11 April 2020

Introduction to Moody's Black Notebook Travels

I have started posting to one of my other blogs, Moody's Black Notebook Travels.  For anyone who might be interested, here's the background:
I have two great regrets in my life.  One is eating a chicken sandwich in Varanasi, shortly before flying to Kathmandu.  This gave me the worst food poisoning I have ever experienced, nearly killed me, and meant that I missed a unique opportunity to visit Lhasa before it was turned into a Chinese Disneyland.  The other regret involves three Inter-rail trips that I made in 1979, 1980 and 1981.  They were extraordinarily rich in sights and experiences.  Stupidly, though, I did not keep a travel diary at that time, so all I have are vague, if important, memories of what I saw, thought and felt.
At least I was able to learn from these two huge blunders.  Afterwards, I no longer ate chicken sandwiches in exotic lands, and I kept travel diaries for all my major trips.  The latter took the form of black notebooks, bought from Ryman's, in two formats: one small enough to fit in a pocket, and another, slightly larger, that I kept in the travel bag I used for longer journeys. 
I now have dozens of these notebooks sitting behind me, filled with my illegible scrawl.  I have been meaning to turn them into digital texts for some years, and to bring them into the 21st century, but have never got around to it until now.  I am not transcribing them in any set order, but will place links to them below, as they go online, ordered chronologically.  There is no overall plan, no overall significance.  They are just what they are: quick thoughts jotted down in black notebooks, captured moments of a specific time and place.


18 October 2019

Brexit Vote: Please Write to Your MP Today

As people may have heard, there is a rather important vote on Brexit tomorrow.  It's going to be very close, so I would like to urge everyone in the UK to write to their MP, asking them to vote against what is in every respect a terrible deal.  

It will not only harm the economy, and the most vulnerable people in UK society, it will also open the way for a catastrophic, crash-out "No Deal" Brexit, with no way for Parliament to stop it.  In short, it's a trap, and one that some foolish MPs seem content to walk into.  

FWIW, here's what I've just sent to my MP.  Please feel free to adapt it for your own communication.  You can find your MP's email address at the wonderful free site WriteToThem, which you can also use to send your message.

This is just a quick note to ask you to vote against the UK government's proposed Brexit agreement tomorrow.
I think you already know its deep problems -  not least the fact that it simply delays, but cannot prevent, a No Deal Brexit, which seems favoured by extreme Brexiters.  But I would also like to urge you to talk to other Labour MPs who seem willing to vote for it in the mistaken belief that it is what their constituents want.
As you know, the present deal will result in a massive hit to the UK economy, which will affect the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society.  It will lead to workers' rights being eroded, along with crucial environmental protections being jettisoned.  Throw in the fact that a US trade deal will see much of the NHS privatised, and the cost of drugs greatly increased, and it is hard to understand how any Labour MP could contemplate voting for this terrible deal.  I hope you can help them to see this.

03 March 2019

This Could Be The Most Important Email You Will Ever Send To Your MEP

As most people reading this will know by now, the deeply-flawed EU Copyright Directive faces one final vote in the European Parliament soon.  If it passes there, it will become law.  That means we have one final chance to stop it, by writing to our MEPs now.

Those with good memories will remember that we stopped the equally pernicious Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) at the last minute, against all the odds, by writing huge numbers of emails to MEPs, and taking to the streets.  People are already taking to the streets in Germany and elsewhere, and the emails have started flowing, much to the surprise of MEPs.  We need to increase their number greatly to convince MEPs to vote against the worst aspects of the proposed law.

I and others have written so much about the Copyright Directive and its three terrible ideas, that I will only present summaries here, along with links to more detailed information.

First there is Article 3, which covers text and data mining (TDM).  This is an exciting technique for discovering new information by analysing large quantities of text or data.  It is vitally important for the AI technique of machine learning.   And yet Article 3 stupidly limits permission to carry out TDM freely to research institutions.  This means EU startups will be unable to depend upon it as they grow, whereas those in the US and China can.  This guarantees that the EU will become an AI backwater.  More details here:

Why The Copyright Directive Lacks (Artificial) Intelligence

The Right To Read Is The Right To Mine

Article 11 is the "link tax" or "Google tax".  Neither is a very good name.  Really, it is about making every company pay to use even the tiniest snippets from news articles – perhaps even for using more than one word.  What's particularly ridiculous about this idea, is that it has been tried twice – in Germany and Spain – where it failed both times.  It will undermine the key innovation of the Web – hyperlinking information – with no benefit for the newspapers that are pushing for it.  More details here:

Article 11: Driven By Rhetoric, Not By Arithmetic

Finally, and most dangerously, there is Article 13.  Even though those drafting the proposal have cynically avoided the term, it makes the use of automated filters inevitable for most sites holding material uploaded by the public.  Those filters are unable to capture the complexities of EU copyright law, and will therefore over-block to be on the safe side.  In particular, it is impossible for such filters to tell the difference between unauthorised copies of material, and memes that use the same material.  So even if memes are not banned in the text, the end-effect will be for many of them to be blocked.  More details about all these aspects in the following pages:

You Wouldn’t Steal A Meme: The Threat From Article 13

MEPs’ Email Says Article 13 “Will Not Filter The Internet”; Juri MEP’s Tweet Says It Will

Article 13: Putting Flawed Upload Filters At The Heart Of The Internet

Article 13: Making Copyright Unfit For The Digital Age

Article 13: Even Worse Than The Us DMCA Takedown System

Time To Tell The Truth About Article 13

Why Article 13 Is Not Just Dangerous Law-Making, But Deeply Dishonest Too

Fix The Gaping Hole At The Heart Of Article 13: Users’ Rights

Article 13 Is Not Just Criminally Irresponsible, It’s Irresponsibly Criminal

As well as the serious harm the proposed Copyright Directive will cause to the Internet as we know it – born of ignorance or indifference on the part of those drafting it – what is extraordinary about the whole saga is the contempt shown for EU citizens and their views.  Recently, the European Commission published an article that called those opposing the Copyright Directive part of a "mob".  The European Parliament put out a tweet that was full of half-truths and intentionally misleading statements.

The continuing and concerted attempt to belittle EU citizens who dare to argue against the EU's proposed Copyright Directive mean that this is no longer just about copyright or the Internet.  It is about democracy in the EU.  The European Commission and European Parliament are trying to shut down dissent on this topic, just as they did for ACTA.  It is therefore vitally important for EU citizens to write to their MEPs to express their concerns about the Copyright Directive, and also about the way their right to participate in the law-making process has been seriously harmed.  You can use this page to search for MEPs in any EU Member State; in the UK you can use WriteToThem.

I normally provide a sample email text, but on this occasion, I won't.  That's because one lie that is being put about by supporters of the Copyright Directive is that emails to MEPs are being sent by "bots", paid for by Google and others, and not by real people.  For this reason, it is vital that you use your own words when you write to your MEP.  Your email does not need to be long or detailed, but it must be genuine (and polite) if it is to be convincing.  Helping us is the fact that elections for the European Parliament are imminent, so MEPs should be keen to be seen to listen their constituents – something you may wish to mention.

Despite constant claims that the EU Copyright Directive won't affect the Internet, this is simply not true.  It is, without doubt, the most serious threat we have faced since ACTA.  It is vital that, like ACTA, we stop it.  We did it then, we can do it now.  Please write to your MEPs today - it could be the most important email you will ever send them.

10 September 2018

Quick Letter to MEPs about Article 13 of Copyright Directive

Yesterday, I wrote a post asking people to write to their MEPs about the imminent vote in the European Parliament on the Copyright Directive.  Here's what I've just sent to me MEPs.  As you can see, I decided to concentrate on the worst aspect of the Directive, Article 13, in order to make as much impact as possible.

