29 January 2010

EU's Gallo Report: Rubbish Recycled

I've noted several times an increasingly popular trope of the intellectual monopolists: since counterfeiting is often linked with organised crime, and because counterfeiting and copyright infringement are vaguely similar, it follows as surely as night follows day that copyright infringement is linked with organised crime.

Well, that apology of an argument is now being recycled in the draft of the Gallo Report [.pdf], "on enhancing the enforcement of intellectual property rights in the internal market," from the Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament:

there are proven connections between various forms of organised crime and IPR infringements, in particular counterfeiting and piracy

Well, maybe between organised crime and counterfeiting, but I challenge anyone to provide evidence that it's linked to infringements of copyright ("piracy").

This is not the only example of a lazy and totally biased reuse of old arguments employed by the content companies. Earlier in the document we find a similar parroting of the inaccurate statements put about by industries dependent on intellectual monopolies:

violations of intellectual property rights (IPR), defined as any violation of any IPR, such as copyright, trade marks, designs or patents, constitute a genuine threat not only to consumer health and safety but also to our economies and societies

*Counterfeiting* can certainly be a threat to consumer health and safety, and needs to be combated vigorously, but the idea that copyright infringement might be is simply risible, and it's an insult to our intelligence even to suggest it.

innovation and creativity have considerable added value for the European economy and, taking account of the economic context, they should be preserved and developed

Well, yes, but they are quite separate from the enforcement of intellectual monopolies, I'm afraid.
the phenomenon of on-line piracy has assumed very alarming proportions, particularly for the creative content industries, and whereas the existing legal framework has proven incapable of effectively protecting rights-holders on the Internet and the balance between all the interests at stake, including those of consumers

There is no balance whatsoever: the original 14-year term of copyright is now life plus 70 years in many jurisdictions: the consumers are *never* considered in any of this. This claim is totally one-sided in favour of the monopolists.

The report even stoops to the level of advocating brainwashing the young, when it

Stresses the need to educate young people to enable them to understand what is at stake in intellectual property and to identify clearly what is legal and what is not, by means of targeted public awareness campaigns, particularly against on-line piracy

What it means, of course, is that it wants to bully them into accepting the lazy, arrogant, monopolists' view that they are entitled to their old business models, that nobody is allowed to innovate around digital content, and that the little people like you and me should learn to shut up.

All-in-all, this is one of the most disgraceful pieces of work I have ever seen from the European Parliament: a true blot on the otherwise laudable record it has of defending the rights of the European public that elected it. If it wants to retain its credibility with the latter it should reject this load of nonsense and start again.

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28 January 2010

Uncommonly Good Post on the Commons

Wow: this is the best single post I have ever read on the commons (and I've read a few):

The commons as a common paradigm for social movements and beyond (version 1.0)

We can only promote the commons as a new narrative for the 21st century if they are identified as a common denominator by different social movements and schools of thought. In my point of view, enforcing the commons would be not only possible, but strategically intelligent. Here are 15 reasons why...

I'm tempted to quote the whole thing, but it's long and doing so is unnecessary, since you can simply follow the link above. But it really touches on just about every reason why the commons as an idea is important. However, I can't resist give an indication of its riches by quoting two sections that should strike a chord with people in the world of free software:

The commons strengthens an important core belief about human beings and behaviour. We are not only, not even mainly the „homo oeconomicus“ they made us believe we are. We are much more than selfish creatures looking for our own interest. We need and enjoy being embedded into a social web. “The commons are the web of life”, says Vandana Shiva. We enjoy to contribute, care and share. The commons strengthens the confidence in the creative potential of people and in the idea of inter-relationality, which means: “I need the others and the others need me.” They honour our freedom to contribute and share. This is a different kind of freedom than the market is based on. The more we contribute, more things we have access to. But note: it is not simply „access to everything for free“.


The commons is an alternative mode of production. The problems we are confronted with are not problems of resource-availability. They are problems that arise from the current mode of production. Fortunately, in some areas, we are witnessing a shift from the capitalist mode of production (based on property, command, value exchange via money, resources and labour exploitation, dependent on growth and striving for profit) into a commons mode of production (based on possession, contribution, sharing, self interest and initiative, where the GDP is a negligible indicator and the aim is a „good life“ < bem viver). Many “Common Based Peer Production” projects are developing successfully. This is especially true for the production of knowledge (Wikipedia, Free Software, Open Design). But there is a thrilling discussion going on about how principles of commons based peer production can be transferred to the production of what we eat, wear and move with, at least to a certain extent. I believe that this is possible. Firstly because knowledge makes up the lion’s share of each kind of production. All goods are latent knowledge products. There is no car production or eggproduction without a concept and a design behind (which make the lion’s share of its „market value“). Secondly because there are many kinds of commons sectors (care economy, solidarity economy) which have not been commodified yet and where commons values and rules are deeply rooted. Those sectors are evidence that every day many of the things we need to live are produced outside the market.

