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
Czech Republic13156010.32312,744

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