As you know, on Wednesday there is a plenary vote on the proposed reforms of the EU copyright system.  I am asking you to ensure that today's vibrant Internet is not undermined by Article 13.  Although this is presented as necessary in order to force Internet companies to license material on their sites, the framing is wrong on several counts.

Copyright already allows artists and companies to demand that infringing material is taken down from sites or licensed.  There is no need to extend copyright by making licensing mandatory.  The main consequence of compulsory licensing is that major sites will bring in upload filters – it is the only way they can track what is uploaded in order to pay licensing fees, and to block any material that is not licensed. 

Such upload filters will easily morph into instruments of censorship.  Moreover, upload filters are always imperfect, and will inevitably block legal material.  As a journalist, I've written about recent cases of upload filter failures in the EU:

http://copybuzz.com/copyright/article-13-even-worse-than-the-us-dmca-takedown-system/

The net effect of upload filters will be to dissuade European citizens from using the Internet creatively, and turning them into passive consumers.  This will represent an impoverishment of European culture both online and offline.

I would therefore urge you to support amendments to Article 13 that do not make licensing – and thus upload filters – mandatory.

08 September 2018

Please Write (Yes, Again - Sorry) to Your MEPs to Stop the EU Copyright Directive from Seriously Harming the Internet

Back in June, I wrote a long post about the proposed update to EU copyright law. As I explained, there are some bad ideas being proposed, notably upload filters (Article 13), and ancillary copyright for news publications (Article 11), that will seriously harm the Internet in the EU. I won't repeat everything I wrote there: the bad ideas are still in play, despite minor amendments that have been proposed to give the impression that problems have been addressed. They haven't.


But I will ask you to write, once more, to your MEPs, as I did again in July, asking them to defend the Internet in the key European Parliament vote on Wednesday, 12 September. Once more, a short email is quite sufficient: the most important thing is to convey the seriousness of the situation. At its simplest, we need to remove Article 11 and Article 13 completely – they are not salvageable – and to amend Article 3 to allow companies to carry out text and data mining (TDM).

As well as the posts mentioned above, here are few more articles I have written on this topic in recent months, which you may find useful in writing emails to your representatives.

Article 13

Article 13: Putting Flawed Upload Filters At The Heart Of The Internet

Article 13: Making Copyright Unfit For The Digital Age

Article 13: Even Worse Than The Us DMCA Takedown System

You Wouldn’t Steal A Meme: The Threat From Article 13

Don’t Let Upload Filters Undermine The Public Domain

Upload Filters, Copyright And Magic Pixie Dust

Article 11

Article 11: Driven By Rhetoric, Not By Arithmetic

Article 3

Why The Copyright Directive Lacks (Artificial) Intelligence

The Right To Read Is The Right To Mine

But really, the details aren't so important at this stage: just write something – the simpler, and more direct the better – perhaps using WriteToThem if you are in the UK, or SaveYourinternet if you are in the EU. If we don't manage to beat off this implicit attack on the Internet in the vote on Wednesday, we will probably hobble the Internet in the EU forever, with knock-on effects around the world. It's that serious.

04 July 2018

Countering the Latest Misinformation about the EU Copyright Directive

Tomorrow the European Parliament will vote on whether to send its version of the Copyright Directive text to "trilogues" for final negotiations. As I've written here before, this would be disastrous for the Internet in the EU. However, efforts to prevent that happening are having an impact. The MEPs on the JURI committee that drew up the current flawed text have just sent a short document to all MEPs to try to convince them to vote to move on to the trilogues (you can read it on Techdirt). It is full of misinformation, which I would like to debunk here so that people can explain to their MEPs – either in an email, or by phone – why the claims made in the JURI note are false.

I'll concentrate here on what it says about Article 13, which will bring in upload filters, since the threat it represents to the Internet is greater, and the misinformation in the JURI paper most egregious. For example, it says:

It aims to make platforms accountable, but not all platforms. Article 13 needs to be seen in conjunction with article 2 of the draft directive.

And explains:

Only those that are active, so that optimize the content posted online.

However, it fails to point out that "optimisation" includes trivial processes like changing the order of material. In other words, any site that does anything other than offer a storage medium is "active", and will thus be obliged to impose upload filters. Moreover, it truly is any site, of any size. Whereas before, supporters of Article 13 insisted it would only apply to the largest sites, JURI now says the following:

Any platform is covered by Article 13 if one of their main purposes is to give access to copyright protected content to the public.

It cannot make any difference if it is a “small thief” or a “big thief” as it should be illegal in the first place.

Small platforms, even a one-person business, can cause as much damage to right holders as big companies, if their content is spread (first on this platform and possibly within seconds throughout the whole internet) without their consent.

In view of such a small business potentially causing such a tremendous damage to right holders, the compromise text does not foresee any exemption for SMESs.

This is a huge and remarkable change, because it means even the smallest business or startup will have to licence or filter uploads. The JURI document tries to claim this isn't a problem because:

However, the text provides safeguards that will benefit SMEs. Measures must be appropriate and proportionate.

But that vague definition still places a huge burden on smaller companies, and pretty much guarantees that startups will avoid the EU, and set up shop elsewhere.  Finally, two pieces of misinformation are repeated yet again. One concerns filters:

no general filtering measures are included in Article 13. The text even emphasizes that this practice is prohibited

The text can prohibit the practice as much as it likes, but general filtering is precisely what Article 13 requires – there is no other way of doing it. Which means that companies will either break the law by not implementing general filtering, or break it by doing so. Finally, there is the old nonsense that Article13

does not threaten freedom of expression or fundamental rights.

The meme, mash-up, the gifs are already allowed and included in an existing exception and will still be after the adoption of this directive (article 5, directive 2001/29/EC

3. Member States may provide for exceptions or limitations to the rights provided for in Articles 2 and 3 in the following cases: (k) use for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche

As I've pointed out before, this exception is optional, and currently not available in 19 EU Member States. Implying that memes are safe is duplicitous in the extreme, and shows how desperate supporters of the Copyright Directive are.

Please contact your MEPs to explain how things really stand, and perhaps point out that the fact the JURI briefing is reduced to spreading serious misinformation is an indication there are no real arguments in favour of this bad law.

02 July 2018

Please Write a *Short* Email to Your MEPs Today about EU Copyright Directive

A couple of weeks ago, I urged people to write to their MEPs about an important vote in the Legal Affairs committee of the European Parliament (JURI).  Sadly, but not unexpectedly, we lost that vote.

However, this is not the end of the story.  On Thursday, there is a vote by the whole of the European Parliament on whether the copyright directive should be amended, or whether it can enter "trilogue" negotiations, which occur when the text is more or less agreed.  It is therefore vital that MEPs vote to give themselves the chance to reconsider key sections of this deeply-flawed text, rather than allowing it to pass on to the trilogues.  Here is a fuller explanation of what is going on.

My previous post explained the background to the copyright directive, and my email to MEPs then was quite long.  This time, a simple message to MEPs is all that is needed.  Please contact them, using either WriteToThem (in the UK), or SaveYourInternet.eu in the EU.

If you use the latter, please change the example text and put things in your own words.  Supporters of the copyright directive are claiming that these letters are a "spam" campaign by big companies, and not real emails from constituents.  We need to counter that with a flood of genuine communications.  For this week's vote, short and simple is best.

13 June 2018

Please Write to Your MEPs to Stop EU Copyright Directive from Seriously Harming the Internet

Next week, a crucial vote will be held by the Legal Affairs committee of the European Parliament (JURI). It concerns the proposed copyright directive, which is moving through the EU's legislative process. Unfortunately, there are two extremely dangerous elements in the current text that will harm the Internet in the EU if passed: basic details about them can be found in this post I wrote for Ars Technica. A third element needs a tweak.

