that public authorities may only interfere with this right in narrowly defined circumstances.

The information will be collected and stored on everyone, regardless of whether you are a criminal, a policeman, a journalist, a judge, or an ordinary citizen. Once collected, this information is wide open to misappropriation and misuse. No evidence has been produced to suggest that data retention laws will do anything to stop terrorism or organized crime.

Jukka Liedes must go

Jukka LiedesJukka Liedes, chairman of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, has steamrollered over global opposition to recommend that the draft Broadcasting Treaty moves forward. Liedes ignored objections from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Iran, South Africa and even the United States to claim to WIPO's General Assembly that "consensus" existed that a Diplomatic Conference should now be convened to negotiate a treaty.

Contrary to WIPO practice, Liedes has chaired meetings of the SCCR for the last decade. After rejecting the bogus "consensual" request for a Diplomatic Conference, the General Assembly should instruct the SCCR to choose a new chairman who will respect member states' wishes at future meetings of the committee.

Liedes claimed: "The Diplomatic Conference engenders friendship. Then many years later you see the people you have been fighting with, and it is like meeting your family. You hug and kiss! In the end there is a treaty adopted by consensus." Ars Technica replies: "If the people you have been fighting with turn out to be responsible for crippling fair use rights and access to public domain material, you'll probably feel like punching them in the face, no matter how many years have gone by."

Crime lab investigation

Prof David Wilson"Very few of us have bothered to question what forensic science is, or looked at how and when scientific principles come to be applied within the criminal justice and legal systems, to try to understand what it can, or cannot, do… I sense a desperation by some forensic scientists who seem to want to maintain a 'zero error' pretence about their discipline, which simply cannot be sustained in the face of mounting evidence." —David Wilson, professor of criminology at UCE Birmingham

Get your hands off my pint!

Tom with pintVery interesting to see that the UK government's advisory committee on the misuse of drugs has produced a strategy to reduce tobacco and alcohol use, especially amongst under-25s. They recommend lower blood alcohol limits for younger drivers, stronger enforcement of age restrictions, higher taxes and banning the marketing of alcohol to teenagers.

American readers would find UK "enforcement" of age limits a joke, with the majority of 16 and 17 year olds drinking regularly. To be honest, I see little harm in that. It would be more productive to enforce the laws against serving more alcohol to obviously drunk customers in pubs.

Higher taxation of alcohol and tobacco is both impractical and objectionable. It would just further damage off licences and pubs by encouraging the smuggling of cheaper booze and fags from the continent, which is almost impossible to stop given EU single market rules. And taxing goods beyond the cost of externalities such as higher healthcare and policing costs is as sure a restriction on liberty as Prohibition. Reassuringly for pub fans like myself, it would be political suicide for a dour Scotsman like Gordon Brown to be seen as a killjoy cracking down on the pleasures of the masses :)

The best recommendation from the committee is instead practical and admirable:

Abandon attempts to introduce sniffer dogs and drug testing into schools as their impact on pupil-school trust is not offset by the potential gains.

Amen to that!

Do robots dream of copyright?

Phillip K. Dick robotic headWendy Grossman has a nice story on the loss of a robotic version of author Philip K. Dick's head. Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report were all based on Dick's books. Should Harrison Ford, Gov. Schwarzenegger and Tom "Thetan" Cruise be under investigation?

Wendy looks at the personality rights that in California would give the author rights over such representations, but that in the UK would only prevent defamation.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

This Is Not a National Identification Card

Timothy LynchCato's Timothy Lynch has an excellent guide to the Newspeak of the "War on Terror" (via Bruce Schneier):

This Is Not a National Identification Card

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, some members of Congress openly proposed the idea of national identification cards as a way of enhancing the safety of the citizenry. Unlike the Patriot Act, that proposal seemed to be going nowhere fast. White House spokesman Jimmy Orr said President Bush “is not even considering the idea.” A few years later, the president abruptly reversed his position and quietly signed legislation that will, in effect, create a national ID card for Americans.

Because national ID cards are not very popular, proponents have discovered that the road to success requires doublespeak. That is, the ID proposal must be “repackaged” as something else. This is what happened. Last year Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which will ostensibly enhance the security of state-issued drivers’ licenses. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) stressed the point during hearings on the proposed legislation: “This [measure] is about state-issued driver’s licenses, not a national ID.” In fact, the REAL ID Act is a sweeping assertion of federal control over a traditional state function. The secretary of homeland security will now decide what forms of state-issued” ID will be acceptable to federal security personnel at federal facilities and airports. State policymakers are now scrambling to meet the federal government’s criteria.

Whether one supports or opposes the idea of a national identification card, the point here is that the merits and demerits should be discussed openly. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) blew the whistle on this egregious example of doublespeak when he urged his colleagues to be more forthright about what they were doing—instead of “pretending we are not creating national ID cards when we obviously are.”

With the neocons discredited, here comes libcon Cameron

'No force [Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein] could command could possibly have ranked with Hitler or Stalin as "a threat to the future of civilisation". Such a concept of history is illiterate and warped. The comparison offends those who fought and died in previous conflicts. It is populist rant, the exploitation by nervy politicians of the obvious fact that modern terrorism can kill more people than before (though it rarely has), and its perpetrators seem invulnerable to reason (though they rarely were).' —Simon Jenkins

Child Index is damaging children

Liz Davies"Placing the name of a child on the child protection register is a proportionate societal response when family systems do not protect. Routine collation of data on all children, the majority of whom are well parented, breaches the child and family's right to privacy and constitutes excessive state intervention into family life.

