Friday, January 07, 2005

Counts votes like money

Here's an interesting piece, again recommended by Donna, on electronic voting that suggests we should count votes like banks count money.

"Specifically, at the time you vote you are given a private, take-home receipt that preserves your secret ballot. After the election, you can check your receipt against the election results to make sure your vote was counted properly -- just like you reconcile your ATM receipts against your monthly bank statement. At the same time, any independent organization can audit all the votes to make sure the final count is right."

Sounds superficially attractive but with the bank statement you check all your own transactions. The election result is not a statement of all voting transactions and does not give you the opportunity to check either that your vote was counted or see how others voted, not that anyone should be able to do the latter. As to the independent organization auditing the process, as Rebecca Mecuri, David Dill, Avi Rubin and lots more who really understand the process and the technology say, the devil is in the detail. The appropriate analogy here would be a bank which allowed you and everyone else to make one transation each month; they then provide you with a statement at the end of the month that said that the overall pot of money that you all draw on (or pay into) has gone up or down by a specific amount. Trust them. They have your interest at heart. And it can all be audited by an independent company (probably employed by the bank).

Go Ask Hollywood

Why can’t you back up your DVDs? Because entertainment execs don’t want you to By the always entertaining Cory Doctorow.

"Just last month, this magazine gave a Best of What’s New award to a $27,000 movie jukebox from Kaleidescape, praising the maker’s efforts to appease Hollywood by locking down content on the device so it can’t be shared. Kaleidescape thinks the product is within the boundaries of its DVD-CCA license, but my Deep Throat on the cartel says the group disagrees and is currently deciding how the company will be punished. Penalties range from a stern warning to fines to lawsuits. (When I called the DVD-CCA for an official line, I got this reply: “I’ve been asked to tell you we have no comment.” “Who asked you to tell me that?” “I can’t tell you.”)"

Wonderful.

Freedom loving DTV

The EFF are also trying to encourage people to invest in "an open, freedom-loving digital television tuner between now and the summer"

Donna Wentworth writes in the latest edition of the EFF's Effector:

"There's only half a year left before the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) takes away your right
to watch digital television on a device that isn't
Hollywood-approved. Under the new "Broadcast Flag"
regime, the FCC will mandate that every digital
television device include the kind of technology that
we see in cable personal video recorders (PVRs) and
media center PCs - technology that allows entertainment
companies to do things like arbitrarily erase your
stored episodes of "Six Feet Under" after two weeks
so that you'll be forced to pay-per-view your
end-of-season marathon, or stop you from burning "The
Sopranos" to DVD to force you to buy the DVD boxed
sets.

The tiny silver lining here is that if you can get an open,
freedom-loving digital television tuner between now and
the summer, you'll be able to go on doing practically
anything you like with the digital television you
receive over the air and with your unencrypted cable
signal. If you choose to do this by plugging a DTV
tuner into your computer, you'll be able to archive your
shows on your hard-drive, manipulate them with your
favorite editing software, and email clips to your
friends.

In fact, as a demonstration of the point, EFF has just
posted five high-definition minutes of "The Lord of the
Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" that we recorded
off the air in November. You can download the clip to
check whether your computer is up to the high-def DTV
challenge. This is exactly the kind of fair use that
will become impossible for those who buy digital
television tuner cards after July 2005, when the
Broadcast Flag regulations take effect.

So how'd we record it? With a Macintosh, as it happens.

Mac users have fewer options for DTV than their Linux-
and Windows-using compatriots, but they aren't
suffering: the best Mac operating system solution for
watching and storing digital TV signals (including
super-sharp high-def signals) is El Gato's EyeTV.

EFF's own Fred Von Lohmann is a Mac enthusiast of the
first order, and he's been road-testing the EyeTV 500.
He's written an exhaustive, detailed review with
special emphasis on the endangered freedoms EyeTV
embodies:

<http://www.eff.org/broadcastflag/eyetv500.php>

EFF is part of a lawsuit against the FCC challenging the Broadcast Flag. We're going to court soon to fight for
your right to purchase devices like the EyeTV 500 after
August - but if you want to safeguard your ability to
make legal, fair uses of digital broadcasts, you may
want to pick one up now."

The broadcast flag like most other drm technologies will eventually die out in the face of consumer angst with not being able to engage useful features and the idiotic restrictions that will come about such as recorded shows being wiped from the recorder after two weeks. In the meantime the industry is jockeying for position and trying to lever their power in existing markets into the media landscape of the future. We shouldn't be surprised at this. It's the way business works. [Not that I necessarily endorse this state of affairs, of course when it leads to this kind of nonsense]

Music industry must respect file sharers' privacy

The EFF are pleased with the decision of the appeal court this week in the case involving Charter Communications and the RIAA.

"In December 2003, the DC Circuit ruled that the RIAA could not use the DMCA's non-judicial subpoenas to obtain subscriber identities from ISP Verizon Internet Services, Inc. "Charter should be congratulated for following in the footsteps of Verizon in standing up for the privacy of its users," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. The US Supreme Court rejected the RIAA's appeal of the Verizon case. Today's Eighth Circuit decision is an explicit endorsement of the DC Circuit's ruling."