As the Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda explains, it currently looks as if the two bad elements will be accepted by JURI. But the vote is close, and EU citizens have an important opportunity to ask their representatives to influence the outcome of that vote. I urge you to do so, and soon.

You can use the free services WriteToThem, or a new site called SaveYourInternet, to send an email to your MEPs in just a few seconds. The latter site offers some text you can use about one of the problematic parts of the copyright directive, Article 13. However, you may wish to urge your representative to fight against the other bad idea, Article 11. Both of these are explained in the text below, which is what I have sent my MEPs.

Please feel free to draw on this if it is helpful, but it will be more effective if you express yourself in your own words. The most important thing is to send something – no matter how short – asking MEPs to help stop the copyright directive from harming the EU's Internet.

As a journalist who has been covering the Internet for 24 years, I am deeply concerned about the proposed copyright directive that is currently working its way through the EU legislative process. I am writing to ask you to alert your colleagues on the JURI committee to the deep problems with two sections in particular: Article 13, and Article 11. Both need to be removed.

Article 13 will require sites with a large number of user uploads either to license everything they make publicly available, or proactively to stop copyright material being posted. The first option is not practical when dealing with a fragmented market where there is no central licensing agency. And even where such an agency exists, it will not cover every possible upload.

The second option requires sites to prevent unauthorised copyright material from being posted. The only way to achieve this is through a general filtering mechanism. Unless every file is checked when it is uploaded, and compared against a database of copyright material, there is simply no way to know whether it infringes. The fact that a recent JURI version of the directive's text says "The implementation of measures by service providers should not consist in a general monitoring obligation" is irrelevant, because there is literally no other way of achieving the stated aim.

The EU's e-commerce law specifically forbids EU countries from imposing "a general obligation on providers... to monitor the information which they transmit or store." But legal issues aside, there are technical problems too. The upload filters required to block copyright material will be, of necessity, automated – the volume of uploads makes this inevitable. But it is impossible to create a system that encapsulates the subtleties of EU copyright law: even courts have problems navigating their way through this extremely complex field.

As a result, upload filters will be imperfect. The future financial risks of allowing copyright material to be posted means that upload filters will always err on the side of caution, and over-block. This will lead to legitimate material being blocked by mistake. It will have a chilling effect on public domain materials, criticism, parody, and popular Internet memes that frequently draw on copyright material. In short, it will greatly impoverish the EU's Internet, and lead to a massive assault on citizens' freedom of expression. Since licensing is impractical, and upload filters cannot work, Article 13 must be dropped completely.

Despite claims to the contrary, this will not harm the copyright industry. Research carried out on behalf of the European Commission at a cost of €370,000 suggests that unauthorized uploads are not a pressing problem: "In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements."

The other problematic part of the proposed directive is Article 11, which would introduce an ancillary copyright for news publications. As you doubtless know, this has been tried twice, in Germany and Spain, and failed both times to achieve its aim of revivifying newspapers. It's not hard to see why. The snippets that appear in search engines direct more readers to news sites: they are beneficial for publishers. Trying to force Internet companies to pay for the privilege of sending more traffic to news sites makes no sense. It is no wonder that Google refused to do so in Spain, with serious negative consequences for publishers there.

Some publishers argue that sites are using material from their news publications without payment. There are two situations here. If large amounts of text is being taken, those sites can be sued for copyright infringement under existing laws. If only snippets are taken, as is the case for Google, then this is not infringement, since it is simply using those snippets to direct interested readers to the original article. The snippets are not substitutes for the full text, but tasters encouraging further exploration. In neither case is there any need for additional copyright.

However, if Article 11's "snippet tax" is brought in, it will inevitably lead to fewer links being made to news sites. The public will be less well-informed at a time when misinformation is a growing problem, while publishers will lose visitors. The actual monies from the tax are likely to be small. The German experience shows that very little money is collected in practice. To summarise, then, an ancillary copyright is not necessary, and if brought in will be harmful to the public, with only a tiny benefit for publishers. As with Article 13, Article 11, too, needs to be removed.

Finally, a quick word about Article 3. The idea behind this – to allow text and data mining (TDM) of resources – is excellent. This is a crucial area for things like artificial intelligence, and the EU desperately needs legal certainty here. However, as it currently stands, TDM would not be available to most companies unless they pay additional fees. This makes no sense at a time when the EU is rightly trying to encourage digital startups in the region. TDM will be vital for many services and products, and if companies cannot be assured that they will be able to use this approach when they grow, but will be penalised for being successful, then they will simply set up elsewhere. That is hardly a win for the EU.

The basic rule for TDM is simple: the right to read a text is also the right to mine a text. This means Article 3 needs to be amended to allow any companies, of any size or age, to carry out TDM on texts to which they have legal access.

I apologise for the length of this email, but the topics are complex and important. However, the actions required are very simple: Articles 13 and 11 must be dropped, and Article 3 must be changed. If these amendments are not passed, the effect on the Internet in the EU will be very serious, both in terms of harming the rights of EU citizens, and of discouraging innovation by startups in this region. I therefore ask you to urge your colleagues to make the changes I have suggested.

Thank you for your help in this vital matter.

11 June 2018

UK Citizens: Please Write to Your MPs Today about the Big Brexit Votes

There's an important series of Brexit votes taking place tomorrow.  The UK government will seek to overturn some sensible amendments made in the Lords, allotting just a few hours to consider many important issues. 

If you can, please write to your MPs today urging them to support amendments that will minimise the damage caused by the self-harming hard Brexit. 

You can write to your MP using the excellent WriteToThem service, which is quick and costs nothing.  Here's what I've sent - please feel free to draw on it, but do use your own words and thoughts to increase the impact. Thanks.


I am writing to you in connection with the votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill. I am very concerned about the destructive effect that a hard Brexit will have on this country, its economy and particularly those who are already struggling to make ends meet.

As every credible analysis shows, a hard Brexit will cause huge damage to the UK economy, and inevitably lead to an impoverishment of the vast majority of people in this country. For those who have little, that will be a serious blow.

To avoid that, I would urge you to vote for Amendments 1 & 2 (to continue in a customs union), Amendment 51 (to participate in Europe’s economic area) and Amendment 19 (to allow for a proper and meaningful vote in Parliament on any Brexit deal).

The votes on these amendments represent a unique opportunity to minimise the damage caused by Brexit and the UK government's incompetent handling of the negotiations. Please take full advantage of it for the sake of those most vulnerable in our society.

08 January 2018

Incoming: Spare Slots for Freelance Work in 2018


I will soon have spare slots in my freelance writing schedule for regular weekly or monthly work, and major projects. Here are the main areas that I've been covering, some for more than two decades. Any commissioning editors interested in talking about them or related subjects, please contact me at glyn.moody@gmail.com (PGP available).  I am also available to speak on these topics at relevant conferences.

Surveillance, Encryption, Privacy, Freedom of Speech

For the last two years, I have written hundreds of articles about these crucial areas, for Ars Technica UK (http://arstechnica.co.uk/author/glyn_moody/), Privacy News Online (https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/blog/author/glynmoody/) and Techdirt (https://www.techdirt.com/user/glynmoody). Given the challenges facing society this year, they are likely to be an important focus for my work in 2018.

China

Another major focus for me this year will be China. I follow the world of Chinese IT closely, and have written numerous articles on the topic. Since I can read sources in the original, I am able to spot trends early and to report faithfully on what are arguably some of the most important developments happening in the digital world today.

Free Software/Open Source

I started covering this topic in 1995, wrote the first mainstream article on Linux for Wired in 1997 (https://www.wired.com/1997/08/linux-5/), and the first (and still only) detailed history of the subject, Rebel Code (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebel_Code) in 2001, where I interviewed the top 50 hackers at length. I have also written about the open source coders and companies that have risen to prominence in the last decade and a half, principally in my Open Enterprise column for Computerworld UK, which ran from 2008 to 2015.

