Monday, December 20, 2010

Updating the UK's communications law framework

The UK government has been consulting over amendments to communications law as a result of recent EU activity. I've contributed to two consultation responses regarding lawful interception and the EU Electronic Communications Framework. Thanks to colleagues Judith Rauhofer and Chris Marsden, who did most of the drafting!

1. On amendments to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, we emphasised that "it is unlikely that one regime that requires the Interception of Communications Commissioner to maintain complete secrecy will be able productively to coexist with another regime that by definition must strive for the utmost transparency."

2. On the e-Comms framework, we wrote that the government needs to pay more attention to the issue of network neutrality. We were mildly horrified at the idea that these regulations should be used to create a new requirement for electronic communications services “to have a procedure in place to be able to respond to request for information from the police or security services”:
Provisions regulating access by public authorities to information held by communication service providers (usually communications/traffic data and intercepted electronic communications) are already included in the Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice and the Interception of Communications Code of Practice brought into force under section 71 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2001 (“RIPA”). They cover in some detail the steps which service providers must take in order to assist public authorities in relation to information disclosure requests. It therefore questionable whether additional provisions governing the modalities of data transfers from communications services providers to public authorities are necessary in practice.

There is more information on this last point in my recent article Communications Data Retention in an Evolving Internet.

Learning for Change: the view from 1982

My colleague Philip Virgo recently dug up his 1982 article on the implications of new-fangled computing technology for education. Through the magic of online OCR, the text is below. Do leave comments on where, with 30 years of hindsight, you think Philip was right or wrong! Philip himself writes: "Today I would be much kinder to the school maintenance staff and add an attack on the billions wasted on new buildings which are less fit for purpose than the inner city Victorian and Edwardian 'fortresses of learning' that have now been converted into gated apartment blocks."



A Bow Paper

Learning for Change: Training, Retraining and Lifelong Education For Multi-Career Lives
Philip Virgo, Spring 1982

Introduction and Conclusions

Education should be a lifelong experience for all, as and when the opportunity arises; not a joy for the few and a trial of youth for the many. Retraining at reasonable cost, social cost as well as economic cost, needs to be available at any stage of life, independent of the desires, means or needs of the current employer. A major shift in resources away from the 14-21 examination treadmill and from non-vocational to vocational education is required. Overall employment in education will increase but by the private sector production of packaged material rather than publicly funded delivery.

Most of the basic skills needed over the next hundred years can be predicted with reasonable certainty but many of the precise trades and professions cannot. "Age-Related Careers" is an employment strategy which can handle such uncertainty. Fundamental changes to the education system are necessary. Information Technology makes these possible at economic cost. Encouragement and favourable publicity are more effective weapons of persuasion than coercion but many actions at all levels are needed if the inability of our education system to cope with change is not to deny us the benefits which the new technology is bringing to other societies.

Government Actions include:-

— Outlaw the obligation to join the Company Pension Scheme, provided the option of equal contributions to a private scheme is available.
— Either split the University Grants Commission into separately funded bodies covering academic and vocational courses and facilities or increase employer and industry representation at the expense of University membership.
— Reform the Copyright laws to end educational piracy.
— Make payment under training tax free and allow privately paid training fees to be offset against past, present or future personal tax.
— Amend National Insurance and Pension legislation to encourage early retirement and part-time working.

Actions which need not involve government are:-

— Raising money and amending administrative arrangements to give every school at least a dozen micro's and video systems in a fully equipped vocational training centre available for adult and business use in the evenings and at weekends. This requires co-operative action by Parents, Unionists and Local Businessmen, as well as Councillors and Local Education Authorities if the financial and organisational constraints are to be overcome.
— Break down the barriers between school and industry by cross-secondments, visits and co-operation at every level.

1. The Role of the Educational System

200 years ago was the take-off period for Britain's first industrial revolution: the take-off that transformed England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from an economic condition akin to that of modern India, famines and all, to one akin to that of Hong Kong today. There may be extremes of poverty in Hong Kong but few actually die of starvation. The last English famine in which whole villages died was in the middle of the eighteenth century. The last Scottish famine was in the 1820s. There are many myths about the consequences of that revolution but few about its causes and course:-

An ambitious and underprivileged (but also undertaxed) class of entrepreneurs in an unregulated, unplanned environment, sought to buy social respectability by making money out of providing the materials and munitions to enable Britain to fight each of its continental neighbours in turn. In doing so they managed to create a forty year long investment led boom, ending only with the post Napoleonic war slump in the 1820s. Then another long boom followed as Railway mania gripped the country, fostered by the same group.

We have read so much about the evils of nineteenth century education, Whackford Squeers, Dotheboys Hall, Nicholas Nickelby and so on, that it is worth thinking about the education system in the eighteenth century, the education of the men who made the first industrial revolution. Since the Royal Navy was the only service fit for a gentleman of courage (the Army was discredited as a continental-style threat to civil liberties), and since the specialist Naval academies of the nineteenth century had yet to be founded, elementary engineering and scientific mathematics ranked higher than latin and greek in the education of a gentleman. Meanwhile, the Quakers and Non-Conformists of the Midlands and North West, excluded from grammar schools and universities ran more Trade, Commerce and Artisan schools than the rest of Europe added together. The poor condition of the English grammar schools and universities was no hindrance since only clergymen looked to them for inspiration.

In the nineteenth century, with the founding of Naval Academies, religious tolerance and the new found respectability of Army and Empire, the picture changed dramatically. The children and grandchildren of the men who made the first Industrial Revolution could enjoy the clergyman's education of latin, greek, and theology in reformed grammar schools and universities. Trade, commerce and engineering were relegated to the ragged aspirants of the Workers Educational Association despite the complaints of boring foreigners, like Prince Albert.

Meanwhile, the rest of Europe, with no world-wide Empire to administer and having to innovate rather than live off past innovation, learned from the Quakers and the Non-Conformists and made no such mistakes. Thus the seeds of our century-long decline were sown in the classrooms of Dr.Arnold's Rugby rather than on the playing fields of Eton.

Now that we have spent our inheritance and must once more earn a living we can do a lot worse than to look again at the institutions of the eighteenth century. We must recognise that education should not be a joy for the few and a trial of youth for the many but a lifelong experience for all, as and when the opportunity arises. The young should acquire a desire and an ambition to "improve" themselves and should associate learning with reward, not with examination trauma.

The men of the late eighteenth century shared many of our problems. They knew the world was about to change but didn't know in which direction, unemployed anarchic bloodshed alternating with tyranny as in France or hard working republican virtue as in America. Some thought the steam engine would usher in an age of leisure (or mass unemployment), others were confident that work might change (from brawn to brain, maybe), but that it would still be necessary and that the basic skills needed were likely to be much the same. The latter were right. Two centuries later we are still looking forward to an age of leisure. I venture to predict that in two hundred years our descendents will still be looking.

Meanwhile, it is our duty to do at least as well, and preferably better, than our ancestors in preparing for change.