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The long tail

James De Long has some interesting comments on Chris Anderson's article "The Long Tail," at Wired, "which discussed one of the most important aspects of the Internet Age: that customers for entertainment products are digging deep into the catalogue, and that the non-hits are actually more important sources of revenue than the hits"; and an article by Arnold Kling at TechCentralStation, where he "ponders the implications for the productive process, noting that the existence of such aggregating businesses as Google or eBay, or iTunes, can lower the cost of entry for many types of businesses and facilitate the creation of "capitalism without capital," a development of immense importance for the structure of economic activity."

What do you believe is true?

"WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE EVEN THOUGH YOU CANNOT PROVE IT?" is the Edge Annual Question—2005.

Impact of search engines no privacy

Findlaw have another interestnig piece on "The Impact of Search Engines on Private Citizen Litigation"

"The problem addressed here is not the necessarily the existence of litigation information within an individual's search results, but rather, the prominent positioning of the information within the results. A logical question arises, "Why would a court opinion show up prominently in an individual's search results?"

This "prominent placement" phenomenon occurs for a combination of reasons: 1) Judicial filings that contain individuals' names are public records that enjoy stringent Constitutional protection and are now published online; 2) Search engine technology has reached such an advanced level of sophistication that virtually all online content can be checked for query term matches; and 3) Secondary publishers of judicial information participate in the attention economy of the Internet and use search engine optimization techniques to appear at or near the top of search result rankings."

DOJ change of heart on torture

The US Department of Justice issued a new memorandum on torture in December. The new memo basically overturns the highly controversial memo from 2002 which argued a legal justification for torture in certain circumstances. Michael Dorf considers the new memo "A Fair-Minded and Praiseworthy Analysis That Could Have Gone Still Further"

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

P2P piracy pyramid

Jeff Howe and Erik Malinowski at Wired believe they've got the lowdown from insiders on how copyrighted films, games and movies get onto P2P networks. An interesting read.

Malinowski sums up the process,

An industry "insider" gets a copy of the digital file; s/he passes the file to a "packager"; the packager (or "release group") compresses the file and passes it to a "topsite" with which they have an exclusive relationship; "when the topsite (or "distributor") drops a file the avalanche begins";"couriers" grab, copy and transfer the file to "dump sites" and then the main P2P networks like Kazaa. "For the couriers, the payoff is props from their peers and credits redeemable for goods on upper levels of the pyramid"; once they get to the main networks Jo Public can get access.

Something of a kernal of a business model for the content distribution industry?

CCTV abuse

Another example of the lack of attention we pay to watching the watchers when it comes to CCTV is shown in this case, reported by the Liverpool Echo, of CCTV operators using the cameras to spy on a woman. Richard Clayton of the Foundation for Information Policy Research suggests:

"that a simple way to prevent abuse of CCTV cameras would be to relay what was being watched to local TV shops to display in their windows..."

This would impact the kind of case reported here and also, as Richard says,

"tracking pretty girls down the street and such-like privacy invasion...

... if the watchers know that their watching decisions are being watched by the public then they are far less likely to abuse their position."


On the issue of civil rights and the Internet, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has published the Media Freedom Internet Cookbook (warning large PDF file, 646 K).

EUCD Implementation Update

The Berkman Center have produced a paper on the current state of implementation of the EU copyright directive of 2001. I've been wanting someone to do this for ages - a reliable one stop guide to the ongoing situation, in order to avoid having to double check various bits with several sources. The report was published in November 2004.

Home Office Cats

In the light of the EPIC link I posted yesterday, it's interesting to see Associated Press are focussing on the really important contents of the 50000 government files released this week under the new Freedom of Information Act. We all needed to know the Home Office had a cat.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A different EPIC

A different EPIC. A friend has just reminded me of this interesting 8 minute audiovisual prediction about the future of the media. Nice opener for a seminar with a group of students. Some of the details are not quite spot on. It's arguable whether Tmi Berners-Lee "in 1989...invents the world wide web", for example. He certainly made an initial proposal to the management at CERN in 1989 but he wrote the software for the first rudimentary browser between November and December 1990. But this just adds a bit of spice to the discussion.

Given the state of copyright law I also doubt whether the future GoogleZon postulated would wipe out the New York Times... Fun thought experiment.

German court sets copyright levy on new PCs

German court sets copyright levy on new PCs. So says ITWorld.

"The District Court of Munich has ordered Fujitsu Siemens Computers (Holding) BV to pay a copyright levy on new PCs."

Need a job? Get a card - arresting ID pitch to business

In Need a job? Get a card - arresting ID pitch to business, John Lettice describes how the government is planning to provide businesses with strong incentives to use the ID card system as the basis for compulsory ID checking prior to employing anybody.

"The Bill's Regulatory Impact Statement tells us that the bill has no provisions "which allow the Government to require business, charities or voluntary bodies to make identity checks using the identity cards scheme." And indeed it doesn't."