Open Access, Open Data, Open Science, Open Government, Open Everything

As the ideas underlying openness, sharing and online collaboration have spread, so has my coverage of them. I wrote one of the most detailed histories of Open Access, for Ars Technica (http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/06/what-is-open-access-free-sharing-of-all-human-knowledge/).

Copyright, Patents, Trade Secrets

The greatest threat to openness is its converse: intellectual monopolies, which prevent sharing. This fact has led me to write many articles about copyright, patents and trade secrets. These have been mainly for Techdirt, where I have published over 1,500 posts, and also include an in-depth feature on the future of copyright for Ars Technica (http://arstechnica.co.uk/tech-policy/2015/07/copyright-reform-for-the-digital-age/).

Trade Agreements - TTIP, CETA, TISA, TPP

Another major focus of my writing has been so-called "trade agreements" like TTIP, CETA, TPP and TISA. "So-called", because they go far beyond traditional discussions of tariffs, and have major implications for many areas normally subject to democratic decision making. In addition to 51 TTIP Updates that I originally wrote for Computerworld UK (http://opendotdotdot.blogspot.nl/2016/01/the-rise-and-fall-of-ttip-as-told-in-51.html), I have covered this area extensively for Techdirt and Ars Technica UK, including a major feature on TTIP (http://arstechnica.co.uk/tech-policy/2015/05/ttip-explained-the-secretive-us-eu-treaty-that-undermines-democracy/) for the latter.

Europe

As a glance at some of my 318,000 (sic) posts to Twitter, identi.ca and Google+ will indicate, I read news sources in a number of languages (Italian, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, Greek, Swedish in descending order of capability.) This means I can offer a fully European perspective on any of the topics above - something that may be of interest to publications wishing to provide global coverage that goes beyond purely anglophone reporting. The 30,000 or so followers that I have across these social networks also means that I can push out links to my articles, something that I do as a matter of course to boost their readership.

22 October 2017

UK and US Citizens: Please Request Your Personal Data Held By Cambridge Analytica

By now, many people have probably heard about the company Cambridge Analytica.  By its own admission, it played a major role in the success of Donald Trump.  There are also numerous indications that it was involved in the Brexit campaign.

Because Cambridge Analytica is intimately bound up with the London-based company SCL it is possible to make a subject access request in order to find out what information is held about you.  This applies to both UK and US citizens. 

I therefore urge as many people as possible to ask for that data - it only takes a few minutes, and can be done with a simple letter.  Obtaining this information will help us understand what exactly has been happening. Here's what I have sent; please feel free to use and/or modify it:

SCL Group Ltd
c/o Pkf Littlejohn 2nd Floor,
1 Westferry Circus,
Canary Wharf,
London,
United Kingdom, E14 4HD

22.10.17

Dear Sir,

Subject Access Request

I have read numerous reports in the press that you and/or your subsidiaries in the UK or elsewhere hold data on UK/US voters, which may include information about me.

In accordance with the UK Data Protection Act, I am writing to ask you to supply me with a copy of  the information you hold about me, please.

If there is a fee or you require more information in order to fulfil my request, please let me know.

Thank you for your help.

Yours faithfully,

Glyn Moody

You may also wish to make a contribution to this crowdsourced initiative to dig even deeper.  I've given, FWIW.

The stakes here are incredibly high: it is really no exaggeration to say that our democracy and freedom are at play.  I therefore hope you can spare a few minutes to help shed some light on what has happened here.

31 May 2017

Urgent: Please Write to MEPs to Stop Awful Copyright Proposals


Bad things could happen in the European Parliament next Thursday, when an important committee of MEPs votes on proposals for updating copyright for the digital age:

Today it was revealed that MEP Pascal Arimont from the European People’s Party (EPP) is trying to sabotage the Parliamentary process, going behind the negotiators of the political groups and pushing a text that would make the Commission’s original bad proposal look tame in comparison.

As that post from the Pirate Party MEP, Julia Reda, explains, there is an attempt to make two aspects of the copyright proposals even worse, using procedural tricks. The main threat is the imposition of blanket upload filters, with Internet sites essentially obliged to act as copyright police for everything. 

The other is to introduce a new ancillary copyright for publishers that would mean that they could demand licensing fees for using even tiny snippets from their articles for 50 years after they were published. Both of these would destroy the Internet as we know it.

I therefore urge you to write to all your nation's MEPs on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee. You can find their names and nationalities here with links to pages that have ways of contacting them. Here's what I've sent:

This is just a quick email to ask you not to support Pascal Arimont's proposed amendments to the copyright directive. Leaving aside the general issue that they would undermine the authority and role of the IMCO committee, they would cause huge harm to the Internet in Europe and to EU startups in that field.

The amendments to Article 13 are, despite claims to the contrary, incompatible with recent CJEU rulings, and go against the E-commerce directive that has served the EU so well over the years. The proposals would be costly to impossible to implement, and would see startups flee the EU for more hospitable investment environments.

Similarly, the amendments to Article 11 make a bad idea even worse by extending the duration of ancilllary copyright, and narrowing the exceptions. The experience in both Germany and Spain has demonstrated beyond doubt that publishers will be harmed by such a move, especially smaller ones. The proposed amendments will make the damage to both them and to the Internet itself even more serious.

I therefore urge you to reject all of Pascal Arimont's proposed amendments, and to support Catherine Stihler’s compromise amendments on the copyright file.

18 May 2017

Tell the UK Government: No Backdoors in Crypto

The UK government seems to be pressing ahead with its idiotic plans to backdoor crypto. There is a (secret) consultation on the subject that closes tomorrow - write to investigatorypowers@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk.  Here's what I've just sent:

I am writing in connection with UK government proposals to force tech companies and Internet providers to create government backdoors to encrypted communications.

Speaking as a journalist who has been writing about every aspect of computer technology for 35 years, and about the Internet for 20 years (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyn_Moody), I cannot emphasise too strongly that this would be a very unwise and dangerous move.

There is no such thing as a safe backdoor that is only available to the authorities.  If a weakness is created in a program or service, it can be found be third parties.  That is hard, but not impossible, especially for well-funded state actors.

Even more likely is that details of backdoors will be leaked.  The recent experience of the WannaCry ransomware attack, which is based on an NSA exploit that was leaked earlier, show how devastating this kind of subversion can be.

There is another powerful reason not to force companies operating in the UK to weaken their security.  First, US companies may simply water down protections for UK users, while protecting those in the rest of the world.  Obviously that would leave UK users particularly vulnerable to attack, and make them prime targets.

Secondly, if British companies are forced to provide backdoors in their products, then no government or company elsewhere in the world will use UK software, since there will always be a risk that it contains intentional security flaws.  This is the surest way to sabotage the UK software industry, and to ensure that computer startups are located anywhere but in the UK.

As well as being harmful, moves to weaken the security of encrypted products are also unnecessary.  As recent events have confirmed, terrorists rarely use encryption, and when they do, they make mistakes that allow the security services to access communications.  Indeed, there are many ways to obtain access and information even when encryption is used, as a recent paper explained (https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/03/new_paper_on_en.html).

To summarise, the many and mighty harms caused by weakening encryption vastly outweigh any illusory benefits.  The UK government would be ill-advised to take this route.

29 March 2017

The Copyright Industry's So-Called "Value Gap" Is Actually an Innovation Gap

The is a crucial year for the Internet in Europe, because 2017 will see key decisions made about the shape of copyright law in the EU. That matters, because copyright is in many ways the antithesis of the Net, based as it is on enforcing a monopoly on digital content, whereas the Net derives its power from sharing as widely as possible. The stronger copyright becomes, the more the Internet is constrained and thus impoverished.