Do read the whole thing if you can: it's really worth it.

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Of Art and Copyright

This is going to become a really contentious area:

Many museums and art libraries have digitized their collections of artworks. Digital imaging capabilities represent a significant development in the academic study of art, and they enhance the availability of art images to the public at large. The possible uses of these images are likewise broad. Many of these uses, however, are potentially defined by copyright law or by license agreements imposed by some museums and libraries that attempt to define allowable uses. Often, these terms and conditions will mean that an online image is not truly available for many purposes, including publication in the context of research or simple enjoyment. Not only do these terms and conditions restrict uses, they also have dubious legal standing after the Bridgeman case. This paper examines the legal premises behind claiming copyright in art images and the ability to impose license restrictions on their use.

It would be absurd if the amazing possibilities of digitising museum and art collection holdings were squandered because of a short-sighted and misguided obsession with copyright. We need to nip this in the bud, and get some leading institutions to come out in favour of disseminating their holdings in this way. If we don't we've decades of lock-down in front of us, just when things should be available to all.

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Why Hackers Will Save the World, Part 37828

The ideas in this PhD thesis, which is rather heavy going but has its heart in the right place, may be familiar to readers of this blog:

A critique of post-industrial theories framing Information Society discourse as well as a consideration of the “newness” of information in the digital age provide fertile ground for a discussion of tech activism in contemporary social movements. Using the framework of critical constructivism, I analyze how tech activists consciously design technology that embodies values of equality, freedom and justice. Their creation and appropriation of free software indicates a more general argument for open knowledge production as the basis for a new mode of work, and indeed, a new set of social relations. In reconstructing the internet along a democratic model and through a democratic process, I argue, tech activists are creating a model of social organization that is radically transformative, refusing the reductive limits of the neoliberal world order, and enacting the possibility of a better world now.

Or, in a nutshell, we must all learn how to share.

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setiQuest: Out of this World Free Software

I'm constantly amazed and heartened by the new domains in which free software is turning up. Here's a nice one: setiQuest.

For centuries humans have looked at the stars and wondered “are we alone?” Now, setiQuest is an opportunity for you to help answer that question. In 1960, Frank Drake conducted the first scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Since then, scientists from many countries have conducted more than 100 projects looking for communication signals from other civilizations. With the spread of the Internet in the 21st century, it is now possible for humans around the globe to participate in a new SETI program.

You can participate as a software developer, signal detection algorithm developer, or a citizen scientist.

Because setiQuest is opening up:

Today's project launch is a first opportunity to get join the setiQuest project yourself. Start by reading the material that's here, mentioning this page on your blog or other social media, and registering your email address with us by clicking on the Stay Informed button in the upper right hand corner above.

If you're a software developer: We plan to start hosting code in the second quarter of 2010. The code will be released gradually in modules rather than all at one time, giving us a chance to provide enough documentation about each module so that the code will be clear to radio-astronomy hobbyists. Staged releases will also allow time for focused online discussion about each module within the setiQuest community, building a searchable archive that further increases everyone's (and the project's) collective understanding. At that point our developers will be doing their daily work on the public code repository and will interact with the public through patch submissions and direct reputation building just like with any other Open Source codebase.

(Via @webmink.)

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27 January 2010

Recalibrating Intellectual Monopolies

For the last half-century or so, there has been an implicit acceptance that the more intellectual monopolies we have, the better (even if it's not framed in those terms, but of the cuddlier "intellectual property" lie.) Many of us are rebelling against that framing, and at last there seems to be some shift in perceptions. Here are two recent signs of hope.

First, we have a submission from Brazil to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on the subject of of exceptions and limitations to patent rights, which contains the following remarkable passage:

The naïve assumption that providing IP title holders with stronger rights will, by itself, foster innovation or attract investments is no longer acceptable. The open and global economy has rejected this assumption and severely hit the very essence of the patent system, whereby a country would confer an artificial and temporary “monopoly” for the inventor in exchange of having the invention revealed allegedly benefiting the society. No such thing is currently taking place, with a few countries excepted. What, then, does a Member State get out of being part of WIPO? If contributing to the welfare of the society does not constitute a major aspect of what a country could get out of being part of a member-driven UN Organization such as WIPO, what could it possibly be?