2. Future Skill Requirements

We will still have to work for a living but the nature of that work is likely to change and we cannot predict many of the changes with much certainty.

We can no longer afford to spend one or two decades of detailed preparation for a single life-long career progression. Instead we should aim, like our ancestors, to impart those basic skills almost certain to be in continuous demand and to build a system capable of responding rapidly to change, and disseminating new skills to any age group when necessary.

This is all the more important since our education systems appear incapable of supplying the skills currently in demand, let alone new ones. Where we can predict major industries, such as computer assisted video entertainment and learning, mass produced electronics based medical aids, biotechnology and telematics, we are incapable of delivering the appropriate career preparation or retraining, unlike the Japanese. We even appear to have lost the ability to impart the basic commercial skills necessary to create fast growing new businesses. If we do not change our educational systems to produce generations capable of competing with the Japanese, the Germans and the Americans, we will lose out on the millions of wealth creating jobs potentially available. In consequence, we won't have the resources to support the idle decline, like that of nineteenth century Spain, that will be our lot.

For some of the new industries we can specify the technician training requirements in fair detail-for video they are akin to film production on a very tight budget and time schedule, for biotechnology they are a cross between process engineering and brewing real ale.

But our training facilities are far too thin on the ground. We need packaged course material for mass delivery but no commercial organisation will invest money in developing such material when it will be pirated as soon as it is supplied. Copyright reform is essential.

We can also list the basic skills that everyone will need for the office, factory and home of the future.

In the office of the future with its video workstations, electronic filing systems and telecommunications links, technical literacy and dexterity will, of course, be necessary. However, the ability to think clearly and express oneself accurately and concisely, to get sensible answers from the all-embracing information databases, will be even more important. The GIGO principle, (garbage in leads to garbage out), has its counterpart in information science where a woolly question will produce a meaningless flood of irrelevant data. The problem with modern management is already too much rather than too little information and computers don't often help. If the West Yorkshire police had had computerised information systems, they might still be looking for the Yorkshire Ripper. The uniformed policemen who finally caught him would have been too busy helping administer the database to leave the police station.

Without old fashioned linguistic skills, as tested in a "comprehension" exercise, and without the ability to frame an intelligent question and to recognise a sensible answer, the new Information Technology can all too often make things worse rather than better. Similarly, the ability of the technology to perform instant statistical analyses will make the knowledge of what those statistical analyses mean, if anything, essential.

However, to Reading, Writing and 'Rithmetic we need to add three new skills. The first is the concept of simulation, beginning with the concept of a computer model analogous to the real world in the way that a meccano crane or a model railway is to real things, but leading to the understanding of how computer models can be run backwards, from the desired ends to identify and test the logic, assumptions and premisses which lead to that end. This may well have a dramatic effect on the way we think since in many modelling exercises, the significant variables turn out to be unmeasurable, or based on hunches, value judgments or even moral principles where mere logic is of limited value: for example, the so-called "social" costs which befuddle public enquiries and motorway or airport planning exercises.

The second new skill is problem structuring and solving, and in particular group problem solving of the kind used by the class "cheat", who knows which classmate's homework to copy in which subject. By definition, this skill is selected against in our educational system and thus its most skilled practitioners frequently end up working against society as rebels, criminals or parasites rather than in the key management posts which they should occupy.

Thorough and imaginative approaches to group problem identification, structuring and solving are going to be essential in the factory of the future where quality control is going to be one of the main occupations. Ensuring that complex computer controlled products are functioning correctly, and that the specification of the control program is adequate under all circumstances and not dangerously inadequate under even the most unlikely circumstances, may well become the most labour intensive part of the production process.

Outside the factory the maintenance men who are to service the multiplicity of devices from automatic doors and light sensitive blinds, to mass-produced powered limbs and living aids for the elderly and rheumatic, will need similar skills since remote or automatic fault diagnosis will often be inadequate. Even in modern Britain with the lowest proportion of self-employed and small business proprietors of any country outside the communist block, the basic commercial skills of running a business are needed by more than one in eight of the population. If one accepts the thesis that most of the new jobs are going to be created in small businesses, private sector personal services and the informal economy, and that in the future more than one in four of the population will, at some time in their lives run their own business, a revival of "commercial" and "business" studies as subjects to be taught to all, in school, is necessary. Their current absence from the curriculum condemns the school leaver to servitude, unemployment or, at best, several wasted years learning for himself what he should have been taught at school. If education is truly a preparation for life, their absence cannot be defended outside a communist society.

The impact of technology on the personal service jobs, from street cleaning to street walking, will be negligible. Gardeners, window cleaners, plumbers, cooks and so on will be needed just as now.

At the other end of society, however, the changes may well be traumatic as expert systems render obsolete the book-learning and machine-like logical skills of most lawyers, accountants and consultants.

The robot that can sweep a factory floor or weed a garden is at least a century off. But most of the work of the Inland Revenue, most administrative accountancy, the routine conveyancing that keeps most solicitors in business, the complex diagnoses that elevate the Harley Street consultant above the local general practitioner, can already be done faster and more accurately by computer. In twenty years the local tax office will give an instant response to your query and the general practitioner will no longer refer you to the hospital for analyses and diagnoses but will do them himself with the aid of his surgery expert systems backed by links to national epidemiological and other databases.

There will be a great many skilled professionals checking the systems and equipment used but status will pass to the man doing the job that no mere machine can do. Giving an enema to an incontinent cripple will be a more valued task than diagnosing some rare cancer or tropical fever - "the simple application of memory and logic which any properly programmed computer can do".

The possession of book-learning or logical reasoning ability will lose status just as literacy did when everyone could read and write. The human touches of sympathy and creativity will be the hallmark of the high status job.

The trauma of this reversal in our hierarchy of status cannot be under-estimated. At one fell swoop it removes the rationale behind most of our edu-cational values, with their emphasis on memorising large quantities of verbal information, from irregular verbs to the naming of parts, the ability to follow complicated logical processes, quote obscure documents or recognise unusual sets of symptoms. It removes the main justification for the examination treadmill to which we chain our adolescent youth in a set of puberty rites crueller than those of primitive Africa. At least in Africa they don't label any of the participants as failures!

Rather than develop the learning skills of the few, we must train those of the many so that they can use the artificial intelligence and memory aids that will be available for all. Thus machines will take over the menial logic and memory tasks, leaving us humans with the interesting problems of judgment and the many interpersonal and service tasks which they may aid but cannot take over.

These changes are going to take time, certainly decades, possibly even centuries. But they are going to be fundamental and many new trades, skills and professions are going to be required on the way. However, unless we recognise and accept the transience of many of these new trades, we are going to condemn future generations to the fate of the handloom weavers. The handloom weavers were called into existance by the availability of cheap yarn, but were reluctant or unable to change trade when machine weaving became practicable. Their fate gives a stark lesson that a single career may not be enough in an age of fundamental structural evolution.