There are three key areas in the proposed revision to the EU's Copyright Directive where the Internet and its users are under threat from attempts to strengthen copyright. First, there is the panorama exception, which allows people to take pictures in the street without needing to worry about whether buildings or public objects are subject to copyright. Despite this being little more than common sense – imagine having to check the legal status of everything in view before taking a photo – copyright maximalists are fighting to stop a panorama exception being added to EU law.

The second point of contention concerns the link tax, also known as the snippets or Google tax. The last of these explains the motivation: publishers want Google to pay for linking to their articles using snippets of text. Despite the obvious folly of charging for the ability to send traffic to your site, the copyright world's sense of entitlement is such that two countries have already introduced a link tax, with uniformly disastrous results.

When Spain brought in a law that required search engines to pay publishers for the use of snippets, Google decided to close down its Google News service in the country, which led to online publishers losing 10% to 15% of their traffic.

Similarly, in Germany, which also introduced a link tax, publishers ending up giving Google a free licence to their material, so great was the law's negative impact on their business when Google stopped linking to their publications.

The snippet tax is so manifestly stupid that it is unlikely to appear in the final version of the revised Copyright Directive. But the third area of concern stands a much better chance because of the clever way that the publishing world is dressing it up as being about a so-called "value gap." It's a very vague concept – see this new video that explores what it is - but it boils down to publishers being resentful because digital newcomers came up with innovative business models based around legal access to online music, and they didn't.

An interesting speech on the topic by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's CEO in 2016 laments the fact that the "value" of the global music industry has recently declined 36% over 15 years. That's not really surprising: during this period the recording industry did everything in its power to throttle or stall new ways of providing access to music on the Internet.

What the so-called "value gap" is really about here is the long-standing innovation gap among recording companies, and their refusal to adapt to a changing world. Imagine if they had embraced the P2P music sharing service Napster in 2000 instead of suing it into the ground. Imagine if they had set up sharing and streaming servers themselves a decade and a half ago; imagine how much money they would have made from subscriptions and advertising, and how much their value would have grown, not fallen.

If this evident innovation gap only harmed the copyright companies themselves, it would not be a problem, so much as just deserts. But they are now lobbying to get the laws around the world changed in important ways purely in order to prop up their old business models in an attempt to compensate for this failure to embrace the Internet. In the EU, they are using the fallacious "value gap" concept to call for mandatory upload filters for all major sharing sites – effectively large-scale surveillance and censorship.

Given that one of the most important consequences of the Copyright Directive could be the curtailing of basic human rights in the EU, it is disappointing that a seminar run by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group in the European Parliament – supposedly made up of liberals in favour of such democratic freedoms – skews the debate so completely in favour of the copyright industry. Judging by the programme, there is not a single representative of the public speaking at the event – which is pointedly entitled "Copyright reform: Sharing of the value in the digital environment" - pretty much guaranteeing a biased and unhelpful discussion.

That failure by ALDE even to acknowledge that EU citizens have anything useful to contribute, or any right to speak here, does not bode well for the ultimate outcome of the Copyright Directive negotiations later this year. ALDE needs to start caring about and listening to the millions of citizens who voted for its MEPs. At the moment it seems to have uncritically swallowed the backward-looking copyright industry's framing of the problem as a non-existent "value gap", when the deeper problem is its continuing innovation gap. As a result, this year could see key aspects of the Internet's operation, to say nothing of privacy and freedom of speech, gravely damaged because of yet another expansion of copyright's reach and power.

11 February 2017

Please Write to Your MEPs About Next Week's Critical - and Final - CETA Vote

Next Wednesday, the European Parliament will have its final vote on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA. If you were hoping to influence your UK MP on this, it's too late: last week, the government sneaked through a vote on CETA without anyone noticing.  It passed, of course, but given the absence of real democracy - or an opposition party - in the UK, that's no surprise.

But there is still a chance to stop it in the European Parliament by writing to your MEP, and asking them to vote against ratification next week.  You can contact your MEP using the wonderful free service WriteToThem.  Here's what I've sent to mine:

I am writing to you to ask you to vote against CETA ratification next week, because it has minimal benefits, and a great many risks that have not been estimated, but are likely to be large.

Despite vague claims to the contrary, CETA offers almost no benefits for the EU.  According to the joint study commissioned by the EU and Canada  (http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2008/october/tradoc_141032.pdf): "The annual real income gain by the year 2014, compared to the baseline scenario, would be approximately €11.6 billion for the EU (representing 0.08% of EU GDP)".

The study's title is "Assessing the costs and benefits of a closer EU-Canada economic partnership", but it offers no formal estimate of the costs associated with CETA.  This is an extraordinary deficiency: even the smallest business would carefully weigh up the costs and the benefits before agreeing a deal.  And yet the European Parliament is being asked to ratify CETA without being told the true costs.

These are likely to be high in many areas.  For example, the "new" Investment Court System (ICS) will open up the EU to being sued by thousands of US companies that have subsidiaries in Canada.  For most member states, this will be the first time that US companies are able to use investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals to claim millions – or even billions – of euros over laws and regulations which they claim harms their investments.  ISDS claims alone could wipe out the tiny €11.6 billion GDP gain that CETA is predicted to produce according to the official study.

Despite the fact that ICS is supposed to address the avowed problems with the current ISDS system, it actually fails to do this because it still gives companies a means to put pressure on governments to rescind laws, even if it cannot force them to do so.  Faced with potentially huge fines – one ISDS award was for $50 billion (http://www.shearman.com/en/services/practices/international-arbitration/yukos-arbitral-award) – governments are very likely to choose to withdraw regulations rather than pay out such vast sums.

It is also worth bearing in mind that a 2014 EU consultation on ISDS drew an unprecedented 145,000 negative responses calling for the system to be dropped from trade agreements (http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1234&title=Report-presented-today-Consultation-on-investment-protection-in-EU-US-trade-talks).  Making a few cosmetic changes and re-branding ISDS as ICS rides roughshod over the public's views on this important matter.  Moreover, there is no reason to include ISDS/ICS at all.  Canada's legal system is one of the fairest in the world, and so providing companies with additional privileges not available to governments or the public is simply unjustified.

There are further, more subtle problems with CETA.  For example, the regulatory chapter stipulates that parties have to ensure "that licensing and qualification procedures are as simple as possible and do not unduly complicate or delay the supply of a service or the pursuit of any other economic activity" (Article 12.3).  It is easy to foresee companies challenging requirements for public input, environmental assessments and archaeological studies as not being "as simple as possible".  Rather than face costly legal challenges, local authorities are likely to drop these important aspects of regulatory approval, resulting in a general lowering of standards as "economic activity" is placed above all other considerations.

More generally, CETA does not protect the environment as is sometimes claimed.  CETA’s environmental provisions cannot be enforced through trade sanctions or financial penalties if they are violated.  Something that cannot be enforced may possess symbolic – or marketing – value, but is of little practical use when it comes to protecting the environment.  This is another way in which CETA's true costs are being masked by exaggerated claims about its benefits.

Taken together with the fact that even the official econometric study was able to find only vanishingly small economic benefits, these many hidden problems and their unquantified costs underline why CETA is a bad deal for the environment, a bad deal for the public and a bad deal for the EU.  Even if its supporters claim otherwise, without any justification, I urge you and your colleagues in the European Parliament to vote against its ratification.

11 January 2017

Please Write to MEPs on the ENVI Committee About CETA *Today*

There's an important vote by MEPs on the ENVI committee tomorrow about CETA, the trade deal between the EU and Canada. Background on why CETA is so bad for the environment is available, as is a list of all MEPs on the ENVI committee.  If one of them is your MEP, please write to them *today* - the vote is tomorrow.  Here's what I've just sent to mine:

I am writing to you in connection with the ENVI vote on CETA tomorrow.  I would like to urge you to support the draft opinion of the ENVI committee, given by rapporteur, Bart Staes.