Good question there, Brazil.

Meanwhile, in the world of copyright, we have The Public Domain Manifesto. This is a long and rich document that is worth reading in its entirety. Here's a taster:

The public domain, as we understand it, is the wealth of information that is free from the barriers to access or reuse usually associated with copyright protection, either because it is free from any copyright protection or because the right holders have decided to remove these barriers. It is the basis of our self-understanding as expressed by our shared knowledge and culture. It is the raw material from which new knowledge is derived and new cultural works are created. The Public Domain acts as a protective mechanism that ensures that this raw material is available at its cost of reproduction - close to zero - and that all members of society can build upon it. Having a healthy and thriving Public Domain is essential to the social and economic well-being of our societies. The Public Domain plays a capital role in the fields of education, science, cultural heritage and public sector information. A healthy and thriving Public Domain is one of the prerequisites for ensuring that the principles of Article 27 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ('Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.') can be enjoyed by everyone around the world.

At the heart of the manifesto are the following simple, and yet sadly radical ideas:

1. The Public Domain is the rule, copyright protection is the exception. Since copyright protection is granted only with respect to original forms of expression, the vast majority of data, information and ideas produced worldwide at any given time belongs to the Public Domain. In addition to information that is not eligible for protection, the Public Domain is enlarged every year by works whose term of protection expires. The combined application of the requirements for protection and the limited duration of the copyright protection contribute to the wealth of the Public Domain so as to ensure access to our shared culture and knowledge.

2. Copyright protection should last only as long as necessary to achieve a reasonable compromise between protecting and rewarding the author for his intellectual labour and safeguarding the public interest in the dissemination of culture and knowledge. From neither the perspective of the author nor the general public do any valid arguments exist (whether historical, economic, social or otherwise) in support of an exceedingly long term of copyright protection. While the author should be able to reap the fruits of his intellectual labour, the general public should not be deprived for an overly long period of time of the benefits of freely using those works.

3. What is in the Public Domain must remain in the Public Domain. Exclusive control over Public Domain works must not be reestablished by claiming exclusive rights in technical reproductions of the works, or using technical protection measures to limit access to technical reproductions of such works.

4. The lawful user of a digital copy of a Public Domain work should be free to (re-)use, copy and modify such work. The Public Domain status of a work does not necessarily mean that it must be made accessible to the public. The owners of physical works that are in the Public Domain are free to restrict access to such works. However once access to a work has been granted then there ought not be legal restrictions on the re-use, modification or reproduction of these works.

5. Contracts or technical protection measures that restrict access to and re-use of Public Domain works must not be enforced. The Public Domain status of a work guarantees the right to re-use, modify and reproduce. This also includes user prerogatives arising from exceptions and limitations, fair use and fair dealing, ensuring that these cannot be limited by contractual or technological means.

"The Public Domain is the rule, copyright protection is the exception": sounds like a good encapsulation to me - let's start spreading it.

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Major Victory Against Neo-colonial Patents

Patents are bad enough, because they enclose knowledge. But when they steal that knowledge from the lore of traditional medicine, it's a double crime - adding a dash of neo-colonialism to the mix. So here's some good news on that front:

The Opposition Division of the European Patent Office (EPO) has today revoked a patent granted to Dr. Willmar Schwabe (Schwabe) in its entirety. The patent was opposed by the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) from South Africa acting on behalf of a rural community in Alice, in the Eastern Cape, in collaboration with the Swiss anti-biopiracy watchdog, the Berne Declaration.

The patent was in respect of a method for producing extracts of Pelargonium sidoides and Pelargonium reniforme to make Schwabe’s blockbuster cough and colds syrup, Umckaloabo. It was revoked because the Opposition Division found that the patent did not satisfy the requirements of the European Patent Convention dealing with inventiveness.

What's remarkable here is that not only was the patent revoked, but that it was an African organsiation, acting on behalf of a rural community, that achieved it. Let's hope it's the first of many. (Via @GMWatch.)