The handloom weavers' modern counterparts could well be the commercial programmers and analysts of today. Called into existence by the availability of expensive computers which had to be used more efficiently, they may well be reluctant or unable to change trade when packaged software on cheap computers has made their particular branch of computing skills redundant.

3. Age Related Careers?

Given the uncertainty as to the duration of requirement for specific trades, should we not prepare our school leavers for those jobs known to be in current - but possibly temporary - demand, while reserving certain careers, where demand is likely to be constant, for older generations who, because of family commitments, are no longer so mobile, who may take longer to retrain and who must therefore plan further ahead?

— Flexibility for the young 15-30 Mobility with Transient Skills
— Security for the family 30-50 Executive/Managerial
— Academe for the mature 50-80 Education/Social Service

Thus the school leavers would be prepared for the currently fashionable jobs and for those jobs requiring rapid learning or geographic mobility. As the individuals mature and seek to settle down they would retrain for a more stable executive or managerial career. Social careers, such as education or caring for others would be reserved for those with experience of all the vicissitudes of life.

Make no mistake, the very concept of a multi-career life, let alone the suggestions of age related careers, is at variance with our trades union, social security and pension structures, let alone our educational systems.

It is incompatible with the Graeco-Roman ideal of Plato's Republic of one education for one career for life.

It is, however, similar to the way many non-European societies, including Japan, are organised, with their veneration of the growing wisdom of age, and the tasks suitable for different age groups.

Rather than expound analogies and principles I will attempt to describe the careers of an average school leaver of 1990.

John Dent, cousin of Arthur Dent, has no academic interests. On a school project in Wales he once had to be manhandled out of a museum at closing time, but that one symptom of deviant enthusiasm was quickly cured. He is reasonably dextrous, likes making things in the engineering workshop and crashing other people's computer systems. In his last year at school he does a course on Numerical Control Programming which includes part-time work in a local engineering company which he joins as a trainee robogate supervisor.

In his spare time he is active in the local CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) branch, gets interested in the mechanics of brewing and when the demand for robogate supervisors tails off and salaries start to lag, takes a Biotechnology Production course at the local tech., in his mid twenties. He fails to get a job in a real ale brewery and settles for a metal recycling plant near Scunthorpe rather than work for a synthetic beer factory.

In his late twenties he gets married, stops drinking and starts studying Production Control and Finance on an Open Tech course. It's heavy going, and he doesn't qualify till his mid-thirties, when he manages to get a job as deputy production controller of a cattle feed plant in Cheshire.

He has worked his way up to production manager when he realises just before his 45th birthday that the plant will have to close because it cannot be adapted to meet the latest pollution control standards.

Unwilling to move, he takes a teacher training course and secures a part-time post at the local school teaching basic numeracy and industrial skills. He is elected to the local council, and with his attendance money and his wife's earnings as a paramedic running the body scanners in the local Group Practice combined Health Centre, operating theatre and cottage hospital, he decides not to take another full-time job.

In the school holidays he takes to studying Welsh History and at 55 graduates in Celtic Studies from the Open University of North Wales.

At 60, when their last child leaves home, he and his wife buy a derelict hill farm in mid-Wales and he opens a holiday centre specialising in the development of the Welsh Longbow, in use and in literature.

Note that John retrains four times, none of them at his employer's expense because each time he is going into a very different career; each time, partly because he is getting older and has more family commitments, it takes him longer, until his final academic, cum leisure cum retirement post. Note also that after his youthful job mobility, at 45 he settles for a collection of part-time sources of income, including teaching and social cum political activity, rather than disrupt his family life and move again.

This kind of multi-career life also requires major changes to our trades union structures, pension schemes and social security schemes to permit multiple job changes without loss of pension rights and to permit part-time work as a norm.

4. Institutional Changes Needed

Unacademic John Dent spends more time in the educational system, both for business and for pleasure, after he has left school than even today's academic high flyers. Therefore, unlike current and past generations of school leavers, he must enjoy it. One cannot drag London's adult East Enders over the threshold of anything that looks like a school but house the establishment in a Portakabin or a Shack, give it a different name and ethos, and disassociate it from memories of pain and boredom, and they are often as eager as any child to learn new skills.

It is essential that the initial educational experience should be such that the student learns how to learn in a way that makes him associate education with reward and relevance, while at the same time he acquires the basic skills essential to all career structures.

Given that the bulk of the new jobs are being created in small businesses with neither the time nor the money to train school leavers in changing skills, and given that the schools have ten years of the individual's best learning years, the school leaver should already have acquired most of the vocational skills and training necessary for his first career; a first career which is likely to begin at 16 or 17 and to involve a job in close proximity to the school. Therefore, much closer links between schools and local businesses, are necessary.

Whether these are fostered by cross secondments, use of part-time industrial staff for vocational training in schools, the recruitment only of teachers with outside work experience or sandwich courses for children, the current isolation has to be broken down.

Retraining at reasonable cost, social cost as well as economic cost, needs to be available at any stage of life, independent of the desires, means or needs of the current employers.

The kind of availability needed is possibly illustrated by the fate of an American steel company which gave notice of closure in a town where there was little alternative work for steel-workers. The sellers of retraining courses descended on the town like locusts and, although the company rescinded the closure notice, two years later it had to close because of shortage of labour. The workers had taken the message, retrained at their own expense and left for better, more secure, jobs.

We should not concentrate resources on those who are easiest to train, like the teenagers, at the cost of throwing later generations on the scrap heap, nor should we squander resources on the untrainable or those who wish to acquire skills not in demand, at someone else's expense.

When the taxpayers' money is to be spent, priority should be given to retraining taxpayers or training their children for jobs in known demand. Exotic or esoteric subjects should be studied at private expense, not public.

A major shift in resources away from the 14 to 21 examination treadmill will be required as well as a massive shift from non-vocational to vocational education and from "offering" courses to meeting demands. Non-vocational education will largely become a leisure activity paid for by mature students out of past earnings rather than a middle class puberty rite at taxpayers' expense.

For many subjects the student age range will rise from under 21 to over 60. Perhaps we should be looking to convert redundant Universities to Recreation and Leisure Schools or Industrial Training Centres depending on their location and facilities. It may well be that in twenty years' time we will again have in Britain a dozen or so proper research-based endowment funded Universities and, hopefully, at least a dozen first class colleges or institutes of advanced technology funded largely by industry. The dross of second-rate institutions where University status and academic freedom have too often been an excuse for woolly thinking, inefficiency and futility will no longer be supported with public money. Good researchers and funding will be concentrated in centres of excellence. Competent teachers will be paid more to train for specific professional skills in Polytechnics and Colleges of Further Education, possibly linked in an Open Tech-like framework. The concept of the University as a home of learning and research for young and old alike, rather than an imitation polytechnic for adolescents, without the polytechnic discipline of defined educational objectives, will reign again.