As a journalist, I have been writing about CETA since 2012 (https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120709/07420719630/actas-back-european-commission-trying-to-sneak-worst-parts-using-canada-eu-trade-agreement-as-trojan-horse.shtml), and have followed its long and complicated history closely.  I noted in 2015 that CETA has already harmed the EU's environmental policies (http://arstechnica.co.uk/tech-policy/2015/05/eu-dropped-plans-for-safer-pesticides-because-of-ttip-and-pressure-from-us/):

"One of Canada's key negotiating aims was to promote the use of its tar sands in Europe. In 2012, the EU's Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) proposed that tar sands should be given a 20 percent higher carbon value than conventional oil. This reflected the greater pollution caused by its production and was designed to steer companies away from using this particular form of fuel in the EU. However, a few weeks after CETA was concluded, the final version of the FQD had been watered down and lacked the earlier requirement that companies needed to account for the higher emissions from tar sands, effectively neutering it—exactly as Canada had demanded."

Environmental policies will be under attack thanks to the little-known requirement in CETA that parties have to ensure "that licensing and qualification procedures are as simple as possible and do not unduly complicate or delay the supply of a service or the pursuit of any other economic activity."  It is easy to foresee company lawyers arguing that environmental requirements go beyond "as simple as possible", and that they "complicate or delay" the supply of a service.

However, the greatest threat to the EU's environment comes from the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, now re-branded as the Investment Court System.  Despite the change of name, and some minor tweaking of the process, the problem remains the same: foreign investors are given unique powers, not available to domestic investors, that place them above national and European law.

That's problematic enough in itself, but even more troubling is the fact that the area where ISDS/ICS has been used most is against environmental legislation.  Also worth remembering is that CETA allows non-Canadian companies that have operations in Canada to take advantage of this supranational right: that will enable thousands of US companies that have subsidiaries in Canada to sue the EU.

Finally, it's worth noting that the EU's official economic modelling of CETA finds tiny benefits: €11.6 billion, representing 0.08 percent of EU GDP (http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2008/october/tradoc_141032.pdf.)  That gain could easily be swamped by a flood of ISDS/ICS suits demanding "compensation" for stringent environmental regulations.

Because of these threats, and the vanishingly small benefit that CETA is expected to bring, I urge you to support the ENVI rapporteur's draft opinion, and to encourage your colleagues to do the same.

04 January 2017

Spare Slots for Regular Freelance Work Soon Available


I may soon have spare slots in my freelance writing schedule for regular work, or for larger, longer-term projects. Here are the main areas that I've been covering, some for more than two decades. Any commissioning editors interested in talking about them or related subjects, please contact me at glyn.moody@gmail.com (PGP available).

Digital Rights, Surveillance, Encryption, Privacy, Freedom of Speech

During the last two years, I have written hundreds of articles about these crucial areas, for Ars Technica UK and Techdirt. Given the challenges facing society this year, they are likely to be an important area for 2017.

China

Another major focus for me this year will be China. I follow the world of Chinese IT closely, and have written numerous articles on the topic for Techdirt and Ars Technica. Since I can read sources in the original, I am able to spot trends early and to report faithfully on what are arguably some of the most important developments happening in the digital world today.

Free Software/Open Source

I started covering this topic in 1995, wrote the first mainstream article on Linux, for Wired in 1997 and the first (and still only) detailed history of the subject, Rebel Code, in 2001, where I interviewed the top 50 hackers at length. I have also written about the open source coders and companies that have risen to prominence in the last decade and a half, principally in my Open Enterprise column for Computerworld UK, which ran from 2008 to 2015.

Open Access, Open Data, Open Science, Open Government, Open Everything

As the ideas underlying openness, sharing and online collaboration have spread, so has my coverage of them. I recently wrote one of  the most detailed histories of Open Access, for Ars Technica.

Copyright, Patents, Trademarks, Trade Secrets

The greatest threat to openness is its converse: intellectual monopolies. This fact has led me to write many articles about copyright, patents and trade secrets. These have been mainly for Techdirt, where I have published over 1,400 posts, and also include an in-depth feature on the future of copyright for Ars Technica.

Trade Agreements - TTIP, CETA, TISA, TPP

Another major focus of my writing has been so-called "trade agreements" like TTIP, CETA, TPP and TISA. "So-called", because they go far beyond traditional discussions of tariffs, and have major implications for many areas normally subject to democratic decision making. In addition to 51 TTIP Updates that I originally wrote for Computerworld UK, I have covered this area extensively for Techdirt and Ars Technica UK, including a major feature on TTIP for the latter.

Europe

As a glance at some of my 244,000 (sic) posts to Twitter, identi.ca, Diaspora, and Google+ will indicate, I read news sources in a number of languages (Italian, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, Greek, Swedish in descending order of capability.) This means I can offer a fully European perspective on any of the topics above - something that may be of interest to publications wishing to provide global coverage that goes beyond purely anglophone reporting. The 30,000 or so followers that I have across these social networks also means that I can push out links to my articles, something that I do as a matter of course to boost their impact and readership.

17 December 2016

Please Write to Your MPs Asking Them To Support Fossil Fuel Divestment

It's is now clear that the incoming Trump government will be the most environment-hostile, and fossil fuel-friendly US administration in history.  As this perceptive post points out, this is no incidental feature, it is the defining feature of Trump and his plans:

Trump has surrounded himself with more oil industry and oil industry connected people than any president in history (even George W. Bush). You can’t understand what’s going on with Trump unless you understand the oil industry… and you can’t understand the oil industry without understanding climate change.

That's the bad news.  The good news is that we can fight this in a way that neither Trump nor the fossil fuel industry can block.  Given that it is unlikely that any progress in tackling climate change will be made on the political front, with the US blocking thwarting everything it can, we must turn to economics using divestment from fossil fuels as our main approach.

This is already happening on a massive scale, even if most people are unaware of that fact:

The value of investment funds committed to selling off fossil fuel assets has jumped to $5.2tn, doubling in just over a year.

The new total, published on Monday, was welcomed by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who said: “It’s clear the transition to a clean energy future is inevitable, beneficial and well underway, and that investors have a key role to play.”

We must do everything in our power to accelerate that move away from fossil fuels.  Once the business world gets the message that investing in fossil fuels is not just a bad idea, but potentially disastrous, the shift to renewable energy will happen rapidly, regardless of what Trump does.

Here in the UK, there's an opportunity to encourage a key group of decision makers to tell their pension fund to divest from fossil fuels: MPs.  In fact, there's an entire campaign to encourage them. If you are a UK citizen, I would like to urge you to contact your MP asking them to support this campaign.

You can either do this using the link above, or directly using the indispensable WriteToThem site.  Here's what I've just sent my MP: 

I am writing to ask you to support a call for the MPs' pension fund to divest from fossil fuels (details here: http://gofossilfree.org/uk/divest-parliament/). There are two main reasons for this.

The first is that it is clear that climate change is the greatest threat we face – not just because of its direct effects on the environment, but also because of the knock-on effects – for example in creating millions of climate refugees, or threatening the world's food supplies.

Confronted by an incoming US administration that is the most environmentally-hostile ever, it is clear we cannot expect the US to lead here – indeed, it seems likely actively to obstruct efforts to address climate change through international agreements.

Divestment from fossil fuels is the most effective way to counter that threat, since it is something we can all do, both as individuals and as groups. The net effect is to divert investment away from the technologies that are exacerbating the problem of global warming, towards those that help solve it, creating new jobs in the process.

Fossil fuel divestment is already taking place on a massive scale: a report published last week now puts the figure at $5 trillion (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/12/fossil-fuel-divestment-funds-double-5tn-in-a-year). If the MPs' own pension fund divested, this would both strengthen that movement and set a good example for others to follow.