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Enter the (Big) Dragon

As part of my continuing service to report on the fascinating developments in the Chinese chip sector, I pass on the following:

It's official: China's next supercomputer, the petascale Dawning 6000, will be constructed exclusively with home-grown microprocessors. Weiwu Hu, chief architect of the Loongson (also known as "Godson") family of CPUs at the Institute of Computing Technology (ICT), a division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, also confirms that the supercomputer will run Linux. This is a sharp departure from China's last supercomputer, the Dawning 5000a, which debuted at number 11 on the list of the world's fastest supercomputers in 2008, and was built with AMD chips and ran Windows HPC Server.

It won't come as a surprise to readers of this blog that China's new supercomputer will be running Linux - over 80% of the world's big machines do. What's fascinating is that this is being built out of that home-grown Loongson chip - the one that Windows doesn't run on. As the same article explains:

The arrival of Dawning 6000 will be an important landmark for the Loongson processor family, which to date has been used only in inexpensive, low-power netbooks and nettop PCs. When the Dawning 5000a was initially announced, it too was meant to be built with Loongson processors, but the Dawning Information Industry Company, which built the computer, eventually went with AMD chips, citing a lack of support for Windows, and the ICT's failure to deliver a sufficiently powerful chip in time.

That means that as China builds more and more of these, and pushes the technology further and further, it will be Linux that benefits, not Windows, and Linux that spreads...

China + Loonson + Linux: this is one to watch...

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26 January 2010

United Against the Digital Economy Bill

As readers of this blog will be well aware, the UK's Digital Economy Bill is currently grinding its way through Parliament. At the moment, it's the Lords that are trying to knock some sense into its senseless provisions; later it will go to the Commons, where there's probably less chance of things being improved, given the current distribution of the parties there. Meanwhile, various groups are coming together in an attempt to rouse the British public from its slumbers on this hugely-important issue.

On Open Enterprise blog.

25 January 2010

Why There is no Kernel Hacker Sell-Out

As you may have noticed, posting to this blog was light last week, as in non-existent (OK, so you didn't notice.) This was because I was engaged in some serious geeking-out at the LCA2010 conference. One of the talks that I saw came from Jon Corbet, who gave a run-down on recent changes to the Linux kernel. A statistic that he mentioned along the way has garnered much comment: the fact that "75% of the code comes from people paid to do it.” In particular, some have leapt on this figure as proof that kernel coders have “sold out”, and that the famed altruistic impulse behind free software is dead. I think this is nonsense.

On Open Enterprise blog.

19 January 2010

Right Royal Society Scandal

People are getting excited about the news that William Stukeley's Life of Newton is now available online, apple-falling tales inclusive. Just one problem: the super-duper groovy page-turning version only works with Microsoft technology - the same one that infects the British Library's holdings too.

It is really scandalous that world-famous and once-glorious bodies theoretically devoted to the spread of knowledge should be in cahoots with Microsoft to lock away that knowledge in proprietary technologies. Not so much apples falling as the mighty falling...

15 January 2010

Declaring War on European Computer Users

The eagle-eyed Monica Horten has spotted something:

Following a question on counterfeiting and piracy from Italian MEP Salvini, Michel Barnier admitted that he and the new Trade Commissioner, Karel de Grucht, will be negotiating with the US on the ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement). This is, I think, the first public admission by the EU that it is negotiating on ACTA. Following a further question asking what action he would take to support creators, he cited the ACTA negotiations as an important step. He said it would put Europe on the same level as al regions of the world.

He said " of course there is freedom of information, but there is also freedom of creation... it is necessary to balance that freedom of information with the right of artists to earn money". He said he would work with Commissioner Reding (Justice and Fundamental Rights). He said it was important to inform the public, but also to change the legislative framework. I think I understood him correctly - and if I did, this is a significant statement, because until now, my understanding is that the official line on ACTA is it not about changing the law.

That's certainly a crucial point, but I think that the post contains something even more important - and frankly terrifying:

In his opening statement to the European Parliament, he outlined his priorities. The second priority was to promote creation and innovation, and the protection of the rights of creators. In his view, it is necessary to adapt the rules for the electronic world. He said that 'la creation' is being weakened by counterfeiting and piracy, and he wants to eradicate it and will support the Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy which was set up under his predecessor.

"Eradicate piracy"? This man either knows nothing about the technology or nothing about people. Seeking to eradicate "piracy" is about as sensible as seeking to eradicate "drugs" or "terrorism": it shows yet another politician happy to mouth platitudes without any thought for their real consequences, which would be nothing less than declaring war on hundreds of millions of European computer users. The next few years are beginning to look grim.