Maybe that is a pipedream; however, a revolution in teaching techniques will certainly be required since current methods rely too heavily on the in-grained awe and academic docility of examination broken youth for them to work with the cynical maturity of the adult trainee. This together with the emphasis on learning how to learn, rather than mastery of any particular subject matter, may well lead to teaching and lecturing in most subjects being reserved as a second or third career so that mature students are taught by their peers. Given the use of packaged material, mastery of the subject will be less important than understanding of the learning experience, the ability to manage the learning environment and to motivate the student by sympathy, guidance and understanding - those attributes which the expert in his own subject has all too often lost. Teacher centred methods must be replaced by learner centred methods.

5. How can the New Technologies help to meet this Fundamental Challenge?

At the simplest level, audio visual techniques enable the best lecturer or demonstrator to address an audience of thousands rather than a few dozen. A good video is very much more effec-tive than an average teacher in one-way communication such as a lecture.

Freed from the pressure to prepare material to deliver to a timetable, the teacher can act as a tutor rather than a lecturer, advising which sources of information the individual student would find most helpful or relevant: videos, books, computer based simulators, and so on.

The simulations which are at the heart of many Computer Aided learning packages appear to improve greatly the motivation of students of all types. Good packages speed the assimilation of knowledge and understanding, facilitate the practice of techniques and of recall. They can also make formal examinations and the associated trauma unnecessary by testing the student's understanding at each stage before he can move onto the next. Thus at the end of a CAL packaged course, each student has reached the same level of understanding, some more quickly than others.

Packages enable the teacher to concentrate on his students as individuals, especially on their interpersonal abilities: for example, in group situations where the computer has set a task which requires a number of students to work in concert. The computer can be left to manage the task while the teacher concentrates on developing those skills and qualities which the computer cannot, such as the consi-deration of the feelings, motives and abilities of other people.

Learning can also take place at the student's convenience; his choice of time, place and pace. Thus the part-time student can study the theory of genetic engineering in the Village School by night, using video and simulation packages with teleconference facilities for tutorials, while the pregnant teenager does remedial mathematics and babycare at home with a visiting teacher to keep up her morale.

Our current education system is "schooled" into subject areas, while life is not. The ability of the expert system to manage complexity makes it ideal for controlling multidisciplinary study projects crossing subject boundaries in a way which few teachers have the ability or knowledge to match. An example might be the complex inter-actions between economic growth, nutrition standards, mortality, mores and birth rates in the first industrial revolution.

The medical ignorance of most historians, the cavalier way in which theoretical economists regard most historical evidence, the woolly thinking of most sociologists, and the lack of interest of most medical men, make this an area abounding in myth and nonsense. Such packages could be invaluable in broadening the outlook of our narrow specialists in both teaching and research.

Packages are labour intensive to specify and prepare and require much planning and discipline to assemble and test. 150 man hours to produce a single course hour is one current rule of thumb for packages with limited visual content. If video material is to be integrated into the package the labour content could easily treble or quadruple.

However, two years and a million or so pounds to assemble quality packages which can then be mass produced on discs or transmitted over the air or down phone lines, is a lot faster and cheaper than retraining several thousand teachers over a decade or two. The result is greater understanding and more enjoyable learning on the part of the student and less need for large expensive school buildings with complicated timetables, rather than fewer teachers. The role of the teacher will change, the preparation of material will largely become divorced from its delivery, many teachers will earn more from royalties on packages they've helped assemble than from their direct salaries, but overall, many more jobs will be created.

6. Problems You Can Help Overcome?

The Japanese, like the Americans under Kennedy or ourVictorian ances-tors, succeed because they think they can. We are failing because we think we will. We don't suffer from lack of resources, we suffer from the frag-mentation of those resources we have, the refusal to consider solutions we did not invent for ourselves, bureaucratic procedures and institutions which do not believe they can cope with change, an idiosyncratic examination system which reinforces the status quo and recruiters who have, for all too human reasons, given up trying to influence the systems they have to work with.

In all these areas the fear of public ridicule can be a potent weapon. Fear of the public exposure of wasted resources can often persuade a Local Authority to bring together Further Education, Polytechnic and School Resources to solve common problems in situations where rational arguments gets bogged down in red tape.

The "Not Invented Here" syndrome can equally be countered in a time of financial stringency by forcing the public cost-justification of each attempt to re-invent the wheel.

Institutional resistance is harder to overcome; of course, an Authority with a large Architects Department and a militant bunch of maintenance men and caretakers will seek to impart to others the subjects they know. Of course, examiners will seek to preserve the status quo.

Consumer revolt, whether on the part of parents, taxpayer, student or recruiter, is one weapon capable of over-coming institutional resistance in the long run. But it can be a very wasteful mechanism. Waiting for Encylopaedia Britannica or Time-Life to fill the gap with packages sold direct to parents or mature students is not the best way, unless we really believe that American methods are so superior that we cannot catch up. Subversion is likely to be far more efficient. Demonstrating to the teachers that copying material produced elsewhere, perhaps even paying copyright fees, that prostituting academic freedom in return for gifts of equipment, books and visits, that adopting commercial rather than academic norms can greatly ease their problems, will encourage them to change the system from within. Demonstrating that interesting relevant packages can make a class of unaca-demic delinquents an acceptable challenge rather than a futile trial of strength will encourage the teachers to fight the waste of resources on bricks and mortar, and get the money spent on teaching aids, and material instead.

In Japan the Universities are showered with gifts of money and equipment by employers, not because they value University research - they don't - but because they want recruits trained to their standards. Our employers must adopt similar tactics, not just in dealing with Universities but with schools and colleges at all levels. Because of the difficulties on both sides, and the cultural gulf that exists, they need all the encouragement they can get through publicity and praise for successful case studies of co-operation (as in the Japanese press); case studies which emphasise the direct selfish benefits to both parties as much as the long term benefits for the students. The Marconi-sponsored MSc course at Southampton is one example.

Finally, recruiters who buck the system and retest applicants or select for deviance, rejecting the validity of examination results or who offer inflation adjusted pension transfer rights or payments to independent pension schemes, should receive praise and publicity for their initiative in helping to change the system. The docility of the recruiters merely serves to reinforce the complacency of the examiners that they are imposing the correct quality control procedures on the rest of the system.

A revolt among the recruiters could well be the fastest way of securing rapid and far-reaching change. Rapid and far-reaching changes in our educational systems at every level are essential. Throwing money at the system will probably serve to delay those changes, while financial crisis and constructive publicity for the alternatives may well help to promote them.

So what can you do about it?

Are you a parent? Join your parent-teacher association. Help raise money for equipment, materials and teaching aids, then blackmail your Local Education Authority into matching your contribution and paying for the in-service teacher training necessary. Forget the sports field, swimming pool and minibus. Mens Sana in Corpore Sano. If you don't feed the mind and teach it how to earn a living all you've got is a physically fit, unemployable delinquent. Demand vocational courses for your children and volunteer to pay for them. Volunteer to help deliver them if necessary.