The other reason why I would urge you to support divestment is that the "carbon bubble" is likely to burst soon, and will take with it any pensions that still have large-scale investments in fossil fuels. No less a person than Mark Carney warned of this last year (https://www.ft.com/content/622de3da-66e6-11e5-97d0-1456a776a4f5), so this is by no means some fringe idea, but mainstream and increasingly accepted.

I hope you agree that for the sake of this and future generations, we must move as rapidly as possible to embrace renewable energy, and that an effective way of accelerating that shift is to divest from fossil fuels.

Thank you for your help in this important matter.

24 April 2016

TTIP Is Dying; Here's How to Help Finish It Off

TTIP is dying:

According to the research, "In the United States [today], opinion is split, with 15 percent in favour [of TTIP] and 18 percent against." In 2014, 53 percent of Americans were in favour, and 20 percent were against TTIP. In Germany today, "33 percent have a negative opinion of TTIP, with only 17 percent considering it a good thing." Two years ago, 55 percent of Germans were in favour, with 25 percent against.

There are no comparable figures for the UK, but they probably wouldn't be as good: the almost total lack of media coverage on TTIP and CETA might make cynics suspect a conspiracy, and many people in the UK have never heard of it.  If asked, they would probably say they were in favour of a trade deal with the US - indeed, some surveys carried out for the European Commission ask precisely that question, and get generally favourable answers.  That's not surprising, since the problem is not so much with US trade deals in general as TTIP in particular: when people find out exactly what is in TTIP they are generally pretty appalled at what is being done in their name.

Given the reluctance of mainstream media to provide objective information - if any - there's not much we can do other than post to social media.  One other thing we Europeans can all do is to contact our politicians expressing our concerns, and asking them some questions about their knowledge and support or otherwise for TTIP.

Linda Kaucher, the main organiser of the Stop TTIP movement in the UK, has put together a useful sample letter for UK citizens to send to their MPs to do precisely that.  It could easily be modified for other EU countries.  Ideally, you could take the letter and edit it to make it more personal, but the most important thing is to send it to your political representatives so that they appreciate the strength of public opinion on the topic of TTIP and CETA.  Here's the letter:

Dear [politician],

I have these concerns and questions about the EU so-called ‘trade’ agreements and I would appreciate a response at your earliest convenience.

The US/EU TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is of huge public concern as it is clearly for the benefit of transnational corporations while it threatens our health and safety standards, our public services (despite attempted ‘reassurances’), and our democracy and sovereignty.

Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and the Trade Commission’s latest version of this, Investment Court System (ICS) will give rights to transnational and foreign corporations to sue EU governments, thus threatening regulation in the EU and in the UK. The planned Regulatory Cooperation Body, by any name, will be supranational, assessing all regulation, existing and future, on criteria of ‘trade’ rather than social values, with big business input from both sides of the Atlantic from the earliest stages.

Of immediate concern is the EU/Canada CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). It has many of the same components as TTIP and is in some aspects even worse eg 100% negative listing of services.  It is very much a ‘back door’ for TTIP, both as a model for such deals and in allowing US corporations to utilise ISDS (ICS) against EU governments, including our own, via their Canadian subsidiaries.

Supposed economic ‘gains‘ for both TTIP and CETA , even according to the official studies, have  been exposed as minimal and it is indicative that the European Commission no longer refers to them  – so, no ‘jobs and growth‘ after all.

These trade agreements should be blocked and the UK government can do this in the European Council. Will you urge the Cameron government to do this?

In addition to these concerns about these agreements, I have these questions and requests about process:

It appears from the UK parliamentary procedures that the UK has denied itself any veto with regard to trade deals, even though other member state parliaments have this power. Is this the case, and if so will you initiate action to change this?

The problem remains that our MPs still have no access to key TTIP documents, whereas members of other EU parliaments do. Will you ask a parliamentary question on why UK MPs still have no access to key TTIP documents?

In the CETA text we have no UK protection for Geographical Indicators (regional food names), whereas other member states do. Will you ask a PQ on why the UK government has failed to seek any GI protection in CETA and call on the UK government to block the completed CETA agreement on this basis?

Even if CETA and TTIP are 'mixed deals’ they would be ‘provisionally implemented’ by the Commission, with ISDS obligations legally in force from that point,  before any parliamentary discussion here and there are no procedures to reverse this. This procedure, particularly combined with a lack of UK veto, makes the UK ratification process irrelevant. Will you call on the UK government to block TTIP and CETA in the EU Council, for this additional reason?

There is no analysis of the 1600 page CETA text, as a basis for either the European Parliament or the UK parliament to ratify this agreement.  It should therefore not be ratified. Will you call for CETA to be blocked in the Council for this reason also?

I look forward to your response

Me too.

06 March 2016

Please Write To MPs To Call For More Time To Debate Investigatory Powers Bill

Last week, the UK government published a revised Investigatory Powers Bill, aka the Snooper's Charter.  Surprisingly, it took no notice of the the serious criticisms made by no less than three Parliamentary committees; indeed, in some respects, it has made the Bill even worse.

The UK government is now trying to force the Bill through Parliament quickly, so that there is very little scrutiny.  As a priority, we need to get more time allocated for the debates. To achieve that, UK citizens can write to their MPs using WriteToThem, asking them to support efforts to allow more time.  Here's what I've just sent to my MP:

This is just a quick note to ask you to support efforts to allow more Parliamentary scrutiny for the Investigatory Powers Bill.  Although views may differ on the contents of the Bill, surely everyone can agree that something as important and as complex as this deserve rigorous examination by MPs. 

As a journalist, I have looked through the Bill and several of the Codes of Practice, so I know from first-hand experience how much is contained in the 800 pages they represent in total.  With only a cursory examination by MPs, it is highly likely that there will be aspects that could cause huge problems later on – for the intelligence services and police, the public, UK computer companies and specific groups like journalists, lawyers and MPs.

I therefore urge you to join with your colleagues to ask the government to allocate more time for the Bill to be discussed.  The fact that there is a sunset clause in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act is not a good reason to rush through a flawed Investigatory Powers Bill to replace it.

02 January 2016

TTIP Update LI

It's been a couple of months since my last TTIP update.  That hiatus reflectes the talks themselves, which feel strangely suspended.  That's not to say nothing is happening: indeed, there's an air of desperate busy-ness beginning to creep into the proceedings as even the most fervid supporter of the agreement realises that TTIP is not going to be finished by the end of 2015, and people rush around vainly trying to do something about it.  That's pretty astonishing when you remember that the original plan was to finish it by the end of 2014:

"If we're going to go down this road, we want to get it on one tank of gas," [chief US negotiator] Froman said earlier this year.

For now, one tank of gas for both sides means reaching a deal before the current European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, finishes its term at the end of 2014.


That deadline has come and gone, and even end of 2015 is looking unrealistic.  That's serious, because in 2016, the political madness that is the US Presidential race begins - and Obama will not want to have to force through an increasingly unpopular trade agreement and thus blight the chances of whoever the Democrat's candidate turns out to be.  That's become an even more important concern in the wake of introduction of the US Trade Promotion Authority bill, also known as "Fast Track" a couple of weeks ago.

Fast Track essentially gives Obama full authority to negotiate trade agreements like TTIP and its sister treaty, the TransPacific Partnership agreement (TPP), with only a single, yes or no vote at the end of the process.  This is exactly what happens here in the EU, where the European Commission has the authority to negotiate trade agreements, which are then presented to the European Parliament for ratification.

The big problem - for the public, at least - is that not a single comma can be changed at this stage: it's a classic take it or leave offer.  This is a kind of political blackmail, since MEPs will be unwilling to be seen to reject a package that might contain some good measures - for example, potentially boosting employment - because it also contains bad things like the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).  The hope - of both the European Commission and Obama - is that lawmakers will simply swallow the bad bits in order to keep the good bits.