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SABIP Finally Enters 21st Century

It looks like at least one government department, the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property Policy (SABIP), is starting to get a clue about the digital economy, and the fact that constantly harping on about *online* file-sharing misses the bigger picture:

Today sees the publication of the first comprehensive review of currently available national and international research into consumers’ attitudes and behaviours to obtaining and sharing digital content offline. Much of this activity infringes current copyright law in the UK.

Because what do they find?

# Estimates indicate that between 7-16% of the UK population buy discs (DVDs, CDs, & video games) which infringe copyright. Very little is known about other forms of physical peer-to-peer file sharing (e.g. hard drive swapping) and the few estimates that exist vary greatly.

# Demographics for consumers who acquire offline/hard copies which infringe copyright appear to be different from those that engage in online copyright infringement: they are often older, with dependent(s), and are more likely to belong to lower socio-economic groups - ie. they are more ‘ordinary’ than the predominantly younger, well educated, technologically-savvy group who infringe copyright online.

# The evidence is mixed as to whether consuming content through infringement substitutes or complements legal consumption. For example, while the music industry points to falling sales, some evidence suggests that consuming music illegally does not substitute legal consumption but that both types of consumption may sit alongside each other.

# Initial evidence indicates that online downloading and file sharing is substituting offline counterfeit sales. Anecdotally some suppliers suggest that the market for counterfeit content is declining - this is corroborated by falling seizures of counterfeit discs.

They suggest:

* The sharing of digital content offline needs to be looked at through a new lens. It has been predominantly studied using criminology or social psychology. But these perspectives tend to carry value judgements about what is considered right or wrong which implicitly shape the research. This means that other factors, eg, economic criteria, have rarely been considered. Industry and government surveys suggest that these additional factors are very important to any consideration of copyright infringement.

* There is little research that looks at the effect of ignorance of IP law. Copyright law is complex, and difficult for the average consumer to fully understand (where consumers are aware it exists at all). The default position in previous criminology-based research is that people know that they are breaking the law and make a choice to do so, but this is not empirically proven.

Who would have thought that economic criteria might have played a role in people's decisions to share copyright materials offline? Similarly, who would have thought that the fact that in recent decades copyright has been framed solely for the benefit of content owners, and not content users, means that it is user-hostile to the point of opacity, and that "ordinary" people make no attempt to navigate its thickets?

Let's hope this report is the first in many that shows some realism on the part of not just SABIP, but the UK government.

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13 January 2010

How Solid is the Great Firewall of China?

Here's the best description I've read of the situation:

Anybody inside China who really wants to get to Google.com -- or BBC or whatever site may be blocked for the moment -- can still do so easily, by using a proxy server or buying (for under $1 per week) a VPN service. Details here. For the vast majority of Chinese users, it's not worth going to that cost or bother, since so much material is still available in Chinese from authorized sites. That has been the genius, so far, of the Chinese "Great Firewall" censorship system: it allows easy loopholes for anyone who might get really upset, but it effectively keeps most Chinese Internet users away from unauthorized material.

That seems an incredibly important fact to keep in mind over the Google/China business. Talking of which, the above comes from a typically sane post from James Fallows on the subject: well worth reading.

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Going Googly in China

The news that Google was no longer prepared to censor its search results in China has a number of interesting and important aspects.

First, it's worth noting that this extremely big news was not announced at a press conference, or even with a press release, but on a blog. That's not so surprising given that Google prides itself on being geeky, but it has one huge implication: any journalist that is not following blogs (and I'd also add Twitter) is no longer adequately equipped to stay on top of the news. The press release is officially dead (and good riddance.)

The other thing that is striking is what is not said. Google speaks of

a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China

It then announces that as a result of this attack:

We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn

But hang on a minute: how on earth will removing censorship diminish the likelihood of further attacks? Censorship, it would seem, has nothing to do with those attacks - unless Google is suggesting that the Chinese government was behind those attacks in some way, with this latest move from the company as a direct retaliation and warning.

And that, of course, is precisely what is going on, but there is no mention of any of this explicitly in the blog post. Nonetheless, it is extraordinary that a company should thus publicly, if only implicitly, accuse a government of being involved in attacks on its system.

As to the consequences of Google's statement, I imagine that the Chinese government will just block Google completely - China's recent actions show that it is no mood for compromise. Indeed, it is actually clamping down *harder* on the Internet, so anything like uncensored search results will be totally unacceptable.