"No longer fooled by the spin of 'Every Child Matters', we now need to debunk the myth of the Child Index and admit it has nothing whatsoever to do with protecting children or providing support to their families in keeping them safe. We need to be asking what the exact purpose of it is and why existing child protection systems are being steadily destroyed." —Liz Davies, senior lecturer in children and families social work at London Metropolitan University

WIPO shutting out independent voices

IFLAIt seems that WIPO is deliberately shutting out public interest groups from their meeting on the draft Broadcasting Treaty. Unlike in previous meetings of the copyright committee, NGOs have been prevented from speaking. Nor has the meeting been relayed to an overflow WIPO meeting room. What has happened to the spirit of openness that previously led to the accreditation of organisations such as the Civil Society Coalition and EDRI to the standing committee?

The International Federation of Library Associations has submitted a written briefing instead, on the specific problems of the protection of digital locks applied to broadcast content (via A2K):

At the May meting of this committee the Delegation of the European Union claimed that the provisions of the Information Society Directive represented a solution to this problem. This is also stated in the document SCCR/15/5. (p.3.)

So far TPMs have not been implemented on broadcasts, but the experience of Sound Archives is that the procedures prescribed by the Information Society Directive are too complicated and costly to be of any practical value. They are simply not compatible with modern cost effective library management. It is necessary to find other solutions if future TPM protected radio and television programmes are to be preserved for posterity.

Fears over digital rights software

Blu-Ray vs HD-DVDAccording to the Guardian, "BSkyB has suspended its broadband download service, which allowed users to watch films and sports clips, while Microsoft works on a secure version of DRM." They could be waiting rather a long time…

The studios producing films for the next-generation Blu-Ray and HD-DVD digital video disc formats have stopped the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system playing discs at all on 32-bit processors (the majority of personal computers being sold even today). This is because the 32-bit Vista allows unsigned device drivers to run in the Vista kernel and hence circumvent any DRM controls on access to restricted content. In plain English, 32-bit Vista DRM is completely insecure by design. Does BSkyB know this?

What Blair should have said in Beirut

"And I would also like to express my deep sympathy for you and for your country and for all those who lost members of their family, those that they loved, those that they knew during the recent crisis - People I helped to maim and kill by allowing US munitions to pass through the U.K., applying no pressure whatsoever to cease the hostilities and easily suppressing the lily-livered members of my cabinet who considered dissenting from the wishes of The U.S. Government." —Beau Bo D'or

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Little public broadcast of dangerous broadcast treaty

Michael Geist"Over the next month, U.S. and Canadian broadcasters will unveil a slate of new television programs, hopeful that a handful will emerge as the next Desperate Housewives, Seinfeld, or American Idol. Programs that fail to quickly find an audience, face the prospect of cancellation. In this regard, the broadcast industry clearly understands the need to cut its losses by putting an end to programs that are not working. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for those negotiating the unnecessary and potentially harmful WIPO Broadcast Treaty." —Michael Geist (via A2K)

Troops on crack

AfghanA friend passes on comments from the troops in Afghanistan that with a few more helicopter spare parts and 800 extra troops, they could win the battle against the insurgency that is now killing more soldiers than the war in Iraq.

Given that the Afghans drove out a Soviet army of over 120,000 troops in the 80s, and that NATO is recruiting tens of thousands of poppy farmers to the Taliban through their anti-opium campaign, soldiers who think another 800 troops will win the war are smoking too much of the opium they are trying to eradicate :(

UPDATE: David Borden laments the failure of both US political parties to understand this issue.

Yuppification of King's Cross projects

Knotted lightshadeMet some friends for dinner last night at a swanky gastropub in the most incongruous location, bang in the middle of some King's Cross housing estates. The almost-completed Eurostar terminal nearby at St. Pancras is having the desired gentrifying effect. But it was rather odd to sit outside looking at a menu with items such as pumpkin, peach and aubergine thai green curry (and very nice that turned out to be) whilst the local gangsta wannabes raced around on their scooters and practiced wheelies on their mountain bikes.

Civil rights row over school fingerprints

Patrick HarvieAround a dozen Scottish schools are scanning children's fingerprints before lending them books (thanks, Dave!). Another wave of schools is planning to install the technology. Parliamentarians are dismayed:

"I think many parents will be deeply shocked to learn that their children are being fingerprinted. I cannot imagine any justification for such intrusive use of technology in schools – how many books would a library need to lose each year to even make this system save money? We should be encouraging children to value their civil liberties, but instead there is a danger we will be teaching the next generation to surrender them without question." —Patrick Harvie MSP, convener, Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on human rights

Nike scores own goal on Hackney Marshes

Nike Hackney football
Nike has agreed to pay Hackney Council £300,000 in an out-of-court copyright infringement settlement. Nike had used the council's logo on a "Hackney Marshes" range of football gear sold around the world to celebrate grassroots soccer:

"This was always about more than cash - there is a serious principle at stake here. Just because we are a public organisation, it does not mean that big corporations can take what they want from local people without asking." —Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe

Chavrolet forced off-road

ChavroletBurberry has forced the owner of a tuk-tuk decorated in its distinctive Chav tartan off the road. Yet another triumph for innovation thanks to intellectual property law…

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Taliban will be back in power if the west doesn't narrow its ambitions

NATO"It is widely said that the Afghan deployment is a key test of whether Nato can remain a serious organisation. The omens are not auspicious. Almost five years after invading Afghanistan, the west knows pitifully little about the place. Hardly any Nato soldiers, diplomats or intelligence officers speak its language. Electronic surveillance helicopters hover over the battlefields overloaded with interpreters. An American officer observes that the tribal structure down around the Pakistan border is extraordinarily complex, "and we don't really understand it at all". Nato guesses that there are 6,000-8,000 Taliban operating inside Afghanistan, but nobody knows how many more are in waiting." —Max Hastings