But politicians are now much more aware of how unsatisfactory this blackmail is, and are trying to avoid getting into that situation.  Some, like Senator Ron Wyden, who is co-sponsor of the Trade Authority bill, want to place certain conditions on the granting of fast track authority so as to make the final agreement as acceptable as possible.  But many others, both Democrats and Republicans, are unwilling to grant Obama the trade authority at all, albeit for different reasons.  The Democrats are concerned about the bad things in TPP, whereas the Republicans simply don't want to give extra powers to their ideological enemy, Obama.

Whatever the reason for their revolt, US politicians are not lining up to support the Trade Promotion Authority, and it seems that its passage hangs in the balance, with its chances shifting on an almost daily basis.  That has huge implications for TTIP as well as TPP.  If Obama is unable to obtain fast track, it's quite possible that TPP will collapse, since the other nations involved will be unwilling to make their best offers since the US cannot guarantee that its politicians won't try to alter the "final" text of the agreement.

The same applies to TTIP.  If Obama fails to secure Trade Promotion Authority, all of the US offers to the EU will be provisional, since the US politicians will have the power to throw out any element of the TTIP text that they don't like, regardless of what the negotiators agreed.

Gaining fast track is just one major hurdle that TTIP must overcome.  Even more serious from a European viewpoint is the fact that the more that the public finds out about TTIP, the less they like it.  That's shown by the fact that the self-organised stand-in for the European Citizens Initiative has now collected an astonishing 1.7 million signatures, with plenty of time to reach 2 or even 3 million before the nominal cut-off date of October 2015.  And if you think that filling in a few boxes on a Web page doesn't mean much, consider that recently tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Europe in hundreds of protests against TTIP, in scenes strongly reminiscent of the ACTA demonstrations.

The European Commission remains completely wrong-footed by this swelling tide of discontent.  Although the commissioner for trade, Cecilia Malmström, is undoubtedly far more transparent than her predecessor, that's not saying much when you consider it was Karel de Gucht, the man who almost single-handedly destroyed ACTA by his arrogant attitude and high-handed actions. Her repeated claims that she won't agree to anything that might lower standards or harm the European public have been rather undermined by an important recent leak obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory:

According to a leaked European Commission proposal in the ongoing EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, EU member state legislative initiatives will have to be vetted for potential impacts on private business interests.

Here's how it will work:

The “regulatory exchange” proposal will force laws drafted by democratically-elected politicians through an extensive screening process. This process will occur throughout the 78 [EU and US] States, not just in Brussels and Washington DC. Laws will be evaluated on whether or not they are compatible with the economic interests of major companies. Responsibility for this screening will lie with the 'Regulatory cooperation body, a permanent, undemocratic, and unaccountable conclave of European and American technocrats.

This is particularly troubling:

“What’s perhaps most scary about this proposal is its potential application to existing regulation – not just paralyzing future legislation but sending us backward,” says David Azoulay at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Not only will it extend an outrageously burdensome process on future legislation, but any current legislation in the public interest that doesn’t sit well with trade interests on either side of the Atlantic could be subjected to the same process to make it conform to corporate interests.”

The leak confirms that regulatory co-operation will undermine key institutions and processes that lie at the heart of European society.  That's significant, because when it's put together with the other deeply problematic aspect of the proposed trade agreement, ISDS, it reveals the whole TTIP project to be a concerted and thoroughgoing attack on democracy itself, with corporates and international investors as the main beneficiaries.

Despite the massive rejection of ISDS in the European Commission's public consultation, Malmström seems hell-bent on ploughing ahead with it, albeit in some lightly re-worked and re-branded form.  But the problem is not the details, but the basic idea - that of giving foreign investors special courts that only they can use to make huge claims against sovereign nations.  The only solution is to get rid of ISDS completely.  If  Malmström stubbornly refuses to do that, it seems clear that TTIP will fall, just as ACTA did.

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TTIP Update L

In the last TTIP update I wrote about two important leaks, both dealing with regulatory matters.  One of those came from the Greens MEP Michel Reimon, and he's released another important document, this time concerning dispute settlement [.pdf].  Once more, it has been re-typed from the actual leaked document in order to minimise risk for the source (to whom thanks....)

It's an important chapter, since, as it says at the start:

The objective of this chapter is to establish an effective and efficient mechanism for avoiding and settling any dispute between the Parties concerning the interpretation and application of this Agreement with a view to arriving, where possible, at a mutually agreed solution.

That is, it covers the entire TTIP agreement, whatever that may turn out to contain.  It describes in some detail how an arbitration panel consiting of three people will be used to resolve disputes regarding TTIP between the EU and US.  Significantly, the proposed text says:

The ruling of the arbitration panel shall be unconditionally accepted by the Parties.

Here are the requirements for those arbitrators:

Arbitrators shall have specialised knowledge and experience of law and international trade. They shall be independent, serve in their individual capacities and not take instructions from any organisation or government, or be affiliated with the government of any of the Parties, and shall comply with the Code of Conduct set out in Annex II to this Agreement.

When it comes to the arbitration proceedings, which would take place in either Brussels or Washington:

Only the representatives and advisers of the Parties to the dispute may address the arbitration panel.

That is, there are no representatives of the public.  However, the latter is graciously permitted to make written submissions to the arbitration panel:

Unless the Parties agree otherwise within three days of the date of the establishment of the arbitration panel, the arbitration panel may receive unsolicited written submissions from natural or legal persons established in the territory of a Party to the dispute who are independent from the governments of the Parties to the dispute, provided that they are made within 10 days of the date of the establishment of the arbitration panel, that they are concise and in no case lon ger than 15 pages typed at double space and that they are directly relevant to a factual or a legal issue under consideration by the arbitration panel.

Perhaps hoping to ward off any criticisms, the European Commission's proposal for dispute resolution includes the following in the remarks section:

This text for the dispute settlement chapter including the relevant annexes (Rules of Procedure, Code of Conduct and Mediation) is practically identical to all the texts for dispute settlement chapters (incl. its annexes) that the EU put forward in all recent bilateral negotiations of a trade agreement.

In other words, nothing to see here, move along please.  And, indeed, the logic seems inarguable: trade agreements need dispute settlement procedures to sort out disagreements, this is what we've used innumerable times before, so no one can possibly object.  But here's the big problem with that syllogism: TTIP is not (just) a trade agreement.

The European Commission's own (hugely-optimistic) modelling of TTIP assumes that 80% of the benefits will flow not from pushing to zero all trade tariffs, of which there are few, but by removing "non-tariff barriers".  And as I noted in my last column, those "non-tariff barriers" are things like regulations and standards.  They are essentially *cultural* expressions of a nation, and help to define what kind of society we want to live in by establishing what is protected, and to what extent.

So what the European Commission is proposing with the dispute resolution chapter is how clashes over those key social constructs will be resolved.  And the answer is: by a three-person arbitration panel.  That is, key aspects of everyday life - the social, environmental and safety protections that have been laid down over decades or more - can be thrown out purely on the say of those three people.  And remember: "The ruling of the arbitration panel shall be unconditionally accepted by the Parties."  So if, for whatever reason, the arbitration panel says a well-established regulation protecting health and safety, or the environment, has to go, well, it has to go, even if the vast majority of the public that it will effect disagrees.

This exposes the canker at the heart of the TTIP rose: it is applying trade policy instruments - and using the metric of profit - to core aspects of our lives that have nothing to do with either trade or money.  This is why TTIP's aim of removing "non-tariff barriers" - "trade frictions" as they are also called - is fundamentally misguided, and profoundly wrong.  By all means let us have a trade deal that allows both sides to buy and sell to each other without tariffs; but do not use that desire to allow an unelected, supranational tribunal to make decisions, which cannot be appealed, affecting 800 million people, about cherished facets of our culture and daily lives.

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