Are you a trades unionist? trapped in a dead-end job in a dying industry? Get your union branch to get the local Trades Council to fight for practical, vocational adult evening classes, using the school's equipment and facilities. Make it clear you are happy to pay the going rate for such a course. After all, if it's free or dirt cheap it's usually because it's worthless.

Are you a manager or businessman? Offer equipment and funding to your local school, in return for being able to use it and the premises in the evening and the weekend to retrain your staff. Pay the teachers moonlighting money to to do that retraining. Offer visits for the staff and children to your company. Offer the schools any under-employed senior staff with specialist backgrounds as part-time careers advisors and technical teachers. Specify the skills and qualities you need your recruits to have and make sure they are what you really need. You don't need 0-levels to be a road-mender, A-level maths to be a computer programmer or a degree to be a systems analyst. Too high a qualification is really a disqualification for a contented, competent employee.

So reforms do need political action. They can be easily listed:-

— Amend the National Insurance and Pension legislation to encourage early retirement and part-time working. Exhortation is not enough. There are real barriers to be removed.
— Make pay while under any form of vocational training taxfree. Remove the disincentive for a mature man to go on residential and unsocial hours training schemes.
— Allow fees for any form of vocational training paid for by the individual, for himself, his wife or his children, to be deducted from personal tax.
— Reform the Copyright laws to encourage the preparation of packaged learning materials, and outlaw educational piracy.
— Abolish the University Grants Commission, or at least drastically amend its membership and terms of reference. If it is to be the main channel of government funds into the further and higher education industry, its current policy of fostering centres of academic excellence, at the expense of the old college of advanced technology, is disastrous. We already train more scientists than Japan but only a tenth as many graduate engineers and technicians.
— If the UGC is to continue with its current responsibilities, at least one third of its membership should be drawn from the customer - British Industry, and no more than one third from the Universities. Alternatively the education and training of future employees and applied research should be financed separately from academic research and the apprenticeship of future academics and the UGC's terms of reference and funding revised accordingly.
— Outlaw the obligation to join the Company pension scheme, provided the option of equal contributions by the Company to a private pension scheme of the employee's choice, is available. The employee would be under obligation to pay into the private scheme at least as much as he would have into the Company scheme.


The Author

Philip Virgo is Chairman of the Conservative Computer Forum and author of Cashing in on the Chips (CPC May 1979) and co-author of The Big Steal (Bow Paper Oct. 1980). He has worked in the computer industry for nine years including responsibility for several long-range planning studies.

© Bow Publications Ltd. 240 High Holborn, London WC1V 7DT Price £2.00 Printed by Orchard & Ind Ltd., Gloucester

The views expressed in Bow Papers are those of the authors. They do not represent a collective view of the Bow Group, nor do they represent a statement of the view either of the Conservative Party or of the Government. Bow Papers are published as containing arguments which merit consideration by the Conservative Party and by a wider audience.


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Except where otherwise stated, Bow Papers are priced at £2.50 including postage (Members 75p). All publications can be obtained from the Bow Group, 240 High Holborn, London WC1V 7DT. Telephone 01-405 0878.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Communications Data Retention in an Evolving Internet

The International Journal of Law and Information Technology has just published my new article, Communications Data Retention in an Evolving Internet. I hope this will prove useful for the debate coming any day now as the UK government relaunches its Intercept Modernisation Programme, as well as for the reviews being carried out by the European Commission and Court of Justice:
The 2006 Data Retention Directive requires EU-based Internet Service Providers to store information on customers and their online communications. The Directive is being reviewed by the European Commission, and has been criticised in a number of recent national constitutional court judgments due to its impact on privacy. Its compatibility with the Charter of Fundamental Rights is now being considered by the European Court of Justice. This article describes the likely impact on data retention of further developments in Internet usage, technology and law. It outlines the increasing use of private networks and member community sites that are not subject to the Directive, and the changes in surveillance technology and practice that some member states have proposed in response. It concludes by analysing the key factors to be taken into account in the EC and ECJ reviews, and suggests more proportionate and effective mechanisms for preserving appropriate law enforcement access to communications data.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The toothless watchdog v Google's creepy line

The Guardian has just published my article on the Information Commissioner's Google Street View decision:
Google is facing legal investigations around the world into its Wi-Fi-snooping Street View cars. But after cursory consideration, the UK's information commissioner has forgiven the company this illegal interception in return for a promise to do better in future. Why should any company or government agency care about complying with data protection law if this is the worst they can expect?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Banning BlackBerry

Yesterday evening I was one of the guests on Al Jazeera's Inside Story programme, discussing the BlackBerry ban in the United Arab Emirates:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ofcom net neutrality consultation

Ofcom asked me to speak this morning at their stakeholder consultation event on net neutrality; my slides are below. The other two speakers said what you would expect. BT (plus mobile network 3 in the audience) asked for evidence of harms that neutrality regulation would "fix", and complained of the difficulties of defining a minimum acceptable level of Quality of Service. Skype described how restrictive some mobile data packages are, blocking access to Voice over IP and most other peer-to-peer, audio and video applications.

Everyone agreed that the "open and neutral" Internet the European Commission and Parliament wish to see involves much wider issues of public policy than communications competition regulation. This heated discussion is likely to continue for several years, much of it in Brussels rather than London.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Another database bites the dust

Our Database State report strikes again:
ContactPoint will be switched off on 6 August, ministers announced today.

In a ministerial statement, children's minister Tim Loughton said from noon that day users would no longer have access to the database that was set up to allow authorised children's services professionals across England to see who else was working with a child or young person. The data itself will be destroyed within two months of the closure.

ContactPoint was one of eleven systems we judged "almost certainly illegal under human rights or data protection law and should be scrapped or substantially redesigned. The collection and sharing of sensitive personal data may be disproportionate, or done without our consent, or without a proper legal basis; or there may be other major privacy or operational problems."

Cyberwar and other global risks

The Defence Secretary has told Parliament he will need to switch resources from conventional military tasks to tackling cyber threats:
Pressure on the defence budget required the government "to sacrifice things we can see for things we cannot see", he told the cross party committee of MPs, referring to the hidden danger of cyberwars.

Here is the presentation I gave last month to an OECD workshop on this subject:

Friday, July 02, 2010

Making the citizen heard in security research

During the 7th Framework Programme, the EU is spending €1.4bn on security research. Since the coming into effect of the Lisbon Treaty, the European institutions have a duty to ensure this research supports fundamental rights. The Commission is also keen to avoid the negative media coverage that has resulted from previous research that was less careful of citizens' privacy.

Yesterday I spoke and chaired a panel at a Commission conference on these societal security issues. I was interested to hear from one of the assistant chief police officers present that the Commission is still funding research that does not provide meaningful security tools to end-users, but has the potential to be extremely invasive.