The 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act requires employers to check that potential employees have a right to work in this country before giving them a job.

"Under the Act it is a criminal offence for an employer to fail to make an adequate check, but this particular provision is a difficult one to bring in and to enforce, because employers and their organisations could reasonably protest about cost and about not being an immigration service, and because if the Home Office did prosecute then they'd most likely fail to get a conviction because the employer could claim to have seen a document that looked genuine, and how the blazes were they to know? Well, hello employers, now you are an immigration service."

But, as David Blunkett said before he lost his job as Home Secretary, "The verification process under ID cards would remove that excuse completely and people would know who was entitled to be here and open to pay taxes and NI."

"Employers don't have to check via the ID scheme, and under the Act it will actually be illegal to insist on such a check prior to cards becoming compulsory, but the scheme would "help to enforce the law against unscrupulous employers who would no longer have a defence in claiming they examined an unfamiliar document which appeared genuine to them. And: "...the Government expects that legitimate employers would want to encourage their employees to provide verifiable proof of identity when taking up a job... The scheme allows for records of on-line verification checks to be held, so establishing whether an employer has complied with the law will be more straightforward."

Now, that one's very cute indeed. The Home Office is determined that the ID scheme operates via checks to the National Identity Register, rather than simply as a photo ID upgrade that can be checked locally, the main reason for this being that widespread online checking will generate a nationwide network of ID checks that track back to the Home Office. Here it is pointing out that using an online check will protect the employer because the NIR will have an audit trail proving that the check was made, whereas if the employer just looked at the card, we'd only have their word for that, wouldn't we? So we'll just rub it in: " Only an on-line check would give an employer the assurance that a record of the check would be held on the National Identity Register and would therefore provide a defence against prosecution."

Clearly it's going to be a lot safer to embrace the ID scheme sooner rather than later"

I can't imagine that employers and their representatives such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Institute of Directors or such like minded bodies will be too keen on any of this given the huge associated costs. They certainly objected to the 1996 Act at the time as tantamount to turning employers into a branch of the immigration service. It hasn't really worked out that way in practice because clause 8, as John Lettice says is unenforceable but certainly many legitimate employers have spent significant sums on ID checks and processes that they would otherwise not have done.

What is it about public policy making, even when there are clear problems and clearly identified perpetrators/causes of those problems, that can make it look so ludicrous in the light of even a superficial analysis?

1. Identify a problem [eg exploitation of illegal immigrants]
2. Identify perpetrators [rogue employers]
3. Think up arbitrary rule to "solve" the problem [turn employers into immigration checkers] in order to be seen to be "doing something"
4. Declare rule must be implemented by everyone [to create the impression of "fairness" and avoidance of accusation of discrimination]
5. Have the rule blindly and blanketly impemented by the majority of honest actors [most legimate employers], with the same level of thought as the creation of the original policy (ie stupidly and with absolute risk avoidance in mind, so that the idiotic effects cascade and get compounded at institutional level)
6. Have the rule blanketly ignored by the perpetrators of the problem [rogue employers]
7. Hassle and "audit" those honest employers who have implemented the arbitrary rule to see "how well" they have done so and pick as many holes as you can in their processes to demonstrate the audit process is "thorough."
8. Totally fail to tackle the perpetrators of the problem because you're too busy mmonitoring the "effectiveness" of your "solution" as implemented by those who have voluntarily [under duress] deployed it.
9. Declare total success to the media as some arbitrary large percentage [eg 92%] of employers are now running with your "solution" [despite the 1% of rogue employers continuing to operate unscrupulously as before].

Updating Code

Happy New Year. Larry Lessig has decided to produce a second edition of his first book, Code and other laws of cyberspace. In his own words,

"Beginning in February, we'll be posting Version 1 of Code to a Wiki. "Chapter Captains" will then supervise updates and corrections. Depending upon the progress, sometime near June, I will take the product and edit and rewrite it to produce Code, v2. The Wiki will stay live forever (under a Creative Commons license). The edited book will be published in the fall. I have donated my advance for Code, v2 to Creative Commons. All royalties beyond the advance will be donated as well.

At this point, we're collecting "Chapter Captain" (CCs, of course) volunteers. CCs should be expert in the subject of the chapter, and willing to work through the Wiki to produce an updated chapter. (Here's the table of contents.)

My aim is not to write a new book; my aim is to correct and update the existing book. But I'm eager for advice and expert direction. If you're interested in volunteering, email me at this address.

I am grateful to Basic Books to allow me to try this experiment. I worked very hard five years ago to learn enough to write Code. I'm extremely eager for the book to gain from the collective wisdom of at least part of the Net. No one can know whether this will work. But if if does, it could be very interesting."

The best academic work comes from collaboration between peers and cross fertilization of ideas. What Larry's doing is using the Net as a tool in the well worn collaborative process of producing a decent book. I'm sure he won't be short of well qualified volunteers and that it will be a successful enterprise.