Unfortunately, I don't think this will have much effect within China. The leading search engine, Baidu, will just pick up the slack. Many people on the Internet in China regard the West's attitude to censorship and freedom of speech as hypocritical, and unwarranted meddling. It will be easy for the Chinese government to sell this as arrogant Westerners lecturing to the Chinese (again) as a way of covering up their failure to topple Baidu.

More interesting is the effect this has on the West. The latter has been increasingly subservient to China recently, with its pathetic acceptance of the crackdown in Tibet and Xinjiang, and its acquiescence in the propaganda of the Olympic games. This was largely based on the fact that China's economy was perceived as so important that other issues fell by the wayside (although I was under the impression that there was a name for selling oneself in this way for a bit of dosh.)

Google's action, if picked up by others, might lead to the West taking a more principled approach, whereby it is not prepared to sell its soul for a few Renminbi. Sadly, it's probably too much to expect the West to drop its hypocritical actions (censorship, surveillance) as well....

12 January 2010

Stop the "Stop and Search" Shame

How can a government minister be so shameless as this?

Policing and Security Minister David Hanson MP said: ”Stop and search under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is an important tool in a package of measures in the ongoing fight against terrorism."

How has it done one single thing to "fight against terrorism"? How many "terrorists" have they caught as a result of using "stop and search"? Zero, I'll be bound. All it seems to be used for is to oppress opponents of the government. Words fail me.

11 January 2010

What "Nothing to Hide" is Hiding

As governments around the world - but particular in the UK - increase the surveillance of their hapless citizens, one argument above all is made in favour of doing so: "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."

Of course, the rebuttal is that, indeed, we have nothing to hide, but we do value our privacy, and we should not be asked to sacrifice that for dubious government convenience. But as this excellent paper entitled "I've got nothing to hide, and other misunderstanding of privacy" points out, there is a particularly dangerous "strong" form of this argument that is harder to brush off so easily:

Grappling with the nothing to hide argument is important, because the argument reflects the sentiments of a wide percentage of the population. In popular discourse, the nothing to hide argument’s superficial incantations can readily be refuted. But when the argument is made in its strongest form, it is far more formidable.


The NSA surveillance, data mining, or other government information- gathering programs will result in the disclosure of particular pieces of information to a few government officials, or perhaps only to government computers. This very limited disclosure of the particular information involved is not likely to be threatening to the privacy of law-abiding citizens. Only those who are engaged in illegal activities have a reason to hide this information. Although there may be some cases in which the information might be sensitive or embarrassing to law-abiding citizens, the limited disclosure lessens the threat to privacy. Moreover, the security interest in detecting, investigating, and preventing terrorist attacks is very high and outweighs whatever minimal or moderate privacy interests law-abiding citizens may have in these particular pieces of information. Cast in this manner, the nothing to hide argument is a formidable one. It balances the degree to which an individual’s privacy is compromised by the limited disclosure of certain information against potent national security interests. Under such a balancing scheme, it is quite difficult for privacy to prevail.

One of the key arguments of the paper revolves around data aggregation (not surprisingly):

Aggregation...means that by combining pieces of information we might not care to conceal, the government can glean information about us that we might really want to conceal. Part of the allure of data mining for the government is its ability to reveal a lot about our personalities and activities by sophisticated means of analyzing data. Therefore, without greater transparency in data mining, it is hard to claim that programs like the NSA data mining program will not reveal information people might want to hide, as we do not know precisely what is revealed. Moreover, data mining aims to be predictive of behavior, striving to prognosticate about our future actions. People who match certain profiles are deemed likely to engage in a similar pattern of behavior. It is quite difficult to refute actions that one has not yet done. Having nothing to hide will not always dispel predictions of future activity.


Another problem in the taxonomy, which is implicated by the NSA program, is the problem I refer to as exclusion.85 Exclusion is the problem caused when people are prevented from having knowledge about how their information is being used, as well as barred from being able to access and correct errors in that data. The NSA program involves a massive database of information that individuals cannot access. Indeed, the very existence of the program was kept secret for years.86 This kind of information processing, which forbids people’s knowledge or involvement, resembles in some ways a kind of due process problem. It is a structural problem involving the way people are treated by government institutions. Moreover, it creates a power imbalance between individuals and the government. To what extent should the Executive Branch and an agency such as the NSA, which is relatively insulated from the political process and public accountability, have a significant power over citizens? This issue is not about whether the information gathered is something people want to hide, but rather about the power and the structure of government.