One of my own suggestions was that in future the annual work programme be subject to ethical review before a call goes out for such proposals. I also suggested mechanisms for better institutional oversight of the security programme:

Friday, June 04, 2010

Privacy and smart power meters

Spoke this morning at an interesting workshop on smart meters organised by Consumer Focus. Governments and industry in Europe and North America are moving quickly to roll out "smart meters" for gas and electricity networks in tens of millions of homes. It seems that in this dash, not enough attention is being paid to getting privacy right before tens of billions of pounds are spent on this "smart" infrastructure.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pakistan blocks Facebook and YouTube

Pakistan rights activist Sabeen Mahmud has produced some wonderful graphics in response to the Lahore High Court's recent blocking of Facebook and YouTube:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Deleting the database state

The agreement for coalition government between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties includes the following:
  • The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.

  • Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.

  • Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.

  • Further regulation of CCTV.

  • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.

Glad to see so many suggestions have been taken up from our Database State report. There is nothing detailed in the agreement on the NHS, but I expect the two parties will also scrap the National Programme for IT for the cost savings alone.

"Ending" the storage of Internet and e-mail records will not be possible given the Data Retention Directive that the previous government pushed through in Brussels. However, the Directive is currently being reviewed, so I do hope the UK will be demanding that it be scrapped. Until then, the government could use secondary legislation to reduce the length of time data is stored to six months; stop the "voluntary" storage by ISPs of lists of websites visited by their customers; and seriously reduce the number of government agencies with access to this data. My chapter on regulation of converged communications surveillance contains a number of further suggestions.

I spoke at a College of Law event on Monday on surveillance, alongside an extremely senior police officer with responsibility for CCTV. In his opinion, the £500m+ of public money spent on cameras in the UK since the early 1990s has given a very poor return. Politically, however, it would be difficult to remove existing systems. My suggestion is that all cameras should be subject to a regular value-for-money test. Those not having a significant impact on crime should be automatically removed.

Friday, May 07, 2010

E-voting is not the solution to poll chaos

It has only taken a few hours for e-voting to be proposed as the "answer" to last night's chaos as polling stations closed. It is dismaying to read such badly informed commentary as this:
Andy Williamson, director of digital democracy at the non-partisan think tank, the Hansard Society, argues that "a lack of desire to change" is a better explanation of any resistance to electronic voting than security concerns.

He acknowledges the risks with electronic voting, but says "you have to put this in the context of the current process, which we mostly accept, despite the obvious flaws and risks."

Those risks, he says, include "the lack of positive voter verification, the obvious risk of moving big piles of paper around, and the fallibility of manual counting."

As has been explained over and over and over again: personal computers and the Internet are nowhere nearly trustworthy enough to conduct national elections. Even voting computers at polling stations are far too easy to hack, as Hari Prasad, Alex Halderman and Rop Gonggrijp demonstrated again just last week in India:



Would it be so difficult to employ a few more polling station staff, and pay them overtime to ensure everyone is able to cast their vote?

Secure software development survey

Our visiting researcher Prof. Mingqiu Song is investigating how software firms use secure development processes. If you work in a company using these processes, please fill in her survey — and to say thanks, you can win a £100 Amazon voucher.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

EU cybersecurity policy

This morning I gave the following invited speech to a session of the European Parliament's industry committee, which was considering a draft report on the Commission's recent Communication on Internet Governance. Also speaking was Ambassador Janis Karklis, chairman of ICANN's Government Advisory Committee; Frederic Donck from the Internet Society; and Prof. Adrian Cheok, director of the National University of Singapore's Mixed Reality Lab. Due to technical difficulties (!) the Internet Governance Forum secretariat's executive coordinator, Markus Kummer, was unable to participate remotely as planned.

Internet governance and cybersecurity

Clearly, European society is increasingly dependent on the Internet and related communications systems. But the security of those systems is not yet at a level appropriate for that dependence. Mr Sosa Wagner's draft report is right to stress the importance of improving the "availability, robustness and resilience" of critical information infrastructures.

The Commission and the Parliament have taken some important steps in improving this situation, especially through the recent telecoms reform package and its obligation for operators to identify risks and ensure continuity of service. I want to outline five key additional steps that the EU should take towards this goal (many of which are being discussed by the institutions):
  1. Bring member states up to a common high level on cybersecurity, with national Computer Emergency Response Teams or networks of sectoral teams. The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) should continue to develop forums for information-sharing, and provide support to less capable member states.

  2. Further increase the effectiveness of ENISA, which needs significantly greater resources. With the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, ENISA should be able to take action on former third pillar matters such as criminal use of Internet.

  3. Ensure the resilience of key industry sectors through appropriate regulation. There should be further discussion of the designation of critical information infrastructures under Council Directive 2008/114/EC (while addressing concerns over information sharing), and requiring isolation of critical utility systems from public networks.

  4. Widen requirements for security breach notification from communication network operators to other information society services.

  5. Reinforce system and network diversity through competition law, state use of open standards, and procurement policy.

The Commission's Communication on Internet governance states that "the EU should take a leadership role in working towards the goal of increased security and stability of the Internet by initiating dialogue with international partners." The Commission should develop concrete plans with the Parliament and member states on what this leadership role should entail. In addition to promoting at the international level the measures I previously described, this could include:

  • Support for ICANN in its work to ensure the security and stability of the Domain Name System;

  • Work in international venues such as the OECD, United Nations and Council of Europe to improve applicable laws and national coordination on cybersecurity;

  • Discussions on limited liability for software security faults, particularly in the operating system and browser software that is critical to system security.

Finally, it is critical that the Parliament continues its role in promoting fundamental European values such as freedom of expression and privacy. The draft report's suggestion to extend the Rome II regulation to include violations of data protection and privacy is positive, as is the suggestion on the negotiation of international agreements for effective redress. But the EU institutions should be extremely cautious in introducing measures such as powers to revoke IP address blocks and domain names, which was suggested last week by the Council, or requiring Internet blocking (as Commissioner Malmstrom has proposed). These measures would set an extremely damaging precedent for Internet governance by repressive states that do not share European values.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Court of Appeal rejects theocracy

"We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.

"The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the state, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself." —Lord Justice Laws

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Monitoring and controlling the Internet

The leak of the European Commission's review of the Data Retention Directive was timely for my presentation yesterday on Internet surveillance:

Let's just say that some of the audience at Cumberland Lodge's Annual Police conference were more sympathetic than others to my conclusions.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Government requests for Internet and phone records

Google has (rightly) won praise for its new tool showing the number of requests it has received from governments to remove web pages and get user information. Here is some more specific data on European government demands for user data from telecommunications companies during 2008, gleaned from a recently-leaked European Commission review of the Data Retention Directive:

Government requests for communications data per million population (2008)
Government requests for communications data per million population


CountryRequestsPopulation (m)Requests/m population
Cyprus340.76145
Czech Republic13156010.32312,744
Germany1334882.12163
Denmark36055.447662
Estonia44901.3433,343
Greece58411.17252
Finland40105.27761
France53843762.2778,646
Ireland140954.4223,187
Latvia168622.2717,425
Malta8670.4132,099
Slovenia2822.013140
UK47022261.0737,699

Notes: 2008 population figures from IMF World Economic Outlook. Spain and Lithuania gave non-comparable figures to European Commission.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We are not at cyberwar

Alarmist warnings about devastating "cyberwars" seem to have reached a new peak. Former National Security Agency director Mike McConnell recently wrote:
The United States is fighting a cyber-war today, and we are losing… The cyber-war mirrors the nuclear challenge in terms of the potential economic and psychological effects. So, should our strategy be deterrence or preemption? The answer: both.

Equating distributed denial of service attacks with nuclear missiles would be laughable were it not so dangerous, particularly since McConnell proposes in response that the Internet be re-engineered to remove any last vestiges of privacy. (Glenn Greenwald has pointed out McConnell's extreme conflict of interest).

Fortunately, for now, wiser voices are prevailing within the US government. President Obama's cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt told Wired News: “There is no cyberwar. I think that is a terrible metaphor and I think that is a terrible concept."

I tried to make my own contribution to sanity at a conference yesterday in London on this subject:

I was pleased to hear widespread agreement with Schmidt's position from the audience.

UPDATE: Tim Stevens shares his thoughts on the conference.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Internet Security, Internet Freedom

Internet Security, Internet Freedom
I'm looking forward to speaking later this month at a Princeton workshop on Internet security and freedom, and to hear Alec Ross, Hillary Clinton's senior advisor for innovation:
The internet is at once a means for great openness and great control — expression and exclusion. These forces have long been at work online, but have recently come to the fore in debates over the United States’ cyber security policy and its increased focus on “internet freedom.” The country now has a Cybersecurity “czar” that has presented a 12-part national initiative, and also has a Secretary of State that has forcefully stated the case for internet freedom. But what do these principles mean in practice?

Clay Shirky and Evgeny Morozov have a new instalment of their conversation on this subject, with Morozov concluding:
If the Iranians, the Chinese and the Russians get the impression that Silicon Valley are in bed with the State Department, that impression is likely to persist for quite some time, maybe forever (once again: try convincing foreigners that oil companies don't control Washington). Just like most foreign publics developed an impression — thanks to eight years of Bush — that promoting democracy necessarily entails regime change, they may soon develop similar impressions about "Internet freedom". So I think the diplomats just have to be very careful, and focus on ironing out these micro problems, instead of saying that, yes, we've developed this partnership with Twitter and everyone should know about it! It's the kind of "public diplomacy" that begs for being less "public".

I'll also be speaking at a conference on free speech and the Internet being organised at Oxford by Prof. Timothy Garton Ash in June: more on that as details are finalised.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hostile reconnaissance

Reconsidering the fundamentals of ©


Today is the 300th anniversary of the world's first copyright law, the UK Statute of Anne. To mark this occasion the British Council is running a global debate on the future of copyright. You can read my contribution at their site. My conclusion:
An exclusive ‘right to copy’ is an unenforceable anachronism in a world filled with consumer technology that can copy, remix and redistribute works at almost zero marginal cost. Governments should be developing new legal frameworks to support necessary investment in creative works while enabling the benefits to society that flow from widespread sharing and reuse. Sadly, they instead seem focused on negotiating a secret ‘anti-counterfeiting’ treaty that will turn copyright into an even greater barrier to a productive and equitable information society.

There are also contributions from Lawrence Lessig, Jimmy Wales, Cory Doctorow and Yochai Benkler.

#DEAct - WTF?



After wash-up and ping-pong, the Digital Economy Act 2010 has received royal assent and become UK law. For the Liberal Democrats, Lord Clement-Jones told the House of Lords:
There is no doubt that many parts of the Bill were greatly improved in the two and a half months that the Bill spent in this House, particularly in expressly stating that subscribers are presumed innocent until proof is provided otherwise.

Subsequent to the Bill's passage here, however, the process has been totally unsatisfactory. Second Reading could easily have been held three weeks earlier. The Bill left this House on 15 March and Second Reading could have taken place well before 6 April, when it actually took place in the Commons. Some Committee days on crucial areas such as file-sharing, website blocking and orphan works could have been allocated. Instead of that, we have had the unedifying prospect of a wash-up stitch-up between the Conservative and Labour Benches on many elements of the Bill. Allied to the lack of time was the Government's unwillingness in some cases to consider amendments or to give assurances that would have delivered a sensible, consensus solution. It is no wonder that so many internet users, Back-Bench MPs and now the Front Bench of my party are firmly of the view that the Bill has not received adequate debate and should not proceed further.

Index on Censorship has a round-up of the debate, with this comment from me:
The House of Commons may have rushed through the Digital Economy Act with minimal scrutiny, but I think public protest over its far-ranging provisions is just warming up. Most of the UK’s 50m Internet users are only just hearing about this threat to their ability to work, learn and express themselves online.

The Internet’s democratic potential will be damaged by powers in the Act for users to be disconnected and websites to be blocked. But in the meantime, the tens of thousands of citizens who complained about the lack of debate to their MPs will be thinking about next month’s general election. Voters have an ideal opportunity to favour candidates that support freedom of expression and promise to block the secondary legislation that is still needed in the next Parliament to bring many of the Act’s provisions into force.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Toe-prints added to ID cards

Some exciting news hot from the Home Office:
Regulations have been tabled today, to be enacted before the dissolution of Parliament, to allow toe-prints to be added to the list of biometrics collected from individuals when they enrol for an ID Card.

The move will allow for shorter queuing time at airport security as anyone who is requested to take their shoes off when passing through airport security scanner (or a whole body scanner) will be able to have their toes checked and their identity confirmed when they stand in the scanning system. Biometric toe-print readers have already been successfully trialled with security scanners at Doncaster’s Robin Hood International Airport near Barnsley.

I am looking forward to getting more details on the draft “Identity Cards Act 2006 (Toes Biometrics) Regulations 2010” later this morning.

SEE ALSO: TouchNote integrates with Heathrow's X-ray scanners

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bank of Scotland and its rapacious charges

I am gnashing my teeth after being charged a scandalous £30 penalty on my current account by Bank of Scotland. I just sent them the following complaint, and will update this post with their responses:
Me: Since you showed a cheque for £x appearing in my account on 18 March, it seemed safe to schedule a payment three working days later on 23 March. I am EXTREMELY unhappy that you decided that the funds were not available on 23 March and are charging me £30 for a decision that must have cost you pennies in computer time.

This kind of behaviour makes me seriously think about closing my current account with you. I will be blogging this complaint, and your response.

Bank of Scotland: It will take up to 4 banking days (after we receive it) for a cheque to clear in a current account. The cheque will show in the 'balance' of your account on the day we receive it, but not in your 'available funds' until the cheque has fully cleared and the funds are available for withdrawal.