A related problem involves “secondary use.” Secondary use is the use of data obtained for one purpose for a different unrelated purpose without the person’s consent. The Administration has said little about how long the data will be stored, how it will be used, and what it could be used for in the future. The potential future uses of any piece of personal information are vast, and without limits or accountability on how that information is used, it is hard for people to assess the dangers of the data being in the government’s control.

None of these will come as any surprise to people thinking about privacy and computers, but it's interesting to read a lawyer's more rigorous take on the same ideas.

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Is Richard Stallman Mellowing?

Richard Stallman is sometimes presented as a kind of Old Testament prophet, hurling anathemas hither and thither (indeed, I've been guilty of this characterisation myself - well, he does *look* like one.) But just recently we've had a fascinating document that suggests that this is wrong – or that RMS is mellowing....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Mozilla Starts to Follow a New Drumbeat

I've written often enough about Firefox and its continuing steady gains of browser market share. Here's another nice stat:

Roughly keeping pace with previous years, Firefox grew 40% worldwide. Two regions in particular continued adopting Firefox at a breakneck pace — South America (64%) and Asia (73%).

Most of the 40% growth occurred recently. In the 4 months leading up to the holiday season, Firefox added 22.8 million active daily users. During that same period last year, Firefox added 16.4 million users.

That's all well and good, but it raises the question: what should Mozilla be doing *after* it conquers the browser world – that is, once it has 50% market share?

On Open Enterprise blog.

In Praise of TinyOgg

The Ogg sound and video formats finally seem to be gaining some traction; the only problem is that few of the major sites employ it - Flash is pretty much ubiquitous these days. That's where TinyOgg comes in:

This service allows you to watch and listen to Flash-based videos without the need to Flash technology. This gives you speed, safety, control, freedom and openness.

And if you want more detail on the latter advantages:

Choosing Ogg over Flash is both an ethical and technical question. We all want our computers to do better, so here is how our computers are better with Free Formats:

1. You will be able to enjoy the media "natively"; there is no need to install any plug-in or add-on to your standard-friendly browser.

2. You will not need to load heavy and possibly unsafe scripts, which helps with speed and stability.

3. You will support a free, open Web where no corporation monopolizes an important technology, such as video.

4. You will enjoy more control over your digital life with Free Formats and Open Standards because no corporation decides what you can and cannot do with the files you have.

If you're wondering how they can afford to host all the stuff, the answer is, they don't:

All videos on TinyOgg are hosted for 48 hours. We believe that most users are going to watch the video only once, so there is no need to the "for-ever hosting" feature, which is going to be costly.

However, you can download the converted files and view them at your leisure. Recommended.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

10 January 2010

Personal Luggage *Will* be Subject to ACTA

One of the fairy tales being told about the oppressive ACTA is that it's only going to apply to large-scale criminal offenders, and that the Little People like you and me don't need to worry our pretty heads. But that's a lie, as this fascinating blog post has discovered:

It was very interesting to talk to Mr. Velasco. He said the negotiations could be understood, in a very very simplified way, as you basically could get cheap cars in exchange for IPR enforecement laws.

Interestingly enough, his materials published on the interenet also provided some kind of explanation to why people are afraid of having their iPods searched. Under "What is new" in a presentation about Enforcement of IPR Mr. Velasco says:

[it] "No longer excludes from the scope of the regulation counterfeit or pirated goods in a traveler's personal baggage where such goods are suspected to be part of a larger-scale traffic."

But don't put any great hopes in that fig-leaf "where such goods are suspected to be part of a larger-scale traffic": you can bet that once customs officials have the power to search through your laptop or MP3 player, they damn well will.

After all, potentially a *single* unauthorised copy can be used to spawn thousands of copies that would certainly constitute "larger-scale traffic"; so surely that means that all it takes is for a sufficiently suspicious customs official to "suspect" that single copies on an MP3 player might be part of larger-scale traffic - and then Robert is your father's Brother.

Make no mistake: if ACTA is agreed in its current form, it will impact every one of us directly - and direly.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

08 January 2010

Help Stop EU Software Patents – Again

A few years back, there was a fierce battle between those wishing to lock down software with patents, and those who wanted to keep copyright as the main protection for computer code. Thankfully, the latter won. Here's what the BBC wrote at the time....

On Open Enterprise blog.