Me: That is less than clear in your user interface. It would also be trivial for you to automate the process of notifying customers that insufficient funds are available and asking whether they wish to postpone or cancel an online payment.

A £30 penalty is entirely disproportionate to your costs. If you apply this penalty in this case I am planning to make a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading, and close my account.

Bank of Scotland: I can advise this charge is for a failed payment.

At the time the payment were called for, the balance in your jar was not sufficient to cover these payment

Intelligent Finance does not offer the facility to monitor accounts on an individual basis.

It is our customer's responsibility to ensure there are sufficient available funds within the account to cover any payment instructions which are set up.
As a gesture of goodwill, I will arrange to credit your account today to cover the charge. Any future charges will stand.

A happy ending, and reminder that it is always worth complaining over unfair treatment. If that doesn't work, as Ross Anderson says: a lawsuit never hurts.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Oxford hosts final PrivacyOS conference

Privacy Open Space
Next month (12-13 April) we will be hosting the final Privacy Open Space conference at Worcester College in Oxford. Come along to hear from our Europe-wide community of researchers, industry, civil society and regulators concerned with privacy in the information age.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is technology the saviour of free speech?

Front cover of this month's Index on Censorship
The new edition of Index on Censorship is out this week. It contains a whole range of interesting articles on privatised censorship, including one from yours truly on self-regulation. Pick up your copy today!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

e-elections will be won in the real world

"This is the big paradox of the so-called e-election. It will not be won by the party with the most hollow-eyed obsessives hunched over keyboards blogging and tweeting at all hours of day and night. Success will belong to those who can use the internet to so organise and enthuse supporters that they log off from their virtual worlds, pound the pavements, knock on doors and get out among voters in the real one." —Andrew Rawnsley

Thursday, March 18, 2010

MPs: don't rush through extreme Web laws!

Six thousand people have now written to their MPs to politely request that they do their job, and properly scrutinise the Analogue Economy Bill. If you think democracy is, actually, quite important, then you should do so too today!

The Financial Times certainly isn't impressed:
In the commercial world, major legislation concerning copyright, such as Britain’s Digital Economy Bill, is unlikely to withstand the second great variable – the coming of age of the net generation. Laws banning file-sharing are likely to prove as unpopular as the poll tax that helped bring down the Thatcher government. They also look utterly unenforceable.

As a harbinger of change, we are seeing political parties springing up throughout Europe with names such as the Internet party or the Pirate party, which understand the web as simply part of human DNA. “In the collision between the old and the new on the web,” argues Rex Hughes, a Chatham House fellow who is leading a cybersecurity project, “the old always wins the first few rounds but eventually they die off.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The wanton theft of our liberties

"Individualism and autonomy used to be prized rights of our people. Now they are held in contempt by our governors. If we seek reasons not to give Labour another term in office, this wanton theft of our liberties should be high among them." —Simon Heffer

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spooks v. recording industry


If only both could lose… In this extraordinary leaked memo, the British Phonographic Industry's public affairs director sets out his concerns that the Security Service, MI5, is secretly funding opposition to the government's Digital Economy Bill:
The debate has been given an extra twist with a Talk Talk sponsored survey today, which says that 71% of 18–34 year olds would continue to infringe copyright, in spite of the Bill provisions, and would use "undetectable methods" to do so. Whether MI5 helped pay for the survey is not clear, but the results helpfully play into their court.

He also tells his colleagues that MPs have given up on having any chance to properly scrutinise the Bill:
MPs with whom we spoke back in Autumn are already resigned to the fact that they will have minimum input into the provisions from this point on, given the lack of time for detailed scrutiny… John Whittingdale [MP, chair of select committee on culture, media and sport] has said this week that he still thinks it could be lost if enough MPs protest at not having the opportunity to scrutinise it.

Watching legislation being made is truly never a pretty sight.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The evidence on DNA retention

Who to believe? The Home Secretary, who claimed today that Conservative plans to stop the retention of DNA profiles taken from arrested but unconvicted individuals would lead to "23 murderers or rapists going free in the last year alone"? Or the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, whose detailed report this week stated:
It is currently impossible to say with certainty how many crimes are detected, let alone how many result in convictions, due at least in part to the matching of crime scene DNA to a personal profile already on the database, but it appears that it may be as little as 0.3%—and we note that the reason for retaining personal profiles on a database is so that the person can be linked to crimes he/she commits later… It is not known how many crimes are solved with the help of the stored personal profiles of those not previously convicted of a crime… We are not convinced that retaining for six years the DNA profiles of people not convicted of any crime would result in more cases being cleared up—let alone more convictions obtained—than retaining them for three years. We therefore recommend a three year limit.

How can we have a sensible debate on criminal justice policy if the Home Secretary ignores careful reports from select committees (where his own party holds a majority), and so carelessly throws around such serious accusations?

UPDATE: Chris Pounder points to the even more damning conclusion of Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights:
“When asked for further information on statistics relating to individual cases, the Government has been unable to provide it. For example, we asked the Government for more information about the ACPO research which it states illustrates that 36 rape, murder or manslaughter cases during 2008-09 involved matches to innocent persons’ DNA retained on the NDNAD which were of 'direct and specific' value to the investigation. Unfortunately, the Government was unable to conduct this analysis within the time that we asked for a response… We recommend that the Government publish the details of these cases, if necessary in a suitably redacted format, or it should stop referring to them as support for its proposals."

Monday, March 08, 2010

NHS continues attempt to destroy patient trust

The NHS is continuing with its very badly thought-through plans to upload patients' basic medical records to the central "Spine" database without their explicit consent:
GPs say they fear patients' rights are being overlooked, that "scaremongering" is being used to get people's agreement for the database, and that hackers could illegally access the central computer.

The damage this will do to doctor-patient relationships once the inevitable breaches occur hardly bears thinking about.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Analogue Economy (Preservation) Bill

There is one piece of good news about the Digital Economy Bill being considered by the House of Lords. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are to block clause 17, the constitutional outrage that would have allowed the government to rewrite copyright law through poorly-scrutinised statutory instruments whenever they chose.

Clauses 10–16 of the Bill remain a disaster. As Jerry Fishenden says:
"The Bill claims to be about protecting copyright and intellectual property in the digital age. But in reality it seems to be more about preserving the dying business model of middle-men publishers, be they the music, film or publishing industries. There is little recognition of the need to protect the interests of those who actually create and make a living from original content, of moving to new ways of encouraging and nurturing innovation. We need to expedite the natural disintermediation of these stale old business models, not to bankroll them through ill-designed legislation.

"One thing is for sure. The Digital Economy Bill is going to become a textbook case of flawed legislation and the extent to which policymaking is damagingly behind the reality of the world in which we live. My concern, however, in the meantime, is that it will do enormous damage to the economic and social fabric of the UK at the very time when we need to be taking advantage of the Internet, not trying to shut it down."