04 January 2010

E-book Industry Gets E-diotic

Learning nothing from the decade-long series of missteps by the music industry, publishers want to repeat that history in all its stupidity:

Digital piracy, long confined to music and movies, is spreading to books. And as electronic reading devices such as Amazon's Kindle, the Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble's Nook, smartphones and Apple's much-anticipated "tablet" boost demand for e-books, experts say the problem may only get worse.

Gosh, the sky is falling.

"Textbooks are frequently pirated, but so are many other categories," said Ed McCoyd, director of digital policy at AAP. "We see piracy of professional content, such as medical books and technical guides; we see a lot of general fiction and non-fiction. So it really runs the gamut."

Er, you don't think that might be because the students are being price-gouged by academic publishers that know they have a captive audience?

And how's this for a solution?

Some publishers may try to minimize theft by delaying releases of e-books for several weeks after physical copies go on sale. Simon & Schuster recently did just that with Stephen King's novel, "Under the Dome," although the publisher says the decision was made to prevent cheaper e-versions from cannibalizing hardcover sales.

In other words, they are *forcing* people who might pay for a digital edition to turn to unauthorised copies: smart move.

And it seems old JK doesn't get it either:

Some authors have even gone as far as to shrug off e-book technology altogether. J.K Rowling has thus far refused to make any of her Harry Potter books available digitally because of piracy fears and a desire to see readers experience her books in print.

Well, I'm a big fan of analogue books too - indeed, I firmly believe it is how publishers will survive. But I wonder if JK has ever considered the point that reading digital versions is rather less pleasant than snuggling down with a physical book, and so once you've got people interested in the content - through digital versions - they might then go out and buy a dead tree version?

But no, instead we are going to get all the inane reasoning that we heard from the music publishers, all the stupid attempts to "lock down" texts, and the same flourishing of publishers despite all that.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

03 January 2010

Why Extending the DNA Database is Dangerous

Part of the problem with extending the DNA database is that doing so increases the likelihood of this happening:

After a seven-day trial, Jama had been convicted of raping a 40-year-old woman in the toilets at a suburban nightclub.

The only evidence linking him to the crime was a DNA sample taken from the woman's rape kit.


Jama had steadfastly denied the charge of rape and said he had never been to that nightclub, not on that cold Melbourne night, not ever. He repeatedly stated he was with his critically ill father on the other side of Melbourne, reading him passages from the Koran.

But the judge and the jury did not buy his alibi, despite supporting evidence from his father, brother and friend. Instead, they believed the forensic scientist who testified there was a one in 800 billion chance that the DNA belonged to someone other than the accused man.

This week Jama gave the lie to that absurdly remote statistic. After prosecutors admitted human error in the DNA testing on which the case against Jama was built, his conviction was overturned.

Prosecutors said they could not rule out contamination of the DNA sample after it emerged the same forensic medical officer who used the rape kit had taken an earlier sample from Jama in an unrelated matter. They admitted a "serious miscarriage of justice".

DNA is an important forensic tool - when used properly. But it is not foolproof, not least because contamination can lead to false positives.

The more DNA profiles that are stored on a database, the more likely there will be a match found due to such false positives. And such is the belief in the infallibility of DNA testing - thanks to the impressive-sound "one in 800 billion chance that the DNA belonged to someone other than the accused man" - that it is likely to lead to more *innocent* people being convicted. The best solution is to keep the DNA database small, tight and useful.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

02 January 2010

This Reminds Me of Something...

Interesting piece about the problems of remembering as we grow older:

if you are primed with sounds that are close to those you’re trying to remember — say someone talks about cherry pits as you try to recall Brad Pitt’s name — suddenly the lost name will pop into mind. The similarity in sounds can jump-start a limp brain connection. (It also sometimes works to silently run through the alphabet until landing on the first letter of the wayward word.)

This is exactly the method that I have developed in my old age: when I can't remember a name or word, I start saying apparently random sounds to myself, gradually focussing on those that *feel* close to the one I'm looking for. It something takes a while, but I can generally find the word, and it usually has some connection with the ones that I pronounce in my journey towards it.

I also found that this resonated with my experience too:

continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.

I find working in the field of computing useful here, since there are always new things to try. As the article says, it seems particularly helpful to try out things you are *not* particularly sympathetic to. It's the reason that I started twittering on 1 January last year: to force myself to do something new and something challenging. Well, that seemed to work out. Question is, what should I be doing this year?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.